Ascetic Mansa Ram Razdan-the missing link

Dr. Ramesh Tamiri
Kashmir was a great centre of culture and religious learning in the ancient past. This tradition suffered a major setback during mediaeval times, when waves of religious persecution became the norm. This did affect the preservation of a high tradition of learning and scholarship. New ways were found to maintain some sort of continuity.
Srinagar’s famous street, Razdan Kocha, was home to great astrologers and Shavite scholars. Bhaskar Razdan, Janki Nath Razdan, Mansa Ram Razdan, Mukand Razdan, Moshar Razdan, and Nilakanth Razdan lived here. Mansa Ram Razdan was highly respected for his piety and command over astrology. He was called Razdan Sahib, and the famous street of Razdan Kocha is named after him. Prof. JS Grewal calls Mansa Ram Razdan a saint “who was incomparable for his piety and asceticism and his knowledge of astrology.”
The life and work of Mansa Ram Razdan are important from three perspectives. One, it provides one more link between Kashmiri Hindus and Sikh history. Two, it gives an insight into how Kashmiri Hindus sought to escape religious persecution by shifting to the plains of northern India. Lastly, the stories of Mansa Ram Razdan and Jeewan Shah of Rainawari provide insights into how some of our ascetics played an important role in helping their community brethren escape or minimise the rigours of religious persecution.
Mansa Ram Razdan’s math in Kotla Qiladar, Gujrat (Punjab), was famous as Duni Saab. Historian Ganesh Dass visited Dhuni Saab in 1847 and saw the eternal flame. He recorded this great experience in his excellent chronicle, Char Bagh-i-Punjab.
The available sources do not tell us how Mansa Ram Razdan helped victims of religious persecution in Kashmir or how he reached Qiladar. Two new sources available now help us to trace missing links in Mansa Ram Razdan’s story.One, an oral history account given by Ramnath Pandit to this writer. Ramnath was a descendant of a survivor of the Purushyar massacre in the last quarter of the 18th century. The second is the family account given by Hemindra Hazari. His ancestors were part of the caravan led by Mansa Ram Razdan to escape religious persecution in Kashmir.
Mansa Ram Razdan was born to Jagar Nath Razdan. The Pathan Governor had granted Jagar Nath Razdan a big jagir for his accurate predictions in astrology. According to Anand Kaul Bamzai Bhaskar Razdan was the grandfather of Mansa Ram Razdan. No details are available about the year of Mansa Ram Razdan’s birth. With this distinguished lineage it is not surprising that Mansa Ram Razdan took to family pursuits of astrology. Initially, he started his meditation practice at Roopa Lank, possibly under some master. Later, he established his own ashram at home. An interesting feature of this ashram was that Duni was kept lighted 24 hours a day. He came to be called Razdan Sab. Even after he left Kashmir, his family continued this tradition of lighting the Duni. Sadhus who came from other parts of India to visit the holy Amarnath cave often stayed at this ashram.
Pathan rule (1759-1819) was notorious for subjecting Kashmiri Hindus to horrible forms of religious persecution. Mansa Ram Razdan was deeply respected by leading aristocrats as well as the common people of his time. Senior officials Nand Ram Tiku and Dina Nath Madan were his ardent disciples. Besides providing spiritual solace to people in distress, Mansa Ram Razdan used his access to nobility to save many potential victims of religious persecution. He never compromised on this. During the rule of tyrant Pathan governor Azad Khan the entire clan of Mansa Ram Razdan’s cousin Atma Ram Pandit was massacred at Purushyar.37 members were killed. Only survivors were Atma Ram and his son Sudarshan Pandit.Atma Ram died in hiding three months later. Mansa Ram Razdan arranged his secret cremation at his ashram. Sudarshan was brought up by the saint under his affectionate care.
Raja of Chenani heard about great spiritual powers of Mansa Ram Razdan and invited him to stay at Chenani.He granted him the village of Gohar as Jagir, where he set up his ashram. His mother and wife too reached here.After the death of his mother he asked his wife to return to Srinagar along with newly born son. She initially refused but relented later.
Duni Saab
There are no local accounts of how Mansa Ram shifted from J&K to Qiladar , Gujrat in Punjab.Possibly, Mansa Ram Razdan shifted back from Chenani to Kashmir. According to Hemindra Hazari, a large group of Kashmiri Hindus, which included his great-grandfather Nidhan Joo Hazari, fled Kashmir to save their faith and the honour of their women. This party was headed by the ascetic Mansa Ram Razdan. They decided to halt at Qiladar,a village 5 miles from Gujarat town and located on the banks of Chenab. Mansa Ram Razdan sets up an ashram here. It gained fame and popularity as Duni Saab. A big shrine was built in marble stone here with efforts of Raja Dina Nath Madan,Finance Minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. For running the ashram, the revenue of two villages, including Kaleke, was granted.
The shrine was very popular among Kashmiri Hindus of northern India in early nineteenth century and thereafter too until partition. Every couple had to visit the shrine soon after marriage to seek blessings of the saint for a happy married life. His generosity towards his biradari members, who came to visit him at Qiladar, endeared him to biradari members. Maharaja Ranjit Singh would visit the ashram and have an audience with the saint. For durbar ceremonies, Mansa Ram Razdan was also called and taken on an elephant to Lahore to give his blessings to the Maharaja. Nidhan Joo Hazari and his son, Gulab Rai, became disciples of Mansa Ram. Gulab Rai became head priest of the ashram. He was also the Kardar (administrator) of a number of villages and held charge of the shrine.
Lal Kaul
Lal Kaul was a minister in Kabul during Pathan rule. He closely followed the situation in Kashmir. Soon after he fell out with Subedar Azam Khan, he visited Mansa Ram Razdan to seek his blessings. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was also there. They had a good discussion on Kashmir. The Maharaja asked him to reach Lahore to decide the final strategy for Kashmir. Diwan Chand led the force in 1819 to incorporate Kashmir into the Sikh empire. Lal Kaul too was part of this force as commander of Rawalpindi Brigade. After this success, Lal Kaul was appointed governor of Multan.
The Britishers too were awestruck by Saint Mansa Ram Razdan’s spiritual powers. They called him “Baba” and donated many villages to him. Lepel Griffin, an English officer and contemporary of the saint Mansa Ram Razdan, refers to “Dhuni Saab” in his chronicle of Punjab.
A critical examination of the legendary accounts available reveals that Mansa Ram Razdan kept close links with Kashmir till his death. On his instructions Duni was kept lit there.The saint passed away in 1826 at Qiladar. It is said that the Madan family has in its possession a painting of Raja Dina Nath Madan with Mansa Ram Razdan.
Gulab Rai Hazari
After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh empire began breaking up. Anarchy prevailed in Punjab. Chieftains and adventurers made things worse. During the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849, some of these adventurers attacked the Duni Saab shrine. Gulab Rai had a miraculous escape. He jumped into Chenab and swam across to the other side to save himself. He subsequently joined army and later police force.