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Pandit Sheo Narain Bahar

First Kashmiri social reformer

By Dr. B.N. Sharga 

In our holy scriptures two concepts about the self (atman) are commonly mentioned. The first being the individual self which is confined with in the manifested gross body known as sthul sharir and the second being the modification of the body with the associated consciousness, which is called as sukshma sharir and is experienced in the dream state. There are very few who understand the basic difference between these two forms of self. The self becomes one with the supreme self upon death much like the air confined in a balloon which becomes one with the cosmic air upon its bursting.

Actually too much attachment with this self is responsible to a great extent for all the problems in this mad world. A person who does work without attaching any importance to this self in due course of time becomes great in life commanding both respect and honour from the society at large. Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar was one such person who all through his life, sincerely worked beyond this narrow self for the general welfare of the society. He was not only a great visionary but he also brought drastic social reforms in the highly feudal society of his times against heavy odds by his able deeds and actions. His outstanding contribution to transform the highly religious, orthodox and superstitious Kashmiri Pandit community on modern lines will always be written in golden letters in its social history.

Here it should be kept in mind that during the Nawabi rule in Oudh the practice of writing the surname was not very common in the Kashmiri Pandit community. As a good majority of them were Urdu poets so they were more popular by their pennames or takhallus. This practice we find even today in some families. Amitabh Bachchan is using the penname of his father as his surname when the actual surname of the family is quite different. So at times while scanning the old records it becomes quite difficult to pin point a particular person when one finds two or more similar names. Why at all the Kashmiri Pandits adopted this practice is still not clear.

Pt. Sheo Narain Baharís ancestors were originally Soporis, who later on adopted Chakbast as their surname. What made them to change their surname is still a big mystery. According to their distant relations Pt. Sheo Narain Baharís adopted father Pt. Data Ram Sopori was a shawl merchant of the Sopore town in the Kashmir Valley. He was born around 1800. He came to Lucknow in connection with his trade along with Pt. Bhola Nath Kaul during the rule of king Gazi-ud-Din Haider (1814-1827) and settled down in the Hasanpuria locality. He had no son. So to maintain his family lineage he went back to his home town Sopore in Kashmir around 1842 and adopted one of his relativeís son Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar who was born around 1840 in Kashmir. That is how Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar came to Lucknow as an adopted son in the Sopori family from Kashmir around 1842 due to which his education got delayed. Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar then had his traditional education in a local Maktab under the supervision of a learned Maulvi in Urdu and Persian language. In the meanwhile his adopted father Pt. Data Ram Sopori died. His mother then sent him to Benaras (Varanasi) to join the Benaras College to learn the English language. In that period the Kashmiri Pandit boys generally used to go either to Benaras or to Calcutta (Kolkata) which was the headquarters of the East India Company to learn the English language.

In 1848 Lord Dalhousie became the governor general of India. He then chalked out his master plan to take over the administration of Oudh. To prepare the ground for the smooth take over he made Colonel Sleeman the Resident of Oudh in 1849. Colonel Sleeman created such a mess for the last king of Oudh Nawab Wajid Ali Shah that he had to leave every thing on the shoulders of his prime minister Ali Naqi Khan concerning the administration of the kingdom.

Lord Dalhousie then appointed General Outrum as the Resident of Oudh to execute his plan in 1856, who then served a notice on 3rd February 1856 to king Wajid Ali Shah to abdicate the throne of Oudh within three days failing which he would be deposed by force and taken into custody. General Outrum then forcibly deposed king Wajid Ali Shah on 7th February 1856 and he was taken to Calcutta under heavy military escort where he was lodged in the Fort Williams under very tight security.

After the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1856 the Mutiny broke out in 1857 and the Lucknow city witnessed a number of pitched battles between the British troops and native forces in different localities. There was utter chaos and confusion every where. The British ultimately succeeded in crushing this rebellion and normalcy was restored when the British crown took over the administration of India from the East India Company in 1858 and Lord Canning was appointed as the first Viceroy of India.

Under this fast changing political climate in Oudh from a feudal Nawabi rule to the British rule Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar came to Lucknow around 1860 from Benaras. He then felt the need to equip himself properly according to the changed circumstances to get some good job in the new dispensation. He then joined the La Martinier College to improve his English. Because in the company of European students the Indian students used to develop the practice of speaking fluent English very quickly. He was the first Kashmiri Pandit from Kashmiri Mohalla who took admission in the La Martinier College, which was at a distance of about 14 km. from the locality and he used to cover this distance twice on foot daily. This reflects how much zeal he had for the English education in that period. Because of his knowledge of the English language, his intelligence and his razor sharp memory he was taken in high esteem by the community members especially the younger generation.

Taking inspiration from him many Kashmiri Pandit boys of the locality like Pt. Shiv Narain Upadhya, Pt. Bishambhar Nath Chakbast, Pt. Kunwar Bahadur Shungloo, Pt. Shiv Nath Shivpuri, Pt. Pran Nath Bazaz, Pt. Manoher Lal Shivpuri and Pt. Jwala Nath Kaul then joined the La Martinier College to improve their future prospects. Only Pt. Ganga Prasad Sharga and Pt. Harihar Nath Sopori, who came from Chhapra in Bihar had some knowledge of the English language in the locality then.

Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar studied in La Martinier College for only one academic session in first standard to have working knowledge of the English language.

The then Principal of the La Martinier College Mr. Wall was very much impressed with the performance of Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar who was also in the good books of his English teacher Mr. Headford. So when the department of public instructions was established in 1862 in the province and Mr. Headford became its director he appointed Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar in 1864 as sarishtedar in the department on the strong recommendation of Mr. Wall the then Principal of La Martinier College as both these British officers were having very cordial working relations. In that period the appointments were generally made on personal recommendations and on the basis of the family background of the person concerned.

The first Viceroy of India Lord Canning died in 1862. To perpituate his memory the talluqedars of Oudh under the leadership of a Bengali talluqedar Dakshina Ranjan Mukhopadhya established Canning High School on Ist March 1864 in the palace of Nawab Ameen-ud-Daula in Aminabad, who was a minister in the court of king Amjad Ali Shah (1842 Ė1847). Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar grabbed this god sent opportunity and took admission in this institution to enhance his knowledge. He passed his entrance examination from Canning High School in 1865 which was conducted by the Calcutta University. His class mates were Pt. Shiv Narain Upadhya and Pt. Pran Nath Bazaz. To prepare for the entrance examination and to concentrate on his studies he temporarily shifted in the premises of Lucknow Middle School in Aminabad from Kashmiri Mohalla so that the time in going to the school to attend the classes could be saved and utilized in a better way for more useful work. His zeal for the education could be judged by the fact that he cut his finger a day before the examination so that he may not get a sleep at night. He used to come only on sundays at his residence in Hasanpuria.

Mr. Headford then made Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar, head master of the Normal School at Faizabad in 1865, whereas his classmates Pt. Shiv Narain Upadhya and Pt. Pran Nath Bazaz became the teachers in the Canning College. Mr. Headford the then director of public instructions then again called back Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar from Faizabad to Lucknow in 1866 and made him the deputy inspector of schools. So due to hardwork, honesty, sincerity and devotion to duty Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar achieved a great success in his life within a short span of three years. He then obviously became a guiding star and source of inspiration for the young boys of the community who started following his foot steps to achieve something big in life.

Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar being in the education department then dedicated his entire life to spread the message of light and learning. He took up this challenge as a mission and encouraged many youngmen of the community to take up English education for better future prospects instead of going to the Maktabs for the traditional education.

Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar in order to give a concrete shape to his ideas and vision formed an association. Jalsa-e-Tahzeeb on 9th February 1868 and became its secretary and made Pt Kishan Narain Dar as its President. It was a sort of social cum literary club for the elite of the city, which was opened in a rented premises in Gol Darwaza locality of the city. The premises of Jalsa-e-Tahzeeb had a well equipped library and a reading room having all the leading vernacular newspapers of north India of that time. About 120 members used to gather every month to discuss female education, administrative reforms and other current issues. The papers presented by the young members of the community on different topics of public interest were subsequently published in Akhbar Sirishta-e-Talim for the benefit of the general public. Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar, Pt. Shiv Narain Upadhya and Pt. Pran Nath Bazaz used to preside over these deliberations as all of them were closely connected with the education department of the province. People like Pt. Iqbal Krishna Sharga, Pt. Bishan Narain Dar, Pt. Harihar Nath Sopori and Pt. Suraj Narain Bahadur were the young members of this club.

In 1870 Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar suggested to the education department to establish societies in the villages not only in the then North Western Province but also in Punjab for the purchase of vernacular newspapers as that would benefit the children and broaden their outlook, which ultimately made them good citizens of the country. When in 1870 the news about the conversion of a Hindu lady to Christianity came to the office of Jalsa-e-Tehzeeb, Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar gave a clear cut directive to his community members not to allow the entry of European women into their house hold.

In 1871 in the month of April during the summer vacation he paid a visit to his native land Kashmir with a letter of introduction from his boss the then director of public instructions Mr. Collins for Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1857-1885) to study the educational system in the Riyasat. He also had an interaction with the community members there to have first hand information about their social conditions and their inspirations. On his return from Kashmir he published his experiences in the form of a news magazine Mursala-e-Kashmir from Lucknow on 15th June 1871. This journal then became a powerful instrument to bring about social change and reforms in the community. Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar and some other leading luminaries of the community used to write powerful and thought provoking articles in this magazine exhorting the community members to discard social evils like dowry, child marriages, gambling, drinking and visiting the salons of courtesans etc. The circulation of this magazine was not confined to Lucknow alone but it was widely circulated in almost all the major cities of north India having a considerable population of the Kashmiri Pandits.

To keep the affairs of the community within the community so that they may not be known to other caste groups a printing press was then established in a house in Rani Katra to publish Mursala-e-Kashmir regularly and to make it economically viable a sister publication Mirat-ul-Hind was also started for the general public.

Pt. Shyam Narain Masaldan and Pt. Sri Krishna Takru both lawyers by profession provided financial assistance in the interest of the community so that the publication of these important journals of the community may not be stopped for want of funds. The accomodation for the press was provided by Pt. Shyam Narain Masaldan and Pt. Kishan Narain Zarchob was appointed as the manager of this press as Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar being a government servant was not in a position to do that.

Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar being in the service of the education department devoted most of his time in reading and writing. He was a voracious reader and a prolific writer besides a noted Urdu poet. He has written a number of books on different subjects which were prescribed in the curriculum of different schools. He published a pocket book on Teachersí guidelines, Gulzar-e-Dabista, Mazma-e-Sukhan and an Urdu translation of the history of Kashmir by Dewan Kripa Ram, minister of Kashmir. Unfortunately now his poetic compositions and other literary works are not available as they have been sold out by his descendants to some Kabariwallah. Now we have no access to that treasure.

Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar formed a dedicated group of community members consisting of Pt. Ganga Prasad Sharga, Pt. Harihar Nath Sopori, Pt. Bishambhar Nath Chakbast, Pt. Jwala Nath Kaul, Pt. Kunwar Bahadur Shunglu Pt. Laxmi Narain Dar, Pt. Ganga Prasad Taimni and Pt. Shiv Narain Shivpuri to assist him in his mission. Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar being the first Indian to become the deputy inspector of schools used to command a great respect not only in the community but in the whole of Oudh and the people used to give due importance to every word spoken by him. He was a destiny maker for many people.

Due to over strain and extreme mental stress the mental and physical health of Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar became completely shattered. He became critically ill in 1873. He not only lost his eyesight and became practically blind but also lost his memory as well and became a mental wreck. When all the doctors, Hakims, Vaids and Ohjhas at Lucknow could not diagnose his ailment properly and his condition started further deteriorating then on the advice of Collins Brown the director of public instructions at that time the relatives of Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar took him to Calcutta for better medical treatment. But there also no improvement was observed in his condition, so he was again brought back to Lucknow where he expired on 29th April 1874 after a protracted illness at his residence in Hasanpuria at the young age of 34 years. His superior British officers in the education department Mr. Collins and Mr. Brown came to his residence to offer their condolences to the bereaved family members.

The untimely death of Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar in the prime of his youth stunned the whole community as no one was expecting that he would die so soon. The people had very high hopes from him to lead them for a longer time. It became very difficult for them to fill the void created by his sudden disappearance from the scene. Pt. Kishan Narain Dar and Pt. Laxmi Narain Dar then took the responsibility of carrying out the work undertaken by him to fulfill his dreams. Munshi Newal Kishore in his Avadh Akhbar wrote a soul stirring writeup on 15th June 1874 eulogising the services rendered by Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar for his community and for the citizens of Oudh. Munshi Newal Kishore paid rich tributes to Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar for his constant help and guidance in improving the journalistic contents of Avadh Akhbar to make it one of the best vernacular newspapers of that period. Pt. Sheo Narain Baharís valuable contribution in social, educational and literary field at a time when the society as a whole was passing through a period of great transformation will always be remembered for all times to come.

Pt. Sheo Narain Bahar had a multidimentional personality. He was a poet, writer, author, journalist, educationist, political commentator, social reformer and above all a great humanist. He played a key role in changing the face of the contemporary society in Oudh. He did a commendable job in building up the infrastructure for introducing the pattern of English education in the schools and colleges of the province. Due to his help and guidance many K.P. boys got good government jobs and won laurels in different fields. He was married with Kamini the daughter of Pt. Kedar Nath Sharga of Khet Gali, Lucknow. He had no issue. He then adopted his wifeís nefew Kameshwar Nath Sharga, who then by this adoption became Keshav Nath Chakbast. Pt. Keshav Nath Chakbast had three sons Prithvi Nath (b-1887), Triloki Nath (b-1889) and Dharam Nath (b-1895) besides three daughters Nando married to Dewan Keshav Nath Madan of Srinagar, Kashmir, Dhanraj and Lalita.

To perpituate the memory of this great social reformer of the 19th century, Pt. Kishan Narain Dar then restarted the publication of Mirat-ul- Hind from Jhawai Tola where a rented accomodation was taken for its office from 15th October 1875. This journal used to contain semi-political articles, literary writeups, articles on social problems, current affairs and international affairs. It was a monthly news magazine which was published on 15th of every month. Its annual subscription was only Rs. 3/- and it was widely circulated among the community members. Its management was subsequently taken over by Pt. Ganga Prasad Taimni. Our ancient Sanskrit text Rig Veda says that men often live and follow a beaten path by imitation, only a few dare to carve out a new path for themselves. 

Kashmiri Writers B.N. Sharga
 

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