Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kalhana's History of Kashmir

--A Unique History of Kashmir in Sanskrit Verse.

In the history of world literature probably there exists no other work apart from Kashmiri poet Kalahana’s ‘Rajatarangini’ which narrates the history of a country in verse form and sustaining general interest all through. The credit for this unique composition ‘Rajatarangini’, that too in Sanskrit, goes to the poet-Historian Kalhana who lived in Kashmir in the 12th Century. Kalhana’s chronicle is neither Voltaire’s ‘History of Russia’ nor Gibbon’s ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. His was not only a serious contribution to history; it was preeminently a work of art or Kavya. Kalhana looked upon himself not merely as a historian but also as a seer poet.

The ‘Rajatarangini’ or ‘The River of Kings’ by Kalhana Pandita is the earliest extant history of Kashmir. A unique historical poem, written between 1148- 1150 A.D, the ‘Rajatarangini’ contains valuable political, social and other information pertaining to Kashmir and the rest of India. Among the extant works of Sanskrit literature, Kalhana’s Chronicle stands out for its comparatively exact chronology. It represents a class of Sanskrit composition which comes nearest in character to the Chronicles of Mediaeval Europe. In the words of the noted Historian H.G. Rawlinson “Rajatarangini is Hindu India’s almost sole contributor to History”. The Chronicle has contributed a good deal to the reconstruction of ancient Indian history.

Kalhana was s born early in the 12th Century A.D. in a place called Parihasapura, a town in Kashmir, in an aristocratic Kashmiri Pandit Brahmin family. It is learnt that his name ‘Kalhana’ is a Prakrit variation of the Sanskrit word ‘Kalyana’ which means ‘auspiciousness’. His father Canpaka was a Minister in the Court of one King by name Harsha who ruled Kashmir for sometime in the 12th century and who became famous as ‘The Nero of Kashmir’. The major portion of Kalhana’s life passed off in what was for Kashmir one long period of civil war and political turmoil. The commencement of the 12th Century brought important dynastic revolution in Kashmir which affected the political and social life of the country. King Harsha who ruled Kashmir between 1089-1101 initially secured prosperity and peace to the region but became a victim to his own Neroian style of working and disposition .The legendary democracy represented by the Damaras, hastily persecuted by Harsha, rose in revolt against the king and killed him. Thereafter the history of Kashmir steadily declined.

The Rajatarangini consists of 8,000 shlokas under eight chapters called ‘Tarangas’ which means ‘Waves’ in Sanskrit. It is different from the conventional type of history in the sense that Kalhana has offered a connected narrative of the ruling dynasties of Kashmir from the earliest times down to his own. He has adopted metrical form, not merely as a form of expression but as a literary-cum-historic postulate of his time. In the chronicle the poet has given proper dates for the historical events and has substantiated the events with authority from the year 813 A.D. onwards. The poet himself has declared that he completed the entire writing in two years between 1148 -1150 A.D.

The first three chapters cover an aggregate period of more than 1000 years and consist for the most part of bare dynastic lists of about 54 reigns. The first historical name in the Chronicle is that of King Ashoka---attested by Ashoka’s famous pillar inscriptions. There is also a reference to a King by name Pravarasena who is supposed to be the founder of Srinagar. It appears that he named his capital as Pravarapura which was changed to Srinagar during the reign of King Ashoka. At the time of the Chinese pilgrim
Hiuen Tsang’s visit to India [631-633 A.D.], the capital Pravarapura was a comparatively a new city.

Among the several dynasties that ruled Kashmir, the Karkota dynasty was a very powerful one Among the Karkota kings, Muktapida Lalitaditya [699-730A.D] shines forth as a very powerful monarch whose sway extended far beyond Kashmir and adjacent territories. He is credited with his victory over the Turks. His extensive conquests made the Kingdom of Kashmir, in Lalitaditya’s time, the most powerful empire that India had known since the time of the Guptas. It was during the reign of Lalitaditya that the oldest Sun Temple in India at Martanda in Kashmir was built. The ruins of this magnificent Sun Temple in Kashmir are a tourist attraction even today.

In Rajatarangini, Kalhana devotes about half of the Chronicle to that half of the twelfth century which lies between the downfall of Harsha and the date of the composition of the Chronocle.This lengthy treatment has the advantage that an authentic contemporary picture of the social, political and economic aspects of Kashmir is presented. The Chronicle reveals that some of the bravest generals were Brahmins, a healthy state of affairs which was later revived by the Marathas. According to Kalhana, untouchability was unknown to Kashmir. In the Chronicle, Kalhana presents an authentic picture of his contemporary social and political life. Hence, Rajatarangini is a vast mine of information about the past of Kashmir and the contiguous territories.

An abridged version of the Rajatarangini in Persian was brought out by one Hyder Malik in the year 1617 A. D during Emperor Jahangir’s reign. An edition of this work was published in Calcutta under the auspices of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1835. The first complete translation from the original Sanskrit appeared in French. Sir Aurel Stein translated the Rajatarangini into English in 1900. A literal translation of the
Chronicle into English, complete and unexpurgated, was made by the late Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, husband of late Srimathi Vijayalakshmi Pandit


Created: Friday, August 31, 2007


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