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Pandit Anand Koul

Kashmir's pioneer historical and cultural researcher

Pandit Anand Koul
Pandit Anand Koul
Photo Courtesy: Utpal Publications

[When Pandit Anand Koul published his first book, 'The Kashmiri Pandit' in 1924, a pioneering work on the history and ethnography of the Kashmiri Pandits, he created history. For the first time someone was writing about a people who had contributed greatly to Indians culture, art, literature and philosophy, out of proportion to their small numerical strength, and who had survived many an onslaughts of history only to be marginalised by inexorable political developments. The publication of the book became an event and its writer followed it up by several works on history, literature, archaeology, folklore and saints of Kashmir -- each enhancing his reputation as a pioneer of modern research and each contributing to a sense of cultural resurgence among Kashmiris. We are giving below a short biographical sketch of this great writer and researcher of Kashmir.]

Sitting in his office on the prestigious chair of the President of Srinagar Municipality, immaculately dressed in a Western suit and necktie, hardly anyone could guess from the outward trappings of this "socially honoured and important citizen of Kashmir" that his mind was set at exploring the cultural and historical past of his native land and studying the sociology of the community to which he belonged. Yet Pandit Anand Koul (A.K.) had all the makings of a great researcher, writer and antiquarian deeply interested in digging out facts from the fog of time.

His modern scientific outlook, his English education, his felicity with words, his grounding in traditional Sanskrit and Persian learning made him ideally suited for the task of a writer on various aspects of his native land and its history, culture and traditions. As an eminent historian and writer V. N. Mehta, the illustrious father of Mrs. Pupul Jayakar, has put it, AK was every bit "a learned antiquarian and writer who loved to search things in Kashmir."

A.K. was born in Srinagar on April 3, 1867, as the only son of Pandit Tota Koul, an important revenue official coming from an affluent family. A.K. "passed his childhood and youth in easy circumstances", as his biographical sketch in 'The Kashmiri Pandit' says. As was common in his time in Kashmir, he had his initial education in Sanskrit and Persian in a Tsatahal or a traditional Kashmiri school. But like NS, he decided to learn English and acquire modern education.

At the age of 14, AK became one of first Kashmiris to learn English at an English medium missionary school opened by Rev. Doxey in 1881. But for Doxey's first pupil, things did not go so smoothly, for his decision to learn English faced stiff opposition not only from his relatives and friends but also from the Maharaja who feared that the missionaries would convert him to Christianity. But AK's strong will saw him through as he progressed in his study of not only English but also mathematics, history, geography and other subjects which were considered as modern those days.

It was another missionary, Rev. Knowles, Rev. Doxey's successor as the founder of the school, who ignited the interest in research in history and folklore of Kashmir in the mind of young Anand Koul. Knowles was so impressed by AK's intellectual proclivities that he made him the first headmaster of the school in 1893. Soon AK found himself assisting Knowles in writing his famous book, "Proverbs of Kashmir", which was published in 1896. This launched AK on his career as writer and researcher quite early in life -- a field in which he was eventually to make his mark.

AK's sound knowledge of the English language landed him the plum post of Sheriff in the office of Raja Amar Singh's Council of Regency. Later, he did a stint in the office of State's Census Commissioner and from there his reputation led him to work as an assistant of Sir C.G. Todhunter in reorganising the state's Custom's Department. A terribly impressed Todhunter soon gave A.K. an independent charge of the department. But it was as President of Srinagar Municipality, considered a top post those days, to which he was appointed by A.K. Mitra, Home Minister of J & K State for his competence, efficiency and honesty, that AK's career graph as an administrator touched the highest point. AK worked hard to improve sanitary conditions in Srinagar which had earned the notoriety of being the filthiest city in Asia, and eventually he succeeded in transforming its face. He remained on the coveted administrative post for three years from 1914 to 1917, retiring as the highest-paid Kashmiri official of that time with his prestige touching the skies.

Had AK remained content with just his reputation as an administrator, he could have been forgotten with the passage of time. His fame, however, solely rests today on his achievements as a research scholar and a writer. His inner proclivities had always urged him to move in that direction and fortunately for him he did not ignore this urge. Starting as a journalist, he worked as the special correspondent of the 'Civil and Military Gazette' of Lahore and the 'pioneer' of Allahabad besides his official duties in the state, and graduated as a full-fledged writer. He made his debut as a historian by writing a well researched monograph on the fifty lost kings of Kashmir about whom Kalhana did not succeed in procuring any facts. The monograph was published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in its prestigeous journal. The Society later published in its journal another monograph by AK on the Kapalmochan tirtha at Shopiyan in Kashmir, establishing his credentials as a researcher.

In 1913 came AK's 'Geography of Jammu and Kashmir', a well-written and authentic book that scored over the so-called guide books written by European travellers giving "wrong place-names and distorted version of facts."

Then appeared his book on the "Life and Sayings of Lalla -- the Shaiva Yogini of Kashmir", which was published earlier aerially in the Indian Antiquary -- first the part on her "Life" and then her "Sayings". Then came its companion volume on the "Life and Sayings of Nund Rishi". Like Lalleshweri the life and sayings of the saint were serially published in the journal 'Indian Antiquary.' Both the works showed deep and intense study.

Perhaps his most important work was his book 'The Kashmiri Pandit' which was published in 1924. Said to be the first ever historical and sociological study of any Indian community, the book deservingly received widespread critical appreciation.

AK was the first Kashmiri to have contributed in a very significant manner to the study of his native language and its literature. His collection and translation of Kashmiri proverbs and riddles, which was published in the Indian Antiquary, was indeed a pioneering work of great importance. So are his biographical write-ups on the saints of Kashmir like 'Rupa Bhawani', 'Rishi Peer' and 'Manasavi Rajanaka' which highlighted their influence on contemporary society."

Yet another important work of AK was his book on "Archaeological Remains of Kashmir." This was the result of his personal on-the-spot study of Kashmir's ancient monuments. As AK was not a professional archaeologist, he was somewhat diffident to publish the results of his study without authentic critical opinion. So he approached C.E.A. Woldham, an authority on the subject and a friend of Aurel Stein, for a review. And this is what Woldham wrote about it: "It has been a real pleasure reading through the manuscript which discloses such full acquaintance with the remains of Kashmir and includes several not mentioned in other textual books and memoirs."

AK's reputation as a writer gave him an important place in the social milieu of Kashmir of the times. He met Swami Vivekananda when he visited Kashmir in 1897 and hosted a dinner in his honour. He can be seen in the group photograph of the great saint with prominent Kashmiri Pandits, seated with his imposing personality. He also gave a reception to poet Rabindra Nath Tagore at his residence when the poet visited Kashmir with top Kashmiri litteratures of the time attending the reception. Some years later, he hosted a reception in the honour of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru too. Tej Bahadur Sapru held the reputed scholar of Kashmir in high esteem. This is evident from the foreword he wrote to AK's book on archaelogical remains of Kashmir. Sapru's words sum up all that can be said as a tribute to AK: "He belongs to the soil he has lived all his life in their enchanting surroundings the legend and tradition of Kashmir are a part of his inherited consciousness. He may therefore well claim the right to present to the world the beauties of his country, its history, its legend and its tradition in glowing terms.

Pandit Anand Kaul speaks of the past of Kashmir, whose monuments bear witness to past. May its past, may its natural grandeur inspire the living generation of her sons and daughters to prove themselves worthy of their past and of their inspiring environments and may it be possible for the present generation to cultivate his noble virtues of political, civic and economic life, without which no people, howsoever bounteously endowed with wealth and natural scenery can rise to greatness in the world."

Source: Unmesh - Monthly Newsletter of  N.S. Kashmir Research Institute

 

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