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January 1998
Vol. II. No. 4

Intellectuals endorse NSKRI agenda for preservation of Kashmiri Pandit culture and heritage

In what can be described as a meaningful interaction, intellectuals, scholars, writers and social and cultural workers of the Kashmiri Pandit diaspora in Delhi signalled their approval of the programmes chalked out by N.S. Kashmir Research Institute for the community's survival as a distinct social and cultural entity. At a meeting called by NSKRI on the 55th death anniversary of Pandit Nityanand Shastri on December 21,1997 in New Delhi to share with them its perceptions on the post-exodus cultural predicament of the Pandits, they paused and pondered over the points put forward by the Institute, overwhelmingly endorsing its stand.

Giving a background of the situation into which this numerically small but culturally significant community has been pushed into by "cataclysmic events" triggered by the "fundamentalist fury of Islamist terrorism" in Kashmir in the recent years, Dr. S. S. Toshkhani, of the NSKRI core group observed: "That a people who have contributed so richly to the cultural and literary traditions of the country are today facing the most sinister threat to their identity is perhaps the greatest tragedy of post-independence India." He lamented that the community itself was drifting away from its cultural roots "at a pace too fast for comfort" while facing the exigencies ofthe present situation.

"A state of amnesia seems to be overtaking us about our traditions and heritage, our attainments in the fields of learning, literature, aesthetics and philosophy," he added," so much so that Abhinavagupta and Anandvardhana, Utpalacharya and Somananda, Kalhana and Bilhana, Kshemendra and Somadeva, why even the great Lalleshwari are today for most of us nothing more than shadows from a forgotten past."

Dr. Toshkhani said that it was agonising that priceless treasures of Kashmiri Pandit heritage - old manuscripts, paintings, pieces of art - have been irretrievably lost or irrepairably damaged as a result of the fundamentalists depredations and our own unconcern. What is still left - lies scattered in a state of callous neglect.
 

Realizing the disastrous dimensions of these tragic developments, a group of concerned community members felt the imperative need to save and sustain a culture in exile, so vitally important for giving a meaning to their existence, through a collective and concerted drive at an organised and institutional level. "Not only have all-out efforts to be made to salvage and snatch back whatever is possible from the jaws of time, but also a bulwark has to be built against sinister onslaughts seeking to destroy the Pandit identity", Dr. Toshkhani pointed out, refering to the circumstances in which the N.S. Kashmir Research Institute took its birth on January 19,1997. The Institute has been since engaged in drawing up parameters for the study of the factors defining and determining this identity, seeking to "explore and bring to light areas and territories so far unmapped and undiscovered in Kashmiri culture, art, aesthetics, language, religion, rituals, philosophy, folklore and allied fields," as put forth in the Institute's introductory brochure.

Heritage Centre

Dr. S.S. Toshkhani presented on behalf of NSKRI, a brief outline of the programmes and tasks the Institute is thinking of undertaking in pursuance of its objectives. The Institute shall e'ndeavour, in the first place, to procure, preserve and document materials relating to Kashmiri Pandit culture and heritage available from all possible sources in the form of manuscripts, books, miniature paintings, sculptures, inscriptions, photographs, artefacts, documents etc. with the ultimate aim of setting up a heritage centre in Delhi which can be used for reference and research purposes by all those interested in Kashmir studies. The task of documentation, preservation, collation, compilation and display of such materials shall be entrusted to experts in the field well-versed in modern methodologies.

Exhibitions

Thematic exhibitions on various aspects of Kashmiri Pandit culture and heritage shall form an important feature of NSKRI's activities. Work on mounting the first of sueh exhibitions, likely to be held towards March end '98, is in full swing. The exhibition shall have various sections covering Kashmiri Pandit culture, traditions, customs and creative and artistic attainments. Sharda and Persian manuscripts, miniature paintings, artefacts, costumes, folk art and other items of cultural, civilisational and ritual significance will be on display besides old photographs depicting the Kashmiri Pandit way of life.

Search for manuscripts and miniature paintings

The Institute plans to launch an extensive search for Sharada manuscripts and miniature paintings of the Kashmir school. Details of the tour programme NSKRI scholars propose to undertake for this purpose are to be worked out and will be finalised soon after the cultural heritage exhibition to be organised by the Institute is over. The quest is likely to take them to different places in the country and also, possibly, abroad.

Quarterly Research Journal 'Spanda'

'Spanda', a quarterly research journal, is being launched by the Institute, featuring well researched articles on various subjects related to Kashmiri Pandit cultural and literary heritage and shedding light on the community's attainments in different fields of intellectual and artisic activity. The first issue of the journal is under compilation and is expected to be brought out in about two or three months.

Album of Kashmiri Miniatures

Another top priority item on the agenda of NSKRI is the compilation of the first ever album of Kashmiri miniature paintings. No systematic study of the Kashmiri school of art has been attempted so far and no one has ventured to prepare an album of these miniatures, notwithstanding their importance in the overall context of the history of Indian art, the Kangra and Pahari styles being but offshoots of this precious school of art. While a large number of such paintings have been lost - sold by their unscruplous owners or others to foreigners and private art collectors in the country in a most callous manner, the Institute has managed to acquire about two dozen Kashmiri miniature paintings and is in the process of acquiring more. The album will be published with an introduction and critical assesment of individual paintings included in it.

Publications Programme

NSKRI is embarking upon an ambitious publications programme to project Kashmir Pandit literary and cultural attainments in new details and dimensions, shedding light on hitherto untouched aspects and uncovered areas. Of the works that are to be taken up for publication, several are already in different stages of preparation.

Encylopaedia of Kashmiri Culture

A major project which the Institute is contemplating to start is the compilation of an encyclopaedia of Kashmiri culture designed to cover the entire gamut of Kashmir's indigenous cultural, artistic, philosophical, spiritual and literary traditions - a vast canvas indeed. A pioneering project of gigantic proportions, the encyclopaedia will have illuminative enteries from competent experts together with photographs and illustrations. Besides philosophy, religion and literature, the contents will include topics related to creative and performing arts like music, dance, folk and classic theatre and other relevant fields. Top ranking scholars will be involved in the project and requested to prepare an exhaustive synopsis of the probable contents.

Critical Editions of Classics

Critical editions, with introduction, notes and comments, of some classics of Kashmiri literature will form yet another important feature of the NSKRI publication programme. Work on Vakhs of Lalleshwari, Kashmiri Ramayana, poetic works of Krishna Joo Razdan, will be taken up in the first phase.

Biographical Sketches of Scholars

This series shall include monographs portraying life and work of eminent Kashmiri scholars like Nityanand Shastri, Govind Kaul, Madhusudan Kaul Shastri, Mukund Ram Shastri, Anand Kaul, Ishwar Koul, Sahaz Bhatt, Swami Lakshman Joo, Prof. Jagaddhar Zadoo and Prof. S.K. Toshkhani. Portraits of these scholars are already being prepared by a young and upcoming artist, Sunil Handoo. The idea is to revive the memory of those of whom the community can feel proud for their outstanding contributions in the field of scholastic endeavour.

Seminars and Symposia

Seminars, symposia, conferences and discussions on various subjects pertaining to Kashmiri Pandit culture and heritage will be organised from time to time as an important activity of the Institute.

Other Publication Projects

Books introducing Kashmir Shaivism, Shakta philosophy, besides tracts and booklets on Kashmiri Pandit religious practices, rituals, places of pilgrimage etc. shall also form part of NSKRI's publication programme.

NSKRI is fully aware of the enormity of the tasks and goals it has ventured to pursue, Dr. Toshkhani said, but its efforts could well take the shape of a movement calling for the involvement of everyone concerned about the predicament of the Kashmiri Pandit community.

Sh. P. N. Kachru speaking at the intellectuals' meeting
Sh. P. N. Kachru speaking at the intellectuals' meeting

The NSKRI agenda for protection, preservation and projection of Kashmiri Pandit culture, heritage and traditions drew tremendous response from the participants who had come from all parts of Delhi and its satellite towns.

Among those who took active part in the discussions were Dr. Susheela Bhan, Dr. B.N. Kalla, Shri Virendra Bangroo, Shri S. J. Raina, Shri Brij Lal Kaul Chaman, Shri L. C. Kaul, Shri Virendra Qazi, Dr. Aloke Kalla and Shri Susheel Pandit.

Apart from these, Prof. H. K. Kaul, Prof. Subhash Razdan, Capt. S. K. Tikoo, Col. O. N. Razdan, Shri K. S. Raina and Smt. Veena Pandita also participated in the meeting.

An interesting feature of the meeting was the presence of a number of non-Kashmiri intellectuals who enthusiastically participated in its deliberations which lasted for several hours. These included: Padmashree & Smt. G.B.Meemamsi, Shri N.S. Chakarvarti Dr. & Smt. Uday Kant Mishra, Shri S.P. Punj and Shri Bal Krishna Bhatt.

Speaking on behalf of the NSKRI core group, eminent Kashmiri artist, P.N. Kachru fervently appealed to the participants to understand the exigencies of the situation and come forward to help the Institute in salvaging and collecting cultural and heritage material.

Forgetting the intellectual and philosophic gymanstics, we want to preserve in whatsover form available relevant material pertaining to our culture - painting, art pieces, artefacts and such other items", Shri Kachru said, emphasizing that it is the Kashmiri Pandit heritage that is most representative and most valuable in the context of Kashmiri culture. It is this foundation that is sought to be dismantled he lamented, refering to the situation created by terrorist violence and asserting: "We want to keep this foundation strong, for on it alone will any superstructure stand."

Supply to us whatever is possible, even if it be some reference or piece of information regarding heritage material, if not the actual items", he said. "Photographic evidence of the Kashmiri Pandit way of life would also be welcome", he added, refering to the forthcoming cultural heritage exhibition that NSKRI is organising. " You can loan these items to us for the purpose of the exhibition if you feel any hesitation in gifting them to the Institute", Shri Kachru appealed. "We want to preserve them,document them for history", he went on to say, " whether it be a piece of art, or a piece of literature, or any find of some value. Even small items need to be preserved and documented. That is what the Institute is all about."

Sanskrit speeches win big applause at NSKRI intellectuals' meet

As if to underline the link between Sanskrit learning and Kashmir, several speakers at the intellectuals' meeting called by NSKRI on December 21,1997, spoke in Sanskrit. These speeches charmed the audience, who not only received them well but appeared to be swept by them, understanding easily and lapping eagerly every word spoken, contrary to the impression sought to be created by some that Sanskrit is a difficult and dead language. The effect was indeed tremendous, the speakers winning thunderous applause while expressing their views.

Shri C. V. Gopinath delivering his Sanskrit speech
Shri C. V. Gopinath delivering his Sanskrit speech

C.V.Gopinath, an eminent scholar from Karnataka and a high officer in the telecommunications department, set the tone for eloquence in the country's cultural lingua franca and recalled the great reverence in which Kashmir has been held throughout India for its outstanding contribution to Sanskrit language and literature.

He referred to the famous first line of the Sharda Stotram: "Namaste Sharada Devi Kashmira Puravasini", which he said he had heard as a child from his mother. Answering his querry, his mother had explained that Sharda, the Goddess Saraswati, was said to reside in Kashmir as that land had been a great centre of learning and had the same place in the country that head has in the human body.

The Pandits of Kashmir, Shri Gopinath said, held a sway in the past over various branches of knowledge like poetics, ethics, philosophy, prosody and other subjects studied in ancient India. "Who does not know of the works of literary giants like Mammata, the author of Kavya Prakash, or the world famous Kalhana, who wrote "Rajatarangini", he asked, referring to the outstanding attainments of Kashmiri Pandits which hold a pride of place in Sanskrit literature. Praising the Kashmiri Pandit culture and intellectual tradition, he said that Kashmir has indeed blazed a glorious trail as a repository of ideas and values. "Hail Kashmiri Pandit culture! Hail India!" he exclaimed, concluding amidst cheers.

Shri Balkrishna of Sanskrit Bharati another eminent scholar from Karnataka whose mission is to popularise Sanskrit in the country and abroad and who even in ordinary conversation makes it a point to express himself in Sanskrit, said that Kashmir was linked to India mainly through Sanskrit, of which it has been a great centre in the past. "Kashmiri Pandit parampara (tradition) minus Sanskrit is zero", he said emphasizing his point and recalling the peaks of glory that stalwarts of Sanskrit literature produced by Kashmir, like Abhinavagupta, Anand Vardhana, Kalhana and others, had attained. The Pandits, he said, shall have to go back to the Sanskritic roots of their culture and tradition if they want to regain their past glory.

Dr. B.N.Kalla, a well known Kashmiri scholar, also eulogised the contribution of Kashmiris to Sanskrit, refering to great names like Abhinavagupta, Ananda Vardhana, Bhatta Kallatta, Mammata, Utpalacharya, Somadeva, Kalhana, Bilhana and Kshemendra to stress their brilliant achievements in the fields of literature, aesthetics and philosophy. He quoted the popular verse of Bilhana, "Sahodaram kunkuma kesaranam", which testifies to the verstality of Kashmiris in the literary field, claiming that even women and cooks are engaged in composing poetry in Sanskrit and Prakrit in his native land. Paying tributes to Pandit Nityanand Shastri, Dr. Kalla said that he shared his place of glory in the grove of academe with other great scholars like Pandit Harbhatta Shastri, Pandit Madhusudan Shastri, Pandit Mukundram Shastri and other stalwarts.

Glowing Tributes paid to Pandit Nityanand Shastri

Scholar extraordinaire, Pandit Nityanand Shastri was remembered with profound respect and immense admiration on his 55th death anniversary which fell on December 21, 1997. Homage in glowing terms was paid to his memory at a special function organised by NSKRI on the day in New Delhi with speaker after speaker hailing him as a symbol of the scholastic renaissance in Kashmir in the early decades of the present century.

Speaking on the occasion, S.N.Pandita a member of the NSKRI core group, who also happens to be the youngest grandson of the great Sanskrit scholar, said that while offering his respectful homage to him he was paying tribute not to Pandit Nityanand Shastri alone as an individual for his extraordinary scholastic attainments, but to the "whole galaxy of great Kashmiri scholars" that the age threw up and whose spirit of "perserverence, dedication and excellence" he represented." He seems to be a representative of that ethos, that sensitivity of a community" towards cerebral graces that he and his contemporaries like Pandit Harbhatta Shastri, Pandit Madhusudan Shastri, Pandit Ishvar Kaul and others shared, Shri Pandita said.

Shri S. N. Pandita paying homage to Pandit Nityanand Shastri
Shri S. N. Pandita paying homage to Pandit Nityanand Shastri

"Reflecting the Kashmiri Pandit mind, NS had respect for knowledge ingrained in him as one of the main traits of his character. Throughout his life he made it a point to go round the house of the master at whose feet he learnt, Pandit Damodar, making parikarma of it as the first thing in the morning", Shri Pandita added.

And in turn, the cream of Western Sanskritists of that age - Straton, Stein, Grierson, Edgurton, J.Ph Vogel, Vereese, Hobbart Winternitz had developed a unique respect for NS for his great learning.

Through NS, S.N. Pandita said, he was actually paying homage to all the stalwarts of his time - great Kashmiri men of learning whose interface with Western scholars led to an amazing exploration and re-interpretration of Kashmiri literary tradition.

Equally eloquent was the tribute to NS by C.V. Gopinath, an eminent scholar from Karnataka who, choosing to speak in Sanskrit, described him as "Pandit Shiromani" and a "KarmaYogi" dedicated selflessly to the service of knowledge. Shri Gopinath referred to the immense respect in which European scholars held NS, acknowledging the stunningly vast range of his erudition. Expressing his happiness at NSKRI having been named to honour the memory of the profound Kashmiri scholar, he expressed the hope that the Institute would successfully pursue its objective of preserving the Kashmiri Pandit cultural tradition.

Shri Balkrishna, of the Sanskrit Bharati, Delhi, also praised NS for his outstanding services to Sanskrit, and so did Dr. B.N.Kalla, well known Sanskrit scholar from Kashmir. Both the scholars offered their tributes in Sanskrit like Shri C.V.Gopinath.

But, perhaps, what won everybody's heart in the audience were the simple lines spoken by litle Apeksha Pandita in English, tracing her ancestry to Pandit Nityanand Shastri as her great-grandfather.

"NSKRI has alerted cultural defence mechanism to safeguard Kashmiri Pandit identity"

- C. V. Gopinath

"The rich Kashmir Pandit culture has been subject to onslaughts from time to time, century after century, yet its special significance lies in the fact that it has still been retained in the original form and content", said eminent scholar CV Gopinath while delivering a scintillating speech on culture and defence mechanism at the intellectual's Meeting organised by NSKRI.

An interesting feature of the meeting was the participation of a good number of non-Kashmiri intellectuals in its discussions, including Shri Gopinath who extended hospitality to the participants. These non-Kashmiri intellectuals, mostly from South India, expressed their deep admiration for the Kashmiri Pandit community. For its immense contribution to Sanskrit and Indian culture.

"History will tell you Shri Gopinath explained, " that whenever there is an onslaught on any culture, the defence mechanism of that culture has always stood it in good stead."

Emphasing his point, Shri Gopinath said, "The greatest example of such defence mechanism being alive in the Kashmiri Pandit community is the birth of N.S. Kashmir Research Institute itself. During the last one or two decades there has been a lot of disturbance in Kashmir, and the Kashmiri Pandits have been driven out from their own places, their own motherland. In such circumstances even the culture defence mechanism tends to get weakened to loss its strength that is why the Pandits are feeling a great danger to their identity."

Declaring that Indian culture is incomplete without Kashmir Shaivism, Kashmiri cultural and literary tradition, Shri Gopinath assured the Kashmiri intellectuals concerned about retaining their cultural identity outside their native land that "India's defence mechanism" was there to protect them. "We are all here to see that we safeguard your identity, because in your identity lies our identity", he said amidst thunderous applause.

PERSONALITY
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 fromSanskrit 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.

Mahabharata Manuscripts from Kashmir in Prague

The critical edition of the Mahabharata brought out by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune and edited by P. L. Vaidya is largely based on two Sharada manuscripts of the epic from Kashmir. When Prof. Maurice Winternitz of Prague University published his " Mahabharata - the Great Epic of India " in 1925, he too relied on Sharada manuscripts with commentary by Nilakantha, which were found to be more authentic. Not only this, Prof. Winternitz took much help in compiling and completing this work from Prof. Nityanand Shastri.

These Sharada manuscripts, however, were sent out of Kashmir between the years 1923 and 1924. No details are known about these manuscripts since they are lying in the Library of Prague University of the present day Slovakia, which was earlier known as Czechoslovakia. It is not known whether any copy or micro-film of these valuable Mahabharata manuscripts is available in India, but NSKRI shall make efforts to trace them out and obtain a copy from the Prague University. Meanwhile a translation of the full epic in Kashmiri prose by Pandit Suna Ram Razdan is lying with J&K Cultural Academy has still to see the light of the day. The manuscript, purchased by the Academy has one thousand octavio sized pages.

Manuscript of a verse translation of the Mahabharata is lying with the University of Kashmir. A portion from it was published by the Sahitya Akademi in 1959.

The "Khaat Bazaars" of Amritsar

Interested in a Kashmiri miniature painting? A Sharada manuscript? An antique piece of sculpture? Step into the periodic Khaat Bazaars (cot markets) of Amritsar and chances are that you will find yourself bargaining with footpath peddlers unabashedly putting Kashmiri Pandit culture on sale - especially if you happen to be a foreigner or even an Indian art collector and can afford the astronomical price asked for. It is equally possible that a priceless treasure may be offered to you for a song.

It is not just coincidence that business in such heritage material started flourishing in the recent years, soon after the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir. While it is common knowledge that frenzied groups of Islamist terrorists burnt down or damaged thousands of Kashmiri Pandit houses, not many know the fact that a large number of their houses were ransacked and looted, mostly for the property that the fleeing Pandits left behind but also for more precious items like old manuscripts and miniature paintings. The more clever and sophitisticated among the looters knew that these treasure troves could well fetch them a fortune and so they set out foraging for them from one deserted house to another. Finding a new avenue of making easy lucre opening up for them, several of then collected old manuscripts by the kilogram. Some of them must have indeed hit the jackpot! And so while Kashmir is burning, the plunderers are earning.

Thus it is that several shady business houses have cropped up in the past seven or eight years in and around Srinagar.

Some of them are acting as fake research centres, as for example the one that has come up near Nishat, with looted manuscripts neatly stacked for sale. These "centres" are doing brisk business. striking deals with collectors. antique dealers and societies. It is here that the peddlers and scrap-dealers from Amritsar are proving of great help.

But why take the trouble of longish trip to on Amritsar Khaat Bazaar? You could easily bump into a dealer in alleys and lanes of Delhi itself. Their visits from the doomed valley to the country's capital in search of channels of collectors, agents of antique houses and organisations, and to make lucrative bargains of the looted possessions, are getting more and more frequent. Often these people put on a mask of sophistication while on the prowl, well- versed in the art of entrapping potential buyers as they are. Their suave behavior makes many fall to their bait and loosen their purse strings to acquire an old manuscript or a miniature. In a recent case a birch-bark manuscript in Sharda carrying two miniature paintings was offered by one such dealer to an arts centre for a whopping rupees one lakh.

As for the Pandits, most of them are hardly aware of such goings on to be disturbed by the loss oftheir mostvaluable treasures. The only way to put a stop to such practices is to acquire these materials at any price possible and preserve them in a heritage centre. NSKRI is contemplating steps to set up such a centre in Delhisomething which requires raising of considerable funds. Will members of the Kashmiri Pandit community come forward and cooperate?

NSKRI offers homage to Pandit Raghu Nath Kukiloo

Pandit Raghu Nath Kukiloo
Pandit Raghu Nath Kukiloo

NSKRI deeply condoles the passing away of Pandit Raghu Nath Kukiloo - saint, scholar and astrologer of great reputation popularly known as "Baigaash". The news of his sad demise was received with great shock by the exiled Kashmiri Pandit community which is already reeling under the impact of losing two of its best known scholars, Prof P. N. Pushp and Pandit Janki Nath Kaul 'Kamal' in just one year or so.

The end came on December 23, 1997 at about 3 P.M. when Pandit Kukiloo had just finished distributing Prasaad among devotees and disciples after his daily worship and had hardly taken a morsel or two of his lunch, according to "Maalini", the quarterly journal of IshwarAshram Trust, Ishber, Srinagar. Suddenly, says the journal, he felt the divine effulgence of Kundalini engulfing him. Trying to address the divine presence, he went into a trance from which he never woke up. Pandit Raghu Nath Kukiloo has, however, left behind him his hallowed memories for the host of his disciples and admirers in the community who looked to him for guidance in spiritual as well as mudane matters. They regarded him as a great yogi, an erudite scholar and a master of astrology gifted with the extraordinary power of clairvoyance.

Born in a scholarly family in the Banamohalla locality of Srinagar in the year 1911, the widely respected Pandit was spiritually inclined from childhood. A Shakta by faith, he was a devotee of the Goddess Tripurasundari When in Srinagar he would never miss the daily Parikrama (circumambulance) of Sharika Devi at Hari Parvat, according to Shri R.C. Kaul Pamposh an old discipie of Pandit Kukiloo. While he had fathomed the depths of the Shakta philosophy of Kashmir, which he would interpret in his own unique manner, Pandit Kukiloo's understanding of the Vedantic and Shaiva philosophies was equally profound. He was known for his performance of the annual Pancharatra puja on the occasion of Mahashivaraatri.

Pandit Kukiloo is said to have had a close association with the great Shaivaacharya of Kashmir, Swami Lakshman Joo. Swamiji would make it a point to obtain the blessings of Pandit Kukiloo on his birthday, showing in what high esteem he held him.

Pandit Raghu Nath was a sensitive soul who was moved by the sufferings of the people which he tried to mitigate in his own way through the methods of astrology. The number of people who believed that he could divine the future through accurate astrological predictions was legion, the Pandit having become a living legend in Kashmir. But what endeared him to everyone was his readiness to make himself available to the elite and the commoner alike for consultation and help.

Like hundreds of thousands of his suffering community men, Pandit Kukiloo was forced to leave Kashmir in 1990 under the terrorist threat and take residence at Jammu where he continued with his scholarly and spiritual occupations at 29, Ashok Nagar till his last breath.

While conveying its heartfelt sympathies to the bereaved members of his family, NSKRI joins the entire Kashmiri Pandit community in paying its humble homage to the departed saint and scholar.

 

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Kashmiri Overseas Association, Inc. (KOA) is a 501c(3) non-profit, tax-exempt socio-cultural organization registered in Maryland, USA. Its purpose is to protect, preserve, and promote Kashmiri ethnic and socio-cultural heritage, to promote and celebrate festivals, and to provide financial assistance to the needy and deserving.

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