Imagine a 14th century Indian woman becoming a wandering ascetic, much less going around naked and dancing in freezing mountains and orthodox villages! But with mystics, 'ordinary' or 'normal' is not the way—at least in the sense that we so-called ordinary or normal people understand it.
To Lalla, all outer fabrications bore no meaning—including the fabric that you clad around your body. Deeply delved in self-realization, everything of the outside world was just out-worldly for her. They were good to do away with. She was following the advice of her teacher when she sang:
My Master gave me just one rule:
Forget the outside, get to the inside of things.
I, Lalla, took that teaching to heart.
From that day, I’ve danced naked.
Lalla practiced Shaiva Tantra that flourished in the sacred valleys of Kashmir around the turn of the second millennium. She is one of the few mystics to have attained enlightenment in a female body. For the yogi she was, all customs and costumes were but unnecessary details: they had no utility on her path to liberation. So she leaves the social norms behind. She sheds her clothes to wear the sky—just like the Shiva, or digambara (a Sanskrit term meaning sky-clad)—and rejoices in her true inner self.
Lalla expresses the state of her deep realization through proverbs or short poems. She speaks in the local Kashmiri dialect, which had descended from corrupted Sanskrit and Prakrit languages. The Kashmiris have passed on the poems from generation to generation, together with the mystical stories surrounding her. She has quite an influence on the history and culture of the place, inasmuch as to inspire a saying: Kashmiris know of either Allah or Lalla. For common Kashmiris, she is Lal Ded (mother Lalla) or Lal Dyad (grandmother Lalla); for Hindus and yogis, she is Lallesvari or Lalla Yogini; and for Muslims, she is Lalla Arifa.
When the Sufi branch of Islam was entering the valley of Kashmir, her poems came to unify both Shaiva and Sufi thoughts. We also see a hint of Buddhism in her poems when she talks of emptiness. It was a time when Shaiva tantra drew from Mahayana Buddhist concept of śunyatā, or emptiness, which was already around for about a thousand years.
Perhaps what makes Lalla a rarity among woman mystics is that her path was not of bhakti (devotion), but of tantra yoga. She could cross the six astral centers of the body by taming the prana (life-force), and reach the highest state of realization that all yogis aspire to reach—the state of Shiva. In that state, she sings: