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Diliparanjani (An 18th Century Chronicle of a Hill State in Verse)

Diliparanjani (An 18th Century Chronicle of a Hill State in Verse)
Item Code: NAM092
Author: Karuna Goswamy
Publisher: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789382396062
Pages: 344, (9 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.5 inch x 7.5 inch
weight of the book: 780 gms
About the Book

In the parched landscape of historical records native to the hills–Himachal Pradesh in particular–a few, very few, refreshing works stand out. Among them is this 18th century chronicle in verse from the small state of Guler: written by a virtually unknown poet who came to these parts from somewhere outside, about a patron who occupies very little space in history, even that of the hills. And yet this is a compelling work: invaluable as much for its genuinely poetic feel as for the manner in which it brings the rich cultural life of the region alive. What is more: there is a measure of history in it–ancestors with their glorious exploits peep in; invaders flit in and out; victorious campaigns are mounted–even as the account is couched in hyperbolic terms and laced with courtly flourishes.

The Diliparanjani– a well-chosen title, meaning literally, ‘Delighter of the heart of Dilip’, the royal patron of the poet–can yield both pleasure and profit even to the modern reader. This is the first time the text has been translated from its original Avadhi Hindi, edited in its entirety, and introduced by a lucid and scholarly essay.

About the Author

Karuna Goswamy is an eminent historian of Indian culture. Formerly Professor of History at the Panjab University, she has distinguished writing to her credit. She is the author of Vaishnavism in the Punjab Hills and Pahari Painting (Chandigarh, 1968); Wall Paintings of Sujanpur Tira (Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1971); The Glory of the Great Goddess (Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 1989); Kashmiri Painting: Assimilation and Diffusion: Production and Patronage (Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla/New Delhi, 1998), The Dussehra of Kulu: History and Analysis of a Cultural Phenomenon (Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla/New Delhi, 2014). She is also co-author of the seminal book: Wondrous Images: Krishna seen as Shrinath-ji: Pichhwais of the Vallabha sampradaya (Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad, 2014).


Throughout history, rulers and other powerful social groups have consistently reinforced their control over political and social institutions by patronizing the writing and recounting of prescriptive texts and descriptive narratives. It is historical narratives, in particular, that have been used to legitimize their domination. Systems of domination were, by and large, hierarchically structured to connect the local elites–sometimes through tenuous extended linkages–to the wielders of imperial power. At each level of this political ladder, the impulse of local elites to acquire greater acceptance, too seems to have nurtured a corresponding array of legitimizing histories. Certainly, the hegemonic grand narrative of empires and powerful kingdoms exerted an overbearing influence. This dominance was admitted by local ruling families but was not entirely undisputed. It neither eliminated nor discouraged the numerous lesser histories of smaller territories that emerged from time to time. However, by adopting the linguistic and stylistic techniques of the grand narrative, these smaller histories implicitly recognized the former’s influence and acceptability. While admitting their relative subordination to a more powerful king, the local rulers emulated the same methodology to project their own right to rulership. This was a characteristic they shared, as it were, with their superiors in order to distinguish themselves from the masses they ruled.

Historians sometimes see grand narratives as enclosing a larger and more comprehensive (even inherent) logic for explaining historical change. The assumption, perhaps, being that fragmented events or activities of a shorter duration do not lend themselves to as durable an understanding as do larger, long-term historical processes. Lesser events and peripheral happenings tend to be regarded as primarily descriptive in nature: contributing towards, but not quite constituting the true meaning of history. Recorded historical accounts of peripheral regions are not easy to come by in India, unless such regions had at some point of time been drawn into processes of large scale state building. In the western Himalaya the paucity of historical sources is particularly frustrating. Scholars have had to depend upon oral narratives, folklore, customary practices and traditions apart from a few inscriptions and written sources to arrive at a somewhat tentative historical understanding of the region. That a text such as the Dilipranjani came to be commissioned by a local ruler is an exception of sorts. The fact that a translation of it is now being published is an even more significant development. It goes without saying that the translation or editing of a text is a complex task. Because of its very nature, it tends to remain a project in progress–to be reworked upon by scholars who follow. But it is the very first translation or edition that often encourages this deeper engagement.

The Dilipranjani is a glorificatory verse composed in the early 18th century for the dynastic rulers of the minor sub-Himalayan kingdom of Guler. Apart from functioning as a genealogy of the ruling family, the Dilipranjani describes in considerable detail several important events of the later part of the period that it covers. It is, because of its inherent structure, also a record of the exploits of the prominent rulers of other states. Despite it being a commissioned account of the kingdom of Guler, the socio-political linkages that it describes, reveal some important historical developments that occurred in Kangra during this period.

Intricacies pertaining to methods of description and representation often mark compositions of this nature. Poetic exaggeration is, expectedly, an important part of the text: as it should be for a work composed for glorifying the achievements of a minor ruler. Historical characters and events are the core around which stories of this nature are woven. Particularly striking about the Dilipranjani is the crucial role of clan mobilization in local politics and state formation. Interestingly, many of the clans that occupy a central role in the Dilipranjani seem to have either declined in importance or disappeared by the time British ethnographers began their work in the region during the latter half of the 19th century.

There would obviously be problems in reposing too much faith in the Dilipranjani as a reliable source for the entire period that it pretends to cover. Nevertheless, a comparison with some other contemporary histories reveals that the author of the Dilipranjani was quite well informed about historical events, dates and characters. Even after discounting the understandable exaltation of the role of his Guler patron and his ancestors, the historical content of the text is not insignificant. Interestingly, despite the excessive claims about their bravery and resistance to powerful Mughal nobles, the rules of Guler are simultaneously represented as unfailing loyal to the Mughal emperors. The ruler’s opposition to Mughal officials is portrayed as resistance to exploitative local functionaries in contrast to his faith in the generosity of the Mughal emperor. Perhaps this ambivalence represents one of the points at which the minor narrative of local tradition interacted with the hegemonic historical grand narrative of the empire.

Professor Karuna Goswamy, who has undertaken the difficult task of translation in a meticulous and painstaking manner, also has extensive knowledge about the area that the text describes. Her experience as a historian has contributed immeasurably to the quality of the translation that now makes the text accessible to a larger number of researchers working on the region.

The Dilipranjani was used extensively by Hutchison and Vogel for writing the history of Guler in their seminal, two-volume work on the history of the western Himalayan states. This work has not been seriously re-examined since its publication more than eighty years ago. The availability of the Dilipranjani in translation would encourage scholars to look afresh at many questions that have so far either been ignored or not asked at all.


The lot of an art historian of India has sometimes been likened to that of the abhisarika nayika of classical description: she who, on her way to meet her lover on a stormy night, moves through a dark and dense forest, her path lit only by an occasional flash of lightning. The few facts, true sources, that the historian is able to locate are for him like flashes of lightning in the dark forest of unknowing. In the context of the early history of the Pahari area, the subject of this publication, the Diliparanjani, comes as one of those flashes of lightning. It is not easy to piece together the history of the hill states even if this has been done by some historians working valiantly against odds. When therefore a text like this turns up one studies it with interest bordering on gratitude, even if it is an account of a dynasty that ruled over a small principality, Guler, not far from Kangra. This, because for all its ‘faults’–hyperbole, glossing over some facts and expanding upon others, short on providing exact information like dates, and so on: characteristics that it shares with countless ‘official’ chronicles of medieval times–from it can be extracted information that is not only useful for reconstructing the history of Guler and nearby areas but also for allowing us access to the texture of the society of those times.

The Diliparanjani, a relatively short text, written by the poet Uttam Kavi at the asking of Raja Dilip Singh of Guler, bears a date embedded in the introductory verses: VS 1760/1703 CE. It is likely, however, that it was completed some five years later, around 1708 CE, for an event that took place in 1707 CE finds mention in it towards the very end. It is likely therefore that it was completed in ca. 1708 CE. However, the original appears to have been lost but a copy—the one I have access to –bearing the date VS 1812/1755 CE has survived. That copy is now in the Himachal Pradesh State Museum at Shimla, and it is through the courtesy and co-operation of that Museum that this publication has been possible.

Through a happy circumstance, a number of portraits of the rulers of Guler have also survived, most of them now in the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh. These portraits, including those of Dilip Singh’s ancestors, his immediate predecessors, and his own, are in the hand of members of the gifted family of Pandit Seu who came from Guler and was almost certainly in the service of Dilip Singh. A politically meaningful ‘succession series’ of portraits–the ruler seated in a howdah on the back of an elephant, his heir-apparent behind him, and a mahout in front–was painted by Pandit Seu himself, the last in the series showing Raja Dilip Singh with his son, Goverdhan Chand, behind him. All of these, including a magnificent portrait showing Dilip Singh seated at his prayers, were once in the collection of the royal family of Guler and it is from that family that they were acquired directly by the Museum in Chandigarh. In this volume, a number of them have been included to add another dimension to the study of this valuable text, the Diliparanjani. They need to be seen not as embellishments but as most valuable visual documents in their own right.

This work would not have been possible without the generous help I have received while working on this text, and I wish to acknowledge it here. The initial support came from the then Chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Prof. G.C. Pande, when I brought up the idea with him. To the Department of Culture of the Government of Himachal Pradesh, to Dr. Chauhan, Director of the Himachal Pradesh State Museum at Shimla, and to the Director of the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh, I owe most sincere thanks: to the former two for giving me access to the text, and to the latter for permission to reproduce the images that are included here. To Professor Peter deSouza, Director of the Institute, I am deeply grateful for the interest he took in resuscitating the idea of publishing this volume, as I am to the present Director, Professor Chetan Singh, under whom this volume is now being published. But for them, the manuscript that I had submitted years ago, would still have lain on some neglected shelf. To Dr. Debarshi Sen, former Academic Programme Office of the Institute, great appreciation and thanks are due from me for all the interest he showed and the help that he gave. Likewise, am I most thankful to Mr. Prem Chand who has taken pains over the last few months to see this volume through.


It does not appear to be necessary to argue the fact of the paucity of historical records in the area that was once known as the Punjab Hills, and is now, for the most part, Himachal Pradesh. The effort that went into the writing of the first authoritative history of these hills, by the Chamba-based missionary, J. Hutchison, and the distinguished archaeologist, J.Ph. Vogel, must have been enormous. For even an outline of that history had to be pieced together patiently form diverse but thin sources of information: scattered epigraphic and numismatic records; brief mentions in historical accounts of Muslim historians in which the hills figure; in the later period, some notes and descriptions by European travellers. Of any kind of literature native to the hills and touching upon the history of the area, there is only the most passing of mentions by Hutchison and Vogel. What they do draw attention to is the Vanshavalis, genealogical rolls of the ancient rulers that were written for, and preserved by, many ruling houses of the hills. “We are under deep obligation,” they wrote, “to a great band of Indian writers– most of whose names are unknown to us–who have rendered eminent service to the cause of history.” But these Vanshavalis, authored by unnamed men, consisting simply of “a long list of the names of the Rajas–often partly mythical–who are believed to have ruled in succession from ancient times”, had little else to offer. Whether it was Hutchison and Vogel, therefore, or the authors of some of the early twentieth century vernacular histories–Kahan Singh Balauria, Raghunath Singh Pathania, Dewan Sarbdial, Kunwar Ranzor Singh, among them–writing under the direction or inspiration of British civil servants, it remained an act of sifting, and piecing together whatever could be gleaned from the sources mentioned above, adding to it bits of history preserved in popular memory.

It is in this context that the few literary works from the hills that have surfaced over a period of time–the “Rhapsodies” of the Nurpur bard, Gambhir Rai, the Brijraja Panchasika, the Shashibansa Vinod, the Dharamchand Natak, among them–acquire a measure of importance. To these needs to be added, prominently, the Diliparanjani, chronicle of the Guler state, the full text of which is presented here, edited and translated into English for the first time. The existence of this work has been known for some time, and the original manuscript of it was once in the collection of the royal family of Guler. But evidently the text kept being copied in the past from time to time; and it was one of these copies, bearing the date V.S. 1812/AD 1755, that was acquired by the Department of Culture of the Government of Himachal Pradesh. That copy, now in the Himachal Pradesh State Museum at Shimla, forms the basis of the present translation.

The text contains some, although not a great deal of, information, on itself. The author’s name is clearly given as “Uttam Kavi”, although, contrary to expectation, and departing somewhat from usage, the poet gives no further information about himself, his descent or place of origin, etc. the work was clearly written for Raja Dilip Singh of Guler, whom one knows from other accounts of the Guler ruling house–hence the name Diliparajani, “delighter of the heart of Dilip”–although consistently the poet also plays upon the name ‘Dilip’ as he moves through the text. “Thakur Rai Dilip”, a form of Vishnu, being the ishta or chosen deity of the ruling house, an image of whom was brought back from Bangahal by the redoubtable Man Singh after a victory. While speaking of himself, the poet makes elaborate mention of the Rajguru, Dinamani Raina, whom he later compares with the likes of “the sage Jamadagni in matters of yajna and japa: pure and intent, like a siddha.” For the Rajguru, must have been among the first persons with whom he made contact when he came to Guler. It was Dinamani who presented him to the Raja, Dilip Singh. As he says, almost at the opening of the book: “Possessed of all knowledge, the Rajguru, Dinamani Raina, treated Uttam, the poet, with much honour./Supporting him in all manner, Dinamani introduced him to the son of Raj Singh (i.e. Dilip Singh). Raj Singh’s son then bestowed many honours and favours upon the poet, kindling in him the desire (to serve him)./The lord, king Dilip, in whose person the essence of Vishnu himself is manifest, urged Uttam Kavi to write a chronicle of his dynasty.” There is every indication here thus that Uttam Kavi had come to Guler form outside. From where, however, is not stated, and it is difficult to make a guess. There is interest again in the manner in which the work ends. The suggestion clearly is of the poet taking his leave of the Raja, for mention is made of the gifts he received while leaving. But the end of the work comes somewhat suddenly, so great event or happening marking it: the text just seems to trail off, raising the thought that the poet must have decided to leave at this point and moved on, somewhere in the middle of the reign of young Dilip Singh, nothing of whose marriage or children–a natural choice for a poet recording the life and deeds of patron–is even hinted at in the text.

The one date mentioned by Uttam Kavi in the Diliparanjani is the equivalent of AD 1703, something that the he brings in soon after the invocatory verse at the beginning. The verse run: “This account of the dynasty was written in (the Vikrama) Samvat 1760, on Thursday, in the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada./ ([Doha]) After bowing at the feet of Shiva and Parvati’s son (i.e. Ganesha), Uttam composed this account of the glorious dynasty of Dilip.” This date, it needs to be mentioned, however, must relate to when he began composing the work, and not when he ended it. For close to the end of the work, there is clear mention of the death of the death of the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, which one knows took place in AD 1707, and a brief reference to the events that followed leading to the accession to the throne of prince Shah Alam with the title, Bahadur Shah. In view of this reading of the text, the work must be dated close to AD 1708, rather than 1703 which is sometimes mistakenly believed to be its date.

The author, Uttam Kavi, mentions no other work of his own by name in this text, but it is safe to assume that the Diliparanjani was not the only work he ever authored. In fact, he might well have come to Guler with a reputation behind him, for Dinamani Raina to have accorded him the honours that he says he received, and to have taken him to the Raja, Dilip. When he undertook to write this account in verse of the Guler royal family, he must have been well aware of the challenges that such a task posed. As he says himself, in the introductory verse: “Composing a dynastic chronicle is a hard task, not within the reach of everyone; only those upon whom the goddess Jagadamba bestows grace can hope to cross that ocean.” A reading of the work establishes clearly, however, that what Uttam Kavi eventually produced was a work of literature which had some history in it, rather than a work of history with a marked literary flavour.

In some ways, it appears that his task once defined, Uttam Kavi set out to write a kavya in the approved classical tradition. The canvas before him, or at least as he chose to stretch it, was vast, and the events that were his to reconstruct and narrate were remarkably varied. Since he refers to no work that he was able to consult for this ‘historical’ reconstruction, and we know of none that has survived, it is not unlikely that it was oral accounts then current in Guler, or collective memory, that he principally drew upon. And in those accounts figured divine happenings, deeds of valour, machinations, rivalries, tales of revenge and deceit, episodes filled with pathos, all of them providing the poet with the opportunity of bringing in the diverse rasas or flavours that often go into the making of a kavya: vira, raudra, bhayanaka, bibhatsa, adbhuta, karuna, and the like. And, the conventions of the bardic tradition clearly ruling Uttam Kavi’s mind, he presented the scale of events as far grander than it might ever have been. It was not simply a matter of employing the familiar device of hyperbole–when a ruler sets out for a hunt, the four directions and the nine worlds tremble with trepidation, for instance; when a small little engagement is won, the sound of victorious trumpets fills the skies and the gods shower the earth below with petals; even when historical or reasonably verifiable events are spoken of, the impression sought to be conveyed is that of things happening in a manner or on a scale that could possibly never have belonged to fact. A lakh and a quarter of warriors assembled and fitted out by the prince of a little principality, the extent of a hill kingdom stretching down to the shores of the ocean, the booty gathered after a victory being equivalent in wealth to crores of rupees, are all a part of this way of envisioning and versifying. But as both the poet and his readers would have known well, a kavya is a kavya, all too often removed from reality, but close at all times to the world of emotions.


2The Text13

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