Hill States under Colonial Power: Political and Administrative History, Grants, Sanads, and Territorial Aggresion – HPAS Mains

By | December 27, 2021

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The period from 8th century added a new chapter in the history of the hill state. It marks the beginning of a turbulent period as the hill state of Himachal Pradesh witnessed various invasions from outside.  During this period adventurous Rajput migrants founded numerous states in the outer range of the Himalayas lying between the Ravi and the Yamuna. The article discuss the impact of the British colonial power on the central administration of hill state.


The British influence start appearing in the hill state of Himachal in the 1st half of the 19th century, however, got strengthened only in the later half of the 19th century. To contain the growing influence of Gurkha power in the state, many hill rulers supported out rightly the British authority both with shelter and manpower. The tools for British political and administrative control were granting Sanads, Grants and territorial aggression concluded by treaties in favor of the British.


With the victory of the Gurkha-British war ended in 1815, the British decided to secure the cooperation of all the liberated hill chiefs by an offer to them with a guarantee of future independence on the condition of their taking part with the British in the events of any subsequent incursion by the Nepalese. Now all the 20 hill states had to come under British sovereignty. The general ochterlony held a meeting of all the hill chiefs at Palasi with the objective to determine the territory held by each chief prior to the Gurkha occupation.

  • The chief of Bilaspur, Kotkhai, Bhagal, and Bushehr were granted Sanads, thus came under British overlordship between 1815 and 1819 A.D.
  • The Thakurais of Kumharsain, Balson, Tharoch, Kuthar, Mangal and Dhami were constituted as separate chiefships and granted independent Sanads.
  • Whereas the Thakurais of Khaneti and Delath were conferred upon Bushehr state
  • Those of Koti, Ghund, Theog, Madhan and Ratesh were conferred upon Keonthal state.

Under the Sanads, the hill chiefs were put under certain obligations in return of their protection. They were required to allow full passage to the British merchants and their commodities to provide begar (wage less labour) and to construct roads in their respective territories. The princely states were made to pay nazarana in cash as they were under the direct sovereignty of the British. The British could overthrow any heir from his throne in case found a defaulter in the fulfilment of the obligations laid down in Sanads. The recognition of the state by the British was a necessary condition.

The relation between hill state and British authority from 1815 to 1845 A.D. centered mainly around issues like retention of territories, complaints, asylum to the hill chiefs, intervention to side the hill rulers, problems of succession, British intervention ad secret communication with British higher authorities.


The period coincided with the increasing threats from Sikh forces to the hill state due to which some rulers fled into the British territory. E.g. Raja Bir Singh left the state of Nurpur and sought refuge in the British territory at Shimla and Subathu. Both British and Sikh feared from each other’s strength and thus avoided direct conflict, therefore Maharaja Ranjit Singh maintained friendly relation with the British. Although with the changed British policy towards Maharaja Ranjit Singh from 1820, a new phase started. Yet the treaty of Amritsar was mutually respected.

THE TREATY OF AMRITSAR, 1809: An agreement between the British East India Company and Ranjit Singh, the Sikh leader who founded the Sikh empire. Under which the Sikh gained complete freedom to further consolidate their territorial gains north of the Satluj River at the expense of both of other Sikh chiefs and their peer among the other dominant communities. Later with the failed attempt of Ranjit Singh to invade Malwa in sept. 1808 and in Feb. 1809, British attacked due to which Ranjit Singh had to concede with the treaty of Amritsar.

TREATY OF LAHORE, 1809: was a peace treaty marking the end of the 1st Anglo-Sikh war and to maintain the amicable relation of British and raja of Lahore the treaty had been signed by raja Ranjeet Singh on his own part and by the agency of Charles Theophilus Metcalf, on the part of the British govt. According to the treaty;

  1. Perpetual friendship shall be subsist between the British govt. and the state of Lahore.
  2. The raja will never maintain more troops than necessary in the territory occupied by him and his dependents.
  3. In the violation of any above article, the treaty shall be considered null and void.
  • The terms of the treaty were punitive, reducing the size of Sikh territory to a fraction, losing Jammu, Kashmir, Hazara, the territories to the south of the river Satluj and the forts and territory in the Jalandhar Doab between the rivers of the Satluj and the Beas.
  • The control were placed on the size of the Lahore army and 36field guns were confiscated.
  • The control of the river Satluj and the Beas and part of the Indus passed to the British.

Although the terms of the treaty prevented Ranjit Singh from any further territorial expansion south of the Satluj, they permitted him complete autonomy of action to the north of it.

In 1839A.D. after the death of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh kingdom fell into disorder and the battles were fought among Sikhs at Aliwal and at Sabraon.

BATTLE OF ALIWAL: was fought on 28 Jan. 1846 between the British and the Sikh. The British who came out to be victorious were led by Henry Smith, while the Sikh were led by Ranjodh singh Majithia.

BATTLE OF SOBRAON: was fought on 10 Feb. 1846, between the forces of the EIC and the Sikh Khalsa Army. The Sikhs were completely defeated, making this the decisive battle of the 1st Anglo-Sikh war.

Consequently, in 1846, the hill states of Kangra, Nurpur, Guler, Jaswan, Datarpur, Suket, Mandi, Kullu, and Lahoul-Spiti came under the direct control of the British.

As per the changed policy of the British, the states under the Gurkha power such as Hindur, Bilaspur, Baghal, Sirmour, and Bushehr were restored to their legitimate rulers.

Also after the brunt of the 1857 revolt, the new British system devised a new policy to accomplish cooperation from feudal chiefs and princely rulers in the direction to neutralize any mass movements.

BRITISH GRANTS TO PRINCELY CHEIFS: Grants include some form of financial aid e.g. privy purse or conferring some special status or recognition of any princely ruler with a specific title as a means of the british soft policy towards the hill chiefs in return of their support and maintaining dominance over them.

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