Remembering Acharya Shiv Prasad Dabral

Late Shri Shiv Prasad Dabral
Late Shri Shiv Prasad Dabral

As one advances in age and possibly in experience the number of persons for whom respect remains tends to reduce rather sharply. However, the respect that endures over the years somehow tends to compensate for all such small losses. For many in Uttarakhand one such person, for whom this time-conquering respect has only magnified itself over the years, is Acharya Shiv Prasad Dabral “Charan”.

Some 150 odd people assembled in the Conference Hall of Naini Tal Club on 23rd December 2012 in a belated Centenary celebration as this savant was born on 13th November 1912, a century ago. The celebration was held under the aegis of PAHAR, and unregistered collective of like-minded people, the catalyst being Professor Shekhar Pathak. The best part of the day was spent in listening to about a dozen academics of this State, each sharing his own experience as to why his own appreciation of the Acharya had increased over time. Mind you each speaker, a celebrated academic in his own right, shared how deep and comprehensive has been the grasp of Dr Shiv Prasad Dabral of the discipline, ranging from poetry to historiography related to Uttarakhand. This writer, having known this great son of the soil since early 1970s, presided over this unique get-together-the Chief Guest being, Sri Govind Singh Kunjwal, Speaker, Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly.

Shiv Prasad Dabral ( 13 Nov 1913-24 Nov 1999 )

Born on 13 November 1912 to Bhanumati and Krishna Datt in village Gahli, in Garhwal district, he graduated from Meerut College in 1935, married Bisheshwari in 1935, sought admission to Bareilly College but had to return home due to indifferent health. Joined  Sanatan Dharm Sabha at Lahore in 1938 he was appointed Principal in 1940 in Taranand Degree College at Baijnath in Kangra. In 1948 he was became the Principal of DAV College, Dogadda and worked there till his retirement in 1972. Details of his life and experiences have been shared by as many as four writers, namely Dr Yashodhar Mathpal, the celebrated rock-art connoisseur based at Bhim Tal, Prof Shekhar Pathak hilself, Dr Prayag Joshi, a celebrated historian and writer, and one of the several disciples of Dr Dabral, Dr D.N. Bhatkoti. These four brief write-ups constitute a booklet entitled “Shatabdi Smaran”, released by PAHAR on this occasion. These provide brief glimpses of a dedicated life of a savant who dedicated his more than half century of active life and hard earned but meagre earnings to a common cause  –  building a solid foundation of historical writings gleaned from a bewildering range of offices, archives, personal collections and through field-work !

Literary and Historical Legacy

Among the known and published works of Dr Dabral, which stretch over a period of 40 long years, the following deserve special mention :

History of Uttarakhand in 25  Volumes                                                                   ( 1965 – 1998 )

His Thesis, in three books, ( i ) Uttarakhand Upatyaka,( ii ) Uttarakhand Ke

Bhotantik and ( iii )  Uttarakhand Ke Pashucharak                                 ( 1963, 1964 and 1964 )

Durlabha Kavya Mala ( Rare Poems )

Molaram Granthavali, Ved Vyas, Molaram :AAsshak Upasak              ( 1977, 1992 and 1992 )

Kamini Rai and Charan : Veer Vandana

Durlabh Natak ( Rare Dramas in Garhwali )

Bhawani Datt Thapliyal – Baba KI Kapalkriya, Kalijugyanand Ki Pathshala ( all 4 in 1993 ), Fondarji Ki Kachadi ( 1993 ), Prahlad Natak ( 1993 )

Durlabha Kavya ( Rare Poem in Garhwali )

Tara Datt Gairola ( 1992 ), Baldev Prasad Deen ( 2 in 1993 ), Shiv Narain Singh Bisht ( 1993 ), Bhola Datt Devrani ( 2 in1993 ), Sadanand Jakhmola ( 1992 ), Sridhar Jamloki ( 3 in 1993 ), Dharmanand Jamloki ( 1993 ), Bhad-varta ( 1993 ), Bhawani Datt Dhasmana/Brahmanand Thapliyal ( Dhol sagar Sangrah ), Tota Ram Gairola and Satyasaran Raturi ( 1993 ).

Sharing Insights : The Scholar and his Works

The day-long celebration sans a brief ceremonial remembrance of the Acharya was exclusively dedicated to brief critical summaries provided by each domain-expert on various disciplines to which Dr Shiv Prasad extended his scholarly attention. It needed no less than a a dozen subject domain experts to briefly introduce to the audience the personal addition made by this great scholar. In the following narrative a resume of what was shared on this day is being attempted.

History & Geography

Prayag Joshi mentioned that the extant histories mostly mentions contributions made by prominent personalities of the day, the rulers and the administrators, but what the folk-singers and poets inform about the common people hardly finds a place, in most of the histories. In his Garh Raj-vansh Ka  Itihas ( 1823 ) Dr Dabral departs from this common practice and liberally provides a picture of the day to day life of the common man. His works are replete with the descriptions of the day to day life and one gets a fair picture of the times he is writing about. Raghubeer Chand, expanded and threw light on the geographical descriptions of Garhwal as was provided first time by Dr Dabral. For the phenomenon of transhumance, so peculiar to the region, he has used the term Ghosh-yatra. African Masai tribes, Kazhaks, the Kirghezes have a life style which is quite similar and it is entirely to the credit of Dr Dabral that he provides minutest details of the Gaddis, the Ranku-bulls, and various kinds of the graziers as they are found in the high Himalayan meadows. The common terms for addressing close family relations and their animal stock, like “baba” for father as well as a bullock, “buin” for mother and “badu” for sheep, showed intimate connectedness with family and avocation. Various terms used for the graziers of the Doodhatoli-range, also described their economic status – “kharak” for a solitary grazier, “gharwari”, being one with the family, while “phatphata” would be used for a poor one. That there existed as many as three transhumance , one each during summers, winters and the rainy-season, was also brought to light by Dr Dabral. Graziers also were divided into various categories, for example, there were those who were primarily agriculturists but wh also kept milch-cattle, and then there were those who were essentially herders but also did a bit of agriculture. Such fine distinctions in hill-people and their sources of livelihood, are the hall mark of Dr Dabral’s writings. These show how deeply he had studies the lives of common people, living in the three zones of the mountains, the Mal, Himal and the Bhot. Prof Chand rated the geography, as narrated by Dr Dabral, as the best geographical distinction made of the Uttarakhand Himalayas, and he advocated that it is this geography that should be included in our text-books rather than what comes down to us as the “standard” geography.  


Dr B.D.S. Negi pointed out that the excavations of Malari ( Niti valley of Garhwal ) remains are easily the best finds of Dr Dabral, when as a part of his doctoral thesis he made excursions into the Niti valley, and dug out the remains of the ancient –ma there. He did not remain satisfied just by discovering them but ensured that these got analyzed scientifically by the nearest regional office of the archaeological directorate. Even though Dr Dabral’s field surveys have been the earliest in modern times, the same kind of scientific temper and perseverance has not been in evidence till now. This also exemplified how seriously Dr Dabral took to his work, going deep into the entrails of any discipline that he fancied. His doctoral thesis were later published as three independent books, each standing out as a land mark, continuing to this day as a standard text on the theme i.e. transhumance, tribal communities of our borderlands and the graziers of our high-Himalayan meadow. Besides the Malari remains, he left behind more than 100 records, an impressive list of resource materials, hand-sketches and stampages of coins. Dr Negi marvelled at the quality of hand-sketches left behind by him and the decision to go for coin-stampages, over other oprions, as time has proved that he was far ahead of his contemporary researches in hitting upon the most precise methodology and option! Considering that it is only now in 2009 that the UGC has now brought out Regulations to ensure that the qualitative aspects of research methodologies are employed by Research Scholars, it is a testimony of this amazing scholar, that he could have applied himself so methodically, as he actually did !

Garhwal and Himachali  Kingdoms  History

Atul Saklani contrasted the histories of the Gorkha empire vis a vis those of the neighbouring Raja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Kingdom and how the Himachali Kingdoms proved non-viable to the advancing East India Company. Even though by 1928 Hari Krishna Raturi’s history of the Tehri State had appeared it was Shiv Prasad Dabral’s volume 6 of his Uttarakhand Series which could be truly said as the first standard history of the Garhwal State. Not only it covered the entire period i.e. 1815 -1949 but it was the first based on sources and it treated the evolution of the Praja Mandal, Indian National Congress version in Native States, which demanded civic rights after the Haripur Session of the INC ( 1938). This also includes the martyrdom of Sri Dev Suman.  Extensive use of Mola Ram’s Garh Raj Vansh, his treatment how court procedures were being changed after the neighbouring British rule, Prem Singh Mian’s Guldast-Tawarish-i-Garhwal and strong influence of neighbouring Himachali nobles as well as various “dhandaks” ( protests, not revolution ) makes it, according to Prof Saklani, the first ever complete history of Tehri Garhwal Raj.

Ajai Rawat, credited with the authorship of having written the first most comprehensive history of the evolution of the Parmar dynasty,  commencing with Ajay and Kanakpal line of descent, drew attention towards the “sainya-parmpara” of the tradition of joining armed forces. Quoting the Pandukeshwar inscriptions, he pointed out, that the credit to draw attention towards this great tradition also goes to Dr Dabral, when he distinguished and explained terms like Maha-samant, Sena-nayak, Garh-pati, Kot-pal, Ashva-pati, as they existed in the army, explained in Garh Raj-vansh. He also dwelt on historic episodes like Karnavati, Naktani Rani, Nazawat Khan, Prithvipati Shah, Dara Shikoh-Aurangzeb, Bavani ( 1852 Samvat, Scarcity ) and the tradition like the honouring the dead soldiers in French Legionnaries, here as “Mrit-Raut”. According to him not only mentioning the “sainya-parampara” he was arguably the first environmental historian, as he graphically described the recurring great food scarcities that hit Garhwal, from time to time.

Poet, Publisher, Collector of Rare Works and Educationist

Besides  history, geography, archaeology  Dr Dabral’s contributions in the field of creating writing, especially poetry was touched upon by Mathura Datt Mathpal, as an enlightened educationist by his disciple D.N. Bhatkoti, while his initiation into totally new areas of research like history from “place-names” by Tara Chand Tripathi. An interesting narrative was compiled by Sunil Saxena, who closely examined the various prefaces which Dr Dabral wrote on his various publications, including how he dedicated each of them with a great sense of sentimental dedication. He also compared how creating writing also became a diversion from pain engendered by the sudden death of his first son for Dr Dabral, just as Badri Datt Pande found solace in writing Kumaon Ka Itihas, when he received the news of death by drowning at Prayag of his son and suicide by his daughter in Bombay, when the latter received news of the tragic death of her brother. Mathura Datt divided his literary contributions into as many as 7 broad categories, namely ( i ) Drama, ( ii )Poetry, ( iii ) Commentary, ( iv ) Patriotic Writings ( Garh Desh Se Prem ), ( v ) Translations, ( vi ) “Bharon” ( Suraj Nag, Garh Sumbhal ) and the celebrated ( vii ) “Dhol-Sagar”.  

Rewards  &  Decorations

As is quite usual on such occasions recommendations started pouring  in, almost from every quarter and nearly by every expert who dwelt on one aspect of his contribution or the other, and one also wondered as to how indifferent this great son of the soil remained unattached to reward and decoration seeking. While these days it has become a full time occupation for most of us to seek an appropriate award, if not a posting to a lucrative job, and reach out to the media and press to high-light the great public service one is supposedly rendering, here was a savant who contributed so much and sought almost nothing in return, from any one. 

This writer, concluding the proceedings of the day by citing a similar instance from the history of Uttar Pradesh, the parent state of Uttarakhand. I pointed out that when James Thomason, the celebrated Lt Governor of the North Western Provinces ( 1842-52 ), after whom the Roorkee Engineering College is named and who is known to have encouraged and introduced the vernacular education, besides pushing development in several fields, was about to be promoted as Governor of Madras, it was discovered that he had remained totally un-decorated, without a Knighthood or some appropriate awards and recognition. Thomason died on way to Madras, before he could take over. To this the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie, is said to have remarked : “ Thomason does not need such ephemeral decorations, or monuments in his memory, as he has done his duty well. Each of the vernacular tehsili School that he has helped establish, the great Canals that he has built, the blessings of the lakhs of farmers who will benefit from his deeds, are monuments enough who will perpetuate his abiding contributions to public service.” 

Truly, quite like James Thomason, Shiv Prasad Dabral’s memory is being perpetuated through the references that occur in hundreds of PhDs, articles and write-ups, and further researches that are taking his initiatives in adding to knowledge forward. The kind of fond and respectful remembrance that was organised on this occasion are far more enduring, far more valuable, than that usually gets accorded to the Bharat Ratnas, Padm Vibhshanas and so on. However, what is far more important is to take his life-time works, his History of Uttarakhand, and his sense of research and quest for learning to our new and current generations. How all this can be done through our Universities and academic institutions is certainly a moot point that deserves to be taken forward. We all salute this savant, path-finder and scholar par excellence for his outstanding contributions on the centenary of his birth.  

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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