Sunday, 18 March 2012


Rājatarangiṇī (Rājataraṃgiṇī "The River of Kings") is a metrical historical chronicle of north-western Indian subcontinent, particularly the kings of Kashmir, written in Sanskrit by Kashmiri Brahman Kalhaṇa in 12th century CE.

The work generally records the heritage of Kashmir, but 120 verses of Rājatarangiṇī describe the misrule prevailing in Kashmir during the reign of King Kalash, son of King Ananta Deva of Kashmir. Although the earlier books are inaccurate in their chronology, they still provide an invaluable source of information about early Kashmir and its neighbors in the north western parts of the Indian subcontinent, and are widely referenced by later historians and ethnographers.The broad valley of Kashmir, also spelled Cashmere is almost completely surrounded by the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal range.

Kalhana states that the valley of Kashmir was formerly a lake. This was drained by the great rishi or sage, Kashyapa, son of Marichi, son of Brahma, by cutting the gap in the hills at Baramulla (Varaha-mula). Vraha (in Kashmiri Boar), Mulla (in Kashmiri Molar).

With a fertile soil and temperate climate, the valley is rich in rice, vegetables and fruits of all kinds, and famous for the quality of its wool. Kashmir has been inhabited since prehistoric times, sometimes independent but at times subjugated by invaders from Bactria, Tartary, Tibet and other mountainous regions to the North, and from the Indus valley and the Ganges valley to the South. At different times the dominant religion has been Hindu, Buddhist, Animist and (after the period of the history) Muslim.

Kalhana: the author & his philosophy

Kalhana (कल्हण) (c. 12th century CE) a Kashmiri Brahmin was the author of Rajatarangini, and is regarded as Kashmir's first historian. In fact, his translator Aurel Stein expressed the view that his was the only true Sanskrit history. Little is known about him except from what he tells us about himself in the opening verses of his book. His father Champaka was the minister (Lord of the Gate) in Harsha of Kashmir's court.

Kalhana in his opening Taranga of Rajatarangini presents his views on how history ought to be written. From Stein's translation:

  • Verse 7. Fairness: That noble-minded author is alone worthy of praise whose word, like that of a judge, keeps free from love or hatred in relating the facts of the past.
  • Verse 11. Cite earlier authors: The oldest extensive works containing the royal chronicles [of Kashmir] have become fragmentary in consequence of [the appearance of] Suvrata's composition, who condensed them in order that (their substance) might be easily remembered.
  • Verse 12. Suvrata's poem, though it has obtained celebrity, does not show dexterity in the exposition of the subject-matter, as it is rendered troublesome [reading] by misplaced learning.
  • Verse 13. Owing to a certain want of care, there is not a single part in Ksemendra's "List of Kings" (Nrpavali) free from mistakes, though it is the work of a poet.
  • Verse 14. Eleven works of former scholars containing the chronicles of the kings, I have inspected, as well as the [Purana containing the] opinions of the sage Nila.
  • Verse 15. By looking at the inscriptions recording the consecretations of temples and grants by former kings, at laudatory inscriptions and at written works, the trouble arising from many errors has been overcome.

Despite these stated principles, and despite the value that historians have placed on Kalhana's work, it must be accepted that his history was far from accurate. In the first three books, there is little evidence of authenticity and serious inconsistencies. 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. It is known, however, that Mihirakula was the son of Toramana. The chronicles only start to align with other evidence by book IV.

Structure of Rajatarangini

The author of the Rajatarangini history chronicles the rulers of the valley from earliest times, from the epic period of the Mahābhārata to the reign of Sangrama Deva (c.1006 CE), before the Muslim era. The list of kings goes back to the 19th century BCE. Some of the kings and dynasties can be identified with inscriptions and the histories of the empires that periodically included the Kashmir valley, but for long periods the Rajatarangini is the only source.

The work consists of 7826 verses, which are divided into eight books called Tarangas (waves).

Kalhaṇa’s account of Kashmir begins with the legendary reign of Gonarda, who was contemporary to Yudhisthira of the Mahābhārata, but the recorded history of Kashmir, as retold by Kalhaṇa begins from the period of the Mauryas. Kalhaṇa’s account also states that the city of Srinagar was founded by the Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, and that Buddhism reached the Kashmir valley during this period. From there, Buddhism spread to several other adjoining regions including Central Asia, Tibet and China.

Lands of the Kushanshas (Indo-Sassanian) and Hunas (Kushano-Hepthalites) in 565 AD

The kings of Kashmir described in the Rājatarangiṇī can be roughly grouped into dynasties as in the table below.

Notes in parentheses refer to a book and verse. Thus (IV.678) is Book IV verse 678.

Gonanda I The Rajatarangini (I.59) lists Gonanda I as the first king of Kashmir, a relative of Jarasasamdha of Magadh.
Lost and Unknown kings Skipping over "lost kings" we come to Lava of an unknown family. After his family, Godhara of another family ruled (I.95).
Mauryas The Maurya Empire was a geographically extensive and powerful political and military empire in ancient India, founded by Chandragupta Maurya in Magadha, in 322 BCE. His grandson Ashoka the Great (273-232 BCE) built many stupas in Kashmir, and was succeeded by his son Jalauka.
Kushanas After a Damodara ("of Asoka's kula or another"), we have Hushka, Jushka and Kanishka (127–147 CE) of the Bactrian Kushan Empire.

(Note the confusion of dates in this and the following sections. Kalhana appears to made little attempt to determine the actual dates and sequence of rule of the kings and dynasties he recorded)

Gonandiya After an Abhimanyu, we come to the main Gonandiya dynasty, founded by Gonanda III. He was (I.191) the first of his race. Nothing is known about his origin. His family ruled for many generations.
Some others Eventually a Pratapaditya, a relative of Vikrmaditya (not the Shakari) became king (II.6). After a couple of generations a Vijaya from another family took the throne (II.62).

His son Jayendra was followed by Sandhimat-Aryaraja (34 BCE-17 CE) who had the soul of Jayendra's minister Sandhimati. Kalhana says that Samdhimat Aryaraja used to spend “the most delightful Kashmir summer” in worshiping a lingam formed of snow/ice “in the regions above the forests” (II.138). This too appears to be a reference to the ice lingam at Amarnath.

Huna Kalhana describes the rules of Toramana and Mihirakula (510-542 CE), but does not mention that these were Huna people: this is known from other sources.
Gonandiya again After the Huna, Meghavahana of the Gonandiya family was brought back from Gandhara. His family ruled for a few generations. Meghavahana was a devout Buddhist and prohibited animal slaughter in his domain.
Karkota dynasty (625-1003 CE) Gonandiya Baladitya made his officer in charge of fodder, Durlabhavardhana (III.489) his son-in-law because he was handsome. Lalitaditya Muktapida (724-760 CE) of this dynasty created an empire based on Kashmir and covering most of North western India and Central Asia.

(With his account of the Karkota dynasty, relatively recent at the time he wrote his chronicles, Kalhana's information becomes more consistent with other sources.)

Kalhana relates that Laliditya Muktapida invaded the tribes of the north and after defeating the Kambojas, he immediately faced the Tusharas. The Tusharas did not give a fight but fled to the mountain ranges leaving their horses in the battle field. Then Lalitaditiya meets the Bhauttas in Baltistan in western Tibet north of Kashmir, then the Dardas in Karakoram/Himalaya, the Valukambudhi and then he encounters Strirajya, the Uttarakurus and the Pragjyotisha respectively (IV.165-175).

Utpala In the Karkota family, Lalitapida had a concubine, a daughter of a Kalyapala (IV.678).

Her son was Chippatajayapida. The young Chippatajayapida was advised by his maternal uncle Utpalaka or Utpala (IV.679). Eventually the Karkota dynasty ended and a grandson of Utpala became king.

Kutumbi After the Utpala dynasty, a Yashaskara became king (V.469). He was a great-grandson of a Viradeva, a Kutumbi (V.469). Here maybe Kutumbi = kunabi (as in kurmis of UP and Kunbi of Gujarat/Maharastra). He was the son of a treasurer of Karkota Shamkaravarman.

Kalhana describes Shamkaravarman (883–902) thus (Stein's trans.): "This [king], who did not speak the language of the gods but used vulgar speech fit for drunkards, showed that he was descended from a family of spirit-distillers". This refers to the fact that the power had passed to the brothers of a queen, who was born in a family of spirit-distillers.[7]

Divira After a young son of Yashaskara, Pravaragupta, a Divira (clerk), became king. His son Kshemagupta married Didda, daughter of Simharaja of Lohara. After ruling indirectly and directly, Didda (980-1003 CE) placed Samgramaraja, son of her brother on the throne, starting the Lohara dynasty.
Lohara The Lohara family was founded by a Nara of Darvabhisara (IV.712). He was a vyavahari (perhaps merchant) who along with others who owned villages like him had set up little kingdoms during the last days of Karkotas. The Loharas ruled for many generations. The author Kalhana was a son of a minister of Harsha of this family.

[edit] Evaluation

Kalhana lived in a time of political turmoil in Kashmir, at that time a brilliant center of civilization in a sea of barbarism. Kalhana was an educated and sophisticated Brahmin, well-connected in the highest political circles. His writing is full of literary devices and allusions, concealed by his unique and elegant style. Kalhana was a poet.[8] The Rajataringini is a Sanskrit account of the various monarchies of Kashmir, prior to the advent of Islam. Like the Shahnameh is to Persia, the Rajataringini is to Kashmir.


Rajatarangini was translated into Persian by Zain-ul-Abidin order.

There are four English translations of Rājatarangiṇī by:

  • Ranjit Sitaram Pandit
  • Horace Hayman Wilson, secretary of The Asiatic Society of Bengal in the early 19th century, and the first English translator of the Rajataragini.
  • Jogesh Chandra Dutt in the late 19th century.
  • Aurel Stein, done in the early 20th century, in 3 volumes - the most comprehensive.
  • Gopikrishna Shastri (Ujjain) also translated the work into Hindi.

Television serial

A television series based on Rajatirangini named "Meeras" was begun in 1986 in Doordarshan Srinagar. The series was closed down immediately after the pilot episode was aired, accused to be Brahmanical propaganda.

Another television serial based on this work has been completed by National Award winning director, Jyoti Sarup. The serial was aired on Doordarshan in 2006.

Rajatarangini is a class by itself in Indian literature. It is very much different from Charitas, which were composed under royal patronage. The scholar-poets of Charitas had the rare gift of inventing fables and myths and applying their talent in glorifying the achievements of their patrons. Their works are masterpieces of literature dabbling in subtle poetic art, rhetorical beautification, and Alankarshastra. Rajatarangini on the other hand, is the work of a detached and impartial mind, viewing the past and present with great historical insight and not in a spirit of hero worship or pleasing patron. Rajatarangini, not only forms a class by itself in Sanskrit language compositions but has a striking resemblance in character to the chronicles of mediaeval Europe and of the Islamic East.

Sources materials in Rajatarangini
While writing the first three books (chapters) of Rajatarangini, Kalhana made full use of tradition whether written or oral, and the chronicles which were based on such traditions. In writing down these traditions, at times, Kalhana can be seen in the light of a critic. For instance, he mentions three traditions of the death of the king Lalitaditya, without stating what is true, and comments, "When the great meet their end there arise stories indicative of their uncommon grandeur". King Meghavahan`s exploits have been described in such a far-fetched manner, that Kalhana himself is fearful that they might not be accepted as true but he tries to justify them by comparing them with the cruelties of Harsha, which, in their town, might not be believed, but for them these were eyewitnesses.

For the last two chapters of his book, the main sources were his contemporaries, his father, fellow-countrymen and his own memory. Thus many incidents of the treachery of Bhiksachara`s troops, he emphatically writes, were witnessed by him. It is no surprise that much of the history of the previous two generations, he got from his father and father`s friends who held key-posts in the politics of their times.

Composition of Rajatarangini
The Rajatarangini consists of eight books (Chapters) of unequal size, written in Sanskrit language in nearly 8,000 verses of rare literary merit. The text may roughly be divided into three sections:

1. Books 1 to 3, which are based on traditions.

2. Books 4 to 6, dealing with Karakota and Utpala dynasties. Here, he has made extensive use of the works of earlier chroniclers who were contemporaries or near contemporaries of the events they described.

3. Books 7 and 8, dealing with the two Lohara dynasties. In these he made use of personal knowledge and eye-witness accounts, the latter often perhaps received at second or third hand.

The Sanskrit style of Rajatarangini is similar to that of the accepted style of the Pundits of Brahmin descent. The introduction to each book of his chronicle is begun by prayers to Lord Shiva in his form of Ardhnarishwar representing the God in union with Parvati.

Style of Writing of Rajatarangini
The style of writing of the Rajatarangini is not crude or difficult. Kalhana`s idea was that even a historical text must be a work of art and has tried to make his work attractive to readers. There are scattered verses adorned in ornate language or donned in fantastic imagery, of country Sanskrit. His accounts are graphic and vivid except in his last two books, where so many characters are brought into the scene without proper introduction. Kalhana who had strictly maintained the chronology right from the start of the book, did not follow it to the letter in the second and third sections. Evidently he was writing his book for those, who were familiar with the events of the period.

The instructive feature of Rajatarangini may be traced to the selection of Sana Rasa i.e. sentiment of resignation. Here Kalhana`s has taken it as a motive to show that material prosperity and royal possessions are objects of transitory glory. The evil acts of man will turn around and get him some time or the other as this is destiny. In the same way, acts of policy, statecraft and individual conduct are again and again praised and analysed in the light of Dharma or Nitishastra.

Content of Rajatarangini
Rajatarangini is a sage showing the force of Karma. Whatever good or bad a man does in this life, according to Kalhana, reaps the harvest for that in the life to come. Often the force of Karma shapes events and provides the basic moral sanction. Fate, according to Kalhana, is the second force influencing the human destiny. Fate is sometimes used as a synonym for God. God or the Gods often influence human affairs. Sometimes adverse fate is overcome by those who trust in their arms. Here also Rajatarangini gives another hopeful message to his countrymen that whatever fate the creator might have in store for them, only a strong king confident of his powers could save Kashmir. Rajatarangini interlinks the Karma of the Kings with that of his subjects. Good Kings arise through the merits of their subject. A king and his subjects could mould the orders of nature.

Rajatarangini appears to wage a war in favour of benevolent despotism and strongly disapproves of feudalism. Believing in orthodox Rajniti (state-craft), he had his own conception of good government. Explicitly or implicitly Rajatarangini carries the idea that a strong king is the ideal king, who has firm control over unruly elements, but is benevolent towards his people and sympathetic to their wishes. He chooses his ministers with discretion, and listens to their counsels with respect. Kalhana has shown his steady disapproval of the demurs, the petty feudal chiefs, who were the cause of anarchy and confusion in Kashmir since the death of Harsha. Another motive, perhaps, in writing Rajatarangini was to inspire the kings of Kashmir with their ancient glory and prowess, and to curb the unruly elements, who aimed at making the king weak. At times Kalhana becomes pessimistic. The words put in the mouth of Harsha symbolises it- "This-land, after having been a virtuous woman, has fallen like a prostitute into the arms of the insolent. Henceforth, whoever knows how to succeed by mere intrigue will aspire to that Kingdom whose power has gone." Here the historian shows his prophetic vision. He is no more simply a poet or a scholar.

Shortcomings of Rajatarangini
This great work has also some shortcomings. The sources used by him, were not critically analysed and discussed. His narrative becomes more legendary in the middle of the ninth century, when one seems to reach contemporary records. There are a number of fantastic and often unbelievable stories which have been described by him as being historical truths. Naturally his credibility is questioned when such exaggerations are portrayed as the truth. Similarly, Kalhana`s chronology is also not based on scientific data. Of course, one cannot expect critical judgment in matters of chronology from an author who has started dating history from a legendary date of the coronation of Yudhisthar from the epics, and attributes three hundred years to a single ruler, Ranadilya. Kalhana could not and should not be blamed for this, as it was a general trend among the Indians. Rajatarangini also presents a contrast within itself. Its earlier part is a mass of fiction, and later part, that is early medieval part, is real history. It vividly describes the falling glory of Kashmir- the palace intrigues, murders, rebellious civil wars and treachery.

Kalhana, in writing Rajatarangini, set a tradition for history writing. His book, after him, was continued by four successive historians from the point where he left, to some years after Kashmir`s annexation by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. The task of a historian, according to Kalhana, is to make clear the pictures of a bygone era. Kalhana was aware that his work would not only achieve permanency, but would enliven all the actors as well as himself. He had another object also in view. He says "This saga, which is properly made up, should be useful for kings as a stimulant or a sedative, like a physic, according to time and place". Kalhana expected that both good and bad Kings would benefit from his work. He is a thus strong supporter of historical impartiality. The Rajatarangini is thus a work of great importance. It is the history of kings, royal families and nobility, justifying the title "River of the Kings".


  1. thanks for the nice information.


  3. very well analysed its precise and also easliy understood

  4. Any person interested in our ancient history and historiography must read Kalhana's Rajatarangini