History of Kumaon Region
Kumaonis have been famous for their valour, their courage was legendary, their honour indomitable.
Never fully subjugated by the powerful Muslim dynasties of Delhi, the Kumaonis were keenly observed by the British, their valour was given recognition by them and they were included in the British Army as a separately recognized unit. It is interesting to note that the 3rd Gorkha Rifles was known as the Keemaon battalion when it was formed and it included Kumaonis as well as the Garhwalis along with the Gorkhas. The Kumaonis, once accepted as a martial race, were recruited in the Hyderabad regiment and displace the native troops, ultimately becoming the Kumaon Regiment after Independence of India.
The Kumaon Regiment is one of the most decorated regiments of the Indian Army. The regiment traces its origins with the British Indian Army and has fought in various campaigns including the two world wars. After independence, the regiment has fought in all major conflicts involving India. They showed their exceptional courage in the Indo-Chinese War, the Battle of Rezang La has been proverbial for valour.
The earliest historical references to the region are found in the Vedas. Specific mention of the mountains exists in the Mahabharata, dated to about 1000 BC, when the protagonists of the epic, the Pandavas, are said to have ended their life on earth by ascending the slopes of a peak in Western Garhwal called Swargarohini – literally, the ‘Ascent to Heaven’.
The Kumaoni’s have singular faith in the presiding deity of Kumaon – Nanda Devi, the Goddess of Bliss. The graceful peak of Nanda Devi , is visible from almost everywhere in Kumaon. Nanda Devi who is said to be the reincarnation of Parvati is said to represent the icy, unmoving form of Parvati in endless anticipation of her desired consort, Lord Shiva.
The word Kumaon is believed to have been derived from “Kurmanchal”, meaning land of the Kurmavatar (the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the preserver according to Hindu mythology). The region of Kumaon is named after as such. Evidences of Stone Age settlements have been found in Kumaon, particularly the rock shelter at Lakhu Udyar. The paintings here date back to the Mesolithic period. Lord Buddha‘s mother, Mayabati belonged to this clan. Another version of the origin is that
One theory also traces the work word Kumaon to the 5th century BC. The Kassite Assyrians left their homeland ‘Kummah’, on the banks of river Euphrates, and settled in the northern part of India. These inhabitants formed Koliyan tribe and having their new settlement as ‘Kumaon’.
The early medieval history of Kumaon is the history of the Katyuri dynasty. The Katyuri kings ruled from the seventh to the 11th century, holding sway at the peak of their powers over large areas of Kumaon, Garhwal, and Western Nepal. The town of Baijnath near Almora was the capital of this dynasty and a center of the arts. Temple building flourished under the Katyuris and the main architectural innovation introduced by them was the replacement of bricks with hewn stone.
On a hilltop facing east (opposite Almora), is the temple of Katarmal. This 900-year-old sun temple was built during the declining years of the Katyuri dynasty. The intricately carved doors and panels have been removed to the National Museum in Delhi as a protective measure after the 10th-century idol of the presiding deity was stolen.
The Chands of Pithoragarh were the dominant dynasty which later ruled Kumaon . The magnificent old temple complex at Jageshwar, with its cluster of a hundred and sixty-four temples, was built by the Chand rulers over a period of two centuries. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
At their peak, the Katyuri kingdom extended from Nepal in the east to Kabul, Afghanistan in the west, before fragmenting into numerous principalities by 12th century. They were displaced by the Chand Kings in 11th century AD. Architectural remains of the Katyur dynasty’s rule can be found in Baijnath and Dwarahat.
The Rajbar dynasty of Askot in Pithoragarh, was set up in the 1279 AD, by a branch of the Katyuri Kings, headed by Abhay Pal Deo, who was the grandson of Katyuri king, Brahm Deo . The dynasty ruled the region till, it became part of the British Raj through the treaty of Sighauli in 1816.
The Chand kingdom was established by Som Chand, who came here from Kannuaj near Allahabad, sometime in the 10th century , and displaced the Katyuri Kings (कत्यूरी नरेश), originally from Katyur valley near Joshimath, who had been ruling the area from the 7th century AD. He continued to call his state Kurmanchal, and established its capital in Champawat in Kali Kumaon, called so, due to its vicinity to river Kali. Many temples built in this former capital city, during the 11th and 12th century exist today, this include the Baleshwar and Nagnath temples.
They had brief stints with the Rajput clans in Gangoli and Bankot then predominant there the Mankotis of Mankot, the Pathanis of Attigaon-Kamsyar, Kalakotis and many other Khas Rajput Clans of the region. However they were able to establish their domain there.
Towards the end of 17th century, Chand Rajas again attacked Garhwal kingdom, and in 1688, Udyot Chand, erected several temples at Almora, including Tripur Sundari, Udyot Chandeshwer and Parbateshwer, to mark his victory over Garhwal and Doti, the Pabateshwar temple was renamed twice, to become the present Nanda Devi temple. Later, Jagat Chand (1708–20), defeated the Raja of Garhwal and pushed him away from Srinagar, and his kingdom was given to a Brahmin. However, a subsequent king of Garhwal, Pradip Shah (1717–72), regained control over Garhwal and retained Doon till 1757, when Rohilla leader, Najib-ul-Daula, established himself there, though he was ousted soon by Pradip Shah.
Raikas Of Doti
Kings of Doti were known as Raikas. Latter on Raikas, after overthrow Khas Malla of Karnali Zone, were able to form a strong Raikas Kingdom in Far Western Region and Kumaun which was called Doti. So far, the historical evidence of following Raikas have been discovered; Niranjan Malldev (Founder of Doti Kingdom), Nagi Malla (1238 AD), Ripu Malla (1279 AD), Nirai Pal (1353 AD may be of Askot and his historical evidence of 1354 A.D has been found in Almoda), Nag Malla (1384 AD), Dhir Malla (1400 AD), Ripu Malla (1410 AD), Anand Malla (1430 AD), Balinarayan Malla (not known), Sansar Malla (1442 AD), Kalyan Malla (1443 AD), Suratan Malla (1478 AD), Kriti Malla(1482 AD), Prithivi Malla (1488 AD), Medini Jay Malla (1512 AD), Ashok Malla (1517 AD), Raj Malla (1539 AD), Arjun Malla/Shahi (not known but he was ruling Sira as Malla and Doti as Shahi), Bhupati Malla/Shahi (1558 AD), Sagaram Shahi (1567 AD), Hari Malla/Shahi (1581 AD Last Raikas King of Sira and adjoining part of Nepal ), Rudra Shahi (1630 AD), Vikram shahi (1642 AD), Mandhat shahi (1671 AD), Raghunath shahi (1690 AD), Hari shahi (1720 AD), Krishna Shahi (1760 AD), Deep shahi (1785 AD), Prithivi pati Shahi (1790 AD, ‘he had fought against Nepali ruler with British in 1814 AD’)
Gorkha Rule and its defeat
For some time the region was ruled by the Gorkhas. The people of Kumaon pursued the help of British many times to overthrow the Gorkha rule. According to folklore when a British official was saved from the prison of the Tibetan Jongpong (Governor) of Taklakot in Tibet by some Kumaonis he pursued their case with the Resident at Delhi and convinced him to attack the Gorkhas in Kumaon. 4000 Kumaoni braves under Harakh Dev Joshi a chieftain of the Chand King (who was initially held responsible for the Gorkha invasion) joined the British.
The British had so far been severely routed by the Gorakhas at several places (like the Battle of Jaithak and Malaun). But now the joint forces of Kumaonis and British struck the Gorkhas. Battle of Syahidevi resulted in a complete route of the Gorkhas at the hands of the British assisted by the Kumaonis, the Gorkha Subba (Governor) fled and so did their commanders, Almora was liberated.
The Gorkhas, who earlier seemed invincible, were finally defeated and the way for the liberation of Garhwal from the Gorkha rule was ended. The British realised through this war the potential of military expertise of these hillmen. Inspired by their bravery the British started recognizing the people of Kumaon as a martial race.They heavily recruited from them and the result was the Kumaon Regiment (Earlier the Hyderabad Regiment which consisted mostly of Kumaonis).
Later, the region was annexed by the British in 1815, and was governed for seventy years on the non-regulation system by three administrators, Mr. Traill, Mr J. H. Batten and Sir Henry Ramsay.
There were widespread opposition against British rule in various parts of Kumaon. The Kumauni people especially Champawat District rose in rebellion against the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 under the leadership of Kalu Singh Mahara.
In 1891 the division was composed of the three districts of Kumaon, Garhwal and the Tarai; but the two districts of Kumaon and the Tarai were subsequently redistributed and renamed after their headquarters, Nainital and Almora. Gandhiji’s advent sounded a death knell for the British in Kumaon. People now aware of the excesses of British Raj became defiant of it and played an active part in the Indian Struggle for Independence. Gandhiji was revered in these parts and on his call the struggle of Saalam Salia Satyagraha led by Ram Singh Dhoni was started which shook the very roots of British rule in Kumaon. Many people lost their lives in the Saalam Satyagraha due to police brutality. Gandhiji named it the Bardoli of Kumaon an allusion to the Bardoli Satyagrah
- Walking with Nain Singh (thehindu.com)