Kalhan’s Rajtarangini

Kalhan’s Rajtarangini

  • Rajatarangini (“The River of Kings”) is a historical chronicle of the early Kashmir.
  • It covers the entire span of history in the Kashmir region from the earliest times to the the date of its composition in 12th century.
  • It was written in Sanskrit by Kashmiri historian Kalhana in the 12th century CE.
  • The work consists of 7826 verses, which are divided into eight books called Tarangas (“waves”). With his appearance on the scene, ancient Indian historiography took a new turn.
  • Kalhan I s a renowned name in history world not because of his history of Kashmir but because of his modern sense of historiography which is reflected in Rajatarangini.

Factors which favored growth of sense of history writing in Kashmir

  • Distinct geography:
    • Kashmir had distinct geographical identity as it was separated from the mainland India.
    • It caused development of a separate cultural identity and strong feeling of regionalism.
    • Due to growth of feudalism, regional feeling was strong elsewhere as well. Such attempts to write local chronicles (called gathageet) were prevalent in other regions as well, but their sense of historiography was much inferior to Rajatarangini.
  • Proximity with Central Asia and China:
    • It contributed to the tradition of history writing as Central Asia and China historically had this tradition.
  • Buddhism:
    • Kashmir had seen development of Buddhism which had a strong tradition of historiography and hagiography compared to other religions.
  • Turbulent period in Kashmir:
    • Kalhana was writing during a very turbulent period. Harsha’s reign has ended and it was a period of wars and struggles.
    • By writing Rajatarangini, he wanted to point that all earthly possessions and pleasures are useless.

His sources

  • He utilized the works of 11 chroniclers of Kashmir who preceded him as sources of information for composing his work.
  • His Father , Champaka, was a minister of King Harsa (1089-1101). He adorned the court of king Jayasimha (1127-59). So, he could get important information about the contemporary court.
  • He analyzed royal charters, edicts, records of land grants, the contemporary documents, coins and inscriptions etc.


  • Political:
    • It embraces the history of Kashmir from the time of the first Hindu king Gonanda to AD 1149, the 22nd year of the reign of the last illustrious king Jayasimha.
    • It contains the genealogies and chronology of kings of various dynasties that ruled Kashmir during this period.
    • The achievements of all important kings and the details of all important events which took place during their times have been highlighted by the author in his work.
    • Book I-III:
      • Of fifty-two kings who are said to have ruled Kashmir in the early phase, the list of only seventeen which includes Gonanda I and his successors and some other kings have been provided in Book I. (Gonanda dynasty)
      • Kalhana could not find the names of thirty-five kings as their records are lost.
      • The same book contains the list of twenty-one kings who succeeded Gonanda III.
      • It contains the list of six princes from Pratapaditya I to Aryaraja who belonged to Aditya dynasty.
      • From Book III it appears that there was the restoration of Gonanda dynasty and then princes of this dynasty from Meghavahana to Baladitya reigned in Kashmir.
      • These three books contain more or less a traditional history from the time of the great battle of Kurukshetra or beginning of the Kali-yuga to the end of the sixth century AD which is based on Itihasa-Purana tradition.
      • Some kings are, of course, mythical but there are some kings like Asoka and his son Jaluka, Kaniska and other whose historicity is well established. Their activities are also well recorded in Kalhana’s work.
      • However, there is an anachronism in the genealogical list furnished in Book I. And the chronology of some of the kings mentioned in the said three books are not reliable.
    • Books IV-VIII:
      • The information provided by Kalhana in Books IV-VIII covering the period from early seventh century AD to about the middle of the twelfth century are more trustworthy than what we find in the earlier three books from both historical and chronological points of view.
    • Book IV:
      • It contains the history of seventeen kings from Durlabhavardhana to Utpalapida who belonged to the Karkota dynasty.
        • Durlabhavardhana, the descendant of Naga Karkota, founded this dynasty.
        • He appears to have ruled from AD 598 to 634.
        • The most powerful ruler of the line was Lalitaditya (AD 724-60), the third son of Durlabhaka alias Pratapaditya.
          • Lalitaditya has been described as an efficient administrator, valiant warrior, great conqueror and patron of arts and culture.
          • The author of the said work has given a faithful account of his digvijaya (conquest).
    • Book V:
      • The narrative of fifteen princes from Avantivarman to Suravarman to Suravarman II belonging to the Utpala or Varman dynasty has been provided in Book V.
    • Book VI:
      • In Book VI, the author has provided the history of ten kings in the lines of Yasaskara and Parvagupta.
      • It is mentioned that after Suravarman II, Yasaskara (son of Gopalavarman’s minister, Prabhakaradeva), was elected by the Brahmanas as king.
        • During his benevolent reign of nine years (AD 939-48) a new era of peace, progress and prosperity commenced in Kashmir.
        • His son and successor, Samgrama, was killed in AD 949 by the minister Parvagupta who usurped the throne himself.
      • The most prominent and powerful ruler in this line was Didda, granddaughter of Bhima Shahi and daughter of Simharaja, a chief of the Lohara (in the Punch state).
        • It is said that ”she was an ambitious and energetic woman, and for nearly half a century- first as queen-consort of king Ksemagupta (AD 950-58), then as regent, and lastly as ruler (AD 980-1003) – she was the dominant personality in the politics of Kashmir.
      • Didda of Kashmir:
        • The history of Kashmir also reveals a tradition of powerful queens.
        • The Rajatarangini’s description of the 12th century history of Kashmir mentions three women rulers—Yashovati of the Gonanda dynasty, Sugandha of the Utpala dynasty, and Didda of the Yashaskara dynasty.
        • Of them, Didda (Didda is a respectful term for an elder sister, still used by Kashmiri pandits) had the longest and most eventful stint, exercising political power for almost 50 years. This included
          • the period of her husband Kshemagupta’s reign,
          • the time that she was regent for her minor son Abhimanyu, and
          • the years she ruled Kashmir in her own right after ascending the throne in 980–81 CE.
        • Didda’s career is described in the sixth taranga of the Rajatarangini.
        • Kalhana describes how this queen was aided in her rise to power by a minister, the loyal Naravahana, who made her comparable to Indra’.
        • Kalhana described how she managed to create a rift in the ranks of her enemies.
        • He describes how she ruthlessly killed her son and three grandsons before ascending the throne.
        • Didda had an affair with a courier and herdsman named Tunga, who soon became her trusted confidante. The queen chose her nephew Sangramaraja as her successor, thereby diverting the succession to her maternal family from Lohara.
        • Kalhana refers to Didda founding towns, temples, and monasteries. These included the
          • towns of Diddapura and Kankanapura and
          • a temple called the Diddasvamin temple.
        • This queen is also credited with repairing many temples dedicated to the gods.
        • Kalhana disapproved of her:
          • He describes her as deficient in moral character, merciless by nature, and as one who was easily influenced by others.
          • For Kalhana, her personality reflected the defects of womankind.
        • In spite of his prejudices, Kalhana portrays both royal and non-royal women as historically relevant figures.
          • In the realm of political power, women appear as sovereign rulers as well as powers behind the throne.
          • The Rajatarangini also reflects the direct and indirect political influence of courtesans and women of ‘low’ birth in the harem.
        • In Kashmir, as elsewhere, within the constraints of the prevailing patriarchal power structure, male control over political power was occasionally breached.
    • Book VII:
      • The history of six princes from Samgramaraja to Harsa belonging to so-called the Lohara dynasty is contained in Book VII.
      • Samgramaraja alias Ksamapati, the nephew of Didda and brother of the Lohara prince, Vigraharaja, ascended the throne in Ad 1003 and continued to rule till 1028.
      • Samgramaraja proved to be a weak king, and during the earlier part of his reign, Tunga was virtually the ruler of the state.
    • Book VIII:
      • The last and the Book VIII contains the history of seven kings from Ucchala (AD 1101-11) to Jayasimha (AD 1127-59), the last illustrious sovereign.
      • The author has provided an eye-witness account of the events which took place about the middle of the twelfth century AD.
    • Misrule in Kahmir:
      • Kalhana describes in detail the misrule that was prevailing in Kashmir.
      • Local feudal elements (Damras) have become very strong and were trying to destabilize the throne.
      • Hence, he says that king should be strong and must ensure that there is no concentration of wealth even in the villages, lest they challenge the royal authority.
    • Administration:
      • He has severely criticized the bureaucracy, most of whom were Kayastha and alleges that they were behind most of the conspiracies against the King.
  • Social:
    • Kalhana describes the social life of Kashmir.
    • For example: Rajatarangini says that rich drank perfumed wines and ate meat, while poor surviving on wild vegetables.
    • Kalhana says that Harsha introduced a general dress of long coat in Kashmir.
  • Economic:
    • Kalhana also gives use information about the economic life of Kashmir.
    • He described agriculture and water works such as dams to prevent landslide, which were supervised by a minister of Avantivarman.
    • This led to subsequent economic prosperity of Kashmir and it led to withdrawal of Kashmir from the plains politics since the need to move there was lessened.

Kalhan’s views in history

Kalhan in prologue of his book Rajatarangini expresses his view on history. Following are Kalhan’s view on historiography and his way of writing history which makes him the greatest historian of his time:

  • Kalhana says that a good history has power to take the person into past and explore in a way like eye witness. That history involves a superior kind of creativity which retains its relevance even after many centuries.
  • He says that historian should be appreciated who honestly judges the past incidents; unaffected by his personal likes and dislikes. He says that history must be unbiased.
    • His minute details of contemporary court intrigues is considered authentic due to his access to the court because his father was in the Kashmir court of King Harsha of Lahora Dynasty.
    • Though he was under several kings, he didn’t get any patronage from them. Hence his writing is not biased just to please the ruler and have detailed and objective analysis.
    • So, his writing was devoid of rhetorical and clear of praises, evident in other writers under the patronage of the kings.
  • According to Kalhana, the quality of a good historian is adorable which exceeds the value of nectar’s stream because that immortalizes the body of glory, of self and of other.
  • Kalhan criticized his earlier historians. He explained that there were many missing and even wrong things in early history books.
    • Early historians wrote eulogy to please their patrons.
    • Kalhan criticized the text “Nripavali” for lack of historical content. He blames that the book is more like a literature and less like a history.
    • He criticised Suvrat’s writing which had manifested the early history in concise form because his writing style was so compact and critical that it remained non-comprehensive and even misguiding for many.
  • As per Kalhana, narration of events was not the true way of writing history. It was just like a chronicle with no validity.
  • Kalhan explains his extensive study. According to him, history should be written only after comprehensive study.
  • Kalhan displayed surprisingly advanced technical expertise for his period. He had given the sources of his writing.
    • For example: for writing history, he gave importance to viewing the inscriptions, recording construction of temples and other architectures, inspecting several kinds of grant plates given by ancient kings, looking up epigraphic sources relating to royal eulogies, studying coins, monumental remains & family records and studying several other texts like Harshacharita, Brihat-samhita, local rajkathas, and some previous works on Kashmir like Nripavali by Kshemendra, Parthivavali by Helaraja.
    • He mentions his sources in detail. He mentions the 11 scholars who gave him the family tree of Kashmir rulers. He mentions the legends, myths, folklore etc.
    • His use of records as reason based sources of history was indeed an important contribution to history.
  • He not only described the events but also tried to understand and explain the conditions of that time. As per Kalhana, people should learn lesson from the mistakes of their past.
  • Criticism:
    • He chose Sanskrit as the medium of verse for his writings and his writing was inclined towards ornate style in which he has mingled some fiction with the historical truth.
    • There are few inconsistencies in chronology and dates in the earlier chapters of his book, especially the first three parts (out of total 8 parts of Rajatarangini). These first three parts cover history of more than 3000 years which mainly rely on Puranas and legends. In earlier chapters, he seems to be presenting folklore.
      • For e.g. Ranaditya is given a reign of 300 years by him.
    • He exaggerated the military conquests of Lalitaditya Muktapida in Book IV.
    • Regionalism was also apparent in his writing. For e.g. He included Mauryas as rulers of Kashmir, which is clearly a mistake.
    • Gender biasness is also showcased by him on occasions. For e.g. his excessive criticism of Queen Didda.
    • His thought shows favoritism towards Brahmins.


  • Despite some inconsistencies, Rajatarangini was much more important and of much more historical importance than that of the others during the same period. In fact, it is the only authentic source of the history of early Kashmir.
  • His writing is really unique in every sense and qualitatively much ahead of his time and no other contemporary historian can be compared with him.
  • Rajatarangini provides an invaluable source of information about early Kashmir and its neighbors and are widely referenced by later historians. His work was continued by later writers like Rajtarangini by Jonaraja but they were inferior compared to Kalhana’s work.

4 thoughts on “Kalhan’s Rajtarangini”

  1. Can I get the description written originally by Kalhana in Rajatarangini?
    I am not getting it in the google and I am willing to get it.

    1. Why do you need his original write up? If you are preparing for Civil Services Examination, refrain from.dping research on any topic and just stick to the type of questions being asked in the examination.

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