Journey to Jammu

This is an excerpt from In Search of the Masters, 1990; the epilogue was a travel diary beginning in Vermont and ending in France, with four segments about India in between. This is the third of the four; others will be shared as future blog posts along with the Vermont and France segments when they are relevant to people featured in the BOL lessons.

The spring of 1990 was a period of extreme tension and violence in India’s northwestern states of Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. Terrorist violence in Punjab had sharply increased since the 1990 elections, and every day the newspaper reported at least five to ten deaths in clashes between police and terrorists there. Far more appalling, and unnerving to the traveler, were incidents such as the bombing of a Hindu religious procession in Batala, causing 36 deaths. Buses and trains were regularly attacked, and at times all non-Sikhs were removed and killed by the terrorists. Travelers were killed by mines on the roads and by gunfire at roadblocks. The Indian government forbade foreigners to enter the Punjab, and thus when I bought a bus ticket to Jammu I assumed it would pass through Himachal Pradesh. A few hours after leavin Delhi, however, I found myself passing through the heart of the Punjab. When I expressed my alarm to Sudesh, a Kashmiri Hindu I met on the bus, he reassured me by saying that Punjab was much less dangerous than Kashmir. And indeed, despite the regularity of terrorist attacks and the unwillingness of Sikh political leaders (of various Akali Dal factions) to condemn the violence, most Indians seemed confident that peace would eventually be restored in the Punjab. After several days in Delhi, I had come to see the Sikhs as an integral part of India.  They make up 8% of the capital region’s population, and live there in peace and harmony, although the massacres following Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination are vividly remembered. Despite a substantial number of die-hard terrorists, aided and abetted by Pakistan, the great majority of Punjabi Sikhs are loyal to India and deplore the violence.

In Kashmir, on the other hand, the existence of India in its present boundaries seems very much at stake.  Virtually all of the 100,000 plus Kashmiri Hindus fled their homes during the early spring of 1990, most of the refugees settling in Jammu. Kashmiri Muslim separatists, their leaders trained and armed in Pakistan, had given notice to their Hindu neighbors that they faced the choice of death, flight or conversion to Islam. Unlike the Punjabis, a large majority of Kashmiri citizens favored independence or union with Pakistan. To utter a word in favor of India was to risk being murdered. While Jammu’s Hindus and Ladakh’s Buddhists looked on in horror, the Muslims in Kashmir indulged in a rampage of anti-India, pan-Islamic violence. My week in Jammu was the last week before the army was called out and curfews were enforced. Although at times I was filled with anxiety, in retrospect these were the best of times in which to understand the Masters Morya and Koot Hoomi in historical context.

My journey to Jammu had been envisioned as the climax of the trip in a spiritual as well as an intellectual sense. Olcott’s November 1883 trip to Lahore and Jammu marked the culmination of his search for the Masters, as well as the quest of Damodar Mavalankar. Despite the considerable skepticism with which I regard much of the literature about the Mahatmas, Jammu had a deeply religious significance for me. Ranbir Singh built seven temples in the vicinity during his reign, and the palace complex where he welcomed Olcott and Damodar is now the center of state government. While Bombay and Delhi were stimulating and necessary parts of my journey northward, Jammu was the destination. And despite the flood of refugees and soldiers, it was a very pleasant and comfortable city. The pace was relaxed, the architecture charming, and the spring weather refreshing. There were no beggars and little filth. After the teeming masses of Bombay and Delhi, the rotten stink of the former .and the fierce dusty heat of the latter, Jammu seemed a completely different world. The people and their city are clean, noble, dignified and handsome.

Before doing research in the traditional manner, I visited the two temples associated with Ranbir Singh to familiarize myself with his legacy. The Ranbireshwar Temple overlooks the city, and in the evenings it becomes a community center of sorts. I sat in the courtyard of the temple, under a tree which sheltered a lingam in a small enclosure. A statue of Ranbir Singh stands on a tall pedestal in the center of the courtyard. People regularly performed puja to the statue, the tree, or the lingam, by draping flowers, ringing bells, and bowing. The temple, lingam and virtually everything in the temple complex are painted in a flesh tone. Inside the temple is another huge lingam. Just outside the entrance is a portrait of Ranbir, to which people also make obeisance. As I sat under the tree, a family of six happened by and sat on the other side. Their friendly children chased one another around the tree using me as a sort of station in the game. With families and children everywhere, phallic symbols in profusion, and all painted in flesh tones, my thoughts turned to the myth of the Masters. According to Blavatsky, Morya and Koot Hoomi were virgin ascetics. In one Mahatma letter, M. called himself a poor Tibetan fakir.” But the real Ranbir had five wives and many children, and was completely enmeshed in the world of physical reality, despite his undeniable spiritual qualities. The Raghunath temple complex is one of the largest in North India, but is relatively new, dating from the nineteenth century. Ranbir’s shrine is the largest of the seven domed temples along the front tier. Flesh colored bases are topped with gray stone domes, all decorated with golden spires. Behind the front tier, which lies along the main bazaar, there is a large enclosed courtyard behind which is a huge older temple complex containing idols in great profusion. I made the rounds of the various gods, worshipped Ganesh with the aid of a friendly priest, then returned to the front and Ranbir’s temple, the tallest of all. The reverence with which visitors entered his shrine revealed that he is still seen as the father of his people. It was a surprise to find the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara across the bazaar from the Raghunath complex. It appeared to date from Ranbir’s reign, and its prime location suggests that it was built with his approval and support.

Jammu’s most important research attraction was the State Archives Repository, located in the palace complex where Olcott and Damodar were welcomed by the MaharaJa. Although relatively few of the archival materials were in English, there was an English index to Ranbir’s Persian correspondence.  There I found a number of entries which expanded my understanding of the mysterious Theosophical Masters. Ranbir Singh’s interest in comparative religion is suggested by the presence of a “description of the adventures of the Naqashbands of Bukhara,” combined with notes on the route between Peshawar and Bukhara. Not long after this, there appears an entry for the diary of Shah Mohammed “regarding his tour through Balakh, Bukhara, Kabul and Kohkand with a description of political influence of Russia in Kohkand and Bukhara in the S. year 1922 [1865 A.D.J.] The next year there were two diaries submitted. Mohammad Khan Bukhari and Malik Mohammad Kishtawari reported on a “Journey into Russian Turkestan with a description of· the Russian administration in the districts.” Mehta Sher Singh described a tour undertaken at the command of Ranbir Singh “describing the trade etc. in Russian Asia, Kabul, Peshawar and Yarkand.” In the same year, Ranbir received a note “on the military strength of Kabul under the late Dost Mohammed Khan (Amir of Kabul) and Amir Sher Ali Khan.”

My main obJective in searching through the State Archives was to find correspondence with the T.S. Founders, and in this regard the Journey to Jammu was a complete failure. The references to Kabul and the expanding Russian empire, however, led to another, equally satisfying proof of one of my hypotheses about the Masters. It was initially confusing in that the date given, 1293 A.H., corresponds to 1915 A.D. and is thus obviously wrong. After long perplexity, I concluded that it is a transposition of S. 1923, which equals 1866-67. The entry reads “Letter, dated Ludhiana the 29th of ZilhaJ 1293 A.H. from ShuJa-u-Mult, ex King of Kabul and Princ·e Jalal-ud-Din regarding their interview with His Highness MaharaJa Ranbir Singh Jang Bahadur.”(38)  “Prince Jalal-ud-Din” is none other than Jamal d-Din “al-Afghani,” and Shuja-u-Mult a title for the Amir -Muhammed Azim Khan, with whom he was exiled from Kabul.  Placed in context of their pro-Russian policies and Ranbir’s strong interest in Russian support, this would appear to be the “smoking gun” proving Jamal ad-Din’s relationship with the Maharaja. While the details of their later involvements with Mme. Blavatsky or the Russian government remain occult, this entry alone made my journey to Jammu worthwhile, despite all the anxiety of travel in the region.  The date for Jamal ad-Din’s flight from Kabul is given as 1868 in other sources, so some confusion remains. But the identity of the “Prince” and ex-King is quite clear, and the context of pro-Russian policies is equally apparent. The later association of Afghani and Ranbir remains, however, a mystery.

Other fragments of proof of a network linking the men identified herein as the Mahatmas were also found in the same index. In 1870, Ranbir Singh received an acknowledgment of two donations, of Rs. 50,000 and 30,000, “as financial aid to the [Punjab] University and for translation of Oriental works respectively.” This refers to the same institution and the same special interest as those of Bhai Gurmukh Singh, F.T.S. and leading disciple of Thakar Singh Sandhanwalia. Although the Singh Sabha involvement in the Oriental College of the Punjab University came a few years later, it is almost inescapable that this was the context in which Ranbir Singh/Mahatma Morya became acquainted with Thakar Singh/Mahatma Koot Hoomi and the Singh Sabha, the “Lodge” of the latter.

A surprising Mahatmic connection appears in the Maharaja’s purchase of real estate in Varanasi from “Sardar Dayal Singh, Rais Amritsar.” The briefly mentioned possibility (Book III, chapter 2) that Dayal Singh Majithia was among the Theosophical Mahatmas became much more significant in light of evidence unearthed a few days later at Adyar. The last item of interest for Theosophical history is the program, in English, of the ceremonies at the Durbar in Lahore held November 15, 1880. The T.S. Founders were present at this ceremony, and in Adyar I later discovered Mme. Blavatsky’s revealing account of the experience.

The day of my trip to the State Archives was the most moving of the entire trip, due in part to the setting.  Jammu is a city of winding lanes climbing steep hills, and the Archives Repository is at the top of one of the steepest. With only a vague set of directions, I wandered uphill, not sure that I’d ever find the Palace complex which remains the center of government. Then, as I rounded a corner, the gateway to the Palace came into view, and I knew immediately that this was the place I was looking for. It appeared exactly as I had envisioned i,t while reading Olcott’s account of his visit in 1883. On the way I had visited the Sri Ranbir Singh Public Library, which was alas devoid of useful material. Descending back to the center city, I was shaken from my historical euphoria by a startling confrontation. Seeing many people milling about the courtyard of the Ranbireshwar Temple, I decided to take a photograph, and walked over to the fence to do so. Pointing the camera so as to include the people in the foreground, I was  immediately challenged by an extremely irate young man who told me in an agitated voice that photography was forbidden there. Having seen Indians taking pictures the day before, I knew this was untrue, but wasn’t prepared to argue with him. So I told him that I hadn’t taken the picture, and proceeded down the hill toward my hotel. Before I had gotten very far, I was surrounded by two dozen outraged young Hindus, demanding to know who I was and what I was doing there. Unsatisfied with my reply, they insisted on seeing my passport, and seemed to become more threatening as I showed reluctance to hand it over. Feeling that I had little choice, I complied, which produced an immediate about-face, apologies, and an invitation to sit and talk. The man who had initially accosted me acted as spokesman for the group, and explained that they were holding a meeting of the Kashmir Hindu Students Union in front of the temple. This was a group of young Hindu refugees driven from their homes by Muslim separatist violence and threats. For over an hour, I talked with them, first in the shadow of Ranbir Singh’s statue and later with a smaller group in a teahouse. They urged that I include their story in my book, and I agreed.