He wrote the work in Sanskrit between 1148 and 1149. The first part of the book, the Rajatarangini,has been written by Kahlana Pandita, son of Champaka. It embraces the history of the country from the earliest period to the time of the author, A.D. 1148.
All information regarding his life has to be deduced from his own writing, a major scholar of which is Mark Aurel Stein. Robin Donkin has argued that with the exception of Kalhana, "there are no [native Indian] literary works with a developed sense of chronology, or indeed much sense of place, before the thirteenth century".
Kalhana was born to a Kashmiri minister, Champaka, who served king Harsha of Kashmir of the Lohara dynasty. It is possible that his birthplace was Parihasapura and his birth would have been very early in the 12th century. It is extremely likely that he was of the Hindu Brahmin caste, suggested in particular by his knowledge of Sanskrit. The introductory verses to each of the eight Books in his Rajatarangini are prefaced with prayers to Shiva, a Hindu deity. In common with many Hindus in Kashmir at that time, he was also sympathetic to Buddhism, and Buddhists tended to reciprocate this feeling towards Hindus. Even in relatively modern times, Buddha's birthday has been a notable event for Kashmiri Brahmins and well before Kalhana's time Buddha had been accepted by Hindus as an avatar of Vishnu.
Kalhana was familiar with earlier epics such as the Vikramankadevacharita of Bilhana, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, to all of which he alludes in his own writings. However, his own writings did not employ what Stein has described as "the very redundant praise and flattery which by custom and literary tradition Indian authors feel obliged to bestow on their patrons". From this comes Stein's deduction that Kalhana was not a part of the circle surrounding Jayasimha, the ruling monarch at the time when he was writing the Rajatarangini.
Social bias towards certain sections of society is typically visible in his writing. He has at many places used words like low born or outcast etc. Some examples are:
- ...these outcaste (Damara) soldiers were unable to find any remedy... (Kings of Kashmira Vol 2 (Rajatarangini of Kalhana)/Book VIII (ii),p.228)
- At the time when he first marched out with a view to obtain possession of the mountains and forts, a low : person named Janakabhadra had become his friend ; this man now expired by his side. In Karṇāṭa and in many other places through which he was seen to pass, some rose in rebellion and some became friendly. (Kings of Kashmira Vol 2 (Rajatarangini of Kalhana)/Book VIII (ii),p.222-223)
- ...the time was such as blinded the eyes of the crowd but gave light to those of the good Kshetriyas (Here he has divided in to good and bad Kshetriyas)(Kings of Kashmira Vol 2 (Rajatarangini of Kalhana)/Book VIII (ii),p.237)
- Stein, Mark Aurel (1989) . Kalhana's Rajatarangini: a chronicle of the kings of Kasmir, Volume 1 (Reprinted ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0369-5. p. 15.
- Rajatarangini of Kalhana:Kings of Kashmira/Appendix A,p.ii
- Rajatarangini of Kalhana:Kings of Kashmira/Preface, p.iii
- Donkin, Robin A. (1998). "Beyond price: pearls and pearl-fishing: origins to the age of discoveries". Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (American Philosophical Society) 224. ISBN 978-0-87169-224-5. p. 152.
- Stein, Vol. 1, pp. 6-9, 15.
- Stein, Vol. 1, p. 9.
- Stein, Vol. 1, pp. 10-11.
- Stein, Vol. 1, p. 17.
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