Lalla Arifa growing up
Lalla Arifa lived in the 1300s AD, in Kashmir, in northern India. Most people in medieval Kashmir were Muslims. They 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 – and hungry.
She leaves home for religious life
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. (Or, maybe she lived with religious Hindus, but later Sufi mystics used her poems.)
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.
What are her poems about?
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: