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September 1997
Vol. I, No. 1

NSKRI Plans First Ever Exhibition on Kashmiri Pandit Culture

Aspects of Kashmiri Pandit culture and heritage form the theme of an exhibition that NSKRI has conceived and plans to hold in New Delhi in January 1998.

The idea is to focus attention on the society and culture of a people whose intellectual and creative attainments have brought glory to Kashmir and whose sense of values and ideals has contributed immensely in the evolution of Kashmiri ethos, yet who have been hounded out of their home and are facing the gravest ever threat to their existence and identity today. In a way, it will not be an ordinary exhibition, but an attempt to profile a culture in exile -- a uniquely rich culture that is in great danger of extinction.

The exhibition will be divided into various sections or segments covering the Kashmiri Pandit way of life, traditions, customs and dimensions of creativity. On display will be Sharada manuscripts, books, miniature paintings of the Kashmir school, folk art, architecture, costumes, ornaments, artifacts and articles of household and ritual use besides other items of cultural and civilizational significance. Old photographs depicting social and religious life of the Pandits during the first decades of the present century will be yet another interesting feature. The exhibits will be accompanied by explanatory write-ups.

With much of the community's heritage lying scattered in a state of neglect, or even damaged and lost, particularly after its recent diaspora, the organisers of the exhibition have appealed to community members, and others interested in Kashmiri Pandit culture, for help in collecting the various items required for mounting the display.

The exhibition will be held in New Delhi initially, but is likely to tour other Indian cities or even be taken to some foreign countries if it finds sponsors.

Album of Kashmiri Miniatures Under Preparation

As a top priority item on the agenda of NSKRI, an album of paintings of the Kashmir School, is being compiled for the first time and is expected to be published shortly. The work has been entrusted to Sh. P. N. Kachru eminent Kashmiri artist and a member of the core group of NSKRI. Compilation of the album assumes a special importance in view of the fact that no such attempt has been made so far and no effort has been made to systematically study extant works of this important but totally neglected school of art.

Although no survey has been conducted, it is generally known that the number of Kashmiri miniature paintings available today is very small, and none of these belongs to a period earlier than the first quarter of the twentieth century or last decades of the 19th. Most of the paintings have been lost mainly because their owners were totally ignorant of their worth and sold them away at throw away prices to foreigners. Some of the paintings found their way into the hands of some private collectors in the country also. In this manner a priceless treasure has been thrown away. The Jammu and Kashmir State Cultural Academy is no less guilty of total indifference to this wealth, its collection and preservation having never been on their agenda.

During the princely rule in the state, some Kashmiri miniatures were no doubt displayed in the Maharaja Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar, but their number was very small. In any case, no art historian or critic came forward to record chronological development of the Kashmir school of which the earliest extant evidence can be seen in the Gilgit manuscripts paintings, and of which the last great master was Pandit Narayanjoo Murtgar.

It may be recalled that the Kashmiri style survived in the wall paintings of Buddhist monastries in Ladakh, Western Tibet and Spiti. Some of its masters, who migrated to Himachal princedoms due to lack of patronage or fear of religious persecution during the Islamic rule in Kashmir, spread it to this region and it revived and flourished as the Pahari- Kangra School.

Sh. PN. Kachru, with his deep interest in, and long study of, the Kashmiri art movement, is going to dwell on these and several other facts in the introduction part of the album while bringing out the salient features of the miniatures. The task before him, however, has been made extremely difficult by the recent exodus of the Pandits from Kashmir. Hardly any of the fleeing Pandits who possessed any Kashmiri miniature painting thought of carrying their family heirlooms with them. Fortunately, however young Kashmir art lovers like Sh. Virendra Bangroo are enthusiastic about privately collecting Kashmiri minatures on their own initiative. Sh. Bangroo has provided access to his personal collection to Sh Kachru who already has paintings of the NSKRI collection available to make use of.

Physician or Scholar?

Pandit Sahaz Bhat, the legendary Kashmiri Hakim who lived in the late 19th century, was a great man of medicine. Stories about his medical miracles are legion and have become a part of Kashmiri folklore. What is not known, however is the fact that he was also a reputed Sanskrit scholar of his times. Dr. Raj Nath Bhat, the great Hakim's grandson, is not aware of it. The surprising revelation came after a recent bit of research by Mr. S. N. Pandita, a member of the NSKRI promoters council.

Pandit Sahaz Bhat had already established his credentials as a scholar of Sanskrit when the well known orientalist Dr. Aurel Stein came to Kashmir for working on his translation of Kalhana's 'Rajataringini' in 1888.

Stein became interested in the reference to Sanskrit manuscripts of Kashmir by his mentor George Buhler in his famous "Report" of 1877 and came to know about a vast and huge collection of manuscripts lying in the personal library of Maharaja Ranbir Singh at Raghunath Temple. Dr. Stein pressed the Maharaja's administration for systematically cataloguing the Sanskrit manuscripts for the benefit of scholars. The Royal Council of Kashmir accepted his recommendations and entrusted the job to him.

Stein readily agreed and solicited the assistance of two Kashmiri Pandit scholars of the day, one of whom was Pandit Sahaz Bhat and the other Pandit Govind Kaul.

Sahaz Bhat acted as the literary assistant to Stein in preparing a classified list of the manuscripts, while Govind Kaul helped in preparing the extracts and indices. Collaboration of the three scholars resulted in the publication of the colossal "Catalogue of Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Raghunath Temple Library of Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir" in the year 1894. Cataloguing six thousand Sanskrit manuscripts was no small accomplishment and Pandit Sahaz Bhat's part in it was indeed of a very high standard.

"NSKRI Has Undertaken a Commendable Task"
- P.N.K. Bamzai

Eminent writer and historian, Sh.P.N.K. Bamzai, who is regarded as an authority on Kashmir history, has commended the NSKRI's objective of protecting and exploring Kashmiri Pandit cultural heritage.

Talking to members of the core group of NSKRI who visited him recently, for guidance and advice, Sh. Bamzai said "that an all out effort to protect Kashmir's centuries old heritage had become imperative in the present circumstances and in undertaking to work for it the NSKRI was doing a commendable job. "Only those who have real interest and concern for Kashmir at heart will venture to take urgent steps to save the immensely rich and fascinating culture and traditions of the Kashmiri Pandits from being obliterated", he said, hoping that NSKRI would be successful in its endeavour.

Sh. Bamzai, whose books on Kashmir history and culture have won him worldwide acclaim, disclosed that he was currently engaged in working on the subject "Kashmiri Pandits or Saraswat Brahmins", tracing the ethnic origins of the Pandits of Kashmir. He had undertaken the project two years ago and it may take some time before he would complete it.

Nityanand Shastri
as Scholar and Man

Pandit Nityanand Shastri
Pandit Nityanand Shastri

[ Recently (NSKRI) had the privilege of interviewing Sh J.N. Pandita, second son of Pandit Nityanand Shastri, the great Kashmiri scholar after whom the institute is named. The octogenarian Sh. Pandita, who had come to Delhi for medical treatment, spoke on various aspects of his scholar father's life and personality, revealing many interesting facts. Some of these are given below. ]

According to Sh J.N. Pandita NS was born in 1874 and the time of his matriculation, there were but two matriculates in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir State - Agha Syed Hussain and Ved Lal Zutshi. NS had his preliminary education as a private student as there were no regular schools in the state those days.

Having a firm grounding in Sanskrit, a family tradition, NS wanted to study English also, but his father, for whom learning English was as good as becoming a Christian, was dead set against it. NS however, studied the language secretly, learning it from one Srikanth Khazanchi, and soon mastered it.

His knowledge of English came handy to him when he met the famous orientalist Sir Aurel Stein at Lahore. NS had gone there to sit for his Pragya and Stein was then Registrar of the Punjab University (of prepartition days) which conducted the Sanskrit examination. The meeting of the two great scholars was a great event leading to their life long friendship and commitment to Sanskrit. The two collaborated and cooperated in producing several important Sanskriti works of Kashmir, NS's vast knowledge guiding Stein many a crucial point. Others who benefitted from his scholarship included Grierson, Vogel, Winternitz and Vreese. NS started his career at a young age of 16, teaching Sanskrit at a government school in Srinagar. Later, he obtained the degree of Shastri, the highest in Sanskrit those days, and afterwards became Professor of Sanskrit at Sri Pratap College, Srinagar in the year 1916. NS distinguished himself by going to college always wearing the traditional Kashmiri attire. He never wore a western outfit.

NS was among the leading Kashmiri Pandits who met Swami Vivekananda when the latter visited Kashmir in 1897. There is a group photograph commemorating the event. He also met Lord Curzon, then the Viceroy of India, and presented to him a welcome address in Sanskrit verse during his visit to Kashmir in 1906.

Among his peers and contemporaries were prominent figures of the times, both Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri and they were not limited to the literary or academic circles. These included Pt. Daulat Ram, Prof. Gyani Ram, Dr. Kulbhushan, Dr. Balwant Singh, Pt. Parmanand and Pandit Narayan Dass. Notable among his students were Shri T.N. Kaul, former diplomat, Shri P.N.K. Bamzai, noted historian and Smt Pupul Jaykar, cultural zarina. When NS retired as Professor in 1930, it was Shri T.N. Kaul who read his farewell address.

Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya was a great admirer of the outstanding Kashmiri scholar. Struck by his vast knowledge and erudition when he met him at the Rawalpindi session of All Hindu Mahadhama Sabha Sammelan in 1929, Malviya Ji invited him to join the Sanskrit faculty at the Benaras Hindu University. When NS expressed his inability to do so due to family obligations, Malviya Ji exclaimed, "The portals of Benaras Hindu University will always remain open for you. You can join whenever it is convenient to you". Sir Aurel Stein too offered him a faculty assignment at Oxford, but NS had to decline, again for the same reasons. NS's fame as a scholar of encyclopaedic range spread far and wide, in the country and abroad, but due to family circumstances he had to stay for the most part of the year in Srinagar. But during the winter months, when his college would close for vacations, he would find time to visit various centres of Sanskrit learning in the country. These included Benaras, Allahabad Prayag, Lahore and Gaya, where he found pleasure in interacting with other Sanskrit scholars.

NS was, however, not only just an academician, he was equally active in the social and cultural fields. While being the president of Sanskrit Sahitya Parishad, a Sanskrit literary organisation he founded in 1930, he also established a charitable trust named Vanita Ashram to help widows and destitutes. As a philanthrop, he had few peers. Throughout is life, every month NS secretly donated one tenth of his income in charity.

"Don Quixote" in Kashmiri

Cervantes' "Don Quixote" has been one of the most popular of world classics and has been translated into many languages. The 15th century Spanish classic was translated into the Kashmiri language too, and as far back as 1936 a time when Kashmiri had hardly any prose. It was translated jointly by Professors Nityanand Shastri and Jagaddhar Zadoo into Kashmiri and Sanskrit. Although it was the first translation of any European literary work in Kashmiri, literary historians of the language have made no mention of it. The reason perhaps is that the Kashmiri version of "Don Quixote" never saw the light of the day, unlike the first Kashmiri novel "Lila" written by Prof. S. K. Toshkhani which was serialized in "Bahar-e-Kashmir", a magazine published from Lahore. It was Sir Aurel Stein who had commissioned the two Kashmiri scholars, Prof. Nityanand and Prof. Zadoo, for the translation on behalf of his Harvard university friend, Carl T. Keller as part of a project to obtain translations of "Don Quixote" in all major languages of the world. The Kashmiri and Sanskrit translations were sent to Harvard University, Boston, where they presumably still exist. Prof. Jagadhar Zadoo later passed on his copy of the translation to a "loved friend" of his, obviously for publication, but nothing followed. Fortunately, NSKRI is in possession of a fragmentary copy of the Kashmiri translation of "Don Quixote", which it intends to publish in the near future. On publication, the work is bound to enrich Kashmiri prose.




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