Himachal Day : A Brief History of the Modern Times

The state of Himachal Pradesh officially came into existence on 25th January 1971 and till then it used to be a part of Punjab Hill States. Today we celebrate the completion of 47 years of its existence as a state.

The Punjab Hill States were themselves an amalgamation of the Punjab Hill States and the Shimla Hill States as they were also referred to. During the reign of the Mughals most of the Hill Kingdoms here were nominally aligned to them but were pretty free to act as they wished as long as the tribute was sent to the Mughals. However with the decline of the Mughal power the situation developed more fluidly and there were many actors who played a part in the formation of Himachal Pradesh. And whenever there is a power vacuum in history other forces are attracted to fill in the same.

In the beginning of the 19th century one of the most powerful Hill Raja was Raja Sansar Chand Katoch of Kangra who organised his Army and went on a conquering spree not only in the Hill Kingdoms but also invaded the plains of Punjab in order to gain territory. With an ambition to carve out a Katoch Kingdom he conquered various Hill Kingdoms in his neighbourhood including Chamba, Mandi, Kullu, Guler, Nurpur and Kutlehar. He even tried to capture territory around Hoshiarpur in Punjab but was repulsed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1803 – 1804.

Having received a setback in Punjab he set his eyes on other Hill Kingdoms including Bilaspur (Kahlur) and Bara Thakurais (12 Thakurais) across the Satluj River. These Bara Thakurais till some years back had been a part of another powerful Hill Kingdom, Sirmour. And they had been the bone of contention between the Kingdoms of Kangra, Bilaspur and Sirmour. The Kingdom of Sirmour had also opposed the aggressive actions by Raja Sansar Chand in Mandi and Bilaspur.Raja Sansar Chand formed an alliance with the Raja of Nalagarh and together they captured large parts of Bilaspur territory and established control over the Bara Thakurais in the CIS Satluj area.

In the meanwhile the Gurkhas under General Amar Singh Thapa who had already captured Garhwal and Kumaon were now in occupation of the Sirmour Kingdom where they had been invited by one of the warring factions in the war of succession and once that was settled they decided not to leave and were in control of the Kingdom from their main base in Dehradun. After losing much of his territory to Raja Snasar Chand, the Raja of Bilaspur called on the Gurkha General again for help and to help thwart the plans of Raja Sansar Chand and his allies.

The Gurkhas due to ambitions of their own readily agreed to the same and stepped into the conflict on the part of the Bilaspur Raja. Raja Sansar Chand had already a lot on his hands and taking on the Gurkhas was just too much. The Gurkhas defeated Raja Sansar Chand and occupied the most strategic fort of the Himalayan foothills, the Kangra Fort. In addition to that they held all the Hill Kingdoms in the CIS Satluj areas and were also in control of another powerful Hill Kingdom, the Kingdom of Bushahr.

Raja Sansar Chand had no option but to approach his former bete-noire Maharaja Ranjit Singh and asked for his help and promised in return the Fort of Kangra and various other consolations. As a result after some machinations finally Ranjit Singh stepped in and the Gurkhas were evicted from the Fort of Kangra but they crossed over the Satluj and stood strong in their Forts around Solan and hence they carried on to occupy all the smaller Kingdoms and Thakurais.

On the other side of the Satluj after occupying the Kangra Fort, Maharaja Ranjit Singh spread his influence on all the Hill Kingdoms on which Raja Sansar Chand earlier held sway. All of Himachal on the Trans Satluj side was now held by Maharaja Ranjit and most of the territory on the other side of the Satluj was held by the Gurkhas. Due to the Treaty of Amritsar that Maharaja Ranjit Singh had with the British he was not entitled to make make any conquests in the CIS Satluj area and as the Gurkhas were in the CIS Satluj area, Ranjit Singh could not make any advance on them.

By this time the Gurkhas were on a collision course with the British. All the Hill Rajas and Thakurais asked the British for help in getting the Gurkhas out of their territories. They promised the British all the help in their war against the Gurkhas provided that their Kingdoms and Thakurais are returned to them after the Gurkhas leave.

In 1814 the Anglo Gurkha war took place at multiple fronts and the British defeated the Gurkhas and the Treaty of Sagauli was signed between the two. As a result of the Treaty the Gurkhas had to give up all their territory West of the Kali River to the British. This included Garhwal, Kumaon and parts of the present day Himachal Pradesh upto the Satluj River. The British now held sovereignty over these Hill States in Himachal and controlled the whole territory. It was at this time that at a certain location which was in their control they established the town of Shimla. And the Hill Rajas and Thakurs were given back their Kingdoms and Thakurais though they were under British suzerainty from then on. As they had to report to the British Resident at Shimla these were collectively known as the Shimla Hill States. These were as under

Bilaspur (Kahlur);

Bushahr with feudatories Delath and Khaneti; Nalagarh (Hindur);

Keonthal with five zaildaris Koti, Theog, Madhan, Ghund and Ratesh;

Baghal, Bhagat, Jubbal, Kumarsain, Bhajhi, Mahlog, Balsan, Dhami, Kuthar, Kunihar, Mangal, Beja, Darkoti, Tharoch, Sangri, Rawin and Dhadi.

The Kingdom of Sirmour was also returned to the Raja again under British suzerainty.

On the other side of the Satluj the areas were still under the control of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In 1836 the Sikhs went further and occupied the Kullu Valley as well and bought Lahaul and Spiti also under their control. At this point of time the Sikhs controlled pretty much all the territory between the Satluj and the Indus. And so it remained for many years even after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839.

However in the aftermath of the Anglo Sikh Wars in 1846, which the Sikhs lost the British acquired control of this whole territory. The newly acquired Trans Satluj states that the British acquired and which were designated as the Punjab Hill States (as they previously belonged to the Punjab Kingdom) were as under

Punjab Hill States

Kangra, Guler, Jaswan, Datarpur, Nurpur, Chaitiba, Suket, Mandi and Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti

In addition the British also got suzerainty over the powerful Chamba Kingdom.

This was the makeup of the region till 1947 when India got independence the Simla Hill States and the Punjab Hill States as well as Chamba and Sirmour state were put together to form Himachal Pradesh. In 1956 after further re-organisation is was made a Union Territory. Finally it was made a formal state on the Indian Union in 1971 on January 25th. Shri Yashwant Singh Parmar is credited as being the Father of Himachal Pradesh and he was the Chief Minister of the state on a number of occasions. He hailed from a Rajput family in the erstwhile Kingdom of Sirmour. The longest serving Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh who recently lost the elections, Shri Virbhadra Singh is the head of the Royal Family of Bushahr. The present Chief Minister Shri Jairam Thakur also belongs to a Rajput family from Mandi. A reminder that much of the present stems from the past.

Jai Himachal.