An introduction to the History of Chamba
by Prabal Pramanik
The hills of Chamba region have been undoubtedly inhabited by people before
the Aryan tribes came to this area.
We can only infer, and have a patchy idea from similar settlements in the history of
These rudimentary settlements by those tribes were obviously overcome by Aryan migrants
who were the part of a migratory process from Asia minor. That process must have taken a
long time, even centuries.
History presents accounts of power struggle between different groups and the groups that
gain dominance try to retain a position of power over the vanquished.
In this way the society becomes a conglomerate of different casts and clans often set in
different economic levels. Each group had accepted the existence of the other communities
while remaining in the constricted social psyche of their own clan, not only in ancient
and medieval, Chamba, but all over India, except in some tribal areas and in open modern
This narrow clan and caste based social outlook of life, as definitely left out different
classes of people from the annals of human history.
The society depended on the physical labour of the so called low cast people,
who basically came from the vanquished sections of the society, though genetic changes in
them were caused by the pressures of other dominants groups.
In spite of the fact that the physical structure society depended on the toils of such
people, they were generally left out in the historical annals.
Chroniclers who wrote and compiled the annals of history with a lot of eulogy
for the ruling class and a lot of hyperbolic praise for the people in power, never cared
to mention the poverty stricken people who laboured to provide the basic to the society.
These chroniclers, whether Hindu or Muslim never tried to analyze the reign of any ruler
in terms of the social welfare enjoyed by the poor labouring classes.
These historical chroniclers must have looked down upon the so called
low caste people as sub humans who were only fit to be exploited by the
dominant members of the society in a merciless way.
The kings often gave huge grants to Brahmans, seeking their own salvation in a way
dictated in some scriptures written by the Brahman community.
The labouring classes were much needier and in dire economic straits but no king ever
thought of making donations for the welfare of these people.
These oppressed people often living as serfs and bonded labourors formed about one third
of the entire population ignored in history of kings, castles, campaigns and
courts. Even temple doors were often closed for these social outcasts.
I myself do not believe in such presentation of history.
For me, the long string of eulogies and victory songs of the rulers are hollow praises if
the welfare of common labouring class people have been igonored.
Art, literature, culture have nourished and enriched the society, but unfortunately I find
that in many aspects a sizable portion of the society have been largely deprived of the
benefits of culture.
I take a comprehensive look at this journey of mankind when studying history and I think
that real social welfare at the grassroots level is far more important than the
gratification of egos of some people in power.
Providing water for the common people, providing better irrigation, taking measures to
help the common people to lead better lives are far more important activities than
imperialistic campaigns and court intrigues.
The kings and chieftains often patronized art and literature for the glory of their own
courts but it served to propagate culture, at least to some sections of the society.
Human settlement Chamba in remaind under that name or remained under some other name at
this same place long before Sahil Varman. Perhaps rulers called Rana ruled the
tribes who lived here before Sahil Varman transferred his capital from Bramhmpur to
The self sufficient animal husbandery, agriculture and cottage industry system enabled
people to live in remote secluded area.
In the social collage of Chamba, each community had their own viewpoints and lifestyles
according to their situation.
The feudal economic setup had many aspects involving different communities in different
circles of activities that were rather rigid. The rigid but harsh classification of work
enable the people to live on set tracks but created hardship for many.
As I social anthropologist, I may say that tradition is healthy in art, culture and many
other aspects of creative thoughts, but rigidity amounting to irrational bigotry in the
name of tradition is greatly harmful for development. As long as no other alternative
administration and social setup was available the feudal setup continued at Chamba. With
the coming of new value system and the industrialization Chamba entered the age of rapid
Raja Shri Singh and Raja Bhuri Singh ushered in the modern age in Chamba.
After independence the development programmes were stepped up, and today Chamba is a town
of great possibilities. I hope that the historian of future will be able to record a story
of people oriented progress when writing about Chamba.
Prabal Pramanik ©
The principal authority for the history of the State is the Vansavali, or
genealogical roll of the Rajas, which, in addition to a list of names, contains much
historical material of great interest for places in North India. Its value as a historical
record has been fully proved by the study of the inscriptions which, on the one hand, have
confirmed its credibility, and on the other, have derived from it much support in deciding
chronological questions. Next in importance are the epigraphical records and copperplate
Sheltered by its snow-clad mountain barriers, Chamba has had the rare good fortune to
escape the successive waves of Muhammadan invasion, which swept away all monuments of old
Indian civilization on the plains. The result is that its ancient remains are more
abundant and better preserved than many other. In Kashmir, a centre of Sanskrit learning
in former times, the temples of Lalitaditya and his successors were ruthlessly destroyed
by Sikandar Butshikan; and only a few poor fragments of inscriptions have come to light.
In Chamba, the brazen idols of Meru-Varman, nearly contemporaneous with the temple of
Martand, still stand in their ancient shrines of carved cedar wood ; copper-plate grants
issued by the early rulers of Chamba, whose names figure in the Rajatarangini, are still
preserved by the descendants of the original donees, who enjoy the granted lands up to the
present day. Chamba is thus not only a store-house of antiquities, but in itself a relic
of the past, invaluable to the student of India's ancient history.
Sir Alexander Cunningham was the first to draw attention, in 1889, to the ancient remains
of Chamba, but it was only in later years that the whole wealth of antiquarian and
especially epigraphical material has come to light. The inscriptions are found all over
the State and are remarkable alike for their number and their variety. Excluding the last
two centuries, no fewer than 180 inscriptions have been collected, of which 50 are of the
pre-Muhammadan and 80,of the Muhammadan period. The oldest inscriptions are in the Gupta
character, of the seventh century, and those of a later date are in Sarada1the
script in use in the Panjab hills, and probably also on the plains, from about the eighth
century ; and still in use in Kashmir. The more recent ones are in Takari and Nagari and a
few in Tibetan. These records are classified according to the objects on which they are
found, as rock inscriptions, image inscriptions, slab inscriptions, and copper-plate
title-deeds. The rock inscriptions are the most ancient, but they are few in number and
difficult to decipher. The image inscriptions come next in point of age of which the
oldest are found on the idols erected by Raja Meru-Varman in Brahmaur about A.D. 700. Most
of the stone inscriptions are found on large slabs, covered with quaint and grotesque
figures, which the traveller will often observe at springs, often lying disused and
broken. These slabs originally formed parts of elaborately carved cisterns erected in the
olden time, chiefly by the Ranas and Thakurs, who ruled the country previous to the advent
of the Rajas, and who continued to exercise great authority for centuries after their
subjection. The inscriptions generally record the erection of a cistern (called
Varuna-deva), in memory of their deceased ancestor, and for their spiritual bliss in the
next world. Such carved slabs are found not only all over the State but also beyond its
borders, whereas inscribed slabs seem to be peculiar to Chamba. The oldest of the latter
kind records the erection of a temple by a feudatory of Raja Meru-Varman as the Rana
styles himself, and must therefore date from about A.D. 700. Historically these epigraphs
are of great value. In most cases they are fully dated, both according to the era then in
use and the reigning year of the ruling Chief of the time. Two of them found in Pangi have
made it possible to fix the dates of accession of two Chamba Rajas of the twelfth century,
whose names alone are found in the Vansavali.
The Chamba State also possesses a unique collection of copper-plate title-deedsmore
than 150 in number,five of them belonging to the pre-Muhanamadan period. The
pre-Muhammadan plates have a special value. The oldest of them was issued by
Yugakara-Varman, son and successor of Raja Sahila-Varman, who founded the present capital.
Three others, of the eleventh century, corroborate the references to Chamba in the
Rajatarangini, and also give us the names of two Rajas which are not found in the
Vansavali. Of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries not a single copperplate has been
found, but from A.D. 1330 a series of plates begins which has been continued without
interruption to the present day.
In Chamba State the tribes in question comprise fully one-fourth of the population. They
are included under the names of Koli, Hali, Sipi, Chamar, Dumna, Barwala, Megh, Darain,
Eehara, Sarara, Lohar, Bhatwal, Dhaugri, and some others.
(1) Though differing among themselves as regards social status, they are all looked upon
as outcasts by the high caste Hindu, who applies to them the epithet of Chanal or Chandal.
These low-caste tribes possess no traditions as to their original home, which tends to
confirm the conjecture that a long period of time must have elapsed since they first
migrated to the hills. General Cunningham believed that the Western Himalaya were at one
time occupied by a true Kolian group from the same race as the Kols of Central India.
(2) There are still many people in the Western Hills who bear the name of Koli; and the
Hali, Sipi, Megh and Dagi, etc., are essentially the same people. The Dagi of Kulu, for
example, are all called Koli as an alternative name. These tribes must have been of
non-Aryan origin like the other aborigines of India, but a great fusion of races took
place in ancient times by intermarriage, and later by degradation from the high
castes,a process which is still going on. This doubtless led in course of time to
many changes in the appearance and characteristics of the people, and to these we may
ascribe the fact that all now exhibit the features of the Aryan race, and use dialects of
the Aryan family of languages. These low-caste tribes are employed in menial occupations,
many of them being farm servants and artisans. . Some of those in Chamba State, and
probably in other parts of the hills, are small farmers, and hold land either directly
from the State, or from high-caste proprietors. In their subordinate position of farm
servants they were usually spoken of as kama, and in former times, and indeed up to the
commencement of British rule, were in a state analagous to that of slavery. Even now they
labour under some social restrictions, especially in the Native States; and their
condition generally seems to indicate that they have long occupied a very depressed
position in the social scale.
A view of Aryan migration, suggested by Professor Rhys Davids, throws much light on the
colonisation of the hills. He postulates three lines of advance, one of which was along
the foot of the Himalaya from Kashmir eastward. The Aryans, being hillsmen, tended to
cling to the hills, and we learn that there is clear evidence, in Sanskrit literature, of
their presence in the Western Himalaya at a very early period, probably before that in
which the hymns of the-Rig Veda were compiled. We may therefore assume that the oldest
strata of the Aryan population of Chamba State are of very ancient origin.
It is difficult to determine with certainty the exact date at which the Chamba State was
founded, but it seems probable that this event took place about the middle of the sixth
century A.D. The following are the reasons on which this conclusion is based. There are,
as has already been said, several references to Chamba or Champa as the place was then
namedin the Rajatarangini, and the earliest of these is interesting and valuable as
furnishing a fixed and fairly reliable date from which to begin our chronological inquiry.
The Rajas of Chamba belong to the Surajvansi line of Rajputs; and their Vansavali begins
from Vishnu or Narayana, Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, is sixty-third in the order of
descent, which is continued through Kusa, the second son of Rama. The original home of the
family is said to have been in Ayodhya, but they removed at a very-early period to the
Upper Ganges Valley, -where they settled in Kalapa. This is just a mythological
Maru is said to have been at first a religious devotee whose life was given up to tapas or
self-mortification. He afterwards married, and three sons were born to him. When they
reached manhood he bestowed a kingdom on each of them. Leaving the eldest in the ancestral
home, he traversed the Panjab with the other two, and settled one of them in the mountains
near Kashmir. Accompanied by Jaistambh, the youngest, he then penetrated to the Upper Ravi
Valley through the outer hills, and having conquered that territory from the petty Ranas
who held it, he founded the town of Brahmapura and made it the capital of a new State.
This event is believed to have taken place about the middle of the sixth century A.D.
After Maru several Rajas ruled in succession, but only their names are known. They
wereJaistambh, Jaistambh and Mahastambh.
Aditya-Varman, c. A.D. 620.The name of Aditya-Varman appears as Adi-Varman in the
Vansavali and is of very special interest, for it is twice mentioned in the Brahmaur
inscriptions, in which he is referred to as the great-grandfather of Meru-Varman, by whose
orders they were engraved ; and he was the first of the Chmaba line to assume the suffix
of ' Varman.
Bala-Varman, c. A.D. 640.The name of Bala-Varman is not found in the Vansavali;
having been omitted probably by a clerical error. It occurs, however, in two of the
Brahmaur inscriptions, in which Bara-Varman is called the grandfather of Meru-Varrnan.
Divakara-Varman, c. A.D. 660.In the Brahmaur inscriptions this Raja's name is found
in its full form ; but in the Vansavali, and the Chhatrari inscription, it occurs as
Meru-Varman, c. A.D. 680.As the name of Meru-Varman stands fifth in the Vansavali,
after that of the previous Kaja who was his father, it is clearly out of its proper place.
The error must have crept in at an early period, for all the existing copies of the
Vansavali are alike.
Meru-Varman seems to have been one of the most notable of the early Brahmapura rulers. He
was probably the first to extend the State boundaries by conquest, for in the Chhatrari
inscription it is recorded that he dedicated the idol of Sakti Devi in gratitude for help
against his enemies whom he had attacked in their strongholds and overcome.
But Meru-Varman was not only a brave and warlike leader, he was also a great builder, and
there are still in existence in Brahmaur many interesting remains, some of which are known
to date from his time. They prove that even at that early period of its history the State
possessed a considerable measure of wealth and material resources. The remains consist
chiefly of temples, in a remarkably good state of preservation in spite of their long
exposure to the weather. Their names are Mani-Mahesa, Lakshana Devi, Ganesa and Narsingh.
In front of the Mani-Mahesa temple is a brazen bull of life size, on the pedestal
of which is a long inscription. This and the other-two inscriptions, in the temples of
Lakshana Devi and Ganesa distinctly ascribe the dedication of all the idols named, except
that of Narsingh, and also of the brazen bull, to Meru-Varman. Tradition affirms that the
Surajmukha shrine was also built by him, and in accordance with ancient custom, a Chamba
Raja, when visiting Brahmaur, must pay his devotions at this temple before proceeding to
his camp. The image of Sakti Devi at Chhatrari, with its inscription, has already been
referred to as dating from the reign of Meru-Varman. Lands are said to have been assigned
for the support of these temples, but no title-deeds have yet been found of an earlier
date than the tenth century. (*While the shrines of Lakshana Devi and Ganesa at Brahmaur,
and of Sakti Devi at Chhatrari, almost certainly date from the time of Meru-Varman, the
present temple of Mani-Mahesha is probably of later date ; the original temple, however,
was erected by Meru-Varman as proved by the inscription on the bull.)
Ajia-Varman, c. A.D. 760.The Gaddi Brahmans and Rajputs have a tradition that they
came to Brahmaur from Delhi in the reign of this Raja. This may just be a folk lore or an
Suvarn-Varman, c. A.D. 780.
Lakshmi-Varman, c. A.D. 800.Lakshmi-Varman had not been long in power when the
country was visited by an epidemic of a virulent and fatal character, resembling cholera
or plague. Large numbers fell victims to the disease, and the State was in a measure
depopulated. Taking advantage of the desolation which prevailed, a people, bearing the
name of " Kira " in the Chronicle, invaded Brahmapura, and, having killed the
Raja, took possession of the territory.
Kulu had probably remained under the sway of Brahmapura from the time of Meru-Varman ; but
it recovered its independence on the death of Lakahmi-Varman ; for the Kulu Chronicle
states that its Raja obtained help from Bushahr and expelled the Chamba (Brahmapura)
Mushan-Varman, c. A.D. 820.Lakshmi-Varman left no son, but his rani was enceinte at
the time of his death, and an interesting legend has come down to us regarding the birth
of her child. On the defeat and death of the Raja, the Wazir and purohit, or family
priest, had the rani put into a palki and carried off towards Kangra. On reaching the
village of Garoh, a little beyond Deol, in the Trehta ilaqa of the Upper Ravi Valley, she
felt the pains of labour coming on, and desiring the bearers to put down the palki, went
into a cave by the wayside, and there her son was born. Thinking it better to leave the
infant to perish than run the risk of his capture by their enemies who were in pursuit,
she left him in the cave and returning to the palki resumed her journey. Suspicion was,
however, aroused, and, on being closely questioned, the rani confessed that she had given
birth to a son, and left him in the cave. The Wazir and the purohit at once went back, and
found the young prince, with a number of mice surrounding and keeping guard over him ; and
from this circumstance he was named Mushan-Varman. The villagers still show the stone on
which he is said to have been laid. Having recovered the child the party proceeded on
their journey to Kangra. There the rani took up her residence in the house of a Brahman
whom she made her guru, and remained eight or nine years under his protection, without
disclosing her identity. One day the boy happened to tread on some flour sprinkled on the
floor, and the Brahman, on seeing his foot-print, recognized it to be that of a royal
person, and the mother being questioned made known her relationship to the Brahmapura
royal family. The Brahman thereupon conducted her and the child to the Raja of Suket, who
received them kindly, and had Mushan-Varman provided for, and carefully educated. He grew
up intelligent and brave, and received the Raja's daughter in marriage, and with her as
dowry a jagir in the pargana of Pangna, and other large presents. Mushan-Varman was also
furnished with an army, and returning to Brahmapura he drove out the invaders and
recovered his kingdom.
Nothing is on record about him after his return, but the killing of mice is said to have
been prohibited by him on account of the services rendered by these animals in his
infancy. This custom still obtains in the Chamba royal family, and a mouse caught in the
palace is never killed.
After Mushan-Varman the following Rajas ruled in succession, but nothing is known
regarding any of them: Hans-Varman; Sar-Varman; Sen-Varman; Sajjan-Var-man;
Sahila-Varman, c. A. D. 920.-rSahila-Varman holds a very conspicuous place in the State
annals, for it waa he who conquered the lower Ravi Valley, and transferred the seat of
government from Brahmapura to the new capital, which he had founded at Champa.
Shortly after Sahila-Varman's accession Brahmapura was visited by 84 yogis, who were
greatly pleased with the Raja's piety and hospitality ; and, as he had no heir, they
promised him ten sons. They were invited to remain in Brahmapura till the prediction was
fulfilled, and in due course ten sons were born, and also a daughter, named Champavati.
Sahila-Varman had been engaged in extending his rule, and had brought under his sway all
the petty Ranas who still held the lower portion of the Ravi Valley. On this expedition he
was accompanied by Charpatnath, one of the yogis, and also by his queen and daughter.
Previous to its occupation by Sahila-Varman, the plateau on which the town of Chamba
stands was within the domain of a Rana.
An interesting and pathetic legend has come down to us in connection with the settlement
of the new capital.
There was-not good and convenient water supply, and the Raja was anxious to meet this
need. He therefore had a water-course made from the Sarohta stream round the shoulder of
the Shah Madar Hill, behind the town. For some reason the water refused to enter the
channel prepared for it, and, in accordance with the superstitious notions of the time,
this was ascribed to supernatural causes. The spirit of the stream must be propitiated,
and the Brahmans, on being consulted, replied that the victim must be either the rani or
her son. Another tradition runs that the Raja himself had a dream in which he was directed
to offer up his son, whereupon the rani pleaded to be accepted as a substitute. The Raja
was unwilling to accede to her wish, and wanted to offer some one else, but she insisted
that if there must be a sacrifice she should be the victim. Her wish prevailed, and,
accompanied by her maidens, and bare-headed as for sati, she was carried up the hill to
the spot near the village of Balota, where the water-course leaves the main stream. There
a grave was dug and she was buried alive. The legend goes on to say that when the grave
was filled in the water began to flow, and has ever since flowed abundantly.
The incident, raises many questions. Since there was a settlement before Sahila Varman's
time at that place, the water source must have been known and used.
The incident may even have another explaination.
Sri-Singh, A.D. 1844.
In a mountainous country like Chamba, where for ages every precaution had to be taken
against aggression from without, the routes into the interior were little more than tracks
; and the opening up of communications was therefore a matter of the first importance. A
Public Works Department under European supervision was organized, new lines of road were
surveyed, and their construction was vigorously pushed on from year to year as funds
permitted. Even in the isolated valley of Pangi communications were much improved, chiefly
through the agency of the Forest Department.
In 1863 a Post Office was opened in the capital, and a daily mail service with Dalhousie
established and maintained at the cost of the State.
Educational work was begun in the same year by the opening of a Primary School, the
nucleus of the present High School.
In December, 1866, a Hospital was opened under Doctor Elmslie of the Kashmir Medical
Mission, in connection with the Chamba State. The institution was largely resorted to, and
much regret was felt when, in March, 1867, Doctor Elmslie returned to his permanent sphere
of work in Kashmir. As no one could be found to take his place, the Hospital was
temporarily closed, but was re-opened in February, 1868, under an Assistant Surgeon.
The next two years were marked by the construction of two entirely new roads to
Dalhousie-via Kolri and Khajiar, respectivelywhich not only made the journey easier,
but greatly facilitated trade with the plains. Dak Bungalows were opened at Chamba and
Khajiar. Jandrighat, the Raja's Dalhousie residence, was erected in 1870-71.
Gopal-Singh, A.D. 1870.
Several new lines of road were constructed, and improvements carried out in the capital
which added much to its beauty. In 1871 the school was raised to the Middle Standard and a
European Headmaster appointed. The Hospital continued to attract an increasing number of
patients and proved a great boon to the people in general; while the other departments of
the administration were conducted with regularity and precision.
Raja Sham-Singh, A.D. 1873.
In 1881 a Branch Dispensary was opened at Tissa, which proved a great boon to the people
of that portion of the State.
The Raja entered on his onerous and responsible duties with zeal and earnestness. Every
department was kept under his own control and received his personal attention, and at the
end of a year the commissioner was able to report that " The Raja's personal interest
in the management of his territory is real and its administration is satisfactory."
In January, 1887, a Postal Convention was concluded which brought the State into direct
relations with the Imperial Postal System, and resulted in a great expansion of the work
of the Postal Department. Till then there had been only a Post Office in the capital, but
in that year branch offices were opened at Brahmaur, Lil, Sihunta, Bathri, Tissa, Bhandal
and Pangi, thus linking up the different Wazarats of the State. A daily arrival and
departure mail service was established in connection with each, except in the case of
Pangi and Brahmaur, where the climate renders this impossible for more than six months in
the summer. A special surcharged stamp was also introduced, which has been a source of
revenue to the State.
In 1894 the old wire-suspension bridge over the Ravi was injured by a flood, and in the
following year was replaced by a substantial iron suspension bridge at a cost of nearly a
lakh of rupees.
In September, 1902, the Raja was prostrated by a serious and prolonged illness, which was
a cause of great anxiety throughout the State.
After his restoration to health, the Raja, finding himself unequal to the duties
inseparable from his position, addressed Government privately and expressed a strong wish
to be permitted to abdicate in favour of his brother, Mian Bhuri-Singh. After some delay
his abdication was accepted, in deference to his own desire, and, on 22nd January, 1904,
this was notified in open Darbar.
Bhuri-Singh, A.D. 1904
Among other public works the Raja, soon after his accession, took in hand the widening of
the roads in the vicinity of the capital and the improvement of the main lines of
communication in other parts of the State, with rest-houses where none had been already
On 1st January, 1906, His Highness the Raja received from the King-Emperor the distinction
of Knighthood in the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India; and this signal mark of
favour gave keen gratification to his subjects.
In 1906 two new Guest Houses-were erected, one in the town and the other in the suburb of
Darogh. The Chamba Club with reading room and Library was also inaugurated.
Meanwhile the State had continued to prosper under Sir Bhuri-Singh's conspicuously capable
rule. The revenue had risen to Es. 7,00,000. The various departments of the administration
were fully organized, with every detail under the ruler's direct supervision and control,
and the future seemed full of hope. There were, however, indications that the Raja's
strenuous application to State affairs, with no one to share the burden, was impairing his
strength, though nothing of a serious nature was anticipated. Suddenly on 18th September,
1919, while engaged in his Court work, a grave collapse occurred. The
diseasecerebral hoemorrhageran a rapid course and in four days ended fatally.
The whole State was plunged into mourning by this unexpected calamity. Not in Chamba only
was the Raja's death keenly felt; from all parts of India came letters of sympathy, paying
high tributes to his memory both as a ruler and a friend. The loss to the State was great
indeed. Raja Sir Bhuri-Singh had two sons and two daughters, and was succeeded by his
elder son, Tikka Ram-Singh.
(From Vogel's "History of Punjab Hill State)
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