Aurel Stein was amongst the few European scholars who could read, write and speak in Kashmiri and Sanskrit. His interest in Sanskrit language and the folk lore of Kashmir directly arose from the labours which during the years 1888-1899 he devoted to the preparation of his critical edition of Kalhana’s chronicle of Kashmir-the Rajatarangini and its commentated translation. The elucidation of many antiquarian questions which such indulgence implied and which in many ways also constituted an attraction for him was possible only in close touch with Kashmiri Pandit scholars.
The first reflection of this appears in a letter dated August 14, 1892 that Stein wrote to his brother, Ernst, “I made a resolution to learn Kashmiri this year and enjoy the fact that I can use the little I have learned so far.” But there was other side to this desire. Seventeen years later writing In Memoriam: Govind Kaul, Stein again refers to the charm of his career as Sanskrit scholar. Oxford, September21, 1917. “I should probably have been able to make more systematic use of these opportunities had not convenience and conservative attachment to the classical medium of Kashmir scholarship made me prefer the use of Sanskrit conversation with my Pandit friends and assistance at Srinagar and wherever they share my tours and campings.”
Writing the last words of the translated edition of the Rajatarangini in 1900 Stein expressed gratitude for the opportunity the Sanskrit chronicle - Rajatarangini had offered him to study the old history of Kashmir.
Mohand Marg, May18, 1900. “From the high mountain plateau which my camp once more occupies, almost the whole of Kashmir lies before me, from the ice-capped peaks of the northern range to the long snowy line of the Pir-Pantsal-a little world of its own, enclosed by mighty mountain ramparts. Small indeed the country may seem by the side of the great plains that extend in the south and confined the history of which it was the scene. And yet, just as the natural attractions of the valley have won it fame far beyond the frontiers of India, thus too the interest attaching to its history far exceeds the narrow geographical limits. The favours with which Nature has so lavishly endowed “the land in the womb of Himalaya,” are not likely to fade or vanish. But those manifold remains of antiquity which the isolation of the country has preserved, and which help us to resuscitate the life and conditions of earlier times, are bound to disappear more and more with the rapid advances of Western influences.
“Great are the changes which the last few decennia have brought over Kashmir, greater, perhaps, than any which the country has experienced since the close of the Hindu period. It is easy to foresee that much of what is of value to the historical student will long before be destroyed or obliterated. It is time to collect it as carefully as possible the materials still left for the study of old Kashmir and its earliest records.
“I have spared no efforts to serve this end,and in the result of my labours, I hope, there will be found some return for the boons which I owe to Kashmir.”
In his extensive correspondence with Pandit Nityanand Shastri spreading over more than four decades, Stein wrote both in English and Sanskrit. However , in letters written by him in English, he was apologetic by expressing “excuse”and some times using the words “ please forgive” for not being able to write in Sanskrit. Writing in Sanskrit was joy for Aurel Stein and it bound him in friendship with Kashmiri scholars. Anything otherwise was much against his desire and wishes. Some letters written to Nityanand confirm that regret.
July 3, 1930. “Your letter of the 29 th June has duly reached me. Please excuse if in the midst of much urgent work I reply to it only by a few lines in English.”
August 9, 1931. “Please forgive if I thank you but briefly at this time in English for your kind letter. I am kept exceedingly busy with work of all sorts and can not find time to write as I should like.”