My current research closely examines the relationship between language and expressions of space in early medieval India, arguing for moving beyond the influential binary of ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘vernacular’ literary cultures authored by Sheldon Pollock. I revisit Kalhaṇa’s Rajatarangini, the iconic 12th century chronicle of the royal dynasties of Kashmir. I draw attention to how this classic literary representation of regional space is in the ‘cosmopolitan’ Sanskrit and not in the vernacular language, thereby providing an important exception to Pollock’s hypothesis. I propose that the Rajatarangini is a splendid example of how Sanskrit kavya in the early medieval period adopted and adapted local motifs, locales and content to a translocal poetics and stood in as the preeminent register of regional literary expression.
In the light of this new perspective, I re-examine the Rajatarangini (and the seventh century Nilamatapurana) for its depiction of ancient Kashmir, looking at some of the constituent elements of the spatial imaginary constructed in the text. I also examine the literary and discursive strategies employed in its construction, including the reworking of intertextual traditions (sastra, niti and itihasa-purana, apart from kavya) from within Sanskrit literary culture. I argue that more than an objectivist historical narrative that modern scholars like to believe it is -- in the process ignoring integral mythic, didactic and rhetorical parts of the text -- the Rajatarangini should be viewed as the traditional didactic kavya that it is, representing a specific language practice that produced meaning as much as space, and was articulative of the poet’s vision of the land and its lineages.