Sahib Ram Kaul, born early in the 19th century in Kashmir, was a renowned savant, Sanskrit scholar, author and researcher, whose contribution to Sanskrit learning and knowledge of Kashmir's history and geography, had received recognition, especially from Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1829-1885), resulting in the Pandit's appointment as president of the Vidya Vilas Sabha of the State and as chief teacher and head of the Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya, founded by the ruler, in Srinagar. Sir Aurel Stein has referred to Sahib Ram as "undoubtedly the foremost among the Kashmiri Sanskrit scholars of the last few generations". Two of Sahib Ram's sons, followed in their father's footsteps and in their own right acquired unenviable reputation for their scholarship.
The elder son, Daya Ram, authored the 'Linga Purana Bhavarth Sanket',(preserved in the Ranbir Research Institute, Jammu), was a man of learning of the Shastras, achieved high proficiency in astrology and studied Persian, and was an important member of the Maharaja's court, in advising the Maharaja in the interpretation of the Shastras, Hindu law and customs, in adjudication proceedings. He had a most charming personality, heightened by a well-kept beard and was always immaculately dressed.
The second son, Damodar, was a brilliant scholar, profoundly knowledgeable and master of repartee, who succeeded his father on his death in 1872, as the Head of the Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya, in Srinagar. Damodar had been taken in adoption by his aunt, from which family later emerged two outstanding scholars, both Shastris and brothers, Pt. Mukund Ram and Madhusudhan, who was the last of the scholar from this family. But Damodar retained close contact with the family of his birth, and his elder brother. Damodar is credited with Praud Lekhak, a letterwriter and verses in continuation of Kalhana's Rajatarangini of which the present location is not known. This sequel to Rajatarangini had brought the account of Kashmir's history from Akbar's time down to the last year of the 19th century.
It is interesting to note that Maharaja Ranbir Singh, shortly after his accession to the throne of J&K State in 1856, initiated a move for the preservation and collection of contemporary and ancient manuscripts relating to the cultural heritage of Kashmir and to facilitate study of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic languages in the State. He built the magnificent Raghunath temple in Jarnmu, symbolic of Rama Rajya concept of rule.
With Saheb Ram in charge, he set up a Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya in Srinagar and another one in Jammu, with a Sanskrit Mahapustakalaya, a library attached. He arranged to secure copies of books from the private collection of other native rulers in India and from Varanasi etc.
For the collection of religious manuscripts for the library, select scholars were despatched far and near to secure copies of published and unpublished manuscripts and rare books. For the rare books sold by the owners, high prices were paid and those not sold were copied, through a team of learned scholars including Sahib Ram Kaul. Collection of MSS for the library began in 1869, as also transcribing of Sharada script to Devanagri and in due course the library flowered into a repository of important Sanskrit works.
Meanwhile many Westerners interested in Indian culture studied Sanskrit in Europe (particularly Germany, England and France) and were appointed by the British Government of India, to specially created posts in Sanskrit institutions in India, to explore and exploit the Indian Sanskrit heritage. They were encouraged to collect, examine, translate edit and arrange distribution of select Sanskrit works of which the government organised allotment among British universities and collections, as well as some Indian societies and institutes. Apparently it was their policy to rescue and secure ancient manuscripts, dealing with India's (including Kashmir's) heritage, not only from a mere academic interest and present the Indian civilization to the world, perhaps with a colonial angle attached to it. The political department of the Government of India was deeply involved in this.
The Government of India appointed Prof. G. Buhler a Sanskrit scholar born in Hannover (1837-98), specializing in oriental languages and archaeology, who had studied Sanskrit in Europe and worked as Professor, Elphinstone College, Bombay (1868-72), who is said to have discovered over 5000 MSS for distribution by the Government. He was also deputed to Kashmir, Rajasthan and Central India, in search of Sanskrit manuscripts.
Prof. Buhler arrived in Srinagar on August 11, 1875. The Political Resident of Kashmir had arranged to deliver to him a memorandum on Sanskrit libraries and books, together with a catalogue of works existing. He was introduced to important Kashmiri Pandits. The following day he met Maharaja Ranbir Singh, who offered him every assistance in his mission. He also visited the Sanskrit School where he presumably met Damodar, the Head Teacher. On 15th August 1875, Pandit Daya Ram called on him, who according to Buhler gave him much valuable information. "Through his father the late Pandit Saheb Ram, who appears to have been a man deeply versed in the Shastras and the ancient history of his country, Pt. Daya Ram has become the possessor of much valuable information on the ancient geography of Kashmir. A good deal of the identification of places mentioned in the Rajatarangini, which I shall have to mention in the sequel, have been made with his assistance", says Buhler.
By the 18th of August, work progressed fast and he arranged with the two brothers, copies of nearly seventy works in the Residency list. He made visits to many places, did minor excavations and compared the locations of certain places described in Sahib Ram's 'Kashmir Tirtha Sangrah'. From his contact with the other scholars in Kashmir, and in commenting upon the scholastic eminence of others Buhler's remarks on Pt. Damodar are particularly noteworthy as follows:
"As regards the present state of literary activity, l can say that I saw one really distinguished Pandit, who would be able to hold up his head anywhere - Damodar, the son of Saheb Ram, the Chief Teacher in the Maharaja's Mudrissa. He possesses all the characteristics of a true Kashmirian scholar, great quickness and sharpness, a considerable fund of good-natured humour, and an inexhaustible flow of eloquence, combined with a through knowledge of Sanskrit poetry and poetics and a very respectable knowledge of grammar, of Nyaya and Shaiva philosophy - he explained to me several verse from Sanskrit poets which had baffled not only myself; but also some of the best Pandits of India. His own poetical compositions - a continuation of the Rajatarangini and a letter-writer, Praud Lekhak, which he was good enough to read and explain to me for hours - certainly surpass Shriharsha and Bana and can be only compared to Subhandhu's Vasavadatta. Pandit Damodar was not the only man of a scholarly bent of mind. I have already mentioned, his brother Daya Ram as an authority on the ancient geography and history of the country."
What a splendid unsolicited testimonial to the intellectual prowess of a great Kashmiri scholar.
Buhler was greatly impressed by Damodar's ability to "produce Sanskrit prose or verse alike from the sleeve of his garment."
Sir Aurel Stein, Indologist, recognised Buhler's pioneering work on establishing the critical principles as propounded by Pts. Damodar and Daya Ram in correctly understanding Kalhana's Kashmir Kings' Chronicle relating to the history and geography of Kashmir, and their application to Nilamatpurana, the mahatamayas of tirthas and the Rajatarangini. Stein had seen some parts of Damodar's incomplete sequel to Rajatarangini too, and recorded his views in these words: "Had Pandit Damodar been spared to complete it, his work would have shown that Kalhana could have found generations past no worthier successor."Source: Unmesh - Monthly Newsletter of N.S. Kashmir Research Institute
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