Pandit Govind Kaul
Unmesh - Monthly Newsletter of N.S. Kashmir Research Institute
Pandit Govind Kaul
[ A profound Kashmiri scholar of the late 19th century. Pandit Govind Kaul, who rendered most valuable assistance to Aurel Stein in translating Rajatarangini, is today almost a forgotten man. There are hardly a handful of Kashmiri Pandits who may be aware of his great erudition and the range of his scholarly pursuits. Here is a brief sketch of the life and works of the man whom Stein offered fulsome tributes and hailed as " another Kalhana". ]
Born in 1846 in Srinagar as the eldest son of Pandit Balbhadra Kaul, a universally respected scholar of his times (1819-96), Govind Kaul (G.K) had scholarship running in the family. His grandfather, Pandit Taba Kaul, too was a reputed scholar, having family ties with the famous Pandit Birbal Dhar who persuaded Ranjit Singh to free Kashmir from the tyranny of Afghan rule. G.K. and Birbal Dhar's grandson Ramjoo Dhar, maintained the ties as friends. G.K. not only studied Persian and Sanskrit in keeping with the family tradition, he also acquired a good knowledge of English as well as western ways of life. To keep the record of history straight, it must be stated that G.K. and Ramjoo Dhar learnt English much before Pandit Anand Kaul and Pandit Shiv Ram Bhan. G.K. came to know a good deal about world affairs also through Ramjoo Dhar who held an important administrative position . Soon G.K. acquired fame for his erudition, particularly as a scholar of Alamkara Shastra (poetics), Vyakarna (grammar), Nyaya (logic), and Shiva Sutras. He was equally well versed in the knowledge of the epics and the Puranas.
By the time he was 28, G.K. was already regarded as a scholar of considerable stature. In 1874, he was appointed incharge Translation Department set up by Maharaja Ranbir singh. It was around that time that he undertook, jointly with Pandit Sahaz Bhatt, to translate the Sanskrit chronicles of Kashmir into Hindi- a project which he, unfortunately, was not able to complete.
With the winding up of the Translation Department in 1884, it was a trying time for G.K. He lost his job and could not find any alternative avenue to pursue his scholastic goals. Eventually, he had to settle for a teacher's job at the state run Sanskrit Pathshala in Srinagar. But that too did not last and he was again without a regular job.
In the meanwhile, however, George Buhler, that doyen of European Indologists, had spotted the Pandit for his great learning and eruditon. It was Buhler's commendatory reference that attracted Sir Aurel Stein's attention towards G.K. and he solicited his assistance in translating Kalhan's Rajatarangini-a job that G . K along with Pandit Sahaz Bhatt did with utmost competence from 1888 to 1896, and to stein's great satisfaction.
G.K. went into another collaboration with Stein and fellow scholar Sahaz Bhatt when they classified and catalogued more than six thousand Sanskrit manuscripts for Maharaja Ranbir Singh's library at Raghunath Temple, Jammu.
Yet another contribution G.K. made was to compile Kashmiri folk tales with Stein, which the latter formally edited with George Grierson and publishcd in 1917 as " Hatim's Tales". The tales, supposedly told by one Hatim Tilawony, were interpreted by G.K. G.K. also rendered assistance to Grierson in the compilation of his Kashmiri dictionary, but did not live to see the work completed. Grierson went on to reeord later that G.K's assistance to him was "one of the many debts he ever owed to Stein".
On G.K's death in June 1899, a shocked Stein lamented that G.K., ''like another Kalhana departed as my best Indian friend beyond all hope of reunion in this Janma". Paying fulsome tributes to him, Stein wrote: "Whenever Govind Kaul was by my side, whether in the dusty exile of Lahore or alpine coolness of Mohand Marg in Kashmir, I was in continuity with the past as the historical student of India. His personality embodied all that change of ages indicated and showed as the mind and psyche of India."