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March-April 1998
Vol. II, No. 5 & 6

NSKRI unfolds its plan for Kashmiri Pandit cultural heritage exhibition

Intellectuals pledge support to make it a success

After a gestation of barely three months, NSKRI unfolded its plan for holding the first ever exhibiton on Kashmiri Pandit cultural heritage at a meeting with community intellectuals on March 21, 1998. The meeting, presided over by well-known film and TV personality, Shri Arun Kaul, was held at the Constitution Club, Rafi Marg, New Delhi.

It was on December 21, 1997 that NSKRI had presented before them its agenda for preserving and protecting Kashmiri Pandit cultural identity.

"This exhibition will project the real cultural face of Kashmir before the world", said Dr.S. S. Toshkhani, speaking on behalf of the Institute. "A cultural face that has been long hidden from view or else maliciously distorted." Partly blaming his own community for this, Dr. Toshkhani said that cataclysmic though it was, it was the exodus that had waken up the Pandits to the threat to their identity. "It is not an identity fabricated in the 14th century," he said, "it is an identity that has been shaped by 5000 years of our culture, it being the 5074th year of our calendar today. When we speak we speak with an authenticity given to our voice by these thousands of years of our existence as the original people of Kashmir -- the people of the Nilamat Purana."

 Dr. Toshkhani asserted that if there was a cultural mainstream in Kashmir, it was represented by the Pandits despite their small numbers. "If there is only a single person speaking a particular language, linguistically that person and that language are important and, therefore, must be protected," he observed.

Disclosing that the exhibition was scheduled to held from 12th April to 14th April, 1998, Dr. S. S. Toshkhani said that it would be broadly divided into three sections comprising miniature paintings of the Kashmiri School, a saga of Kashmiri Pandit scholarship for the past century or so as well as Sharada and Persian manuscripts and the Kashmiri Pandit way of life depicted through costumes, artefacts, objects of daily and ritualistic use, folk art patterns and old photographs.

"Our collection of miniatures is finest and most rare", he said, "revealing how vibrant the tradition must once have been".

"Equally appalling is our ignorance of the achievements of a whole galaxy of our scholars to whose erudition European Indologists have paid highest tributes. NSKRI has been named after one such outstanding scholars, Prof. Nityanand Shastri, whose guidance Western academicians constantly sought through correspondence or in perscin. Some of this correspondence shall also be put on view", Dr. Toshkhani said.

Manuscripts in Sharada, Kashmir's indegeneous script which hardly a handful of people know today, shall be yet another major feature of the show, he revealed. "How sad it is", he said, "that when the question of adopting an official scripts for Kashmiri came up, no one except poet Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor espoused the claim of Sharada." Official bodies like the J & K Cultural Academy and the Centre for Central Asian Studies, or the State Research and Publication Department, did nothing to preserve the heritage these manuscripts embodied. At present these manuscripts are lying at the Centre in a very bad shape. Dr. K. N. Pandita made an effort to salvage them by having them copied, but to no avail, Dr. Toshkhani disclosed. "Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan sanctioned an amount of Rs 3 lakhs for getting a descriptive catalogue of these manuscripts prepared, but instead of preparing such a catalogue more than half the grant was spent on buying steel almirahs", he said. "For obvious reasons", he quipped. The NSKRI is now thinking of pursuing the case from where it had been left, he revealed. After Buhler, it will be NSKRI scholars who will set out in search of Sharada manuscripts from wherever these could be found, he added.

Another section of the show shall depict the Kashmiri Pandit way of life: costumes, folk art patterns, artefacts, objects of daily and ritualistic use and the like, Dr. Toshkhani said, adding that there was much scope for research in these fields. "It is the Hindus who preserved folk art forms in Kashmir. Even some of the commercial arts like shawl-weaving or wood-carving are of Hindu origin, not to talk of the exquisite Kashmiri bronzes, he observed. Calling upon Kashmiri intellectuals, writers and cultural activists to join the NSKRI in its task to preserve and project Kashmiri Pandit culture, he said that the Institute did not believe in any "you" and "we" divide. NSKRI is not just an organisation, it is a movement -- everybody's movement in the community.

Shri P.N. Kachru of the NSKRI core group explained how the exhibition had been conceived and how it was to be executed. "It is not just an exhibition of culture", he said, "it is an exhibition of lost culture." "You have been receiving 'Unmesh' ", he added. "It is serving a specific objective -- that of presenting different aspects of the history and culture of the Kashmiri Pandits. Its contents are of lasting value. Soon we are going to bring out our quarterly research journal, 'Spanda'. Our immediate attention is, however, concentrated on the heritage exhibition. The way we have been able to gather a very good collection of exhibits points to the cooperation we have received. We have a two-fold purpose in mounting the display. Firstly, to revive interest in our present generation, and in the generations to come, in aspects of our culture which we have almost forgotten. Secondly, to encourage scholars, researchers and art historians to study it", Shri Kachru said.

Giving details about the three sections of the exhibition, Shri Kachru said that when murals in Kashmir were demolished, people took to preserving art through miniatures and book illuminations. All sections, he said, would be accompanied by write-ups giving the background of each item displayed. The portraits of scholars would have small biographical notes to indicate their achievements. Books and manuscripts would be displayed to facilitate research. "Then there will be folk paterns which will be drawn in the manner an old lady in a Kashmiri Pandit house-hold would draw them -- the 'Vyug' and the 'Haramandul' and the 'Krul'. "The 'Krul', he pointed out, "was not executed by a brush, but by knuckles dipped in dye, which would create what is called the 'almond' or the 'mango' motif. It had a thousand variations which could be connected by a stalk."

Shri S. N. Pandita urged the participants to help the NSKRI in putting up the show. "If the perspectives we have presented before you merit appreciation," he said,"then I beg you to help us, but if you think it is better to throw them in the dustbin, please don't hesitate. On our part we will keep our commitment, but please come forward and cooperate in every possible manner. It is not as though 'we' are doing it, it is all of 'us' doing it together. If we fail to do it now, then history will record that these were the hands from which it slipped into the oblivion. If we are able to keep it together, then history will remember these hands for protecting our heritage. "

Shri Virendra Bangroo offered to conserve free of cost items received on loan for the display, especially documents and paintings. He referred to the history of Kashmir art, recounting how Kashmiri artists were employed to paint murals at Alchi in Ladakh and some monastries in Tibet. Taking the audience round the proposed three sections of the exhibition mentally, Shri Bangroo said that he designed to have a 'zoona dab' (bay window) constructed in the Kashmiri architectural style displaying typical Kashmiri Pandit ambience.

Responding to the appeal for cooperation, different speakers pledged their support to NSKRI efforts for preservation of Kashmiri Pandit cultural heritage. These included Dr. B. N. Kalla, Shri Triloki Nath Kundan, Shri R. N. Kaul, Shri Mohan Nirash, Ms Kishori Kaul, Ms Kshama Kaul, Shri Rajendra Premi, Shri Shambhu Nath Bhat Haleem, Dr. Utpal Kaul, Shri Shantiveer Kaul, Ms Nancy Kaul and Shri C. V. Gopinath.

Prof. Subhash Razdan rose to thank the participants for their active interest in the NSKRI programme for the exhibition. He expressed his happiness over the meeting ending on a positive note. "Kashmiri miniatures are the nerve cell of Kashmiri culture", Prof. Razdan said; "these paintings could help us to know about our roots."

Shri Arun Kaul, said in his presidential remarks that an exhibition on a rather small scale would make a good beginning. He was of the view that displaying miniatures at the exhibition was a good idea. "Kashmiri miniatures are essentially 'Bhatta' (Kashmiri Pandit) miniatures", he said. "May be the Mughal miniatures brought in different colours, a different style and luminosity, but we had our own colour sense", he observed, referring to a Swachhanda Nath painting lying with Shri Utpal Kaul, as an example. "The blue colour in this painting is just fantastic. I haven't seen such blue in Indian miniatures."

Shri Kaul said it would be worthwhile even if only ten paintings which people would remember were displayed at the exhibition.

"I agree with those who say that work on Kashmiri culture or art has not been done by Kashmiris -- not by many Kashmiris anyhow", Shri Kaul said. "We have Pratapaditya Pal who has come out with two major volumes on Kashmir ivory pieces. Again, it is gratifying to note that the centre of Indian philosophy has been named after Abhinavagupta, but not in Kashmir, nor in Delhi, but in Lucknow. The Centre for Sanskrit and Indian philosophy in Lucknow University has been named after Abhinavagupta."

Shri Utpal Kaul was of the view that culture was a way of life and not just limited to academic exercises. "We may not know, but more than 350 scholars in different universities all over the world have studied Kashmir's cultural past, obtaining their doctoral degrees on subjects related to it", he disclosed. On Anandavardhana and his suggestion (dhvani) theory alone as many as fifty scholars are engaged in research at present, he said.

"Culture is the mainstay of our life, and Kashmir is the fountainhead of Indian culture," he said amidst applause.

Shri Mohan Nirash, well known Hindi poet, cautioned that while it was good to take steps for preservation of past heritage, we should not let the present slip out of our hands as our today's achievements are going to be tomorrow's heritage. He pleaded for recording interviews with such talented persons of the community as are past fifty, taking them down the memory lane and asking them about their life and experiences.

Shri Shambhu Nath Bhat 'Haleem' made a forceful plea for keeping the Kashmiri language alive as a language of everyday parlance. "It will be impossible for us to preserve our culture if we are not able to preserve our language, because language is the foundation on which the edifice of culture stands. If this foundation is weak, we shall be only building castles in the air", he said.

Speaking in Sanskrit, Dr.B.N. Kalla said that the NSKRI should pick up the threads from where Prof. Nityanand Shastri had left them. There can be no Sanskriti without Sanskrit, he said, urging the Institute to go back to the Sanskritic roots of Kashmiri culture.

Pandit Jagan Nath Siboo honoured

Pandit Jagan Nath Siboo has been given the 'Samma-Ditthi Award' by the Foundation of Indology and Culture, Ajmer, for his scholarly work in Hindi, 'Kashmir Shakta Vimarsh'.

The award which was announced recently by the Patron-cum-Chairman of the Foundation, Shri B. S. Sahwal, consists of a 'Certificate of Honour', a memento bearing Shri Chakra, a citation and a cash prize of Rs. 1,501/- as a token of respect. Dr. Abhinav Kamal Raina received the award on his behalf as Shri Siboo could not receive it in person due to bad health.

The book, a scholarly exposition of the Shakta tradition of Kashmir, is a valuable contribution to Indology, according to the Foundation Chairman, Shri Sahwal. It may be recalled that the book has already been awarded by the HRD Ministry.

Kashmir has been a great centre of the tantric cult of Shakti worship for centuries, a faith that links it spiritually with Kerala and Bengal. Almost every Kashmiri Pandit family is devoted to one manifestation of the Mother Godess or other, with Bala, Sharika, Maharajna, Jwala, Bheda, Mahakali, Tripur Sundari, being their traditional tutelary deities. However, the Kashmir Shaktas consider Shiva and Shakti, symbolized by the bindu and the trikona, as one and inseparable.

It goes to the credit of Shri Siboo that he has fathomed the depths of the Shakta doctrine and, through his lucid comments and explanations, brought its profound truths within the grasp of the ordinary readers. Yet the 'Kashmir Shakta Vimarsh' is a brief work and while congratulating Shri Siboo for the honour he has received for his pioneering work, NSKRI expects the profound scholar to throw more light on a philosophy that forms the bedrock of faith for most Kashmiri Pandits. The book, 'Kashmir Shakta Vimarsh' also needs to be translated into English -- a work for which NSKRI looks to the eminent scholar, Dr. C. L. Raina.

Faces of Glory
Pandit Sahaz Bhat

The scholar with a healing touch

Pandit Sahaz Bhat
Pandit Sahaz Bhat

[That the legendary Unani hakim of Kashmir, Pandit Sahaz Bhat, was a profound scholar also, is a fact not known even to his grandson, Dr. R. N. Bhat, till NSKRI discovered it and brought out this unlikely dimension of his personality in a recent issue of 'Unmesh'.

And while his miracle cures remain etched on public memory and have given to Kashmiri parlance a proverb commonly used even now, we profile here the other Sahaz Bhat with the help of inputs from his grandson, Dr. R.N. Bhat and great grandson, Dr. Ayushyaman Bhat. To the latter we are thankful for the photograph of Pandit Sahaz Bhat. ]

Born in 1862, Sahaz Kak Bhat, or Sahaz Bhat (S.B.), as he was popularly known, was the last of the six children of his parents. He must have been barely four when he lost his father and was brought up by his elder brother, Pandit Sat Kak, who held the important position of Royal Physician to the Maharaja of J & K State. For his formal schooling, S.B. was sent to the CMS School at Fateh Kadal, Srinagar where English was taught as an essential subject. S.B. was, however, not prepered to learn a language in which 'no' comes before 'yes' and soon told his elder brother that he would rather learn Persian, Arabic and of course, Sanskrit. He started taking Sanskrit and Persian lessons at home from his family guru, but discontinued these when the teacher treated him harshly.

Now on he learned by the self education method, and taught himself not only these languages but also Unani medicine that he eventually adopted as a profession to become a physician like elder brother Sat Kak. His pronunciation of both Arabic and Sanskrit was so flawless that it was difficult to make out in which of these languages he was better versed. If he became the greatest Unani hakim of his time in Kashmir, it was clearly due to his self effort.

A deeply religious person, S.B. was, however, catholic and liberal in his outlook, refusing to distinguish between man and man on the basis of caste, creed or colour. He was always immaculately dressed wearing a saffron and sandalwood paste tilak on his forehead. While treating his patients, the religiously inclined physician would not depend on his pharmacopeia alone, he would even take recourse to reciting prayers in Sanskrit or Arabic if only for a psychological effect on the patient. Nobility, generosity and philanthropy were his basic character traits that he displayed at the professional level often. He would treat the poor generally free of cost, through he would not hesitate from accepting large sums from his affluent patients as he needed money to run his charitable clinic.

"Pandit Sahaz Bhat was tall and handsome with a longish face and magnetic grace. His gait was majestic, his demeanour kingly, his disposition scholarly. By temperament he was magnanimous and benevolent and his generosity was proverbial. In conversation he was scholarly and inspiring. He had a musical voice and a handwriting that was calligraphic, so beautiful that his patients would often preserve his prescriptions in velvet bags to use them as amulets." This pen- potrait drawn by Dr. R.N. Bhat of his grandfather shows the kind of person that this physician among scholars and scholar among physicians was.

As for S.B. the scholar, it was his phenomenal knowledge of Persian, Sanskrit and Arabic that prompted the then Maharaja of J & K State to draft him into his Translation Department in 1890 as its head where he also looked after the publication of Sanskrit texts on philosophy, medicine, law etc.

With his mastery over Sanskrit, S.B. worked with Sir Aurel Stein and Pandit Govind Kaul in compiling a descriptive catalogue of 6000 Sanskrit manuscripts for Maharaja Ranbir Singh's Raghunath Temple Library at Jammu. Considered a feat in scholarship, the catalogue was printed in Bombay in 1894. S.B. painstakingly prepared extracts from each manuscript for the catalogue. Wrote Stein of S.B.'s labours: "For the most conscientious and scholarly manner in which Sahaz Bhat discharged it, I feel all the more obliged as I can well realize how irksome a great portion of the work e.g. the careful reproduction of innumerable classical errors and apashabdas of the manuscripts must have been to his Pandit instinct. His learning and thorough acquaintance with the methods of Indian scholarship especially in the shastras traditionally cultivated in Kashmir have on many occasions most usefully supplemented my printed source of references".

Another work in which S.B. collaborated with Stein and Govind Kaul was Hindi translation of the Sanskrit chronicles of Kashmir, but it could not be completed due to Govind Kaul's sudden death in 1899.

In 1935, S.B. passed away after a fullfilling life of a scholar and physicican always sought after by fame. Aurel Stein's regard for his scholarship can be summed up in the following excerpt from a nostalgic letter he wrote to Alden, one of his friends in Vienna, in 1905:

"I gathered my old entourage. It was pleasure to talk the language of gods and though my interests have now moved far northward, I shall try to keep my old friend Pandit Sahaz Bhat by me when I occupy winter quarters at Gupkar where he had been with me and Govind Kaul in the old days."

Inputs by:
Dr. R.N. Bhat
Dr. Ayushyaman Bhat
S. N. Pandita

Three hundred fifty foreign scholars 
have obtained doctorate 
on ancient Kashmir

-- Utpal Kaul

"There is hardly any corner of the world where people are not working on ancient Kashmir, its culture, its contribution", said Shri Utpal Kaul, speaking at the intellectuals' meet at Constitution Club, New Delhi. He revealed that there are 350 scholars who have obtained their doctorates from different universities in the world for their research on Kashmir. "Only the other day", he said, "I received a letter from a lady in Pizza, Italy, who is working on Kshemendra. Sometime back a researcher from Tokyo University came to me asking me for a copy of the Logaksha Griha Sutra. Till then I had not heard its name even. It took me 15 days to trace the work with the help of some local people, but I managed to obtain it. It was lying in an old sack in which Sanskrit manuscripts preserved by Maharaja Pratap Singh were lying. These were dumped into the sack in 1947 and are in a very bad condition. The book had been published in 1898 and I made four sets of it, giving two to the Japanese research scholar. He told me that they were five scholars working on the five-year project. The fact is that there is hardly any university in the world where work is not being done on one or another aspect of Kashmir's ancient culture and literature."

Shri Kaul further said: "There is a big art gallery in London, -- the Oriental Gallery. I haven't been there but one of my friends who has told me that in the Indian Section only three things about Kashmir have been highlighted -- the Martand Sun temple as an exquisite example of Kashmir's temple architecture; the Vaishnava art temples of Kashmir and Kashmir's contributon to Buddhism. That is all. No Sufism, no Islamic culture, no Sheikh Abdullah!

"Of the 52 Tirtha Mahatamyas only 23 or so are available in Jammu and Kashmir, but there are full records of each of them in the Leipzig University, Germany. As many as 50 students in the university are doing their research on Anandavardhana. We may not be knowing, but work on Kashmir's ancient art, culture and literature is being done by foreign scholars. Sadly, we are doing little.

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