By Iqbal Ahmed, Januray 22, 2017
R.C.Kak as a politician and administrator may be controversial but as an archaeologist and historian his contributions are extraordinary. According to late Moti lal Saqui, "As an archaeologist, historian and scholar Kak was one among us, it was his expertise that he re-constructed the story of past, brought the turn of archaeological remains and came across such hidden truths to which our historians had no access".
Born in 1893 in a pandit family at Srinagar, Kak received his basic education in a local school and then in a college. His first appointment as librarian in S.P.College provided him an access to the treasure of books housed there.
He had deep interest in research and Sanskrit learning. By that time Kashmir darbar had established its research and archaeology department. The programme of preserving ancient sites and ruins had been taken in hand and a museum was setup in Srinagar.
A few European archaeologists and research scholars who had come to the valley during the middle of 19th century had initiated a systematic survey and study of ancient ruins and coins. Cunnighan, Cowie, Major Hardy, Garrick, Buhlor, Stein, Nicholls Percey Brown, Rodgers and others made extensive surveys and explorations. Some excavations had been undertaken notably at Awantipora, Ushkura and Martand by D.R.Shani. The archaeological researches and excavations took a new turn when Sir John Masshall took over as the head of Archaeological Survey of India. He promoted scientific methods in excavations. During the period the state of Jammu and Kashmir had no archaeologist of its own. It had to depend on borrowed experts. R.C.Kak desired to undergo for archaeology training which was full filled by the darbar. Fortunately, Kak had a chance to learn archaeological sciences under the guidance of Sir John Marshall (Master of Indian Archaeology). From 1914 to 1919 A D Kak had enough time to benefit from the expertise of his master. When he was back, he had become a brilliant archaeologist. It is said that the master of Indian archaeology was so much impressed by his pupil that he offered him a responsible post in his department but Kak was not allowed by the then Maharaja. So when he was back he assumed the charge of first superintendent of state archaeology and research department. From 1919 to 1929 he served the department in various capacities. During his 10 year long tenure, he did such works in Kashmir archaeology that the period is still remembered as the glorious period of Kashmir in the archaeological research and publications. He studied the antiquities, ruins, coins and sites throughout the length and breadth of the state. He forwarded his researches and observations in a number of papers and authored several books on the subject.
To further quench his thirst he visited Bhimber, Bahsoli, Ramnagar, Rajouri, Poonch and even to Marev Warwan valley. After completion of his field surveys he forwarded observations and conclusions in three books, Antiquities of Bhimber and Rajouri, Antiquities of Basohli and Ramnagar and Antiquities of Marev Warwan. what he had learned through his master he introduced the same in his research too. He adopted scientific methods of excavations and experimented it in his remarkable discovery of Harwan ruins. These excavations were taken up here in 1925.
Kak, properly studied the exhumed materials of the exposed layers and modern day scholars are surprised by its proper record. At the spot, he brought to light the first kind of terra-cotta culture of 3rd and 4th centuries foundation of old temples, courtyard of terra-cotta tiles bearing figures with representation of central Asian features and dress were un earthed. Kak attributed the site to Bhuddists and did not rule out the presence of non-bhuddist imprints its later phases. His date, identifications, observations and decamping of the motifs stamped on the tiles and on the exhumed coins are unchallenged. Another pioneering work on Kak’s credit stands his two famous books, one The Ancient Monuments of Kashmir and the other A Handbook of SPS Museum-Srinagar. These are perhaps the only books available on the subjects so far as one deals with Kashmir monuments, archaeology, architecture and the museum collections. Ancient Monuments of Kashmir was published in 1933. The brief historical outline of Kashmir and architectural styles followed in India and Muslim shines have been so properly dealt with that 77 years passed there is no work to replace it. Similarly, Kak’s guide book of SPS Museum was the only publication of the museum till I wrote on the museum collections.
Kak, besides being an archaeologist of repute served at various keys positions in Maharaja’s darbar. In 1937 he was elevated to the post of chief secretary. In 1941 he was made minister of military affairs and finally sworn in as the first Kashmiri prime minister in Maharaja’s government. All his periods are full of controversies but what Kak is known today isn’t because of his political affiliations but his expertise in archaeology and research.