Book Review: Non-fiction/Passion, Power, Perfidy: Tales& fables based on Kalhan’s Rajtarangani by Pl.D.Parimoo, Acme Books/2012, 178 pp; Rs295 (Paperback)
This book essentially aims to make a crucial period of history in Kashmir comprehensible through relying on an important yet ambiguous work-Rajtarangini. Rajtaringini(The River of Kings) presents the broad historical chronicle of north-western Indian subcontinent, particularly about the royals of Kashmir. This was written in Sanskrit by a Kashmiri Pandit, Kalhana in 12th century CE.
P.Parimoo’s book is based on the tales and fables of Kashmir’s most important book which generally records the noticeable events and landmarks of Kashmir, but hundred and twenty verses of Rajtarangini describe the misrule prevailing in Kashmir during the reign of King Kalash-son of King Ananta Deva of Kashmir. Although the earlier books, including of Rajtarangini 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.
This work demonstrates an amicable way out to live between unconfirmed historical narratives and its optimum rationalisation from a point of view of non-academic historian. Parimoo has done well with his chosen chunk from the source, Rajtarangini-he covered all the eight Tarangs to investigate, contextualize those main points into right historical order and finally seems letting this old text a sort of modest lease. This is not less than an accomplishment, earned through hard conceptualisation and getting acquainted through it over a long period of time. Remarkable is the fact, author of this book doesn’t hailing from an academic section, rather he entered the fray of historiography from a career in corporate.
Kalhana lived in a time of political turmoil in Kashmir, at that time Kashmir used to be a very pertinent centre of scholastic tradition despite the incessant ire of barbarism coming from external interferences. Kalhana was an educated and sophisticated Kashmiri Pandit, well-connected in the highest political and scholastic circles. His writing exudes literary height of diverse knowledge, groomed in his unique and sublime style. Kalhana was a poet at large; instead confusing-it’s much better knowing him with this tag. The primary motive behind the Rajataringini was to provide Sanskrit account of the various monarchies of Kashmir, prior to the advent of Islam. It reminds an appropriate comparison between Persia’s Shahnameh and the Rajataringini of Kashmir-both have striking similarities on many counts.
The author of the Rajtarangini had compiled the history of valley’s rulers from ancient patches-from the epic period of the Mahābhārata to the reign of Sangrama Deva (c.1006 CE), until the advent of Muslim rule. The list of kings goes back to the 19th century BCE. Some of the kings and dynasties can be identified with inscriptions and the courtesan histories that periodically included the Kashmir valley, but for knowing the long periods, Rajtarangini remains the only source. The Rajtarangini consists of 7826 verses, which are divided into eight books called Tarangas (waves).
So far, very few follow-up writings happened on Rajtarangini, this book to a large extant will bridge the gap in this regard. 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 Kalhana begins from the period of the Mauryas. Kalhana’s account also express that the city of Srinagar was founded by the Mauryan emperor, Ashokaa, and then Buddhism reached the Kashmir valley during the same period. Henceforth, Buddhism spread to several other adjoining regions including Central Asia, Tibet and China.
At a point in Rajtaringini, Kalhana says, that the valley of Kashmir was formerly a lake. This was drained by the great rishi or sage, Kashyapa, son of Marichi and Brahma, by cutting the gap in the hills at Baramulla (Varaha-mula). Vraha (in Kashmiri Boar), Mulla (in Kashmiri Molar).Parimoo has also stated it in metaphor during his self styled narration of Rajtarangini through this book, those who wants to go in deep of Kashmiri history would surely feel the deepness of historical inquisitions imbibed in the book very useful and scintillating.
After twenty years of displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley, slowly but very genuinely, these genuine stakeholders of Kashmir now trying to figure out their history in ancient time to co-relate it with the modern fragmentation of collective psyche that made this heaven a fearsome terrain. Historical inquiries are for reestablishing the once well acknowledged truth, that Kashmir was the most secular place in Indian subcontinent and what happened wrong there, shaped by the effects of lethal adventures of politically manipulated actions.
Two decades back, Kashmir lost its long tradition of syncretism under the ire of malicious fundamentalism projected from the outside of boundary-shockingly; neither the local socio-cultural bond among the inhabitants nor the commitments of secular Indian union could save the tragical displacement of innocent Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. Now, Pakistan is no longer has any credential among the rest Kashmiris as well, their thirst is now to retrieve the nativity they lost with the departure of Pandits-in the detailed search, most of those who hailing from the valley have earnest desire to get back the old life. Is time ripe now to forget the nightmares?
Absolutely yes, if the Kashmiri’s living outside of the valley for last two decades could still entitle them with the rich Kashmiriyat, and those who left in valley have stronger disenchantment with the rogue political/fundamentalist elements than ever in last two six decades, it seems the old days are bound to return in Kashmir. On Kashmir, Kashmiri’s should have better right to frame their future course under the defined laws of Indian constitution, which is liberal enough to accommodate the all genuine aspiration of a mass Kashmiri. Parimoo’s book and many other writings in both fiction and non-fiction domain from the Kashmiris will strong appeal for the rationalisation of action and emotion for a better world without malice and cunningness.
Both symbolic and in real terms, Rajtarangini still has immense importance for common Kashmiris, so its fresh and stylized narratives coming through this book will be a valued gift for them-rest, scholars not attached with the geographical limitations too will find the work a real worth to involve!
Atul Kumar Thakur
April 05, 2012, Thursday, New Delhi