The manuscript collection of Maharaja Ranbir Singh

Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943)

Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer  by Jeannette Mirsky

This 1977 book arrived as a Christmas gift from a friend who knew of my interest in nineteenth century explorers.  What he could not have known is that in the first chapter it sheds new light on a person who was prominently featured in The Masters Revealed.  In 1871, German Sanskritist George Buhler had requested access to a manuscript collection in Jammu, India, which was denied by the ruling Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1830-1885).  Four years after the death of Ranbir Singh, young archeologist Aurel Stein tried again with his heirs.  Biographer Mirsky writes: “The manuscript’s owner who had coldly refused Buhler had since died; three of his heirs had cut the manuscript, divided it, and were resolved to maintain the policy of their predecessor.  But Stein was not to be denied…he approached a pandit, member of the Kashmir State Council….”  This led to an official order by the maharaja to reunite the manuscripts, and Stein found:

I saw to my delighted surprise that the collection gathered from all over India by the late prince had been underestimated by me: it contains no less than about 8000 items including many old and important manuscripts.   I spent from six in the morning until about two P.M. looking throught he manuscripts brought to me and making notes.  Then I had an audience with the Maharajah who received me in the open Durbar [public audience].  Surrounded by his councilors and the entire court, he asked me to describe his father’s treasures and the state of European Sanskrit Studies.  I had the seat of honour on his right, Price Amar Singh on his left, and before us, on the carpet, the entire court sat.  Twelve of the most learned Pandits had been summoned at the Maharajah’s express wish, and I had to discourse in Sanskrit with them and also recite Vedic verses from the books printed in Europe which I presented to him.  In half an hour the audience was over.  On my entrance and departure the guards fired a salute which, an undeserved honour, made my elephants restless.”(p. 37)

A website devoted to Stein’s work with Kashmiri religious traditions is found here.

In a recent issue of Theosophical History, Michael Gomes reports on all of Olcott’s annotations in the margins of his personal copy of the English translation of Blavatsky’s Caves and Jungles of Hindustan. (He never read the book until after HPB’s death, as in her lifetime no translation was available.) In response to Blavatsky’s words “a gigantic rajput . . . Gulab-Lal-Sing” Olcott writes in the margin  “a Master unseen-M.”  While I had noted abundant internal evidence connecting the Caves and Jungles character Gulab-Singh with Mahatma Morya of the Mahatma Letters, there was only one piece of external evidence comparable to this annotation, a letter from Blavatsky to Prince Dondukov-Korsakov in which she identified Gulab-Singh as Morya.  Finding Olcott repeat the Morya/Gulab-Singh equivalence leaves no alternative to pursuing Blavatky’s writings in Russian for further clues to Morya.  As of the TS move to India, the historical Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir had been dead several years but his son Ranbir Singh occupied the throne and supported the TS founders financially and spiritually.  Olcott’s visit to his court in 1883 provides one of the most colorful passages in Old Diary Leaves.  (Cambridge University Press has reprinted the 1883-1887 fourth volume of Old Diary Leaves this year, another example of their excellent reprint series previously noted with reference to Archibald Grimke’s major work. ) The Masters Revealed noted Ranbir Singh’s enthusiasm for collecting sacred manuscripts, which might have inspired him to share material with Blavatsky and Olcott.  The Durbar in Lahore, the first book-length narrative published by Blavatsky in Russian, has never appeared in book form in English.  It is a nonfiction tale, or at least less fictionalized than Caves and Jungles, of a journey to a grand meeting of the Viceroy Robert Lytton in 1880, with Ranbir Singh most prominent in the story among several rajas and maharajas associated with the Theosophists.  Although never published in book form, Durbar was translated for serial publication in 1961 and the text is now available online here thanks to the efforts of Theosophist Mark Jaqua.

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