The Rajatarangini: Kashmir's Poetic Tale of Time

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), May 5, 2018 | Go to article overview

The Rajatarangini: Kashmir's Poetic Tale of Time


NEW DELHI, May 5 -- This book is a cultural history/anthropology/geography of early Kashmir... an attempt to identify and interpret the values and meanings associated with the region called Kashmir from its origins until the 12th century CE. It does so chiefly through the medium of an iconic textual representation composed by a Kashmiri in 1148 CE, Kalhana's Rajatarangini. The Making of Early Kashmir is in a primary sense, therefore, a work of textual criticism...

The Rajatarangini, an epic Sanskrit poem running into nearly 8,000 verses and narrating the story of Kashmir's royal dynasties over more than a millennium, deserves to be the subject and medium of such an investigation for it is one of Kashmir's earliest articulations of, and engagements with, a regional self-awareness... Kalhana's magnum opus, when translated by European Orientalists in the 19th century, was believed to be the first and only work of true history to be found in all of Sanskrit literature and early India. Given that such an interpretation implied that early Indians otherwise were singularly bereft of a sense of history, this celebration of the text was in fact deprecation of an entire civilization. It was nonetheless embraced by Indian historians and philologists throughout the 20th century...

That the Rajatarangini did not call itself history but rather quite unequivocally traditional Sanskrit poetry, mahakavya or prabandha, and behaved like the latter, complete with its heavy use of rhetoric, myth, and didacticism, was seen as something of an inconvenience and aberration... Today a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Valley of the river Vitasta (Jhelum) was, for at least 1,500 years before Kalhana, the kingdom or mandala of Kashmir. This book attempts to understand the discursive and material processes by which it emerged as a historical culture region... A region does not express or possess intrinsic meaning. Meaning is given or constructed through discursive practices, chief among which is textualization performed by social actors such as Kalhana. A land coming into meaning is the birth of a region, in particular a culture region. So regions are produced not just by material practices on the ground such as the drawing of boundaries or erection of gateways but, perhaps more powerfully, by cultural practices of representation... The fact that Kalhana's Rajatarangini gave rise to at least three sequels by other Kashmiris over the next four, tumultuous centuries of Kashmiri history and was still regarded as the foremost representation of the land by Abul Fazl when the Mughals descended on the Valley in the late 16th century decidedly attests to the persistence of the power and deemed authenticity of Kalhana's discourse. …

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