Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pundit Man Singh Rawat (Compasi)

Man Singh Rawat, commonly known as “Mani Compasi”, was one of the famous Pundit Brothers who played a significant role in the exploration of Central Asia during the ‘Great Game’ between the British and Russians in the second-half of the 19th century.

Man Singh was the eldest son of Deb Singh Rawat (Debu Buda), who was among the wealthiest and most influential traders of Johar region in Pithoragarh. During an expedition in Neeti valley of Garhwal Himalayas, Dr. William Moorcroft was helped and accompanied by Deb Singh Rawat in his journey to Mansarovar via Daba. Man Singh was the older cousin of Pundit Nain Singh Rawat, the famous explorer and cartographer who worked in the Great Trigonometrical Survey.

At an early age, Man Singh joined his father in the traditional trans-border trade between India and Tibet. He visited many places in the trade route of Tibet, and learnt the Tibetan language, and customs. Because of his good cognitive skills, he easily became familiar with the terrain and people of Tibet, which became an advantage in his future expeditions.


Career :

(A) Government Office - Patwari (1851)
Before joining the Schlagintweit Brother’ expedition, Man Singh Rawat served the ‘East India Company’ government as a “Patwari” (village accountant) of 67 villages in Kumaon region around 1851.

(B) Schlagintweit Brothers’ Expedition (1855-1857)
In 1853, Baron Alexander Von Humboldt (second discoverer of Cuba) convinced the King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm IV to send his protégées, the Schlagintweit Brothers to replace Lieutenant C. Elliot in the Magnetic Survey of India for the exploration of the Himalayas and the Kunlun mountains. Baron Humboldt sent these German scientists to the office of the Survey of India for assistance, which reluctantly allowed them to proceed for the survey. In December 1854, the Schlagintweit Brothers (Hermann, Adolph and Robert) reached India, and the explored the North-Western Provinces of India and the sources of the Indus river.

  • In 1855, during their expedition in the Himalayas, Adolf and Robert Schlagintweit met old Deb Singh Rawat in the Johar valley, who advised them to recruit three members of his family for their expedition - Man Singh Rawat (Mani Compasi), Dolpa Pangtey and Nain Singh Rawat. Thus, Man Singh’s first exploration journey was with these Germans from 1855 to 1857. They explored numerous mountain passes and glaciers of the Himalayas and reached Mansarovar and Rakastal lakes via Daba, and then travelled further to Gartok in the Western Tibet. This expedition team also surveyed Badrinath and Mana valley of the Garhwal Himalayas, and finally reached Mussoorie in October.
  • In 1856, the Schlagintweit Brothers again recruited Man Singh, Nain Singh and Dolpa Pangtey for their next expedition mission to Ladakh and Chinese Turkistan (Xinjiang Province of China). The German explorers were impressed by the courage and hard work of these Pundits. The expedition team of Hermann and Robert Schlagintweit, disguised as local merchants, travelled over the ancient caravan routes of Kashmir, Ladakh (Leh and Nubra valley) and the Baltistan region (POK), and then, over the Karakorum Pass, Chinese Turkestan, the Kunlun range and the Karakax valley (Northern Tibet).

From 1854 to 1857, all together the Schlagintweit Brothers travelled for over 29,000 km, filled 46 volumes with scientific data, 22 volumes with sketches, painted and draw 749 landscape views, collected over 14700 specimens of which over 9000 of geological nature. The plant collection amounted to 1800 specimens and 650 tree cross-sections. 750 zoological specimens, 400 human skulls and skeletons as also 1400 ethnological specimens completed their scientific bounty.

Robert and Hermann left India with their collections in spring of 1857, but Adolph stayed behind to further explore the regions beyond Afghanistan, and reach Russia through Central Asia. Unfortunately, Adolph reached Chinese Turkistan on the onset of the rebellion of Wali Khan, a Chieftain from the Chodhsa clan in Kasghar against the Chinese Government. He was captured on 26th August 1857 near Yarkand by Wali Khan, and killed in Kasghar.

(C) Government Vernacular School, Milam (1858-1863)
After the Schlagintweit Brothers’ expedition, Man Singh and his cousin, Nain Singh joined the Government Vernacular School as teachers in their native village Milam in 1858. Both of them continued to work in this school till their appointment in the Great Trigonometrical Survey in 1863.

(D) Great Trigonometrical Survey (1863-1865)
In 1862-63, Education Officer Edmund Smyth was in correspondence with Captain Montgomery to recruit some trustworthy natives as explorers for the Great Trigonometrical Survey. On the recommendation of Edmund Smyth, Nain Singh and Man Singh Rawat were selected for this expedition at a starting salary of rupees twenty a month. They were given code names for their clandestine survey mission - Nain Singh was ‘Chief Pundit’ or ‘No. 1’ and Man Singh was ‘Second Pundit’ or “G.M.” (inverted order of first & last letters of name).

a. Training :
On 12th January 1863, Nain Singh and Man Singh Rawat were sent to the Great Trigonometrical Survey office at Dehradun, where they underwent training for two years. This rigorous course included the training on scientific instruments, like sextant and compass, and some ingenious ways of measurement and recording information, and also the art of disguise (espionage). They were also trained to recognize all major stars and different constellations easily for directions.

During their training, they were drilled using a pace-stick, to take steps of a fixed length which remained constant even while climbing up, down or walking on plain surface. They were trained to record the distances by an ingenious method using a rosary. This rosary unlike a Hindu or Buddhist one, which has 108 beads, had just 100 beads. At every 100 steps the Pundits would slip one bead, so a complete length of the rosary represented 10000 steps. It was easy to calculate the distance as each step was 31½ Inches and a mile was calculated to be around 2000 steps. To avoid suspicion, these explorers went about their task disguised as monks or traders or whatever suited the particular situation. The notes of measurements were coded in the form of written prayers and these scrolls of paper were hidden in the cylinder of the prayer wheel. The Pundits kept this secret log book up to date. The compass for taking bearing was hidden in the lid of the prayer wheel. Mercury used for setting and artificial horizon, was kept in Cowri shells and for use poured into the begging bowl carried by the Pundits. The thermometer found place in the topmost part of the monk’s stave. The sextant was kept in the false bottoms of the box, and hidden pockets were also added to the clothes.

b. First Mission :
In March 1865, the two Pundits finally departed on their first mission - to cross the Tibetan border disguised as ‘Bashahris’, who were given limited rights to travel there. In spite of the two years they had spent being trained, this was a task of enormous difficulty and dangers. Once in Kathmandu (Nepal), the two brothers separated ways, and headed for the Tibetan border. When Man Singh entered Tibet, he recognised an old friend who was a Tibetan border official in Kirosar. In order to save his cover (disguise) and prevent any suspicion about his spy mission, Man Singh returned back to Kathmandu. Then, he planned to go through the Muktinath pass route along the Kali-Gandaki River in Mustang (Nepal) to enter Tibet. But his sudden illness not allowed him to go any further, and from there Man Singh returned to India. But Nain Singh continued his journey, and went on to Tashilhumpo Monastery, where he met the Panchen Lama, and finally, reached Lhasa.


(E) Retirement from the Survey of India (1865)
After his return from the expedition, Man Singh left the job of the Survey of India due to weak health. The British government appointed him as a “Peshkar” (revenue officer) in the Kumaon region.


Legacy :
Pundit Man Singh Rawat was part of the renowned triad of the Pundit Brothers, who gave their great contribution in the exploration of Central Asia and Tibet, when no European was able to complete this Herculean task! Though he was not as famous as his cousin, Nain Singh Rawat, but his role in the field of geographical survey cannot be underestimated.

For his contribution to the Great Trigonometrical Survey, the British Indian government appointed him at the post of “Peshkar” (revenue officer) in Kumaon. Along with the other Pundits, his explorations and surveys also got published in many books, magazines, and research papers throughout the world.

Under the German explorers, Man Singh learned the use of magnetic compass with such a perfection that his villagers used to call him “Mani Compasi”, and this name also got place in the folk songs of the Johar valley. The people of Johar region still remember Man Singh Rawat by the name of “Mani Compassi” or “Mani Peshkar”.

Man Singh Rawat also wrote an account on the history of Johar, but its original manuscript is missing and thus, this literary work was never published! It seems that the feats of this genius were never properly acknowledged and penned down by the historians!

 
Literature about Man Singh Rawat :
There are several books in which information about Pundit Man Singh Rawat and his expeditions has been published.

  1. Report of a Route-Survey made by Pundit & Others - T. G. Montgomery, The Journal of the Royal Geographic Society (1868).
  2. Report of the Trans-Himalayan Explorations during 1867 - T. G. Montgomery, The Journal of the Royal Geographic Society (1869).
  3. Account of the Pundit's Journey in Great Tibet - Capt. H. Trotter, The Journal of the Royal Geographic Society (1877).
  4. Indian Explorers of the 19th Century - Indra Singh Rawat (1973).
  5. Johar Ka Itihaas (History of Johar) - Babu Ram Singh Pangtey (1980).
  6. Trespassers on the Roof of the World : The Race for Lhasa - Peter Hopkirk, Oxford University Press (1982).
  7. The Pundits : British Exploration of Tibet and Central Asia - Derek J. Waller, University Press of Kentucky (1990).
  8. Madhya Himalaya Ki Bhotia Janjaati (Bhotia Tribe of The Central Himalayas) – Dr. Sher Singh Pangtey (1992).

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