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GENERAL SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ISSUES

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IMPORTANT DATES IN THE HISTORY OF UTTARAKHAND

Adapted from the works of A.S. Rawat of Kumaon University and V.R. Trivedi

Early History

mid-1st millennium B.C. ?

First reference to Uttarakhand and her pilgrimage centers appear in the Skanda Purana and Mahabharata as Kedarkhand. As the land of perpetual snow, early Hindus identify Uttarakhand as the abode of gods and a holy place.

2nd-1st century B.C.

Sakas establish colonies in the hills.

1st century A.D.

Kirats (Tibeto-Burmese people) inhabit parts of the hills.

4th-5th century

Naga dominions include principalities between the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi.

620

Chinese pilgrim Huien Tsang visits India. Mentions a land governed by women in Uttarakhand (Brahmaputra).

c. 700

The Chand dynasty from Rajasthan begins it reign in Champawat. King Som Chand's small kingdom forms the foundation of what later becomes Kumaon.

mid-8th century

Silk worms are brought to Kumaon from Nepal and Tibet. Silk production continues until the 1791 Gurkha conquest.

9th-11th century

The Katyuri Dynasty holds sway from the Sutlej river in the west, to Almora in the east. At its maximum extent, the Katyuri Empire stretches from Kabul to Nepal. Originally seated at Joshimath, the Katyuris eventually move their capital to the Katyur valley in Almora. Enlightened and dynamic administration during the first century gives way to despotism and cruelty in later years. Empire fragments into numerous principalities by the 12th century.

869-1065

Khas (indigenous) chieftains rebel against the Chand dynasty and succeed in driving the royal court to the plains.

1065

Vir Chand returns to Champawat and regains his dynasty's lost kingdom.

Feudal Era

12th century

Mallas from Dullu in Western Nepal shatter the Katyuri kingdom. Katyur descendants continue to rule in isolated pockets throughout the Himalayas.

1358

King Ajay Pal of the Parmar dynasty ascends the throne of Chandpur principality. Originally from present day Gujarat, Ajay Pal succeeds in conquering and uniting all 52 Garhs or forts and becomes the first overlord of a united Garhwal. He transfers his court to Srinagar, which persists as capital until 1803. After complete unification, Ajay Pal, like Ashoka, develops a distaste for warfare and pursues a spiritual life.

14th-15th century

The Chand dynasty rule grows oppressive and despotic. While seeking favour from Emperor Mohammed Tughluq in Delhi, the Kumaoni kings try pacifying their subjects with acts of piety. Nepotism and profligate spending keep people from open revolt.

1437

With popular support, King Bharati Chand overthrows his corrupt uncle, King Vikram Chand and restores the popularity and fortunes of the Chands.

1500s

Mughal emperors sweep the plains of Hindu resistance. Garhwal retains her independence and a diplomatic presence at the Mughal court. Kumaon pays tribute.

1591

Battle of Gwaldam - Garhwal rebuffs Kumaoni invasion.

1610

English traveler William Finch visits Garhwal, describing a wealthy and prosperous Himalayan kingdom.

1591-1611

Kumaon invades Garhwal seven times. King Man Shah repels each incursion, eventually defeating King Laxmi Chand of Kumaon and taking his capital.

1624

In retaliation for raids by Tibetan bandits, King Mahipat Shah invades Tibet with 12,000 men. Though a courageous and able leader, Mahipat Shah retreats from heavy snowfall in the passes and vigourous Tibetan resistance.

In the same year, Portuguese Jesuit missionary Antonio de Andrade passes through Srinagar on his way to Tibet.

1631

Mahipat Shah dies. Queen mother Karnavati assumes reigns of power for her young son, Prince Prithvi Pat Shah.

1638

King Baz Bahadur Chand ascends the Kumaoni throne. At the time, Kumaon is a tributary state of the Mughal Empire. The King introduces Muslim court customs to Kumaon. Baz Bahadur Chand and his successors invade Garhwal frequently.

1640

King Baz Bahadur Shah incites Emperor Shah Jahan's Mughal forces to invade Garhwal. Led by Queen Mother Karnavati, the Garhwali defenders crush the numerically superior expeditionary forces from the plains. Rather than executing prisoners, she cuts off the noses of all captured troops. This act earns the Queen mother the title "Nak-katti-Rani", the queen who cuts off noses.

1650s

King Prithvi Pat Shah grows old enough to rule. Courage on the battlefield, liberalism, and religious tolerance marks his remarkable reign. He proves particularly friendly to the Jesuits who eventually return from their Tibetan mission to establish a church at Srinagar.

1667

In retaliation for King Prithvi Pat Shah granting sanctuary to his defeated enemy's son, Suleiman Shikoh, Emperor Aurangzeb intrigues to encourage the crown prince to revolt against his father. The king discovers the plot and banishes Prince Medni Shah from the kingdom. Due to renewed fighting with Kumaon and the threat of invasion by the Mughals, King Prithvi Pat Shah yields Suleiman Shikoh to Aurangzeb.

1667-1715

King Fateh Shah's reign is marked by the building of a Gurudwara in Dehra Dun by Guru Ram Rai. A brave and capable warrior, Fateh Shah leads raids against the plains and Tibet. He also invades Sirmor to the west, yet through the intercession of Guru Gobind Singh, peaceful relations are eventually established between the neighbours. Raids and counter-raids trouble the peace with Kumaon.

1716-72

Pradip Shah's years as king finds Garhwal at peace with Kumaon and general prosperity prevalent throughout the land.

1744-48

Muslim marauders from Rohilkhand invade Kumaon, vandalizing Hindu temples and idols. Garhwal comes to Kumaon's aid, yet only a peace settlement is achieved. The Rohillas demand a cash tribute, which is loaned to Kumaoni king Kalyan Chand by Pradip Shah.

1757

The Rohillas under Najib Khan also invade Garhwal, defeating Pradip Shah's forces and annexing the Dun valley.

1770

Garhwal reestablishes control over the Dun valley.

late-18th century

Garhwali kings patronize the Garhwali school of painting that compares favourably with the much admired Punjabi and Kangra styles. Mola Ram is the best known artist that worked at the royal court during this period.

Mola Ram

 

Mola Ram

 

1779

Intrigue in the Kumaoni court draws Garhwal into her internal conflict. Lalit Shah install second son, Pradyumna Shah on the Kumaoni throne, but dies shortly after.

1780-1781

Lalit Shah cedes the throne to his eldest son, Jai Krit Shah who conspires to oust his stepbrother from the throne of Kumaon. In return, Pradyumna Shah invades Garhwal. Factionalism erupts in the Garhwali court, further weakening Jai Krit Shah's hold on power. Dehra Dun's governor, sensing a power struggle, rebels and seizes power in the capital. Jai Krit Shah, now desperate, asks Jagat Prakash, the king of Sirmor for help. Jagat Prakash succeeds against the combined rebel and Kumaoni forces, and reinstalls Jai Krit Shah in Srinagar. Shortly after his departure though, Jai Krit Shah goes on a pilgrimage. Pradyumna Shah seizes the opportunity, invading and taking the capital.

Pradyumna

 

Pradyumna Shah

 

1782

Pradyumna Shah returns to Kumaon.

1785

New troubles prove too much for Jai Krit Shah. He ends his own life. Pradyumna Shah returns to Garhwal to assume leadership.

1785-1804

Years of turmoil: Garhwal slides into anarchy. Internecine strife and court intrigues rip apart Garhwal's political, administrative, and military foundations.

1790-91

Gurkhas overrun Kumaon and cross the frontier with Garhwal. The Gurkha forces reach as far as Fort Langurgarhi, where a desperate and heroic stand prevents further penetration by the Gurkhas for over year. The Gurkha forces retreat to ward off a Chinese invasion of Nepal.

1790s

Gurkha marauders and slavers loot and kidnap the inhabitants of the borderlands. Kumaoni and Garhwali frontier villages are burnt and whole regions made desolate. A brutal and arbitrary system of justice is administered including trials by ordeal and executions for minor offenses. Caste distinctions are intensified and caste rule infractions are made punishable by death. Border conflicts eventually culminate in the calamitous events of 1803-04.

1794-95

A terrible famine wracks Garhwal.

1803

Great earthquake shakes the foundations of Garhwal. This catastrophe portends the coming of conquest and subjection by the growing might of the Gurkhas.

1803-04

Gurkha attack Garhwal in strength. King Pradyumna Shah is dislodged from Srinagar and retreats across the Alaknanda River. Defeated again at Barahat, Uttar Kashi, Pradyumna Shah falls back towards the plains. At the Garhwali kingdom's final stand near Dehra Dun, the King dies with most of his men.

1804-1815

Gurkha rule proves to be despotic and tyrannical. Military despotism carries off over a third of the population into slavery. Retribution for the earlier defeat of Gurkha forces in 1791 is long and bloody. Indiscriminate killing and raping marks a military administration interested in solely the pillage and plunder of the land. An oppressive tax levy is imposed. Fields lie abandoned.

1804-1814

Sudarshan Shah, Pradyumna Shah's son, resides in poverty at Bareilly in the plains. Sudarshan Shah spends much of his time encouraging British intervention to end Gurkha tyranny.

British Era

1814-1815

Anglo-Gurkha war erupts along the Gurkha Empire's southern border. Major General Gillespie succeeds at driving out the Gurkhas from Kumaon by 1815. Treaty of Sagauli restores Sudarshan Shah to the much smaller Garhwali kingdom seated at Tehri. The Kumaoni Commissionery is established to administer Kumaon, and eastern (British) Garhwal for the British. British acquire the region's substantial natural resources and lucrative trade routes to Tibet and China.

1824

Sudarshan Shah is officially installed by the British as head of the nominally independent princely state of Tehri-Garhwal.

1827

The British establish a convalescent depot for their soldiers in Landour, marking the present day foundation of Mussoorie hill station.

1840

The British adventurer Wilson procures his first forest lease from Tehri-Garhwal. He exploits the forest by introducing the practice of floating logs down rivers. The government renews his lease in 1850 and again in 1864. Whole sale clearfelling of oak, cedar, and pine forests follows, ravaging the economy and environment of Uttarakhand.

Wilson

 

'Pahari' Wilson

 

In the same year, Henry Ramsay begins service as Assistant Commissioner. Ramsay proves to be the ablest of British officials posted to Kumaon, enjoying wide-scale respect and support from the inhabitants. His unassuming and friendly demeanour with everyone, high and low, works to ensure the region's loyalty to the British. However, Ramsay establishes martial law throughout the region as anti-establishment comments are made punishable by internment or death.

1856

Henry Ramsay becomes Commissioner, serving British interests in British Garhwal and Kumaon for 28 more years.

1857

The Indian Mutiny spreads throughout the plains, but calls for insurrection go largely ignored in the hills. Memories of Gurkha oppression and British deliverance keep Uttarakhand loyal. King Sudarshan Shah supports the British with men and materičle. He also deploys troops to protect the Europeans that had fled the plains for Mussoorie and other hill stations.

1866

The explorer, Nain Singh Rawat, reaches Lhasa where he meets the Dalai Lama.

NSRawat

 

Nain Singh Rawat

 

1878

Forest Act of this year severely curtails the forest rights of the hill inhabitants. Large concessions are granted to outside commercial interests at the expense of the hill people.

1887

First all-Garhwali regiment, the 39th Garhwal Rifles, is raised and headquartered in Lansdowne. Garhwalis had previously served with distinction in British Gurkha regiments. This new job opportunity portends the rise of a money-order economy in the hills with the male population migrating to the plains for jobs and the women taking on the onerous burden of fending for the family and managing the farm.

 

ON LEFT: Insignia upon formation in 1887, Phoenix adopted as regimental symbol
ON RIGHT: Insignia during WWI

Riflemen

 

Garhwal Rifles

 

1906

Villagers of Bangarh near Tehri protest the forest conservation policies of Tehri state and rough up the local forest officer.

1913

The Home Rule League organizes in the hills, bringing the independence movement to Kumaon and, later, Garhwal. The wide scale resentment towards the degrading forced labour practices of Coolie and Utar Begar proves to be an effective organizing principle. These rules dictated that any subject of the hills must provide free porterage for visiting Europeans and State officials. Subjects were also obligated to serve as servants of the royal household for four times a year and without compensation.

1914

39th Garhwal Rifles are sent overseas with the advent of World War I. Landing in France in October, Garhwali troops earn fame as "the stormtroopers of the Allies", as coined by the Germans. Out of five Victoria Crosses earned by Indian soldiers in France, Garhwalis earn two, including the first ever awarded to an Indian by the King-Emperor himself. The battalions suffer heavy casualties though, and are withdrawn from Europe in 1915. After the war, the Garhwal Regiment becomes the 18th Royal Garhwal Regiment.

Great War

 

France, 1914

 

1921

The British authorities end the Coolieand Utar Begar practice in the hills as a concession to the swaraj activists.

1927

The Forest Act of this year makes further demands of local needs. Further usage restrictions increases alienation among the hill people.

1930

Villagers in the Rawain district protest forest policies and form their own independent village council in Tilari (Western Tehri). The State militia, led by Juyal, the minister of the Raja, eventually crushes the rebellion with enormous bloodshed. Protest forest fires are lit throughout the 1930s as a result.

While deployed to restore order during Home Rule agitation, Garhwali troops, encourage by Havildar Chander Singh Garhwali, refuse to fire on unarmed demonstrators in Peshawar despite intense provocation. The British authorities disarm and dress down the regiment.

1942

Two Garhwali battalions captured by the Japanese in Malaya join the Indian National Army and the independence struggle against the British. Making up one-tenth of the insurgent Army, the Garhwalis fight honourably in Burma against their own brothers-in-arms on the British side.

Post_Independence

1949

Congress activists and a peasant movement force the King of Tehri Garhwal to abdicate the throne in favour of unification with the rest of British India. Along with the rest of Uttarakhand, Tehri-Garhwal is integrated into a newly independent India as a district of Uttar Pradesh.

1952

P.C. Joshi of the Communist Party of India advocates separates statehood for the U.P. hill districts.

1959

Unrest in Tibet results in a crackdown by the Chinese Communists. The Dalai Lama flees and establishes a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. The Chinese threat is countered with the militarization of the border and expropriations by the Indian military of large parts of Uttarakhand.

1962

The India-China war shocks the nation. Military development is speeded up in the Uttarakhand region, leading to dramatic social and economic changes. Mining and timber interests rush into the hills. Pilgrimage routes also see increased traffic due to newly built roads. With the closing of the frontier, centuries-old trade routes across the Himalayas are disrupted.

late-1960s

Mainly Punjabi trespassers seize much of the best Terai land. The dispossession of the native Pahari inhabitants (Buksha and Tharu tribals) and other Hindi-speaking residents exacerbates communal tensions. Various U.P. governments, influenced by big landowning interests, legalize land seizures.

Women organize to fight alcohol consumption in the hills, a distressing byproduct of development and the worsening economic situation.

1969

P.C. Joshi and other Kumaoni intellectuals form the Kumaon Morcha group to agitate for local autonomy. Bitter political infighting with the Garhwal-based Uttaranchal Parishad deflates the movement.

1970

Due to erosion and declining ground cover, the Alaknanda floods, killing hundreds of people.

1973-1980

The Chipko movement struggles for the forest rights of Uttarakhandi people. Marches, demonstrations, and spontaneous actions in defense of the forests spread throughout the hills. Gandhian in nature, the movement's activists fan out across the hills to organize peasants against the commercial interests undermining their livelihoods.

1973

Non-violent forest rights demonstrations are held in Uttar Kashi and Gopeshwar.

1974

Gaura Devi leads village women to save Reni forest from contractors.

Gaura

 

Gaura Devi (left)

 

1976

Student activists form the left-oriented Uttarakhand Sangarsh Vahini to fight the liquor and timber mafias that benefit from their collusion with the police.

1977

Chipko spreads to Kumaon.

1977-1979

Several attempts to fell Uttarakhand forests are thwarted by mass action on the part of local villagers. Once again, women play a pivotal role in the struggle to save the trees.

1979

Activists form the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal to contest elections and pursue statehood for the impoverished region.

1980

The Indian government bans the felling of trees above 1000 meters. However, the Forest Protection Act has the unintended consequence of strengthening the timber mafia while also depriving people of their forest rights.

1981

Improving relations between India and China allows for the reopening of the pilgrimage route to Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar (through Pitharogarh district and to Tibet through Lipu Lekh pass).

1980s

Anti-alcohol agitation begins anew and sharpens social tensions between men and women in the hills. Deforestation continues, though tempered by government regulations. Mining interests and dam projects threaten the Himalayan ecosystem.

1989

Several left-leaning organizations assemble to form the Uttarakhand Sanyukta Sangarsh Samiti (USSS) to campaign for autonomy.

1991

A devastating earthquake rocks Uttar Kashi, killing over 2,000 people. The slowness of relief operations and reconstruction upsets many hill residents, already accustom to the prolonged neglect afforded the region by state and federal governments.

1994

Despite measures in the state legislature towards granting separate status for Uttarakhand, the new backward-caste dominated government of Uttar Pradesh extends caste reservations into the hills. These reservations, though established to increase opportunity and social justice for low-caste people, meets with fierce resistance in Uttarakhand. Uttarakhandis see the measures as an attempt to colonize the hills with people from the plains, as low-caste Hindus make up a tiny fraction of the hill districts' population. Demonstrations are fired upon, leaving dozens dead. On October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, buses carrying protesters to the capital are stopped in the town of Muzaffarnagar. More violence ensues including the molestation and rape of dozens of Uttarakhand women by state police.

Teargas

 

Police tear gas

 

1995

The cover-up of the 1994 incidents unravels under further investigation. The Uttar Pradesh government refuses to acknowledge responsibility. Uttarakhandis hold monthly protest rallies in remembrance of the movement's martyrs.

Massive forest fires in May devastate Uttarakhand.

March

 

Protest March

 

1996

Early in the year, the state government apologizes to and compensates the victims of the 1994 violence.