Jammu and Kashmir: An Overview

Brief history of Kashmir -from 250 BC to 1947 AD

Jammu and Kashmir map
Jammu and Kashmir explainer series

The historical and geographical description of Jammu and Kashmir, as it exists today, is difficult to make due to divisions in the territory. The historical State is divided by a Line of Control leaving vast areas under control of Pakistan and China. The remainder of the State, as it was 1947 onwards, was further divided into two Union Territories in August 2019.

What is known as Jammu and Kashmir, has in several historical documents been referred to as only ‘Kashmir’. Much of the historical precedence also revolves around Kashmir. However, in the present day geo-political entity, Kashmir is a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state. The territory of Jammu and Kashmir state that came into being in 1846 now stands divided between India, Pakistan and China which has further been explained in the sections on ‘Politics’ and ‘Conflict’ on this site.

Situated in the laps of Himalayas and currently in the eye of political storms, Kashmir is arguably the most beautiful place in the world.  Kashmir is perhaps the only region of India to have a historical record of its distant past. Kashmir has also the distinction of producing historians of repute. Chief among them is Kalhan, the author of Rajatarangini. Bilhana was another Sanskrit historian who was born in Kashmir.

In 600 BC, in a Buddhist chronicle called Aguttar Nikaya the 16 regions India’s landmass were described as Kashi, Kaushal, Anga, Magadha, Vajji, Mallas, Vatsa, Chedi, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Suarsena, Awanti, Assaka, Gandhara and Kamboja. Of these 16 regions,

Kamboja encompassed the present north-west Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir. The capital of this region was initially called Raja’s Raj Avar. But with the passage of time the name kept on changing to Raj Puri to Raj Varj to Raj Vara to Raj Vare to Raj Avar to Rajour and at last to the present-day Rajouri.

In the ancient political chronicle Arthasastra , circa 300 BC, Acharya Vishnu Gupt, better known as Chanakya or Kautilya, has described this region as befitting the rule of a chakravarti emperor (mighty ruler).It says India as a whole is a single nation in which all the regions from the Himalayas to the oceans are worthy of being ruled by a single emperor.

Similarly, in the Mahabharata the rivers of India including those flowing through Jammu and Kashmir have been described. The rivers from which Indians have been drinking water have been enlisted. In this the Indus, Chandra Bhaga (Chenab), Sutlej and Vipasha (Vyas) rivers have been enumerated which flow through the present State of Jammu and Kashmir. Besides the waterways and rivers the various provinces and regions that have been described also mention Kashmir.

Buddhist and Hindus:  250 BC to 1339 AD

Kashmir was included in the empire of Ashoka Maurya who is credited with the foundation of the city of Srinagar around the year 250 BC. The Kushans succeeded the Mauryas who ruled over the entire north-west India and Central Asia. Around this phase of history, Kashmir saw the spread of Buddhism and during the period of influence of Kanishka, the third Buddhist council took place in Kashmir which has been attested by the seventh century Chinese traveler Huen Tsang.

But Hinduism continued to hold its wave in the region. It was in seventh century AD Durlabhavarrdhana laid the foundation stone of dynasty that was to be known as Karkota dynasty. The builder of sun temple now known as Martand temple in Kashmir – Lalitaditya Muktapid was the most famous ruler of this dynasty. Under the Karkota dynasty Kashmir is believed to have reeled under political and economic disorder. In 855 AD the Utpala dynasty replaced the Karkotas. The most important and influential ruler of Utpala dynasty, Avanti-Verman brought Kashmir out of the political and economic crisis. Suyya, a 9th century minister of king Awanti Verman, had built many irrigation projects. He had become so popular that the present town of Sopore, once called Suyyapur, was built in his memory. Awantipora was christened after the 9th century king, Awanti Verman (855-83), who had constructed numerous temples there.

Shahmirs and Other Kings: 1339-1586

With his chief queen Kota Rani as de facto ruler, Udyan Dev is reported to be the last Hindu ruler of Kashmir. A shrewd and able ruler, Kota Rani died in 1339 leading to the end of Hindu rule and paving way for establishment of Muslim rule in Kashmir. It was this time which saw the emergence of Shahmiri Sultan Ala-ud-Din Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413). Thereafter Zain-ul-Abideen (1420-70 AD) ruled Kashmir till its accession to the Mughal king, Akbar, in 1587. It was in the middle of his regime that Islam became the prevailing religion in Kashmir. The celebrated Sufi saint Mir Sayed Ali Hamdani, customarily known as Bain-i-Islami and Sayed Sharf-ud-Din Bulbul played a significant part in spreading Islam in Kashmir. Zain-ul-Abideen  was a liberal monarch. . Described by historians as a glorious period, it was under Sultan Zain-ul-Abdin’s rule that Kashmir saw cultural and political revolution taking the emancipation to its peak. When Bud Shah died in 1470 the dynasty of the Shah Mirs began to decline. In the years to come, the fame of Kashmir attracted the Mughals but they failed in their early attempts to dominate the valley. In the reign of Babur’s son, humayun, Mirza Haider Dughlat, a cousin of Babur’s mother, finally succeeded in conquering Kashmir in 1540. In 1555, Ghazi Chak became king of Kashmir, which brought to an end the 200-year-old dynasty of the Shah Mirs. For several hundred years Kashmir has been regarded as a highest seat of learning. Shaivite philosophers like Abhinav Gupt and Vasugupt propounded a new theory on Shaivism. Sanskrit scholars like Panini and Patanjali lived in Kashmir. It captivated scholars from all over India and abroad. Students from Afghanistan and Central Asia came to Kashmir for studying mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.

Mughals: 1586-1752

In 1586/1587 AD Kashmir became a part of the mighty Mughal empire. The conquest of Kashmir my Mughals marked the beginning of Kashmir’s modern history with Akbar as proclaimed Emperor. His son Jahangir, who had great love for the Valley and credited with the creation of more than 700 gardens in Kashmir ascended to throne in 1605.  in 1627, he was succeeded by his son Shah Jehan. Aurangzeb, who came to the throne in 1658, was the last of the Mughal Emperors to make any impact on Kashmir’s history. It was under the reign of Aurangzeb that earned a bad name for the Mughal dynasty in Kashmir. The dignity of administration was severely jolted under his rule leading to the decline of Mughal rule in Kashmir. It was around this time that following the complaints of Kashmir Pandits before the contemporary Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, that intervention of Sikh rulers was noticed in Kashmir.  Nadir Shah’s invasion of the seat of Mughal power at Delhi in 1738 had weakened their imperial hold on Kashmir still further.

Afghans: 1752-1819

In 1752 when Ahmad Shah Abdali was returning home in Afghanistan after ravishing Delhi, he was invited by some Kashmiris to save them from the persecution of the local rulers. In 1757 Kashmir came under the control of Ahmed Shah Durrani, the Afghan who invaded India many times. In 1762, in alliance with the Dogra Rajput ruler, Raja Ranjit Dev of Jammu, the Afghans attached Kashmir. When the Afghan leader, Ahmed Shah Durrani, died in 1772, Jawan Sher the Afghan ruler of Kashmir, set himself up as an independent ruler. The Afghan reign lasted for a little over fifty years, but the period is generally remembered as one of the darkest of Kashmir history. Towards the end of this period. Through the assistance of the Sikhs and Ranjit Singh – a ruler in nominal alliance, the Afghan rule was overthrown.

Sikhs: 1819-1846

In 1819 Kashmir was annexed by Ranjit Singh and made a part of his Sikh empire. In the wake of the decline of the Afghan empire in northern Indian region, Ranjit Singh had shown himself both able and willing to fill the vacuum. In 1834, Ranjit Singh sent Colonel Mian Singh Kumedan, from Gujranwala as governor. Considered to be the best of all the Sikh governors, he attempted to bring the valley out of the economic chaos resulting from the 1833 famine. Ranjit Singh never visited the valley of Kashmir. Gulab Singh Dogra of Jammu was one of his most loyal Generals. In 1820 he gave him the title of Raja with some authority to raise his own force which marked the beginning of Dogra dynasty. When Ranjit Singh died, Gulab Singh had been his protégé for thirty years; aged forty-seven, he was well-placed to control events not only in the heart of the Sikh empire in Lahore but also in Kashmir. Until the death of Ranjit Singh, the East India Company had maintained cordial relations with the Sikhs; they in turn did not wish to upset the British. After his death, the relationship soon fell apart. The Anglo-Sikh war of 1846 marked an end of Sikh rule on Kashmir.

In 1819, the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh seized control of Kashmir, and the number of Hindus and Sikhs in the area increased. Ranjit Singh, the dominant Sikh ruler, awarded Jammu to Gulab Singh, one of his top generals, in 1837. Gulab Singh, the founder of the Dorga dynasty, soon added territory–Ladakh and Baltistan in 1837 and Gilit and Kashmir in 1846–to his kingdom. Gulab gained control of Kashmir after siding with the British against his fellow Sikhs. He agreed to follow pro-British policies and paid 1,000,000 British pounds for the territory.

Four members of the Dorga family ruled as Maharajas of Kashmir from 1837 until the territory was merged into India in 1949. The Maharajas had two capitals–Jammu in the winter, and Srinagar in the summer–in their territory.

Dogras: 1846-1947

On 16 March, 1846 Kashmir and all the mountainous region east of the river Indus and west of the river Ravi which had been ceded to the British government by the Sikhs by the way of indemnity was made over to the Maharaja “Gulab Singh Dogra and the male heirs of his body” in exchange for three-quarters of a million pounds sterling paid down, and an annual tribute of one horse, twelve goats and six pairs of shawls. Between 1846 – 1947 known as the Dogra period, the state of Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh, Baltistan and Gilgit were ruled by the Maharajas of the Dogra dynasty. Maharaja Gulab Singh, extended the boundaries to western Tibet with the help of General Zorawar Singh, who has been referred to by British Historians as the ‘Napoleon of India’. Dogra rule extended beyond the Jammu Region and the Kashmir Valley to the Tibetan Buddhist Kingdom of Ladakh and the Emirates of Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar. The successors of Dogra dynasty after Gulab Singh including Ranbir Singh (1858), Partap Singh (1885) and Hari Singh (1925). The latter was the last ruler of the dynasty until partition of the Sub Continent in 1947.


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