Lalla Arifa - Medieval Indian Poet
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Lalla Arifa

five girls standing in a garden
Spinning thread in the garden (1400s AD)

Lalla Arifa lived in the 1300s AD, in Kashmir, in northern India, where most people were Muslims and lived under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate. When Lalla Arifa was twelve years old, her family arranged for her to marry a Brahman, a rich man. At that time (and still today) a lot of girls in India got married at twelve, so probably Lalla was more excited than afraid.

But living with her husband's family didn't go well. Lalla's husband's mother didn't like her, and didn't give her enough food to eat. Lalla was very unhappy there.

When Lalla was 24 years old, she left her husband's house and became a religious Sufi woman, living with other Sufis at a religious shrine. Sufism was just getting started, and like St. Francis a hundred years earlier, they were more welcoming to women than older organizations. Lalla Arifa spent the rest of her life writing Sufi poetry as a way of getting closer to God. Lalla Arifa died in 1392, when she was 72 years old, just before Timur and the Mongols sacked the city of Delhi.

Many of Lalla Arifa's poems are about doing housework, but they're Sufi metaphors for ways of getting closer to God. Here are two of Lalla Arifa's poems:

Learn by doing: write a poem about chores at your house
More about the Sufi faith
More about Indian literature

Bibliography and further reading about Lalla Arifa:

The Delhi Sultanate
More about Medieval India
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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