Vol. II, No. 11 & 12
'Remembering Sir Aurel Stein' Seminar,
exhibition organised jointly by NSKRI
and Hungarian Information and Cultural
Rich tributes paid to the great Hungarian
Sir Marc Aurel Stein, the great Hungarian
scholar who translated the Rajatarangini and explored Central Asia, was
adoringly remembered at a seminar held on November 16, 1998 at 1-A, Janpath, New
Delhi. The seminar as well as an exhibition titled 'Remembering Sir Aurel
Stein', was organised jointly by NSKRI and the Hungarian Information and
Cultural Centre. Eminent Indian scholar Dr. Lokesh Chandra presided. The main
focus in the seminar was on Aurel Stein's long association with Kashmiri
Sir Aurel Stein
Opening the seminar, Dr. Lokesh Chandra
described Aurel Stein in his inaugural address titled 'Flow of Culture Across
the Sands' as a "great pilgrim, great scholar and great adventurer who
opened for us a great vision". "Stein", said Dr. Lokesh Chandra,
belonged to a long tradition of European scholarship particularly of Germanic
dimension." At a time when everybody in Europe was thrilled by the
discovery of Sanskrit, Stein represented the European consciousness, he
explained. When he arrived in India, his "great master" Prof. Buhler,
had already explored and catalogued "the Sanskrit manuscript wealth of
India". Coming from Hellenic tradition, Stein, who was in search of the
track of Alexander the Great, was fascinated in particular by one manuscript in
which Buhler had provoked his interest - the Rajatarangini. Dr. Lokesh Chandra
said that the Rajatarangini was an important text from many points of view. It
helps us understand, he explained, how just before Islam secured a strong
foothold in the north, things were shaping in India. It (the Rajatarangini)
projected the Indian, and the Hindu, point view. "It is a traffic which has
never been really studied in depth. The Hindu Shahis (ofAfghanistan) had very
close connections with Kashmir. The languages of Kashmir happen to share very
richly with the languages of Kafiristan and other parts of north and united
But even as Stein was investigating the
Rajatarangini, Dr. Lokesh Chandra observed, his mind was set on the track of
Alexander. As the Afghans did not encourage him, and with Dr. Buhler provoking
him to study Rajatarangini, Stein came into contact with a Sanskrit Pandit to
help him, he undertook the entire work of editing and translating and
interpreting the Rajatarangini -- his edition of the work ultimately appearing
in 1900." Ever since, it is the only edito princep or the main edition of
the Rajatarangini. Dr. Lokesh Chandra felt that the Sharada text of Kalhana's
chronicle "has been preserved somewhere, and should be published in
fascimile; because I always do not find the reading in Rajatarangini very
clearly understandable". Dr. Lokesh Chandra further said that (Kshemendra's)
Lokprakasha also deserves to be re-edited as it is "very crucial to the
understanding of Rajatarangini. "
In Dr. Lokesh Chandra's view, however,
more than the Rajatarangini, Stein's greatest contribution is in "unravelling
the sands of Central Asia", and his first expedition to Khotan was a
"tremendous revelation. "He brought for the first time to the Western
world the idea that we need not only to look at Kashmir for the earliest catch
but to Central Asia," Dr. Lokesh Chandra said. The earliest Indian
manuscripts, he revealed, were from Central Asia, all predating the Japanese
manuscripts. The Kharosthi Dhammopada also came from this very region, belonging
to even earlier then the 2nd century B.C. This was provoked by the accidental
discovery of a Sanskrit manuscript in Kucha by Lt. Col. Bower "where they
had gone to find out the criminal who had assassinated a British army
official". While they were trying to locate the criminal, they located an
ancient temple. There was a cow standing there and just as they opened the door,
the cow crumbled to dust and from the stomach of this cow came out the Sanskrit
manuscript which was later known as the Bower manuscript. It was the first proof
to the fact that Sanskrit manuscripts are very ancient and these could exist in
Central Asia. According to Dr. Lokesh Chandra, "it was one of the major
inspirations for Sir Aurel Stein to reach Central Asia and find out these. So
Sir Aurel Stein extended the history of Sanskrit, and the cultural interflow of
the ancient world".
Sir Aurel Stein's "major
achievement", said Dr. Lokesh Chandra, is discovery of manuscript of Tun-Huang.
"These manuscripts are being studied to this very day. They give an insight
into the evolution ofthe Chinese political strategies in Central Asia", Dr.
Chandra added . "So the work of Sir Aurel Stein gave us the very
temperature of Central Asia, the topography of Central Asia. Too many things
have been revealed by him which are as relevant today, and will be as relevant
in the coming century as they were when they were sighted", he pointed out.
Stein's discoveries Dr. Chandra observed,
"are going to condition the life of our country at least for a century. His
basic findings deserve to be put in a more modern context. Not only within the
context of history, but within the context of Sanskrit studies."
Making a personal reference, Dr. Lokesh
Chandra said that Stein was a great Sanskrit scholar and one of the very few
Europeans who wrote Sanskrit. "As a great friend of my father (Dr.
Raghuvira), he wrote to my father when he was going to Afghanistan. My father
went to see him in Lahore at the station. He went to Afghanistan where he
died." Dr. Lokesh Chandra concluded his speech with glowing tributes to Sir
Aurel Stein. He said: "Stein was the bedrock of India's archaeology,
India's history, India's strategic interest in Central Asia."
Agreeing with Dr. Lokesh Chandra on the
influence of Germanic scholarship on Sir Aurel Stein, Prof. Geza Bethlenfalvy,
Director, Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, said that the whole of
Hungarian research and oriental studies were motivated by the desire to go back
to roots of the Hungarian race, and Stein's scholarship was part of this quest.
"In this of course we have taken help from German scholarship", he
added. Prof. Geza spoke mainly on "Aurel Stein's Relation to the Hungarian
Scholarly World" and said that Stein carried on the tradition of Cosma de
Koros whose name is "the motifand life behind all Hungarian oriental
studies". Prof. Geza dwelt on the Hungarian background and connections of
Sir Aurel Stein, illustrating his view mainly by referring to two letters Stein
wrote to his Hungarian friends. Other Indian (mostly Kashmiri) and Hungarian
scholars who presented their papers in the seminar were Mr. S. N. Pandita of
NSKRI, Prof. P. Bhatia of Delhi University, Dr. Margaret Kovis of HICC, Mr.
Peter Hajto of Hungary and Dr. S. S. Toshkhani and Mr. P. N. Kachru both of
Mr. S. N. Pandita's paper titled "Sir
Aurel Stein and Kashmiri scholars -- a Tribute to Scholarship" gave
intimate and interesting glimpses of Aurel Stein's "long and lasting
association" with Kashmiri scholars. The paper revealed several unknown
facts about five decades of close friendship between Stein and his own
grandfather Prof Nityanand Shastri, who in Stein's words was "the crest
jewel of Kashmiri scholars". It also revealed the high esteem that Stein
had for other scholars like Pandit Govind Kaul, Pandit Damodar and
Mahamahopadhaya Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri for the valuable guidance and
assistance they provided him in translating Rajatarangini.
Prof P. Bhatia's "Stein's
contribution to Numismatics" was a well researched paper which explored the
numismatic history of Kashmir as presented by Stein in his notes on the
In his paper titled "Ancient
Geography of Kashmir as Established by Stein", Dr. S. S. Toshkhani
discussed some interesting details of the way Stein addressed difficult
topographical and antiquarian questions related to Rajatarangini. A large number
of old localities and historical sites stand convincingly identified today,
thanks to Stein, Dr. Toshkhani said, citing the identification of the castle of
Lohar and the ancient Shrine of Sharada, as well as the rediscovery of the
long-forgotten temple of Bheda Devi as his major achievements. Dr. Toshkhani's
paper also analysed Stein's etymology of Kashmiri place names which "is
convincing enough to set at rest the meaningless controversies bought to be
raised by some people today".
Mr. P. N. Kachru, in his paper titled
"Stein's Search for Codex Archetypus" presented the exciting drama
about the discovery of the codex archetypus of Rajatarangini and Stein's
endeavour to secure it for his edition.
Dr. Margit Kovis's paper on "Stein in
Lahore" was full of interesting details and provided a peep into some
hitherto unknown facts.
Dr. Peter Hajto, Counsellor, Ministry of
Education, Budapest illustrated his interesting lecture on Stein with slides.
Dr. Utpal Kaul, who had to rush back from
a business tour to participate in the seminar, could not find time to pen down
his views on the subject he had chosen for his paper, "Stein's contribution
to Kashmir Histriography with special Refence to Rajatarangini", but he
spoke on it eloquently and passionately.
Mr. Virendra Bangroo, however, was unable
to present his paper titled "Ancient Shrines of Kashmir- Stein's Historical
Hungarian Ambassador Opens 'Remembering
Sir Aurel Stein' Exhibition
The Hungarian Ambassador to India, H. E.
Andras Dallos, opened the exhibition "Remembering Sir Aurel Stein",
jointly set up by NSKRI and the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre in the
evening of November 16, 1998 at HICC hall, New Delhi. The week-long exhibition
had on display rare photographs, documents and original letters addressed by
Aurel Stein to the Kashmiri scholars like Prof. Nityanand Shastri. The
exhibition mainly sought to highlight the long and fruitful association between
Stein and Kashmiri scholars of the time. Letters written by the great scholar to
his Hungarian friends also formed part of the display together with some
Speaking on the occasion, H.E. Andras
Dallos said that he was delighted to open the exhibition as it would help to
create a better understanding of Sir Aurel Stein's achievements and endeavours.
Thanking Prof. Bethlenfalvy and "our friends from the Nityanand Shastri
Kashmir Research Institute with whom we had lots of interactions a few months
back", the Ambassador described the exhibition as "something of a
discovery, because these manuscripts and photographs and this correspondence
have not been known before". "Whoever will come to watch it will have
a rich experience", he observed. Ambassador Andras Dollos felt particularly
delighted because the exhibition coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the
establishment of diplomatic relations between Hungary and India and marked the
twentieth year of the establishment of the Hungarian Information and Cultural
Centre in New Delhi. He introduced to the large audience of intellectuals and
cultural enthusiasts who had come to visit the exhibition Mr. Szilard Sasvari,
Leader of the Parliamentary Group of Fidesz (Hungarian Parliament) and Mr.
Sandor Sara, President of "Duna TV" Sky Channel and famous film
director of Hungary, expressing the hope that the HICC would "create and
sustain the intellectual exchange and interaction between the peoples of India
and Hungary." "No Hungarian, who is worth his salt, can be indifferent
to Sir Aurel Stein and his achievements", H.E. Andras Dollos added. The
Ambassador said that he felt "proud to be part of such an experience",
and was hopeful that "this interaction with our friends from Kashmir will
open a new chapter in studying, analysing and learning more about our common
Earlier welcoming the Hungarian Ambassador
H.E. Andras Dallos on behalf of NSKRI, Mr. S.N. Pandita said that the exhibition
took shape after the Nityanand Shastri Kashmir Research Institute talked to Prof
Geza Bethlenfalvy, Director Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, New Delhi
about the need to commemorate the valuable contributions of Sir Aurel Stein to
Oriental studies particularly his work in Kashmir. "Stein spent more than
five decades in Kashmir where he met several Kashmiri scholars, most important
of whom was Prof. Nityanand Shastri, who happened to be my own
grandfather", Mr. Pandita said, profusely thanking Prof. Geza Bethlenfalvy.
"This exhibition is predominantly a glimpse ofthat scholarly association
and interaction", he added.
Describing some salient features of the
exhibition, Mr. Pandita said that the Nityanand Shastri Kashmir Research
Institute has a collection in original of the letters Sir Stein exchanged with
his Kashmiri scholar friends over a span of four decades and also rare
photographs of his as well as ofthe Kashmiri scholars he associated with.
"These letters have all along remained a private collection, but now these
are well preserved by the Nityanand Shastri Kashmir Research Institute, an
institution named after one of the greatest of Kashmiri friends of Sir Aurel
Stein. The letters in original are for the first time being put on a world
view". Mr. Pandita hoped that the exhibition "would strengthen the
cultural bonds between Hungary and India, including Kashmir".
Titled 'Remembering Sir Aurel Stein', the
exhibition drew an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd of Indians, mostly
Kashmiris, and Hungarians, who evinced a keen interest in the exhibits on
display. These included letters written by Sir Aurel Stein to Prof. Nityanand
Shastri, some of them in Sanskrit. Some of the important photographs on display
included those showing Sir Aurel Stein in Hungary as well as in his camp at
Mohand Marg, Kashmir. One rare photograph showed Stein being knighted at
Srinagar, Kashmir wearing the ceremonial dress. Photographs ofthe family members
of Sir Aurel Stein and those of Prof. Nityanand Shastri were also an interesting
input. Photographs and sketches of the Kashmiri scholars with who he was
associated too were prominently displayed with Stein's impressions about them.
These impressions were included to give a glimpses of his intimacy with them and
the great bonds that attracted him to their land.
Another feature of the exhibition was
display of some important jottings from Stein's diary collected from the
memoirs, papers and documents lying in the British Academy, London.
Stein's Kashmir Diary: Excerpts
Still Kashmir, Vangath. Last night
at Peer Bakhsh's suggestions the tribal people who in the summer months pasture
their flocks in the high valleys gave me a real serenade. Some of the Kashmirian
songs were very melodic and reminded me of Hungarian songs.
- August 25, 1891.
On the Dudh Kuth Pass. Twelve
thousand feet high. Cooler than Srinagar. I am taking advantages of the
opportunity to learn Kashmiri and regularly take lessons both on the march and
at camp from Pandit Kashi Ram. Though not a scholar like Govind Koul, he is more
reasonable and a fine person.
- August 15, 1894.
In the night ride across the Wular lake a
small storm made me worry for the safety of my Rajatarangini manuscript. It
seemed as if the Goddess of Wisdom Sharda represented by the waters of Kashmir,
was unwilling to let me abduct the manuscript. This is what happened 1200 years
ago to Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang who had to leave his Sanskrit manuscripts in
the angry Indus river.
- October 17, 1894.
Camped on Mohand Marg. I enjoy the
freedom and work eleven hours a day. After dinner I along with Govind Koul take
down Kashmiri tales from the mouth of the peasant bard Hatim, the storyteller
and am thus collecting valuable material which I will put to good use in Europe.
- June 19, 1896.
Jammu: I visited again after 50
years the Raghunath temple library. Its six thousand old Sanskrit manuscripts
had been catalogued by me with the help of Pandit Govind Koul and another
excellent scholar friend Sahaz Bhat in what seems now like a previous birth. It
had been a dreary task but it saved the collection from being lost. I had a very
attentive reception, had to talk Sanskrit again for an hour or so thus purifying
my tongue by use of the sacred languages after all my peregrinations in the
barbarian North and West. It was a quaint experience to find myself in the end
garlanded in the traditional Kashmir Hindu fashion for the first time in life.
- December 12, 1940.
Along the Kishan Ganga river:
Towards the end of 12 marches I was glad to find myself back in Kashmir after
all the barrenness past, the kingdom looked more verdant and fertile than ever.
How grateful I must feel to the kind fate which allowed me to do so much of my
work in Kashmir for the last 55 years.
- September, 1943.
Faces of Glory
Pandit Anand Koul
Kashmir's pioneer historical and cultural
Pandit Anand Koul
Photo Courtesy: Utpal Publications
[When Pandit Anand Koul published his
first book, 'The Kashmiri Pandit' in 1924, a pioneering work on the history and
ethnography of the Kashmiri Pandits, he created history. For the first time
someone was writing about a people who had contributed greatly to Indians
culture, art, literature and philosophy, out of proportion to their small
numerical strength, and who had survived many an onslaughts of history only to
be marginalised by inexorable political developments. The publication of the
book became an event and its writer followed it up by several works on history,
literature, archaeology, folklore and saints of Kashmir -- each enhancing his
reputation as a pioneer of modern research and each contributing to a sense of
cultural resurgence among Kashmiris. We are giving below a short biographical
sketch of this great writer and researcher of Kashmir.]
Sitting in his office on the prestigious
chair of the President of Srinagar Municipality, immaculately dressed in a
Western suit and necktie, hardly anyone could guess from the outward trappings
of this "socially honoured and important citizen of Kashmir" that his
mind was set at exploring the cultural and historical past of his native land
and studying the sociology of the community to which he belonged. Yet Pandit
Anand Koul (A.K.) had all the makings of a great researcher, writer and
antiquarian deeply interested in digging out facts from the fog of time.
His modern scientific outlook, his English
education, his felicity with words, his grounding in traditional Sanskrit and
Persian learning made him ideally suited for the task of a writer on various
aspects of his native land and its history, culture and traditions. As an
eminent historian and writer V. N. Mehta, the illustrious father of Mrs. Pupul
Jayakar, has put it, AK was every bit "a learned antiquarian and writer who
loved to search things in Kashmir."
A.K. was born in Srinagar on April 3,
1867, as the only son of Pandit Tota Koul, an important revenue official coming
from an affluent family. A.K. "passed his childhood and youth in easy
circumstances", as his biographical sketch in 'The Kashmiri Pandit' says.
As was common in his time in Kashmir, he had his initial education in Sanskrit
and Persian in a Tsatahal or a traditional Kashmiri school. But like NS, he
decided to learn English and acquire modern education.
At the age of 14, AK became one of first
Kashmiris to learn English at an English medium missionary school opened by Rev.
Doxey in 1881. But for Doxey's first pupil, things did not go so smoothly, for
his decision to learn English faced stiff opposition not only from his relatives
and friends but also from the Maharaja who feared that the missionaries would
convert him to Christianity. But AK's strong will saw him through as he
progressed in his study of not only English but also mathematics, history,
geography and other subjects which were considered as modern those days.
It was another missionary, Rev. Knowles,
Rev. Doxey's successor as the founder of the school, who ignited the interest in
research in history and folklore of Kashmir in the mind of young Anand Koul.
Knowles was so impressed by AK's intellectual proclivities that he made him the
first headmaster of the school in 1893. Soon AK found himself assisting Knowles
in writing his famous book, "Proverbs of Kashmir", which was published
in 1896. This launched AK on his career as writer and researcher quite early in
life -- a field in which he was eventually to make his mark.
AK's sound knowledge of the English
language landed him the plum post of Sheriff in the office of Raja Amar Singh's
Council of Regency. Later, he did a stint in the office of State's Census
Commissioner and from there his reputation led him to work as an assistant of
Sir C.G. Todhunter in reorganising the state's Custom's Department. A terribly
impressed Todhunter soon gave A.K. an independent charge of the department. But
it was as President of Srinagar Municipality, considered a top post those days,
to which he was appointed by A.K. Mitra, Home Minister of J & K State for
his competence, efficiency and honesty, that AK's career graph as an
administrator touched the highest point. AK worked hard to improve sanitary
conditions in Srinagar which had earned the notoriety of being the filthiest
city in Asia, and eventually he succeeded in transforming its face. He remained
on the coveted administrative post for three years from 1914 to 1917, retiring
as the highest-paid Kashmiri official of that time with his prestige touching
Had AK remained content with just his
reputation as an administrator, he could have been forgotten with the passage of
time. His fame, however, solely rests today on his achievements as a research
scholar and a writer. His inner proclivities had always urged him to move in
that direction and fortunately for him he did not ignore this urge. Starting as
a journalist, he worked as the special correspondent of the 'Civil and Military
Gazette' of Lahore and the 'pioneer' of Allahabad besides his official duties in
the state, and graduated as a full-fledged writer. He made his debut as a
historian by writing a well researched monograph on the fifty lost kings of
Kashmir about whom Kalhana did not succeed in procuring any facts. The monograph
was published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in its prestigeous journal. The
Society later published in its journal another monograph by AK on the
Kapalmochan tirtha at Shopiyan in Kashmir, establishing his credentials as a
In 1913 came AK's 'Geography of Jammu and
Kashmir', a well-written and authentic book that scored over the so-called guide
books written by European travellers giving "wrong place-names and
distorted version of facts."
Then appeared his book on the "Life
and Sayings of Lalla -- the Shaiva Yogini of Kashmir", which was published
earlier aerially in the Indian Antiquary -- first the part on her
"Life" and then her "Sayings". Then came its companion
volume on the "Life and Sayings of Nund Rishi". Like Lalleshweri the
life and sayings of the saint were serially published in the journal 'Indian
Antiquary.' Both the works showed deep and intense study.
Perhaps his most important work was his
book 'The Kashmiri Pandit' which was published in 1924. Said to be the first
ever historical and sociological study of any Indian community, the book
deservingly received widespread critical appreciation.
AK was the first Kashmiri to have
contributed in a very significant manner to the study of his native language and
its literature. His collection and translation of Kashmiri proverbs and riddles,
which was published in the Indian Antiquary, was indeed a pioneering work of
great importance. So are his biographical write-ups on the saints of Kashmir
like 'Rupa Bhawani', 'Rishi Peer' and 'Manasavi Rajanaka' which highlighted
their influence on contemporary society."
Yet another important work of AK was his
book on "Archaeological Remains of Kashmir." This was the result of
his personal on-the-spot study of Kashmir's ancient monuments. As AK was not a
professional archaeologist, he was somewhat diffident to publish the results of
his study without authentic critical opinion. So he approached C.E.A. Woldham,
an authority on the subject and a friend of Aurel Stein, for a review. And this
is what Woldham wrote about it: "It has been a real pleasure reading
through the manuscript which discloses such full acquaintance with the remains
of Kashmir and includes several not mentioned in other textual books and
AK's reputation as a writer gave him an
important place in the social milieu of Kashmir of the times. He met Swami
Vivekananda when he visited Kashmir in 1897 and hosted a dinner in his honour.
He can be seen in the group photograph of the great saint with prominent
Kashmiri Pandits, seated with his imposing personality. He also gave a reception
to poet Rabindra Nath Tagore at his residence when the poet visited Kashmir with
top Kashmiri litteratures of the time attending the reception. Some years later,
he hosted a reception in the honour of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru too. Tej Bahadur
Sapru held the reputed scholar of Kashmir in high esteem. This is evident from
the foreword he wrote to AK's book on archaelogical remains of Kashmir. Sapru's
words sum up all that can be said as a tribute to AK: "He belongs to the
soil he has lived all his life in their enchanting surroundings the legend and
tradition of Kashmir are a part of his inherited consciousness. He may therefore
well claim the right to present to the world the beauties of his country, its
history, its legend and its tradition in glowing terms.
Pandit Anand Kaul speaks of the past of
Kashmir, whose monuments bear witness to past. May its past, may its natural
grandeur inspire the living generation of her sons and daughters to prove
themselves worthy of their past and of their inspiring environments and may it
be possible for the present generation to cultivate his noble virtues of
political, civic and economic life, without which no people, howsoever
bounteously endowed with wealth and natural scenery can rise to greatness in the
PANDIT LEGACY: Victim of Choice in
Kashmir abounds in remains of antiquity,
though alas ! repeated devastations were done and havoc was wrought to them by
cruel unplacable Muhammadan Zealots and vandals from time to time. It is pity
that formerly these most important and precious relics of past glory of Kashmir
were allowed to remain in neglected condition. Unprotected from the destructive
and disintegrating influences of the weather not to say of earth quakes the
ancient moments gradually crumbled to ruins.
The European Sanskrit scholars and others
interested in ancient oriental lore came and delved in the Kashmir soil and
extracting, at only a trifling cost ancient trophies consisting of old birch
bark manuscripts, old coins and other most valuable objects carried them away.
It is, however, gratifying to note that
though these treasures have gone out of Kashmir never to return they have not
been actually lost as were those, plundered by Muhammdan Zealots who foolishly
cut them to pieces, burnt them in fire or flung them in to the river for which,
in the harsh pages of historian anger, will rightly ever remain and live on.
--- Anand Kaul
Islam Akhoon - the Master Forgerer
- P. N. Kachru
Once Islam Akhoon, always Islam Akhoon
-- Aurel Stein
He befooled world scholars, orientalists
and authorities. But Aurel Stein found him out, made him confess and got him
convicted publicly in Khotan, his home town. He was Islam Akhoon, a master
forgerer of manuscripts, the like of whom world had never known before.
Islam Akhoon was one of the informers
through whom the well known scholar Dr.Hornle of Asiatic Society of Bengal,
had.got fifteen sites around Khotan in Central Asia marked for explorations of
ancient manuscripts. Soon he became master of the scandalous game which trapped
not only Hornle but many others in its net. Akhoon's "collections"
during the period 1895 to 1898, and his supposed forays in Taklamakan later,
came to be scandalously exposed. This enterprising native treasure -hunter
enmeshed a network of international agencies in his so-called discovery of old
Brahmi manuscripts, his "discoveries" finding their way into the
collections in London, Paris and St. Petersburg where scholars continued for
long scratching their heads over what they called the "unknown
One orientalist, Backhund, however,
started suspecting the genuineness of the Akhoon manuscripts from the beginning.
In course of his inquiries from local sources, he had already gathered the
information that Akhoon and his agents were using wooden blocks procured from a
local cloth-print maker for their forgeries. After purchasing three supposedly
old manuscripts from Akhoon, Backhund made local investigation and came to know
through his servant how these "manuscripts" were being made.
Backhund's critical inspection of the manuscripts drew his attention to several
points which gave rise to suspicion in his mind. For instance, the manuscripts,
acquired by him from Akhoon, "had a certain crispness or freshness and bore
none of the signs of wear and tear normally associated with everyday use".
Further, Backhund observed, the paper of the manuscripts was "exactly of
the same kind as prepared in Khotan in the present day," and "though
very ill-treated (burnt and smoky) is still strong, almost as if it were
new." Backlund further observed that the corners of the manuscripts
"were quite square (not round as usually they are in old books) and the
edges recently cut, though in such a manner as to make them look old". But,
inspite of these observations by Backlund, Dr. Hoernle stuck to his opinion
about the genuineness of the manuscripts. It was in the late summer of 1900 that
Sir Aurel Stein, after leaving the house of his host Macartney who was the
representative of the British government in Kashgar, went to Khotan. This was
the place from where Islam Akhoon was supposed to make his forays into the
desert, and was supposed to have supplied his manuscript finds to the collection
of British and St. Petersburg museums. One of the purposes of Stein's visit was
to find out the truth about Akhoon's treasure hunting forays, he had told Hornle.
Perhaps suspecting Stein's intelligent
move Islam Akhoon did not venture to see him personally, but managed to offer an
old manuscript to him that had passed through ; his hands. Subjecting the
manuscript to "water test", the mere touch of wet fingers was enough
to wipe away the so-called 'unknown characters.' Peter Hopkirk the famous
travel-writer of Central Asia writes that "to Stein's highly trained eye,
it (the manuscript) looked suspiciously like certain of the books in Hoernle's
collection in Calcutta."
Before leaving for London along with his
treasure caravan, Stein was determined to unravel the truth behind Islam
Akhoon's adventures of manuscript trade. Stein had collected sufficient evidence
to expose Akhoon as a liar. Through his own explorations also he did not find
any trace of the writings with Islam Akhoon's "unknown characters".
Stein was determined to confront this forgerer who had managed to dupe learned
scholars of entire Europe and England by engaging their attention. He put the
responsibility of bringing the forgerer to book before he could manage to
escape, on the Chief Mandarin (bureaucrat) of Khotan. It was on 25th April 1901
that the local Amkan's party caught Islam Akhoon in his home along with "a
motley collection of papers" and produced him before Sir Aurel Stein. These
were quite familiar to Stein as similar block-printed papers could be found in
Calcutta also. But even two days' protracted probing could not bring Akhoon to
accept the forgeries done by him. Pleading to the contrary he said that he had
simply procured the manuscripts from persons "since dead or
absconding". Commenting on this, Stein himself relates: "It was a
cleverly devised line of defence, and Islam Akhoon clung to it with great
consistency and with the wariness of a man who has had unpleasant experience of
the ways of the law." In fact he already had to suffer at the hands of the
law a couple of times before. According to Hopkirk, Islam Akhoon had been
previously punished "for posing once as Macartney's agent and blackmailing
villagers. Akhoon had been flogged and imprisoned.
Again, for forging another Sahib's
handwriting to obtain money he had been forced to wear the huge and dreaded
Chinese punishment collar of heavy wood, designed to prevent a prisoner from
feeding himself. "Akhoon repeatedly denied of ever having visited the sites
of origin of the manuscripts supplied to Macartney; insisting that he had
procured them through his agents. Stein thought further investigations under the
Chinese law would lead to the barbaric torture, which Stein, with his human
nature, would never have liked. So, to debunk Akhoon's pronouncements Stein
restored to Dr.Hornle's report itself. Finally Akhoon's defence crumbled and
gave way on production of a copy of Dr. Hornle's report in which Akhoon's
statements given to Macartney had verbatim details and graphic descriptions of
his personal visits to the sites of the origin of the manuscripts.
Akhoon's first line of retreat was to
admit having seen the old books being manufactured; but finally he admitted,
that "he hit upon the idea of writing his own ancient manuscripts."
For a long time Islam Akhoon and his close partner Ibrahim Mullah were
producing, from their small factory, a steady supply of forged manuscripts.
Their best customers were the two rivals, Macartney, the British representative,
and Petrovsky, the Russian Counsel, both of whom were eager buyers. Akhoon
admitted before Sir Aurel Stein that his first forged manuscripts were produced
and sold in 1895. Initially, he imitated the cursive Brahmi characters, and
these productions successfully found their way into the leading museum
collections of Europe. "Thus Akhoon's factory gained confidence and
prosperity", writes Stein, "in sand--buried Ruins of Khotan." As
Islam Akhoon quickly perceived, that his "books" were readily paid
for, though none of the Europeans who bought them could read their characters or
distinguish them from ancient scripts, it became unnecessary to trouble about
imitating the characters of genuine fragments.
While there was a constantly rising demand
for such manuscripts, Islam Akhoon could not keep the pace with it. He decided
to engage the block-makers to produce blocks for quick impressions to meet the
demand and make a fortune as quickly as possible. The first consignment of these
block-printed manuscripts was successfully produced and sold in 1895. Forty-five
of these were fully described, and illustrated by Dr. Hoernle in his scholarly
report of 1899.
Once the defence of Islam Akhoon
collapsed, he told Stein everything he (Stein) wanted to know about the
operations of the strange little factory that duped and deceived Hoernle and
other scholars. The paper they used, Akhoon told Stein, was bought locally in
Khotan. Then this was yellowed or stained light brown with Toghurga, a dye
obtained from a local tree. After adding the writing by hand or by
block-printing, the pages were hung over a fire so as to receive by smoke a
proper hue of antiquity. Finally, before being taken to Kashgar and offered to
their unsuspecting purchasers, the forgeries were thoroughly besmeared with the
fine sand of the desert as they would have been had they come from a sand-buried
site. "I well remember" Stein recounts, "how in the spring of
1898 I had to apply a cloth brush before I could examine one of these forged
'block priests' that had reached a collector in Kashmir."
With all this happening, Stein felt to
blame squarely and every bit those who had unwittingly encouraged Akhoon and his
gang by slapping up their forgeries so eagerly and so indiscriminately. Stein
clearly indicted his friend Macartney and the Russian Petrovsky, but also
reflected gravely on the valuable time wasted by Dr. Hoernle and other scholars
on these worthless works.
Back in Kashgar, he again joined the
Macartneys, but kept his feelings to himself. After two weeks of stay, he left
for London, along with twelve crates of treasures, on May 29, 1901. In England,
his task was almost delicate -- to go to Oxford to meet Dr. Hoernle and break to
him the embarrassing news that he had been made a fool of by a semi-literate
villager named Islam Akhoon. Stein feared that the shock could be too
devastating for Hornle after having professed and publicised too much on these
forgeries. But to Stein's great relief Hornle survived the shock. Reports Stein
about the meeting: "He is deeply disappointed by Islam Akhoon's forgeries,
but to my satisfaction he has recovered". Thus the responsibility to
declare that all the "block prints" and the manuscripts in
"unknown characters" procured from Khotan since 1895 were in fact
modern fabrications of Islam Akhoon and his team. To save themselves from
embarassment, the leading oriental scholars who had been enthusiastic about
these "treasures" were anxious to shelve the affair and clear hastily
the traces of these "old books" from the British Museum when Islam
Akhoon, the treasure seeker from Khotan confessed to forging them.
Yet these extraordinary forgeries found
their place in the British Museum where they were in two wooden chests labelled
"Central Asian Forgeries". Islam Akhoon, the Devil, too, has got his
share. The wily forgerer, who completely outwitted giants in the field of
scholarship, is described as something of a genius. He too has his modest
memorial -- that small corner of the British Library's oriental department near
the Tun-Huang manuscripts where his once venerated "old books" are
preserved for posterity.