Himachal Pradesh

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Indian Subcontinent >> India >> Himachal Pradesh >> History of Himachal Pradesh

History of Himachal Pradesh

The hilly regions now comprising Himachal Pradesh have a very ancient history of human habitation. Sometime in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, people from the Gangetic plains were pushed northwards into the hills by the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation. These people were repeatedly referred to in Hindu Vedic texts and the epics as the Dasas, Nishadas, Kinnars, Nagas or Yakshas. Subsequently, Mongoloid tribes like the Bhotias and Kiratas moved in from the Tibetan plateau to establish a distinctively different society.

The Aryan settlers of northern India also came into the hill regions, forming loose confederations called the Janapadas. Because of the hilly terrain, no single ruler could hold sway over the entire region. However, the medieval dynasties of the Guptas and the Vardhanas captured major parts of Himachal Pradesh from the 2nd to the 5th centuries AD. The great Mauryan king Ashoka is said to have introduced Buddhism to the state, and there are remnants of his religious missions in the valleys. Gradually, Rajput warrior clans established supremacy in the Brahmaur and Chamba regions to the northwest and local chieftains called the Ranas and Thakurs ruled over small areas of the state.

From the 11th century onwards, this region faced repeated assaults by Muslim invaders including Mahmud of Ghazni, Timurlane, Sikandar Lodhi, Tughlaqs and finally, the Mughals. To gain protection from the invaders, the ruler of Sirmaur invited the Sikhs to settle in the foothills in 1695. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, settled at the Paonta Sahib along with his disciples. Under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, many of the western states, Kullu and the Spiti Valley came under Sikh rule.

After the decline of the Mughals, the Katoch Rajputs established their rule in the state of Kangra. Maharaja Sansar Chand, the most powerful ruler of this dynasty, expanded his territory and developed Kangra as a centre for excellence in art and culture. He ruled for nearly half a century, to be ultimately defeated in 1806 by invading Gurkhas from Nepal. The Gurkhas also pushed back the Sikhs in their quest to expand Nepal’s boundaries. The local chieftains called for help from the British, resulting in the Anglo-Gurkha and Anglo-Sikh wars. While the Gurkhas were pushed back, in 1846 the British signed a peace treaty with the Sikhs. Having removed the intruding armies, the British themselves annexed the southern and western parts of Himachal Pradesh, and in 1864 the hill town of Shimla was chosen as the summer capital of the British government.

The desert regions of Lahaul-Spiti, on the other hand, remained isolated throughout this struggle for power and developed closer links with Tibet. The region came under the Jos rulers who encouraged trade with Lhasa and Samarkand. Later, the kings of Kullu annexed this region. Throughout India’s independence movement most of the princely states of Himachal Pradesh remained detached. In 1947, 30 princely states of the hill region united to come under the Indian Union as Himachal Pradesh. The state remained a Union Territory under the administration of a Chief Commissioner, until it was granted full statehood on 25th January, 1971.


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