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Pandit Prem Nath Shastri

Epitome of KP Identity

By Vijay Tikoo

Pandit Prem Nath Shastri
Pandit Prem Nath Shastri 

In his last words Pandit Prem Nath Shastri attributes the success of his ‘Vijyeshwar Panchang’ to not as much to his own efforts but the overwhelming support of the Kashmiri Pandit Community. These words from a man who knew that his death was not far away convey both a sense of accomplishment as well as feeling gratitude Pandit Prem Nath had reluctantly agreed to give up the job in state education department after completing  his education and join his father and Guru Pandit Aftab Sharma to bring out the Kashmiri Panchang ‘Vijyashwari Jantri’ now a household name amongst Kashmiri Pandits.

In fact ‘Vijyeshwar Panchang’ over the years has become one of the most important guides for the Kashmiri Pandit Community in their day to day socio-religious dealings. Not that Kashmiri Pandit Community did not have alternative ‘Panchangs’ to adopt. In fact Brahman Maha Mandal of Kashmir for quite sometime has been taking out a ‘Panchang’ which many Kashmiri scholars opined was more accurate. Yet the Pandit Community almost through a silent consensus chose ‘Vijyeshwar Jantri’ as a guide in their socio-religious dealings. Perhaps for its better presentability and simple language. Or with this confidence that the family of Prem Nath Shastri had carried on this task for three centuries and shall ensure its continuity in the future as well.

Pandits recognise ‘Vijyeshwar Jantri’ as one of the most important institutions for maintaining their identity during such times when pressures for dissolution of the same are multiplying.

Pandit Prem Nath Shastri’s role during his life time did not remain confined to just carrying ahead a family tradition but in institutionalising it in such a way that its relevance in the social life of Kashmiri Pandits only increased with each day. During the years in exile, ‘Vijyeshwar Jantri’ became the most important instruments for Kashmiri Pandit to holding on to his identity. When the news of the demise of Pandit Prem Nath Shastri broke out, displaced Pandits received it with a stunning silence.  Pandit Prem Nath Shastri through ‘Vijyeshwar Jantri’ and numerous other works endeavoured to protect  Kashmiri Pandit identity and with his demise people feel as if a fulcrum around which they could rebuild their socio-cultural fabric in exile was lost.

During the years after the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989, Sh Prem Nath Shastri had become acutely conscious and concerned about the dangersPandit Prem Nath Shastri to the cultural identity of Kashmiri Pandits in exile. ‘Our ritual traditions have become as important as they were never before. Not in their negative degenerated form, but in their positive essence. Our traditions will hold us together in exile,” he once said to us while thinking aloud on the tragedies that befell upon Kashmiri Pandits. Not surprisingly, he undertook the arduous task of commenting and explaining the main ritual traditions of Kashmiri Pandits. He brought out small booklets, audio cassettes on the significance and performance of almost all important religious traditions and rituals of Kashmiri Pandits. These capsules like Karam Kand Deepak, Shivratri Puja, Sandiya, Antim Sanskar, Janam Din Puja has had a marked impact on the Kashmiri Pandit Social life in exile. While as in the Valley such ritual traditions were the forte of only a small section of ‘Gaurs’-the priestly class of Kashmiri Brahmins, in exile through these simplified and written and audio capsules practice of the ritual traditions has become possible for one and all. Very gradually the families of displaced Kashmiri Pandits have become active participants in their religious traditions. The simple and erudite expositions of Shastri Ji both in written and audio forms on such works like Panchastavi, Bhawani Sahsranama, Mahimnapaar, Bhagwat Geeta, verses of Lal Ded have been a profound attempt to bring the spiritual tradition of Kashmiri Pandits within the reach of the displaced Hindu society from Kashmir.

Shastri Ji also understood very well the importance of preserving the Kashmiri language for the survival of Kashmiri Pandits as a distinct entheno-religious group. In all his public discourses and social interactions Pandit Prem Nath Shastri would urge the new generation to speak Kashmiri language, and transmit it to the coming generations. He also wanted the digeneous script for Kashmir to be revived. In fact his ‘Sharda Primer’ has been one of the few attempts to revive ‘Shardha Script’ amongst Kashmiri Pandits.

In  his day to day living Shastri Ji was an epitome of traditional Kashmiri Pandit living. He always wore the traditional Kashmiri Pandit Pheren and the turban. His living room reflected not only the style but also the discipline of a Kashmiri Brahmin scholar. No chairs, arrangement of books on the rack, his writing desk, everything bore a traditional mark, besides his strict working schedule. But most significant was his own personality which was typically a Kashmiri Pandit type.

The glow on his face, inquisitiveness of eyes, soft but stern voice and the aura of discipline. He appeared deeply orthodox by looks. But just a small conversation with him would convince about his flexibility of thought.

Pandit Prem Nath Shastri

During his last days he had developed taste for listening to the ‘audio cassettes’ of Osho. His son had to purchase Rs 10,000 worth cassettes which Pandit Shastri would listen while fighting his disease. ‘He (Osho) has been misunderstood by the people of India. But I am a Kashmiri Brahmin. I cannot deny him his due,’ he would tell his family during his last days.

One of the last wishes of Pandit Prem Nath Shastri had been to publish a ‘Panchang’ for Jammu. Most of the work on the same has been already completed under his supervision. His sons as a tribute to him are going to bring out the first issue of ‘Ranvireshwar Panchang’ very soon. When one of us pointed out to the eldest son of Pandit Shastri that the mantle of the social and religious responsibility, which Shastri Ji had carried on his shoulders, now fell on him, he was overwhelmed and said with moist eyes in all humility, “I am feeling the weight. But I will do my best with your co-operation”.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel  - Publication of  Panun Kashmir

 

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