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The Making of Early Kashmir (Landscape and Identity in the Rajatarangini)

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Item Code: NAH819
Author: Shonaleeka Kaul
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9780199482924
Pages: 214
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.0 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 320 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

What is history? How does a land a become homeland? How are cultural identities formed:' The Making of Early Kashmir explores these questions in relation to the birth of Kashmir and the discursive and material practices that shaped it up to the 12th century CE.

Reinterpreting the first work of Kashmiri history, Kalhana's Rajataranginithis book argues that the text was history not despite being traditional Sanskrit poetry but because of it. It elaborated a poetics of place. implicating Kashmir's sacred geography, a stringent critique of local politics. and a regional selfhood that transcended the limits of vernacularism.

Combined with longue dude testimonies from art, material culture, script, and linguistics, this book jettisons the image of an isolated and insular Kashmir, It proposes a cultural formation that straddled the Western Himalayas and the ludic plains with Kashmir as the pivot. This is the story of the connected histories of the region and the rest of India.

About the Author

Shonaleeka Kaul is a cultural historian of early South Asia, specializing in working with Sanskrit texts. She is associate professor in the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. She has also been the Dinakar Singh Distinguished Lecturer in South Asian Studies at Yale University, New Haven, USA, and the [an Gonda Fellow in Indology at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Her first book, Imagining the Urban: Sanskrit and the City in Early India (2010), was on urban mentalite in Sanskrit poetry and drama. Her second; Cultural History of Early South Asia: A Reader (2014), was an international anthology on questions of cultural consumption in antiquity.


A work of history should perhaps begin by telling its own history. I first picked up Kalhana's Rajatarangini in 2005 to help get through the long months that separated the submission of my doctoral thesis and the conduct of the viva voce for it. My PhD had been on Sanskrit kavya (highly aesthetic poetry and prose) and it was to read another kavya that I turned to the Rajatarangini. In retrospect, this intuitive approach was propitious. For, swimming against the tide of its enormous reputation as a work of objectivist history rather than poetry, reading the Rajatarangini then, and again more carefully in 2012-13, I went on to argue that the Rajatarangini was indeed a kavya first, and thereby perhaps history.

A second, instant observation on my first reading of the text has also stood the test of 12 years of time to remain the centrepiece of my thinking and analysis on the Rajatarangini that is presented in this book. This is the conviction that ethics is the fulcrum of Kalhana's literary and historical vision. This was, however, not something that most of 200 years of modern scholarship on the Rajatarangini had believed-they who had looked upon the moral, didactic, and rhetorical tendencies of the poem as an eminently disregardable indulgence typical of convention bound, brahmanical Sanskrit poets. Though the preaching of the ancients may have little interest for intellectuals of today, to deny the centrality for those poets of this preoccupation with a critical idealism and call to action is, to my mind, to miss the moving spirit and raison of an entire thought-world.

From my resumption of the laborious study of the sprawling Rajatarangini from scratch in 2012 to the completion of this book in 2017, a significantly wider dimension gradually attached itself to the project. This drew on the realization that Kalhana's efforts may have been directed at generating not only a history or temporality but also, perhaps even more significantly, a place for history/time. This place was Kashmir, and the writing of its his- tory by Kalhana, I argue, was tied up with creating a homeland. Implicated in this process were not only the sacred geography of the land and a model of prescriptive politics but also an understanding of regional selfhood that aspired to transcend the narrow cultural limits of vemacularism.

This book then became an investigation of larger, discursive questions that possess, I would like to believe, an enduring primacy across the humanities and social sciences as also a striking resonance for contemporary Kashmir and the world. These questions are: What is history and in what modes may we receive it?

How does a land become a homeland? And how are cultural identities formed? That the three questions are in fact intertwined and inform one another is perhaps at the core of e answers to them that this book proposes. Howsoever obscured, the ancient past cannot be erased or wished away. It shapes a land and a people in intrinsic ways, it shapes their collective self. An identity divorced from history may descend into delusion.

In the course of delivering many lectures based on my readings in Kashmiri history, in Delhi, in other parts of India, and in academies abroad, I discovered a disturbing reality. Indians knew so little about Kashmir; no doubt the result of its complete and shocking absence from school and university curricula. The world knew even less, and perhaps only the tales of violence and strife that have been doing the rounds in certain diplomatic and academic circles for the last 30 years. However, and undoubtedly the saddest of all, many young Kashmiris in the Valley today, reared on a schizophrenic narrative, seemed to know or care the least about the rich origins and legacy of their land. Though hardly written with that object, it is hoped that The Making of Early Kashmir will go some way in forcing our collective attention back to the ancient history of a region that once spearheaded virtually all intellectual and cultural movements in the Indian subcontinent with trademark erudition and brilliance.

Conceiving, researching, and writing this book has been an exacting and exhilarating journey. I should like to acknowledge those who helped. The Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded me the Jan Gonda Fellowship in Indology in 2014 that facilitated my access to the erstwhile Kern Institute Collection and the digital resources of the University of Leiden, The Netherlands. This laid the foundation for the wide scope and findings of what became Chapter 4 of this book. Two successive Humanities Research and Development grants from the University of Delhi, India, also aided my research.

Most of Chapter 2 was first published in 2014 in History and Theory, the iconic journal of Wesleyan University, USA, that earlier in the 1970s and '80s carried the writings of Hayden White, among other greats. White was the philosopher-critic whose work substantively executed the literary turn in history worldwide, to which I too subscribe. I thank the journal editors, William Pinch and Ethan Klein, for their warm backing and this early vindication of what was/is a thoroughly revisionist hypothesis.

For providing all help and permissions with some of the images carried in this book, my gratitude is due to Vinay Kumar Gupta, Shailendra Bhandare, Iqbal Ahmed, Malcolm Todywalla, and Sandeep Rao. Chancing upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York's wonderful new policy of cultural commons was a relief; most of the images of early Kashmiri art used here belong to their public domain collection.


This book is a cultural history/anthropology/geography of early Kashmir. The reason it dons many hats is that the phenomena it investigates, the questions it raises, and the perspectives it employs do not belong to anyone discipline. They do all relate, however, to the broad field of culture. Culture has been understood in its essence as shared meanings and values. And after the recent 'cultural turn' across the social disciplines, it is understood to be discrete and irreducible to other spheres of human life such as the economic and the political. This book is 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. It explores early Kashmir as a literary imaginary constructed in a major text. However, that is only the beginning of what this book is about. Synoptically speaking, it is a study of temporality, spatiality, and identity in early Kashmir through a range of discursive and material practices.

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. This is not the reason, however, why this text has received the rousing scholarly reception that it has over the last two hundred years. As will be explained in detail in Chapter 2, 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 in what can perhaps be described as a scramble for coevality with the Western world and its disciplinary parameters.

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, a disruption and compromising of its otherwise fine display of objectivist qualities such as factuality, impartiality, and causality. Dividing the text against itself thus, the modern scholarly exegesis of the Rajatarangini, by and large, ended up transforming it as also suppressing, what this book will argue are, its authentic representational tendencies and rich semantic possibilities. The Making of Early Kashmir is about rehabilitating the Rajatarangini to its own literary culture and thereby accessing the wealth of meanings pertaining to early Kashmir that it produced and preserved.

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. Re-examining the relationship between language and expressions of space in premodern India is the entry point for this volume. Arguing for moving beyond the influential binary of 'cosmopolitan' and 'vernacular' literary cultures authored by Sheldon Pollock, this book draws attention to how the Rajataraligini, a classic literary representation of regional space, is in the 'cosmopolitan' Sanskrit and not in the vernacular tongue, Kashmiri. It thereby provides an important exception to Pollock's hypothesis as well as defies any formulaic understanding of how premodern South Asian literary cultures related to the spaces they represented. It argues that the Rajataraligini is a splendid example of how Sanskrit kavya adopted and adapted local Kashmiri motifs, locales, and content to a trans local poetics and stood in as the pre-eminent register of regional literary expression. In the process, it inaugurated a critique of local politics as well.

From this position, the book seeks to expand the ways in which the Rajataraligini has been looked at-from political history to intellectual and cultural history that entails the production of knowledge and meaning. It is then a case for revisiting the scope 'of kavya studies as well, for this book shows on the strength of the Rajataraligini how kavya was not just an inert receptacle for history but a cognitive and discursive mode of representation that actively constituted and mediated the past for its audiences. This form of history was coterminous with the poet's vision of the land and its lineages. It is this vision that the book attempts to decode, this discourse that it seeks to interpret, to raise for the first-time questions of landscape and identity for early Kashmir.

Before I explain how the book goes about this, it would be appropriate to say more about the relationship between regional history, culture, and representation to make explicit the premises underlying this exercise. A region does not express or possess intrinsic meaning. Meaning is given or constructed through dis- cursive 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.

A sustained representation inaugurates a discourse on the region, the power and efficacy of which derives from whether it is experienced as authentic by the community which it claims to represent and in which it circulates. The fact that Kalhana's Rajataraligini gave rise to at least three sequels by other Kashmiris over the next four, tumultuous centuries of Kashmiri his- tory 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. Perhaps the Rajataraligini's fame and authority would have been confined to intellectuals; nonetheless, to what was owed this prestige and enduring authenticity?

I suggest that it is only when a discourse is embedded in a semantic-conceptual universe that is shared by the community that it can attain currency. For Kalhana and his representation of Kashmir, that shared cultural universe or framework by which people made sense of the world around them drew from the pan-Indic Sanskrit episteme. In particular, Sanskrit's master texts and genres, such as itihasa, purana, kavya, and sastra and their ethico-philosophical traditions relating to nu! (principles), dharma (righteousness/duty), and karma (action), were the inter- texts that furnished for early Kashmir the criteria for evaluating knowledge as relevant and true. However, in a little-noticed fact, Kalhana's poem was also a foray into folklore and local oral traditions about the land, seen in the frequent references to janasruti and katha (people's sayings and stories) as the source of verity, and in the invocation of popular memory as witness to Kashmiri history via the formula adyapi smaryate janaih, ('it is remembered by the people to this day'). This is discussed in Chapter 3. This fact also illuminates Kalhana's choice of kavya for being a versatile and flexible mode that could entertain the mythic and the folk alongside classical and conventionalized registers of imagination and representation. The Rajataraligini's authority perhaps stemmed from this apposite combination, among other things.


  List of Illustrations ix
  Preface xi
  Note on Edition, Translation, and Diacritics xix
1 Introduction 1
2 Poetics and the Past: Questions of History in Kalhana's Rajataraligini 16
  The History Hypothesis or The History That Wasn't 21
  The Literary Hypothesis 29
  Is the Rajatarangini a Kavya? 35
  Metapoetry and Epistemic Insight 41
  'The River of Kings' as a Flow of Exemplars 46
  Critique of Power-and Time 52
3 Imagined Landscape: Myth, Memory, and Place-Making 59
  Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in Kashmir 60
  Layers of Landscape 65
  Mapping the Land 68
  Nature and Ritual 74
  Storytelling and the Moral Agency of Nagas 80
  Local Imageries 86
  Kingdom of Piety or This Troubied Land 90
4 (Re)locating Early Kashmir: Geoculture of a Region and Beyond 99
  From Unique History to Connected Histories 103
  Text 107
  Material Culture 126
  Script 133
  Language 139
  Art 143
5 Conclusion 158
  Bibliography 166
  Index 182
  About the Author 190

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