A tribute to Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan: Mussoorie’s ‘Scholar Gypsy’

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A tribute to Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan: Mussoorie’s ‘Scholar Gypsy’

Monday, 08 April 2019 | JASKIRAN CHOPRA | Mussoorie

Mussoorie has always been home to several celebrities from the world over and has been known to attract many who visit its charming environs to the extent that they set up their home here.

Over the years, the list of people who have fallen in love with the “Queen of Hills” has been long. Whether it was John Lang, the Australian writer and lawyer, freedom fighter Abbas Tyabji (known as “Chhota Gandhi”) or Amarnath Jha, the professor of English from Allahabad University (who was later the VC of the University) -all of them belong to this list.Renowned writer Ruskin Bond decided to leave the world behind and settle down in a cottage in Landour from where he could view the majestic Himalayan peaks with which he has always been in love.

Another great personality who once fell in love with this hill station and decided to live here was Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan for whom it was always rather difficult to settle down in one place.He was a wanderer and traveled extensively in India and abroad. But Mussoorie’s charm won him over and he spent quite a few years here at a cottage (Hern Lee Cottage) in picturesque Happy Valley with his wife, Kamala Sankrityayan, a well-known Nepali and Hindi writer, who  passed away some years ago  in Darjeeling at “Rahul Niwas”.

This exceptionally brilliant couple spent a lot of time here in Happy Valley before the great scholar fell ill and died in Darjeeling.

Today, the Hern Lee Cottage is not to be seen. It was broken down and now a building there houses a dispensary being run by Tibetans.

One of the most widely-travelled scholars of India, philanthropist and renowned scholar Sankrityayan was born on April 9, 1893 to a Bhumihar Brahmin family at Kanaila Village in Azamgarh district, Uttar Pradesh. His father, Govardhan Pandey, was a religious-minded farmer, a typical profession of Bhumihar Brahmins, from the village Kanaila of Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh. His original name was Kedarnath Pandey.

Later in life, he was enamoured of Mussoorie’s climate and found the place ideal for creating his works. The house was given to him by a lady, Kamlendu Mati Shah, who belonged to the royal family of Tehri. Kamlendu became friends with his wife Kamala and was greatly impressed by the couple.

The premises where the Sankrityayans lived in the 1950s has no sign of their existence there. The road in Happy Valley that was named after Rahul Sankrityayan several decades ago has been renamed thrice since.

Darjeeling, however, has a small monument at the place where this Buddhist scholar was cremated in 1963.

The Mussoorie years were some of the few happy times Sankrityayan spent with his wife and two little children, Jaya and Jeta. Soon after, he was invited by Sri Lanka Vidyalankara University as a professor of Buddhism. He fell ill there and lost his memory for two years before he died, at the age of seventy.  He had married Kamala quite late in life.

It has never been easy for anyone to describe Sankrityayan in words.His personality encompassed such a variety of attributes, all quite strong and impressive. He wrote 125 works, published in five languages –Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan and Bhojpuri.  

He was an Indologist, a Marxist theoretician, a Buddhist scholar, a travel writer and a creative author. The subjects of his works range from sociology, history and philosophy to Buddhism, Tibetology and Lexicography. “Volga se Ganga” is one of his most well known collections of short stories. He has been described as a “polyglot and world traveler”, “a lover of Himalayas who went beyond Himalayas and became one with those ranges” and “a liberal humanist”. Seeking knowledge was an insatiable quest for him. In his autobiography titled “Meri Jivan Yatra’, he quotes the lines: “Sair kar duniya ki gaafil zindgani phir kahan/zindagi gar kuchh rahi tau naujavani phir kahan?” (Oh! ignorant, go and travel all over the world. You will not get this life again. Even if you live long, youth will never return.)

These lines caught his imagination when he read them in primary school while learning Urdu. And these lines were the essence of his life and soul. He went to Tibet four times. He travelled to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Russia and some other countries.  A small museum to showcase the works of Rahul and Kamala Sankrityayan and their life story is the least that authorities in Mussoorie can do to pay tribute to these scholars who once lived and worked in Queen of Hills.  

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