Prof M L Raina
Our generation is living in the midst of epoch making changes. The world wide web (www) and internet, have changed our lives to an astonishing level. For reaching here mankind has traversed centuries of inventions through amazing stories of sacrifice, hard work and passion for excellence.
Could Kashmiri Pandits or for that matter Kashmiris, establish themselves in modern industry, in 19th century ? No ! The answer stems from the fact that there was no capital, no skilled manpower, no banks, no transport to carry machinery and above all there were no role models. The fear of failure was too high. After five hundred years of religious persecution and inception of the rule of Maharaja Gulab Singh, in 1846, enterprise for a Kashmiri Pandit , usually meant employment in the state government.But in the mind of Pandit Vishinath Kampasi, who introduced commercial photography and printing press in Srinagar, Kashmir, search for excellence, was a passion. No one had ventured into modern industry in Kashmir, if one peeps into A.D.1880 – 1890.Thinking of art and brush, was a sin. Business enterprise and modern industry, were no where on the priorities of Kashmiris.Pt. Vishinath , by dint of entrepreneurship and in born risk appetite, achieved excellence in photography and printing press. Modern industry has the comfort of qualified managers and availability of all resources. But Srinagar city of 19th century, did not have skilled manpower and no resources. It was a backward agricultural economy and a land locked city. Challenges were enormous. Persistent entrepreneurs begin their success where others do not dare to tread.
The creative genius that Pt.Vishinath Kampasi was, made him probably the first Kashmiri industrialist and commercial photographer. He created out of the photography and printing press venture, a great good will, name , fame assnd some wealth. Having started from scratch, his first teenage risk was to go to Kangra for learning portrait and landscape drawing. With this learning in traditional art, Vishinath returned to Srinagar with a dream. Initially he worked briefly for Maharaja Pratap Singh as an artist. But Vishinath was a dreamer. One fine day while walking in Dal Lake area, in early 1880’s , Vishinath purchased a camera of an English man who had died in an accident.Vishinath had to convince his wife and sold her “Dejhoru”, the golden ornament to raise the finance for the vintage camera. It was a turning point in his life but at the same time seen as a totally wasteful and unproductive expenditure in those hand to mouth living times, by the elders. But Vishinath was focused. With a stunning passion for creativity, he devoted all his time and energy to learn basics of photography.He went to Lahore, purchased books on photography. Without any exposure or knowledge of business, he was however confident that there was a potential of mass market for photography. Despite serious odds, this born risk taker created a makeshift dark room in his parental house at Banamohalla, Srinagar. Numerous failures were one day followed by a success of printing and developing a photo.
A celebration was made. Within 10 years from 1890 to 1900, by sheer dream for creativity, a modern photographic business with about 50 workers, was born at Fateh Kadal, Srinagar. Vishinath and Sons was established in 1880’s, managed by Pt.Vishinath and later on by his sons.Photograph (a permanent and visible image by action of light on chemically prepared surface) was indeed a great product introduction in the valley of Kashmir. Success came on a grand scale. A chain of photographic shops in Srinagar, and one shop in Srinagar, were established. One shop was also in the Shikara in the Dal Lake.In a few years Vishinath Kampasi was a house hold name in Srinagar. Photograph taken by Vishinath would be a prized possession of every foreign tourist.The panoramic views taken by Vishinath Kampasi, include Srinagar, Mughal gardens, Leh, Gilgit and also a group photograph of Swami Vivekanada, in 1898.
Geniuses are not made of ordinary earth. Vishinath din not rest with his achievements and recognition. Electricity was yet to arrive in Kashmir valley. With determination and total commitment to a vision, Vishinath ventured into printing press industry. It may appear an ordinary venture in these days. Machinery made in USA and UK was purchased from Calcutta, the Capital of India in those days.Transportation was a challenge. Printing machines were run with “ steam “ power and the Press was named K.P.Steam Press ( Kashmir Pratap ).It was indeed an incredible achievement.A team of another 50 workers contributed in printing heritage sanskrit literature, apart from commercial printing. All this was possible only due to unmatched quest for excellence. Born in 1863 this artist , photographer, printer and explorer went on expeditions to Leh, Gilgit to capture the virgin beauty of J.&K. through panoramic (wide angle) photos and even won the accolades of Maharaja Pratap Singh. The Maharaja gave due recognition to the son of soil and made Vishinath a member of the jury.Offer of landed property by the Maharaja was curtly refused.
Bhagwan Gopinath ji, the all time saint of Kashmir, may have blessed Pt.Vishinath as Bhagwan ji briefly worked in the printing press.This may have happened between 1920 – 1925.
End came in 1938.One of the sons of Pt.Vishinath Kampasi, Pt.Sata Lal Kampasi, followed in the footsteps of his illustrious father. He was trained in the field of art, at Technical School, Srinagar, now Amar Singh College and went for training in arts to Calcutta School of Arts, in 1919.Pt.Satalal was a well known artist of Kashmir and was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, (F.R.S.A.) Pt.Sata Lal, was an educationist also and established the Industrial Training Institute, in Srinagar in 1950’s, at the request of the then Government.
K.P.Steam Press off shooted in 1936 to Residency Road, Srinagar, as “ Vishinath Press “ and this renowned printing press, known for quality printing, again shifted to Delhi in 1990, after the turmoil in Kashmir.
The progeny of Vishinath Kampasi, have also branched out in diverse professions like doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, banking professionals.
Prof M L Raina