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Footprints of Sir John Marshall in Kashmir

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Source: Website of National Portrait Gallery UK

By Bhushan Parimoo —

It sounds ironic that the 8th British Viceroy of India, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1899-1905) was hated as well as loved by the Indians; hated for partitioning Bengal but loved for saving the monument heritage of India. It was Curzon who infused fresh blood into the decaying Archaeological Survey of India by putting the affairs of the Survey under the charge of an archaeological genius named John Marshall in 1902 who since then as all know served as the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India for the next twenty-six years until 1928 when he retired from that position. 

Born in 1876 in Chester, UK, John Marshall was appointed as the Director General of the ASI on February 22, 1902. Initially the appointment was only for five years. But, such was Marshall as an archaeologist on the Indian soil that the British Government recognized his genius in just a matter of one year when his tenure of the office of Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India was extended until the age of retirement. Marshall, on superannuation, relinquished his post as DG of the ASI on September 6 ,1928 but to utilize his extraordinary capabilities as an archaeologist was appointed on the same day as Officer on Special Duty, a post he held till 1934. He retired from this post and left the ASI for good on December 31, 1934.


During his long term with the Archaeological Survey of India, Marshall credited himself with the discoveries at Sanchi, Harappa and Mohenjedaro besides excavating ancient sites at Taxila, Mandu, Delhi, Agra and Multan. 

Although Marshall, generally speaking, is not acknowledged for any major archaeological work in Kashmir. However, some fresh research done by well-known Kashmiri scholar S.N.Pandita do inform us how Marshall actually salvaged the monumental heritage of Kashmir. It was on Marshall’s initiative that his assistant Jean Philippe Vogel, the only Dutch ever to serve the ASI during the tenure as the Surveyor, Northern Circle that included Punjab, Blauchistan and Kashmir visited Kashmir in 1904 and surveyed all the monument ruins in the valley.

Vogel submitted a detailed report of his work to Raja Amar Singh and also to the Survey hoping that ASI would take the lead in protecting the monument heritage of Kashmir. For some strange reasons, it did not materialize as was envisaged by Marshall and Vogel and instead the Kashmir Darbar headed by Maharaja Pratap Singh decided to set up its own Department of Archaeology, Archives and Research which was formally founded in 1911 under the charge of J.C.Chatterji. 

Following this move, Vogels jurisdiction on Kashmir monuments ceased but the state Archaeological Department continued to seek expert assistance of the ASI in protecting and preserving its   monument heritage.

However, notwithstanding this situation, Marshall himself decided to  visit Kashmir in 1907 to survey the some important ruins of old temples like Martand, Awantipura, Pandrethan and Bhuniyar etc. During his first visit to Kashmir in 1907, Marshall was also accompanied by Duke of Spelleto in his exploratory tour. According to S.N.Pandita, Vogel too was supposed to have joined Marshall in this tour to Kashmir, but having suffered illness due to a severe attack of malaria, he could not. So strong was the bout of illness that Vogel lay sick for next four months   from April to July that required hospitalization in Lucknow.

All through when Vogel suffered from the liver disorder he was nursed by Delphine Murphy a private nurse who later also attended on him at Simla to recuperate. It may not been out of place to mention that Vogel during his archaeological engagements in Kashmir remained in constant communication with his friend, Nityanand Shastri the well-known Kashmiri Sanskrit scholar of Kashmir. It is also less known that Vogel’s archaeological report on Kashmir monuments initiated by Marshall actually laid the foundation of creating museums in India.

It was yet again on Marshall’s expressed initiative that archaeological sites of Avantipura and Martand in Kashmit   were also explored by Daya Ram Sahni in 1913. But the keen scientific zest such work initiated, actually drew the attention of the world to Kashmir’s great monument heritage. 

Although, the ASI during Marshall’s tenure as the Director General failed to exercise any direct control on the monuments of Kashmir, yet they, beside the scenic beauty, infused so much interest in Marshall that he visited Kashmir repeatedly for nearly a decade between 1910 and1920.

In fact Marshall built his own bungalow at Gulmarg in 1910. The grand building was named ‘Tinkothi’ and served as the Family Hut of the Marshalls during their stay in Kashmir whenever they visited thete during the summers. On these trips Marshall was accompanied by his wife Florence and their only daughter Margaret.

“The family, sometimes accompanied by other friends and relatives also made holiday trips to Pahalgam. During such trips, John Marshall would never miss fishing in the mountain streamlet Liddar meandering down the rocky bed in Pahalgam. However, whenever they halted in Srinagar, the Marshall family occupied a special houseboat on the waters of the famous Dal Lake”, says Pandita.

John Marshall lived a ripe age of 82 years before he died at his home in Guildford, Surrey in UK on August 17, 1958. However, this great archaeologist will ever remain entrenched in the memory of Kashmiris for raising their awareness about their monument heritage and for investing his complete interest in their study and early preservation by deputing such gems of his Survey like Philippe Vogel and Daya Ram Sahni to excavate the ancient sites of Martand and Avantipura.

It, therefore, may not be wrong to state what Marshal did for the Indian archaeology, he also did the same for Kashmir archaeology, though indirectly, by sending Vogel and Sahni to lay the foundation of archaeological work in Kashmir. In that sense, it is but befitting to state that Curzon gifted Marshall to India in rescuing its past heritage, and in turn Marshall gifted Vogel and Sahni to Kashmir for the same noble enterprise.  

(The writer is a Jammu-based Columnist and Environmental Activist)