The Gentle Colossus of Kashmiri Scholarship: Nityanand Shastri || Bhushan Parimoo || LIVE IMAGE

Described variously as the “crest-jewel among the scholars of Kashmir” and “one who dispels Avidya” (ignorance); Nityanand Shastri is assigned by universal acknowledgement a foremost place among the Sanskrit scholars of Kashmir in the 20th century.

He was born in Srinagar at Sathu Barbar Shah on July 24, 1874 in a modest Brahman family that had no special claims to any previous literary traditions and academic achievements. His father Pandit Madhavkak was a practicing Kashmiri priest and mother Ambrawati a devoted wife and a home maker.It was the hand of destiny that took Nityanand to education, learning and scholarship, a career that did not bear even the remotest affinity to the claims of his ancestral avocations. 

Inspired by the spirit of traditional learning that Srinagar offered at the time, Nityanand’s genius manifested in the promising dawn of his boyhood that followed into brilliant noon as a student ultimately culminating as a scholar extraordinaire.After completing his early education in the local Pathshala, Nityanand took admission in the Panjab University Lahore from where he earned his degree of Vishard in 1892 followed by a degree of Shastri in 1896.

Besides the regular degrees in Sanskrit, Nityanand also graduated with English securing first position in the merit list in the year 1902 and thus became the first ever Kashmiri to do so from the Panjab University. Among his batch mates in the graduation included Agha Syed Hussain and Ved Lal Zutshi. For these attainments, he was awarded ,the coveted medal of the Kashmir Dharma Sabha for high proficiency in Sanskrit and the Governor’s Medal for topping the merit list of the university, in the same year.

Nityanand was initiated into Sanskrit studies under the inspiring guidance of Pandit Damodar, the most accomplished Sanskrit scholar of Kashmir in modern times. He began his career as a teacher in the Rajkiya Pathshala, Srinagar. But before long his services were requisitioned for higher responsibilities based on his outstanding merit and in 1916 was appointed as Professor in S.P. College and thus became the first native to hold that position.

However, prior to this appointment, Nityanand Shastri had earned several other distinctions, notable among these were his meeting with the great Indian monk Swami Vivekananda during his visit to Kashmir in 1897, the Reception Welcome address read out in honour of the then Viceroy Lord Minto in 1906 and later his meeting with Lord Hardinge on the occasion of Aurel Stein’s Knighthood ceremony held in Srinagar in 1912. Two years later, he also met Rabindra Nath Tagore during the felicitation ceremony held in honour of the Nobel Laureate at Srinagar in 1914.

Nityanand’s latent genius perhaps, would not have unfolded in the manner it did, had his brilliant academic credits not brought him into very close contact with many European scholars and Orientalists who came to Kashmir in the 19th and 20th century. Among this galaxy, to name only a few, include Aurel Stein, Franklin Edgerton, George Grierson, J.Ph. Vogel and Maurice Winternitz.

This association resulted in the contribution and assistance rendered by Nityanand Shastri to the publication of umpteen works of Kashmir history, language, literature and epigraphy. These include the Rajatarangini and Ancient Geography of Kashmir (with Aurel Stein, 1898-99); Vedic Concordance (with Maurice Bloomfield and Alfred Stratton , 1900); Studies in Kashmir Epigraphy (with Sten Konow, 1905); Antiquities of Chamba (with J. Ph. Vogel, 1905-10) Manual of Kashmiri Language (with George Grierson, 1912); Four volume translation and commentary of Taittariya Upanishad (with David Brainerd Spooner, 1914); Lallavakyani (with George Grierson and Lionel Barnett, 1917); Sanskrit translation and commentary of Mahanaya Prakasa (with George Grierson, 1921) ; History of Indian Literature (with Maurice Winternitz, 1922) ; The Indian Serpent Lore- Naga Worship in Art & Legend ( with J. Ph. Vogel, 1926); The Great Indian Epic- Mahabharata (with Maurice Winternitz, 1927); Studies in Kashmir Saiva text Isvarapratyabhijina (with Franklin Edgerton, 1927); Krishnavatara Lila (with George Grierson, 1928); Dictionary of Kashmiri Language (with George Grierson, 1921-1932); Kashmiri Ramayana (with George Grierson, 1930); Kashmiri and Sanskrit translation of the 17th century Spanish classic Don Quixote (with J.D. Zadoo , 1936); and critical and annotated edition of Nilamatapurana (with Vreese and J. Ph. Vogel, 1936)

To Nityanand Shastri also goes the honour of publishing the first ever Primer of the Kashmiri language in Devanagari script. It was published in two volumes and printed by Alpine Press, Lahore in 1912 and 1914 respectively.

Among other distinctions that go to his credit include the founding of the first widow home in Kashmir named Vanita Ashram. It was founded in 1928. In the same year Nityanand was also appointed as the Pandit to the Royal Court of Maharaja Hari Singh. Previously also he held the same position in 1898 during the rule of Maharaja Pratap Singh.

In 1929, Nityanand Shastri was appointed as the Member of the Committee that represented the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, Hari Singh, at the First Hindu Mahasamelan held at Rawalpindi under the President-ship of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. The other member in the Committee included Prof. Gyani Ram, his colleague at S.P College, Srinagar. 

At the Samelan, Nityanand, through his learning, eloquent scholarship and humility impressed Malviyaji so much that the doyen invited him to join the Benaras Hindu University by saying:” The portals of our university will always remain open for you”. In 1930, Nityanand was elected as Lifetime President of the Kashmir Sanskrit Sahitya Parishad and became the Editor of the Parishad’s Sanskrit journal ‘Shree’ for the term 1928-1932.

During the tem, 1926-1930 Nityanand Shastri served as the Member-Secretary of the Kashmir Sanatan Dharma Sabha, Srinagar.A scholar of world-wide fame with profound knowledge of Sanskrit literature and Kashmiri language, Nityanand Shastri had a character imbued with indefatigable industry combined with exceptional range of knowledge and interest covering almost all branches of Sanskrit research.

It was through the enthusiastic excellence of his outstanding academic and scholarly achievements that he transfused a part of his intellectual spirit into the enquiring curiosity of his western collaborators who as a result dived deep to appreciate and understand better the old culture, history and literature of Kashmir in a manner that will hardly ever be equaled. In this association, Nityanand himself also became capable of understanding and illuminating the intellectual and social history of Kashmir.

In personal conduct Nityanand was a noble minded person with kind and benevolent disposition that made him easily accessible to all, great and small, with immense stores of his exponential knowledge. His broad humanity combined with devotion to the pursuit of truth made him the teacher and man he was. As a perfect embodiment of a pragmatic scholar with vast quantity of accurate, incisive and critical corpus of work to his credit, Nityanand never lost sight of the highest scholarly ideals. 

In gathering and imparting knowledge he was the very type of a rare scholar whose time, services, books and other resources were always at the command of whoever requested for them. The hallmark of his work remains testified in the interest and capacities he created in his pupils, notable among whom are G.C. Bewoor and J.N. Chaudhry, both of whom rose to become chiefs of the Indian Armed Forces; T.N. Kaul, the mastermind of India’s foreign policy doctrine who retired as India’s Foreign Secretary, the super-spy and mastermind of espionage R. N. Kao famous for his role in the creation of Bangladesh, Pupul Jaykar the famed cultural Czarina of India and Peer Ghulam Hassan, the architect of the famous Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar.

Today these tributes to Nityanand Shastri remain as memorials of his activities in mind and body. Although his work may seem limited to scholarship and teaching, his views and influence as a teacher and scholar have reached far beyond the limits of Kashmir. But great as the scholar was, the man Nityanand Shastri was greater.

Deservingly popular with his colleagues as well as his students, this man of learning and education and recognized as “scholar of scholars” breathed his last on December 24, 1942 after a protracted illness caused by a paralytic stroke suffered some years earlier. However, his work is sure to survive for long and his name will ever remain inscribed in the first ranks of the golden book of Kashmir’s contemporary literary history. 

It reminds of the words Albert Einstein “On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi's 70th birthday. "Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”

(From the Biographical Profile by Sh S.N.Pandita Founder Member and Secretary of N.S. Kashmir Research Institute, New Delhi)

Bushan Parimoo

(The writer is a Jammu based environmentalist and a regular contributor to this Website .)

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