By Prof. M.L. Koul
The multi-faceted personality, Pandit Hargopal Koul Khasta, popularly known as the lion of Kashmir, was an ardent patriot and a dominating intellectual of his times. The ancestors of his illustrious family had migrated to the Punjab, probably in search of livelihood, in the Sikh times. In one of his works he makes a mention of the migration of his ancestors to the Punjab, but does not divulge of fuller details about the motivating causes of their voluntary migration. His young brother, Salig Ram Koul Salik, writes about his family having lived in Punjab for three generations. As per the details available from Pandit Hargopal Koul and his brother, Salig Ram Koul, it can be safely established that Pandit Gasha Koul was their great grand-father and Pandit Ram Chand Koul was their grand father. Both of them had scholarly bent of mind and Kashmir Shaivism was their forte. The maternal grand-father of Pandit Hargopal Koul was Pandit Ved Ram Mattoo, a grandee (rais) in the cruel times of Afghans. As he belonged to an illustrious family, Pandit Hargopal Koul instinctively perpetuated the rich family tradition through his forays into the domains of poetry, history, politics, journalism, education and social reform. In Kashmir he is better known as an untiring crusader who highlighted and fought for the social and political causes that had lot many ramifications for transforming the over-all complexion of Kashmiri society as a whole. He was gutsy and faced once the wrath of Maharaja Ranbir Singh with exemplary courage and aplomb. He did not dither but set the Maharaja thinking through his bold responses to the false, and acrimonious accusations that were coined by the conspiring elements in the court.
The ancestors of Pandit Hargopal had some chunks of land at Reyiteng in Rainawari, Srinagar but because of its unproductivity they could not, wholly depend on it as a safe source of sustenance and had thought of migration in search of a living. Most of his ancestors were in the British service. Pandit Kailash Nath Koul, who was his uncle was an employee of the Settlement Department in Ludhiana. While in the Punjab, Pandit Hargopal Koul had joined a school as a teacher. It is buttressed by the hint, that he throws in the introduction to his work, Gulzari-Fawayid'. In his work 'The History of Kashmiri Pandits', Pandit Jia Lal Koul Kilam writes that Pandit Hargopal Koul was in the British service and was entrusted with some jobs political in nature. That he was in such service is supported by Pandit Hargopal's own statement about his transfer to Shimla from Patiala. As a teacher in Lahore he had established contacts with many Englishmen and Indian scholars responsible for shaping the political and literary ethos of the Punjab. The'Guldasta-i- Kashmir' makes a mention of his having sent the book to Col. Halride for his study and comments.
Being thoughtful and intellectually vibrant Pandit Hargopal Koul could not escape the impact of western ideas that were fast impacting the politics, education and thinking patterns of the natives. Lured back to Kashmir by the good times that were ushered in by Maharaja Ranbir Singh Pandit Hargopal Koul pioneered a plethora of political, social and educational activities that are a clinching witness to his renaissance spirit of revival and transformation. He zealously made concerted efforts to put the Kashmiri life-pattern on new rails of change, reform and revival for a new orientation and intellectual awakening. The western ideas that he had imbibed during his stay in thePunjab made him an ardent votary of change but he spurned the type of change that would erode the fundamental identity of the natives as one bonded ethnic group. Renaissance, to him, meant change based on reform and purging of pernicious social evils, yet he was in no-way for the uprootment and dislocation of his people from their historically and culturally evolved mould and ethos.
While in the Punjab Pandit Hargopal Koul had rubbed shoulders with the prominent leaders of Arya Samaj who had spearheaded a powerful campaign against the evils that had crept into the Hindu society. As an intellectual of great calibre he totally rejected the tinsel tampering that the Arya Samajists had indulged in with some of the august beliefs and doctrines of the Hindus. He was for widow-remarriage but bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj campaign against idol-worship. His long association with Arya Samaj in the Punjab was highly prized by its leaders for the terrific oratory that he harnessed to expand the mass base for the reform movement launched by Arya Samaj. In Kashmir his campaign for widow-remarriage was lost on deaf ears as Kashmiri Pandits, though progressive in mind and outlook, detested it. But Pandit Hargopal Koul continued with the campaign and never relented. He was both tenacious and audacious in the pursuit of a cause for social and political upliftment of his people and no opposition, weak or strong could deter and thwart him-in his tracks.
As an active participant in the educational and reform movements of the Punjab, Pandit Hargopal Koul had developed and cultivated thick contacts not only with some Hindu leaders, but also with a few influential Englishmen having an aptitude for education and research. Though conscious of the British ascendancy in India, yet he detested the role of the Christian missionaries artfully engaged in the conversionary campaigns in the Punjab and elsewhere. He was a part and parcel of the Arya Samaj movement in its opposition to the Christian missionaries and its positive role in strengthening the Hindu society purged of its corroding fault-lines. His intellectual approach to the complex problem of reform in Hindu society was to cement, when shorn of its evils for progress and advancement on modern lines as blazed by the Britishers. A Hindu society freed from debilitating evil customs would automatically detest and fight back the missionaries out to convert its members through state patronage and lure of money.
As he had strong affinities with Arya Samaj, he had studied Satyartha-Prakash - a major work that had dealt with the doctrinal positions of Islam and Christianity. His stay in the Punjab had brought him face to face with the Muslim communalism which ultimately led to the partition of India based on two-nation theory. Though a thorough liberal in his world-view, Pandit Hargopal Koul Khasta found himself in a piquant situation when a mullah, who had trespassed into his privacy, cried foul of heresy when he was vigorously asked to remove the trespass. The mullah was beaten and his room ransacked for his defiant attitude. With a view to garnering support from his co-religionists the mullah accused him of insulting the holy book which as per him he was teaching to a few students in the room. There were noisy demonstrations against this alleged act of Pandit Hargopal Koul. The government of Ranbir Singh detained him and instituted a criminal case against him. As a person of inexplicable guts and valour Pandit Hargopal Koul faced the situation with cool and calm mind. The charge as levelled against him by the mullah could not be upheld by the court and Pandit Hargopal was honourably released. But the ruler externed him from Kashmir ostensibly to maintain public peace.
Pandit Hargopal Koul was the last man to compromise with Muslim Communalism. He was no Prem Nath Bazaz who pandered Muslim communalism and offered dubious and devious explanations for the loot of Kashmiri Pandits in 1931. Pandit Hargopal Koul through one of his curt and straight retorts to a mob reminded it of the petition that Muslims had made to the Maharaja for granting them entry into their original religion. It is said that the mob appreciated his frank audacity to tell the truth to its face and quietly withdrew from the scene. His trial in a court of Srinagar attracted lots of angry crowds and Pandit Hargopal's bold defiance is too well-known to be reiterated.
The much publicized mullah-episode involving Pandit Hargopal Koul followed the serious involvement that he had in the petition that some mischievous people had made to the British government in the wake of a terrible famine that ravaged Kashmir in 1876 A.D. As a dominant and unique personality of his times Pandit Hargopal Koul had won kudos and detraction from those who highly appreciated his role in the polity and those who detested him for all what he did. Kashmir as always has been a notorious breeding ground of rumours and people being strangely sentimental, for historical reasons, are immediately swayed by them. As the famine took its heavy toll a rumour was mischievously set afloat that Maharaja Ranbir Singh carried boatfuls of Muslims and drowned them into the choppy waters of Wullar lake. The British Government instituted an enquiry into the allegation. The British officer asked the Pandit to present himself before the enquiry officer. Alarmed in the least by the developments Pandit Hargopal Koul did go to the Durbar and audaciously asked the Britisher who the prosecutor was and who was the judge. The officer said that it was 'sircar'. Pandit Hargopal Koul flared up and fearlessly said that it was inconceivably strange justice where the prosecutor and the judge were the same person. The Maharaja on the throne lost his royal cool and was about to pounce on the Pandit when Wazir Punnu stopped him in his tracks. The Maharaja, though responsible for a new renaissance in Kashmir, failed to comprehend that the British were the source of the mischief and were capitalising on it only to force his climb down on the issue of his non-acceptance of a resident in his court supposed to safe-guard the imperial interests in the state.
The charge against Pandit Hargopal Koul could not be legally proved. Yet the Maharaja ordered his imprisonment. He and his brother Pandit Salig Ram Koul Salik were ordered to be lodged in the Bahu Fort in Jammu. During their incarceration in the fort both the brothers prayed, studied and indulged in acts purporting deliberate defiance of the royal authority. Once they caught hold of the prison officer, who was a close relation of Maharaja Ranbir Singh, and gave him a thrashing. A dogra lady witnessing the scene got convinced of their being courageous and out of regards used to bring them food from her home for the period they were in the prison. One fine morning, there was commotion in the prison and it was found that Salig Ram Koul had disappeared from the prison. On thorough inspection the authorities shockingly discovered that he had dug a tunnel in his cell through which he had made good his escape to an unknown destination. Pandit Hargopal Koul vociferously accused the Maharaja of getting his younger brother brutally killed with impunity. The Maharaja launched an enquiry and informed Pandit Hargopal that his brother had fled to Patiala where he had started a paper to denounce him and his ways of governance.
Pandit Hargopal Koul as the prominent leader of Kashmir heralded a movement that clamorously opposed the monopoly of the Punjabis and Bengalis in the state services. The Maharaja pursued a policy which ignored the interests of indigenous Kashmiris and imported officers from outside the state. The Kashmiri Pandits having opted for modern education with English as the medium of instruction were in the vanguard of the movement. Both Pandit Hargopal Koul and Pandit Salig Ram koul ably highlighted the demands of mulkis (locals) and established contacts with the people of Jammu, thus giving the movement a new pace and acceleration. Maharaja Partap Singh was quick enough to recognise merit of the demand through the concerted efforts of koul brothers. In Maharaja Hari Singh's time the demand gathered a new momentum when a conference on the issue was held at Jammu under the presidentship of Pandit Jia Lal Koul Killam. The movement is also known as State-Subject Movement. It had no political overtones. It was in no way repugnant to any political alignment that the state would forge in view of new political developments in the sub-continent. Pandit Hargopal Koul was an Indian patriot who always saw future of the state as part of a political system guaranteeing personal liberty and equality before law.
Pandit Hargopal Koul had tremendous journalistic calibre and abilities which he had amply demonstrated through his, powerful writings in Punjab. The topics which found elucidation at his hands pertained to social reform, education and current problems. The deft handling and elaboration of moot problems helped him a lot in carving out a niche for himself in political, social and educational circles of the day. His externment at the hands of Maharaja Ranbir Singh, who had great respect for him, was a dominant theme of his writings. He had hate-love relationship with the Maharajas of Kashmir. As per Mohd. Din Fauq Pandit Hargopal Koul issued a weekly 'Khair-KhwahiKashmir' from Lahore which he used as a potent vehicle for bitter criticism of the Maharaja as he had unjusty expelled him from Kashmir to appease Muslims. When in the good books of Maharaja he was placed in-charge off the Publication of the 'Tohfai-Kashmir' and all matters relating to its management. At the recommendation of Dewan Anant Ram he was given the charge of over-seeing all the journalistic activities in the state which he performed so efficiently that Maharaja recognised him as an able intellectual of his state. As part of his official duties Pandit Hargopal would read out to the Maharaja the contents of all the papers issued within the state.
During the years of his externment in Punjab Pandit Hargopal Koul issued a paper 'Ravi-Benazir' and 'Subaha Kashmir' from Amritsar. Later on, through the paper he vigorously crusaded against the Britishers who had deposed Maharaja Partap Singh, shorn him of his powers and installed a regency council with his rivals as its members. The campaign in the press was so vigorous and consistent that the Britishers got exposed for their conspiracy against the Maharaja. Partap Singh could not be kept away from his throne and all the royal powers were restored to him. Pandit Hargopal was allowed to return to his native place and people of all shades accorded him a rousing reception only to justify his sobriquet of 'lion of Kashmir', which at a later date was appropriated by Sheikh Abdullah.
Having the vision and comprehension of an educationist Pandit Hargopal Koul ably pioneered a plethora of educational activities that had marked bearing on the transformative processes of the Kashmiri society stepped in conservatism. Who else but him could visualise the importance of imparting education to a girl child? For this purpose, despite the stiff opposition of the social conservatives of all shades, he founded a girls school under the head-ship of his own daughter, Shrimati Padmavati, a legendary figure in the educational history of Kashmir. The school flourished beyond expectations and attracted girls from all classes of people. A chain of seven such schools was opened in the different localities of Srinagar to serve the enslaved girls only to usher them into a new era of glittering enlightmenment. The government of the day did not fail to duly recognise the educational importance of girls' schools and formed a committee for their effective upkeep and management with Pandit Hargopal Koul as the President.
A veritable pioneer in the field of modern education in Kashmir, Pandit Hargopal Koul founded a Hindu school for boys as well. Over the years the school was upgraded and christened as Sri Partap College which has played a brilliant and commendable role as a centre of academics in giving a new fillip to modern education in Kashmir. It is pertinent to put that his younger brother, Salig Ram Koul Salik, equally a genius, was also involved in all such pioneering activities in the domain of education in Kashmir. Both of them in complete unison founded some arts and crafts schools where vocational training was imparted to the entrants. Some new-type Anglo-vernacular schools were started which combined the teaching of local languages alongwith English alphabets only to prepare scholars for a better future.
Pandit Hargopal Koul was a scholarly historian in his own right. His much acclaimed work on history titled as 'Guldasta-i-Kashmir' establishes him as a historian of genuine credentials. His awareness of the tools of history enabled him to go to the sources of Kashmir history and geography. For his initiation in Rajtarangini as the magnum opus of Kashmir history, Pandit Hargopal Koul sought the aid of Pandit Damodar Bhat, an erudite scholar of Sanskrit. He also studied the Nilmatpuran and a plethora of Mahatamyas including 'Sharika Mahatamya' and 'Vitasta Mahatamya'. Persian historians like Narayan Koul Aziz and Birbal Kachru and travel accounts of foreign travellers could not escape his notice. In order to gain thorough knowledge ofKashmir geography and topography he visited innumerable places of historical and geographical significance in the Valley. His Guldasta-i-Kashmir' gives us a historical account of Kashmir from ancient times to the period of Maharaja Partap Singh. The history is written in free flowing style in Urdu and has impacted the popular mind in a large measure. The prologue to the book informs that the erudite Pandit had sent it to Col. Halride who was the Director of the Punjab Department of Education for his critical evaluation and comments.
That he was invested with the sensibilities of a poet as well is established by the type of poetry he has penned down for posterity to get a feel of the times he lived in. He wrote both in Persian and Urdu. He was a master of mathnavi and the same is buttressed by his 'Gopalnama' in which he dilates upon his externment by the Maharaja from his native place. The legend of 'Hemal andNagirai' was also dilated upon in the mathnavi form and style, but the work is not available. Some of his available gazals establish his capacity to express himself in this form of poetry as well. The gazal at the end of his'Gulzari Fawayid' is translated here to help the readers get a feel of his sensibilities.
What I saw in the world
is God's glory and manifestation everywhere
I saw the world as free
Whatever I saw is subject to death and decay
The breath in a man is not lasting
The breath always I saw fleeting away
In the meshes of the world
I saw close kins getting drowned
I, Khasta, searched every nook
but was unable to find a kin in adversity.
Pandit Hargopal Koul Khasta, as a dominating and innovative personality of his times inspires us even today . With him as our guide and philosopher the exiled Pandit community will certainly emerge out of the crisis for a new political role of giving a tough battle to the forces that are out to separate the state from the constitutional dispensation of Indian nation-state with the aid of Muslim international with its hub in Pakistan.
Source: Kashmir Sentinel
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