Iqbal Ahmad

Forgotten literature!

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Without doubt we should take care of our spoken dialect, Kashmiri which since countries has been serving as the medium of communication although it hardly was a written language and never the official language of this land. As records suggest, it was Sanskrit and Persian that made to the courts and record rooms of this state.

The earliest hand written documents and manuscripts of our classical ages are found in Sanskrit language and the characters adopted are Sharda; although we could not preserve the classical language, we need to take care of those manuscripts and documents which have been written in Sanskrit and Persian languages.

If one visits the old libraries and archive repositories one comes across a number of ancient manuscripts and documents of Sanskrit. Sometimes you would find such manuscripts written on bark leaves and wooden sheets. We cannot decipher these letters and alphabets which are nearly unknown to us and there are only a few experts and scholars who can recognize this ancient alphabet and decipher the script.

These ancient records undoubtedly are the most significant as they pertain to our land and its people from the earliest times. Since these records have been written here and about the land and people there should be no doubt those manuscripts are genuine documents of our classical literature. Most of such manuscripts are found in various old institutions of Srinagar and Jammu including the Research Library, Archival Repositories of Jammu and Srinagar, SPS Museum Srinagar, Dogra Art Museum Jammu Centre for Central Asian Studies Museum Srinagar and in the Jammu and Srinagar Academy of Art, Cultural and languages. Obviously, even the preservers of such records hardly knew what they had been preserved?

People of Kashmir are proud, and justly so, of the literary glories of the land. For centuries it was the home of the greatest scholars and at least one great of Indian religion Shivism has found some of its most eloquent teachers on the banks of the Vitasta. Some of the greatest Sanskrit poets were born and wrote in the valley. A world famous collection of folklore in Sanskrit has travelled across globe.

Sanskrit records are the oldest records of Kashmir. But to make matters clear the language did not serve as the language of common people, it was the language of officers of rulers and maharajas and of the literary classes. Besides, it served as the only written language of this land till the arrival of Persian. If you ask somebody about some collections they would say these are Sharda manuscripts and most of them do not know in which language these have been written.

In fact, most of our earliest manuscripts are written in Sharda alphabet while few in Gilgitian characters, but the language adopted in these records was Sanskrit, so we can call them our Sanskrit learning; in the words of Grierson- “For upwards of two thousand years Kashmir has been the home of Sanskrit learning and from this small valley have issued masterpieces of history, poetry, Romance, Fable and philosophy”.

In fact whatever records of ancient Kashmir are available they are entirely in Sanskrit. These Sanskrit records are found written on local paper. I have had the opportunity to see many such manuscripts written on brick bark leaves, locally called burz. These entire Sanskrit records are not unidentified and un-deciphered though most of these records have been deciphered earlier and their respective translations are available. One such significant example is of our Kashmir history Rajtarangni which was also written in Sanskrit.

But nowadays we have many explanatory translations available of this earliest epic and those who took this mission were the British missionaries. The first scholars who undertook the translation work of Sanskrit records were European missionaries. Gareison, George, Buhler, and Stein were the first line scholars who studied the earliest Kashmir records. Maharaja Ranbir Singh who was very much inspired by the British missionaries founded the first ever Sanskrit Patshal at Srinagar and employed proficient Pandits for teaching the language.

He also set up a translation bureau where Sanskrit texts were translated into Persian and Hindi. The Maharaja was followed by democratic government which established an independent and fully equipped research department where many Sanskrit texts were edited, collated and published. The Research Department of Kashmir which was set up at Lal Mondi in Srinagar did a great work in translation of a number of Sanskrit works. Later, during the period of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the Research Deportment which was known as Research Library was shifted from Lal Mandi to Iqbal Library Kashmir University.

However, its management control remained with public libraries deportment. This glorious institution suffered badly at the hands of political and administrative high ups and a time reached when it became entirely nonfunctional. It could neither collect further manuscripts nor could it continue its translation works. As a result the Sanskrit records got scattered in various non research organizations. Of course, those organizations also preserved these manuscripts but they could not translate them into other languages.

No doubt that the Mission Manuscripts Scheme launched by Government of India has been successful in documentation and cataloguing of a number of such manuscripts, but the effort isn’t sufficient and lacks meaning until these manuscripts are not translated and interpreted. Steps are required to be taken to restore the translation bureau of research department and make it functional by providing professional hands to it. That is the only way to protect the historical records of this land.

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