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History of Chamba

History of Chamba

Although the city of Chamba was established in 10th century AD, the history of the region can be traced back to 2nd century BC. At that time the area was inhabited by a Kolian tribe. Unfortunately, not much is known about this clan, except that they were divided into a number of sub groups and were spread over a large part of Himachal.

Chamba in 2nd Century BC

In 2nd century BC the Kolian tribe was subjugated by another hill tribe known as Khasas.  Later another tribe called Audumbaras conquered the land and set up their rule. Most probably they inhabited in the eastern part of Punjab before they migrated to western Himachal Pradesh and became a dominating group here. They were worshiper of Lord Shiva. In Chamba, they set up republican form of government known as Janapada.

Chamba in 4th Century AD

We do not exactly know when or how the hold of the Audumbaras began to decrease over Chamba.  The 4th century AD saw the rise of the Thakurs and Ranas. During the Gupta period, they not only became politically powerful, but also began to hold a higher social position. They considered themselves superior to the tribal population of the area.  Their realm ended with the rise of King Maru.

King Maru of Chamba

Bharmour The Ancient Capital of Chamba

King Maru/Meru was a renowned hero, who came to Chamba In the middle of the 6th century AD from Kalpagrama, a legendary place from where the major Rajput dynasties claim to have originated. He was accompanied by his young son Jaistambh. According to known sources, he belonged to the Mushana Rajput dynasty; but many are of the opinion that Maru was a Suryavanshi and descendent of Lord Rama himself. However, there is no proof of that.

In 550 AD, Maru established his kingdom in Chamba by defeating the Ranas, who were small chieftains occupying small pieces of land. He then set up his capital at Brahamputra. The town, located in the Valley of Budhal River, is now known as Bharmour. It lies 75 km to the east of the present day Chamba.  For more than three hundred years he and his successors ruled the kingdom from this town.

Initially, the kingdom was a small one spread over the present day Bharmour sub division only. It was Raja Shahil Varman, who first thought of extending the kingdom and conquered a larger area beyond Budhai Valley. 

Chamba under Raja Shahil Varman

Chamba under Raja Shahil Varman

At that time Chamba region was divided into numerous small territories called Rahnu, each of which was occupied by a Rana. They kept on fighting each other. King Shahil Varman, also known as Shahilla Varman, subjugated all these Ranas and unified the entire territory under one rule. Then in 920, he decided to shift his capital to a more centralized and secured position.

King Shahil Varman chose the area around confluence of River Ravi and River Sal for his new capital.
The town was built according to a well laid out plan that confirmed to the ancient texts. Initially, he named the new town Champavati after his daughter Champa; but later it became Chamba.

King Shahil Varman was also a great administrator. He divided his kingdom into five zones known as Mandlas. These Mandlas were later renamed as Wizarats.  Now the same Wizarats are called Tehsils. These are Bharmour, Chamba, Bhattiyat, Churah and Pangi. The king was also a great builder. Champavati Temple and Lakshmi Narayan Temple, built during his tenure are example of that.

Chamba in the Muslim Period

The Chamba town was well protected by mountains and rivers; consequently, it never had to face any serious threat. Muslim invaders, who occupied the neighboring Kashmir and destroyed its Hindu culture, had little impact on Chamba. 

The mighty Mughals too could not establish their authority over Chamba.  Emperor Akbar first tried to bring the mountain territory under his control, but was forced to turn back from south of Dhauadhar mountain ranges. Aurangzeb too tried to assert his control over the state and ordered King Chatter Singh (1664 -1694) of Chamba to destroy all the temples in his kingdom. The king not only refused to do so, but in clear defiance of the order put gilded pinnacles on them.

However, Chamba had a good relation with Emperor Shahjahan.  Raja Prithvi Singh (1641 - 1664) was a favorite of the Emperor and visited his court many times. He was the one who introduced different aspects Mughal Court life in Chamba and also imported the Rajput - Mughal art and culture in the valley.

Chamba and Ranjit Singh Ji

Chamba and Ranjit Singh

The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw the rise of Sikh power in Himachal Pradesh.  Maharaja Ranjit Singh ji, the legendary Sikh hero from Lahore, began to expand his kingdom by systematically subjugating the princely states of Himachal Pradesh. He even occupied the kingdom of Kangra; but spared Chamba. That is because Wazir Nathu of Chamba had helped him on two occasions.  In 1809, the Wazir had successfully negotiated on his behalf with the Katoch King Sansar Chand and in 1817 he saved the Maharaja’s life at a crucial point by providing him with a horse. However, Maharaja Ranjit Singh did set up a garrison at Chamba.

Impact of Anglo Sikh War on Chamba

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh and the British were embroiled in a new conflict. In 1845, the Sikhs attacked the British territory and troops stationed at Chamba were withdrawn. However, the Sikhs were defeated in this war and the territories held by them were automatically merged with the British Empire.  Although Chamba was an independent kingdom, it was decided that the state would be merged with neighboring Jammu and Kashmir. Fortunately, Wazir Bagha of Chamba intervened at the last moment and stopped the merger. Instead Chamba became a British Protectorate. The treaty was signed on 9th March 1946.

Chamba as a British Protectorate

Chamba as British Protectorate

As a British protectorate, Chamba was subjected to the annual tribute of twelve thousand rupees. The Rajas had a good relation with the British. Political Officers posted at Chamba also enjoyed great hegemony.  Chamba also derived many benefits from such cordial relation and saw many improvements in its infrastructure and town planning.

Chamba After 1947

India became independent on 15th August 1945. All the princely states were given three options; they could remain independent, join India or join Pakistan. Chamba decided to join India.  On 15th April 1948, along with other princely states of the region, Chamba signed the Treaty of Accession and became a part of free India. The hill states together formed the state of Himachal Pradesh.

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