History of Kumaon

“If we do not remember our past, we jeopardise our future”

`traditional folk saying.

Ancient History of Kumaon

Lakhyu Udyar rock shelter, Almora
Lakhyu Udyar rock shelter, Almora

Mythology suggests that ‘Kumaon’ is derived from Kurmanchal,  the land (anchal) of the Kurma avatar of Lord Vishnu, which gives the history of Kumaon a context predating recorded history. Archaeological evidence supports the existence of humans in the region since prehistoric times.The insciptions at  Lakhu Udyar rock shelter near Almora are evidence of stone age settlements dating back to the Mesolithic period or middle stone age. Mesolithic is the transitional phase from the Paleolithic period when man was a hunter, to the Neolithic period when primitive agriculture and livestock breeding was introduced. During this time, with receding glaciers, warmer climate, more forest cover, the flora and fauna gradually acquired the character that we know today.

It is believed that the earliest settlers in the region were the Kols, who occupied the area after being ousted from the southern part of the country by Dravidians. The Khasas of Indo-Aryan origin also lived here. Kunindas are believed to have ruled over north India, including Kumaon, from the 5th century BC. However, historical records of the Kunindas exist only from 2nd century BC. They find mention in the Puranas and Mahabharata. They practised an early form of Shaivism.

Ashokan edicts at Kalsi show an early presence of Buddhism in this region. During the medieval period, the region was consolidated under the Katyuri rulers of Kumaon and known as Kurmanchal. After the fall of Katyuris, the region was divided into the Kumaon Kingdom and the Garhwal Kingdom. In 1816, most of the area of modern Uttarakhand was ceded to the British as part of the Treaty of Sugauli. Although the erstwhile hill kingdoms of Garhwal and Kumaon have been traditional rivals, the nature of influences: ethnicity, geography, economy, culture, language and traditions forged bonds that were hard to ignore, between the two regions.

Surya Mandir, Katarmal

Katyuri Kings of Kumaon

The Katyuri dynasty was an offshoot of the Kunindas and was founded by Vashudev Katyuri. Originally hailing from Joshimath, they expanded their domain from the Katyur valley, known now as Baijnath valley in Bageshwar district, then called Kartikeyapura, where they established their capital. Between 7th and 11th centuries AD, they had spread to Kanchanpur District of Nepal where the Brahmadev mandir was established by Katyuri king Brahma Deo. At their peak, the Katyuri kingdom extended from Nepal in the east to Kabul, Afghanistan in the west, before fragmenting into numerous principalities by the 12th century. Architectural remains of the Katyur dynasty rule can be found in Baijnath and Dwarahat.

The Rajbar dynasty of Askot in Pithoragarh, was established in 1279 AD, by a branch of the Katyuri Kings, headed by Abhay Pal Deo, who was the grandson of Katyuri king, Brahma Deo. The dynasty ruled the region till it became part of the British Raj through the treaty of Sighauli in 1816.

The history of Kumaon is as much recorded through the temple architecture here, as it is by the folktales and ancient unique practices maintained through centuries of time. The Katyuri reign was marked by the building of many temples in the Kumaon region and they were among the first to use hew stones for construction. The Surya temple of Katarmal near Almora was built by them, as were several of the temples in Jageshwar Dham.

After their decline, the kingdom disintegrated into eight princely states, namely Baijnath Katyuri, Dwarahat and Doti (in Nepal), and Baramandal, Askot, Sira, Sora and Sui (Kali Kumaon). 


History of Kumaon & the Chand Dynasty

The Chand Dynasty was established by Raja Som Chand, who came in the 10th century from Kannauj, near Allahabad. The capital of Kumaon was shifted to Almora by Raja Kalyan Chand. In 1581, Raja Rudra Chand (1565 ACE – 1591 ACE ) defeated his maternal uncle, Raika Hari Mall of Sira. The Chand kings attacked the Garhwal region many times but their attacks were repulsed successfully each time. One of most powerful ruler of the Chand dynasty was Baz Bahadur (1638–78) AD, who met Shahjahan in Delhi. In 1655 he joined forces with him to attack Garhwal, which was under its king, Pirthi Sah, and subsequently captured the Terai region including Dehradun.  Baz Bahadur extended his territory east to the river Karnali. In 1672, Baz Bahadur, started a poll tax, and its revenue was sent to Delhi as a tribute. Baz Bahadur also built the Golu Devata Temple, at Ghorakhal, near Bhimtal, after Lord Golu, a general in his army, who died valiantly at war . He also built famous Bhimeshwara Mahadev Temple at Bhimtal.

Towards the end of 17th century, the Chand Rajas again attacked the Garhwal kingdom. In 1688, Udyot Chand, erected several temples at Almora, including Tripura 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. 

History of Kumaon-Surya Vanshi emblem
Surya Vanshi emblem

Time of Flux

The Garhwali king, Lalit Shah, and his son, Parduman Shah, are also known to have ruled Kumaon for a short period, till 1790, with the arrival of Prithvi Narayan, a Gurkha king from Nepal. The Gurkha rule lasted twenty-four years and ended when 4000 Kumaoni troops under Harak Deo Joshi, minister of the last Chand ruler, along with British troops, defeated them.

During this period, the Rohillas and Mughal intervention in the region started. Except for a seven month period, when the Rohillas controlled Almora, no Mughal or Rohilla leader succeeded in invading the Kumaon region. Later on, there was reconciliation between Chand rulers and Rohillas.  King Deep Chand fought side-by-side with Rohillas at the third battle of Panipat.

History of Kumaon: British Raj to current times

On 4th March 1816, the Kumaon and Garhwal region formally became a part of British India.

It was governed for seventy years on the non-regulation system by three administrators, Mr. Traill, Mr J. H. Batten and Sir Henry Ramsay.

There was widespread opposition against British rule in various parts of Kumaon. The Kumaonis, especially Champawat District, rose in rebellion against the British during the First War of Independence in 1857, under the leadership of Kalu Singh Mahara. In 1891, the division was composed of the three districts of Kumaon, Garhwal and the Tarai. At the time, the two districts of Kumaon and the Tarai were subsequently redistributed and renamed after their headquarters, Nainital and Almora.

History of Kumaon: Chand Samrat emblem
Chand Samrat Kumaon, emblem

The history of Kumaon is linked to the Indian Struggle for Independence. Gandhiji was revered here, and on his call the struggle of Saalam Salia Satyagraha led by Ram Singh Dhoni was started, which dislodged British rule in Kumaon. Many people lost their lives in the Saalam Satyagraha. Many Kumaonis also joined the Azad Hind Fauj led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Prior to Independence in 1947, Kumaonis actively participated in various movements against British rule.

Kumaonis have been famous for their valour and courage. The Kumaonis were never fully subjugated by the powerful Muslim dynasties of Delhi. Their valour was given recognition by the British and they were recruited in the British Army. The 3rd Gorkha Rifles, among others who recruited from Kumaon, included Kumaonis as well as Garhwalis and Gorkhas. The Kumaon Regiment, established at Ranikhet in 1917, is one of the most decorated regiments of the Indian Army. 

Uttarakhand, which consists of Kumaon and Garhwal, was carved out of the state of Uttar Pradesh and given the status of an independent state on 9th November, 2000, at the time called Uttaranchal. There are numerous reasons for the separation of Uttarakhand from Uttar Pradesh. The initial demand for separate statehood was in 1897, followed by a long period of struggle and sacrifice. Gradually because of the differences in beliefs, traditions, culture and lifestyle of the people of the hills, as compared to the plains of Uttar Pradesh, the demand for statehood gained momentum.  The culture of the differnt states of the Himalayan regions are more in consonance with each other. The identity, ethnicity and language of the Pahadis are different from that of Uttar Pradesh which shared more in common with Bihar. By 1994, this demand gained mass appeal and in 2000 the state of Uttarakhand became the 17th state of India.

The state was renamed on 1st January 2007. The name Uttarakhand is derived from uttara (उत्तर) meaning ‘north’, and khaṇḍa (खण्ड) meaning ‘landmass’. The name finds mention in early Hindu scriptures when referring to the combined region of Kedarkhand or present day Garhwal, and Manaskhand or what is currently Kumaon. Uttarakhand was the ancient Puranic name for the central Indian Himalayas, and was called Devabhoomi because those who lived in the backyard of the higher Himalayas had the good fortune to witness the lilas of the devatas, if their vision was unadulterated by an individualised sense of self.

We encourage you to engage with Save Kumaon

%d bloggers like this: