The Jagir of Laug [Lag Valley]

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The following historical account unveils the rich tapestry of dynastic intrigue, territorial conquest, and spiritual transformation that defined the rise and fall of Laug or Lag, a minor principality in the Kulu region, amid the ebb and flow of time and power. It bears witness to the enduring legacy of those who shaped the destiny of this captivating land.


I. The Backdrop

Circa AD 1240

In the annals of antiquity, circa AD 1240, the principality of Suket found itself at a crossroads. The Raja of Suket, Mantar Sen, met his fate without a male heir to inherit his mantle. In the ensuing void, a kinsman by the name of Mian Madan was anointed as the new sovereign, ascending to the title of Raja by the decree of state officials.

Under the name Madan Sen, this newly-anointed ruler embarked upon a prosperous and enduring reign that spanned from AD 1240 to 1280. Upon his ascension, the northern boundary of Suket was marked by the meandering course of the Beas River, which served as an indomitable natural divide separating Suket from the neighboring Bangahal/Mangahal state.

In a series of bold military campaigns that carried him northwards across the Beas, Madan Sen exhibited his prowess by first quelling the thakurs and ranas of Drang and Gumma in Bangahal. Subsequently, he ventured into the heart of Kulu, securing dominion over the right bank of the Beas River, encompassing Siunsa, and laying claim to the entire Parvati Valley in Rupi waziri. Keral Pal, the reigning monarch of Kulu at the time, bore witness to the expansion of Suket’s sphere of influence.

Madan Sen further solidified his dominion by appointing Rana Bhosal, a local chief, as his vassal, entrusting him with the governance of the land on the right bank of the Beas River, stretching from Siunsa to Bajaura. A familial connection was cemented through Bhosal’s marriage to a sister of one of Madan Sen’s kinsmen, Rup Chand.

The legacy of Madan Sen’s reign was not confined to territorial conquests alone, for he also commissioned the construction of the imposing ‘Madanpur’ fort in Khokhan kothi, an edifice that left its mark even into the early decades of the twentieth century.

As the sun set on his illustrious reign, Madan Sen chose to relocate Suket’s capital from the confines of Pangna to the more strategic enclave of Lohara.

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Madanpur on a map from 1870s. (Calvert, 1873)
Circa AD 1500

A century later, circa AD 1500, the reins of Suket were held by Raja Parbat Sen, a ruler who extended his suzerainty over a significant swath of territory. The thakurs and ranas of Rupi, Saraj (encompassing Kulu Saraj, Mandi Saraj, as well as the northwest and southwest quarters of Outer Saraj), and the region along the right bank of the Beas River, from Siunsa to Bajaura, all acknowledged their allegiance to Suket. However, the eastern half of Outer Saraj remained under the dominion of the Bashahr state.

The upper reaches of Kulu, extending beyond Siunsa Nala on the right bank and Jagatsukh on the left bank of the Beas River, fell under the jurisdiction of a local Rana named Jhina. It was during this period that a significant shift in the power dynamics of the region began to take shape.

Rana Jhina met his demise through an act of assassination perpetrated by Sidh Singh (r. 1500-32., the Raja of Kulu. Furthermore, Sidh Singh reclaimed dominion over the right bank of the Beas River, extending down to Fozal Nala, from the principality of Suket.

Formation of Laug or Lag

During Raja Parbat Sen’s reign, a curious incident came to pass that would reverberate through the annals of history. A royal priest, the raj-purohit, found himself accused of a liaison with a member of the royal zenana. Shockingly, the Raja meted out punishment without the semblance of proof or due process, casting aside the principles of justice.

In the aftermath of this precipitate and unjust punishment, the raj-purohit, burdened by the ignominy of a crime he did not commit, chose the path of self-immolation. However, the gravest consequences of this miscarriage of justice were yet to unfold.

Soon after these tragic events, Raja Parbat Sen found himself beset by a mysterious ailment, which he attributed to the sin of Brahmahatya, the gravest of transgressions. In a desperate bid to atone for his perceived guilt, the Raja, prior to his untimely demise, bequeathed the region spanning from Fozal Nala to Bajaura as a jagir to the family of the ill-fated raj-purohit. It was a gesture fraught with symbolism, an act of redemption, or perhaps, the establishment of a karmic balance.

This region, granted as a penance for a perceived wrongdoing, bore the appellation “Lag” or “Laug,” a term that carried with it the weight of fault and expiation. Within its boundaries, it encompassed lands that would later be known as vaziri Lag Sari (extending along the right bank of the Beas River between Fozal nala and Sarvari river) and vaziri Lag Maharaja (encompassing the right bank of the Beas River from Sarvari river to Bajaura).

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II. Bahadur Singh and the declining power of Suket in Saraj and Kulu

Annexation of Rupi

The mantle of leadership subsequently passed to Bahadur Singhr (r. 1532-59), who assumed the throne of Kulu. Under his aegis, the principality underwent a transformation of profound significance.

The thakurs of Rupi, embittered by the haughty demeanor of Suket’s Raja, Arjun Sen (r. 1540–60), found refuge and solace in Bahadur Singh’s court. After enduring dishonor at the hands of Arjun Sen, several of these thakurs pledged their loyalty to Bahadur Singh, catalyzing a chain of events that would reshape the geopolitical landscape.

Assisted by these newfound allies, Bahadur Singh set out on a campaign to subjugate the thakurs of Harkandi, Chung, and Kunawar kothis, thereby extending Kulu’s dominion over a portion of Rupi waziri, nestled in the Parvati valley.

The remaining expanse of Rupi waziri fell under the sway of Hathi, the formidable Thakur of Ladhiyara and the commander-in-chief of Bahadur Singh’s forces. Hathi’s indomitable forces overcame the thakurs of Kot-Kandhi, Bhalan, and Shenshar kothis. Even Hul, the Thakur of Shensher, met his defeat, with treachery from his own kinsmen in Talyara sealing his fate.

The entire waziri of Rupi was thus brought under the aegis of Kulu, a testament to Bahadur Singh’s military prowess and strategic acumen.

Kulu as Makraha

Bahadur Singh, having secured Rupi waziri, embarked on a bold endeavor. He revived the ancient town of Makraha (or Makrasa) in Kothi Kot-Kandhi, erecting a formidable fortress at the site. Makraha, nestled on the left bank of the Beas River near its confluence with Hurla nala, assumed newfound significance.

Curiously, despite the presence of Nagar as the capital of Kulu, Bahadur Singh, and his successors, including Jagat Singh (r. 1637-72), preferred to reside in Makraha. The strategic importance of this location became manifest in the ensuing campaigns for the conquest of Saraj.

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Historical accounts and contemporary records from disparate sources lend credence to the nomenclature of the entire kingdom of Kulu, inclusive of its capital, being referred to as Makraha, Makrasa, or Makarsa. This nomenclatural continuity persisted from the time of Bahadur Singh through the reign of Pritam Singh.

The annals of Tinan (Gundhla) Thakurs in Lahul speaks of Bahadur Singh, Pratap Singh and Parbat Singh residing at Makarsang i.e. Makarsa. Francisco de Azevedo, a Portugese Jesuit missionary, who travelled through Kulu in AD 1631, in the reign of Prithi Singh, called the capital (possibly Nagar) as Magar Sara. Furthermore, some Takri documents at the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba all concerning Raja Pritam Singh (r. 1767–1808) of Kulu mentions the state by name of Makrasa (Makraha). In the Tinan annals the capital of Kulu is first mentioned as Setanpur (Sultanpur) in the reign of Pritam Singh.

Raja Pritam Singh of Kulu, ca. 1780. Pahari Style, Unknown Artist. Source: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Conquest of Saraj and the first invasion of Lag

Bahadur Singh, now ensconced in the fortress of Makraha, turned his gaze toward the fabled realm of Saraj. Dispatching expeditions under the leadership of Thakur Hathi, he achieved a notable conquest, claiming dominion over half of Inner Saraj. Localities such as Shangharh, Banogi, Nohanda, Tung, and Baramgarh, among others, bore witness to Hathi’s triumphant advance.

The temple of Hirma Devi in Dhungri was erected during Bahadur Singh’s reign, underscoring his consolidation of power over Kulu, Rupi, and a significant portion of Inner Saraj.

Temple of Devi Hirma, ca. 1870. Source: Victoria and Albert Museum.

In a pivotal juncture in his reign, Bahadur Singh redirected his attention to Saraj, laying claim to the remaining regions—half of Inner Saraj and northwest Outer Saraj—under Suket’s suzerainty. Collaborating with Sahib Sen, the Raja of Mandi (r. 1554-75/1534-60), Bahadur Singh orchestrated a coordinated expedition in which the former himself claimed the territory that became known as Mandi-Saraj.

Another coordinated campaign culminated in the capture of Madanpur (Khokhan kothi), Pirkot (Bairkot?), and twelve neighboring villages of Laug jagir by Bahadur Singh. The waziris of Sanor and Badar, possibly under the direct authority of Suket, were incorporated into his burgeoning domains by Sahib Sen.

In 1559, Bahadur Singh and his Chamba counterpart consummated a matrimonial alliance. In a copper-plate inscription, it is recorded that Bahadur Singh made a grant of lands at Hat (near Bajaura) on the occasion of marriage of his three daughters with the heir-apparent of Chamba. The grantee was rajguru (spiritual preceptor) of the Chamba Raja who had assisted in arranging the royal marriage. Along with some land in Hat and Shayari, a shop, possibly in the Bajaura fort, was also granted to the rajguru. All this serves as a testament to the territorial jurisdiction of Kulu under Bahadur Singh.

A facsimile of Bahadur Singh’s copper-plate grant (AD 1559). Source: ASI Annual Report, 1903-04.

As the sun set on Suket’s power, it ushered in a period of independence for Laug, which remained under the stewardship of the raj-purohit’s descendants, their newfound sovereignty a testament to the twists and turns of history.

III. The Annexation of Lag by Jagat Singh (about AD 1656-57)

Jagat Singh, following in the footsteps of his forebears, took up residence in the fortress of Makraha, presiding over the destiny of Kulu. Meanwhile, the jagir of Laug, known for its considerable territorial expanse, found itself under the reign of rulers Jog Chand and Sultan Chand, who were concurrently in power.

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Lagwati rulers were able to hold a large territory till Jagat Singh’s reign and their dominion included: Maharaja waziri (probably leaving Bajaura and Khokhan kothis) and all of waziri Sari of Kulu; Kodhsawar (Kothi-Sowar) and all the slopes to the Uhl river from the outer Himalaya, the upper part of which was called Chuhar.

Sultan Chand, a resident of Sultanpur, presided over a fort known as Sarigarh, strategically perched above the settlement. In contrast, Jog Chand made his abode in Dhughilag, with key fortresses in Choja and Goja.

According to one tradition, Sultanpur was founded and named after Sultan Chand.

Upon the demise of Jog Chand, a fateful chapter unfolded under the rule of Jagat Singh and Suraj Sen, the Raja of Mandi (r. 1623–58/1637–64). This marked the invasion of Laug, where Jagat Singh asserted control over fortresses including Sari, Shoja, Goja, Tarapur, Mandalgarh, Raison, and Hurang, all nestled within Kulu’s dominion. Sultan Chand met his end in the tumult of battle, while Jog Chand’s grandson and other kin were seized by Jagat Singh.

Looking northwards from the ruins of Tarapur Garh. (2019 Photo)

From the opposing front, Suraj Sen wrested control over the entire Chuhar region. Laug was thus irrevocably annexed to the realms of Kulu and Mandi. This juncture in history also witnessed the division of Laug into two distinctive districts: Lag-Sari and Lag-Maharaja.

An enduring couplet in the local Kullui dialect continues to commemorate this invasion, echoing the sentiments of the time:

सारी मॉत मेढ़दा राज़ेआ, सारी पाली पतारी;
छोज गोज मेरे राज़ेआ, सारी होली ‘लग’ थम्हारी।

“O King destroy not Sari, It gives thee nothing;
destroy Shoja and Goja, all Lag is thine.”

As Jagat Singh laid claim to the Sari fort, thereby securing control over the Lag-Sari region, an elderly lady from upper Kulu, steeped in wisdom, beseeched him to extend his forces to Shoja and Goja, the remaining fortresses in Dughilag. These strongholds were seen as the last bastions of Lagwati rajas, and the couplet stood as a compelling testament to the indomitable spirit of the people and the pivotal events that shaped their fate.

Dara Shikoh’s Warning

Jog Chand, during his rule, had sought the protection of the Mughal Empire. In the wake of the annexation of Laug following Jog Chand’s passing, Dara Shikoh, a prominent Mughal prince, issued a farman in AD 1657. This royal decree, dated to that year, called upon Jagat Singh to liberate Jog Chand’s grandson and restore his rights, under the implicit threat of dire repercussions should he fail to comply. However, Jagat Singh seemingly dismissed this ultimatum, possibly owing to his awareness of the looming succession struggles within the Mughal Empire, notably the rivalry between Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb.

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IV. Aftermath

Around AD 1660, Jagat Singh embarked upon a transformative phase, marked by the construction of a palace and a temple dedicated to Raghunath in Sultanpur. This momentous decision heralded a shift in the seat of power, as Sultanpur was anointed the new capital. Makraha, once a bastion of Kulu’s authority, now lay abandoned and in ruins.

Many of the exquisite carved stones of Makraha were used by a British officer to build a bridge over the Beas at Dalasni in the early years of the British Raj. The bridge was later swept away by a flood.

Raja Jagat Singh is said to have resided alternatively at Sultanpur, Nagar and Thawa, a little above Naggar.

In the broader geopolitical context, much of Outer Saraj remained under the sway of Suket and Bashahr. However, the twilight years of Jagat Singh’s rule saw the bold invasion of Outer Saraj, culminating in the acquisition of Naraingarh, Sirigarh, and Himri from Suket.

Worship of Raghunath and Kulu Dussehra

The latter years of Jagat Singh’s reign witnessed a remarkable transformation. According to the tradition, in expiation of a great sin, Jagat Singh is believed to have conveyed his kingdom to God Raghunath, becoming a mere vicegerent of the divine, governing solely in the name of the god.

A couple of copper-plate grants, dated AD 1651 and AD 1656, shows that the worship of Vishnu in the incarnations of Rama and Krishna emerged as the prevailing state religion in Jagat Singh’s reign. This profound shift in spiritual orientation found expression through the construction of temples and the veneration of these divine forms.

In a momentous development, Jagat Singh is credited with inaugurating the grand Dussehra festival in Kulu, marking its inception around AD 1661. This cultural celebration, entwined with the worship of Raghunath, would come to be synonymous with the identity of the region.

Rath of Raghunathji, Kulu Dussehra, early 1910s. Source: Kangra Gazetteer, 1917.

A similar symbolic transfer of authority to a deity had previously occurred in Mandi around AD 1648, when Raja Suraj Sen, bereft of a direct heir, pledged his realm to Madho Rai, an embodiment of Lord Krishna.

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Sources

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1 Response

  1. Tsering says:

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