Indian Historical Writing, c.600-c.1400

Just got a hold of The Oxford History of History Writing, Volume 2: 400-1400, edited by Sarah Foot and Chase F. Robinson. (General Editor for all 5 volumes is Daniel Woolf). "Indian Historical Writing, c.600-c.1400" is Chapter 4, written by Daud Ali, whose Courtly Culture and Political Life in Early Medieval India I have seen (but not read) in a library.


A. Some notes:

1. "The intention ... is ... to appreciate the variety of discourses about the past, to understand their basic features, assumptions, conditions of production, and relations with power." (p.82)

2. "Some basic features and assumptions unite all historical writing from this period. ... First ... Many superhuman or 'unseen' powers and entities were assumed to be part of the 'furniture' of everyday life, and enter into histoircal narratives on a regular basis. ... Second, the material and immaterial universe was understood to be infused with value -- a strong sense of moral weight lay behind a hierarchy of social and material being which constituted both society and the natural world. This association of value and being -- often articulated through theological ideas-- gave the human world a historical and ontological purpose, and the narration of history reflected this value structure. Finally, there was typically no strong and inimitable 'break' which separated writers and audiences in their present from the worlds of their pasts. ..." (p.83)

3. "there existed no separate 'discipline' or 'genre' recognizable as 'history' which was clearly demarcated from other fields of knowledge." (p.83

4. "The puranas were largely preserved in an oral context, and crucial to their transmission were reciters or 'bards' who were capable of interpolating or omitting large amounts of materials to meet the needs of their audiences. ... Inscriptions and court poems, which were largely written compositions, tended to be the work of single authors ... While all of these works surely drew on earlier accounts of different varieties, they rarlye acknowledge them. Even when they did so, the boundaries of 'source' and 'historian' were not recognized. (p.84)

5. "The puranas are universalist, cosmological histories composed by adepts of the theistic religious orders of Saivism and Vaisnavism." (p.84) "... locality and cast puranas, very common arter the sixteenth century, relate the histories of particular places or groups." (p.85) "According to the puranas, cosmic time was measured through the repetition of countless cycles of epochs (manvantara) and cosmic formations (kalpa) understood as the actual life rhythms of great beings, ending, of course, in the Supreme Lord, of whom time itself was an aspect. Divinity in these religious orders was highly 'emanationist' and radically immanent." (p.85) "The reent history of the authors is thus narrated in the future tense and cast as a prediction rather than a narration of past events." (p.85)

6. "The puranas left four important legacies ... First, they connected the world of their listeners ... to the hoary past ... and to the drama of creation itself ... Second, the links between past and present were established through the mechanism of genealogy, or vamsa, what Thapar has called the 'epicentre' of Puranic thinking about hte past. ... Third, they conceptualized the present as an era of moral decline ... Finally, as theistic texts, they articulated a vision of history which was infused wiht divine agency ..." (p.85-86)

7. Inscriptional eulogies (prasasti):

a. ~4th c., "land grants to Brahmin communities and temples ... prefaced by eulogies praising the valour of the donating king and his family."

b. increasingly from the 5th and 6th c., "his family back through the generations. Dated either in regnal years or in any one of a number of reckoning eras ..."

c. ~7th c. "many lineages trace themselves back to the royal families of the sun and moon mentioned in the puranas. ... In many eulogies the king is explicitly identified wiht a Puranic god, usually some form of Visnu, who was particularly associated with wordly sovereignty."

8. Lineage chronicles (Vamsavalis): "preserved for certain regions or families, similar in structure to inscriptional eulogies, but typically less ornate in style. They are organized, like prasastis, as generation by generation genealogies though they typically provide elaborate Puranic origin myths, often with interludes of fallen status, to explain the rise of new families." (p.86) "the more historically 'recent' parts of many vamsavalis, nearer in time to their composition, are often narrated as simple king lists." (p.87) "Important vamsavalis exist for kingdoms in Nepal, Rajasthan, Chamba, and Kerala and may be dated between 1000 and 1500, though most have been subject to ongoing interpolation."

9. Carita ('deeds') or vijaya ('victory'), either prose stories (akhyayika) or verse compositions (kavya) or epic court poems (mahakavya). Sub-genres include sastrakavya (expository treatise on technical subject) and slesakavya (bi-textual poem). Themes typically involve succession and conquest. "Soverignty is often personified as the Goddess of Forturne (Sri or Laksmi)."

10. Rajatarangini: "remarkable and unprecedented introductory verses of the text, which discuss its scope, sources, and 'methods.'" (p.89) "after him we have no less than five extant works -- all dating between the 15th and 19th c., written by different authors-- with the title Rajatarangini" (p.89) More chronicle and eulogy; "Kalhana ... did not seem to enjoy an official position at the Lohara court." "purports to be the history of the region of Kashmir." (p.89) "rasa of santa or 'equanimity,' an aesthetic sentiment extensively theorized and developed by Kashimiri intellectuals in the 11th c." (p.90) "presnted a world of ever more foolish and depraved kings... relies on the trope of moral decline." (p.90) "striking realism uncharacteristic of the courtly kavyas reviewed above ... in the prominence of a large cast of what aesthetic treatises deemed 'middling' or 'lower' character types-- corrupt scribes, wily courtesans, and a variety of thieves, spies, and assasins--all involved in incessant intrigue." "It is instead in the 'story' or didactic genres, often set in putatively fictive settings, that such characters abound. In KAshmir, the works of Ksemendra and particularly Somadeva in the 11th c. may have provided key prototypes for Kalhana." (p.90)

11. 13th c., Jain intellectuals: "First, we have a number of ulogistic life-stories of men other than kings--ministers, merchants, and monks. Notable among these are the set of biographies of the famous ministers Vastupala and Tejahpala. ... Jagaducarita ... describes the life and deeds of a famous local merchant. ... several hagiographies exist for Jain monks of the Svetambara order, the most famous of whom was undoubtedly the polymath Hemacandra. ... Jain writers also produced shorter prose narratives called prabandhas which related tales about eminent people. These works mixed the moral didacticism and realistic style of the story (katha) literature with the historic conventions of tradiitional carita literature." (p.91)

12. "No Persian history of the Delhi Sultanate attempted to weave India's pre-Islamic past into a heroic prelude for the introduction of Islam into the sub-continent. This was, no doubt, because Indian elites, unlike those of Iran, never converted in large numbers ..." (p.93)

13. "History was generally referred to by the Arabic term ta'rikh, which denoted a subject rather than a genre." (p.93)

14. Barani's 7 benefits of history: "familiarizing the faithful with the deeds of prophets, 'history is the twin brother of the science of hadith', helping to verify and confirm the reliability of the narrators of tradition... history's role in providing a storehouse of policy examples to assure sultans and wazirs in difficult times, and its role in assisting the exercise of reason and the development of virtues more generally." (p.94)

15. Two broad categories of Persian-language histories in South Asia: 1) "general prose histories of Islam or Islam in a particular region as well as dynastic histories of regional empires"; and 2) "self-consciously literary compositions, either eulogistic biographies, usually in prose, sometimes called manaqib, or in various other genres." (p.94)


B. Historical texts mentioned:

- Buddhist chronicles of Sri Lanka, the Mahavamsa [Great Chronicle] and Dipavamsa [Chronicle of the Island]

- Harsacarita [The Deeds of Harsa], Sanskrit prose work in the akhyayika genre composed by Bana (beginning of 7th c.)

- Halayudha's Kavirahasya, text on verbal roots with verses praising the patron reigned 940-956

- (Jain) poet Padmagupta Parimala composed the Navasahasankacarita [The Deeds of the New Vikrama] (king r. 995-1010) 

- Ferdowsi's Shah-nama

- al-Biruni's Kitab Tahqiq ma lil-Hind min maqulah maqbulah fi al-'aql aw mardhulah (in Arabic), 11th c.

- Bilhana's Vikramankadevacarita [The Deeds of he Who had Courage as his Mark], verse poem (latter half of 11th c.)

- Sandhyakaranandin's Ramacarita, simultaneously narrated the story of the Ramayana epic and the career of the Pala king Ramapala (1087-1141)

- Kalhana's Kashmiri chronical, the Rajatarangini [Stream of Kings] (mid 12th c.)

- Hemacandra's Dvyasrayakavya, grammar of Sanskrit and Prakrit which tells history of kings of Gujarat, especially King Kumarapala (1143-72)

- Prthivirajavijaya [The Victory of Prthiviraja] of Jayanaka (end of 12th c.)

- Shajara-i Ansab [The Tree of Geneaologies] of Fakhr-i Mudabbir, presented in 1209

- Taj al-Ma'athir [The Crown of Glorious Deeds] of Hasan Nizami, during reign of Sultan Iltutmish (1210-36)

- Gadyakarnamrta [The Prose-Ambrosia of the Ear], prose work by Vidyacakravartin (patron reign 1220-35)

Jagaducarita [The Deeds of Jagadu] of Sarvananda, 13th c.

- Tabaqat-i Nasiri [The Generations of Nasir] of Minhaj al-Siraj Juzjani, written in 1259-60

- Merutunga's Prabandhacintamani [Wishing Stone of Narratives], composed 1305

- Vidyanatha's Prataparudrayasobhusana, text of poetics which celebrates the deeds of Kakatiya king Prataparuda (1289-1323)

- Amir Khusrau (writing at courts from 1289 until his death in 1325): Qiran al-Sa'dayn [ The Conjunction of Two Beneficient Planets]; Miftah al-Futuh [The Key to the Victories]; Duwal Rani Khizr Khan [Duval Rani and Khizr Khan]; Nuh Sipihr [The Nine Spheres]; Tughluq Namah [The Book of the Tughluqs]; Khazain al Futuh [The Treasure House of Victories]

- 'Isami's Futuh Salatin [Victory of the Sultans], composed in the Deccan in 1349/50

- Ziya' al-Din Barani's Ta'rikh i Firuz Shahi [History of Firuz Shah] (c. 1357]; Barani also written another text in the 'Mirrors for Princes' genre, the Fatawa-i Jahandari [The Decrees on Ordering the World]

- Madhuravijaya [The Conquest of Madhura], verse poem buy Queen Gangadevi (14th c.)

- Sirat-i Firuz Shahi [Biography of Firuz Sha], anonymous, 14th c.

- Shams al-din Siraj 'Afif's Ta'rikh-i-Firuz Shahi [History of Firuz Shah], 14th c.


C. Bibliography - interesting titles referred to:

- Amir Khusrau, Khaza'in al-Futuh (c.1312); trans. Muhammad Habib as The Campaigns of Alauddin Khalji Futuh of Amir Khusraw (Bombay, 1931)

- Auer, Blaine, Symbols of Authority in Medieval Islam: History, Religion and Muslim Legitimacy (London, 2012).

- Bana, Harsacarita (c.650); trans. E.B. Cowell and F.W. Thomas as The Harsa-Carita of Bana (Delhi, 1968)

- Kalhana, Rajatarangini (c.1148-9); trans. and ed. M.A. Stein as Kalhana's Rajatarangini: A Chronicle of the Kings of Kashmir, 3 vols. (repr. edn, Delhi, 1988)

- Kumar, Suni, The Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate, 1192-1286 (Delhi, 2007)

- Narayana Roa, Velcheru, Shulman, David, and Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India (Delhi, 2001)

- Pathak, V.S., Ancient Historians of India: A Study in Historical Biographies (New York, 1966) 

- Slaje, Walter, Medieval Kashmir and the Science of History (Austin, 2004)

- Salomon, Richard, Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages (New York, 1999)

- The Visnu Purana, ed. and trans. H.H. Wilson (1840; Delhi, 1980)

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