Monday, November 24, 2008

J&K the biggest

J&K coat of armsCoat of arms of the J&K princely state

Straddling the western edge of The Great Himalayas, the Jammu and Kashmir state (J&K) has diverse ethno-cultural regions, which while always linked together have each led a separate political existence. The low hills of Jammu have been impacted by the political fortunes of those who ruled the neighboring Punjab plains, while trans-Himalayan Ladakh has looked towards Tibet for religious guidance. Political upheavels in the 19th century transformed these relationships; the then ruler of Jammu and his famous general united these diverse regions into one, making J&K the biggest princely state. However, since the mountainous expanse is thinly peopled, Hyderabad remained the largest princely state in terms of population and economic output.

Warrior clans of Jammu and Maharaja Gulab Singh

Gulab Singh and Shri Rama
A 19th century miniature painting depicts Maharaja Gulab Singh receiving a sword and shield from his ancestor Shri Rama of Ayodhya. The Rajput clan of Jammu (called Jamwal) claim descent from the ancient Ikshvaku clan of Shri Rama. The Ikshvaku clan were Suryavanshi (descended from Suryadeva, the Vedic Sun God) and the J&K State's Coat of Arms shown on top is replete with images of a blazing sun. The sun adorns the breastplate of the two soldiers, it is emblazoned on the shield in the center, and in the crown on top. The flag of the J&K princely state held by the two soldiers, with a crimson center and yellow borders, also has a golden sun in the center. The state motto below in Hindi reads: Rajdharmo Raghukulvansha.

This painting is from another quaint hill-state in Jammu called Jasrota. It depicts the ruler Mukund Deva (1720-1770) in procession painted by the famous Pahari painter Nainsukh. The Rajputs of Jasrota are called Jasrotia. A list of the states in the rugged Jammu hills and their ruling Rajput clans shows that the clan name is derived from the name of the state or state-capital. If the place name ends in a vowel the suffix 'al' is added, and if it ends with a consonant the suffix 'ia' is added:

Jammu Jamwal, Balor (ancient Vallapura) Baloria or Billawria, Mankot Mankotia,

Samba Sambyal,  Lakhanpur Lakhanpuria, Dalpatpur Dalpatia, Bhadu Bhadwal,

Kishtwar (ancient Kashtavat) Kishtwaria, Jasrota Jasrotia, Bandralta Bandral,

Bhoti Bhotial, Bhaderwah (ancient Bhadravaksha) Bhaderwahia, Hiunta (Chaneni) Hiuntial

Basohli town, the capital of Balor, on the banks of the River Ravi across which has been constructed the Thein Dam enclosing the Ranjit Sagar lake. Basohli overlooks the submontane tracts of Jammu with the snow-clad Himalyas behind it; across the River Ravi lies Himachal Pradesh. The names of the Rajput clans in Himachal Pradesh have the same etymology and end with either 'al' or 'ia', with the exception of the Katoch clan in the oldest state of Kangra.

In the region along the Jhelum River, as it leaves Kashmir and enters the Jammu region, the following ruling clans are known: Jarral, Mangral, and Chib. All three clans were more recent entrants to the region, the Chibs being a branch of the Katoch clan of Kangra, who gave the name 'Chibbal' to a part of this hilly tract. Members of these clans converted to Islam, although such conversion was nominal as recorded by the Mughal emperor Jehangir, and Hindu clansmen lived alongside the Muslims till the Pakistani invasion of J&K State in 1947. Some of the other clans in this belt are the Sudhan, Dhund, Suttee, and Murdiall; among these too Hindu and Sikh members were massacred and driven out by the Pakistani invaders.

Picturesque locales and pretty paintings may give the impression of tranquility, but the history of the hill-states is one of war, among themselves and with outside powers. The Rajput clans here as elsewhere were descended from the ancient Indian Warrior Clans——the mountains of Jammu were home to the Madra clan. In the early middle ages the region is referred to as "Durgara" in the contemporary records.

This word Durgara latter evolved into Duggar, the name of the hilly region of Jammu, whose people were called Dogra while their language was Dogri. Of the clans and states listed above, six are branches of Jammu State, and the main feature of the history of Duggar has been the alternatively waxing and waning power of Jammu over its neighbors. The ancient capital of Durgara was Babbapura, now called Manwal and littered with ruins, while Jammu was founded later. The Rajas of Jammu fought against the Ghaznavid rulers of Lahore, the Delhi and Kashmir sultans, and the invader Timur. Throughout this period they maintained an independent existence.

With the establishment of the Mughal Empire the entire hill-country between the Jhelum and Sutlej rivers was loosely included in the province (subah) of Lahore. The rulers sometimes took part in the Mughal campaigns or paid tribute, at other times they rebelled against the Mughals, and even plundered Mughal territory, as illustrated in the case of Raja Sangram Dev of Jammu (1596-1626) during the Battles for Kangra. The decline of the Mughal Empire began in the reign of Raja Dhruv Dev (1703-35) who expanded his military power over the neighbouring principalities; the emperor Muhammad Shah recognized him as overlord of the "Dogra Ilaqa". Under Ranjit Dev (1735-82) Jammu became a prosperous city while the neighbouring Punjab plains were convulsed by the Afghan invasions and the Sikh guerrilla warfare against them.
The River Tawi enters the plains. The city of Jammu is nestled among the foothills on both sides of this river. Photo by Amitava

After the death of Raja Ranjit Dev the Sikhs began slowly encroaching on Jammu territory. In 1808 they attempted to take the city by storm, but Jammu was defended among others by Gulab Singh and his brothers, who were descended from Ranjit Dev's younger brother Surat Singh. Gulab Singh's bravery and military skill earned him employment under the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had united all the Sikhs and conquered practically the whole of Punjab. By the Treaty of Amritsar in 1809, between Ranjit Singh and the East India Company, the River Sutlej was recognized as their common boundary and Ranjit Singh was left free to acquire all territory on the north of that river.

Gulab Singh served under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in these campaigns and gained his trust. Meanwhile the hill country of Jammu was in a state of perpetual rebellion against the Sikhs. Gulab Singh and his kinsmen were appointed to supress these rebellions and in exchange were given the grant of Jammu region (including Bhoti, Bandralta, and Chenani) in 1820. They also had to furnish 400 cavalry for service under Ranjit Singh and protect the road to Kashmir. In 1821 Gulab Singh conquered the Kingdom of Kishtwar and sent its Muslim Raja, who had offended Ranjit Singh by giving shelter to the Afghan chief Shah Shuja, to Lahore as prisoner.

On the west the territories of Rajauri and Punch, through which passed the road to Kashmir, were also conquered and Gulab Singh was formally made the Raja of Jammu in 1822 by Ranjit Singh. Gulab Singh and his brothers also obtained a declaration from the last reigning Raja of Jammu, Jit Singh then living as a pensioner in the city, recognizing their rights to the Raj of Jammu. Jit Singh then obtained residence at Akhrota in British Punjab.
Gulab Singh Raja of JammuTwo portraits of Maharaja Gulab Singh; on the left in his advanced age

The next phase of expansion of the Jammu Raj is entirely under Zorawar Singh, general of Gulab Singh and his Wazir of Kishtwar. He led the Dogra army across the snowy Himalayas in Kishtwar in breathtaking campaigns across Ladakh, Baltistan, and Tibet. These campaigns are decribed in Wazir Zorawar.

Fall of Punjab and consolidation of J&K State

With the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 the Kingdom of Punjab descended into chaos with the infighting of the nobles, among them Gulab Singh and his brothers, the insurrection in the army, and the watchful military build-up of the British. The situation was so bad that any chief wishing to seize power in Punjab had to promise extravagant increases in pay to the army, which was beyond his power to fulfill. Any such chief was then murdered or set aside by his rivals with the help of that same army!

In the chaos both brothers of Gulab Singh, his nephews, and one son were killed. To solve the money problem of the Punjab army, the Lahore court sent them to invade Jammu in 1844 but Gulab Singh kept his strongholds in defence while creating dissensions in the invading army. Eventually an indemnity of Rs. 27 lakh was imposed on him. The Raja of Jammu naturally kept aloof while the out-of-control Punjab army was next sent by the Lahore court into battle against the British in 1845, without proper leadership and no clear-cut aims. After every defeat in the field the Lahore court sent agents to negotiate with the British, aiming to have parts of their army disbanded, and offering to surrender territory in exchange for their own power and position being preserved.

But the indemnity eventually imposed on the Lahore court made them part with territory between Beas and Sutlej rivers, and in addition included a financial obligation. Their exhausted treasury could not furnish the amount demanded and instead the Lahore courtiers offered the entire hill-country between the Indus and the Beas to the British. Lacking the resources to occupy such a vast and difficult country, the British recognized Raja Gulab Singh, who already controlled most of that territory, as an independent ruler on payment of 75 Lakh of the war-indemnity (this payment was justified on account of Gulab Singh legally being one of the chiefs of the Kingdom of Lahore and thus responsible for its treaty obligations). The Treaty of Amritsar in 1846 thus guaranteed to Gulab Singh his State of Jammu (including the conquests in Ladakh and Baltistan) and transferred to him the Sikh rights in Kashmir and Gilgit.

Gulab Singh followed the methods used by Ranjit Singh in the Punjab to consolidate his rule in J&K. The various petty principalities were annexed and their rulers pensioned off or granted estates. The former Raja of Jammu Jit Singh, descendant of the senior branch of the Jamwal clan, lived his remaining days under British protection at Akhrota. The Raja of Chenani was granted an estate while the Raja of Jasrota settled down at Khanpur near Nagrota. The Muslim Raja of Rajouri was granted an estate in Rihlu district of Kangra and an annual pension. After the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846, many of these ex-rulers (Ramnagar, Bhadu, Kishtwar, Mankot, Rajouri, and Basohli) settled down in British territory, and the J&K State ceded land around Sujanpur and Pathankot in lieu of their annual pensions.

In Ladakh and Baltistan too the same method of annexation and granting of estates to the former rulers was followed. The Gyalpo of Ladakh, Tundup Namgyal (1790-1830), settled down in the estate of Stok where his descendants still live. Kashmir had for centuries been under direct rule of outside powers and there was no local dynasty to overturn. In the mountains of Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar, and Chitral though there were many petty principalities, which lasted throughout the period of Dogra and British rule as tributary states.

The altered political circumstance defined the nomenclature used henceforth under British rule. The term Dogra, used for the inhabitants of the Jammu hills, increased in importance due to the rise of Gulab Singh and his conquests and consolidation of territory. While simultaneously the neighbouring hill tracts in modern Himachal Pradesh, speaking similar languages as the Dogras and matching them in culture and polity, were suffering political disintegration. Therefore it was natural for the British to extend that term 'Dogra' to include the inhabitants of these hill tracts, a nomenclature which does not exist today except for the recruitment of Himachalis into the Indian Army under the 'Dogra Class'.