Neglecting a region’s history is akin to waging a covert war against it. Recorded history has often been a mixture of fiction and fantasy, its angle is often defined by the narrative adopted by the writer. And that has likely been dictated by the ruler that hired or patronized the writer.
Lay society however has unknowingly recorded history through folklore and cultural practices. A rightly intended study of these could yield much to help solve contemporary problems– provided we have the will.
While writing on geopolitics for global readers, I faced an internal dilemma–I was writing on complex topics but my knowledge of my own place of origin was bookish and limited. Analysis of distant topics based on books differs in practice from expertise on topics related to the complex realities of one’s own place of birth. The narrative loaded in books can contradict one’s own experience and either could be short-sighted.
Because of being born in a complex and conflicted region like Jammu and Kashmir I didn’t just face the narrative that Doordarshan or PTV programs (aired from across the border) loaded me with or the books I later read but more persistently I faced all that I had imbibed while wading through a thousands-year-old rich culture and all the stories from past that my village folks had preserved.
These stories and this culture had assembled in the course of history–more importantly that history was never devoid of complexities and intense conflicts and it came along with its own idiosyncrasies and contradictions. To develop a rational and relevant understanding of it requires sincere work and this article is another attempt.
I’ll begin by asking a few important questions that seek answers. Fact-based questions are not loaded with narrative and they can’t be avoided. They are even more powerful than their probable answers! Right questions have the capacity to lead. Here are my questions:
What were the Sakyas doing in Jammu hills?
In response to my questions about the history of my region, particularly Billawar, noted historian Padamshree Shiv Nirmohi has often pointed at Taxila’s Pal Vanshis who moved to this region after their defeat to Ghaznavi, thousand years ago.
However, just before the Pals from Taxila, the region was ruled by Sakyas. Yes, Sakyas of the same pedigree as Sakyamuni Gautam Buddha! Nirmohi mentions in his book (1) a folklore about Raja Thanpal born in the 42nd generation of Pandavas (of Mahabharata lore) who established a kingdom over what’s today’s Almorah in Uttrakhand (Central Himalayas).
Thanpal’s son, Bhogpal left the kingdom in Almorah to his brother and moved over to the lower Shivalik hills of my region to try his luck. He came across the ancient Shiva temple at Panjtherthee that I talked about in my second article of this series and, mesmerized by the natural beauty, he decided to establish rule over the region in 700 AD (1).
Kahan Singh Balloria, another noted Dogra historian, has given a list of Bhogpal’s 14 descendants in his book six of which are Sakya (1). Balloria has clubbed the two together. Further analysis doesn’t exist.
Bhogpal’s 14 descendants were followed by another line of six Sakya rulers from 940 AD to 1090 AD: Raja Dev Sakya, Raja Bhog Sakya, Raja Aapr Sakya, Raja Ganey Sakya, Raja Trilok Sakya and Raja Kalas. All these were Bhuddhist (1).
Nirmohi once told me that there has been no analysis of the presence of Sakya rulers in Billawar or Baalpur as it was called in ancient times.
As I started authoring my series from Kashmir to Haridwar which seems increasingly tangible with each story I discover, I have faced questions from skeptics about the validity of this historical context that I’m laying. Their skepticism is perplexing and defeating in times where the Chinese communist regime is producing a continuous historical narrative of their great middle kingdom including regions like Aksai Chin and Gilgit that were under Dogra rule before 1947.
Geography determines human navigation and apparently the Chinese regime understands this well in its pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative that today passes through the land (Gilgit) that Dogras won in 1863.
While we face a continuous narrative war and propaganda from across the border where the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir is called “India Occupied Jammu and Kashmir”, we need to own our history and find answers to its questions.
The post 1947 narrative on Jammu and Kashmir has almost remained centered on Kashmir which became synonymous with Kashmir valley. It was generally said that the larger Jammu region had no history of its own, leave around my region which still remains relegated from research ecosystems. This neglect of Jammu’s history appears to be driven more by geopolitics than facts.
How I hope Jammu doesn’t reek under an identity crisis!
What did Gaznavis’s Attack on Taxila do to my region?
Jayapala was the ruler of Hindushahi dynasty with Taxila (what’s today in Rawalpindi in Pakistan) as its center and his territory included roughly today’s Western Punjab, NWF province of Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan (2). The Shahis ruled over the western gateway to the Indian subcontinent from 3rd century to 9th century–their territory was and is still the meeting point between India, Central Asia and Middle East.
Even in 180 BC, over a 1000 years before Jayapala, Taxila “controlled strategic routes leading across Hindu Kush” (3) until which the Shahi kingdom also extended (4) and the Hindushahis “probably ruled” over a Buddhist population (4) to which the Gaznavides introduced Islam with each annexation(4).
The Hindushahis had taken over Kabul and Gandhara earlier from the Turk Shahis who were also predominantly Buddhist (2).
Turks (Turuska in Sanskrit as found in Rajatarangini, Kathasaritsagara and other important sanskrit lexicons of yore) are known to be present in central Asia and the frontiers of India since very ancient times (6) and during these thousands of years they had different faiths.
K.S. Saxena mentions in his book, Ancient Political History of Kashmir, B.C. ~ 300 A.D. 1200: “According to Prof. Habib, ‘Afghanistan till the eighth century had been politically and culturally a part of India and its Turkish population had adopted the Buddhist creed.”
The Shahis are known in history for at least 25 years (4) of many battles with Ghanavide Turks and in each battle they tragically kept on losing territory and treasury. Jayapala’s second defeat to Sabuktigin happened in a battle in 991 AD (5) and the next to his son, Mohammad Gaznavi in 1001 (5), in which Jayapal’s son Anandapala and grandsons were taken as hostages.
The family got them released by paying 2,50,000 dinnars and 50 elephants as indemnity but disgraced Jayapal preferred to die by a funeral pyre (suicide). Al-Biruni has expressed pathos at the collapse of Hindushahis and has described them as men of “noble sentiment and noble bearing.” (4)
His son Anandpal and his subsequent generations’ fights against Gaznavi’s advance into the region is thus well documented but what’s little known is Anandpal’s descendants many generations of rule over my region until the time when Gulab Singh’s forces took over the region after 1820.
According to Rajdarshini (1), the ancient history of Jammu, after his defeat to Gaznavi, Anandpal escaped to Satisar (Kashmir) and from there he fled to Jammu where he was given asylum by Jammu’s then ruler, Raja Avtardev (1009-1053) and was later awarded the jagir of Basoli (today in border with Himachal Pradesh).
“After facing the attacks of Mahmood Gaznavi repeatedly and losing in those battles, it was for obviously keeping themselves under cover that the Pal rulers moved to Hilly regions [Shivaliks of Jammu] and were given the Jagir (revenue territory) of Basoli. It’s for these reasons that we don’t find the lineage records or the history in continuity of Pals of Basoli before the 15th century,” said Nirmohi in his book (1).
Saxena (7) mentions in his book that after losing to Ganznavi, the Pals simply vanished in the Kashmir nobility. But he mentions no other specifics.
Gulabnama, the history of Dogra rulers by Diwan Kirpa Ram mentions that the rulers of Basoli, Billawar, Bhaddu, Bhaderwah and Kulu were of the same caste (Pal). “Four being so allied, were often at war with each other.”
Nirmohi offers a few more insights (1) into it. According to him, in order to keep the Hindushahi identity secret and protected, Raja Jayapala is referred to as Raja Ajaypal in Basoli and because he fought many battles with Gaznavi he’s revered and worshiped as a hero even today by the people of Basoli.
The Sakya (also called Saka) rule over Gandhara before the advent of Kushans centuries before Jayapala’s rule over the same region is well researched. Is this somehow related with the presence of Sakya rulers over Ballapur or Billawar?
Is it that the way Pal came from Taxila to my region, the Sakyas had earlier followed the same route from their bastion in Gandhara or did they come from another Sakya bastion? Were they related?
Was it the reason that in ancient times there was an attempt to create a water edge sacred city at Gurnal because the Sakyas and even the Kushans had such water edge sacred cities in their kingdoms? This plan would have been most likely abandoned with the advent of Ganznavi’s raids into India when the already plundered Pals took over the region! I leave all this to the historians to fathom!
Who was Bhim of Billawar?
The town of Billawar is on the bank of the river Naz. About 20 feet from the urbanized shore, on the river bed there’s a massive rock engraved with Lord Hanuman’s etching. Despite massive floods that often move equally big boulders to long distances, this etched rock stays fixed and locals believe it was put in its place by Bhim of Mahabharata lore.
There’s a folklore that my father has often narrated to me and that I have verified recently with others. According to this lore, the five Pandav brothers were building a temple in Billawar and were using rocks from the river bed for the construction. They were in agyaatvas (living in secrecy) and had to build the entire temple in one night. It was the mighty Bhim who was transporting the boulders.
However the dawn descended while the Hanuman rock was still being transported and thus it had to be left behind on the river bed because the Pandavas couldn’t disclose their identity. It has been lying there even today!
Strangely, the folklore says that a taeliya(oil grinder) ended up grinding all his stored mustard during this one night. That quantity of mustard would otherwise take six months and he shouted that it was a long night of six months and locals of Billawar thus believe the local Shiva temple was literally built by Pandavas in a night that was equal to six months.
Md. Gaznavi on many occasions is known to have punished those kings who came to ally with the Hindushahis and others who fought against him. In 1020-21 he marched in India to chastise Chandella Vidyadhara and Anandpala’s son, Trilochanapala allied with Chandellas (4).
In the battle that followed Trilochanapala was killed and his son Bhimapala survived him for five years without holding any royal position (4). By this time the whole of the Hindushahi kingdom was absorbed to Gaznavi’s territory and there are no records of where Bhimapala lived for these five years.
After going through Pal history and their repeated battles and constant hide and seek with the invading Ghanavide Turks, I’m forced to question if the Bhim of Billawar is somehow linked to Trilochanpala’s valiant son, Bhimapala. Historical records describe him as extraordinarily valiant! Was it that Bhim fighting Gaznavi became synonymous with Bhim of Mahabharat lore?
Incidentally, Gulabnama mentions that the history of Basoli Rajas [Pals] is shrouded in mythology. “They claim descent from the Pandavas,” wrote Diwan Kirpa Ram.
Could it be that after the loss of their entire kingdom to Gaznavi by 1021, in order to protect himself Bhimapala lived in agyatvas just like Pandavas did! It’s very likely that the Vaishnanite (worshipers of God Vasudeva or Vishnu) Hindushahis comprehended their destiny as akin to the destiny of the Pandavas!
Could the “long night of six months” be symbolic of some historical event linked to Bhimapala and his hide and seek with Gaznavi?
There’s another possibility here: Jayapala had a predecessor by the name of Bhima whose daughter was married to the king of Lohrin (today’s Poonch) and Lohrin’s daughter, Didda was married to Kashmir ruler Kshemagupta (A.D. 950–958). Didda was a very powerful ruler in the history of Kashmir but she died in 1003. Her presence in Kashmir had made Bhima, her grandfather, influential in Kashmir and he built a Vishnu temple, Bhimakesava near some sacred springs in Martanda (today’s Anantnag).
Coins bearing his legend “Sri-Bhimadeva” have been found in Kabulistan. (2)
Since the local society records the movement of Kashmiri Pandas from Martand to Billawar, is it that the Shiva temple of Billawar was built by Bhima, the predecessor of Jayapala?
The Archeological Survey of India dates the temple at Billawar to be 10-11th century A.D and that subscribes with the time of Bimapala who fought Gaznavi. Nonetheless it’s very likely a Hindushahi monument. Despite being an ASI monument, why is its history still shrouded in mystery?
Some elders (over 90-year-old) in my village told me that the first road to my region came in 1956 and before that there were two treks–one went through Panjtherthee Shiva temple and further involved crossing the river at seven points, it opens at, Chak Dayala, near what’s today Jammu-Pathankot highway. This route is still followed by the Gujjar nomads that continue to cover miles in search of grazing pastures.
Jammu-Pathankot highway runs along the India-Pakistan international border and Chak Dyala is just 40 miles from Sailkot (in today’s Punjab, in Pakistan). Sailkot was Jammu city’s twin before 1947 and in ancient times was called Sakala. It was linked with Taxila through the ancient Grand Trunk Road. Sakala is synonymous with the city of the Sakas.
The second route went through Ramkot-Batal route that from Batal diverges to the right to Srinagar and to the left to Jammu, even today. Himalayan routes are as old as the Himalayas itself.
During my recent travels to my ancestral region I have also come across a family that holds a title and a certain religious entrustment by the Hindushahis. They have held the entrustment in secret and I’m thus forbidden from disclosing it and in the course of 1000 years the family has lost its comprehension of its history.
Historians (4) have said that most of the accounts of battles between Hindushahis and Gaznavi have come from the Islamic historians and they have no way to compare it with the version of the other side because it doesn’t exist.
The history of these frontiers and their historic events is important to understand the vulnerable frontiers of the Indian sub-continent. The territory that the Hindu Shahis ruled and lost to Gaznavide Turks is the same frontiers that made Colonial Britain anxious about the march of the Russian empire from across the Hind Kush, it’s the same unruly territory that marked the onset of the Great games that continues even today. It’s the same territory that today is a nuclear flash point between India and Pakistan that have fought four wars over the region.
The geopolitical happenings of today are exactly placed in the same context though the characters and the warfare technology has changed. The midlands or my region where the Indus fertile plains overlap with the lower shivaliks continues to bear the political, economic and sociological onslaught of this conflict. And I’m amazed about how its people managed to preserve their beliefs and traditions!
How I hope my region which has till today been neglected leads the wider conflict region, in cultivating a new identity of opportunities and constructivism. How I hope we discover within our spirit new meanings of empathy and compassion! Is this thousands of years of hide and seek with conflict worthy to be carried further to the future?
1: Duggar Ka Etihaas by Shiv Nirmohi
2: Vol. 4, The History and Culture of the Indian People (The Age of Imperial Kanauj), Bhavan’s Book University
3:The Roman Empire and The Silk Routes by Raoul McLaughlin
4: Vol. 5, The History and Culture of the Indian People (The Struggle For Empire), Bhavan’s Book University
5: Gulabnama, by Diwan Kirpa Ram
6: Sanskrit on the Silk Route, Edited by Shashibala (Bhavan’s Book University)
7: Ancient Political History of Kashmir, B.C. ~ 300 A.D. 1200 by K.S. Saxena
Fifth in a Special Series titled “From Kashmir to Haridwar” based on family history, anecdotes, cultural linkages and ancestry by journalist Venus Upadhayaya. Read the other articles here.