New Delhi: The brave Kota Rani played a critical role at a historic inflection point in Kashmir's turbulent history and the tale of this last Hindu ruler of medieval Kashmir inspires a new novel.
"The Last Queen of Kashmir", set in 14th-century Kashmir, by Rakesh K Kaul is a sweeping saga of a civilisation in peril and also the story of one of the greatest queens of the land. The beautiful and regal Kota had once known love and
dreamt of happiness but that was before the murder of her father and before she became Rani. As invaders and immigrants disturb the tranquility of her land, Kota looks for a way to protect her people but at some personal cost.
She weathers the political intrigues and power-play of the court and succeeds in preserving the splendour and diversity of her society. Kaul says he stumbled upon Princess Kota by accident when he was researching the Dhar clan of Kashmir. "Who was this Kota Rani? Who was this inspiring symbol of feminine resistance that was central to the social history that Kashmiri Pandit women carried with them over the intervening centuries? The bare facts were easily accessible, but did not justify the banner that Kota represented for Birbal's wife in 1819; clearly there was much more hidden behind the veil of time.
Thus began my 21st-century journey through the detritus of Kota's 14th century world to try and put the pieces together," he says. What Kaul discovered astonished him and challenged every single preconception that he or anybody else might have had about Kashmir. "What I had tripped upon was a treasure that held the supreme secret for humanity. What shone bright was Kashmir's beacon to the known world, and Kota was its keeper," he says.
According to Kaul, the brave and beautiful Kota Rani played a critical role at a historic inflection point in Kashmir's turbulent history. "An icon of resistance against invaders and a symbol of the universal values that Kashmir's civilisation stands for, her enduring message, 'we were we will be', is especially relevant to the challenges of contemporary times," he says. Kaul says in his zeal to be true to Kota, he wanted his story to be both educative and entertaining.
He claims his book as the first literary property to be published in the English language that uses Kashmir's formidable literary principles. "After the Mahabharata and the Rajatarangini, 'The Last Queen of Kashmir' is the third and only book to be written in the Virasa rasa style, which is considered to be an impossible style to capture in words.
"Virasa rasa is very different from the catharsis of Greek tragedies, but instead reflects the bitter-sweet taste of Santa rasa, the peaceful rasa. It is the play of dharma in an imperfect world of moral decay; it is a distasteful inoculation, but one that hopefully leads to a healthier life," Kaul says.