Nehru on Rajatarangini


Compiled by London Swaminathan
Article No.1465; Dated 7th December 2014.

What is Rajatarangini?
Rajatarangini is the history of Kashmir written by a Kashmiri Brahmin called Kalhana. Rajatarangini means “RIVER OF KINGS”. It was written in Sanskrit in eight chapters. It consists of 3449 slokas/couplets. It is a 12th century work.

Who was Nehru?
Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964. He was also a Kashmiri Brahmin. Nehru’s brother in law Ranjith Pandit translated it from Sanskrit into English in two years inside the jail. The translation work was done when both Nehru and Mr Pandit were in prison. Nehru wrote a foreword to his translation in 1934.

Rajatarangini was “the only work hitherto discovered in India having any pretensions to be considered as a history”, said Mr S P Pandit. Foreigners also praised Rajatarangini as the first history book in India. Kalhana was the first Indian to write a history book with the dates and other details like a modern history book.

Kalhana wrote it 200 years before Muslim’s conquest of Kashmir. It has got lot of interesting information. Kalhana disputed the traditional date of Kaliyuga 3100 BCE and placed it around 2500 BCE.

I give below what Nehru said about Rajatarangini,

“It is a history and it is a poem, though the two perhaps go ill together, and in a translation especially we have to suffer for this combination.

“Written 800 years ago, the story is supposed to cover thousands of years, but the early part is brief and vague and sometimes fanciful and it is only in the later periods, approaching Kalhana’s own times, that we see a close up and have a detailed account.

“There is too much of palace intrigue and murder and treason and civil war and tyranny. It is story of autocracy and military oligarchy here as in Byzantium or elsewhere. In the main, it is a story of kings and the royal families and the nobility, not of the common folk – indeed the very name is the River of Kings.

Quixotic Chivalry and Disgusting Cruelty

“And yet Kalhana’s book is something far more than a record of king’s doings. It is a rich store house of information, political and social and, to some extent economic. We see the panoply of the Middle Ages, the feudal knights in medieval glittering armour, quixotic chivalry and disgusting cruelty, loyalty unto death and senseless treachery; we read royal amours and intrigues of and of fighting and militant and adulterous queens.


Women seem to play a quite 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 Surya’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.

Kalhana describes Kashmir as “a country in insurrection”! It was nearly two hundred years after Kalhana wrote his history that Kashmir submitted to Muslim rule, and even then it was not by external conquest but by a local revolution headed by a Muslim official of the last Hindu ruler, Queen Kota”.

About Kashmir’s summer heat inside the prison Nehru writes,
“But Kalhana had enabled me to overstep these walls and forget the summer heat, and to visit the land of the Sun God “where realizing that the land created by his father is unable to bear the heat, the hot rayed sun honours it by bearing himself with softness in summer; where dawn first appears with a golden radiance on the eternal snows and in the evening, the daylight renders homage to the peaks of the towering mountains”.


“The joy of plunging into Ganga is not known to those who reside in the sandy deserts, writes Kalhana; how can the dwellers in the plains know the joys of the mountains, and especially of this jewel of Asia, situate in the heart of that mighty continent.”

The above matter is from the foreword of Jawaharlal Nehru to Rajatarangini written on 28 June, 1934 from Dehradun Jail.

(There is lot of interesting historical information in Rajatarangini of which I will write in separate articles: swami)

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