Kalhaṇa's twelfth-century chronicle the “River of Kings” (Rājataraṅgiṇī) is often recognized as the first work of history writing in South Asia. Knutson's article specifies some of the possibilities and impossibilities for historical analysis that Kalhaṇa reflects upon in his unprecedented metapoetic historiographical prologue, suggesting ways it may reflect and reflect upon a broader aesthetic of history that it shares with royal epigraphy, and pointing out some basic coordinates it takes from a Persianate historical poetry tradition exemplified by Firdawsī's Shāhnāmah. The essay then presents a reading of another portion of Kalhaṇa's masterpiece: a key historical case study that contains an implicit, nuanced theory of historical decline with deep roots in the kāvya tradition. Here Kalhaṇa's poetic chronicle presents an elaborate, albeit implicit, reflection on the problem of knowing the past, which encodes a historicization of its own present. In the Rājataraṅgiṇī the Sanskrit tradition reckons with both itself and something far beyond, ultimately coming to terms with its own materiality.

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