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Vol. II, No. 16-17
 
   

August 1998
Vol. II, No. 10

Work Starts on Encyclopaedia of Kashmiri Culture

International Seminar on Kashmir Shaivism also on the anvil

Work has been initiated on compilation of an encyclopaedia of Kashmiri culture - an ambitious and top priority project on NSKRI agenda. The process was set into motion with the Institute calling a meeting of Kashmiri Pandit scholars, authors, intellectuals and connoisseurs of art and culture on August 9, 1998 at India International Centre, New Delhi to elicit their views and suggestions on the methodology, format and feasibility of the project. The meeting was chaired by Mr R. N. Kaul, a well known author and a reputed scholar of Kashmir history and culture.

Placing the perceptions of NSKRI about the proposed encyclopaedia before the august gathering, Dr. S. S. Toshkhani, member of the Institute's core group, said that it was very necessary to define precisely the concepts of Kashmir's indigenous culture at a time when Kashmiri Pandits had been uprooted and forcibly exiled. "There is an appalling ignorance about these concepts and about the fact that our cultural traditions date back to 5000 years and not to the 14th century as is being orchestrated in an attempt to identify it totally with West Asian Islamic culture. Ask anyone about Kashmir and he will go ga ga over the so-called Sufi foundation of its ethos without having the least idea of what the actual facts of history are or caring for what Kashmir has really contributed to Indian thought and culture.

The proposed encyclopaedia will seek to dispel this ignorance and set right the distortions, in order to present the original cultural face of Kashmir instead of a deliberately constructed one."

"Culture", Dr. Toshkhani said, "has something to do with the concepts, values and ideals that shape our mind and influence and inspire our behaviour and thought giving meaning to our life." Continuity is of the essence, he said, lamenting that the Pandits "did not care to know about their cultural traditions and their origin while in Kashmir. And now when they have been thrown out, they are stung by a feeling of loss without being aware of what they have actually lost."

He, however, felt that there was no need for despair "Displaced communities have given birth to great cultural movements", he pointed out. "It were the artists and thinkers hounded out of Byzantium during the crusades in the Middle Ages and forced to settle in Italy and other European countries who inspired the great European renaissance. The displaced Kashmiri Pandits should at least try to know who they are before their cultural traditions are wiped away altogether from their collective memory and they become the forgotten people of history.

Dr. Toshkhani, however, made it clear that the proposed encyclopaedia was not to be compiled as an emotional reaction to the present state of things, but as a serious inquiry of facts. It will be precise, authoritative and have absolute regard for truth seeking to come up to international standards in the field. He referred to Huntington's recent thesis of clash of civilizations, and said "This is exactly what is happening over Kashmir. We have to see that we do not lose out on this front," he cautioned.

Dr. Toshkhani then proceeded to outline NSKRI's approach to the structural aspect of the encyclopaedia, stating that a subjectwise compilation was preferable to a general listing of concepts in an alphabetical order. The Institute has envisaged a five-volume encyclopaedia, as it would be more convenient, more specific and less time consuming with the subjects arranged in the following manner: Volume I could deal with art, architecture, sculpture, artifacts and allied areas; Volume II could include philosophy, religion, ethics, rituals, beliefs and traditions; Volume III could be about ethnicity, social life and social history, customs etc; Volume IV would comprise language, literature, aesthetics and folklore and Volume V could focus on the performing arts like music, dance, drama, folk-theatre, artistic sports and so on. It was only a preliminary plan and details had to be worked out, he clarified, inviting suggestions and ideas from the participants in this regard.

Dr. Toshkhani also referred to the second item on the agenda and said that NSKRI intended to hold an international seminar-cum-exhibition on Kashmir Shaivism sometime in March, 1999 in which nationally and internationally known scholars would be requested to participate. The papers read out at the seminar would be compiled in the form of a book which would be published later. Display material at the exhibition would include miniature paintings, artefacts, ritual objects, manuscripts, and books, he said.

Earlier Mr. S. N. Pandita, member NSKRI core group, welcomed the participants and gave a brief background of the formation of NSKRI, the objectives it was wedded to and some of its recent activities. He referred to the "horrendous changes brought about in the.Kashmiri Pandit community by the difficult situation created by the ten years of exodus and the sense of loss it was suffering from. "There were innumerable tangible and intangible losses, but more than anything else it was the loss of that distinct identity, that definite ethnicity that defines what it is to be a Kashmiri Pandit that has suffered devastating damage," he observed. "Our culture is in total neglect, our heritage is in shambles," he lamented, "and it is to generate a sense of resurgence in the community, and to retrieve what can be retrieved in the realm of culture that the NSKRI is taking steps. We want the younger generation to know about the glory of our scholarship, of our rich contribution to literature, to art, to philosophy."

Expressing his views on the subject, eminent Kashmiri poet and scholar Mr. Motilal Saqi said that at the outset we have to be clear about the scope of the proposed encyclopaedia. "You have to define whether Burzahom, Gophakral, Kraljag, Symthan is your legacy or not? And where are you to place the architecture of Jama Masjid which is simply of blockhouse type or pagoda type ? You will have to address yourself to these and other questions before you set out to work on the encyclopaedia."

"The other important thing", Mr. Saqi said, "is to have a blueprint of the work prepared to be clear about how you are going to go about it.

Another thing to be determined, he said, was the wordage for different entries. "You cannot afford to have a 5000 word entry on one topic and a ten- word entry on another. You will have to fix the word-limit before hand, otherwise the whole exercise can get out of control."

Prof. Harikrishna Kaul, eminent Kashmiri short story writer, suggested that an editorial board be formed before assignment of topics to different experts. Such a board, he said, could go into all the aspects of brining out the encyclopaedia, including selecting names of the contributors and preparing a list of the topics. Final details could come only later.

Regarding organising a seminar-cum-exhibition on Kashmir Shaivism, Prof. Kaul said that a sub- committee should be set up to recommend what preparatory steps could be taken for the purpose.

Scholar and publisher Utpal Kaul said that historians think of writing history only in times of crisis. Kalhana wrote his Rajatarangini when there was crisis in Kashmir. In the last 100 to 150 years nothing much was done by the Kashmiri Pandits in this field, he regretted. "It is the non- Kashmiris rather who have been engaged in significant work on Kashmir". To illustrate his point, Mr. Kaul cited the example of Dr. Goswami's book on Kashmiri miniatures depicting the goddess Chamundi which, he said, he came across recently when he was in Europe. "As for Kashmiri Pandits, they seem to have lost their historical sense", he lamented.

However, Mr. Utpal Kaul said, he was happy to note that "the crisis of the last ten years has aroused that sense in them again, especially the youth who appear to be very keen to know about their historical past." During these ten years, he said, he had been able to sell more than 500 copies of the Rajataringini to Kashmiri Pandits, young and old, inquisitive about their history.

Hailing the decision of NSKRI to bring out an encyclopaedia of Kashmiri culture, Mr. Kaul expressed the hope that the Institute would set up the highest standards before it for completing the task.

Referring to the issue of architecture of Jama Masjid in Srinagar, raised by Mr. Motilal Saqi, Mr. Utpal Kaul said that it was high time that the truth, whatever it be, should be told. "History is truth, only truth and full truth," He said quoting Von Ronkin.

Expressing his views, Dr. K. Warikoo, Associate Professor, JNU and General Secretary, Himalayan Cultural Foundation, recalled earlier exoduses of the Kashmiri Pandits that took place in the 17th, 18th and l9th century "in similar or even more difficult circumstances." These Pandits, he said, settled in place like Sita Ram Bazar in Delhi, Lucknow and Oudh where they subsumed themselves in the Persian and Urdu culture that surrounded them. "They found themselves, consciously or unconsciously, more comfortable in company of Muslim nobility and princely class or cultural elite. This gave rise to a new socio- cultural ethos among the emigre' Kashmiri Pandits - a culture that overlapped with the Urdu culture of the local Muslim elite which had several political factors behind it. This resulted in the development of faulty perceptions among the Kashmiri Pandit political elite of the times."

Viewing the present situation in Kashmir in the perspective of what was happening in the newly independent states of Central Asia - Kazakhistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmemistan - formed after breaking up of the Soviet Union, Dr. Warikoo said. "Each of these republics had a fairly large population of non-Muslims, that is Russians, Christians, Jews and others, when they were formed in December 1990. None of these states declared secularism as of basic principle of their constitutions, but they spelt out in clear detail that they are going to move towards ethnic homogenization, that is, easing out non-Central Asians."

Compared to Nazarbayev or Karimov, Dr Warikoo observed "I found Nehru on shaky sand considering how he charted the course of India's destiny after 1947.

Nazarbayev, on the other hand, moved his capital to the Russian majority area of North Kazkhistan along with 200,000 Muslim families to dilute the demand of secession. Dr Warikoo felt that the present socio-political situation in Kashmir being similar "we have to be deeply conscious of what we have passed through while drawing cultural histriography of contemporary Kashmir or writing its linguistic history."

Dr. Warikoo wanted the NSKRI to be "clear about the ideological parameters" while preparing an encyclopaedia of Kashmiri culture. "While focussing on the indigenous ethno-cultural traits, we must also recall our glorious contribution to Indianness and keeping in view the lessons of our recent history, identifying with the broad mainstream of Indian Hindu culture", he urged.

Mr. D.N.Munshi, ex-President, All India Kashmiri Samaj, said that we must let the truth to prevail rather than be influenced by our emotions and our present state of mind. "We should also keep in mind that culture is not a hard boiled thing, it keeps on changing with the moods of the time and influences of history", he said.

Mr. Munshi wanted food habits of the Kashmiris to be included in the list of subjects for the encyclopaedia, showing how these "are governed by our religious practices and climatic conditions". A general direction should be given to the contributors about wordage etc. but in no case should their thoughts be cramped by any pre- conceived ideas, he said.

Mr Munshi expressed the community's "gratitude, deep gratitude for what the NS Kashmir Institute is set to do", adding that " the first steps it has already taken has delighted most of us."

Mr. C. V. Gopinath, a prominent scholar from Karnataka and a well known friend of NSKRI emphasized that the cultural traits of Kashmiri Pandits and of Brahmins elsewhere in the country are the same except some local variations here and there in things like food and dress habits. "Your mantras are the same, your religious practices and ceremonies like marriage, upnayana or shraadha, are the same." The slight differences that are there are due to factors like distance and climate, he said. "If you are suffering, it is because you are Brahmins, had you been anything else, you would have got a better treatment."

He advised the NSKRI to "identify with, and seek the support of the mainstream Hindus in preparing the cultural encyclopaedia. Scholars of the Institute should go to the Oriental Research Institute, Mysore, to Palghat, to Thirvananthapuram from where the great Shankaracharya hailed, to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and to Pune in Maharashtra, a great seat of learning, for access to resource material, he suggested, as these five places in the South have deep cultural and religious links with Kashmir."

"We all want to have the encyclopaedia, but I am worried about the execution part of it," said Dr. Sudhir Sopori, also of the JNU. Some kind of advisory board should be set up, he suggested, preferably at the international level, which could prepare a blue-print for the project and also select the "right kind of editorial board."

As everybody was today going for the internet, people would like to see an encyclopaedia of Kashmiri culture on CD-ROMs, apart from print, he suggested. "It would also be useful if you could have web a page for the Institute," Dr Sopori said, " for then you could get a wider and better response from the whole international community."

Dr. Advaitvadini Kaul of the IGNCA wanted more meetings of specialists, experienced in the field, to take place to chalk out a clear plan for preparing the encyclopaedia. She wanted the cream of scholars to work for the encyclopaedia, including non-Kashmiris.

Dr. Bachchan Kumar, also of the IGNCA felt that a comprehensive bibliography on Kashmir should be prepared as it would come handy for compilirlg the encyclopaedia.

Mr. B. L. Kaul Chaman and Mr. L. C. Kaul also expressed their views. Prominent among others who attended the meeting were Mr. Gopi Nath Raina, Col. R. K. Kachru, Mr. Manohar Lal Pandit, Mr. Virendra-Qazi, Mr. Rajendra Premi, Mr. Balkrishna Bhat, Mr. B. K. Raina and Ms. Sabita Pandita.

Regarding the other items on the agenda, that is, seminar-cum-exhibition on Kashmir Shaivism, it was largely felt that it should not be limited to monistic Shavism alone but should also cover other Shaivite schools. Mr. P. N. Kachru, member NSKRI core group, said that he had prepared a list of topics and scholars, in consultation witn Prof. M. L. Kokiloo, who would be requested to read their papers.

Speaking on the occasion, Prof. M. L. Kokiloo expressed his happiness at the activities and programmes of NSKRI. Prof. Kokiloo is a noted scholar of Kashmir Shaivism.

While summing up the discussions, from the chair, Mr. R.N. Kaul, at the outset, associated himself with the remarks made by Mr. D. N. Munshi, expressing gratitude to the NSKRI and in particular their core group for the onerous tasks they have decided to undertake, in fulfillment of their objectives.

With reference to the preparation of an encyclopedia of Kashmiri Pandit culture, Mr. Kaul thanked the many participants warmly, who by their "commendable contribution and suggestions" had made the discussions, a heartening and fruitful experience. He said that the perspective, the dimensions, the outline, ways and means, focussed upon comprehensively by Dr. Toshkhani and clarifications elicited covering the points made, not only offered much food for thought and action, but also cautioned against pitfalls. Mr. Kaul then tendered a prospect of expectations, generally based on the interchange of ideas, round the table. He said that in order to be acceptable to the academics, the students and the general public, an encyclopaedia has to be authoritative and reliable, should aptly reflect knowledge and deep learning, be written in precise language and idiom, and without any obscure and confusing words. Non-English words and expressions must be accurately translated, listed with phonetic spellings. The readers' access to information had to be easy, through a familiar and universally understood system and framework. He felt that the Encyclopaedia Britannica offered a practical and well standardised model.

As regards the contents, the compilers would have to be a select group of scholars, specialising in the topics responsible for, recognised as authorities, and of the highest calibre, he said. The compilers must be identified, listed and mobilised, under the auspices of an editorial board (led by a chief editor), whose recommendations on the selection, form and content, of an entry would be paramount and facilitate compilation through clear-cut guidelines.

Mr. Kaul suggested the creation of a project group for the preparation of a feasibility study, regarding the organisational set up, the mechanics of operation and financial implications of the proposed project.

As regards the proposal for holding an international seminar on Kashmir Shaivism in Delhi, Mr R. N. Kaul said that the outlined programme, the subjects chosen, together with names of speakers should be accepted as the basis. He recommended the appropriate inclusion of pre-9th century state of Shaivism in Kashmir. Also for a comparative study it would be necessary to devolve on other schools of Shaivism, practised in India.

Faces of Glory
Pandit Saheb Ram Kaul
A Great Sanskrit Scholar of Kashmir

[ There have been two Saheb Kauls or Saheb Ram Kauls in the history of Sanskrit scholarship; both of them have beenfrom Kashmir and both have been great. The first of these Saheb Kauls, the famous author of 'Krishnavtar Charit', lived during the reign of Auranzeb (1658 - 1707) and was the writer of over a dozen valuable Sanskrit works. It is, however, the second Saheb Ram Kaul we are going to profile in this column, a great scholar at Dogra Maharaja Ranbir Singh's court whose brilliance made him the cynosure of learned men in the Maharaja's Vidya Vilas Sabha or the 'assembly of scholars'. ]

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 ]

Dividing a Family Heirloom

When Pandit Keshav Ram, grandson of Pandit Shiva Ram of Mattan (Kashmir) died, his three sons divided his wordly possessions equally amongst themselves. Everything went on smoothly, but one bone of contention remained - a family heirloom that had passed down from generation to generation. It was a manuscript. Not an ordinary manuscript though, for it was the codex archetypus of Kalhana's Rajatarangini which Aurel Stein used for his translation of the chronicle published in 1892.

The three brothers started fighting for its possession, rejecting the idea of retaining the manuscript jointly as a piece of valuable inheritance. Preposterous, thought each of them! How could the other two claim the entire manuscript when it belonged equally to all the three. After all it was a very precious item of heritage. Possessing it was a matter of pride. Eventually the brothers reached a settlement - the manuscript should be divided into three equal parts so that each of them could share the pride. And acting swiftly, they did divide the whole manuscript between themselves, but in the process some of its folios got torn and were lost.

Keen to see his translation through, Stein approached each of the three brothers separately and clandestinely for making his copy, without letting any two of them get a whiff of what was happening.

Almost the same thing happened to the Nilamata Purana. An authentic version of it belonged to one Pandit Raja Ram Shastri and Stein wanted K. Dee Vereese to use it for brining out a critical edition and translation of its text. Vereese, however, could not lay his hand on the manuscript in one piece. Raja Ram Shastri's sons - this time they were two - saw to that. They were keen to possess respective portions of their valuable heritage and decided to divide it into two. Poor Vereese. He had to contend with that!

(Input by S. N. Pandita)

Legend
Did Shankaracharya come to Kashmir ?

Did the Adi Shankarcharya, in whose name the Shankaracharya hill stands in the heart of Srinagar, ever set his foot on the soil of Kashmir ? No, say some scholars who believe that there is no evidence to confirm this. Yet a strong tradition persists among Kashmiri Pandits that the great Advaita philosopher did indeed come to the Valley and had discussions there with the followers of Shakti. There was no need for him to do so after having established his matha at Badrinath in the North, say scholars holding the contrary view.

But there is evidence, not so tangible yet quite strong to corroborate the Pandits' belief, in the form of a legend about the great seer's commentary on 'Vishnusahasranama' which is given in Southern editions of its text. According to this legend, when the Adi Shankaracharya went to Kashmir, he asked one of his disciples to obtain a copy of the Brahma Sutras from the nearby library. Shankaracharya wanted to write a commentary on the Sutras. To his great surprise the disciple came back not with a copy of the Brahma Sutras as he was asked to do, but with a copy of Vishnusahasranama.

Shankara returned it to the library and sent another disciple to get the Brahmasutras from there. Strangely, this disciple too came back with a copy of Vishnusahasranama. When yet another disciple returned with the same, Shankara began to ponder over this strange happening. Just then Sharda Devi appeared before him and asked him to write a commentary on the Sahasranama. There was no way for the sage but to do as the goddess bade him.

 

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