The town of Chamba, the district headquarter of Chamba district is situated in the western Himalayas between north latitudes 32°10' and 33°13' and east longitudes 75°45' and 77°33'. The town stands on a plateau on the right bank of the Ravi river valley between Dhauladhar and Zanskar ranges south of the inner Himalayas. This town was founded by Raja Sahil Varman when he conquered the lower Rani valley from the petty chiefs called Ranas and Thakurs in the beginning of 10th Century. It seems the original name of the town was Champa as mentioned in Kalhan's Rajtarangani.
In the bansauli or genealogical rolls of the Chamba Rajas a reference occurs of place which was adorned with highly fragrant Champaka trees and guarded by Goddess Champavati or more popularly known as Chameshni. The temple was built by Sahil Varman in the honour of his daughter Champavati who is worshipped as a goddess in Chamba. Champavati temple became the family temple of the ruling family.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Chamba has a number of temples, Palaces and stylised buildings. The striking objects of interest are the old temples which exhibit architectural beauty of design and execution.
LAXMI NARAYAN TEMPLE:
Laxmi Narayana Temple, which is the main temple of Chamba town was built by Sahil Varman in the 10th century AD. The temple has been built in the Shikhara style. The temple consists of Bimana i.e. Shikhara and GarbhGriha with a small antralya. Laxmi Narayana Temple has a mandapa like structure also. The wooden Chhattries, the shell roof, atop the temple were in response to the local climatic conditions as a protection against snowfall.
There are several other temples within the complex. The temple of Radha krishna, Shiva Temple of Chandergupta and Gauri Shankar Temple are among these. The temple of Laxmi Narayana continued to be embellished by the Rajas who succeeded to the throne of Chamba. Raja Balabhadra Verma perched the metallic image of Garuda on a high pillar at the main gate of the temple. Raja Chhatra Singh place gilded pinnacles on the temple tops in 1678 as a reaction against the orders of Aurangzeb to demolish the temple. Later Rajas also added a shrine or two, thus enriching the complex.
This temple is located behind the City Police Post and Treasury building. As mentioned earlier the temple was built by Raja Sahil Varman in memory of his daughter Champavati who is believed to have influenced her father to set-up Chamba at its present location. The temple is in the Shikhara style with elaborate stone carving and the wheel roof. The size of this temple is equivalent to the largest of the Laxmi Narayana Temple.
This ancient temple is believed to be 1000 years old and is dedicated to Devi Vajreshwari-Goddess of lightning. The temple is situated on the northern most corner of the town at the end of Jansali Bazar. No historical record of the temple is available. The temple is built in the Shikhara style with wooden Chhattries and stands on the platform. The Shikhara of the temple is elaborately carved. There are two other minor temples on either side of the main shrine.
SUI MATA TEMPLE:
This temple can be divided into three parts which can physically spread apart. The temple of Sui Mata is on an elevation of Shah Madar Hill. A steep flight of steps comes down to a small pavilion just above the Saho road. From the Saho road the flight of steps continues down to the main town a little to the east of Chauntra Mohalla. At the end of the flight of steps there is another small pavilion with gargoyles with running water. The flight of stone steps to the aqueduct from the Sarota stream was built by Sarda, the Rani of Raja Jeet Singh (1794-1808). According to the legend when Raja Sahil Varman founded the town and made this aqueduct for water supply to the town the water refused to flow. It was ascribed to supernatural causes.
It was prophasised that the spirit of the stream must be propitiated, and the Brahmins, on being consulted replied that the victim must either be the Rani or her son. Another tradition runs that the Raja himself had a dream in which he was directed to offer up his son, where upon the Rani pleaded to be accepted as a substitute. Thus on a appointed day the Rani along with her maidens was buried alive in a grave. The legend goes on to say that when the grave was filled in the water began to flow.
In memory of her devotion a small shrine was erected at that spot and mela called Sui Mata Ka Mela was also appointed to be held annually from 15th of Chait to the first of Baisakh. This fair is attended by women and children who in their best attire sing praises of the Rani and offer homage to the Rani for her singular sacrifice.
CHAMUNDA DEVI TEMPLE:
This temple is located on the spur of the Shah Madar Hill overlooking the town to its south east. The temple stands on a raised platform. The temple has artistic carvings on its lintel, pillars and the ceiling. Behind the main temple is a small shrine of Lord Shiva in the Shikhara style. There is another platform in front of this temple where two very old peepul trees provide shelter to the visitors. From this platform a bird's eye view of most of the land marks in the town including Chaugan, Circuit House, most of the temples and river Ravi can be had. The temple is being looked after by Archaeological Survey of India.
This temple can be approached by road from Chamba (3 kms). It lies on the right hand side of the Chamba-Jhamwar road. School going children and pilgrims prefer to take the flight of steps from Sapri to this temple. There steps were got constructed by Raja Raj Singh (1764-1794 AD). The temple is an ideal picnic spot throughout the year because it has an easy approach and a commanding view.
HARI RAI TEMPLE: This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and dates back to 11th century. It was probably built by Salabahana. This temple lies in the north-west corner of the main Chaugan, which had became the official entrance to the town by the end of 19th C. A steep path leads to the old Shitla bridge, which was constructed in the year 1894. The temple is built in Shikhara style and stands on a stone platform. The Shikhara of the temple is finely carved. This is one of the major old temples, which is away from the old township and the only one near the Chaugan.Much of this temple is hidden behind some unimaginative structures of the British period behind the Gandhi Gate and the Fire Station Building.
The Gandhi Gate was built in the year 1900 to welcome Lord Curzon, Viceroy. It is the only structure that has been coated with saffron colour and stands out because of its prominent colour.The temple enshrines a marvellous bronze image of Lord Vishnu in the form of Chaturmurti. The temple of Hari Rai is believed to be of great antiquity and legend affirms that the Ravi once flowed in a shallow stream across the Chaugan and the temple had to be approached by stepping stones.
The Chaugan is the heart and hub centre of all activities in Chamba. Tradition is silent as to its use as a polo ground and the name is etymologically distinct from Chaugan, the Persian name of Polo, being of Sanskrit origin and meaning 'four-sided'. Initially the five Chaugan were a single patch of meadow. In 1890s the leveling of the Chaugan was done.
It became a public promenade and Cricket ground for the British. Annual Minjar Mela is held in the Chaugan. Local people can be seen promenading in the Chaugan till late night. Gaddies with their deras can also be seen camping on the outskirts of this beautiful public promenade.
Because of great pressure on Chaugan the quality of its turf is fast deteriorating. Chaugan is closed for public after Dusshera till April for maintenance.
AKHAND CHANDI PALACE: Construction of this residential building of the Chamba family was started by Raja Umed Singh sometimes between 1748-1764 AD. The place was rebuilt and renovated during the reign of Raja Sham Singh with the help of British engineers. The Darbar Hall (Marshal Hall) was built in 1879 by Capt. Marshal and the Zanana Mehal was added in the reign of Raja Bhuri Singh. The subsequent additions and alterations clearly betray the Mughal and the British influence. In 1958 the Palace building was sold by the descendants of the royal family to the Himachal Government.
The latter handed it over to the Education Department for the purpose of starting a Government College and District Library. The beautiful structure of the palace with its painted walls and glass work, ceiling, intricate woodwork are fast deteriorating, since sufficient funds are not available for the maintenance of this monument. The palace has a commanding view of the Chaugan, Laxmi Narayana Temple, Sui Mata, Chamunda Devi Temple, Rang Mehal, Hari Rai Temple and Bansi Gopal Temple.
One of the largest monuments, Rang Mahal is located in Surara Mohalla. The foundation of Rang Mahal was laid by Raja Umed Sing (1748-1764). The super structure of RangMahal, which is in brick belongs to a later date with its southern portion built around 1860 by Raj Sri Singh. The architecture of Rang Mahal is an amalgam of Mughal and British styles. This palace was the residence for a branch of the ruling family. Its fort like looks justify its use as royal granary and treasury which is on its western side.
Once the palace must have hummed with activity of busy servant and the frolics of the royal blood but now under the aegis of Handicrafts Department of the State Government, most of the rooms of this palace are being used as work-shops for making shoes, chapples and rumals. A number of decorative and colorful wall painting have been removed and taken to National Museum of Delhi. Some of the wall paintings and richly painted doors of the palace can be seen preserved in the Bhuri Singh Museum of Chamba.
BHURI SINGH MUSEUM:
Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba opened formally on 14-09-1908, it is named after Raja Bhuri Singh who ruled Chamba from 1904 to 1919. Bhuri Singh donated his family collection of paintings to the museum. The idea to open a public museum came from J. Ph. Vogel, an eminent Indologist who was serving A.S.I. and who through an intensive exploration had discovered, read and analyzed old inscriptions dispersed far and wide in the territory of Chamba state. These inscriptions mostly in Sarda script shed important light on the mediaeval history of Chamba. The prasastis of Sarahan, Devi-ri-kothi and mul Kihar are now preserved in the museum.
Paintings of Bhagwat Purana and Ramayana in peculiar style are inspired by Basohli idiom of painting whereas Krishna, Sudama, Rukmini vivah and Usha-Anirudh and portraits in prime Guler-Kangra style were executed by the artists who were patronized by the Chamba rulers. The embroidered Chamba-Rumals are related in style since their drawings were made by pahari painters though the embroidery was done by the household ladies.Besides these major items of collections, there are coins, hill jewelry and costumes- both traditional and royal, arms and armour, musical instruments and various decorative objects.
The old museum building which merged well with the landscape of Chamba was pulled down and the present concrete monolith was inaugurated in 1975. The museum remains open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM throughout the year except on Monday and other gazetted holidays.
Minjar is the most popular fair of Chamba which is attended by a large number of people from every nook and corner of the district. This mela is held on the second Sunday of the Shravana month. The fair is announced by distribution of Minjar which is a silk tassel worn on some parts of the dress by men and women alike. This tassel symbolises the shoots of paddy and maize which make their appearance around this time of the year. The week long fair begins when the Minjar flag is hoisted in historical Chowgan.
The town of Chamba wears a colourful look with every person turning out in best attire. Most part of the Chowgan is converted into markets and people do brisk business during this week. Sports and cultural programmes are organised. On the third Sunday the gaiety, colourfulness and enthusiasm reaches its crescendo when the colourful Minjar procession of the deities accompanied by dancing troupes, traditionally attired locals, traditional drum beaters along with Police and Home Guards band, begins its march from Akhand Chandi Palace for the venue near the Police Lines Nalhora. A great concourse of people is already assembled there. Earlier the Raja and now the chief guest throws a coconut, a rupee, a seasonal fruit and a Minjar tied in a red piece of cloth - Lohan - as offering to the river. This is followed by all the people throwing their Minjars into the river.
Traditional Kumjari-Malhar is sung by the local artists. Betal leaves and ittra are offered to everyone among the invitees as a gesture of respect and festivity. Untill 1943, a live buffalo used to be pushed into the river to propitiate it. It if was carried away and drowned, the event was regarded as propitious, the sacrifice having been accepted. If it crossed the river and reached the other bank, that also was auspicious as it was believed that all the sins of the town were transferred to the other side of the river.Minjar fair has been declared as one of the state fairs of Himachal Pradesh. Wide coverage is given on TV and print media. Undoubtedly Chamba is at its very best during this fair that generally falls in the month of July/ August.
Twenty kms from Chamba is the village of Saho on the right bank of Sal river. The village is situated on a high plateau of great beauty. Saho is famous for its temple dedicated to Lord Chandra Shekhra i.e. the moon-crowned God, Shiva. The temple is hidden behind the locality in a tree grove. Two magnificent images of Shiva can be seen at the entrance and a huge Shivaling is enshrined in the sanctum. Facing the temple is a life size Nandi bull carved with fine details.According to Sarahan Prasasti, "The temple was constructed by Stayaki, a local Rana in order to establish friendship between his wife Somprabha and the daughter Parvati".
It is believed that the temple belongs to a period earlier than transfer of seat of power from Bharmour to Chamba in 10th century. In the month of August/ September a mela is held in the compound of the temple. This mela coincides with Manimahesh Yatra.During summer Saho wears a golden mantle of wheat crop and in August/September the fields are lush green with paddy crop. The spring water of Saho is supposed to have medicinal value. There is a Forest Rest House at Saho.
65 kms from Chamba is the land of legendary Gaddies, i.e. Bharmaur. Known as Brahmpur in the 6th century, was the seat of power of Chamba state for some 400 years till AD 920, when a new capital was founded at Chamba by Raja Sahil Varman. Bharmaur is known for some very old archaeological remains, primarily the temples. All these temples stand on a level area which call the Chaurasi after the 84 Siddhas who are believed to have meditated in Bharmaur over 1000 years ago. These Siddhas hailed from Kurukshetra and visited Manimahesh.The oldest temples in the complex are those of Lakshna Devi and Ganesh. Both these temples are made in the hill style with gable roofs and rubble masonry. The outer facade, the inner facade of sanctum, circum ambulatory path and the ceiling are exquisitely carved. The idol of Lakshna Devi in her incarnation as Mahisasurmardini is magnificent.The tallest temple in the whole complex is of Manimahesh built in Shikhara style of architecture.
The temple has a Shivalingam on a raised platform. The other temple in Shikhara style is of Nar Singh. Lord Vishnu in his avtar as Nar Singh has been cast vividly. There is a bronze Nandi of life size which stands facing the Manimahesh temple. Inscriptions on the pedestal of the bull and on the idols of Lakshna Devi and Ganesh date back to the reign of Raja Meru Varman. These idols are believed to be the work of master craftsman Gugga. There is a small water source called Ardh Ganda in a corner of the temple complex. Bathing in its water is considered religiously significant. The country around Bharmour is regarded as belonging to Shiva and is sometimes called Shiv-Bhumi. Being the home of nomadic shepherds Gaddies it is also called Gadderan.Just 4 kms above Chaurasi temples is the hill temple of Bharmani Devi. A trek to this temple refreshes the visitors as it unfolds the green woods before him.The best period to visit Bharmour is between July and September.
45 kms from Chamba via road is this famous village of Chhartrari. The village is inhabited mostly by the Gaddies who are semi-postral lot engaged in rearing of sheep and goats. This village, situated at a height of 6000 feet, its famous for its remarkable hill-style temple of Shamti Devi.The temple of Chhatrari is regarded as one of the holiest ones competing with well known temples of "Lakshna Devi" at Bharmour and of "Bhawani" at Kangra. The construction of the temple is simple. It consists of a small Cell or sanctuary in which one of the rare brasses by the master craftsman Gugga is enshrined. The walls of the temple are built of rubble masonry alternating with beams of wood. The structure is surmounted by a sloping roof of slate. The roof is supported by richly craved wooden posts which form a VARANDAH or circumambulatory path round the sanctum. The Shakti Devi temple is of interest owning to the elaborate decoration of its facade, ceiling and pillar. The sanctum, its architecture and sculpture betray a conscious effort on part of its builder to introduce a highly refined post Gupta art in this remote part of Chamba.The main idol in the temple is that Shakti. This fine brass statue, 4 feet 6 inches tall shows Shakti holding in her hands a lance (Power, energy) and a lotus (life), a bell (aether, space) and a snake (death and time). Besides this main idol there are almost thirty other small figurines of tutelary deities like Annapurna. Some of these are believed to have been brought from far South or the State of Orrisa.
According to the inscription at Chhatrari the temple was built by Raja Meru Varman, by whose order the inscription was engraved alongwith the names of his father, grand father and great grand father as well as that of the sculptor. This epigraph commemorates Meru Varman's victory over his rivals with the help of the Devi.The outer walls of the sanctum are covered with frescoes which are of recent origin and represent scenes from PURANAS.Near the Shakti Devi Temple is the temple of Gauri Shankra. The stone image of Gauri Shankra is of later origin. The work can be attributed to the 10th century AD which indicates a long period of sculptural activity in the region.A few minutes walk up the mountain slopes from the main village is the Charauta temple which houses a stone image of BHATOD NAG who gives water to the people in return for one black and four white goats every three years.There are two interesting legends connected with the village. Villagers had to fetch water from a nearby village call Makain. Once, a Chela of a siddha while carrying water fell prey to bears. The Siddha invoked the deity to solve the water problem. Inspired by the Devi he made 36 marks with his trident at different places in the village and water gushed out from the points where the marks had been made. There are 36 water sources in the village around which beautiful PANIHARS (Fountain slabs) can be seen.
According to J. Hutchison the village was named Chhatrari at a later date when Raja Bala Bhadra (1589-1611) made a grant of 36 LARHIS to the temple following an accidental death of a cow at the hands of the Raja. One larhi is equal to three acres of land and such Lahris are today known as Chhatrari.In the month of September a mela is held on the third day after the mela at the Mani-Mahesh lake whence a man brings a Lota of water with which the idol of Shakti is bathed. On this day a number of sheep are slain to appease the goddess and to invoke her blessings. After the prayer the gaddies in their traditional costumes dance to the tune of local music.The village is approached either from Gehra from where a bridle path leads to Chhatrari or from Luna-Ka-Pul from where a steep trace is to be ascended to reach the village or by the motorable road, experiencing a scary ride almost 700 to 900 feet above the river Ravi as one nears the village. The ascent on foot is most rewarding as the visitors are welcomed by lush green fields and orchards at the outskirts of Chhatrari. Chhatrari looks most scenic during September and October. Even on other occasions, particularly in spring, Chhatrari offers pleasant scenery.
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