[Himachal GK] Brief History of Kangra

The  history  of  Pre-Aryan  and  Aryan  eras  is  mainly  based on  the  epics  like  Vedas, Puranas, Mahabharata, etc. In Rigveda, reference of Arijikya (Beas) flowing through this area has been made. This region, commonly named as Dev Bhumiis believed to be the abode  of  gods.   According to the  Vedas,  some  non-Aryan  tribes  inhabited  this region before  the  arrival  of  Aryans.  There  is  a  mention  of Trigarta  (Kangra)  kingdom  in Mahabharata. Sir Lepel Griffin refers to the Rajput dynasties of the hills of whom the Katoch's are the oldest.


In Mahabharata there is a mention of King Susharama Chandra, who sided with the Kaurvas. He is said to be the founder of this dynasty. At that time, Kangra  was  probably  named as Bhim Kot. The reference  to  prosperous  Kingdom  of Trigarta  (Kangra)  is also  found  in  the  Panani  literature  that  was  written sometimes between  the  seventh  and  fourth  centuries  B.C. The  mention  of  Kangra  (Nagarkot)  was found in the works of Ferishta. 

Heun  Tsang,  a  Chinese  traveller,  visited  India  from AD 629  to  644  during Harshvardhana’s rule. In his accounts, he has mentioned about many kings ruling in this region. It is also gathered that king Harshvardhana annexed the state of Kangra. It was in the beginning when these outsiders tried to establish their power that the kings of the area stood in their way. He also found the Jullundur monarchy still undivided. At some later period, perhaps that of the Muhammadan invasion, the Katoch princes were driven into  the  hills, where  Kangra  already  existed  as  one of  their  chief fortress.  In  spite  of constant invasions, the little Hindu kingdoms, secure within their Himalayan glens, long held out against the aggressive Muhammadan power. In 1009, the riches of the Nagarkot temple attracted the attention of Mahmud of Ghazni,who defeated the Hindu princes at Peshawar,  seized  the  fort  of  Kangra  and  plundered  the shrine  of  an  immense  booty  in gold, silver and jewels. From this time, Kangra does not reappear in general history till 1360, when the emperor Firoz Tughlak again led a force against it. The Raja gave in his submission, and was permitted to retain his dominions; but the Muhammadans once more plundered the temple. 

In 1556, Akbar launched an expedition into the hills, and occupied the fort of Kangra. The fruitful valley became an imperial demesne, and only the barren hills remained in the possession of the native chiefs. In the graphic language of Todar Mal, Akbar’s minister, ‘he cut off the meat and left the bones.’ Yet the  remoteness of the imperial capital and the natural  strength  of  the  mountain  fastnesses  encouraged the  Rajput  princes  to  rebel; and  it  was  not  until  after  the imperial forces have been  twice repulsed that the fort of Kangra was starved into surrender to an army commanded by prince Khurram in person (1620). At one time Jahangir intended to build a residence in the valley, and the site of the proposed palace is still pointed out in the lands of the village of Gargari. Probably, the superior attractions of Kashmir, which the emperor shortly afterwards visited, led to the abandonment of his design. At the accession of Shah Jahan the hill Rajas had quietly settled  down  into  the  position  of tributaries, and the commands  of  the emperor were received and  executed  with  read  obedience.   Letters patent (sanadas)  are  still  extant, issued  between  the  reign of Akbar  and  Aurangzeb,  appointing  individuals  to various judicial  and  revenue  offices,  such  as  that  of  kazi, kanungo,  or  chaudhri.  In  some instances  the  present representatives  of  the  family  continue  to  enjoy  privileges and powers  conferred  on  their  ancestors  by  the  Mughal emperors,  the  honorary  appellation being  retained  even where  the  duties  have  become  obsolete.  During  the period  of Muhammadan ascendancy, the hill princes appear to have been treated liberally. They still  enjoyed  a considerable  share  of  power,  and  ruled  unmolested  over the  extensive tracts  which  remained  to  them.   They  built forts,  waged  wars  upon  each  other,  and wielded the functions of petty sovereigns. The loyalty of the hill Rajas appears to have won the favour and confidence of their conquerors, and they were frequently deputed on hazardous expeditions and appointed to places of high trust in the service of the empire. For  instance,  in  1758  Raja  Ghamand  Chand  of  Kangra was  appointed  governor  of  the Jullundur Doab and the hill country between the Sutluj and the Ravi. 

In  1752,  the  Katoch  principalities  nominally  formed part of  the  territories  ceded  to Ahmad Shah Durrani by the declining Delhi court. But the native chieftains, emboldened by the  prevailing  anarchy,  resumed  their practical  independence,  and  left  little  to  the Durrani monarch or the deputy who still held the isolated fort of Kangra for the Mughal empire.  In 1774, the Sikh  chieftain, Jai Singh, obtained  the  fort  by  stratagem,  but relinquished it in 1785 to Sansar Chand, the legitimate Rajput prince of Kangra, to whom the  State  was  thus  restored  about  two centuries  after  its  occupation  by  Akbar.   This prince, by his vigorous  measures, made himself supreme throughout the whole  Katoch country and levied tribute from his fellow chieftains in all the neighbouring States. For twenty years he reigned supreme through out these hills, and raised his name to a height of renown never attained by any ancestor of his race. He found himself unable, however, to cope with the Sikhs, and two descents upon the Sikh possessions in the plains, in 1803 and 1804, were repelled by Ranjit Singh. In 1805, Sansar Chand attacked the hill State of Bilaspur (Kahlur), which called in the dangerous aid of the Gurkhas, already masters of the wide tract between the Gogra and the Sutlej. The Gurkhas responded by crossing the latter river and attacking the Katochs at Mahal Mori, in May, 1806. The invaders gained a  complete  victory,  overran  a  large  part  of  the  hill  country  of  Kangra,  and  kept  up  a constant warfare with the Rajput chieftains who still retained the remainder. The people fled as refugees to the plains, while the minor princes aggravated the general disorder by acts of anarchy on their own account. The horrors of the Gurkha invasion still burn in the memories of the people. The country ran with blood, not a blade of cultivation was to be seen, and grass grew and tigers whelped in the streets of the deserted towns. At length, after  three  years  of  anarchy,  Sansar Chand  determined  to  invoke  the  assistance  of  the Sikhs. Ranjit  Singh,  always  ready  to  seize  upon  every opportunity  for  aggression, entered Kangra and gave battle to the Gurkhas in August, 1809. After a long and furious contest, the Maharaja was successful, and the Gurkhas abandoned their conquests beyond the  Sutlej. Ranjit  Singh at  first  guaranteed  to  Sansar  Chand,  the  possession  of  all his dominions  except  the  fort  of  Kangra  and  66  villages, allotted  for  the  support  of  the garrison; but he gradually made encroachments upon all the hill chieftains. Sansar Chand died in 1824, an obsequious tributary of Lahore. His son, Anrudh Chand, succeeded him, but after a reign of four years abandoned his throne, and retired to Hardwar, rather than submit to a demand from Ranjit Singh for the hand of his sister in marriage to a son of the Sikh minister Dhian Singh. Immediately after Anrudh’s flight in 1828, Ranjit Singh attached the whole of his territory, and the last portion of the once powerful Kangra State came finally into the possession of the Sikhs.

Kangra  passed  to  the  British  at  the  end  of  the  first  Sikh War  in  1846  and  there  were several  revolts  against  the British. Ram Singh, a Pathania Rajput, invaded the British garrison  at  Shahpur. The  British  immediately rushed  their  forces,  which surrounded Shahpur fort. Ram Singh finding himself at a disadvantageous position sneaked into the nearby  forest  to  rearm  himself.  After  the outbreak of  the  Mutiny  in  1857,  some disturbances took place in the Kulu subdivision; but the vigorous measures of precaution adopted by the local authorities, and the summary execution of the six ring leaders and imprisonment  of  others on  the occasion  of  the  first over  act  of  rebellion, effectually subdued any tendency to lawlessness. The disarming of the native troops in the forts of Kangra and Nurpur was effected quietly and without opposition.

The national movement in Kangra district was spearheaded by Comrade Ram Chandra, Thakur Panchan Chandra and Baba Kanshi Ram. BabaKanshi Ram did a great deal for liberation movement in Kangra district. He was responsible for the liberation wave in hills. He was given the title of “Hill Gandhi” by  Jawahar Lal Nehru for his work and “Bulbule Hills” for his melodious throat by Sarojini Naidu. With the freedom of British India, Kangra district automatically threw away the foreign yoke and entered into the era of democracy. 

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