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Spiritual and Literary Life of Pt. Nilakanth Sharma

By Dr. R.K. Tamiri

Nilakanth SharmaPt. Nilakanth Sharma was born at Dab Wakoora, Shadipur (Tehsil Ganderbal, Srinagar), on 21st June, 1888 to Pt. Shankar Joo and Sukhmal. His family originally belonged to Ganpatyar locality of Srinagar. Pt. Ramjoo, one of his ancestors, had gone in adoption to a Sharma family of Dab Wakoora. The family has no clue as to when this adoption had taken place.

Pt. Ramjoo's family at Dab Wakoora were big Chakdars and held lot of land at Rabitar (Gund Roshan) in tehsil Ganderbal. The peasants of the area, to distinguish this family from other Pandits, used to call them 'Badih bhatta' (affluent Pandits).

Pt. Nidhanjoo Sharma, a descendant of Pt. Ramjoo, was well learnt in religious scriptures. So was his son Pt. Shankar Joo. There is an interesting anecdote connected with Pt. Shankar Joo. One day as usual he was absorbed in performing 'Sandhya' (Puja) at 5 AM in the morning on the bank of a rivulet. A group of peasants happened to pass by. They wished him 'Bandagi Mahra'. Since he was absorbed in meditation he did not respond. The peasants thought that Shankar Joo might not have heard them. They drew nearer and again said 'Bandagi Mahra'. As he still did not respond they came more closer and repeated the same. Shankar Joo, disturbed in his meditation, lost his cool and shot back," You Rascals, get out". The peasants retraced their steps and went home muttering ad nauseaum 'Shankar Joo Bandagi, Shankarjoo Bandagi...' Even at home they continued to speak this uninterruptedly. The worried families approached Pt. Shankar Joo for forgiving them. He told them that he didn't do anything to them but they disturbed his puja. Shankar Joo asked them to get Dhoop and light it as sort of remedy. The peasants were their normal self again. Nobody in the village dared to take liberties with him.

There were no schools in Pt. Nilakanth Sharma's time at Dab Wakoora. So he had no formal education. He mastered Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi and Urdu and had good working knowledge of English. Pt. Nilakant knew Sanskrit very well and had learnt it from his father. His father and grandfather, Pt. Nidhanjoo knew Sanskrit quite well. Kashmiri Pandits from neighbouring villages would flock to them for learning Sanskrit. Pt. Nilakanth composed verse mostly in Kashmiri and occasionally in Sanskrit. There is nothing to suggest that he wrote verses in Hindi or Urdu. Pt. Nilakanth received initial coaching in Persian primer from a teacher but gained proficiency in the language through his own efforts.

Pt. Nilakanth was well steeped in Saivite lore and had imbibed Saivite teachings, first from his father and then from books. After 1947 when the family shifted from Dab Wakoora to Srinagar many Kashmiri Pandits of the city would visit Pt. Nilakanth to take lessons in Saivism from him. Pt. Nilakanth had two brothers-Pt. Lakshman and Pt. Gopi Nath. They too tried their hand in composing few Bhakti (devotional) leelas in Kashmiri.

Pt. Nilakanth was married to Leelawati. The latter's sister, Ranim Ded was married to Pt. Govind Bhat Shastri of Motiyar, Rainawari. Pt. Govind Bhat was a teacher in CMS School. He has written many scholarly commentaries. His son, Pt. Triloki Nath Shastri even after doing M.Sc. Physics went for Shastri and Prabhakar to keep alive the family's rich literary tradition. Pt. Triloki Nath, who was a great scholar of Vedic math did not go for government service and taught at DAV Higher Secondary School Rainawari.

Spiritual Associations:

Balji Kaw:

Pt. Balji Kaw was a spiritually elevated person. He hailed from downtown area of Srinagar and was an ardent devotee of Goddess Ragniya. He used to stay a Tulmulla in a Dharmshala. Balji was a saint of high order. It is said he used to converse with Goddess Ragniya. Nilakanth's family  Kul Devi was also the same goddess. He often would go to Balji Kaw and hold discussions with him on spiritual matters. Once Pt. Nilakanth's youngest brother Gopi Nath fell ill. The family lost all hopes of recovery. Pt. Nilakanth sent brother Lakshman to Tulmulla to seek Balji Kaw's intervention. The latter told Lakhsman, "I had premonition about your visit the moment you stepped out of your home. This 'file' is now out of my hand. I can do little'. Lakshman turned pale, with tears rolling down his cheeks. He threw himself at Saint's feet. Balji was moved and told Lakshman," Since you have come you mix this sugar candy with Hakim's sharbat and serve it to Gopi Nath. On the 4th Day he should shell some paddy in Kanz (Big Stone Pestel) and bring that to me himself.". On taking Sharbat Gopi Nath got well and took shelled danya to Balji. The latter wished him good health and prosperity.

On another occasion an aged Kashmiri Pandit was reciting 'Panchastavi' text at the holy spring of Tulmulla. Another Kashmiri Pandit who had come from Srinagar objected and told the old man that his recitation of Panchastavi was incorrect. He further implored him not to proceed any further with the recitation. The same Pandit who had found fault with the recitation went to see saint Balji Kaw before leaving for home. Balji was visibly angry and told him," You have lost your direction. Who has given you authority to decide right and wrong. You are obsessed with grammar and lingustic nuances. Why don't you appreciate the devotion with which this person was reciting 'Panchastavi'. Goddess is angry with you".

Pt. Nilakanth would meet Balji almost every week. At latter's instance Pt. Nilakanth once composed this Bhajan:

"Boz shamrupi Narayanas Tsar votanas bozyam nayiyeh".

(Narayan has syam colour. I would relate my tale of woe to him. I want him to listen to me)

Swami Nand Lal (Tikr):

Swami Nand Lal used to visit Pt. Nilakanth regularly at Dab Wakoora as well as Srinagar. He would hold spiritual discussions with Pt. Nilakanth and liked his leelas. Swami Nand Lal Ji had mastery over Saiva Yoga and demonstrated the miraculous powers the Saiva Yogis used to possess. Once Swamiji asked Pt. Nilakanth to compose a Leela on a scene 'when Lord Krishna is born and Lord Shankar comes to have his darshan. A few lines of this leela read like this:

"Azar Amar Yogishwar nermal Kuniya

Shodbodh Shankar Aaav Laran Gokul Kuniya".

(When Lord Krishna was born Lord Shankar, who was himself a God and a Yogi, came running to have his darshan)

In spiritual mehfils of Srinagar Pt. Nilakanth's Leelas were in great demand. When Swami Nand Lal Ji passed away his disciples asked Pt. Nilakanth to compose a Gurustuti on the saint. He was quite old then but agreed to their request. A few lines of the Gurustuti composed by Pt. Nilakanth which is recited at Nandbab Ashram read like this:

'Agyan ghate sirya Prakash Schuk aasavunaya

he shrih satgor khena khena schum aasar chonuya'

A Sadhu from Uttarakashi:

There is an interesting story which Pt. Nilakanth's brother Lakshman related to his nephew, Sh. Prithvi Nath Madup, a noted Hindi Litterateur. Pt. Nilakanth was once immersed in puja when he all of a sudden called Lakshman and asked him to spread a blanket infront of him. A little amazed Lakshman asked, "you are busy with Puja. What have you to do with the blanket".  Pt. Nilakanth asked his brother not to waste time in arguments but lay the blanket immediately. A few seconds later a hermit, dressed in bare loincloth and holding Kamandal in his one hand entered the Thokur Kuth. He seated himself on the blanket laid by Pt. Nilakanth. The two just looked at each other for few minutes. Then Pt. Nilakanth spread his hands before the hermit, demanding 'Maharaj Prasad'. The hermit took out an apple from the Kamandal and put in Pt. Nilakanth's hands, saying 'Sirf Aap Ke Liye' (only for you). The hermit impressed upon Pt. Nilakanth not to share it with anybody else. Pt. Nilakanth asked Lakshman to prepare tea for the hermit. Before the tea could be served the hermit had vanished. Pt. Nilakanth kept shouting to his family members not to allow the hermit to leave the house without taking tea.

Who was this hermit? For decades the Sharma family had no answers. In 1989-1990 Pt. Nilakanth's younger son Sh. Prithvi Nath Madhup was posted to Uttarkashi. He recalled to the author a strange experience he had  on one of the occasions here. Sh. Madhup's office clerk had informed him that a hermit lived on a hill nearby. The hermit had built a hermitage for himself. The hermit was seen by the public only on few occasions. Nobody had any idea where would the hermit go in between.

When Sh. Madhup insisted on visiting the hermit , the clerk carried  along another teacher of school who taught music. At the hermitage they saw the hermit seated on worn out darbasan. His Kamandal was in front of him. The hermit nodded, asking them to come nearer. His asan could accommodate just one person. Pointing towards Mr. Madhup the hermit offered his asan. The hermit himself sat on earth. Mr. Madhup sat down as a disciple  and in all humility told the hermit. "I am a sinner. I will not sit on this asan'. The hermit replied" Yeh apke Guru Maharaj Ke Liye.Maih Unhika Rup Apko Manta Hoon" (This is for your Guru Maharaja I take you as his incarnation) and then kept silent. Sh. Madup and others bowed in reverence. After an hour  when they prepared to leave the hermit gave his consent by a nod. When Sh. Madhup spread out his hands before him for 'Prasad' the hermit took out an apple from his Kamdnal and offered him, saying, "Yeh Aapke Kashmir Ka Hai, Sirf Apke Liye" (This is from your Kashmir, it is only for you). This hermit was never seen again by Sh. Madhup.

Saint Sedamol and Swami Asokanand:

Swami Ved Lalji 'Sedamol' was close to Sharma family and visited Pt. Nilakanth quite often. He regarded Pt. Nilakanth as his spiritual guru. On the day of Ashtami he would invariably visit Pt. Nilakanth at Dab Wakoora to pay his regards. Swami Asokanand who had his ashram at Sumbal would also visit Dab Wakoora to hold spiritual discussions with Pt. Nilakanth. The latter had met Pt. Krishan Joo Razdan, the greatest leela poet Kashmir has ever produced. No details are available about this encounter.

Pt. Nilakanth had powerful impact on others. People in their maiden meeting with him would decide to become his disciples. One of Pt. Nilakanth's close friends was a police official, Sh. Govind Ram Padroo of Srinagar.

Jyotish Vidya:

Pt. Nilakanth had deep knowledge of Jyotish Vidya and Vedic Math. He had predicted the time of his death. His predictions usually came correct. He was famous astrologer of his time. Pt. Nilakanth while practicising astrology would use traditional techniques to verify 'Tekni'  and time of birth. He would not practise faith healing. He would say that he was a saint and it was not his job to practice faith-healing.

Too often the villagers would pressurise him to yield. He once gave a yantra and few suggestions to a chowkidar Rasool Bhan to try his luck. Bhan's problem was solved.

Family Life:

Pt. Nilakanth was very sober. He never raised his voice while talking to others. He abhored giving corporal punishment to his children. His way of conveying was suggestive but very effective. He took good care of children and was deeply attached to his wife.

Pt. Nilakanth, who had deep  knowledge of Kashmir's religious folklore took extra pains to transmit this tradition to his two sons—Prof. Janki Nath Sharma and Sh. Prithvi Nath Madup. The former was a renowned professor of English. He had his education from MP School, Bagh Dilawar Khan, SP College and Amar Singh College, Srinagar and did MA in English from Lahore. Prof. Sharma retired as Principal from Science College, Jammu. A habit inculcated by his father Prof. Sharma remains a voracious reader even today. His interests include—Ramakrishna Paramhans, Aurbindo Ghosh and Raman Maharishi. Prof. Sharma too had interest in poetry and has written few poems under the nom de plume of 'rasik'. Even in his youth he wrote a leela on renunciation (vairagi). Few lines of it:

Rasiko chah ras chiyo ragkuyi

Kar yatan chah samsar Tiyagkuy

Nashi Shah Mukhan kiyuth ti zanh

Yim tan shah, yim tan shah

The other son, Sh. Prithvi Nath Madup is a renowned poet, with 5 collections to his credit. His wife too turned spiritual after she was married to Sh. Madhup. It was due to Pt. Nilakanth's influence. Mrs. Madhup too has written some poems,published in anthology of Sh. Madhup.

Pt. Nilakanth was a strict vegetarian from the age of 35.

He passed away on 21st of January 1971. Soon after his death Sh. Makhan Lal Dhar, a drawing teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya School paid a unique tribute. He knew Pt. Nilakanth quite intimately. He did an oil painting on Pt. Nilakanth and his wife, keeping one of his bhajans as the context.

1. Leela-Shradhanjali:

Pt. Nilakanth has left behind over 300 poetic compositions with theme of Bhakti (Devotionalism), Gyan (knowledge) and Vairaga (Renunciation). The Leelas are dedicated to different gods-Krishna, Shiva, Ram etc. and goddesses - Jwala, Ragniya, Tripore Sundari. He is the only Kashmiri to have written a Leela on Hanuman. Pt. Nilakanth regarded Lord Rama as his main deity. He wrote many leelas at the behest of saints and for arti (prayer). References to Pt. Nilakanth's contribution in leela compositions are available in an anthology Leela Sumran brought out by Sahitya Academy. In 1947 during tribal raid the Sharma family had to flee Dab Wakoora and seek shelter in Srinagar. Their house was set on fire. The family while fleeing in adverse circumstances managed to take out unharmed the entire work done by Pt. Nilakanth. In Srinagar the family first stayed at Kanikadal at the house of Pt. Goverdhan Shastri, the head Pandit of Sanskrit Pathshala. The latter was son-in-law of Pt. Nilakanth Sharma. After a while the Sharma family shifted to the house of Razgarus (Razdan) at Drabiyar. The bedbugs in this house disturbed the great literateur so much that Pt. Nilakanth Ji went poetic to express his agony. He wrote:

Nand Lal Arzanneh Sathgora

Razkareh Ganda Gav

Zan Meh Moklav

Nilakanth Chu Aamut Tanga

Amar Hey Chara Charay Daya Kara

The family had to look for a new rented accommodation at Kharyar before they constructed their own house at Narsingh Garh. It is unfortunate that even after six decades Pt. Nilakanth's Leela poetry remains unpublished. Few poems have been translated and published in Koshur Samachar.

2. Ramayan-e-Sharma or Sharma Ramayan:

This was completed in 1926 after seven years of work. It was 5th work on Kashmiri Ramayana after Prakash Kurigami (1804), Shankar (1880), Anand Ram Razdan (1888), Vishnu Kaul (1913). Dr. ON Kaul has done a comparative study of Ramcharit Manas and Kashmiri Ramayana. He refers to 'Sharma Ramayana'. Mrs. Sarojini Bhat, now in United States, did her M.Phil. Thesis on 'Sharma Ramayana' from Kashmir University.Dr. Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani, a critic of eminence in his 'Kashmiri Sahitya Ka Itihas' has made a critical study of 'Sharma Ramayana'. He rates 'Sharma Ramayan' as an important contribution in Kashmiri compositions on Ramayan. The 'Sharma Ramayana' has eight parts.

According to Sh. PN Madhup, "Sharma Ramayan is based on collation of Valmiki Adhyat and Ramcharit Manas. The author himself has added new things (Moulik Udbhavana). It is an original work and not a translation. Sharma Ramayan is steeped in Bhakti rasa, where the author accords precedence to devotion over grammer. Pt. Nilakanth has displayed great sense of imagery. The places where Sita does vilap (wailing) he has used nastaliq alphabets having dots (Banukht) and where she is quiet he uses letters without dots (be nukhta). It is unique in itself".

Nilakanth SharmaDr. Toshkhani opines that 'Sharma Ramayan' based on 8 sections bears strong influence of 'Ramcharit Manas' e.g. in Kishkinda Kanda (Gana Gamand Garjat Gana Ghora). At the same time Dr. Toshkhani cautions, "It would be wrong to say that 'Sharma Ramayan' is a translation work of 'Manas', because the author has not only introduced new themes but has also tried to present the original themes in a new perspective." Even at places where the influence of 'Manas' is overbearing Pt. Nilakanth Sharma has introduced a new flavour which brings forth his own interpretation of the subjects. In certain situations the influence of Prakash Kurigam's Ramayana is also visible in Sharma Ramayan'.

In 'Sharma Ramayan' the feelings have been expressed very well and the use of metaphors is also superb. Dr. Toshkhani has a word of strong praise for the author. He says," The battle situations come alive at many places in 'Ramayan-e-Sharma'. The author has used excessive, flowery expression in narrative. He has also taken great pains to write in a very refined language. The language has lot of Persian vocabulary. At places the whole paragraphs are in Persian, while at other places few lines of Hindi and Urdu are also visible.

3. Bramtur Khand: It is translation of one chapterof Shivapurana into Kashmiri.

4. Sudha Sindu: It is translation of Bhagvat in Kashmiri verse. Since Pt. Nilakanth treated Bhagvat slokas as 'Amrit' (Nectar) he titled the translation as Sudha Sindu' (Amrit Samundar). Bhagvan Gopi Nath would also say 'remember one sloka of Gita it serves as Guru'. The uniqueness of 'Sudha Sindu' is that it has been written in Hartarana Bahar/metre i.e it can be sung in any raga. The translation is done in a form of Kashmiri which is intelligible to the common man and has been presented in a manner which keeps the interest of the reader sustained till the end. At places necessary annotations have been added. Pt. Nilakanth has profusely used Persian vocabulary in this translation.

5. Supana Vasvadatta:

It is a play written by Bhasa, the legendary dramatist in Sanskrit literature. Pt. Nilakanth had good felicity in prose as well as poetry in Kashmiri language. This work of Bhasa has been translated by him in verse as well as prose. He has tried to be as close to the original as possible. In the beginning of the play Bhasa introduces all the characters. Pt. Nilakanth has also followed this. There is one lady character Padmavati. Pt. Nilakanth introduces her this way:

Yim Jaaya Hyadyook

Padma Vatir Cheya Dyathus

Rishi Muniyav Aaschar Yach

Khyar Athnazi

Kansih Ek Lob Lob Tar Tar

Hey Raghunandan Jaikar

This work was on display during a UNESCO exhibition due to efforts of Prof. MD Hajini.

6. Bilva Mangal:

Bilva Mangal is a great story in which the main character is a an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. The character who loved his wife too much used to be always in her company. His wife once told him, "Why are you after my flesh? What will come out of it. Why don't you become a devotee of Lord Krishna'. Bilva, the character removed his two eyes (so that he could no more see the women) and became great Bhakhta of Lord Krishna. Pt. Nilakanth Sharma also became great Bhakta of Lord Krishna after his marriage due to great attachment to his wife. Bilva Mangal, a Kashmiri rendering of the classic, is an outpouring of this affection for his wife. In this work there is a scene of a Charasi (Cannabis addict). The lines composed by Pt. Nilakanth to describe this scene became craze among the Cannabis addicts of Srinagar city. The lines read:

Charasa Chhah Yarkandi

Kyah Chhas Yivan Sugandi

Charasa Tamokha Loht Gasi Aasun

Kong Hiyu Kyah Liyudruy

Kong Khohta Liyudruya Chus

Bah Baraan Ruztav Meh Andi Andi

In style Pt. Nilakanth's language is proportionate to and befitting the status of the character.

7. Bhakht Jaidev Charitara:

Bhakht Jaidev in full devotion used to break into dance. The persons who would meet Jaideva would also start dancing. Pt. Nilakanth has composed this work to eulogise Jaidev.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel, Panun Kashmir

 

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