Ancient History of Himachal Pradesh

By | November 7, 2016

Sources of History

The history of Himachal Pradesh is obscure and does not give a clear picture since ancient times. The only available sources we have are some Archeological and Literary sources. They are coins, Vamshavalis, Inscriptions, Travelogues, and literature. They are discussed in detail below:

Vamshavalis (Genealogical rolls):

  • It includes the names of the rulers with tenure and various activities performed during that period.
  • In 2011, HP Language, Art, and Culture academy found 600 years old manuscript in Spiti valley which deals with the Ayurvedic system of medicine written in Bhoti language.
  • Another manuscript written in golden words was found in Thalog village of Lahaul valley.

Coins:

  • With the establishment of the HP State Museum in 197374 at Shimla, the coin finds the attention of its curator, V.C. Ohri.
  • The State Museum Shimla and Bhuri Singh Museum Chamba have a great collection of coins pertaining to ancient tribal kingdoms of Trigarta, Kulluta, Adumbara, and Kuninda.
  • Of the earliest 87 punch-marked coins, 25 coins have been preserved in Bhuri Singh Museum.
  • 12 coins are kept in HP State Museum Shimla are found from Arki.
  • 21 coins from Appollodotus have been found in Tappa Mewa village in Hamirpur.
  • 31 coins were found from Jwalamukhi in Kangra district.
  • Some IndoGreek coins have also been found in Lachori and Sarol village of Chamba district.
  • These coins show the influence of GrecoBacterian penetration into Chamba and Hamirpur.
  • Virayash King of 1st century A.D. issued the earliest coins found in Kullu.
  • Two eulogies found in district Kangra have mention of local chief Lakshmana Chandra of Kirgrama and King Jayachandra of Trigarta.

Inscriptions:

  • The earliest inscriptions have been found in Pathyar and Kanihara in Kangra district, Soopur from hillock cave inscription of Hatkoti in Shimla district, and Salanu near Manglore in district Mandi.
  • The highest number of inscriptions numbering 36 has been found in Chamba region which are donatives in character and have been written in Sharda and Tankri.
  • The Nirmand copper plate of 7th century A.D. issued by Mahasamanta Maharaja Samudrasena.

Literary Sources:

Persian Sources: Tarikh-i-Yamini (1020 A.D.) of Habibus Siyar of Khawand Mir’s, Qasaid-i-Badr-i-Chach of Badr Chach, Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi of Barani’s and Afif’s, Tarikh-i-Farishta of Farishta et al.

Sanskrit Sources: Vedas, Puranas, Aranyakas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, the Raghuvansham of Kalidasa, Kalhan’s Rajtarangini, et al.

Khalsa Literature: Guru Granth Sahib, Janam Sakhis, Bachitra Natak of Guru Gobind Singh, Gur Sobha of Sena Pat, Gur Bilas of Bhai Sukha Singh et al.

Travelogues: Hiuen Tsang (630 AD to 648 AD in India), Foster (1783), J.B. Fraser (1815), Alexander Gerard (1817-18), William Moorcraft (1820-22), Captain Monday (1829), Major Archer (1829), Baron Charles Hugel (1835-39).

Prehistory and Prohistory:

In prehistoric times, Indo-Gangetic plains were inhabited by Proto-Australoid or Munda-speaking Kolarian people (Kol or Munda tribe). When the people of Indus valley spread through the Gangetic-plains, they pushed forward the Kolarian people northward to the Himachal valleys.

  • In the Vedas, they were called Dasas, Dasyus, Nishadas, Pishach, Kirat, Asuras, Arjeek, Gandharv, Gadhar, et al.
  • In the post-Vedic literature, they were mentioned as Kinnaras, Nagas, and Yakshas.
  • Kols, also known as Mundas, were the earliest and original migrants to the Himachal Hills.
  • Kinnaur and Lahaul are their primary concentration.
  • According to the Rig Veda, their powerful King was Shambara, who had 99 forts in the hills between Beas and Yamuna rivers.

In the pre-historic times, Aryans left their home (central Asia) in search of new land and pastures for their animals and divided themselves into three branches.

  1. The first branch marched towards the west and wandered as far as Western Europe, upto Spain.
  2. The Second branch moved to SouthEast, crossed the Pamir, then moved to Kashgar and entered Kashmir and later entered Himachal Pradesh. This branch came to be known as Khasas or Kshatiriyas and turned the Kolarian land into Khasas land. They spoke a language allied to Sanskrit, today is known as Pahari. They were a war-like tribe, settled permanently and organized themselves into families and villages. Each unit elected an individual who was called ‘Mavi’ or ‘Mavana’ meaning a strongman. Mavanas developed into tribal republics were called Janapadas.
  3. The third branch known as IndoAryans moved southwards and reached Iran. Some of them turned to the east and crossed Hindukush, reached Indus Valley which they called Sapta-Sindhu or the land of seven rivers. Then, they crossed Punjab and reached foothills of Himachal where the powerful Dasyu King was Sambhara offered a great resistance to Aryans who was later defeated after fighting a war for a period of 40 years.

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The chronological order of various races to enter Himachal is:

  1. Munda or Kolis
  2. Mangaloid or Kiratas (3rd millennium BC)
  3. Aryans or Khasas

Some saints and sages associated with Himachal are:

  • Renuka Lake in Sirmaur district is associated with Rishi Jamdagni.
  • The Vashisht Kund in Manikaran of Kullu valley is associated with Rishi Vashisht.
  • Nirmand in Kullu is associated with Parshuram.
  • The Beas cave in Bilaspur is associated with sage Vyasa.
  • Hatkoti in the Jubbal area of Shimla and Hidimba goddess in the Kullu valley are associated with Pandavas.

Early History of Himachal Pradesh: Janapadas

According to Mahabharata, the Himalayas region now forming Himachal Pradesh was divided into a number of small tribal republics known as Janapadas which was a type of Sangha Janapadas also called as Ayudhajivi Sanghas, meaning those who lived by the profession of arms. The following are the Janapadas mentioned in Mahabharata and also known to Panini.

The Audumbaras:

  • According to Mahabharata, Audumbaras is the name of the descendent of the sage Vishwamitra who is the founder of the gotra of the Kaushik group.
  • A Buddhist scholar named Chandragomin (5th century A.D.) refers to the Audumbaras in his book Vritti as a section of Shalvas.
  • J. Prezyluski mentions that they had to bear the brunt of the Aryans invasion
  • The territory of Audumbaras was located on a very advantageous trade route running from Takshila to the Gangetic valley; Pathankot being the junction of the commercial route.
  • Audumbaras had a republican system with an elected king and in the later stage monarchial system of government prevailed.
  • Their coins have been found in Kangra, Jawalamukhi, Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur regions.
  • Their coins were inscribed in Brahmi and Kharosthi made up of copper and silver.
  • Their coin had the word ‘Mahadeva’ along with the name of Raja of the tribe.
  • Their occupation was sheep rearing and sale of woolen goods.

Trigarta:

  • Trigarta denotes the region drained by three rivers named Beas, Satluj, and Ravi.
  • Trigarta is the oldest princely state in Himachal Pradesh which finds mention in the Mahabharata, Brihatsamhita, Vishnu Purana, and literary works of Panini.
  • Panini made the first historical mention of Trigarta in the 5th century B.C.
  • It was founded around the 8th to 9th century by Susharma Chandra who helped Kauravas in the Mahabharata war by attacking Matsya King Virata.
  • The original seat of the family was Multan.
  • According to Panini, people of Trigarta were Ayudhjivis means one who earn by means of war.
  • Their coins were square in shape and written in Brahmi and Kharosthi.

Kuluta:

  • The area located in the upper Beas valley founded by Bihangmani Pal who came to the valley from Prayag.
  • Kuluta finds mention in the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana, Brihatsamhita and Markandya Purana.
  • A coin made up of copper found in Kullu in 100 A.D. bearing the name ‘Virayasasyarajna Kulutasya’.
  • The coin was inscribed in Sanskrit form and bearing the impression of Prakrit and Kharosthi on the reverse.

Kunindas of Kulindas:

  • The name Kuninda or Kulinda is derived from the River ‘Kalindi’ or Yamuna.
  • Kunindas finds mention in Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, and the Markandeya Purana.
  • According to Mahabharata, they were conquered by Arjuna.
  • Kunindas were the hill people who lived in the area lying between the rivers Beas, Yamuna and Satluj i.e. Shimla and Sirmaur hills and between Ambala and Saharanpur in the plains.
  • Kunindas are identified with Kanets in modern times.
  • Their coins have been found between Ambala and Saharanpur and on Shivalik Hills.
  • Silver coins issued by them bearing the name of Amoghabhuti which was an official title and not a name.
  • Kunindas lost their independence with the entry of Sakas and regained it with the decline of Kushanas.
  • They issued silver and copper coins bearing legends in Prakrit.
  • Silver coins bear the Prakrit script on one side and Kharosthi on the other side used beyond the territorial boundaries.
  • Copper coins had legends in Brahmi script used for local purposes which means copper coins were more prevalent than silver coins.

Himalayan Tribes and the age of Mauryan and Gupta Empires:

Due to the emergence of Imperial Guptas in the 5th century A.D., the Himalayan republican states perhaps disappeared during this time.

Alexander’s Invasion: In 326 B.C. Alexander advanced as far as the river Beas and was opposed by republican people mentioned by Panini as Ayudhajivi Sanghas. His military commander was ‘Coenus’. To mark his advance, Alexander constructed 12 towers at the bank of river Beas which have now disappeared.

Mauryans: A Himalayan chief Parvataka, who ruled over the territory between the Ravi and Yamuna, helped Chandragupta Maurya in a battle against Alexander’s governor. According to Mudrarakshaka of Vishakhadutta, Kiratas, Kunindas, and Khasas tribes joined the Guptas army and helped them to defeat the Nandas. Kuluta’s ruler Chitravarman along with 5 other rulers opposed the advance of Chandragupta Maurya towards the hill states.

Ashoka sent Majjhima along with 4 monks to preach Buddhism in the Himalayas. According to Hiuen Tsang, Ashoka erected a Stupa in Kullu valley of Himachal and a rock edict in Kalsi at the confluence of Tons and Yamuna river in Uttrakhand region.

Post-Mauryans: After the decline of Mauryans, the Shungas dynasty could not keep the Hill States under their control, and they declared themselves independent and issued their own coins. Shungas were followed by Kushanas (15 A.D. – 225 A.D.), whose greatest ruler was Kanishka. 40 copper coins of Kanishka were found on Kalka-Kasauli Road and 1 coin at Kanihara in Kangra district. The Hill States were free to issue their own coins during the reign of Kushanas.

Guptas: The Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta inscribed by his minister Harisena mentions that Himalayan ruler had accepted his paramountcy without the war.

Hunas: The attacks of Hunas were the main reason for the decline of the Gupta Empire. The main ruler of Hunas was Torman and his son was Mihirkula. Gujjars and Gaddis consider themselves as the descendants of Hunas.

Harsha and Hiuen-Tsang:

  • During the Harsha’s reign, Hiuen Tsang (630-644 A.D.) visited India and stayed here for 13 years.
  • In 635 A.D. he visited Jallandhara and stayed there as a guest of King Utitas for 4 months.
  • He also visited Kullu, Lahaul and then went to Surughna (Sirmaur) with a monk Jaya-Guptam.
  • According to Kalhan’s Rajtarangini, Trigarta and Upper Satluj valley areas were under the rule of Kashmir in the 9th century A.D.
  • When Shankaravarman a king of Kashmir state in the 9th century led an expedition to conquer Gurjara, he was opposed by Trigarta’s chief, Prithvi Chandra.

Nirmand Copper Plate: It belongs to the Sena dynasty of 7th century A.D. and has a mention of Mahasamanta Maharaja Vermasen and his successor. This plate infers that the Sena dynasty was subordinate to Kuluta.

Read also: Medieval History of Himachal Pradesh

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5 thoughts on “Ancient History of Himachal Pradesh

  1. Prateek Thakur

    It will be very helpful if the pdf format of material is also available or an option to convert rhem into pdf.

    Reply
  2. Tamesh

    Tarikh-i-yamini was written by Ghazni’s secretary “Utbi”
    And timeline was 1020AD
    Here the timeline is wrong 1620 AD was the time period of Mughals

    Reply
    1. HP General Studies Post author

      Kindly read the article again. It has been updated. 🙂

      Reply

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