The hawk kills other birds.
The lion hunts other animals.
A diamond scratches other gems.
The earth is dug by earth-digging tools.
Planets, like flowers, fade in the sun.
The rule is this: horrific harm comes from one’s own kind

The modern Hindu Right might couch this story in different language, claiming that Suha Bhatta was Hinduphobic (a newfangled epithet applied to an ever-increasing number of people). But, in so doing, they would depart from Jonaraja. Jonaraja gives little sense of caring about non-Brahmins or even conceptualising other Hindus as part of the hereditary tradition of privilege that he wished to protect. Rather, Jonaraja limited his interests in this regard to Brahmins. Jonaraja uses the adapted Persian term hinduka – uncommon if even attested before him in Sanskrit – twice in his text, both times as a synonym for upper castes alone.

Jonaraja’s story of Suha Bhatta’s conversion and persecution may not be true in many, or even most, of its details, but it holds truth regarding a key value professed by Jonaraja: protecting elite interests and social dominance within the complex politics of 15th-century Kashmir.

Not everyone today would care to listen to a voice from the past like Jonaraja, who advances Brahmanical privilege without shame or apology. But I do. History is full of prejudices and stories that are distasteful to modern sensibilities, and it is often when we might prefer to tune out the past that we should listen in more closely. Sometimes, in pursuit of recovering who we used to be, we find that, to our horror, old prejudices and the desires of elites to maintain power are still too familiar in the present day.


Audrey Truschke is Associate Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.