Himachal (“land of snow”) Pradesh is a mountainous state in northern India that forms a transition between the plains of the Punjab and the peaks of the Himalaya Mountains. Two main rivers, the Beas and the Ravi, flow through the region, watering the valleys and providing electric power for the region. The capital of the state is Shimla (formerly spelled Simla), the former summer capital of the British Raj. The main language spoken is Hindi, along with a variety of regional dialects. The state has a population of approximately 6 million, 95 percent of whom practice the Hindu faith. Himachal Pradesh is bordered on the north by Jammu and Kashmir, on the west and southwest by the Punjab, on the south by Haryana, on the southeast by Uttar Pradesh, and on the east by China.
The altitude of the state ranges from approximately 1,000 feet to 21,000 feet, making it a favorite destination for trekkers and climbers. The road from the Kullu valley to Manali follows the Beas River, then rises to the 13,000-foot-high Rotang Pass, and continues on the main road to Leh, Ladakh. The area is covered with pine and deodar trees, wheat fields, and fruit orchards. The Kullu valley and most of the Himalayan range is populated by a tribe called Gujjars, goat herders, who also spin and weave shawls, blankets, and clothing appropriate for the cold climate.
Historically, the area was populated during the Vedic period going back to at least 1000 BCE. As tribal chiefs consolidated their territories, small states evolved. The Mauryan Empire (4th-3rd centuries BCE) absorbed these states, and later princes continued to accept the authority of the Kushan (ca. 48-220 CE), Gupta (ca. 320-ca. 510 CE), and Mughal (1526-1858) rulers. During the latter period, the local rajas of these small kingdoms made agreements to keep their land in exchange for taxes and service in the military. In the 19th century, Ranjit Singh (1780-1829) of the Punjab seized control of many of the kingdoms in the area. When the British controlled the area after the Gurkha Wars of 1814, they entered into treaties with some of the rajas and annexed others. In 1948, a year after Indian independence, 30 princely states united to form Himachal Pradesh, and parcels of the Punjab were added in 1966 and 1977 to become the present official boundaries.
Shimla was settled by the British in the 1820s after they entered into agreements of mutual interest with local rulers. Beginning with a scattering of houses and sanatoria, the area slowly developed into a town as the British escaped the summer heat of the plains. In 1864 the viceroy John Lawrence (1811-1879; viceroy 1864-1869) made Shimla the summer capital of British India. (The winter capital was Calcutta and later Delhi.) The town today is a veritable museum of Victorian architecture lining the main street, the Mall, which is a walking street free of vehicles. Christ Church (1857); Gorton Castle (1904); Rashtrapati Niwas (1888), the former viceroy's home; Gaiety Theatre (1887); and Kipling's “Scandal Corner” all contribute to a British atmosphere. Leaders of the Indian National Congress (INC; founded 1885) and the independence movement, such as Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), regularly visited Shimla, and it was the site of the 1945 conference called by the viceroy, Lord Archibald Wavell (1883-1950; viceroy 1943-1947), that tried to reach an agreement between Indian leaders and the British on India's future status and independence.
Dharamsala (Dharamshala), meaning “religious abode,” is the headquarters of the Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh. The town gets its name because of an ancient Shiva temple of Bhagsunag nearby. The town has a population of approximately 19,000 and is divided into two separate parts: a lower level at 3,600 feet altitude and McLeod Gang (Upper Dharamsala) at about 6,000 feet. In 1849, after the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-1849), the area was annexed and made into a British military garrison called a cantonment. McLeod Gang is named after David McLeod, lieutenant governor of the Punjab at that time. Like Shimla and Dalhousie, Dharamsala became a popular hill station for the British.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (b. 1935), formed the Tibetan government-in-exile in McLeod Gang after fleeing Tibet in 1959, and several thousand Tibetan exiles have built Buddhist temples, monasteries, and schools along with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, which houses over 80,000 manuscripts. It has become known as “Little Llasa” because of its large Tibetan population.
The region is known for its centuries-old Hindu temples and miniature paintings. The Lakshmi Narayan group of six stone temples at Chamba date from the 10th century and are dedicated to the deities Shiva and Vishnu. They are of architectural importance because of their fine condition and because they are excellent examples of the north Indian style of temple construction. They have carved wall sculptures and a tall, sloping carved tower above the main chamber, which houses the image of the deity to whom the temple is dedicated.
Paintings from the region are categorized as pahari, meaning “from the mountains,” and are divided according to the kingdom from which they came. Basholi, Kulu, and Mankot paintings of the late 17th century are noted for their flat, bright colors; faces in profile; and stark backgrounds. The influence of the Mughal court produced more naturalism into the ateliers, especially in Guler and Kangra. The lush forests, flowing rivers, and snow-covered mountains formed the settings for illustrations of the two epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and mythologies of the deities. The atelier of Raja Sansar Chand (1775-1823) of Kangra incorporated architecture and portraiture into court paintings using pale, shaded colors. Pahari paintings are highly collectible and the subject of a large number of books on Indian miniature paintings.
See also Dalai Lama, 14th; Punjab
Himachal Pradesh: The Official Website. Accessed April 25, 2011. http://www.himachal.nic.in.
Himachal Tourism: Unforgettable Himachal. Accessed April 25, 2011. http://http://himachaltour ism.gov.in.
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