Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi

Pandit Keshav Bhatt Jyotishi

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.

SourceUnmesh - Monthly Newsletter of  N.S. Kashmir Research Institute

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