Dying to Redress the Grievance of Another On prāya / prāyopaveśa(na) in Kalhaṇa’s Rājataraṅgiṇī

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John Nemec



In this essay, I examine selected narratives in the Rājataraṅgiṇī that invoke a specific practice of suicide by starvation, what is referred to as prāya, prāyopaveśa, and/or prāyopaveśana. Commonly attested in the legal literature as well as in the epics, prāya is normally deployed there to redress financial grievances, to force debtors to pay their due. The use of the practice in the Rājataraṅgiṇī is often quite different from this, however: Kalhaṇa suggests that Brahmins, and others, engaged in the fast-unto-death not only to redress their own (financial) grievances, but also the grievances of others. In particular, Kalhaṇa presents prāya as a tool used to compel Kashmiri kings to conform to the dharmaśāstric strictures of good government, to promote policies favoring not only Brahmins but also other, non-Brahmin subjects. The existence of such a form of the fast-unto-death is significant, for it signals a potentially unselfish use of caste, however imperfectly and corruptly the Rājataraṅgiṇī shows it to have been applied: by threatening their own deaths and promising thereby the karmic and social consequences of brahminicide, Brahmins sought to compel those sovereigns who pursued their own narrow interests to better serve the common good. That this is so raises a trio of vital concerns regarding (1) the nature of the fast and its modern legacies, and (2) the nature of royal succession, on the one hand, and (3) on the other, the proper role of social and political elites in premodern South Asia.

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