South Asia from 1200 BCE to 900 CE
by Shonaleeka Kaul
Publication: Proofs for South Asia Article in The Cambridge World History, Part 2 (Trans-Regional and Regional Perspectives), Chap 18, CUP, pp 480-513
Published: May 2015
This essay offers an excellent perspective on the political, societal and ethical context which developed in the Indian subcontinent and deeply influenced the Khmer polities and kingdoms, even if they ultimately developed specific outlooks and organization.
This influence is quite palpable in the 'quips, all of which either led into or out of episodes documented by the Rājataraṅgiṇī (1) with a view to inducing a lesson or a comment from the anecdotes: “Where the king himself abducts the wives of subjects, who else indeed will punish transgressions of moral law (dharma)?” (RT IV.29). “The job of a statesman is to conserve renown; acquisition of dominion is secondary (...) For a living being, like camphor by its perfume, is measured by its reputation even after its body is destroyed” (RT VII.1435-1436). “Charity and courtesy win universal affection for the sovereign. Greed destroys both [affection and the sovereign]. Clouds reduce the glory (...) of a day in autumn to a mere reminiscence; so too greed in the case of kings” (RT V.189-190). “The unwise king who is devoid of discrimination and is unsophisticated like a brute beast, does not take long to be ruined” (RT VII.998). “Living in a sanctuary the Timi fish eats up its own species; the stork silently approaches and swallows the Timi; the hunter dwelling in the depth of the forest kills the stork. Each prevails over its victim by higher and higher skill in outwitting [others]” (RT V.305). “What other opportunity for a display of courage for the village jackal than to approach the lion’s den when the lion is embattled with the elephant?” (RT VIII.765).'
There are also important insights related to the contacts of early Indian societies with the Roman and Islamic spheres, the specificities of the Palas and Gupta dynasties, or the cultural clashes between Buddhist philosophy and the caste system.
(1) The author has extensively studied this opus by Kalhana, held as the first real historical essay in Sanskrit. In another study, she quotes Kalhana: “Renowned [and mighty] kings would not even be remembered without the favour of the poet’s work (anugraham kavikarmaṇe) that is sublime and to which we offer salutations” (RT I.46).
Photo: Relief depicting Varaha, Gupta Art, early fifth century CE. Cave 5, Udayagiri, Madhya Pradesh, India (© Luca Tettoni / Corbis)
About the Author
Dr. Shonaleeka Kaul is a cultural and intellectual historian of early South Asia, and a Sanskritist. An Associate Professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India, she has also been the Malathy Singh Distinguished Lecturer in South Asian Studies at Yale University, USA; the Jan Gonda Fellow in Indology at Leiden University, The Netherlands; and the DAAD Visiting Professor at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany.
Her books include The Making of Early Kashmir: Landscape and Identity in the Rajatarangini (Oxford University Press, 2018), Cultural History of Early South Asia: A Reader (Orient BlackSwan, 2014), Imagining the Urban: Sanskrit and the City in Early India (Permanent Black and Seagull Books, 2010), as well as Eloquent Spaces: Meaning and Community in Early Indian Architecture (Routledge, 2019) and Looking Within: Life Lessons from Lal Ded, the Kashmiri Shaiva Mystic (Aleph, 2019).