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Vol. II, No. 16-17
 
   

July 1998
Vol. II, No. 9

Kashmiri Pandits in USA take interest in NSKRI agenda

Kashmiri Pandits living in the United States appear to have started taking keen interest in the agenda drawn by N.S. Kashmir Research Institute for preservation, protection and projection of Kashmiri Pandit cultural identity. Realizing that the Kashmiri Pandit community, fighting a grim battle for its cultural survival in the aftermath years of its exodus from Kashmir, the emigre Kashmiris want to know more and more about their roots.

It is in this context that they seem to be impressed by the programmes and activities of the NSKRI and the initiative it has taken for creating a cultural awareness among Kashmiri Pandits wherever they be on the globe. Reports about the recent cultural heritage exhibition, 'Unmeelan' organised by NSKRI in New Delhi seem to have particularly enthused them. An increasing number of them have been enquiring about the programmes NSKRI proposes to organise in the near future and asking how they could help the Institute in furthering its objectives in their part of the world. Some young intellectuals like Sunil Fotedar and Lalit Wanchoo have already involved themselves in the process by projecting NSKRI activities on a special website.

It was in this connection that Mr A. K. Mandloo (Kak), an engineer now settled in America, held long discussions with members of the NSKRI core group during his recent visit to New Delhi. Among the matters discussed was the ways and means to be adopted to make the cooperation between NSKRI and Kashmiri Pandits settled in America effective and meaningful in the cultural context. Mr. Mandloo felt that Kashmiri Pandits in USA would be eager to sponsor some of the projects NSKRI intends to take up. He seemed to be greatly interested in the NSKRI taking 'Unmeelan' to American cities like New York and Washington. Such programmes, he was sure, would create quite a flutter in that country, and show the true cultural face of Kashmir to the world. He also wanted that the publications of NSKRI regarding history, culture and traditions of the Kashmiri Pandits should be circulated widely in the USA. While this would inspire the Pandits living in that country to feel proud of the past glories of their community of origin, it would also give an inkling to them of how great the contributions of their ancestors in the fields of art, culture, literature and philosophy have been, Mr. Mandloo pointed out.

The NSKRI plans to give a concrete shape in the near future to some of the conclusions reached during the discussions it held with Mr. A. K. Mandloo. The possibility of holding 'Unmeelan-II' in America sometime in March next year is being seriously considered by the Institute.

C.V. Gopinath and NSKRI to make a video documentary on Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra

Shri C.V.Gopinath, an eminent scholar from Karnataka, a top Government of India officer and a close associate of NSKRI core group has returned to New Delhi after his second consecutive Kailash- Mansarovar Yatra. Shri Gopinath, who is so enamoured of the Yatra that he may complete a hat-trick next year, has done a brilliant video coverage of the pilgrimage and intends to cull out a 90 or 100 minute documentary, with the help of NSKRI, from the 600 minute exciting and thrilling shooting he has done. The documentary will be laced by a narration of his challenging and exhilarating experiences by Gopinath himself.

It may be recalled that after his return from the Yatra last year he gave a beautiful slide show based on it in the premises of Bhagawaan Gopinathji Ashram at Pamposh Enclave, New Delhi. Some photographs of Mount Kailash resplendent in its glory and of the serene beauty of the Mansarovar Lake were so stunningly beautiful that they had cast a charm over the highly excited audience.

'Kashmir Shaivism Fellowship' set up in USA

An Institute named 'Kashmir Shaivism Fellowship' devoted to the propagation of Kashmir Shaivite philosophy in America, has been set-up at Los Angeles. Mr. John Hughes, the founder of the Institute has been a longtime disciple of Shaivacharya Swami Lakshman Joo, associated with him closely for almost two decades. He has also authored a brilliant book on Swami Lakshman Joo's life and teachings titled 'Self- Realization'.

Mr. Hughes has with him hundreds of tapes of Swami Lakshman Joo's lectures besides copious notes on his teachings and interpretations of different aspects of Kashmir Shaivite philosophy. These were recorded by him during his long stays at Ishwar Ashram, Ishber, Srinagar.

Kashmir Shaivism Fellowship is likely to emerge as a great centre of Shaivite thought in the West. Mrs. Denise Hughes, wife of Mr. John Hughes is currently in New Delhi, perhaps to renew her contacts with old associates of Ishwar Ashram and Swamiji's followers and admirers including Mr. P. N. Kachroo of NSKRI.

Commemorative Stamp On Bhagawan Gopinathji Released
"Bhagawaanji A Beacon Of Light For Humanity"

- Sushma Swaraj

Union communications and information and Broadcasting Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj released a commemorative stamp on the revered Kashmiri saint Bhagawaan Gopinathji on 3rd July, 1998. For the Kashmiri devotees of Bhagawaanji it was a most memorable occasion filling them with a sense of pride and joy. Overwhelmed with emotion, they watched the solemn function at the FICCI auditorium with tears in their eyes, coming as it did as a befitting finale to Bhagawaanji's birth centenary celebrations.

Releasing the three rupee stamp with the simple and benign figure of Bhagawaan Gopinathji printed on it, the Union Communications Minister described the great Saint as a radiant personality who was a beacon of light for the entire humanity, working for its spiritual upliftment. "It is most unfortunate", she lamented "that today when Bhagawaan Gopinathji's birth centenary is being celebrated in different parts of the country and abroad, circumstances do not make it possible to celebrate it in his native land - Kashmir".

Referring to Kashmiri Pandits, the community in which Bhagawaan Gopinathji was born, Smt. Sushma Swaraj called for introspection to understand why they have been turned into refugees in their own country. She expressed the hope that it would be possible for Bhagawaanji's devotees to celebrate his next birth anniversary in Kashmir also with as much devotion and enthusiasm.

Speaking on the occasion the Guest of Honour, Shri Chaman Lal Gupta, M.P, also said that it greatly pained him that circumstances in Bhagawaan Gopinathji's own native place, Kashmir, were such that his birth centenary celebrations could not be observed there even though they were being held in the whole world. "Measures shall have to be taken to change this sorry state of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits return to their homeland with honour and dignity". he said.

Presiding over the function, Shri Pushkar Nath Kaul, ex-Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir also paid homage to Bhagawaan Gopinathji, calling him "a bright star on the firmament of Kashmiri's tradition, culture and spirituality."

Earlier welcoming the guests, Secretary, Bhagawaan Gopinathji Trust, Shri Pran Nath Koul said that Bhagawaanji's concern was for "harmony and peace in the whole world." Trust President, M. L. Pandit, who is also a member of the Core Group of NSKRI, thanked the VIP guests, and devotees of Bhagawaan Gopinathji and others for coming to "share with us the pleasure we all feel on the occasion." Shri Pandit expressed his gratitude to the Department of Post, and its Secretary, Shri R.U.S. Prasad for the issuance of the postage starnp in Bhagawaan Gopinathji's memory.

The commemorative stamp is of the denomination of Rs.3 and has been issued in single colour in the overall size of 3.91x 2.90 cms. It bears Bhagawaan Gopinathji's likeness in his simple Kashmiri attire of turban and pheran with a tilak glowing on his forehead. The initial artwork for the postage stamp and the First Day Cover was prepared by Shri P.N. Kachru, eminent Kashmiri artist and also member Core Group NSKRI.

Faces of Glory
Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi
The Pandit who was also a pioneer printer

Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi
Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi

[ A profound scholar of astrology and a pioneer printer in one - that was Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi. His greatest claim to fame, however rests on his untiring efforts in publishing cheap editions of ancient religions texts of Kashmiri Hindus and making them available to the common people. For this he would go from place to place in Kashmir, almost door to door, and collect original manuscripts from people who were most loathe to part with them. Perhaps he was the only scholar after Buhler to have done that with a good measure of success. But for him many of these texts would have been lost or remained obscure especially those on Kashmiri Hindu rituals and religious practices. The Krishna Printing Press, which he set up in Srinagar, came handy to him for printing the texts and also to eke out a modest living for himself. We at 'Unmesh' feel proud in paying a tribute to the great scholar's memory and in telling our readers about his life and accomplishments.]

For the older generation of Kashmiri Pandits, Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi (KBJ) has been a familiar name, for the Panchang (almanac) he edited and published would reach almost every Pandit household in Kashmir. It evoked, and still evokes, reverence in the hearts of those who are aware of his deep knowledge of Hindu astrology. For them his word in the field bore a stamp of undisputed authenticity. KBJ in turn owed it to his ancestral tradition with proclivity towards astrology running very strongly in the family.

Born in Srinagar in 1873 in an erudite Brahmin family, KBJ, only emulated his grandfather Pandit Sat Ram, his father Pandit Prasad Bhatt and uncle Pandit Mukund Ram when he chose Sanskrit religious texts and astrology as his specialized field of study. Both the father and the uncle acquired proficiency in these subjects under the tutelage of his grandfather, a well known scholar of his times. Uncle Mukund Ram, a Shaivite scholar, rose to be the Chief Astrologer at the court of Maharaja Pratap Singh, while father Prasad Bhatt also earned a name for his study of astrology. Surpassing both of them, KBJ acquired a mastery over the subject almost to the extent of becoming a legend in his lifetime.

The Bhatts' ancestral house at Jogi Lankar, Rainawari, a locality of Srinagar, overlooked a beautiful scene on the flowing canal, evoking an atmosphere of serenity. It was in this house that young KBJ would remain absorbed in study, sitting on the grass mat near the window on the left with piles of books neatly rising above the floor all around him. Devoting himself entirely to learning the Shastras, he virtually shut himself from worldly pleasures which had little attraction for him. While following his scholarly pursuits, KBJ began his career as a school teacher at Nunar, a picturesque village not far off from Tulmula (Kheer Bhawani). Dedicated to his work and committed to giving quality education to his students, he would traverse all the distance from his home at Rainawari to the school at Nunar on foot - he simply could not afford the bus or tonga fare to his place of work. Fond of him and full of respect for him, his students would often come to his home also where he would clear their doubts and help them in solving their difficulties. An inspiring pep talk on moral values to help them in their overall development was an usual accompaniment.

Clad in an ordinary Pheran and turban and wearing a grass shoe (pulahor) in his feet, the profound scholar could be seen explaining the finer points of the Shastras not only to his pupils but to anyone who came with a doubt or two to clear. Given to simple living, the noble Pandit ate frugal meals, spending most of his time in religious studies. After the death of his uncle, Mukund Ram and father, Prasad Bhatt, the responsibility of editing and bringing out the Panchang fell on his shoulders - a responsibility that he discharged till the end even though the economics of the publication was not on his side. Determined not to disappoint the thousands of the readers of the almanac, he managed to bring it out with his senior peer, Pandit Govind Bhatt Shastri of Rainawari, making the astrological calculations.

Deeply religious in nature, KBJ, regularly worshiped Mahagayatri, performing Havan and Pooja and also recited Mantras which at occasions could go as high as 24 lakh times. He was, however, appalled to see that while some people did have their personal copies of ritualistic books made, most of them could not afford to purchase printed copies of these books. As a result, the texts of such books tended to get either corrupted or forgotten, with their knowledge getting limited to fewer and fewer people, the general public not caring to be versed in them at all. As the printing press had hardly arrived in Kashmir, KBJ got copies of these ancient texts printed from outside presses from his own pocket and made them available at cost price to every one who was interested.

Soon, however, he decided to set up his own letter printing press at Srinagar, becoming one of the pioneers to do so. He did not do so entirely for commercial purposes, but for publishing Kashmiri Pandit religious books for the benefit of the common people, especially the younger generation. The assorted printing jobs that were undertaken by this press, namely the Krishna Printing Press, were expected to generate enough income to have these works printed at on a non-profit basis. It did not take much time for his plan to take practical shape and cheap and affordable editions of books pertaining to rituals, religious practices and customs, and Tirtha Mahatmyas and devotional hymns started rolling out from the press. These low priced books became quite popular and helped a lot in keeping the Pandit community aware of their religious traditions.

KBJ published about two dozen books which were printed at the Krishna Printing Press. These include Nitya Karma Vidhi (3 parts), Shiva Puja, Ganesh-Durga Stotravali, Saundarya Lahri with Panchastavi, Rudra Panchakam, Karmakand (3 parts), Veda Kalpadrum, (related to performance of Havans), Mekhala Pustak, Parthishwar Puja, Yoga Vasishtha Sar, Bhakti Vivek Sar, Bhavani Sahasra Nanavali, Vishnu Sahasra Namavali, Aditya Hriday, Kalash Sthapan, Kashmir Jyotishya Sangraha, Indrakshi etc.

KBJ had to go from village to village to scour for the religious texts before he could publish their low priced editions. It was a search a la Buhler, not without disappointments keeping in view the nature of the people who were reluctant to part from their manuscripts or printed copies, but also one which brought great rewards - not just for KBJ personaly but for the whole Pandit community. For this one act, KBJ should be remembered by the entire grateful community.

With KBJ's death in 1946, and with the passage of time, the texts slowly went out of print. Then in 1990 the Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee from their home in Kashmir. Though the successors of KBJ and the present proprietors of Krishna Printing Press restarted their printing business from Jammu, it was not possible for them reprint the books or bring out the fresh editions. Impressed, however, by the agenda of NSKRI, as explained by the Institute's core member, Shri M. L. Pandit, Shri S. N. Jotshi, the grandson of KBJ, offerred the rights of reprinting his series of books to NSKRI. An offer that has been gratefully accepted by the Institute.

Ancient art treasures of Kashmir
The Disappearance Syndrome

If reports emanating from sources in Srinagar have any truth in them, a systematic pilferage of ancient art objects has been going on ever since terrorism was unleashed in the unhappy valley. A report appearing in a leading national daily recently appears to confirm this. According to it, Rajputana Rifles handed over 32 pieces of priceless artefacts to the National Museum on June 21st, 1996. These were recovered from the house of one Ghulam Mohammad Lone residing in a colony near Shalimar Gardens during a cordon and search operation as he was trying to smuggle out the artefacts for the international market. These date back to the 6th to 15th century. The important sculptures include Gajalaxmi, Vishnuchaturanana, Swayambhu Lingas, Kumbheshwara etc.

While these pieces of art were saved by a chance seizure by the security forces, there are hundreds which have disappeared over the years. What is intriguing is the silence maintained by the state custodians of art and culture over such losses.While the lackdaisical and even negligent attitude in preserving the art objects displayed by the government managed institutions like the Shri Pratap Museum, Center for Central Asian Studies Research and Publications Department is quite evident, the appalling indifference shown by the concerned officials cannot but give rise to apprehension of connivance.

The reason is not difficult to understand - these objects are relics from Kashmir's pre- Islamic past. The official attitude in this matter can be illustrated by the state in which these objects have been kept in the museum and other places. Not many years ago, in 1984 to be precise, a delegation of important academics from the then USSR Republic of Tadjkistan came to Kashmir for a visit. Their itinerary included a visit to the Shri Pratap Museum at Lal Mandi, Srinagar. According to Captain S. K.Tikoo, who accompanied the delegation along with veteran journalist Sh. P.N. Jalali, some members of the delegation got interested in some statues displayed at the museum while they were being shown round and made some queries about them. The members obviously bore Muslim names. Much to their surprise, the then Director of the State Department of Museums and Archives, Fida M. Hassnain, started talking in an apologetic tone about such statutes being displayed at the Museum saying that display of such objects could not be helped even though it went against the writ of Islam which forbids idol worship. The leader of the delegation, Mr. Rasulov, a prominent historian and himself a Muslim, was taken aback. "It took us more than a decade in restoring the damage done to our ancient monuments by the Germans, but we did it as a matter of priority to maintain our links with the past. And you are apologetic about these ancient objects of art when you ought to be proud of them", he burst out, admonishing the official.

But such admonishment could hardly be expected to make any change in the attitude of the Muslim officialdom in Kashmir, which has not only been reluctant to come to terms with Kashmir's pre-Islamic past, Hindu or Buddhist, but has deliberately tried to create the impression that such a past never existed.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why masterpieces of Kashmir's glorious artistic traditions have disappeared from time to time from where they are supposed to be preserved while the art pieces mentioned above were luckily saved. The disappearance syndrome is now quite old. As far back as 1995, a gigantic terracotta pendant belonging to the necklace of a huge image of Boddhisttva suddenly disappeared from its shelf in the S.P.Museum, Srinagar. It was one of the finest examples of Buddhist baroque in Kashmir which came to light when excavations of the ancient Buddhist monastery of Shad-Arhat- Vana (modern Harvan) were first undertaken by Daya Ram Sahni, and later by Ram Chandra Kak in l919. The attention of the well known archaeologist and art critic, Charles Fabri, was attracted towards this 'Gem of Kashmir', in 1933. The pendant, measuring 20 inches in height and 14 inches in width, was oval in shape and intricately beautiful reflecting on the exquisite craftsmanship of ancient Kashmiri jewellery. Immediately after its discovery it was kept for display in the S. P. Museum in 1925 where it attracted the notice of archaeologists, historians and scholars from the whole world till it disappeared.

What is more amusing is that the Museum authorities first gave out that the teracotta masterpiece had been removed to a safer place within the Museum itself. People were made to believe that it had been broken to pieces due to the carelessness of some Museum official. The pieces were, however, not restored to their original shape despite the presence of a qualified museuologist at the Museum. And then came the stunning news - the pendant had been smuggled out of the Museum ! And such games continued to be played even afterwards.

Surely, money can not be the sole motive behind such acts of disappearance of invaluable art objects. A more sinister design appears to be at work - to deplete the rich treasures of Hindu and Buddhist art in Kashmir. It will not be totally surprising if one morning we wake up to find that Kashmir has been swept clean of most of the relics that would remind one of the glories of its pre- Islamic past!

[ Inputs: P.N. Kachru, Captain S.K Tikoo ]

Legend
Hiuen Tsang and his treasure

When Hiuen Tsang came to India in the 7th century; he also visited Kashmir where he stayed for two years and studied Buddhist and Hindu texts at the feet of Kashmir scholars. He was very happy to find the Buddhist faith flourishing there with hundreds of viharas scattered all over the valley offering obeisance to lord Buddha. He gives a detailed account of the land and the people of 'Ka-shi-mi-lu', as he calls Kashmir, praising the Kashmir scholars for their learning and calibre and considering them as incomparable.

Hiuen Tsang also describes in detail the proceedings of the fourth great Buddhist council called by the Kushana King Kanishka at Harwan in Kashmir. Over five hundred delegates attended the council to review and redetine the Buddhist canon, including renowned scholars and thinkers like Nagarjuna, Ashwaghosha, Vasubandhu, Sanghmitra and Jinamitra, with the Kashmir scholar Vasumifra presiding over its deliberations.

Hiuen Tsang had every reason to be happy with the treatment accorded to him in Kashmir, with the King (Durlabhavaardhana) himself leading his people to give him a royal reception. The King gave him five assistants and twenty scribes to copy the sacred books written in Kashmir.

All this is history. And now the legend which is more interesting than history. It is said that when Hiuen Tsang decided to leave the country after a long and rewarding stay, he took a huge treasure of books he had collected during his stay here, particularly from Kashmir, with him to China. The Emperor of India himself accorded him a warm send off and provided him with a huge vessel along with twenty five well trained and dedicated sailors for his journey back to his country. The sailors were asked to guard the treasures that the great Chinese traveller was carrying with him.

In the beginning the journey went on smoothly, but after a few days storm clouds gathered menacingly on the horizon anda sinister wind began to blow. Soon the wind changed into a ferocious 'chandamarut ' or cyclone, sending up huge waves in the river and threatening to wreck the ship and sink it. As the vessel was tossing and turning on the turbulent river, its captain felt that the only way to save it was to throw away some of the dispensable cargo into the river politely hinting at the huge weight of books it was carrying. All the twenty five sailors sent by the Indian Emperor got alerted. They were there to safeguard the valuable works and if the ship had to be unloaded, then it was they who could be dispensed with. The treasures it was carrying from Kashmir was immensely more valuable than the lives of all of them put together, they told the captain and saying this the sailors jumped one by one into the raging river, giving their supreme sacrifice to save the wisdom of Kashmir from being lost.

But the story does not end here. The great sacrifice of the sailors did not seem to pacify the fury of the storm which continued to rage unabated. The captain of the vessel felt that there was no alternative to off loading some of the books, however valuable they were. The suggestion was unbearable to Hiuen Tsang. He jumped to his feet and said " if the situation demands more load to be thrown out, then let it be me. Let me drown, but let the invaluable wisdom enshrined in the books be saved at all costs and reach its destination.

The ship, however reached the shores of China safely with the books and with the great Chinese traveller himself. The treasure trove of wisdom from Kashmir was saved!

[ Based on a legend narrated by Shri Balkrishna of Sanskrit Bharati during the course of a lecture. ]

 

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