The Powerful Dewans of Dogra Kingdom, Chancing Upon a Heritage and Discovering Answers to Historic Questions on Kashmir

In 2017 I received an email from a leadership trainer and reformer of school ecosystems. My good friend whom I also consider a mentor, Sandeep Dutt ji was told about my interests in leadership, innovation and my Jammu (dogra) roots by my friends in Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry. 

I was once employed in the Sri Aurobindo Society’s Institute of Social Research in my early 20s and that school of thought has forged my spirit of social entrepreneurship and Indian nationalism. Dutt was invited to revamp an heritage school in Jammu called the Dewan Badrinath School and he in turn invited me to work with him at the Institute. 

When we first met in Delhi he gifted me a book on Kashmir. How that meeting rekindled my since-childhood-held dream of being able to contribute some way to my place of birth! Dutt was responsible for bringing me to Jammu on an assignment with the school; for the first time I experienced deep gratification on going to my place of origin–not as a daughter or a tourist but as an educator and innovator. 

Moreover, the school I was invited to work at turned out to be my kindergarten alma mater, it was the place where my father spent 16 years of his prime youth working as a teacher and where he also lived for many years after migrating from our village to the city. It was also the place where some of my uncles and aunts studied. Such is the law of Karma!

The Dewan Badrinath School in the late 1970s. The school building at the backdrop was originally the 100-room haveli or the Royal quarters of the Dewans (premiers) of the Dogra kingdom (Image courtesy: Surinder Spolia).

 Dewan Badrinath School was almost everyone’s school in downtown Jammu in the 1970s-80s after it was started in September 1963 by Dewanini Vidyawati Badrinath, the wife of Dewan Badrinath, the once personal secretary of the third dogra ruler, Maharaja Pratap Singh. Dewans held the Premier’s office in the Dogra court from the time of Gulab Singh becoming Jammu’s Raja under Sikhs in 1822 to him becoming the Maharaja of Jammu, Kashmir and Tibet territories in 1846–until 1917–spanning across the rule of his next two descendants. 

The Dewans were powerful, extremely wealthy and the owners of many fiefs granted by the British and the Dogras. This included the fiefs they received from Gulab Singh for leading the negotiations between the British and the Dogras during the Treaty of Amritsar. They had a 100-room haveli or a palatial home right in the heart of the old Jammu city (which I often refer to as downtown Jammu). This school first housed many families who had migrated from across the border during partition. Later the haveli was turned into a school. 

Incidentally my parents for some time lived in a room in this palace immediately after their marriage because my father was provided a residence on the top floor of the school. The first 11 years of my childhood were spent in the school’s vicinity, in the fortified Jammu city established by Maharaja Gulab Singh. My mother, an employee with the government, almost everyday dropped me either to my maternal grandmother’s home and occasionally to her maternal grandmother’s home which was just a stone’s throw away from Dewan Badrinath School. So it was a daily affair to walk past the gates of the school. 

That world of palaces, courtyards, gardens with colonial fountains, lawns and narrow sloping streets was so obvious growing up but yet so inconspicuous in its meaning to the residents. We grew up listening to stories of kings and knights on horses, queens, their retinue and ghosts from the haunted palaces roaming the city at night. It has taken me a whole life’s journey, education, work and travel as a journalist to comprehend that I grew up amidst a lot of heritage, history and geopolitics. 

So obviously it’s important for me to retrace my steps and discover much that I grew up amidst. The eleventh in my series from “Kashmir to Haridwar” is about me tracing the history and the stories of the Dewans–also called the famous Eminabad family because they were originally from Eminabad in Gujranwala, Pakistan–right across the border from Kathua or Pathankot. 

Through their story I have tried finding answers to many important questions about the Dogra kingdom and its rule. Maharaja Gulab Singh’s Prime Minister and one of his closest associates, Dewan Jawala Sahai who was Dewan Badrinath’s forefather, was Maharaja’s lead diplomat during the Treaty of Amritsar and had a significant role to play during the events that followed the treaty. He played an important role in consolidating the Dogra kingdom.

Dewan Jawala Sahai, the Prime Minister of Maharaja Gulab Singh who played a leading role in facilitating the Treaty of Amritsar between the British and the Dogras (Image courtesy: J&K Archives, Jammu Repository).

 Through Sahai’s story I have tried to delve into the persistent question about Kashmir’s sale to Maharaja Gulab Singh by the British for 75 lakhs and have come across some hard pressed answers and analysis. You can download the essay here for a deep delve into the history of the Dewans of the Dogra kingdom. 

Meanwhile my presence at Dewan Badrinath resulted into a year long workshop with its teachers–some double my age then. The workshop was called “Heart Tree” and it aimed at bringing values back in the classroom through 8 core approaches. 

Dutt ji continued to work with the module, developing it further and taking it to other schools around India while I got creeped into journalism and international affairs. I can’t stop thinking about how interlinked life is in its past, present and future affairs. Don’t miss reading this story if you want to understand Jammu and Kashmir! 

Tenth 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.

Venus Upadhayaya journalist Author


Venus Upadhayaya is a Senior Reporter, India and South Asia for The Epoch Times. She was born in Jammu and her ancestral home is in a village in the lower shivalik ranges that are also home to the Dogra/Pahadi culture. Her ancestral home has always fascinated her and this series is her journey to discover her roots. She's also a Research Fellow at the National School of Leadership.

Published Date

March 2, 2024

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."

– Mahatma Gandhi