Harmukh Bar Tal Zaagaie Madano is an epic and enduring Kashmiri song, both revered by Muslims and Pandits alike, though for different reasons. Muslims take it to be a powerful romantic song of a woman for her beloved, while Pandits take it as Parvati’s love-hymn for Lord Shiva. But before we resolve that problematic situation, let’s focus on its authorship.
The song is classified as a traditional popularly. That is, it has been in existence over a long stretch of time, its compositional and authorship history unknown. But because it resembles the themes and lyrical style of the legendary Habba Khatoon (1554-1609), many Kashmiris attribute it to her. She broke the long tradition of spiritual and mystic poetry of Kashmir by her romantic poetry. Her poems were grounded in the sufferings of the women in her time, especially those of love-separation and harshness of life for their gender. She was born a commoner but rose to become a queen of Kashmir by dint of her poetry, singing, and stunning beauty. She was married to Yusuf Shah Chuk (ruled 1579-1586), the last Kashmiri ruler, after a chance encounter. Her fairy tale life ended excruciatingly when her husband was imprisoned for life by the Mogul emperor Akbar through a fraudulent scheme. Yusuf Shah was invited to Delhi for a consultation with the emperor. Upon reaching there he was taken to Bengal and later moved to Biswak, in Bihar, imprisoned for the rest of his life, dying there in 1592. This opened the door for Moguls to reign in Kashmir from 1586 thru 1752, one hundred and sixty-six years. Habba Khatoon spent her last 20 years living in a hut on the banks of Jhelum river, enduring the pain of love-separation from her husband. She is forever enshrined in Kashmiri ethos as an epic poetess, who ushered a new culture of realism and romanticism in Kashmiri poetry. Also, creating in it a new style called lol, which is a form intense lyricism wrapping a single thought. She lived with an unyielding passion for life rather than by faith, which is what her fellow human beings lived by. Even after some four hundred years after her death, some of her songs remain quite popular in Kashmir. She has been epitomized as the Nightingale of Kashmir.
To resolve the authorship problem of the song I sought the consultation of the two Kashmiri literature professors of Kashmir University Their verdict was that they could not authenticate the authorship of the song to Habba Khatoon, but based on the substance and lyrical style of the song, if some people attribute it to her, they would not object. Simply put, we do not know for certain its authorship.
Different versions of the lyrics of the song are offered on internet. They differ in the inclusion of some stanzas and words. Pandits and Muslims have used some different words. For example, Muslims like the word zaagai, while Pandits like prarayo. The song is in parts difficult to understand due to the use of the old Kashmiri language. I have painstakingly scrutinized the lyrics with a Kashmiri language scholar and a Kashmiri singer. Furthermore, being a poet myself was very helpful. Translating poetry is among the most difficult works a writer can do, as you move from one language to another you lose cadence, turn of the phrase, and shades of the meanings of the words. I believe the lyrics and the English translation of the song that I am presenting here are the best available at this time.
It is a passionate love song of a still young woman’s adoration of her beloved. It expresses her yearning to meet him at the gates of Harmukh mountain. Also expresses her painful separation from him, her leaving her tribe for him, her fear of losing him to other women, her arrival at the apex of her youth, her fear of getting old. The most moving line of the song is its refrain: yee dapaham tee laagyo. The song’s epic appeal is also due to its enthralling composition, which is more or less the same in all the five versions of it I have indicated below.
Kashmiri Pandits’ claim on the song is tenuous. How they think of the passionate romantic song to be a hymn on Shiva-Parvati’s spiritual love is incredible. There are lines referring to the woman leaving her tribe for her lover, applying henna on her nails, fear of her losing him to other women, the radiance of her youth, and the use of the word Wallah, a word used by Kashmiri Muslims meaning ” by God,” that is a swearing invoking god, which just cannot be connected to Shiva-Parvati love.
Following are the authenticated lyrics of the song. The text is in bold font, my translation is below it:
- Harmukh bar tal zaagaie madano, yee dapham tee laagyo
I will wait at Harmukh gates for you my love, whatever you ask I will offer you
- Shari dapham golab lagaie madano, yee dapham tee laagyo
Ask for a flower on your forehead, I will offer you a rose my love, whatever you ask I will offer you
- Phambas te naaras mil goom, wallah mey chaie paeta dil goam
Cotton and fire have fused, by God my heart is stuck on you
- Be ti no ye doreyar chalaie madano, yee dapham tee laagyo
I also can’t take this distance between us my love, whatever you ask I will offer you
- Kabeele drayas kranai, kiah osum diak laane
I left my tribe for good, what a destiny
- Tabeebe ath kiah mane madano, yeh dapham tee laagayo
What can a preacher do about it my love, whatever you ask I will offer you
- Kongas kaermai chaman, maenz ho laagaie naman
Saffron I am planting in the beds, henna I will apply on my nails
- Mushtaq gowham kaeman madano, yee dapham tee laagayo
Whom are you yearning for my love, whatever you ask I will offer you?
- Yaawan miyane thazro, thazrai paethe traw nazro
My youth is at its zenith, look at me from that level
- Kael waisi hangai zazur madano, yee dapham tee laagyo
At the end the temples will wither, whatever you ask I will offer you
Note: The word “temples” refers to the two temples in the human head.
I am providing links of the song sung by five professional singers: Sunita Bhan Dhar, Qaisar Nizami, Shamima Azad, Rajinder Kachroo, and Sniti Mishra. None of them have used the full lyrics and in some renderings some words have been changed.
- Sunita Bhan Dhar: https://youtu.be/VoYACx3LjaA
- Qaisar Nizami: https://youtu.be/123OruSqagI
- Shamima Dev: https://youtu.be/OQOUj86lF_s
- Rajinder Kachroo: https://youtu.be/y4nenAJUPQI
- Sniti Mishra: https://youtu.be/3hweeYKlCBU (needs to be copied and pasted in the browser)
A discussion on the article:
Letter from Mr. Arjun Dhar:
Dear Maharaj Kaul mahra,
Undergraduate Law Student
Downing College, Cambridge
My response to Mr. Arjun Dhar’s letter:
Suffern, New York, June 8, 2018; Rev. Dec. 2,2019; Rev: May 18, 2020