November-December 1998
Vol. II, No. 11 & 12


'Remembering Sir Aurel Stein' Seminar, exhibition organised jointly by NSKRI

and Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre

Rich tributes paid to the great Hungarian scholar

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 scholarship.

Sir Aurel Stein
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 India."

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 NSKRI.

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 Rajatarangini.

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 Overview."

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 photographs.

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 past."

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 researcher

Pandit Anand Koul
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 the skies.

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 researcher.

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 memoirs."

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 world."

PANDIT LEGACY: Victim of Choice in History

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, 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 characters."

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.

Kashmiri Overseas Association
NS Kashmir Research Institute