Kalhan’s Rajtarangini

Kalhan’s Rajtarangini

  • Rajatarangini, (“River of Kings”) historical chronicle of early India, written in Sanskrit verse by the Kashmiri Brahman Kalhana in 1148, that is justifiably considered to be the best and most authentic work of its kind. It covers the entire span of history in the Kashmir region from the earliest times to the date of its composition. He is regarded as Kashmir’s first historian. Like the Shahnameh is to Persia, the Rajataringini is to Kashmir.
  • Kalhan is a renowned name in history world not because of his history of Kashmir but because of his historiography. (https://selfstudyhistory.com/)
  • His writing was much more important than that of the others during the same period because it was of much more historical importance. Not only had he described the deeds of a brave person but he had also tried to understand and explain the conditions of that time.
  • His access to minute details of contemporary court intrigues was almost direct: his father and uncle were both in the Kashmir court. His father was a minister and later became the consultant of King Harsha of Lahore Dynasty. As he was into the political system directly, he was able to understand the political activities very minutely. Though he was under several kings, he didn’t get any patronage from them. That is the reason that Kalhan was able to write an unbiased and clear historical writing without any pressure from the kings upon him. So, his writing was devoid of rhetorical and clear of praises, evident in other writers under the patronage of the kings.
  • He chose the medium of verse for his writings. Although his writing seems to be inclined towards ornate style, he has mingled the historical truth in it. In his historical writing, he laid emphasis on the transience of the worldly life and physical materials. He wished that people should learn lesson from the mistakes of their past. For this, he had to analyze the conditions and events very minutely. This very analysis makes his writing much more special than that of others.
  • Regarding the events of the past, Kalhana’s search for material was truly fastidious. He delved deep into such model works as the Harsacarita and the Brihat-samhita epics and used with commendable familiarity the local rajakathas (royal chronicles) and such previous works on Kashmir as Nripavali by Kshemendra, Parthivavali by Helaraja, and Nilamatapurana.
  • Kalhan had also given the sources of his writing. He displayed surprisingly advanced technical expertise for the time in his concern for unconventional sources. He looked up a variety of epigraphic sources relating to royal eulogies, construction of temples, and land grants; he studied coins, monumental remains, family records, local traditions, and other records.
  • His use of records as reason based sources of history was indeed an important contribution to history. But he was not clear about the dates. Besides this regionalism was apparent in his writing. He had included all the famous kings (i.e. Maurya kings) as the rulers of Kashmir.
  • Despite these minor aberrations, his writing is really unique in every sense and no other contemporary historian can be compared with him as far as his importance and minute observation is concerned.

Kalhana’s view on historiography

  • Kalhan in prologue of his book introduces the qualities and ideals of a good historian. Book (Rajtarangini) is written in epic style, so he also calls himself a poet. Giving a brief introduction of early historians and their work, he argues why his “Rajtarangini” is better than the previous texts. He also describes the sources which he used in his historical quest.
  • Kalhan says:-
  1. “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.”
  2. “That historian should be appreciated who honestly judges the past incidents; unaffected by his personal likes & dislikes.”
  3. “That quality of a good poet (historian) is adorable which exceeds the value of nectar’s stream because that immortalizes the body of glory, of self and of other.”(https://selfstudyhistory.com/)
  4. “I have recompiled the history already written by early authors but gentlemen should not ignore my work without knowing the reason behind that.”
  5. “After watching the truths and flaws of kings written by early historians. At present, I am managing to fulfill the remaining things in them.” (Kalhan criticized his earlier historians. He explained that there were many missing and even wrong things in early history books.)
  6. “Isn’t it an expertise to analyze those past incidents? I’m working hard on the project to write a history which will be superior in every way.”
  7. “Early voluminous texts were summarized by Suvrat into his book which dispersed the importance of royal chronicles.” (The task of summarizing many history books into a single concise book was first done by Suvrat. But Kalhan still criticizes him, instead of praising for his marvelous job. It shows that Kalhan wanted to carve out the same fame and regard in the society which was given to Suvrat earlier.)
  8. “Although Suvrat’s poetry manifested the early history but his writing style was so compact and critical that it remained incomprehensive and even misguiding for many.”
  9. ‘Although Nripavali (list of kings) could be appraised for its poetry but not even a single point of his book is free from mistake when it comes to history.” (Here, Kalhan is criticizing the text “Nripavali” for lack of historical content. He blames that the book is more like a literature and less like a history.)
  10. “I have studied eleven royal chronicles written by ancient scholars and besides that I have also studied the text of sage Neel.” (After criticizing early historians, Kalhan explain his extensive study. Through this he wanted to assure that he had studied voluminous original texts himself. So, his expertise on the subject should not be questioned.)
  11. “By viewing the inscriptions recording construction of temples and other architectures, by inspecting several kinds of grant plates given by ancient kings and by studying several other texts, my queries and confusions have now disappeared.” (Kalhan displayed surprisingly advanced technical expertise according to his period. This kind of historical quests were done by very few historians of the past)(https://selfstudyhistory.com/)
  12. “I have brought fifty two ancient kings in a systematic chronology which were muddled by early historians.”
  13. “This book of mine would be suitable to avoid confusions created by early texts regarding rise and fall of country in different times under different kings.”
  • Despite these stated principles, and despite the value that historians have placed on Kalhana’s work, there is little evidence of authenticity and a few inconsistencies in the earlier chapters of his book, especially the first three books. For example, Ranaditya is given a reign of 300 years. Toromanu is clearly the Huna king of that name, but his father Mihirakula is given a date 700 years earlier. The chronicles only start to align with other evidence by book IV.(https://selfstudyhistory.com/)
  • Rajatarangini is a model for later historians. In fact, the history of Kashmir was continued, along Kalhana’s line, down to some years after the annexation of Kashmir by the Mughal emperor Akbar (1586) in the following works: Rajatarangini (by Jonaraja), Jainatarangini (by Shrivara), and Rajavalipataka (by Prajyabhatta and Shuka). Neither in style nor in authenticity do these works approximate the quality of Kalhana’s Rajatarangini.
  • After evaluating these broad historical qualities in Kalhan‟s Rajatarangini one is compelled  to think that such a great work could not have come into being without a solid historiographical tradition preceding it. Even when we analyse in a positivist framework, a Literary cultures too, as any other culture, have their own evolution course, their own History. Rajatarangini might have been the peak of this tradition but to discount all others is grave injustice to the historiographical traditions in all of South-Asia.

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