Satyananda Stokes – The Economic Emancipator of the Hills

Samuel Evans Stokes (Satyanand Stokes)

Samuel Evans Stokes
The apple cultivation of the place was initiated by Satyanand Stokes who was an American missionary.

Kotgarh valley is famous for its world class quality apples. The apple cultivation of the place was initiated by Satyanand Stokes who was an American missionary.

The first apple tree in this country was planted by Capt. R.C. Lee of the British army in the Kullu valley way back in 1870.The apples he planted were the Newton Pippins,  King of Pippin and the Cox s Orange Pippin, but unfortunately because of their sour and tangy taste the cultivation of these English varieties was not undertaken by the local farmers. Indians, who were used to traditional fruits like mangoes wanted something sweeter.

Samuel Evans Stokes was born on 6 th August 1882 in Germantown, a Quaker suburb of Philadelphia. He graduated from Mohegan Lake Military academy in New York State in 1900 and joined Cornell University. Samuel Stokes was an active member of YMCA and took active part in social service. One day during a church congregation, he had a chance to listen to Dr Carlton, a physician who had dedicated his life for eradicating leperacy from India. The talk by Dr Carlton on the plight of lepers in India was so touching that it brought tears in young Stoke s eyes. This became a turning point in his life; he decided not to pursue his studies at Cornell any further but to join Dr Carlton. He along with the Carlton family set sail to India on 9 Jan 1904 and reached Bombay on 26 Feb 1904.

Samuel Evans Stokes, an American Missionary landed in Kotgarh in 1904 as a young man of 22 to spread the message of Christ and also with the objective of helping the hill people. He worked at the leper home in the Shimla hills of Himachal Pradesh for two years. Then becoming disillusioned with the missionary way of life, he severed links with missionary organizations and became a sort of a hermit, giving up all material comforts and living for some time in a cave.

Kotgarh ApplesSamuel Evans Stokes was involved with the spreading of Christianity however the beauty and the culture of Kotgarh had an effect on him and he converted to Hinduism and took a Hindu name Satyanand Stokes and made Barobag his abode. He found the climate and soil conclusive to apple cultivation (the apple production was at its peak in America) and in 1919 he planted trees on his 200 acres and they began bearing apples in 1925.The natives took to growing apples soon and today it has spread all over the Shimla hills. The Apple boom in Kotgarh improved the economy of the place.

In 1905 there was a major earthquake in Kangra, an important town situated in the foothills of Himachal Pradesh. Samuel Stokes along with other voluntaries rushed to the earthquake site and helped the local authorities to resettle the earthquake victims. This devastating earthquake orphaned hundreds of children and rendered thousands homeless. Stokes being a noble soul, could not see the suffering of these orphans, he adopted five small children and later helped them settle in life.

Months of toil in Kangra valley had drained the energy from Samuel Stokes. In March 1906, he decided to go up to Kotgarh and lead a life of renunciation. He started dressing up like a sadhu and stayed in a cave, deep inside a forest. He would cook his food in an earthen pot, have a cold water bath in a stream flowing next to the cave and spend his day meditating and reading the New Testament. While staying at Kotgarh, he met a very interesting man, Sadhu Sunder Singh, who was born in an orthodox Sikh family but converted to Christianity early in life. He is reverend and has a large following amongst the north Indian Christians.

The Brotherhood of Imitation Of Jesus was formed by Stokes on the primitive Christian model .He followed the Franciscan ideal of service than the existing missionary ideal. He and his new found friend Sadhu Sunder Singh would go from village to village and preach the Bible, attired as sadhus. Apart from few conversions, they were not able to do much in an orthodox Hindu society.

NarkandaIn 1910 he got the news of his father’s death. He went back to the America to visit his family but was back by May 1911.On his return; he decided to leave the Brotherhood and lead a family life. .He married a local Christian girl Agnes.

Emma Matilda Bates, a widow of an English forest officer, owned a large tea estate at Thanedhar. Mrs. Bates wanted to sell her estate and go back to England. Stokes bought the estate with the intention of during farming. He conducted various experiments in hill farming, but ultimately he was convinced that only fruit growing could transform the economy of this region. In 1914 he went to America with soil samples of his estate and came back with five apple samplings of Red Delicious bought from the famous nursery growers- Stark Brothers of Louisiana.

Over the years he propagated and distributed these apple plants amongst the local farmers.

Samuel Stokes was always interested in theology. He believed that Christ’s message was infinitely more than what the church preached. He could not accept the orthodox view of Christ s message. To find out the true meaning and purpose of life, he started to read the Hindu scriptures. According to Stokes the Vedanta and Christian concept of salvation if taken together profoundly influenced and modify each other, the Christian experience will preserve individuality and Vedanta will demonstrate the essential unity of the spirit. On 4 th September 1932 he and his family embraced Hinduism and changed his name to Satyanand. The writings of Maharishi Swami Dayanand, the founder of Arya Samaj had a lasting impression on Stokes. He became an Arya Samaji and built an Arya Samaj temple on his estate, known as the Paramjyotir Temple.

Paramjyotir Temple.When he died in on 14 May 1946, the apple production in Himachal Pradesh had already touched 15000 boxes. Although his portrait adorns the walls of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library- New Delhi, but very few people outside Himachal Pradesh are aware about the legacy of this great man, who has been rightly bestowed with the title of The Economic Emancipator of The Hills.

He is the only American to have served in the All-India Congress Committee of the Indian National Congress. He passed away on 14 May 1946, having spent more than 43 years of his life in the country which he had come to change but which changed him instead.

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