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Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri

A collosus among scholars

Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri
Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri

[ From archaeology and paleography to Kashmir history to Kashmir Shaivism to grammar and literature Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri (MRS) strode like a colossus in almost every field of Kashmir studies at the turn of the 19th century and in the early years of the twentieth. Gifted with unusual brilliance, MRS worked with Western scholars of the times like Aurel Stein, Sten Konow, Spooner, Prof. Hiltzch, Pope Ved, John Marshal and George Grierson, helping them with his outstanding erudition and intellectual abilities and winning fulsome acclaim from them. His name inspired tremendous respect in academic circles in India and Europe, making John Marshall to say: " There is no Pandit in India of whom I have heard such consistent and such high praise from all with whom he came into contact. " ]

Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri was an extraordinarily gifted Pandit of Kashmir whose extensive knowledge and vast erudition won him a dazzling place in Pan-Indian, and even in European, scholastic circles. In fact, his name became a legend during his lifetime, evoking feelings of respect and admiration in scholars of even the highest order.

Born to Kashmiri Pandit parents, Pandit Ganesh Bhatt Ganjoo and Amravati, in the Sathu Barbarshah locality of Srinagar, Pandit Mukund Ram had his early education at the local Sanskrit Pathshala under the tutelage of Pandit Daya Ram Kaul. He acquired the degree of Shastri, then a covetted degree for those who went in for Sanskrit studies, from Punjab University, Lahore. Shastri became an inseparable part of his name thereafter.

Soon the young Shastri found himself translating Persian and Arabic books into Sanskrit under the supervision of Pandit Ramjoo Dhar, which brought him into limelight in the world of Sanskrit academics. This prompted Ranbir Singh, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir state, to offer him the prestigious assignment of translating a Tibetan Buddhist treatise "Kangur and Tangur" into Sanskrit. Learning Tibetan from Thomas Tamsel, MRS completed the stupendous task of translating the 1,50,000 verses with great competence and ability. This enhanced further his reputation as a scholar and earned him a cash award of Rs.500 - quite a huge sum those days.

Impressed, the Maharaja asked MRS to accompany Lama Gure to Paddar in Kashtwar, Kashmir, where the latter had to conduct research on sapphires in which the area is rich. It was here that he came into contact with the well-known European orientalist Pope Ved, who was engaged at that time in preparing a book on Kashmiri grammar. MRS assisted Ved with great ability, displaying a deep study of Kashmiri syntax and grammatical forms. Soon afterwards MRS was appointed as Sanskrit teacher at CMS Biscoe School, Srinagar, a school run by Christian missionaries, but gave up the job on the request of Aurel Stein who arrived in Kashmir in the year 1899 for translating the Rajataringini. MRS assisted Stein in several ways till his great work was completed. It was on Stein's recommendation that MRS helped Grierson while he was engaged working on his linguistic survey of India. Thus began his two decade association with Grierson which saw publication of works like the dictionary of the Kashmiri language and an annotated translation of Krishna joo Razdan's "Shiva Parinaya."

On the request of A.W. Straton, who was Registrar Punjab University, Lahore from the years 1900 to 1902, MRS wrote "Katak Bhasha Sutra", a work of great value.

As was natural, when the Research Department was set up by the Maharaja's government in 1912, MRS was chosen as its Head Pandit. Later, he rose to the position of Officer Incharge, Research and Archaeological Department, a post he held till 1919.

In 1908, MRS worked closely with Sten Konow, Epigraphist to Government of India, and David B. Spooner, Superinten- dant Archaeological Survey. MRS was a great help to A.M Francki during the latter's archaeological explorations in Ladakh-Tibet border, in deciphering Sharada and Devanagari inscriptions. Wrote Francki, who was senior Archaeologist, Government of India "The Dras inscriptions which had been given up in despair by Sir William Cunningham became perfectly intelligible under the treatment of Mukund Ram Shastri. This gentleman has extra- ordinary ability to decipher and interpret inscriptions in Sharada and Devanagari which are in bad state of preservation."

During the years 1903 to 1907, MRS worked on ancient history of Kashmir and ably assisted Spooner in his work on Jonaraja's "Jaina Rajataringini", which covers Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin's period. He also proved of immense help to Sir John Marshall in his archaeological explorations in Kashmir. But perhaps the finest hour in MRS' life was when he critically edited a whole series of texts on Kashmir Shaivism during his tenure in the Research Department of Jammu and Kashmir. Of the 29 books brought out by the Department under the title "Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies", as many as 23 were edited by MRS, including "Shiva Sutra Vimarshini", "Spanda Karika", "Tantraloka", "Tantrasara", "Ishwar Pratibijnya", "Paratrimshika" and "Parmarthasara". This series of Shaiva texts is perhaps a monumental accomplishment of the great scholar for which his name shall be ever taken with pride and. profound respect.

MRS also edited and published "Mahanaya Prakash" one of the earliest extant works in Kashmiri.

Apart from these texts, the compilation and translation of Lalla Dyad's verses under the title " Lalavakyani" by George Grierson and L.D. Barnelt in 1920 also owes much to the labours of MRS, who also helped Grierson in editing the "Kashmira Shadamrita" by Ishwar Kaul.

With such brilliant attainments to his credit it is no wonder that the title "Mahamahopadhyaya" was conferred upon MRS in recognition of his profound knowledge of a vast range of subjects from Sanskrit language and literature and philosophy to grammar and epigraphy.

MRS left his mortal frame in 1921, leaving behind the imprint of his genius on his great works of scholarship.

To his Western counterparts he was a kindred spirit. Grierson called him his "old friend". Stein observed: "I shall always be glad to remember him among my friends". Dr. Hutzch records "In him also I hope to have found at once a friend whom I shall never forget". To all those for whom Kashmir is not just a geographical denomination but a repository of learning and ideas, MRS will ever, remain a guiding star.

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

 

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