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Arki or Baghal State in Himachal Pradesh
Situated in the low hills of Himachal Pradesh at a distance of approximately 50 km from Shimla, the small town of Arki in the Solan district was once the capital of erstwhile Baghal princely state.
The word Arki means sunny place and Baghal stands for the land of leopards.
In order of precedence, the Baghal state had 8th rank among the Punjab hill states. The British allowed the Raja the state to maintain a military force of 150 infantry and 1 gun in 1893 AD.
The pedigree of the royal family of Baghal is one of the oldest in India. The different rulers of Baghal are known not only for their bravery and able administration but also for their interest in arts particularly music and paintings and the patronage to scholars and saints.
The Arki School of painting was founded by Raja Sabha Chand, while Raja Shiv Saran Singh patronized scholars, saints, and religious men.
The fort and palace of the small town of Arki, represent the royal heritage of the erstwhile state.
The ancient temples, wooded hills, the Sair fair, the buffalo fighting and the outdoors of Arki are worth seeing.
The rulers of Arki state had come from Malwa in Madhya Pradesh after 1250 AD. Raja Ajai Dev Panwar founded the state. The royal family of Arki traces its roots to Raja Aditya Pawar of 5th century AD, who ruled the area around Mount Abu in Rajasthan.
Raja Ajai Dev
Raja Amar Dev, ruler of Dhar, had three sons. The eldest son Rana Ajai Dev founded the State of Baghal while Rana Vijay Dev became the ruler of Bhagat. But the youngest son, Rana Madhan Dev, became a hermit and is still worshiped as a local deity in Arki and Paonta Sahib, as the Dhar–ka-Dev or the deity of Dhar.
Rana Ajai Dev became the Prime minister of Maharaja Jaitugideva (1239-1256) and his son Maharaja Jayavarman II (1256-1269) of Malwa. They were his kinsman and the scions of the family of Bhoj Deva, the King of Malwa who from 1010 to 1053 AD had ruled the vast area of north India including Pakistan, united Punjab and Sindh.
In 1260 AD, Ajai Dev undertook a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Badrinath situated in the hills of Garhwal. It was the time of the decline of Panwar dynasty in Malwa which was invaded by Krishan Dev and Sultan Nasir-Ud-din, the chief Minister of Indian Sultan Balban.
Raja Ajay Dev seized the opportunity to become independent of both of his father, who ruled Dhar, and the Malwa state of which he was the Prime Minister. He moved from Dhar, first to the place near Poanta Sahib and then came to Shai village in Baghal to establish his own principality of Baghal in the Sairi valley. Since then the family has ruled over this small but important hill state i.e., till it became a part of Himachal Pradesh in 1948.
Gurkha Occupation of the State
In the beginning of 18th century, the Panwar rulers were overrun by the Gurkhas. The Gurkha General Amar Singh Thapa took over the place fort of Arki in 1806 and the ruling family including the ruler Jagat Singh fled to a place near Ropar, after a brief stay at
Nalagarh. The Gurkhas used the fort as a stronghold and its headquarter during the Gurkha raids from 1806-16 AD. These raids were carried further into the interiors of Himachal Pradesh even up to Kangra during the aforesaid period.
During the Anglo- Gurkha war of 1815-16, the British forces under its General Sir David Ochterlony, helped Rana Jagat Sing to regained control of Arki and to vanquish and drive away the Gurkhas. Raja Ram Saran Singh, the ruler of Handur or Nalagarh also helped in joint operations. The beautiful palace built by the men from Jaipur was not destroyed by the Gurkhas.
Rana Kishan Chand
In order to payback for the favor, Rana Kishan Chand, 1844-77 AD, helped the British Crown during the Revolt of 1857, with men and means. Therefore the English bestowed the title of Raja to him.
Raja Kishan Singh patronized arts and developed the Arki town in a planned manner in 1840-67 AD. He built mule tracks to connect Arki with Shimla and Bilaspur towns. He invited several artisans, scholars, and businessman from different parts of India to settle in Arki. He gifted them the tax-free land for subsistence.
Raja Kishen Chand made substantial improvements in Arki. He rebuilt the bazaar, destroyed by the Gurkha during their occupation of Arki. He rebuilt the in the fort palace and got its interiors especially the Divan-e-khana painted with murals in 1850 AD. The state was ably and vigorously administered by him. He established large mango plantations and a dairy farm. He undertook extensive afforestation and Arki became one of the model states in India.
Raja Kishan Chand, who married a Guler princess, encouraged paintings and invited artists from Guler and rest of Kangra and took the benefit of their art and skill. He also introduced the Sair festival of crops, the important festival of state in the region.
Raja Dhian Singh
Raja Dhian Singh, 1877- 1904 AD, concentrated on strengthening the administration and introduced a cabinet of Ministers, even though the ministers happened to be his sons.
With the help of the Resident Superintendent of Shimla Hill States, the local revolt of 1905 was suppressed.
The Later Rajas
Raja Bikram Singh, 1904-22 AD, laid the foundations of the modern state of Baghal, built a Middle school and opened a hospital in Arki.
Raja Surendra Singh, 1922-45 AD, revamped the administration and improved the financial management of the state.
Raja Rajendra Singh, 1945-2010 AD, introduced constitutional, administrative and social reforms, established 16 panchayats or village units by opening a primary school in each of them. He upgraded the Arki Middle school to a High School. He improved the conditions of all the roads and upgraded the Arki to Jutogh mule track to the motor able road.
The Fort Palace of Arki
This sprawling palace fort is situated in the Western Himalayas in the backdrop of awe-inspiring hills, thick forests, and breathtaking view. Built in the Kalam style of architecture, the beleaguered garden and the Bougainvillea bushes in the fort add to its beauty on the hillside terraces.
The original palace was built, at the foot of the fort, near the old Luxmi Narayan Temple where the Arki bazaar stands today. In 1760, the palace started sinking due to erosion. Thus the royal residence was moved to the fort.
The Arki fort palace was built by Rana Prithvi Singh, the son of Sabha Chand in 1795- 1805 AD. But it was in 1830 AD that, Rana Shiv Sharan Singh laid down the foundation of the famous Divan-e- Khas or the Court hall for Private Audience in the Arki fort Palace. The Hall is situated on the upper floor of the double story of the palace. The hall is crowned with arched windows that open into the courtyard below presenting a beautiful view of the entire valley. The stunningly colorful murals and miniature painting cover the walls, ceilings, archways and the passages of the building.
The architecture of the fort is a blend of typical Rajput and Mughal architectural styles with the prominent influence of Rajasthan.
Thereafter in 1850 AD, Raja Kishen Chand added the beautiful murals and frescoes in the 'Pahari School' of miniature paintings in the fort palace. The frescoes provide the most accurate record of the contemporary life of nearby Punjab hill states including that of Himachal Pradesh.
These wall paintings can be classified as decorative floral designs, geometric patterns, aesthetic fantasies, religious themes and the scenic beauty of the hills. The chief characteristics of these paintings are the sharp thematic contrasts, the balance of colors, exquisite forms and aesthetic designs.
The Arki Fort Palace is the private property of former Raja Rajendra Singh. A part of it is being used as a residence by the royal family, while another part has been converted into a heritage resort. The well-maintained suites of the resort reflect the grandeur and splendor of royalty. The old photographs of late Rajas are also displayed in the rooms. It provides an excellent view of the snow covered mountain ranges of Shimla, Kasauli, and Subathu, the famous tourist destinations of the state.
A section of the ruined fort is also being used by the Home Guards. The historical legends and artistic creations are associated with the fort.
The monkeys could be seen everywhere in the fort complex.
Baghal School of Painting at Arki. The colors of which are still vibrant and the rich architecture indicates the Royal sense of aestheticsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Location and Climate
With an average elevation of 1045 meters above sea level, Arki is located at the Shivalik range of hills in Himalayan Mountains with 31.150°North latitude and 76.967°East longitude.
The high altitude of the place makes the weather pleasant with the temperature ranging hovering between 26 to 32 °C in summers. The temperature between 4 to 8 °C makes the winters chilly.
The moderate rainfall occurs in the months of July and August.
Dhundan and other Capitals of the State
Raja Ajai Dev founded the state of Arki, and the capital of the state was located at various places like Shai, Dhundan, Darla and Damras during the first few centuries.
Rana Kasas Chand established the capital permanently in Dhudan in 1643 AD. It is a place near Arki, where saints and sages visited frequently and gave the place an air of religious and spiritual enthusiasm.
But Rana Sabha Chand shifted the capital to Arki in 1650 AD and built a palace there.
The Rulers of Baghal
The Title of the rulers
1643 - 1670 AD
1670 - 1727 AD
1727 - 1743 AD
1743 - 1778 AD
1778 - 1805 AD
Occupaied by Amar Singh Thapa
1805 - 1815 AD
1815 - 1828 AD
Shiv Saran Singh
1828 - 1840 AD
1840 - 1875 AD
1875 - 1877 AD
1877 - 1877 AD
1877 - 1904 AD
1904 - 1922 AD
1922 - 1945 AD
1945 - 2010 AD
2010- till date
Best Time to Visit Arki
Arki is an all-weather destination, but the months from March to June are ideal for sightseeing and trekking due to the comfortable and dry weather at that time.
The pleasing atmosphere of the monsoon months of July and August bring their own charm and bath the lush green vegetation with the showers of rain. It further adds to the charm and the scenic beauty of nature.
The weather in the winter months from November to February is cold, but not so difficult if one can handle the cold and enjoy the solitude away from the crowds.
An ideal time to visit the place is during the months of September and October.
The Able Rulers
The Arki state protected and accommodated a number of hill Rajas who took refuge when haunted and hounded by the enemies at different times. The place became a permanent home for many and gave it a cosmopolitan character.
The Rajas, who had themselves come originally from Malwa in Madhya Pradesh, invited and offered an incentive to many scholars, artists, artisans and traders from time to time. The Pundits came from Kurukshetra, Pehowa, Haridwar, Varanasi and many other towns in North India.
They were allotted about 10 bighas or 2 acres of land each and were given clothes, grain cash and other gifts every year. They did not pay the land revenue on land and continue to enjoy the concession even today. The young pundits went to Kashi and settled back in adjoining villageof Badal, Kown as Chhoti kashi, or small Benaras.
Even the Raja her did not take to electoral politics to keep pace with the modern times, Arki has had its quota of political leaders, who did well at the state level.
Among them has been the minister Hari Das, Mans Ram Chauhan, havebySant Ram and Hira Singh Pal.
The people do whatever little do have by way of vocations and spend rest of the time in tea stalls and temples. They attend the fairs and engage themselves in gossip for entertainment.
The Arki PalaceClick thumbnail to view full-size
A variety of communities and caste groups have come to Arki from different places of India. They had settled here since the days of Kunends, as mentioned in the Puranas. The Kunenda coins have been discovered at Okhru, near Arki.
The Kanait Rajput was among the early settlers. The Rajput caste groups to settle here include Panwars, Chauhans, Tanwars, Gehlot. Bhatia, Pal, and Rathore.
The Brahmin clan who came here from all over is Angiras, Bhardwaj, Gautam, Kaushik and Kaushal. There is a fairly large trading community, many of whom came from Kangra, though they were originally from Rajasthan.
The phinju or Himalayan bulbul gives a call and the Sair season begins
The most important festival of Arki is the two-day Sair fair which is held in the honor of the god Banar Devata.
It was introduced in Arki after the marriage of Raja Raja Kishan Chand to the Guler princess, who brought some of the cultural practices of Kangra to the state.
Sair is the festival of lower hills of Himachal Pradesh; though celebrate at Mashobra near Shimla and is connected with the harvest of maize or corn.
It is celebrated in Solan and Kangra from September to November. It signifies the end of monsoons and heralds the pleasant weather.
The phinju or Himalayan bulbul gives a call and the Sair season begins. The folk songs have the call of phinju. According to an old custom the Nais or barbers, after hearing the call go round to announce the onset of Sair in different villages.
The things needed in Sair worship are Galgal or citrus pseudo-Limon fruit, Petha or ash gourd, corn of maize or paddy and a silver coin.
The buffalo fighting is the special feature of two day Sair at Arki. On the first day, the buffaloes are specially fed and trained for the occasion, and are brought to the fair by five or six persons.
They are aggressive and the two of them run to the center of the field and dash against each other. The lazy ones are discarded by the remark, “they are old friends and will not fight”.
The second day is dedicated to wrestling bouts in which the wrestlers from far off places come to claim the title.
Arki has had a game of skill, played the night after Diwali, which is known as Hesu.
The balls of grass are made and after setting them on fire, they are thrown by the contestants across the nullah or small rivulet.
The rivals stand on two sides of the rivulet and the one who is hit loses the game.
Temples in Arki
The Bania Devi temple where an annual fair is held attracts the devotees from far off places.
The other fair known as Basi Mela is connected with Pandavas. Dussehra, Sharad Purnima. Basant Panchami, Holi, and Diwali are other popular festivals.
The temple of Luturu Mahadev nearby on a peak has a series of caves along it. Built in Shikhara or pointed roof style by the Rajput rulers in 1621 AD, the temple is surrounded by the crags and the milky water coming out of a spring. Many people believe that this milky water comes out of the gothans or udders of the holy cow.
There is a temple of Matru Mahadev and another Shiva temple named Shakhani Mahadev. The beautiful designs and carvings of Shakhani Mahadev are marvelous.
© 2014 Sanjay Sharma