Among the Kashmiri scholars of Sanskrit whom Maharaja Ranbir Singh respected greatly was Pandit Saheb Ram Kaul (SRK), a deeply learned man whose study of the Shastras had impressed even the veteran Pandits of Varanasi. There is no clear documentary evidence of SRK's exact date of birth, but he lived during the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh which lasted from 1858 to 1885. His father Dila Ram was a revenue official in Maharaja Gulab Singh's service and lived in the Anantnag town. His mother was the daughter of a well-known scholar Pandit Tika Lal Razdan. SRK was only seven years old when his father passed away. His mother then shifted to Srinagar along with her brothers, Pandit Lakhmi Ram and Pandit Lassa Kak.
At first SRK was admitted to a Persian Maktab (school) for his studies, but there he showed no progress even though he remained on its rolls till the age of 18. Persian was not his cup of tea and he finally gave up studying it at the Maktab.
This lack of interest in Persian was, however, taken to be a sign of dullness by his peers in the neighbourhood. They taunted and teased him much to the distress of his mother who asked one of her brothers to examine his horoscope. The brother, Lakhmi Ram, selected an auspicious time and started teaching the boy Sanskrit. Seeing his keenness to learn Sanskrit, Lakhmi Ram later got him admitted to a large Sanskrit Pathashala run by a reputed scholar of the time. SKR developed a great interest in the study of Sanskrit, acquiring knowledge at a pace faster than any one could imagine. Soon he blossomed into a full-fledged scholar mastering Vyakarna (grammar), Alankara (rhetoric), Vedanta and Mimamsa (two schools of Indian Philosophy).
Once, a learned man arrived at his home seeking a solution for some difficult academic problem. SRK's maternal uncle, who was a head teacher, was not there at that time. But SRK surprised everyone around when he offered to explain it to him although it did not reIate to his field of study. He cleared the man's doubts and answered his queries in a way that convinced his maternal uncle of his brilliance. Fearing that her son might stagnate there, SRK's mother shifted from her brother's house to a different place.
By this time SRK had acquired mastery over grammar, poetry, drama and Shaiva philosophy. Soon he found that there was no scope for higher academic excellence in Kashmir, as there was no one there to satisfy his deeper quest of knowledge. He quietly decided to leave Kashmir and go to Varanasi, the greatest centre of Sanskrit studies in the country. He left Srinagar on foot and after completing the long, and often hazardous, journey reached Varanasi in quest of higher knowledge. After staying at Varanasi for about a year, exploring the Shastras in greater depth, SRK returned to his home town. He participated in several scholarly debates there, often leaving the Pandits of Kashi stunned by his exceptional learning.
On his return from Varanasi, SRK went to the pilgrim centre of Vicharnag, near Srinagar. In Kashmiri 'nag' means a spring and 'vichar' is to contemplate. It was at Vichar Nag that scholars and saints would assemble for discussions and debates on the Shastras and for exchanging ideas on religious and philosophical matters. The annual pilgrimage to Vichar Nag used to take place on the full moon day of Chaitra. Staying there for seven years, SRK took to sadhana or spiritual discipline. At the end of the sadhana, Maharaja Ranbir Singh sought him out and appointed him as the President of his Vidya Vilas Sabha (the assembly of scholars) and the Principal of the Sanskrit Mahavidyala, founded by him at Bagh- e-Dilawar Khan, not far from Vichar Nag.
SRK constructed a house for himself in the Drabiyar locality of Srinagar, and this house is said to stand there even today. His wife Poshmal Ded was a deeply religious lady. She used to go Hari Parbat every day without fail and take a five mile circumambulatory round of the shrine. In fact their second child, Daya Ram was born near the Sharika Devi shrine while she was on her morning round of worship. Daya Ram turned out to be a great Sanskrit scholar and so did Damodar who followed him.
Under the influence of Shams-ud-Din Iraqi, a bigot from Iraq who persecuted Hindus in Kashmir in large numbers, Sultan Fateh Shah had vandalised the shrine of Chakreshwari at Hari Parbat, Srinagar destroying the idols installed there. SRK traced out and collected the broken parts of the idols and the shrine, assembled these and reconstructed the shrine of Chakreshwari during Maharaja Ranbir Singh's rule.
In 'Niti Kalpalata', one of the books that SRK wrote, it is stated that he also authored nine other Sanskrit works including the Rajataragini Sangraha, Kashmir Tirtha Sangraha, Pancha Sahayek Vivarnam and Gita Vyakhya Sahibi. His erudition, particularly his intimate knowledge of the history and geography of Kashmir left two western orientalists, Aurel Stein and George Buhler, greatly impressed. In the second volume of his translation of the Rajataringini, Stein observes that SRK was "undoubtedly the foremost among the Kashmirian Sanskrit scholars of the last few". His 'Kashmir Tirtha Sangraha', an abstract of information about the ancient shrines of Kashmir, and his commentary on these, proved extremely useful to Stein, and other scholars too, in locating and identifying many places, and in establishing correct historical dates.
Writes Buhler in his famous Report of 1878: "Pandit Saheb Ram appears to have been deeply versed in the Shastras and the ancient history of his country." Buhler states further that "Saheb Ram possessed a very intimate acquaintance with Kashmirian history. Saheb Ram's explanatory treatises and abstract on the manuscripts of Nilamata Purana and other works, will enable us to restore the text and explain its meaning with greater accuracy than ever before". Unfortunately, SRK's attempt at editing and restoring the text of the Nilamata, was not allowed to be published. Had it been, it would have been the first example of textual editing by a Kashmiri scholar. According to Buhler, SRK's corrections and explanations, his attempt to "fill up all the lacunae, to expand all obscure passages and remove, as far as possible, the ungrammatical forms, prove clearly that Pandit Saheb Ram's restoration is correct in substance and that Kalhana took over some portion of his narrative almost literally from the Purana."
SRK's Niti Kalpalata, which was published in two parts, is a book on polity. It seeks to describe the basic elements that are essential for a successful polity. It was Saheb Ram's knowledge of this subject that must have impressed Maharaja Ranbir Singh. In fact SRK's books reflect his wide range of knowledge of a variety of subjects. No wonder that many Indian scholars have praised SRK without any reservation for his academic accomplishments.
[ Inputs by Dr. Dhani Ram Shastri ]
Source: Unmesh - Monthly Newsletter of N.S. Kashmir Research Institute
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