By Padma Shri Vijay Sharma (writer & painter) The aftermath of continuous Huna’s invasions of north India saw the disintegration of the Gupta Empire and north India was divided into several independent kingdoms in the sixth century. Apart from the kingdoms in the plains of north India some small kingdoms were also established in the hills of Himalayas. One such small kingdom situated between Pir-Panjal and Dhauladhar mountain ranges was founded in the sixth century was whose capital was on the upland of the Buddhal River, a tributary of the Ravi River. The continued peaceful conditions were responsible that the kingdom continued to exist and gradually expanded for over a thousand years.
This area, known as Gadrahan, is inhibited by Gaddi tribe whose main source of living has been rearing of herds of sheep, called ‘Gadar’ in Sanskrit while lent the name ‘Gadrahan’ to the area and perhaps the name Gaddi to its people. Gaddis migrate during winter to the lower valleys of the Ravi and the Beas to escape from the inhospitable cold weather. Gaddi people are sturdy and healthy and their needs remain quite limited. Ample milk, cheese, and wool apart from mutton are available to them. These conservative people speak a language possessing a close relationship to Sanskrit. The rulers of the new kingdom recognizing these qualities utilized them to their advantage and organized the Gaddis into troops for expanding the kingdom’s territory.
Definite historical details related to this kingdom of the period around AD 700 are available. Meru Varman was, then, the ruler who occupied the neighboring Kullu kingdom and the occupation continued for four to five generations according to the records of the latter Kullu kingdom. King Meru Varman built temples to Shiva, Ganesha, and ahishasuramardini at the Bharmaur village, the capital town of the state.
It seems that Meru Varman extended the kingdom downstream the Ravi river up to Chamba. Though it is not evidenced by any inscription but an epigraph of Rana Ashada Deva lying at village Gum, a place on the right of Ravi River describes Meru Varman as his liege lord. This place (Gum) lies in between Chhatrari and Chamba town on the right bank of Ravi River. The latter place had its own importance. A few kilometers above the stream, the Ravi valley opens up and is surrounded by a fertile tract lying on its three sides.
The antiquity of the town goes back to late sixth or early seventh century. It has yielded baked bricks with moldings of that period. According to the oral traditions and legends, this place was under the control of Rana of Bannu, a hillock overlooking the Chamba town. Remains of the fortress of Rana of Bannu were seen by Prof. J. Ph. Vogel in the early 20th century at Bannu hill. According to the tradition, it was only in the name of Sahilla Varman, the king of Bharmaur that Chamba was made the capital of this kingdom.
This town is naturally protected. The borders of the town are rigidly defined gorges of two rivers, the Ravi and its tributary ‘Sal’, lying on its western and northern sides. On its eastern side stands an almost perpendicular hill called ‘Shah-Madar’. A shoulder of this hill is known as Chamunda hill extends on the southern side of the hill ending in rocky landscape and thus this area of the town is called ‘Sapdi’- meaning rocky.
Chamba has remained a home to numerous temples deserves to be known better and can encourage religious tourism. There are over two scores of important temples dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Rama, and Devi. Nearly a score of them have been considered of National importance and are thus under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India. Other than this the lake of Mani Mahesh Kailash lying in the high mountains on the southern side of the district attracts a large number of pilgrims. The idol of the deity Vaikuntha (Vishnu) is unique in India and fashioned out of white stone. The tradition that Raja Sahilla Varmana’s sons had brought marble from central India for this idol seems incorrect as it is not possible to carry such a huge block of marble from such a far off place and no instance of carrying such huge block is known in the history. The idol of Lakshmi-Narayana is most probably the one which finds the mention in an inscription discovered at Khajuraho. This ancient inscription on the stone is fixed in the mandapa hall of Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho at present which has been published in a book on Khajuraho by Krishna Deva. The
inscription informs that it was prepared for one Bhot Dev a Tibetan king who presented the idol of Vaikuntha out of friendship to the king of Kiras that is Kangra. A tradition recorded by Vogel, informs that the king of Kangra gave this idol to Raja Sahilla Varman who emerged as a powerful ruler in this region. This legend seems to be correct as the temple seems to have been built for accommodating this huge idol of Vaikuntha which is not less than ten feet in height including the rough uncarved part below the feet of the deity.