Brief History of District Lahaul-Spiti – Himachal Pradesh

By | November 7, 2016

First read this: Geography of District Lahaul-Spiti

Q. How did the name of Lahaul-Spiti come into existence? 

Ans: The present district of Lahaul & Spiti comprises two different tracts of Lahaul & Spiti. The name of the district came into existence with the formation of these two parts into a revenue district. It has two distinct entities geographically and historically. Lahaul area includes valleys of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers up to their confluence near Tandi and also the main Chandra Bhaga valley as far as Thirot Nallah. Spiti area includes the valley of main Spiti River and the valley of its tributary the Pin River. It is said that the word Laho-Yul means southern country and because of its geographical location to the south of Ladakh, the Ladakhis refer its name as Laho-yul. Spiti is the name of the river locally known as Piti which in the Tibetan language means middle province.

History of District Lahaul-Spiti

In ancient Buddhist scriptures “Padma Thang Yiang” and “Mamkambum” there is mention of a country named Khasa or Hasha to the south of Ladakh and Zangskar. It is possible also that “Garzha” may be a corruption of Khasa or Hasha.

Incidentally, the name Lahaul had been in use only in Kullu and by Indians whereas the local people, Kinnaurs and Tibetans called this area as Garzha.

Between the 6th century B.C. and the 5th century A.D. the Saka and Khasa tribes after having been driven out from Central Asia by the Huns, crossed over to India. Many of these settled down in the valleys of Mid Himalayans between Garhwal and Ladakh. This is borne out by the numerous remains of their graves found in these valleys.

There is a Nullah near Keylong known as Shaks which seems to have taken its name after the Saka tribe settled in the Bhaga valley.

Before HieunTsang visit, Lahaul was controlled by Kullu, Kunindas and Brahmpura (Chamba).

The history of Lahaul & Spiti remained altogether different in the earlier period and was influenced by different forces. The impact of Kullu, Chamba, and to some extent Ladakh is visible in Lahaul whereas Spiti is influenced mostly by Tibet and Ladakh cultures.

Hieun -Tsang noticed Lahaul as a country by the name of La-Hu-La and the area of Spiti was ruled by Sen King. One of the earliest known rulers was Samudra Sen. During the reign of Rajendra Sen; Kullu became a tributary to Spiti for a short period.

The copper plate at Nirmand in Parshu Ram temple is said to have been granted by the then Raja of Spiti.

During the reign of Chet Sen in 7th century Spiti was annexed by Ladakhi king “Skyid-Lde-Ni-Ma-Mgon“.

It is said that during the strong rule of Ladakh, Spiti was an integral part of the Ladakh and during the weak rule, it was an autonomous state.

Lha-Chen Utpala (1080-1110 AD) Raja of Ladakh, invaded Kullu and Raja of Kullu promised to pay tribute as Iron and “Mdsos” called “Zo“. It is a crossbreed between Yak and Cow. Mdsos is not found in Kullu and King of Kullu use to bring Mdsos from Lahaul.

King Utpala was responsible for the conversion of Marikula Devi temple into a shrine of Marachi Vajra Varah.

Kullu and Chamba always aspired to make control over Lahaul and Spiti. One possible reason which strengthens this belief is that in early times both Kullu and Chamba had their capitals nearest Lahaul i.e. “Nast” and “Brahmapura” respectively.

Read also: Fairs and Festivals of District Lahaul-Spiti

During Ladakhi Raja Utpala, Lahaul was not under the control of Kullu and Chamba, till 1532-1559 A.D. when Bahadur Singh became Raja of Kullu, who acquired Lahaul.

It is said that when Kullu succeeded to acquire Lahaul, Chamba was in alliance with Kullu because the three daughters of Kullu Raja was married to Pratap Singh Varman (1564-1582) who was the son of Ganesh Varman.

The image of Marikula Devi at Marikul-Udaipur was set up during the reign of Chamba king Pratap Singh Varman by Thakur Himpal.

It is said that the architect who constructed Marikula Devi temple was the same who built the Hidimba Devi (Doongri) Temple in Manali during the reign of Bahadur Singh in 1553.

In order to prevent the artist from ever making a duplicate of Hidimba temple, Kullu Raja ordered to cut the architect’s right hand but the gifted artist trained his left hand and executed an even finer piece of carving at Markul.

Since the reign of Bahadur Singh, Kullu ruled over Lahaul till both Kullu and Lahaul were conquered by the Sikh.

During the control of Kullu over Lahaul, there were petty chiefs who were called RGyalpos and Jo (village headman).

In 1683, Ladakh was invaded by “Qalaaqs” (Mongols). The cause of the war was a conflict in Tibet between the two religious sects of “Dugpa (Red-Hat)” and Gelugpa (yellow-hat). Ladakh took the side of Dugpas”. The Gelugpa invited the Mongols for their help and invaded Ladakh. Simultaneously Mangol invaded Lahaul as its Lamas were followers of “Dugpa sect”. This invasion is remembered in Lahaul as SogPo (Mongol invasion).

Read also: Marriage System in District Lahaul-Spiti

The Mongol army stayed in Lahaul for two years acquired the fort of “Keylong” and was then annihilated by Glacier near “Tinan”.

Bidhi Singh (1672-1688) of Kullu helped Mughals when they were invited by Ladakhis under the leadership of “Fidai Khan” against Mongols. For this assistance Mughals rewarded Bidhi Singh the annexation of the upper portion of the upper Lahaul.

In Lahaul, “Thirot” remained the dividing boundary between Kullu and Chamba which was decided during the reign of “Bidhi Singh”.

Raja Man Singh (1688-1719) of Kullu in about 1700 A.D. had boundaries with Ladakh fixed at “Lingti“.

After Tibetan-Ladakhi and Mughal war of 1681-83 A.D., Spiti was nominally under Ladakh. Raja Man Singh took advantage of this and took control over Spiti and forced her to pay tribute.

Man Singh built the “Gondhla fort” which was called “Rani-ki-Kothi”.

During the time of Raja Tedhi Singh of Kullu when no goldsmiths were able to manufacture a golden parasol required to Raghunath Ji. Then a GoldsmithPhuntson” was called from Lahaul.

During the reign of Raja Pritam Singh (1767-1806), the Lahaul army under “Gepanglha” was supporter against Mandi at “Bajaura” and Mandi was defeated in the battle.

When Moorcraft passed through Lahaul in 1820 he found that four villages i.e. Barkalanak, Mooling, Shipting, and Gus were still paying revenue to the state of Ladakh which was stopped by Britishers in 1862.

In those days “Tandi” was the capital of Lahaul where administrators and representatives of Raja of Kullu govern from.

William Morocraft and Treveck traveled Spiti in 1821.

Read also: History of Tandi Village

During this time “Baliram of Phurah” was the judge who had an office at Tandi, he did not fine the culprits rather he used to tie them with a tree and then flogged.

In 1840, the Sikh army subjugated Mandi state and Kullu Raja was captured who died in 1841 at “Shangri”. At that time along with Kullu, Lahaul also came under the direct control of Sikh.

When Cunningham visited Lahaul in 1839, he found it already under Sikh, and Zorawar Singh governor of Ladakh controlled the trade between Lahaul and Ladakh. His tax system was found very oppressive by people.

In 1841, Zorawar Singh attacked Tibet, but could not stand powerful against Tibet and was killed.

In 1842, the Tibetan army moved towards Ladakh but they were defeated by forces of “Gulab Singh” in December 1842 and their general “Sukhang” was taken as prisoner.

In 1846 by the treaty of Amritsar, between Gulab Singh and British granted hill area of Punjab to Gulab Singh but the area of Lahaul and Spiti remained under British control.

The area lying below “Thirot” remained under Chamba, after the annexation of Lahaul to British territory. This area was known as “Chamba Lahaul” and the rest area was called British Lahaul.

Read more: Places of religious, historical or archaeological importance and tourist interest in the district Lahaul-Spiti

A Cunningham and Vans Angew fixed the boundary between Spiti and Ladakh and eastern Tibet, the mountainous and uninhabited territory to the east of Baralacha and north of the Parang passes being attached to Spiti in the autumn of 1846. The boundary runs from west of the Baralacha pass, crosses the Lingti plain, and passes eastward to the south of the Tsomoriri lake and then south to the Sutlej touching Tibet proper on the way.

After the annexation of Lahaul and Kullu by Britishers, Lahaul was made part of the Kullu subdivision which was under the charge of an assistant commissioner who worked under the deputy commissioner of Kangra district whose headquarter was at Dharmshala.

The highest officer of Lahaul was “Negi“, who was responsible to collect revenue. “Negi” had his headquarters at “Keylong” where he worked as an honorary Magistrate and Jurisdiction was extending throughout Lahaul. Negi was responsible for arranging ‘Begar’ and forced labour.

Bali Ram was the first Negi of Lahaul appointed by the British government and Thakur Tara Chand of Khangsar was appointed the Next Negi.

After this, the post remained hereditary till 1941, when a Naib Tehsildar was appointed.

Read also: Economy of District Lahaul-Spiti

In 1849 “Major Hay” Assistant Commissioner of Kullu went to Spiti and took over the charge and hereditary Wazir of Spiti who was called Nono was granted a Jagir.

In 1873, Nono was formally vested with honorary magisterial power.

During the First World War of 1914-18, Wazir Amir Chand of Lahaul helped the British government took command in person as “Jamadar“. For his valuable services, he was given the title of ‘Rai Bahadur’ in 1917.

In 1941, a sub-Tehsil of Lahaul and Spiti was created with headquarters at Keylong.

In 1960, the government of Punjab converted the Lahaul-Spiti area into a district with headquarters at Keylong.

In 1966, it was transferred to Himachal Pradesh.

Important deities of Lahaul-Spiti

Ghepang, Tangyur, Srowag, Zangdoulma, Dabla, and Mipusha are important deities of tribal people.

Bucheans are the Lamas who entertain people by acting playing and chanting legends.

Read more: Major Characteristics of the district Lahaul-Spiti


  • Hinduism is the leading religion in the Lahaul sub-division especially in the merged area from Chamba district and Pattan valley while Buddhism predominates in the Spiti sub-division.
  • The people of the region sought protection and mercy for their survival and created mountain gods.
  • In Himalaya, Shiva’s trident is visible and is placed over the ornamental skulls.
  • Before the advent of Buddhism, there was a popular animistic creed calling for species of a belief that went under the title of the religion of the valley.
  • Hinduism is more prevalent along the Chandra Bhaga valley.
  • It is said that Buddhism spread widely in Lahul during the 11th century A.D. when the Buddhist Saints founded new monasteries and repaired the old dilapidated ones.
  • The monasteries at Gumrang and Sissu were said to be constructed during this period by a famous Buddhist scholar and translator Ringchen Zangpo.
  • Later in 16th century, two sub-sects of Lho-Drugpa and Drugpa in the valley came into being who have even survived today.
  • Introduction of Buddhism in the Lahaul & Spiti valleys actually dates back to the 8th century believed to be propagated by Padam Sambhava the famous missionary from Udyana (a place near Kashmir).
  • According to ancient Tibetan books, Padam Sambhava visited Mandi and Lahaul during the 8th century and preached the doctrines of Buddha and it was during this time, it is said that shrines of Triloknath and Guru Ghantal were founded.
  • Previous to this, people had no fixed religion and used to believe in worshipping snakes (Lhu), demons and spirits, etc as benevolent and marvolent deities.
  • It is said that Triloknath was originally a Shiva temple and a place of pilgrimage for Hindus.
  • Later on, the setting up of the white marble image of Avalokeshwar is attributed to Padma Sambhava (Guru Rinpoche) of Udyana.
  • In Spiti valley too, the monastery at Tabo is also said to have come up under the patronage of great Buddhist monk Padam Sambhava of 8th century.

Read also: Census 2011 of District Lahaul-Spiti

Sources: Hutchinson and Vogel’s Ph.D. Thesis, The Wonderland of Himachal Pradesh, Mian Governdhan Singh’s HPGK and District Census Book

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