Aurel Stein: The genius and legendary Traveller

Iqbal Ahmad

The European travellers from the very beginning have been touring the lands of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilget and Baltistan and exploring, the archaeology , history and culture of people. They also participated in the overall development of these lands. 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 also opened up their residency in Jammu and Kashmir, with its headquarters on Jhelum banks near present-day Emporium Garden. The Residency Road Srinagar still serves as the ruminant name for that British residency. They founded modern educational and medical institutions wherein they provided modern education and medical facilities to the people of these regions.

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They were first to study the history and culture of these lands and its people 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 its history known to the entire world.
Of those ancient genius European travelers, Alexander Cunningham and Sir Mark Aurel Stein have been the pioneer and legendary scholars, whose contribution in the field of archaeology and history has been outstanding.
Let us today have few words about works of Sir Mark Aurel Stein, the first translator of the historic chronicle, Rajtarangni of Kalhana. He was 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 prakrit and Sanskrit word into simple roman alphabet.
Sir Mark Aurel Stein is known as 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 of Buddhist monasteries and Stupas on the mountain passes of Seistan.
After surveying the bordering regions of 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, where he made it 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 Kashmir 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 Rajtarangni and historical typography of Kashmir was undertaken. It won’t be wrong to say that Aurel Stein followed the Buhlers methods in his researches on Kashmir.
Stein was in Lahore when 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’s scripts like Greek, Arabic, Kharaoshti, Brahmi and Sharda and translate them. During the translation of Rajtarangni 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 Rajtarangni.
It was really a very difficult task for a foreigner to study Rajtarangni 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 and 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 Kashmirii friend Govind Koul, he could consolidate and compile Hatam’s tales, a collection of 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 genius and legendary traveler who has laid the foundation of Kashmir historiography.