The History of Kangra
The erstwhile state of Kangra was known as Trigarta in ancient days. It included in itself the present day districts of Kangra, Kullu, and Hamirpur in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The district headquarters at Kangra town has an interesting past too. For a long time, it was known as Jalandhar after the demon of the same name. The epics reveal that this demon was so powerful that even the mighty gods were powerless before him, but he was finally killed by Lord Vishnu. There is a legend that when the demon was killed, the parts of his body fell in distant places where holy shrines have come up now. The place where his kaan or ear fell became the present Kangra town. So the place came to be known as Kan-Garh which later became Kangra.
The territory of Kangra originally formed a part of the kingdom of Jalandhar or Trigarta. It included the area lying between rivers Beas and Satluj (ancient name Shatadroo) or probably the area of Sirhind plains. This kingdom was divided into two provinces, the first in the plains with its capital at Jalandhar and the second one in the hills with its headquarters at Nagarkot or Bhimkot or the present Kangra.
Kangra has a rich and interesting history. The name Trigarta finds mention in Mahabharata and Puranas. The Rajatrangini or the history of Kashmir also refers to the kingdom of Kangra. It is beyond doubt that Kangra was one of the oldest hill states in the region. One of its earliest rulers Susharman Chander ruled before the Mahabharata war and his name is mentioned in Mahabharata epic. He fought in the Great War as an ally of Kauravas, as he was the brother- in- law of Kaurava prince Duryodhana.
The first Raja of Kangra according to the legend was not of human origin but sprang from the sweat of the brow of the goddess at Kangra. His name was Bhumi Chand and he stands as a mythical progenitor of the Katoch line of the dynasty.
The History of Kangra Fort
The fort near the town is said to date back to the times of Mahabharata. Although the date is not historically ascertained yet the legend says that it was built by Raja Susharman Chander.
The fort is situated on an elongated hourglass-shaped ridge to the South- West of the old Kangra town at the confluence of Baner and Majhi streams at the height of 2494 feet above sea level. In the background is the splendid Dhauladhar ranges and in the front, the Kangra valley extends for miles together.
In ancient times the control exercised by the states on the outline posts of the principalities of the states must have been very loose. The local rulers called Ranas, Thakurs and other petty chiefs in the hills must have reigned supreme within their respective domains. However, they owed their allegiance to some Rajput Raja controlling a large number of small principalities.
From ancient times the Katoch rulers have been ruling over Kangra. The historical records testify that there was a Katoch ruler of Trigarta even at the times of the invasion of Alexander the Great in 326 BC. The armies of the Macedonian King did not cross the Beas River and the place from where they returned back to Greece is known as Kotgarh near Pathankot.
The Kangra Fort
The fort occupies a long strip of land and is enclosed with a high rampart and the walls cover the circuit of about 4 Km. The main entrance is called Ranjit Singh gate which is followed by a long and narrow passage leading to Jahangir Darwaza or Door through the Amini and Amiri Darwaza, both attributed to Nawab Ali Khan, the first Mughal Governer of Kangra.
The next two gates called Andheri and Darsana Darwaza were completely ruined in the earthquake. The Darsana Darwaza was flanked by defaced statues of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. The path through it gives access to the shrines of Laxmi Narayana, Sita, and Ambika Devi. To the north between the two last mentioned buildings, is a staircase leading to the palace called Sheesh Mahal.
The earliest remains inside the fort art the Jain and the Brahmani cal temples built around 9th and 10th century AD. The most valuable monuments inside the Kangra fort are the so-called temples of Laxmi Narayana and Sita, with two square chambers profusely decorated with carvings. These edifices were almost turned into ruins by the earthquake.
The temple of Ambika Devi is still used for worship. It is a much simpler structure evidently of no great age. The only ancient portions seem to be the pillars and the architecture of the Mandapa or inner dome, which originally must have been an open 12 pillared pavilion roofed over in the corbelling fashion of Hindu architecture. This pavilion was covered by a flat dome.
To the south of the Ambika, Devi temple is two small Jain shrines. One of them contains plain pedestal which might have supported a Tirthankar image. In the other is placed a seated statue of Adinath with partly obliterated inscriptions dated Samvat 1523 i.e., 1466 AD, in the reign of Katoch Raja Sansar Chand.
Many loose sculptures and the architectural members of the monuments which were discovered later have been kept in a sculpture shed. Some important sculptures have also been displayed in the State Museum at Shimla. A small museum has been established at the entrance of the fort by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Invasion of Mahamud of Gazni
Mahmud of Ghazni, after defeating the Hindu King of Lahore invaded Nagarkot in the beginning of 11th century AD. He was impressed by the prestige of Kangra fort and the wealth supposed to be confined within its walls. After defeating the Rajput Raja at Kangra, Mahmud satisfied his lust for wealth by carrying away the enormous treasure of gold and silver from the Kangra fort.
As per historical records, the amount of loot was such that the backs of camels could not carry it, no vessel could contain it, no writer could record it and no imagination of mathematician could conceive or reckon it. As stated by Ferishta it was 700,000 in gold dinars, 700 manns or 700x 40 Kg of gold and silver plates, 200 manns or 200 x 40 Kg of pure gold in ingots, 2000 manns or 2000 x 40 Kg silver bullion and 20 manns or 20x 40 Kg of various jewels including pearls, diamonds, rubies etc.
After the passing of the storm, the Katoch king continued to rule over Trigarta or Kangra. The Katoch family held some parts of the territory of Jalandhar in the plains of Punjab during the period after the conquest of Lahore by the Turks. However, one Ibrahim of Gazani conquered this territory from Katoch King Jagdeo Chand in AD 1070 AD.
During the Reign of Muhamad Tughluq
In 1337 AD, Muhamad Tughluq and then the Afghan king of Delhi captured the fort of Kangra during the reign of Prithvi Chander in 1357 AD. But the fort was recovered by Raja Puran Chandra from the Muslim occupants. One of his successor Raja Rup Chander led and an expedition into the plains of Punjab, plundering the country right up to Delhi.
This was an affront which could not be condoned by the Sultan of Delhi. So Feroz Shah Tughluq invaded Kangra in 1366 AD to punish the King for his arrogance. The fort was surrendered after a long siege and the Raja completely submitted before the Sultan of Delhi. At the time of the invasion of Timur Lung, it was Singara Chand the son of Rup Chand who had become the ruler of Kangra
Guler- A Seperate Principality Carved out of Kangra
In the year 1405, a few years after the invasion of Timur, Hari Chand ascended the throne of Kangra. But one incident resulted in the foundation of new principality. The story goes that once the King while hunting in the forest fell into a dry well. Everybody believed that the King had been devoured by some wild beast or might have died in the forest. In the meanwhile, his younger brother Karam Chand was made the ruler of Kangra. Raja Hari Chand was brought out of the well by a passing merchant, and it is said that after 22 days he reached Kangra to find his brother on the throne. Raja Karam Chand offered to abdicate and to restore the kingdom to his elder brother. But Raja Hari Chand did not accept the offer and founded a separate principality of Guler with its capital at Haripur.
It was in 15th and 16th centuries that the small Kingdoms of Guler, Dattarpur, Shangri, Dari, Therot and Haripur came into existence.
Ajbar Sen founded the Mandi state in 1527, during the times when Guru Arjun Dev (1506- 1606) was constructing the Harminder or the Golden Temple at Amritsar. At the behest of Guru, the rulers of Mandi, Kullu, Chamba and Suket took part and contributed in the temple construction. Arjun Dev was the contemporary of Akbar.
Posthumous portraits of Mughal Emperor Akbar
The Reign of Akbar
Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan King who turned out Humayun from India also captured Kangra in 1540 AD. But by the end of 1555 AD, the Muslim influence again declined.
Thereafter all the Rajas and Ranas in the hills were subjugated by the forces of Akbar. After the victory in the battle of Plassy in 1556, Akbar annexed the princely states of Nurpur, Guler, Kangra, Kullu, Bilaspur, Mandi, Suket and Chamba during different expeditions in 1556, 1572, 1588, 1595 and 1604 and started receiving tributes or tithes from them.
The small states in the region of Shimla and Sirmour ruled by Thakurs and Ranas remained untouched from the invasions of Akbar. But Akbar failed to conquer the Kangra fort during his victory over Kangra.
Occasionally the hill rajas rebelled against the imperial authority and declared independence. Therefore, Akbar sent one of his able Finance Minister Todar Mall to punish the rebels and to annex the areas of those mischievous hill Chiefs.
Frequent mention is made in Muhammadan histories about the cutting of tongue by the devotees at Brujeshwari Devi temple in Kangra. The cut tongue was believed to be restored in a few days. Akbar was told that Kangra was famous for four things.
1. The manufacture of artificial noses.
2. The treatment of eye diseases.
3. The basmati rice.
4. The strong fort.
Manufacture of Artificial Noses
In the early decades of the 17th century, it was a common practice to punish the offenders by chipping off their noses.
The artists and physicians of Kangra were so proficient in making life size plastic noses that even Akbar the Great was forced to admire their art.
It is said that a criminal whose nose was chopped off at the orders of Akbar reappeared in the Durbar or the court after few days. The Emperor was wonder struck to see his nose intact.
The Reign of Jahangir
Jahangir Salim also became interested in the Kingdom of Kangra after his accession to the throne of Mughal India in 1606. Before this accession, about 52 efforts were made to capture the Kangra fort. He wanted to annex the territory and to capture the most prestigious fort, It was believed that he who held the fort was the ruler of the hill states in the adjoining areas. The army of Jahangir failed thrice to take hold of the fort. Under the command of Sheikh Farid Murtaza Khan, the invasion took place in 1615 AD, in which Raja Suraj Mall of Nurpur rendered valuable help. The latter was the close confidant of the Emperor Jahangir. But the siege had to be lifted after 14 months, as the fort could not be captured.
Hari Chand, the ruler of Kangra was minor at the time and hence the army of Kangra fought bravely under the commandership of the Prince of Chamba. He was the maternal uncle of Hari Chand.
Next year another expedition was sent, but this time Suraj Mall proved unfaithful for the invaders. Then the emperor sent another strong force against Suraj Mall and the King of Kangra under the commandership of Sunder Das. This time the fort was captured by Sunder Das in 1620 AD as the scarcity of reinforcements and food inside the fort compelled the Katoch defenders to surrender before the invaders. The Mughal Empire annexed the entire state of Kangra and a strong garrison was left in charge of the fort. In this way, the prosperous rule of an ancient Kingdom of Kangra in the hill states of Himachal Pradesh came to an end.
In 1622 AD, Jahangir and Nur Jahan came to Kangra via Siba and returned to Delhi via Nurpur and Pathankot. So fascinated were they with the beauty of the valley that the emperor ordered the building of palace here for the residential purpose. The foundation was laid but the building was never completed.
The hill rulers such as Raja Hari Chand and Mian Suraj Bhan carried out guerilla warfare against the Mughal Faujdar or commander in charge of the fort, but their efforts could not dislodge the Mughal garrison. Raja Hamir Chand who came to power in 1700 AD was a gifted ruler and he reigned for 47 years. But the bulk of the territory of Kangra was then under the Mughals and Hamir Chand only bridged his time. In the meanwhile, he built a small fort near Hamirpur.
Hamir Chand, the son of Raja Ghamand Chand was a brave ruler who recovered most of the lost territory but could not capture the Kangra fort. Nawab Saif Ali Khan, the last Mughal Faujdar of Kangra bravely held the fort for about 40 years. He had to bow only once in his life before a man stronger than himself, who was Adina Bagh Khan, the Nawab of Jalandhar and later the Nawab of Punjab under the Marathas.
Ahmed Shah Durani
In 1752, Punjab was transferred to Ahmad Shah Durrani by the weak Mughal ruler of Delhi. In 1758, Raja Ghamand Chand was appointed the Nizam or the Governer of Jalandhar Doab under the Afghan rulers of New Delhi. Rajah Ghamand Chand was a brave man and a strong ruler and he successfully restored the prestige and glory of Kangra state. But as he was unable to retain Kangra fort, he built another fort at Tira Sujanpur on the left bank of Beas River opposite to Alampur on a hill overlooking the town. This great ruler died in 1774 AD and was succeeded by his son Tegh Chand who died after one year in 1775.
Exhibits at Maharaja Sansar Chandra Museum at the FortClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sansar Chand, The great ruler of Kangra
Kangra then saw the rise of a great ruler Sansar Chand II, who was has been described as one of the most notable chiefs who ever ruled in Kangra. He succeeded to the throne at a tender age of ten. During that time the disorder prevailed in the hills and the plains. Though Punjab had been given to the Durranis, the old Mughal officers proclaimed their independence in some outlying parts of the country. Nawab Saif Ali Khan was one such officer. The chief ambition of Raja Sansar Chand was to recapture the Kangra fort, the ancient home of his ancestors. He called to his aid Sardar Jai Singh of Kanhaya in 1781 and the Mughals surrendered the fort in 1783. Then the fort came under the control of the Sikhs. It was after few years that Sansar Chand could get hold of the fort by exchanging some territory which he had won in the plains of Punjab.
After regaining the fort, Sansar Chand revived the tradition and led the claim to supremacy over all the principalities and hill states of Jalandhar circle. In the capital of Tira Sujanpur, he erected a great Durbar Hall. For full 20 years, he reigned supreme over all the hill states of Kangra, Kullu, Mandi and Chamba.
Sansar Chand was well known for his generosity, bravery, justice and good administration. He was a great patron of art and a shrewd judge of men and matters. That is why he is often compared to the great rulers like Akbar and Nausherwan.
But reckless bravery and unlimited ambition of this great ruler proved to be the cause of his ruin. His aim was to regain far-reaching dominions of his ancestors and even to establish the Katoch rule in entire Punjab. He invaded the plains of Punjab twice in 1803 and 1804 AD but was defeated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Gurkhas became angry at the annexation of Bilaspur state by him which was under their control. Their invasion in retaliation was sabotaged by the strong forces of Raja Sansar Chand.
The small Rajas in the hills of Kangra were feeling sore against Sansar Chand. In 1806, with the help of hill Chiefs, the Gurkhas under the command of Amar Singh Thapa defeated Raja Sansar Chand who had to take refuge inside the fort. The country was led waste and plundered by the enemies. The siege of fort lasted for 4 years, but Sansar Chand managed to escape to Tira Sujanpur.
On the death of Raja Sansar Chand, his son Anirudh Chand was installed as the King, but he did not rule longer.
Raja Dhian Singh, the Dogra Chief of Jammu became the most powerful man in the entire Sikh Kingdom after Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He desired to marry one of the two sisters of Anirudh Chand. But Anirudh Chand took it as an insult and led an expedition against Dhian Singh. He had to flee after being defeated and the Sikhs occupied the entire state of Kangra.
Barjeshwari Devi temple Kangra after 4th April 1905 earth quake.
The Kangra Earthquake
At 6’O Clock in the morning of April 4, 1905, the Kangra district was rocked by a devastating earthquake which caused great loss to life and property. The morning was calm and beautiful and then in a moment with two fearful tremors, every house in the area collapsed amid the thunder of falling rocks, rafts and walls along with the shrieks and cries for help. The Kangra fort and the historical buildings inside it were shaken and came down tumbling like a pack of cards. The whole fort became a mass of ruins after being devastated by the earthquake.
The Kangra Jwelery
The Goldsmiths of Kangra
Raja Susharman was a great devotee of goddess Kali and Lord Ganesha. He commissioned an idol of pure gold which had Kali on one side and Ganesha on the other. This rare work of art survives even today and is preserved at the temple of Brijashwari Devi at Kangra. This idol is a masterpiece which amply demonstrates the levels of art in Kangra in ancient times.
In ancient times, the goldsmiths of Kangra were expert in the making of exquisite ornaments. They used to make life size dolls and portraits in gold and silver detailing every minute features of the figure.
Center of Brahmanical Learning
In older days Kangra was a major center of brahminical learning. The maxims carved on stones in ruined temples indicate that the temples were the main sources of spreading the brahminical learnings. The ancient Kings used to give daan or gifts to Brahmin gurus or teachers. Although it cannot be said with certainty that higher education was provided in those days, but it is an established fact that the gurus were well versed in astrology.
In fine arts, the Kangra paintings are a class of their own and are appreciated even today. Raja Sansar Chand, who ascended the throne in 1775 AD, was a great patron of art. He himself took painting lessons when he was young. He invited many great artists from the neighboring areas to settle in Kangra. Hence the period up to 1805 witnessed the greatest achievements of the Kangra School of paintings.
Needless to say, the people of ancient Kangra were religious minded. The numerous ancient temples indicate the religious nature of the people. Most of them were the worshippers of Durga and Kali, while others were devoted to Shiva and Ganesha. Although ancient Kangra survives only in the ruins of an old fort and the ancient temples, yet they remind us of the once glorious past of this beautiful valley. Standing among the colossal ruins of the ancient buildings one wonders whether it was the same ancient Kangra, which once tempted the great rulers to possess it.
© 2014 Sanjay Sharma