The history of human civilization and culture is like a continuously flowing stream in time. In certain period it remains serene, in others it takes sharp turns and in yet another it is full of turbulence’s. Majority of people let the flow of the stream carry them along but there are some rare human beings, whose ideas, efforts and deeds change the course of this stream. In common language it is known as creating a new history.
What is so special and different in such persons which sets them a partfrom others? What motivates them and how does their internal energy propel them to work persistently for their ideals – needs to be probed and understood. If we confine ourselves to just narrating their achievements, we may end up with impressive lists of their deeds but would not understand the extraordinary aspects of their mental make-up and their approach to life.
Prof. Ram Nath Shastri was one such extraordinary human being who shaped the future by his efforts. Prof. Shastri was one of those few who laid down the foundation of modern Dogri literature and then he took up on himself the responsibility of leading the movement of renaissance of Dogri literature and Dogra culture. This responsibility he discharged with utmost sincerity and devotion for decades by inspiring and guiding the other writers who rallied around him, resulting in an unprecedented and unparalleled growth and development of Dogri literature.
As it happens in history, but rarely, that at some point of time a combination of events takes place which ushers in an era of exceptional developments. The period just prior to the advent of independence in India was a period of great awakening when the minds of Indians were ignited to shed the shackles of foreign slavery and to discover, assert and feel proud of great Indian culture, literature, philosophy and civilization. At the very same time in the Dogra region Dogri poetry for the first time was gaining immense popularity through the poem ‘Shaihar PaihloPaihl ge’ penned down by exceptionally gifted young poet Dinu Bhai Pant. It was at this opportune time that Prof. Ram Nath Shastri, a born rebel and a great organizer took up on the cause of leading the Dogri movement.
Prior to the formation of Dogri Sanstha in 1944 what was the condition of Dogri and what notions other had about Dogras has been discussed umpteen times earlier but to understand and evaluate the contribution of Prof. Ram Nath Shastri in proper perspective one can not avoid repeating these.
With the end of the reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh Dogri was pushed in the background and it was the startof a period of darkness for this language. Granting the status of official language to Urdu along with Persian in place of Dogri subjected Dogri to official apathy. Prior to formation of Dogri Sanstha the written literature in Dogri was almost non-existent. It comprised merely three books of translation from other languages and just one original Dogri work – Bhajan-Mala a book of Dogri devotional songs by Pt. Hardutt. The worst aspect of the situation was that Dogras suffered from a sense of inferiority at cultural and psychological level. The reason being that in spite of the state being ruled by Dogra Kings,the Dogri speaking people were considered uncouth and uncultured. Even well educated Dogras used to shy away from speaking Dogri outside their homes.
The excellent Dogri folk music, the rich treasure of Dogri folk literature and the history of amazing feats of valour and sacrifices of local folk-heroes were buried under the dust of ignorance and utter neglect. To form Dogri Sanstha, under these circumstances, was by any account, a most courageous and revolutionary decision.
The first sentence of this revolutionary history was written on the Basant Panchami day of 1944, whenProf. Shastri along with four to five other colleagues formed Dogri Sanstha. In Prof. Shastri’s own words ‘… the day of Basant Panchami in 1944 was a very important milestone of the history of Dogras.’ The other founder members includeDinu Bhai Pant, Sansar Chand Baru, Bhagwat Prasad Sathe, N.D. Misra and D.C. Prashant. The main objective of Dogri Sanstha was ‘to rid Dogras from the shackles of feeling of inferiority and to realize the possibility of generating creative literature in Dogri’. Had the decision to form Dogri Sanstha not been taken then, there would not have been the rich treasure of Dogri literature today and a glorious history of its development.
The history of Dogri literature after formation of Dogri Sanstha is well known, but there can not be two opinions about the fact that history of Dogri Sanstha is the history of development of Dogri literature. What was so special in what the founders of Dogri Sanstha or those who joined them later did under the leadership of Prof. Shastri that Sanstha became synonymous with the movement which not only resulted in creation of a rich treasure of Dogri literature but also played a leading role in ridding Dogras of their sense of inferiority. The study of this phenomenon is an interesting subject which will point to the qualities of foresightedness, meticulous planning, exceptional managerial skills and unstinting dedication to the cause of Dogri with which Prof. Ram Nath Shastriwas endowed. The intent of this write-up is not to present the vast list ofworks done by Prof. Ram Nath Shastri but to look at the activities of Sanstha which were carried out under the stewardship of Prof. Shastri in a new perspective.
If we keep in mind the state of affairs at the time when Dogri Sanstha was formed, we can say today that the following was needed to be done in order to achieve the basic aims of Dogri Sanstha:
- Create quality and standard works in all genres to fill the great void in Dogri literature.
- Communicate and make accessible the so created literature to the general public.
- Make Dogri an integral part of the education system to provide it a sound basis.
- Create a sense of pride among Dogras for the rich treasure of their folk music,folk arts & folk literature.
- Make Dogras aware of the importance of the sacrifices of their folk-heroes in promoting and sustaining those values and ideals in their society which have become their ethos.
To achieve the above, great foresight, planning, consistent hard work and appropriate actions according to the situation at hand, were required. A brief review of how the dedicated and devoted Dogri writers achieved these objectives under the inspiration and guidance of Prof. Ram Nath Shastri is presented here.
The first and foremost requirement was to create literature. The initial period was, therefore, devoted to the literary meetings and brainstorming sessions about creation of literature and in organizing poetic symposia and public Mushairas. The Dogri Mushairas played a very significant role in popularizing Dogri among masses. People used to gather in hundreds and thousands to listen to Dogri poets. This also acted as great boost for the confidence of Dogri poets.
Doors of communication of Dogri poetry opened up with public Mushairas but need of the hour was to publish Dogri literature in the form of books. In 1950 Dogri Sanstha published the first anthology of representative Dogri poetry entitled ‘Jaago Duggar.’ The title of the book was a message in itself and conveyed the aim of Dogri Sanstha. This book was edited by Prof. Shastri who wrote in the foreword of the book “The history of Dogra community is full of shining examples of the strength of character of Dogras but this has been pushed to oblivion because of the poor plight of Dogras arising out of their economic dependence on others.They have their own common language called Dogri-Pahari, which has its own independent existence…. The history of ups and downs in the life of Dogra community as a whole, its struggles during different periods, its pains and miseries and its artistic tastes and expressions have not been written about or recorded so far. Dogri Sanstha has taken up on itself to make a serious endeavour in this direction. The area of activities of Dogri Sanstha is now not limited to literature only but will encompass social and cultural issues also.”
This makes it amply clear as to where Prof. Shastri’s thoughts were directed and what plans were forming in his mind.
Two significant events took place in a convention of National Conference held at Tikkri in 1948. One; first exhibition of Dogra-Pahari paintings and two; the staging of the play Bawa Jitto written by Prof. Ram Nath Shasti. Both these were organized by Dogri Sanstha.
The exhibition of paintings was first conscious effort on the part of Dogri Sanstha to make people aware of the great wealth of this art form of which the Dogras should feel proud. This initiative of Sanstha led to next exhibition of Dogra-Pahari miniature paintings at a larger scale at Kachi Chhowni, Jammu in 1950 and then at even larger scale in New Delhi in 1954. Kailash Nath Katjoo, who was the Union Minister, inaugurated the exhibition in Delhi which was first such exhibition at large scale to showcase the proud heritage of Dogras.
The staging of Dogri play based on life of Bawa Jitto was significant for Dogri in many ways. It was an initiative to create space for Dogri-theatre, it was another attempt to take Dogri literature direct to masses, and it was a very effective method to create awareness and rouse feelings of pride for the folk-heroes of Duggar. This was followed by writing and staging of many plays in Dogri to pursue theseobjectives. The first published play of Dogri ‘Namaan Gran’ was jointly written by none other than Prof. Ram Nath Shastri, Dinu Bhai Pant and Ram Kumar Abrol.In this play and later in one of the most popular play of Dogri ‘Sarpanch’ penned down by Dinu Bhai Pant, it was Prof. Ram Nath Shastri who played the role of heroes. The staging of these plays was a phenomenon in itself and thousands of people watched the shows of these plays staged at various location of Jammu region and even at Delhi.
Prof. Shastri recognizing the inherent power of the play in developing and popularizing a language gave 14 plays to Dogri which included original as well as translated and adopted from other languages.
The need to have a literary magazine of Dogri was felt immediately after the publication of ‘Jaago Duggar.’ This keen desire of Dogri Sanstha took a practical shape with the co-operation of Dogra Mandal, Delhi and a magazine ‘Namin-Chetna’ was started from Delhi in1953. With lots of initial hiccups and after publication of three issues in1953-54 there was a long gap in its publication. The fourth issue was published in 1957 from Jammu and then it stopped altogether. The publication of ‘Namin Chetna’ as a literary magazine on regular basis by Dogri Sanstha started in1967. Prof. Shastri took up on himself the complete responsibility of its publication and edited seventy five numbers right up to 1989. Namin Chetna gave representation to almost all the literature being written in Dogri. When the need arose special volumes of Namin Chetna were published to meet the specific requirements of Dogri language and literature. Namin Chetna continues to be published regularly till date and it is the most valuable and authentic documentation of Dogri literature and is a treasure for scholars interested in the history of development of Dogri language.
There existed a rich treasure ofDogri folk literature, which required to be preserved and promoted. First steps in this direction were also taken by Dogri Sanstha. In 1956 the first collection of Dogri folk songs ‘Khaare Mitthe Athroon’ was published by Sanstha followed by the publication of ‘Ik haa Raaja’ a collection of Dogri folk-tales in 1957.
Wholesome growth of a language is not possible unless it becomes a part of the educational system. With the persistent efforts of Dogri Sanstha Dogri got introduced in the educational setup and in 1964 the examination of ‘Tilak’ in Dogri was introduced and it was decided that the higher examinations of ‘Parveen’ and ‘Shiromani’ would be introduced at the successive gaps of two years each . Prof. Shastri not only gave names to these examinations but on behalf of Sanstha took the responsibility of preparing and making available all the books required for these courses of study. In the prevalent conditions it was a daunting task.
A campaign was started by Prof.Shastri for this purpose. Some books were got written by urging other writers and some were made ready by translation from other languages by Prof. Shastri himself and also by other scholars. Plays, novels, anthologies of short stories, collections of poems and books of prose were printed as publications of Dogri Sanstha and special issues of ‘Nami-Chetna’ to meet the requirement of course material for these examinations. Not only this, free coaching classes were organized on regular basis under the overall supervision of Prof. Shastri to help and guide the candidates appearing in these examinations. The free coaching classes were held for more than twenty years and thousands of students benefitted from these classes.
There have been many great men in Dogra region who did not find any place in the history written by the official historians of erstwhile rulers of the state. If at all a mention was made of these great men, it was done in a very derogatory manner. On the other hand these folk heroes were most revered and respected by common folk due to their acts of bravery and sacrifices which they had made for the high ideals of life.They lived through the ‘Baar’ and ‘Karaks’ sung by folk singers of this region.It was also a matter of great concern that there was complete lack of awareness about the invaluable art forms of the region like: Dogra Pahari Paintings,mural paintings, sculpture, old monuments , buildings etc. These pieces of exquisite art were scattered all over Dogra region and were being vandalized and were falling victims to the apathy of the general public.
Prof. Shastri and his colleagues realized that in order to create a sense of pride among Dogras, it was essential to resurrect the folk-heroes of Duggar by highlighting the sacrifices they had made and make Dogras aware of their glorious treasure of folk art forms.
As already mentioned a beginning in this direction had been made in 1948 at Tikkri by staging a play on the sacrifice of Bawa Jitto. Later based on the ‘Karak’ of Bawa Jitto and by conducting further thorough research, Prof. Shastri wrote a book on Bawa Jitto which was published by Dogri Research Institute. Prof. Shastri wrote a modern version of a play on Bawa Jitto, which under the competent direction of Balwant Thakur has been successfully staged for more than hundred times within and outside India and has received great appreciation.
In order to rediscover the unwritten history of Duggar three special seminars were organized by Sanstha at Kahna Chak, Tikkri and Ram Nagar under the guidance of Prof. Ram Nath Shastri. Local scholars wrote papers on the forgotten folk-heroes of these regions and Prof. Shastri edited and published these papers in Dogri Sanstha’s publications.Prof. Shastri, after undertaking a thorough research by visiting various places and consulting the available resources published the book ‘Duggar De Loknayak’ which contained articles on lives of Guerrilla rebel Minyan Deedo, Bawa Jitto, Ranpat and Gugga Chowhan. In addition, he collected, edited and published research based articles on Shaheed Ramchand, Tayagmurti, S. Buddha Singh, Sher-e-Duggar Lala Hans Raj Mahajan and Minyan Deedo in various issues of Namin Chetna. Dogri Sanstha also publishedcollection of articles on folk art, architect and sculpture of Duggar written by Vidya Rattan Khajuria and Kedar Nath Shastri in the form of two books entitled ‘Samhaal Us Kallai di’ and ‘Dogri Nibandhawali’ respectively.
A few examples which I have cited above do not include the individual creative works of Prof. Shastri which are varied and are in a very large number. Here my intention was to point out only those works which he did himself or inspired others to do which became the basis of a wholesome development of Dogri literature and which gave a sense of pride and respect to Dogras for their culture and heritage. I am aware that even this list is far from complete – it could include the first conference of Dogri writers, seminar on standardization of the spellings in Dogri,interaction with W.G. Archer, recording of Dogri folk songs from the far-off places, the establishment of Dogra Art Gallery and Dogri dictionary and many other such works. But it does not make any difference. By citing these few examples I have created space to say what I want to say.
There was a fire of rebellion in Ram Nath Shastri which compelled and propelled him to work incessantly for the cause of Dogri and Dogras. His mind was always busy in searching for the ways and means for opening new vistas for Dogri. When he found himself handicapped to do a particular job ,he got it done by others by inspiring and co-axing them– be it Rattan Sharma, Kavi Rattan, Vidhya Rattan Khajuria, Surinder Gandalgal or Prof. Nilamber Dev Sharma. Not only this, whatever time he found out of his organizational activities, he devoted it for the creative work. While discussing this issue a very pertinent question rises – which one should be rated higher; the individual creative writing or such creative work which provides platform and conducive environment to others for their individual creative works?
I would like to cite a part of what Prof. Shastri wrote in his editorial of one of the issues of Namin-Chetna in 1968, so that one may feel the warmth of the feelings of love which Prof. Shastri had in his heart for Dogri – “The journey of Dogri literature has now reached a point where its needs have increased many folds. Today Dogri is in need of new plays, new essays – literary, social, political, artistic and cultural, new short stories, new novels, new poetry, new epics, new critical evaluation, serious efforts in linguistics and phonetics, new history, and new geography.”
No amount of recognition can make Dogri to complete with Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. These languages have strongly established literary resources and their areas of influence are large and wide.Dogri lacks such resources. The land where this spring (of Dogri literature)has come to life, is thirsty since ages. This spring has come to life because of our good luck. Let us do our best to keep this spring of cool and sweet water alive and flowing. This is the time when it can be done. If this spring dies down, so will our sense of pride. Whatever little recognition Dogri has achieved that will also fade away. Then what will happen? How will we live?” Prof. Shastri considered that life is useless and meaningless if there is no sense of pride and respect for your language and culture. He considered such life worse than being dead. This is the account of the deeds of a person with a vision complimented with actions which has changed the whole scenario of Dogri literature and Dogra culture.