Himachal state of India is an enchanting land of Kols and Dasas in Vedas, having a history that dates back to more than thousand years. King Harihar Chand from Bundelkhand arrived in Bilaspur, this marked the origin of the Kahluria clan of Rajputs in the valley, showcasing a great ancient history of Himachal Pradesh.

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Himachal Pradesh History

¤ Ancient History

The foothills of Himachal were inhabited by people from the Indus Valley Civilization which flourished between 2700 and 1750BC.
On the fringes of this great civilization lived the original inhabitants of the land, the Kols and Mundas. These people were variously called Dasas, Dasyus and Nishads in the Vedas.
The Vedas are the oldest compositions of the Aryans, a group which came in around 1500BC from Central Asia and settled in the fertile plains of the Punjab.

In eastern Himachal, in the area that is now Lahaul, Kinnaur and Spiti, dwelled the Chamangs and Damanags. It was around that time that an offshoot of the Aryan race, the Khashas, entered the Himachal arena and became the new masters of the land. Another phase of migration took place with the coming of the Bhotas and Kiratas, the Mongoloids.

Himachal Pradesh¤ Ancient Mythology Depicts Ancient History of Himachal

Much information about Himachal’s ancient history is given in epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and other scriptures like the Vedas and the Puranas.
The Mahabharata mentions the janapadas (some sort of a kingdom) of Kuluta (Kullu), Trigarta (Kangra), Kulind (Shimla hills and Sirmaur), Yugandhar (Bilaspur and Nalagarh), Gobdika (Chamba) and Audumbar (Pathankot).

The Rig Veda mentions the rivers which flow through Himachal. The text also talks about Shambar, the powerful king of these hills before the advent of the Aryans, and his 99 strong forts in the region between the Beas and the Yamuna rivers.
His war with the Aryan chief, Divodas, lasted 12 long years, wherein the latter emerged victorious. The Puranas too, mention Himachal, calling it all sorts of nice names.

One significant happening during the time of the great war of Mahabharata (circa 1400BC) was the founding of the Katoch monarchy of Kangra by King Susharma Chandra. This Susharma Chandra is supposed to have sided with the Kaurava borthers in their war against the Pandavas. Kangra was probably named as Bhim Kot (fort of Bhim) after Bhima, one of the Pandavas.

¤ The Mauryan Empire(400BC)

The vast Mauryan Empire of old (4th to 2nd BC) extended its boundaries well into Himachal. Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka (3rd BC), even introduced Buddhism in here and erected many stupas. One of those stupas existed in Kullu Valley, which the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang (630-45AD) talks about in his writings.

¤ Thakurs and Ranas Become Powerful In The Valley

After the Mauryas, the land came to be ruled by petty chiefs known as thakurs and ranas. Their states were small in size and boundaries constantly changing due to wars with neighbours. (of course they also never united in the face of outside invasions.) However, in Mandi and the adjoining areas of Suket (present day Sundernagar) and Kullu, these ranas and thakurs were quite powerful and retained their independence for a long time.

of these principalities, Trigarta (Kangra) is known to have had great administration and reached a high level of development. It came to be regarded as the land of legendary wealth. Kuluta (Kullu) is also known to have had an organized administration under the Pal kings. Their capital was at Jagatsukh.

¤ The Rule of Raja Maru(500-800 AD

In 500AD, Raja Maru founded Brahmapura (present day Bharmaur) in the Chamba valley and began the long Varman dynasty. Everywhere else too, kings seemed to be rising from sleep. Rajender Sen of Spiti invaded Kullu (in around 650AD), but two reigns later the Pal king recovered it.

The next great king after the Mauryans to establish an empire of worth was Harshavardhana (early 7th century). Most of the small states in HP acknowledged his overall supremacy. Harsha’s capital was at Thaneshwar (now in Haryana) and later at Kannauj (in Uttar Pradesh). After the break-up of his empire there was, once again, great political upheaval. A new class called the Rajputs came on the scene after having been vanquished by those of the plains. Some of the kingdoms they founded were Nurpur, Jubbal, Keonthal, Baghat, Baghal, and Sirmaur.

But the Varmans peacefully sat on the throne of Brahmapura one after the other for quite some time. In two successive wars with Kullu, Meru Varman (700AD) killed the Pal kings and expanded his kingdom from the Ravi valley to as far as the present capital. Hiuen Tsang (the Chinese traveller) reported around this time that Chamba, Kangra, Kullu and Mandi were still the important states, though Kullu remained subject to Brahmapura for a considerable period.

¤ Rajput's Kahluria Clan(800-1000 AD)

In the meantime, Harihar Chand from Bundelkhand landed in Bilaspur (circa 900AD). This marked the origin of the Kahluria clan of Rajputs. The Chands remained the ruling family of Kahlur and the credit of making it a strong state goes to Bir Chand.

The Kiras, who came from Baijnath (which was also known as Kirangama or land of the Kiras) in Kangra, occupied Brahmapura for a while around 800AD, but the next Varman promptly won it back. Chamba (the present town) was made the new capital in 930AD, thanks to the whim of the princess (see History of Chamba for more).

Spiti was invaded by Tibetans and Ladakhis who overthrew the ruling Hindu Sen dynasty. The Pal rajas of Kullu lent a helping hand to the invaders and was rewarded with some villages in Spiti.

¤ Medieval Period

Many new states came into being during this phase. The relatively larger states like Chamba, Kullu, Kangra and Mandi were broken into smaller kingdoms. Some of the new states were Guler, Siba, Datarpur, Handur and Koti. It was also during this time that India was hit by a wave of invaders from Central Asia, West Asia and Europe. Himachal, unfortunately, was the entry point for most of them.

The Pathans, Lodis, Mughals, British, Dutch and Portuguese left their impact on the political and administrative setup of the various states. often it so happened that some relative of the kings of the Delhi Sultanate or the Mughals rebelled against the ruler and then sought refuge in the mountainous and hilly tracts of Himachal and Punjab. But thanks to the difficult terrain and harsh climatic conditions, the Sultanate kings and the Mughals could never really establish their authority over the kingdoms in Himachal. However, some places like Kangra did catch the Mughals’ keen eye.

¤ Period of Foreign Invadors(1000-1400 AD)

This period marked the beginning of foreign invasions. The Kangra fort was mercilessly looted by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1009 and many more such attacks followed. Muhammad Tughlaq captured the fort in 1337 while his successor, Firoz Shah Tughlaq, held his sway over it in 1351.

The kingdom of Hindur (present Nalagarh) was founded as an off shoot of Kahlur (Bilaspur) by Ajai Chand in the 12th century. Among the other major happenings was the invasion of Lahaul, Spiti and Kullu by Lahchen-rgyalpo of West Tibet/Ladakh between 1030-1080. Bahu Sen (from Suket) settled in Manglan in Kullu, where his descendants lived for 11 generations. This was the beginning of the dynasty of the Sens of Mandi. Later Ajbar Sen became the first true king of Mandi.

¤ Mughal Influence(1500-1700 AD)

In the early 16th century Mughal influence was beginning to be felt in Chamba and Kangra. Sadly the states were quarrelling between themselves thus making things even more complicated for themselves.

In the meantime, the Sens of Mandi had become really strong and their kingdom big. Ajbar Sen (1527-34) became their grand ruler. But then in the mid-17th century the Kullu army ran over Mandi.

Spiti, which was under Ladakh until this time, became independent in the late 16th century when the Baltis conquered Ladakh. But only for a brief period, for the son of Jamyang Namgyal, the king of Ladakh, got it all back.

Meanwhile Chamba fought with Kangra (1559), where the latter was defeated. But in a fight with Nurpur (which had Mughal support), Chamba lost. So Jagat Singh of Nurpur ruled Chamba till 1641, after which Prithvi Singh (a Varman) liberated his motherland. Luckily for Prithvi Singh, the Mughals stayed put and did not intervene.

The Mughal armies finally barged into the Kangra fort in 1620, and Jahangir (ruled 1605-27) went visiting there two years later. But the Mughals left it at that, for they were a non-interfering lot in these hills.

Kullu invaded Spiti (still under Ladakh) in 1680. Not being much into war, the people of Spiti always remained at the mercy of neighbours like Ladakh, Kullu and Bushahr. The normal course for the Spitians was to flee to the mountains whenever they were attacked! Jammu, too, started sending feelers towards the end of the 17th century. Udai Singh was the first Jammu king to make his way into Kangra and Chamba Hills. But the most important happening around this time was the rise of the Sikhs under the leadership of Guru Govind Singh. Invited by the ruler of Sirmaur to fight the Mughals they settled in Paonta Sahib and visited Mandi too.

¤ Sansar Chand Become A Powerful Ruler(1700-1800 AD)

The hill rulers continued warring well into this period. Sansar Chand (of the famed Katoch dynasty) of Kangra became a mighty figure in the latter half of the 18th century. He went around plundering and pillaging many places including Mandi, Chamba, Kullu and Sirmaur. For all his martial ways, Sansar was also a great art lover (see Arts & Crafts of Himachal).

Parallel happenings included declaration of independence by many nawabs, rajas and kings all over India. The Gurkhas (under Prithvi Narayan Shah), Sikhs (under Ranjit Singh in Punjab) and the East India Company (under Richard Colley Wellesley) were becoming increasingly powerful. The Gurkhas now invaded Kangra, capturing some of the territories under Sansar, who went into hiding in his fort and stayed there for four years until Ranjit Singh came to his aid. Ranjit Singh defeated Amar Singh Thapa and the poor Gurkhas had to turn their attention to Bushahr and Rampur.

¤ Modern Period

The British were now making their presence felt. While all the hill states fought amongst each other, they coolly walked off with the cake. The forces of the East India Company didn’t believe in sparing the rod.

¤ After 1800

Following the rise of Gurkha power, an Anglo-Gurkha war became inevitable and things came to a head in 1814-15. Opportunists of the first order, small-time rajas helped the Brits during the war, no doubt hoping to reap benefits later. The ruler of Bushahr, who helped the British, was duly rewarded with land. As a result of this enterprise 21 hill states came under the British.

Meanwhile, the Sikhs were becoming really puissant even though Ranjit Singh had died by now. They plundered and looted many places in Himachal including Spiti in 1841. The Gurkhas now appealed to the British for protection against the Sikhs, which the British readily agreed to – the Anglo-Sikh war took place in 1845. The Treaty of Lahore (1846) was signed between the British and Sikhs, by which the British retained the territory between the Ravi and the Sutlej (practically the whole of Himachal), and gave the west of the Ravi to the Jammu king. The rulers of Kangra state and some other small states combined with the Sikhs against the British in 1848 but were crushed ruthlessly.

¤ Uprising of 1857 Revolt

The Uprising of 1857 came and went but no echoes were felt in the hills. Many hills states even sided with the British. However some Gurkha and Rajput battalions at Jutog (near Shimla) did rise against their British officers but were soon disarmed.

But some hill people did revolt against the slavery and feudalism under the reign of the kings. The people of Rampur revolted (1859) against the high handedness of the government officials and forced labour.
In Suket too, the people revolted against the king in 1862 and 1876. The people of Nalagarh were up in arms against the atrocities unleashed by the minister (1876). Similar incidents took place in Bilaspur and Beghal too. But these isolated attempts failed to awaken the masses.
Nevertheless, they inspired some of the more politically conscious minds in the hills to become associated with the Indian National Congress and with other revolutionary organizations like the Gadar Party (gadar means revolution).

This struggle between subjects and rulers had only one winner – the British. The East India Company took advantage of this continuous fighting and successfully planted their Residents in most of the hill states backed by an efficient and strong army.
So by the end of it all, the British either had the hill states fully to themselves, or had planted their agents – or ‘Residents’ as they were called – in them. This dual system of direct and indirect control continued until Independence.

When India gained Independence, the collective Punjab hill states were integrated into a single, centrally administered unit under the charge of a chief commissioner.
A name was given to this unit – Himachal Pradesh. In 1954, Bilaspur was added, and in 1966, the rest of what we now know as Himachal Pradesh was merged into ‘The Mountain State’. In 1971, HP was granted statehood, and became the 18th state of the Indian Republic.

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