Waking Prithviraj. The subversive poetics of the past in North Indian historical literature

Start - End 
2021 - 2024 (ongoing)



Complementing and challenging a dominant historiographical and socio-political mode of textual analysis, this project offers a first and much-needed literary/aesthetic reappraisal of an important Sanskrit historical epic poem, Jayanaka’s long-neglected Pṛthvīrājavijaya “Prithviraj’s Victory” (1192-3). This epic stands at the beginning of a long and ongoing tradition of heroic and unheroic retellings about the (in)famous North Indian king Prithviraj Chauhan (r. 1178-1193), now more popularly known as the ‘last Hindu emperor of Delhi’. This project explores the intriguing continuity with which premodern writers casted Prithviraj as the epitome of a sleepy/morally blind kingship, while embedding – often with a sense of irony – such critique into the eulogistic-heroic format of epic poetry. Rather than examining how a single historical figure is imagined across times and crystalizes as historical memory in these so-called ‘political eulogies’, this project considers the significance of historical poetry as a literary movement. I do this by exploring how the unprecedented growth of historical literature in North India from 1000 CE onwards appears to crystalize around the new figure of the poet-historian, who daringly makes his personal and critical voice heard. By reappraising Sanskrit historical epics as innovative, creative literary texts, this project challenges still prevalent Orientalist ideas about the static nature of medieval Sanskrit poetry.