Aurel Stein, the forgotten historian of Kashmir

We are the people who have forgotten this legendary historian of Kashmir
" It is said that from the very beginning he had a deep interest in touring and studying eastern culture. For this purpose, Stein is said to have achieved degrees in several disciplines of eastern history and culture from leading European universities and later worked on a doctorate in the same field."
" It is said that from the very beginning he had a deep interest in touring and studying eastern culture. For this purpose, Stein is said to have achieved degrees in several disciplines of eastern history and culture from leading European universities and later worked on a doctorate in the same field."Special arrangement

Although nowadays it looks that the European policy towards Kashmir has changed considerably, but there were the times when European missionaries had been taking active role in the affairs of Kashmir.

Besides touring the corners of this land, they also participated in the overall development of this land. They once provided a model of administration and had been appointing their resident commissioners to monitor the political and administrative affairs of this land and its people.

They founded the first modern educational and medical institutions, where local kashmiris were provided these services.

They were first to study the Kashmir history and culture and initiated historical and archaeological researches. They identified ancient scripts and deciphered the ancient words. They translated the ancient Sanskrit manuscripts of Kashmir and made Kashmir history known to the entire world.

Of those ancient European travelers, Stein has been one of the most popular scholars who firstly translated manuscript of Kalahana’s Rajtarangni into English and made Kashmir history known to its people. He became the first historian of Kashmir, who wrote the first history of this land. He decoded the ancient sharda scripts and translated the classical prakritPand Sanskrit word into simple roman alphabet.

Let us first know who was this scholar. The life and works of this traveler are recorded in greater length in his various travelogues.

Sir Mark Arul Stein was a Hungarian scholar born in Buda piston on November 26, 1862. It is said that from the very beginning he had a deep interest in touring and studying eastern culture. For this purpose, Stein is said to have achieved degrees in several disciplines of eastern history and culture from leading European universities and later worked on a doctorate in the same field.

In 1885 he got an opportunity to visit the then British India where he got the job of a principal in the Lahore College. It was from here that Stein started his mission of research and went to nearby Bunar area to examine the scattered remnants and debris of ancient Undayana Empire, which were scattered on its beautiful landscape.

In 1901, Central Asian plains attracted the passions of Stein. He spent a good time in ancient Khottan and studied the material culture of the region. He came across a collection of ancient, artifacts, manuscripts and Tibetan antiquities.

He studied the material properly and forwarded his observations in his book Ancient Khottan in 1907. In this book he also brought to light the ancient links of Khottan with other contemporary cultures. He felt the imprints of sub continents on its culture and history.

Stein made extensive archaeological researches in Baluochistan and discovered several ancient settlements. His discovery of Mahaban was a remarkable one. Of his high expertise Stein was again recommended for Central Asian survey and in 1906, he made a historic discovery at Tunhang that consisted of the remains of western portion of the Great Wall of China.

Incidentally in 1900, when the doors of one of the caves of the wall got opened a big collection of manuscripts and paintings made on silk cloth were recovered. China took the major portion of this collection. Stein could, however, get access to study several of these manuscripts.

In year 1915 Stein went to Russia and from here moved to Samarqand, Khurasan and Seistan. He made a detailed survey of these states and came across ancient settlements and remains Buddhist monasteries and Stupas on the mountain passes of Seistan. He conducted extensive researches on its typography, geography, archaeology, history and culture and published it in his grand book Sir India in 1928 into four volumes.

After surveying the bordering regions to Kashmir, his main emphasis was Kashmir for which he had a great curiosity. He made several visits to this land and finally settled at Mahind Marg, and he made it a research lab. Mahind Marg was the place where Stein used to study and compile his travel notes. The place is situated in the laps of Harmukh. “It was this place that Stein had desired to be buried in”, as recorded by his Kashmiri Pandit friend Ramchand Bali. However, Stein died in Afghanistan and is buried there in Kabul’s Christian graveyard.

In fact George Buhler’s memorable tour of Kashmir in 1875 had resulted in the discovery of valuable material for a systematic study of the history of Kashmir. He primarily got engaged in collection and examination of old Sanskrit and Persian manuscripts. He gave graphic and accurate notes of some old sites in the valley which he had visited himself.

In his tour report he had indicated the manner in which a thorough study of Kalhan’s Raj Tarangni and historical typography of Kashmir was undertaken. It won’t be wrong to say that Arul Stein followed the Buhlers methods in his researches on Kashmir.

Stein was in Lahore when he desired to have a genuine manuscript of Raj Tarangni. For this purpose he arrived in Kashmir in 1888 and succeeded in the discovery of 17th century copied manuscript of Kashmir chronicle written by Ram Kanth.

Stein was very well conversant with Sanskrit, Persian, Kashmiri, Pushtu and English. He could also decipher the ancient scripts like Greek, Arabic, Kharaoshti, Brahmi and Sharda and translate them. During the translation of Raj Tarangni Stein is said to have studied not only the Kanth’s manuscript but even had on the spot investigation of various historical sites and remains of Kashmir. And so identified several names recorded in corrupt form in Raj Tarangni.

It was really a very difficult task for a foreigner to study Raj Tarangni and to trace out the various historical events, sites and dates from the chronicle and identify those on the ground. In the words of late Moti Lal Saqi, “the role of Stein in the restoration of Kashmir history and cultural heritage is extraordinary which in itself is as the foundation as the sum of the researches. If there had been no Stein, the Kak and Sofi accounts would have remained incomplete.”

Kashmir served as the first milestone in Stein’s research pursuits. That is why he was in deep love with Kashmir. Stein in his accounts has made mention of it.

“After several central Asian expeditions, I could get time and peace in my beloved mountain valley of Kashmir to rethink and study those investigations and observations which I had made in my re-searches of those far flung areas. There was no change in my love for Kashmir”. Stein used to spend his summer vacations in Kashmir and visit and investigate the archaeological sites here. Besides he took keen interest in learning Kashmiri language and literature. With the help of his Kashmiri friend Govind Koul, he could consolidate and compile Hatam’s tales, a collectionof tales. These were narrated to him by one Hatim. Teli, a professional story teller.

Stein had also visited Gilgit and identified and deciphered several human records on the mountains of Hunza and other places. These records were in shape of human and animal carvings and descriptions were given in Kharoshti and Brahmi epigraphs. He could decipher names of several Kushan and Kidar princes on its rock edicts.

The modern Kashmiri historians and researchers shall not forget this legendary historian, who has laid the foundation of Kashmir historiography. But we are the people who have forgotten this legendary historian of Kashmir.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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