Kamal Jumblatt, wealthy feudal boss of much of Lebanon's mountain country and leader of the nation's socialists, was as much a baffling enigma as he was a central political figure in the three decades since Lebanon achieved independence.

He shuttled easily between the public, political life of modern Beirut and the 300-year-old family castle in the mountains 50 miles away where he ruled the mystery-shrouded Druze sect like a small-town political boss.

When Lebanon's 19-month-long civil war, in which he had been a leading combatant, ended last year, Jumblatt told friends that, although he was not yet 60, he was ready to retire from public life and go to India, where he had often immersed himself for meditation and rest after difficult periods. But he had been unable to leave what he considered an unfinished job in Lebanon.

The stooped, aristocratic power broker was a jumble of paradoxes.

He was a multimillion landlord with some of Lebanon's largest holdings - and he was a warlord who emulated Mahatma Gandhi - a student of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs who insisted that there were times when violence was a duty.

He opposed communion and tried to keep his socialism apart from it - and he was a 1972 winner of the Lenin Peace Prize. To his Druze traditions and upbringing he added a solid Roman Catholic education - and used the resulting blend of ideas to press for the secularization of Lebanon.

As a Druze, Jumblatt could not hold any of the country's three top offices, but he made and broke national leaders, sometimes making and breaking the very some man when his mood or the situation changed.

Jumblatt knew violence and had survived several earlier attacks. His father, a hereditary Druze chieftain, was assassinated when Jumblatt was a child and his only sister was slain by gunmen who broke into her Beirut apartment last May.

To understand Jumblatt, his friends always said, one had to travel high into the Lebanese mountains to his ancestral home at Moukhtara and watch him hold court there most Sundays. Old Druze men in white turbans and half-foot-long mustaches would file in to receive counsel and make requests.

The Druze, who number about 200,000 are a seemingly anachronistic sect that is an outgrowth of Islam and had its own origin in Cairo in 1071. It is a secret and is known for its cohesion and loyalty.

A key practice of the Druze religion is dissimulation: Druze are permitted and encouraged to profess publicly the policies of the society in which they find themselves. This outward flexibility and inner secrecy account for the tiny, distinctive sect's survival through 1,000 years in such a turbulent region.

Jumblatt, with socialist leanings as a youth, inherited the vast holdings of his father, the feudal governor of the Chouf region, of the mountains southeast of Beirut.

After studying in Beirut and Paris, he entered the Cabinet for the first time in 1948 when, at of 29, he was made minister of economy and agriculture.

Jumblatt and his supporters backed the election of Bishara Khoury, Lebanon's first president, and eight years later led the peaceful overthrow of Khoury.

Later Camille Chamoun became president with Jumblatt's help but in 1958, Jumblatt was a key figure in the civil war that replaced Chamoun with Fuad Chehab, whom Jumblatt ardently supported from then on.

When U.S. troops intervened in that war at Chamoun's request, Jumblatt, whose tough Druze warriors numbered no more than a few thousand, loudly threatened to carry the war to the American forces. When a political compromise was reached, he quietly sent his men back to the mountains.

The Progressive Socialist Party that Jumblatt founded shortly after World War II professed a blend of nationalist and anti-Western themes and pursued a moderate socialist program of a country renowned for its free-wheeling enterprise.

From this base, Jumblatt was in and out of the Cabinet, serving as minister of education, of public works and, twice, of interior.

In the recently ended civil war, Jumblatt's socialists and Lebanon's Moslem leftists formed a convenient common front with the Palestinians against the largely Christian entrenched control of Lebanon despite a population shift that had given Moslems a majority.

When other Moslem leaders, showed a willingness to end the war, Jumblatt - poet, mystic and Lenin Peace Prizewinner - pressed on, hoping to wrench major concessions from the Christians. Only when Syria sent its forces to help the Lebanese right did Jumblatt give in.

Then, the unlikely warlord , whose suit seemed perennially rumpled and tie forever askew, who slumped as he walked and spoke in a weak, croaky voice, went back to his yoga, his poetry and his study of plants and waited for new opportunities to use his political influence.