Mola Ram : The Historian

It is now very rare these days that one comes across some new and substantive addition to our existing knowledge of modern history of Garhwal, or say Uttarakahnd. Release of a book entitled Chitrakar Kavi Mola Ram ( Painter Poet Mola Ram ) by Barrister Mukandi Lal at Samar Niwas, Chandralok Colony  on the 15th December 2012 was one such occasion. Present on this historic occasion were Maharaja Tehri Manujayendra Shah, Nrip Singh Napalchayal, the CIC, Charuchandra Chandola, Lildhar Jugudi, Anil Raturi, Yogember Barthwal, I.D. Juyal and many other lovers and connoisseurs of Garhwali art and culture.

Barrister Mukandi Lal

The book released on this occasion is in fact a compilation of 43 articles written by celebrated Barrister Mukundi Lal, the multi-faceted so-of-the-soil, over a period of 30 long years. Anand Krishna, the eminent art critic shares in his introduction to this volume the extent to which Barrister Mukandi Lal went to highlight Mola Ram’s artistic contribution to the world of painting. Failing in his efforts to snatch some time of the world renowned art critic, W.G. Archer, while the latter visited Varanasi, Mukandi Lal waited at 4 am in the cold winters at the Lanka crossing, to join him in his onward car journey to Mughalsarai railway junction, where the former was scheduled to catch a train. This incident explains the pains taken by Mukundi Lal to highlight a local genius, painter Mola Ram. As is well known it was due to his painstaking efforts that the Garhwal School of Painting received world recognition, as distinct from Guler or Kangra School of painting. Paintings of Mola constitute the fulcrum around which Garhwal School of painting revolves.

Barrister Mukundi Lal, born in 1885, received his education in Allahabad, Calcutta and Christ Church College of Oxford. An eminent legal luminary after successfully practicing in Allahabad High Court for some 20 years he went on to become Chief Justice of Tehri Garhwal State.  An MLC representing Garhwal ( 1923-30 ) he also joined the Up Vidhan Sabha from 1962 to 67. His first article on Mola Ram, Mola Ram Garhwali Chitrakala, appeared in 1921 in an English quarterly Roopam, published from Calcutta. His efforts to establish Mola Ram as a painter, stretch from contributing write-ups and essays in Modern Review ( 1909 ), Rooplekha ( 1930 ), Vishal Bharat ( 1930 ) and established magazines like Saraswati, Madhuri, Hindustani and Aaj Kal etc. It was in fact the series of his articles which appeared in Rooplekha on Mola Ram which was later published in a book form, as Garhwal Paintings, by the Publications Division of Government of India ( 1969 ). Barrister Mukundi Lal breathed his last on 10 January,1982 in Military Hospital, Bareilly.

Lesser known has been yet another series of articles, as Chitrakar Kavi Moka Ram ki Chitrakala aur Kavita, penned by Barrister Lal between October 1932 to September 1936, in a Hindi journal Hindustani Patrika, published from Prayag. This series stretched into 43 articles covering the royal dynasty of Garhwal and its topical history. It is this precious collection of articles which has now been published in a book form, very ably and painstakingly edited by Dr. Devendra Kumar Singh. Editor Dr Devendra Kumar Singh who has rendered a yeoman service to Hindi literature for many years now has provided a very crisp yet well researched critique of the literary and artistic contributions of Mola Ram ( 1743 – 1833 AD ), as well indefatigable efforts of Barrister Mukandi Lal to highlight the contributions of the former.

Mola Ram

In so far as the assessment of paintings of Mola Ram is concerned, it has been covered under Pahari ( Garhwali ) School of Painting by C.D. Guleri, Cat. Thomas Hardwicke ( 1797 ), G. Forser ( 1798 ), A.K. Kumarswami ( 1916 ), J.C. French ( 1921 ). O.C. Ganguli ( 1950 ). W.C. Archer ( 1952 ). N. C. Mehta and Prof Rai Anand etc. It was the doyen of Uttarakhand history, Dr Shiv Prasad Dabral, who published Mol Ram’s magnum opus, Garh Rajvansh ( 1977 ) and  Ganika Natak or Garhgita by Dr Ajai Rawat ( 1975 ) and Dr Vinaya Dabral on Mola Ram, as a poet and Philosopher. Mola Ram, born in Srinagar ( Garhwal) in 1743 inherited his love and craft of painting in heritance. Among his ancestors Hira, son of Hardas initiated the tradition of painting in the family and in due course Mola Ram became the most celebrated painter amongst his contemporaries. Mola Ram’s family members and prominent disciples continued his great tradition and were instrumental in establishing a distinct School of painting, today known as the Garhwal School of Painting. Besides his paintings Mola Ram, according to Barrister Mukundi Lal, contributed some 36 manuscripts, of which as many as 5 were part of Barrister’s personal collection ( Manmath Lahari, Manmath Sagar, Nirwan Tarangini, Manmath Ramayana and Manmath Yog ). Dr Shiv Prasad Dabral, who has compiled the most comprehensive history of Uttarakhand in more than a dozen volumes, mentions Garhrajya Vansh Kavya, Mangatram-Molaram Samvad, Sudarshan Darshan, Diwan-e-Mola Ram, Aashak Upasak, Niti Manjari, Maniram Molaram Samvad, Shringar Manjari, Wakar Ali Prasang etc. Dr Devendra Singh draws our timely attention towards the apathetic attention paid to their safety and upkeep. According to him when he met Dr Dwarika Prasad Tomar, one of the descendants of Mola Ram, he had occasion to see Mola Ram Granthawali, Chaturmas Shringar Varnan, Uttarakhand Teerth Mahatmaya, Samudrik Bhasha Gyan, Barahmasi Varnan, Manmath Panth, Manmath Panth Nirman, Manmath Sagar, Gyanmrit Kavya, Ishwar Mahima Geetavali and few others written during the last days of Mola Ram. The first and last few pages, it is indeed surprising to learn, of each of these manuscripts were found missing. Dr Dwarika Tomar informs that a few scholar took away some of these manuscripts but have not returned them since.

His studio ( Chitrashala ) is known to have been visited by Raja Jaikrit Shah ( 1780-85 ) and Hastidal Thapa, a General of the Gorkha army ( 1803 ) and Maniram Bairagi ( 1818 ).  Hastidal Thapa, according to Mola Ram himself, had come to visit him because he had heard his fame in Kirti Kantipur, Kathmandu the ancient capital of Nepal. It has been suggested that many artists had converged on Srinagar, Garhwal and they found the patronage provided by the Tehri Kings very conducive for following their profession. Mola Ram’s own collection of painting consisted of many painters who were active during 1750 to 1833 AD ( Vachaspati Gairola ).

Painter versus Poet

Barrister Mukundi Lal did not consider Mola Ram as an accomplished poet but mainly as a painter. However, Mola Ram always preferred to be considered first as a poet rather than a painter. He always identified himself, in his works, as a poet ( Kavi ). It is only in his poetry accompanying his painting of Mastani Begum that he has called himself, a painter ( Chitrakar ). Most of Mola Ram’s poetic works are self-centered and usually  flows into three major themes, ( i ) explaining a painting, ( ii ) historical account of Garhwal Raj, and ( iii ) commentary on various aspects of Manmath sect ( Panth ).

Mola Ram and Gorkha Rule

Garharajya Vansh Kavya or the History of Garhwal Dynasty is arguably the most important contribution of Mola Ram. Upto the reign of Raja Praduman Shah, who died fighting the invading Gorkha army in January 1804 near Khudbuda, Mola Ram served him for 7 long years but later deserted the Raj and became a paid Darbari in the Court of Hastidal Chautaria, the  Garhwal Governor of the Nepal King. Kumaon had already fallen to the Gorkhas in 1792 and after the first invasion of Garhwal in 1971, the Gorkhas had voluntarily withdrawn, as their own country had been invaded by China. In 1803, Garhwal’s internal situation had become pathetic, ridden as it was with internecine in-fights between Praduman Shah and 15 years old Kunwar Sudarshan Shah, an empty treasury and capped by treacherous conduct of Ramapati and Dharanidhar, both sentenced to death later.

Mukundi Lal’s articles covering Gorkha invasions of 1791 and 1803 and later rule of the Gorkhas ( 1804 to 1815 ),  40 and 41 respectively, are obviously based on sources other than those of Mola Ram, as Mola Ram has kept his silence, being a Gorakha Darbar’s paid employee. Mola Ram has not attempted any assessment of the Gorkha rule as he himself acknowledges that he wrote “Garhwal Rajvansh” on specific request of the then Gorkha rulers of Garhwal, for their entertainment. Mukundi Lal rightly mentions that Mola Ram was not in a position where he could have provided a true account o his employers, which was for reason now well known was so cruel and usurious that it had become synonymous with mis-rule or “Gorkhyal” in vernacular. It is also true to say that had he attempted to do so we would not have benefitted from whatever Mola Ram was able to contribute on those historically important years. Not only Mola Ram has kept his pregnant silence on the 12 years of Gorkha rule in Garhwal his narrative also does not contain much on the last few years of these forgettable years. Just as Mola Ram had been co-opted into the Gorkha rule through award of jagirs and gifts in cash and kind the other luminaries of the former raj were also treated likewise.

By 1805 ,excepting few core districts of Avadh around Lucknow-Ayodhya, the East India Company had either annexed or conquered most of the districts falling east of the Yamuna and west of Benares Raj. Beyond Yamuna lay the Sikh Kingdom of Raja Ranjit Singh. Towards north it was a parallel expansion of the Gorkha Raj, consuming Kumaon in 1792 and now Garhwal Raj in 1803. Gaining confidence the Company officials explored the possibility of an opening to the Chinese markets, through the high Himalayan passes, as is evident from the Journal of Lord Moira, the Governor General who took over in 1811. By this time Raper and Lt Webb had undertaken a trip to explore the sources of the Ganges ( 1808 ), soon to be followed by a visit to Lake Mansarovar by William Moorcroft ( 1812 ). Captain Hearsey had accompanied Moorcroft to western Tibet. Mukundi Lal’s own account in article 41 mentions Hearsey’s visit to Ganga river tracts and upto Mana, but only through Nepal papers.  Had Mukundi Lal had access to the Asiatic Researches, where both these journeys have been reproduced in full, the little confusion that appears in his account related to Captain Hearseys’s arrest would not have occurred. Moorcroft’s account of Journey to Lake Mansarovar does mention indirect detention of Moorcroft and Captain Hearsey and mal-treatment of his party, and how they were escorted out via the Almora route. These early travels to the sources of Ganga and visit to Lake Mansarovar have undergone severe editing, as only those parts of these two journeys have been reproduced which were considered fit enough to be printed for public consumption. It is obvious that the edited out portions either provided strategic information for a future take-over or parts which were not considered adding to current knowledge. Moorcroft’s travel documents always proved a nigh-mare for the editors as he was known to be an indifferent and very careless documentationist ( refer editor;s comments on his account of Travel to Bukhara with Trebeck ).  

Mola Ram’s History : Action points for now

Mola Ram’s limited accounts of the Gorkha rule in Garhwal Raj ( 1803-1815 ), accounts of the later years leading to British take over have great historical value. Mukundi Lal’s detailed treatment of Mola Ram’s work, life and times is of no less historical importance. And, Dr Devendra Kumar Singh’s observations on various aspects of Mola Ram’s life, work and contributions also delineate various action points as well as themes for further researches into various aspects covering the period 1791 to 1833. Many of these were high-lighted by speakers who spoke at this function, and I summarise some of these, as follows :

  1. Mola Ram’s works deserve to be searched, manuscripts purchased by the State Archives’ Purchase Committee, preserved scientifically and printed for further research,
  2. Many manuscripts preserved by Dr Dwarika Prasad Tomar, a descendant of Mola Ram, have the first –few and end-pages missing; a search should be made to locate them or their copies, if ever made, as these would be crucial to locate their contexts and period and background of writing,
  3. Mukundi Lal’s conclusion that Mola Ram in all probability wrote on the neighbouring Kingdom of Raja Ranjit Singh ( see article 43 ) as well as Kashmir could lead to a discovery of an absolutely unused source of his reign, other than from British and other European writers, travellers,
  4. As Mola Ram died in 1833 ( at a ripe age of 90 years), and he was a prolific writer, his writing would possibly cover the first two decades of the East India Company rule in British Kumaon and indirect supervision of the Native Tehri Raj ( Kumaon Commissioner used to be the British Agent for Tehri Raj ),
  5. Any writing of Mola Ram for 1815-1833 period would become the only other work on early British rule in Kumaon-Garhwal, as there are only two accounts of this period by the second Commissioner of Kumaon, George William Traill ( 1815 – 1833 AD), excepting Bishop Heber’s account of 1823 AD,
  6. Mola Ram’s account of any thing that he writes about his patron’s is not a panygyric, say quite unlike the praises that Pandit Gumani Pant showered on Commissioner Lushington, when similarly treated through restoration of religious and personal grants, cancelled earlier by Commissioner Traill. He is certainly a most objective observer of events, and very precise. So while his language may not be as poetic as say a Gumani Pant he does not go over-board in praising individual benefactors. Perhaps his place as a truthful accounteur and a chronicler, if not a historian, is yet to be acknowledged, and
  7.  What was so meticulously and thoughtfully done  by the Purana Durbar Sangrahalaya and Manish Publications should really be in the domain of our Public Libraries & Research centres, our Universities and well-known publishers of Dehradun.       

Dr Devendra Kumar Singh deserves all praise for bringing out such valuable publications on the themes of Uttarakhand and one hope that our research scholars and educational institutions would take up similar initiatives and various institutions with the charter of preserving and publishing such historical works would reach out to scholars like Dr. Devendra Kumar Singh, even though he carries on such activities from out side the physical boundaries of this new state. 

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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