Kalhana, the celebrated author of Rajatarangini, is not merely a chronicler but a poet who loved his Arcadian Kashmiri homeland, its streams and cascades, the flower-strewn meadows, the soft cloud dappled sky over rich fields, the far vistas of snow on the mountains that at dawn and sunset hold all the roses and pinks and madders of the artist's palette. Kalhana's voice which falls crystal clear across the dead centuries is in many ways singularly modern in its love of natural beauty, in the critical scrutiny of the hearts of men and women and of the means they used to achieve their ends.
As in the case of many eminent Sanskrit poets of yore, not much is known of Kalhana's life. In this monograph Somnath Dhar has made an attempt to glean the biographical details from the internal evidence of the poet's own work and to lead the reader to better appreciation of Rajatarangini.
India's distant past is blurred for lack of precise chronicles-The conception of history in ancient India took the form of chronicles of achievements of the rulers-real or mythological-The Puranas, for instance, gave genealogical records and described at length the achievements of kings who ruled India before the advent of the Aryans. But few facts about these rulers are available for attempting a scientific history. In the whole period of Sanskrit literature there is hardly any writer who can be seriously regarded as a critical historian.
It is only after the sixth century of the Christian era that we get chronicles of illustrious rulers in India, such as Bana's Harshacharita. Kalhana's Rajatarangini, the Ain-i-Akbari, the Akbarnama, etc. the facts contained in these books can be verified with reference to a mass of historical material I contemporary works of literature and also to epigraphic and numismatic evidence. Thanks to Kalhana, Kashmir occupies the place of pride in India for having a comprehensive recorded history extending to thousands of years past.
The Rajatarangini, or the "River of Kings", by Kalhana Pandita, is the earliest extant history of Kashmir. A unique historical poem, written between 1148 and 1150 A.D.., the Rajatarangini contains valuable political, social, social other information pertaining to Kashmir and the rest of India. In the words of H.G. Rawlinson, it is "Hindu India's almost sole contribution to history." Among the extant works of Sanskrit literature, Kalhana's Chronicle stands out for its comparatively exact chronology. It has also offered the key to fixing the dates of many Indian scholars who wrote literary and philosophical works. Indeed, the Chronicle has contributed a good deal to the reconstruction of ancient Indian history.
The scanty historical records of the later Sanskrit chronicles are better interpreted, thanks solely to the accurate information of Kalhana's Chronicle. Thus has Kalhana, the great poet-historian, not only saved the history and ancient culture of Kashmir from oblivion, but also helped the student of history to synthesize the disjointed accounts of later chroniclers. And, what is more, the student of the history of Kashmir can intelligently converse with the past in a more satisfactory manner than is possible for a student of any other state of India.
The story and ethos of the Rajatarangini, how Kalhana presents an authentic picture of his contemporary social, political life, as well as of the past, were summed up by Jawaharlal Nehru, in the course of his long foreword to R. S. Pandit's translation of the Chronicle. Here is an excerpt.:
It is history and it is a poem, thought the two perhaps go ill together and in a translation especially we have to suffer for this combination. For we cannot appreciate the music of the poetry, the charm of Kalhana's noble and melodious language
It is a story of medieval times and often enough it is not a pleasant story. There is too much of palace intrigue and murder and treason and civil war and tyranny. It is the story of autocracy and military oligarchy
it is the story of the kings and the royal families and the nobility, not of the common folk. And yet Kalhana's book is something far more than a record of kings' doings. It is a rich storehouse of information, political, social and, some extent, economic. We see the panoply of the middle ages, the feudal knights in glittering armour
and intrigues and fighting, and militant and adulterous queens. Women seem to play quite an important part, not only behind the scenes but in the councils and the field as leaders and soldiers. Sometimes we get intimate glimpses of human relations and human feelings, of love and hatred, of faith and passion. We read of Suyya's great engineering feats and irrigation works; of Lalitaditya's distant wars of conquest in far countries; of Meghavahana's curious attempt to spread non-violence also by conquest; of the building of temples and monasteries and their destruction by unbelievers and iconoclasts who confiscated the temple treasures. And then there were famines and floods and great fires which decimated the population and reduced the survivors to misery.
It was a time when the old economic system was decaying, the old order was changing in Kashmir as it was in the rest of India. Kashmir had been the meeting ground of the different cultures of Asia, the western Graeco-Roman and Iranian and the eastern Mongolian, but essentially it was a part of India and the inheritor of Indo-Aryan traditions. And as the economic structure collapsed, it shook up the old Indo-Aryan polity and weakened it and made it an easy prey to internal commotion and foreign conquest. Flashes of old Indo-Aryan ideals come out but they are already out of date under the changing conditions. Warlords march up and down and make havoc of the people. Popular risings take place-Kalhana describes Kashmir as "a country which delighted in insurrection!" and they are exploited by the military leaders and adventurers to their own advantage.
The content of Rajatarangini, until it reached the shape and form that Ranjit Sitaram Pandit gave it in his translation, made quite a trip through the manuscript tradition that it traveled, which is worth recalling. Thanks to Kalhana giving exact dates at the beginning and conclusion of the Chronicle, the body of the manuscript could not have been tampered with after his completion of the work. It has, however, been seen from the textual corruptions and some metrical faults, particularly, in the concluding portion, that he did not revise the whole of the work. The last 600 verses containing a few almost meaningless passages and some lacunae reveal this defective feature the most.
Whatever the drawbacks, the oldest and completest record of Kashmir history was bound to excite the interest of the ater historians. The first translation of a portion of the Rajatar angina was done in Persian, at the behest of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1421-1472 A.D.) of Kashmir. The version was entitled Bahr-ul-Asmar (or, the Sea of Tales). When Emperor Akbar annexed Kashmir, he ordered Abdul Kadir Al-Badaoni, in 1594 A.D., to complete the translation. Abul Fazal included a summary of the ancient history of Kashmir in his Ain-i-Akbari and mentioned Kalhana as the source. In Emperor Jahangir's reign, Malik haider brought out an abridged edition of the Rajatarangini in Persian in 1617 A.D. Dr. Francis Bernier (1665 A.D.) referred to Haider Malik's translation of the Rajatarangini in his Paradise of the Indies. Likewise, Father Tiefenthaler drew on his abridged summary a century later.
Sir William Jones, the pioneer of European Sanskrit studies, had announced in the Asiatic Researches at the beginning of the 19th century that he was contemplating "the history of India from the Sanskrit Cashmir authorities" but h did not live long enough to secure the materials. An incomplete copy of the Rajatarangini was secured by Colebrooke in 1805 A.D. but his account of the manuscript saw the light of the day only in 1825 A.D.
Better textual material was obtained by Moorecroft, who arrived in 1823 A.D. in Srinagar with the permission of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and had a Devanagari script prepared from an old Sharda manuscript. This became the basis of an edition of the Rajatarangini which was published in Calcutta under the auspices of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1835 A.D. the manuscript was characterized by Stein as "the codex archetypus of all Kashmirian manuscripts" but it suffered from faults of transcription. Unacquainted with the traditions and topography of Kashmir, the Calcutta scholars had taken undue liberties with the text.
In the meantime, Dr. Horace Hayman Wilson, had blazed a trails, nearly ten years earlier, with the publication of "Essay on the Hindu History of Cashmir, which, containing a critical abstract of the first six cantos of the Rajatarangini, familiarized European historians for the first time with important work. The Sanskrit scholar, avoiding close translation, adroitly drew on three incomplete Devanagari manuscripts.
The original Sanskrit text was drawn for the first complete translation of the Rajatarangini, and it was published in French in 1852 A.D., under the prestigious banner of the Societe Asiatique at Paris. The translator, A. Troyer, a Frenchman, then Principal of Calcutta Sanskrit College, had, however, drawn on the same materials as those used at Calcutta in 1835 A.D.
The Calcutta edition of 1835 was also used by Jogesh Chunder Dutt for this translation of the Chronicle into English entitled "Kings of Kashmira: being a translation of the Sanskrit work Rajatarangini of Kalhana Pandita," which appeared in Calcutta, during the period 1879-1887 A.D. In some ways scoring over the Troyer edition, the Dutt translation was, however, tainted by the faults of the Calcutta edition, plus the translator's inability to tackle the references to the topography, traditions and institutions of ancient Kashmir.
The interest of scholars in the Rajatarangini continued unabated. A. Cunningham, visiting Kashmir after the advent of the Dogra rule, clarified a number of points bearing on the system of chronology of the Rajatarangini as well as the numismatic evidence involved. Throwing light on the era used in Kalhana's chronological accounts, he fixed the date for almost all kings of the Rajatarangini, to a fair point of accuracy. At the same time, General (then Captain) Cunningham cited the numismatic evidence for a critical assessment of important events recorded by Kalhana. A study of the existing architectural monuments of the Hindu period also enabled the scholar-soldier to pinpoint a number of places which were important in determining the ancient topography Kashmir.
Kalhana's Chronicle again elicited western attention, this time in Professor Lassen's well-known encyclopaedia in Germa, Indische Alterhtumskunde, presenting an exhaustive analysis of the historical contents of the work. Despite the professor's learning, the encyclopaedic review did not add to the historical data already collected by Dr. Wilson and General Cunningham.
It was left to Professor G. Buhler (then of the Bombay Education Department) to show, as a result of his visit to Kashmir in 1975 A.D., the right methods for reconstructing the ancient geography of Kashmir, which, he rightly stressed in his celebrated Report, was indispensable for the full comprehension of Kalhana's Chronicle. The Kashmir tour of the learned antiquarian became a memorable event for Sanskrit philology as a whole. As for the Rajatarangini, Professor Buhler indicated the materials that were at hand-like the Nilamatapurana, the later Sanskrit chronicles, and other Kashmir texts-for its elucidation. He also established the absolute superiority of the Kashmir manuscripts over the Devanagari manuscripts and thus led the way for the critical reconstruction of the genuine text of the Rajatarangini. His famous Report aid down the critical principles for the future historians as to how to use Kalhana's Chronicle for the history of Kashmir and the rest of India. Inspired by Professor Buhler, useful critical articles on the Chronicle appeared in the Indian Antiquary (Vols. 18 and 19) in 1985 A.D. written by Dr. E. Hultzech. There were more such notices by European and Indian Sanskrit scholars, each discussing particular passages or portions of the Rajatarangini, until the last decade of the 19th century. About this time another eminent scholar, M.A. Stein, made a number of antiquarian tours of Kashmir, and came upon the codex which had been written by a Kashmiri scholar, Pandit Rajnaka Ratnakanta, probably about the third quarter of the 17th century, and which had important glosses and corrections by old hands. Assisted by Pandit Govind Kaul of Srinagar, Stein studied not only the old Sanskrit texts but the peculiar traditions of Kashmir, developed behind the mountain barriers separating the Valley from the rest of India, so as to arrive at a correct comprehension of Kalhana's narration. His Sanskrit text was published in 1892 A.D., under the patronage of the Kashmir Durbar, by the Education Society Press, Bombay.
About the same time, Pandit Durga Prasad (of Kashmir), also brought out his edition which was published by the Nirnaya Sagara Press, Bombay. Consequently, Stein translated the Rajatarangani into English prose in 1900. He followed Professor Buhler's specimen translation, "adopting a form of rendering that allows the interpreter not only to reproduce plainly the meaning of the text, but also indirectly to indicate often the construction or other exegetical reasons underlying his version." This monumental, annotated edition (in two volumes) amply clarified the contents of the Chronicle for the first time.
The next important translation of the Chronicle was, as mentioned already, done by R. S. Pandit, who generally followed the Sanskrit text of Stein, with frequent references to the critical edition of Pandit Dura Prasad. R. S. Pandit, however, felt that Stein's "method of translation does not give an adequate conception of the work as a literary composition to readers unable to study the original". About his own translation, R.S. Pandit said that 'barring the lacunae in the original text, it is complete and unexpurgated."
We have already quoted from Jawaharlal Nehru's foreword to R.S. Pandit's translation. It was written in Dehra Dun Jail in June 1934. Nehru mentioned the comment of S.P. Pandit (made "nearly half a century ago" from then) that the Rajatarangini was "the only works hitherto discovered in India having any pretensions to be considered a history", and added: "Such a book must necessarily have importance for every student of old Indian history and culture." He had this to say about R.S. Pandit's translation: "The translation has preferred a literal rendering, sometimes even at the cost of grace of language, and I think he has chosen rightly, for in a work of this kind exactitude is necessary." The Value of the translation, along with notes and appendices, "bringing out noteworthy contributions made during the Vedic, Buddhist and Brahmanical periods of the history of Kashmir", and vying in learning with those of Stein, persists, and it has stood the text of time.
Kalhana's place as a maker of Indian literature is secured by his only extant work, Rajatarangini, at once a literary masterpiece and a historical document. Not much is known of his life and work. An attempt is made in the following pages to glean from available sources facts about his life and times and to evaluate his contribution to Indian literature.
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