From the notes of history: Mughal influence in Himachal

The real onset of a concrete relation between the Mughals and this hill state started with the rule of Akbar

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The flat ceiling of the Arki palace verandah is a textbook example of all-over floral design that can be traced to Islamic settings from Delhi to Kashmir to Lahore. ; Image Source: Harsh.Singh.Shimla / Wikimedia Commons

We know a lot about how British got influenced by the climate and terrain of Himachal Pradesh. They loved Shimla so much that they made it the summer capital of India.

The mark of their rule can be seen in the art and culture of the region. The famous landmarks, the heritage railway, the Christian schools, all speak volumes of British regime in Himachal.

But we often overlook the Mughal influence that once vested in the region, though it was for a brief period. Though they couldn’t leave a defining mark, but it’s still worth exploring.

The trails will lead us to the medieval period when Mughal influence grew in Himachal Pradesh. The small hill kingdom enjoyed a large degree of independence till the eve of Muslim invasions in northern India. The foothills of the state were devastated by Muslim invaders from time to time.

A bit of boring history

Mahmud Ghaznavi conquered Kangra at the beginning of the 10th century. While Timur and Sikander Lodi also plundered through the lower hills to capture several forts and fought many battles. Feroz Shah Tughlak invaded Nagar Kot in 1365, while Muhmud Ghaznavi conquered Kangra at the beginning of the 10th century.

During the medieval period, the older and larger states of Kullu, Kangra, Mandi etc. were divided and many new small states of Gular Siba, Datarpur, Handur, Koti, Bhajji, Kumarsain, Khaneti etc. came into existence. During this period, the Turks and Mughals attacked this region. The sultanate kings invaded parts of Himachal Pradesh from time-to-time but were unable to establish a permanent hold in the region owing to the harsh and hostile terrain.

The real onset of a concrete relation between the Mughals and this hill state started with the rule of Akbar. He sent Todar Mal to seize Kangra. Dharam Chand, the ruler of erstwhile Kangra accepted the sovereignty of Mughal rule. By 1620 when the reign of Jehangir started, Kangra came under the Mughal rule entirely, which continued for a very long time.

In 1620, the Kangra fort was captured by the Mughal Army and was visited by Jehangir in 1622. He was welcomed by all hill chiefs and that’s how a special mention to Raja of Chamba has been given in Jehangir’s Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri.

But the striking part of Mughal rule in this hilly state was the independence it enjoyed. The Mughals never intervened in the internal matters of the hill rulers. This led to regional wars amongst the hill rulers for superiority. The victorious ruler then dictated terms to the defeated ones.

Even during the decline of Mughal Empire, under the reign of Aurangzeb, the hill rulers accepted the Mughal superiority. The Mughal Empire was weakening under the pressure of Marathas and the Sikhs, who were making all efforts to unite the hill states to put a united front against the Mughals.

But the hill rulers didn’t relent and preferred the supremacy of Mughals. Once the Mughal Empire declined even in the hilly state, Raja Sansar Chand became the ruler of Kangra in 1775. He even won back the Kanga fort in 1786.

Shelter for the rebel

It is interesting to know that the kith and kins of Sultans and Mughals who revolted against the Kings, took shelter in the mountainous region of Himachal. Sardar Mohammed, who revolted against Razia Sultana, took shelter in Sirmaur; and Sardar Kutlagh Khan who revolted against Mohammed Shah I, also took shelter in Sirmaur.

Mughal influence in Pahari art, paintings and architecture

Art and painting blossomed in the hill state with quite a bit of Mughal influence. The priggish Emperor Aurangzeb forced his artisans out of the empire. They then took shelter in the hill state and felt safe under the patronage of Rajput rulers.

The confluence of Rajput and Mughals originated a distinct school of painting that flowered as Pahari art in Basholi, Kangra, Kullu, Bilaspur, Mandi, Nurpur and Chamba.

It is also worth mentioning that Chamunda Devi Temple of Chamba also known as Devi Kothi manifests Mughal influence with its wooden carvings. Even the Brijeshwari Devi Temple in Kangra has a Mughal inspired dome.

The history have references which show that the house of Basohli and the Mughal court had close ties. When Raja Bhupat Pal’s son Raja Sangram Pal sat on the throne in 1635 he also became a close friend of Emperor Shah Jehan’s son Dara Shikho who was very learned and enlightened soul along with being an authority on Persian and Sanskrit mysticism.

It is here where Raja Sangram Pal aquired a distinct taste for miniature paintings. He not only introduced this style of painting but his legacy was carried on by his grandson who encouraged painters and had manuscripts illustrated the same before dying.

The Mughal trained artisan dispersed and it started in the era of Akbar itself. This means the Mughal influence reaching far and wide including the hill state of Himachal too. This brought new direction and creativity to blossoming Pahari School of art and the miniature paintings.

The architecture of palaces and fortress in Himachal too showcase influences of Mughal inspiration like the one seen in Rang Mahal, Chamba. The Arki fort shows a blend of Rajput and Mughal design and art with multifoil arches, curved architecture along with false domes. The flat ceiling of the Arki palace verandah is a textbook example of all-over floral design that can be traced to Islamic settings from Delhi to Kashmir to Lahore.