Glimpses of History: Ruins of Kotaha

Kotaha Fort: Kotaha or Garhi-Kotaha, 20 miles north of  Umballa, was the seat of power under the Rule of the Mirs that started with the coming of Hakim General Qasim-ul-Khan in early 17th century. The Mirs ruled the Hills of Morni and the ilaqa of Kotaha and Naraingarh from their formidable fort at Kotaha.  Major William Lloyd  and  Captain Alexander Gerard marched by the fort in July 1821 and described it as ‘the large well built fort of Mahummad Jaffeer, a mile from Raeepoor’ in their ‘Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass in the Himalaya Mountains’.  The fort stood upon an elevated spot with a commanding view of the country around. It was octagonal with each side somewhat more than 100 feet in length and with round towers or bastions at the angles. The fort wall enclosed an area of around 50000 Square Feet – a little over 1 acre.

Layout plan of Kotaha Fort at the time of demolition

Layout plan of Kotaha Fort at the time of demolition

The fort had a formidable reputation and was reputedly the third strongest in Punjab. Runjeet Singh is said to have come down himself with an army to take it but after marching round it, he had gone back intimidated by the defences.

Maharaja Runjeet Singh (2)

The walls of the fort were from 26 to 30 feet high, and consisted of an outer facing of boulder masonry, in lime mortar, 6 feet thick at the bottom and 2 1/2 to 4 feet at top; then an earthern rampart about 10 feet thick and 12 feet high, then another masonry wall about 3 feet thick, then a row of mantled casemates about 16 feet wide, making a total thickness from outside to inside of about 35 feet at bottom. The towers were about 22 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. Above the earthern rampart was a line of barracks and store rooms, about 13 feet deep, and their flat roofs formed a platform for musketry, protected by a parapet 3 to 4 feet high. The details were, however, in no two places exactly alike.The gateway was furnished with flanking defences. Upon entering the fort, the two faces to the left were occupied by rows of barracks and storerooms. To the left front were the public rooms and palace of the Meer, arcaded buildings surrounding a courtyard and having an underground series of vaults supported by thick pillars. Upon the face opposite the gateway were offices and servants’ houses; to the right front three faces were occupied by the zenana and a small mosque, and immediately to the right of the entrance was the guard room etc. A small postern gate lead out from the casemates and was the secret entrance to the fort, the door being artfully concealed on the outside by bushes etc. The postern gate was connected with the interior of the zenana. There was an underground dungeon beneath the vaults with its entrance in the passage leading to the postern serving as its sole opening.

The fort finds mention in numerous British sources including the Gazetteers. It was intially damaged under the orders of the British Deputy Commissioner of Ambala, T D Forsyth in 1857 when the Mir of Kotaha Akbar-ul-Khan came under suspicion of sympathizing with the mutineers. The fort was later completely destroyed in 1864 under the orders of the Governor General. A blow by blow account of the destruction of the fort has been given by R.G. Elwes, Executive Engineer in his 1868 paper-‘Demolition of Fort Kotaha’. The destruction was entrusted to him in September 1864 after earlier attempts by the Tehsildar had failed. An open barrel of gunpowder had been exploded under the gateway with virtually no impact. The engineer took two months to destroy the massive fort, bit by bit, with the use of explosives and mines.Deep shafts were dug into the ramparts and bastions to facilitate the destruction.  The Meer had encamped opposite the fort of his ancestors as it was ruthlessly and systematically pulled down by the British engineer. The locals are said to have watched the destruction with awe and astonishment as their indomitable fort disappeared before their eyes under the impact of high explosives. Earlier, in 1857, the outer defences of the fort had been destroyed by the British and the debris had filled up the protective ditch around the fort.

 

Demolition of Fort Kotaha Bastion 2

Effect of Mines in No. 6 Bastion, Kotaha Fort

The police station building inside the fort was spared and its ruins are still visible today on the mound at the entry to the village Garhi-Kotaha on the Raipur Rani-Naraingarh road. The police station was shifted to the new building at Raipur Rani in 1914 and the police station still functions from this 100 year old building.

The other fort of the Mirs in the foothills of Morni at Masumpur, about five kilometres from Kotaha, also lies in ruins. A small rectangular platform, a tehkhana and a few cells is all that remains of the fort.

Ruins of Qila Kotaha

17th Century Masjid: An old masjid that is said to have been located inside the Qila was also spared by the British. A stone inscription on the entry reads as follows: ” 786- Yeh masjid darsaal tak hazareesh sadro panchad do isvih 1652 tamir shud Hakim General Qasim Khan, bayainh Garhi-Kotaha, Zila Ambala“. Thus, the masjid seems to have been constructed in 1652 AD in the time of Hakim Qasim Khan. The Jama Masjid of Delhi was completed in 1658 AD.

17th Century Masjid at Garhi Kotaha

Masjid Inscription

 

Royal Cemetry: Across the road behind the shrine of the ‘Peer Baba’ lies the modest ‘Royal Cemetry’ of the Mirs. The main structure enshrines the graves of the Mir Jafar Ali Khan who was granted the Morni Hills and the Kotaha ilaqa in 1816 by the British, his successor Mir Akbar-ul-Khan who incurred the wrath of the British power in the mutiny years and died in exile and one Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid. The tombstone inscriptions read as follows:

Raja Mir Jafar-ul-Khan Awalh, Rais Garhi Kotaha Morni Hills, 1785-1830 AD

Raja Mir Akbar-ul-Khan Awalh, Garhi-Kotaha aur Morni Hills 1830-1864 AD

Tapkah Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid 1849 padr Bakar-ul-Khan Doyam

The cemetry is overgrown with weeds though the main gateway is reasonably well preserved.

Gateway to Royal Cemetry

Cemetry of the Mirs

Jafar-ul-Khan I 1785-1830

Jafar-ul-Khan I 1785-1830

Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid 1849

Akbar-ul-Khan I 1830-1864

 

 Kothi Gulabi Bagh: A much more contempory structure is the ‘Kothi Gulabi Bagh’, the residence of the later Mirs. The brightly coloured lake-side mansion has today lost most of its splendour. The lake is reduced to a pond and the ‘estate’ is all but gone with most of the surrounding land bearing ugly brick encroachments. The kothi itself is in a state of disrepair and is overgrown with weeds. While parts of the outer structures have collapsed, yet the principal structure with high, decorated ceilings, still stands strong.  The ‘Gulabs’ (roses) defy the all pervasive gloom and are a reminder of the faded glory under the Mirs.

 

Kothi Gulabi Bagh, Garhi Kotaha

Kothi Gulabi Bagh, The Lost Splendour

Kothi Gulabi Bagh lost to weeds

 

Source:

  1. Professional Papers on Indian Engineering- Thomason Civil Engineering College, Roorkee, Volume 5 (1868)
  2. Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass in the Himalaya Mountains (1840); Author: William Lloyd  and  Alexander Gerard

 

People and Customs of Morni

19th century hillmen of higher Himalyas

There are interesting accounts about the nature, character and customs of the hill people of Morni in the 19th and early 20th century British Gazetteers, books and newspapers. Some of these accounts are reproduced for the readers:

‘The Morni cultivators: The cultivators in the Morni hills are chiefly Gujars,  Kanets and Brahmans in the lower hills and Kanets,  Kolis and Brahmans in the upper ranges of the tract. The kanets and kolis are essentials residents of the hills, the former claiming an impure Rajput origin while the latter are menials and artisans rather than members of an agricultural caste. The Gujjars differ little from their brethren in the plains, but the whole Morni population are a simple, orderly class mixing as little as possible with the residents of the plains, and seldom coming into contact with the authorities of the district.

Houses and domestic life: In the Khadir tracts, and generally near the hills, the villages are for the greater part, composed of thatched huts their walls, made from the sandy soil, not being able to bear the weight of a heavy roof. In many parts the cottage roofs are overgrown with gourds, whose large green leaves and bright flowers of white or yellow present a very picturesque appearance. In the Morni hill tract the people are often comfortably housed in substantial cottages with good stone walls. In the remainder of the district, the walls of the houses (kothas) are of mud, or clods of dry earth, taken out of the tanks when they are dried up, or from the dried up and cracked rice fields. The roof of the kotha is also of mud; the beams which support it, and which are principally made of sal wood, rest partly on the mud walls and partly on upright beams about six feet high. Across these lie smaller beams, and over these grass: lastly, upon the grass about three inches of earth is laid, come of the houses possess a chimney, or rather a hole in the roof, to let the smoke escape.’

Gazetteer of the Ambala District, 1892-93

 

‘The hill portion of Ambala district covers an area of about 100 square miles, and contains a population of about 6000. . . The people are very industrious, simple race. Polyandry exists in some of the remote villages.  They are almost entirely Hindus much attached to their homes, and they seldom visit the plains. The rights to their holdings are held most sacred, the owner may be absent for a hundred years but he will be held in remembrance, and should his desendants return at any time, they can occupy the old possessions without question or remonstrance.’

The Land of Five Rivers and Sindh, 1883. Author: David Ross

 

Area of the hill tract,97 square miles. Population (1868) 5660, or 58 per square mile.The people are a simple race, seldom visiting the plains, and clinging to their proprietary rights with the usual tenacity of hillmen. Kanets, Bhats, Gujars, and Kolis form the principal castes.Hinduism is the almost universal religion.Polyandry, frequent in the neighbouring hill tribes, does not occur.No roads exist passable even by a pony, and the villages are mere clusters of huts. Nevertheless, cultivation has spread over most of the available hill-sides, and irrigation from the Ghaggar or from drainage fertilizes every possible field. The inhabitants are extremely industious and take great pains in cultivating their terraced slopes.
The Imperial Gazetteer of India.Vol.8, 1886 W. W. HUNTER

 

Human Sacrifice in Nahan Hills (1937)

The people of Sirmur and Mornee ilaqa were generally known to be simple, orderly hill folk living a frugal but self-satisfied life, in harmony with each other and nature. Yet, there existed a darker side to these people who lived lives of isolation, with little exposure to modern education, science and rational thought. Superstitions flourished in such a scenario with belief in the existence of evil spirits and omens and an unquestioned faith in black magic and remedies offered by the village shaman for countering the influence of the evil eye. Animal sacrifices were a part of accepted rituals to appease the gods and even human sacrifices were not unknown. One such sordid instance was reported as late as September, 1937. A young man of a neighbouring village was decoyed by the Headman of the Gunpur village in Nahan area and was thereafter kept in chains in a locked room for three days without food or water. The hapless victim was then paraded through the village street in chains with the accompaniment of drum beats. The victim’s forehead was smeared with vermillion and ashes and a garland was put around his neck and his head was chopped-off at the sacrificial altar in the village temple as the on-lookers sang devotional songs. This macabre episode took place at the behest of the village priest who advised a human sacrifice to appease the rain god to end a distressing period of drought. The police discovered the head at the foot of the temple deity. The young victim’s wife committed suicide in the police station when she learnt of the terrible deed. A swift trial followed and the village headman was sentenced to transportation for life, his three accomplices were sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment and the village priest who officiated the morbid ceremony was awarded 10 years imprisonment.

References:

  1. The Horsham Times, Victoria, Friday 13th May 1938
  2. The Sydney Morning Herald, New South Wales, Wednesday 15th September 1937
  3. The Daily News, Perth, Tuesday 14th September 1937

 

David Ross in his description of Kotaha and Morni in ‘The Land of Five Rivers and Sindh’ (1883) describes a peculiar contraption used by the hill women in Kotaha for keeping their children cool. The extract is given here.

Curious Treatment of Children:- In the hilly tracts a very curious custom prevails among the natives, which is graphically described by Mr. P.S. Melvil, C.S.I., in his settlement report for that district. He remarks: “Could the English hydropathists see these hills, they would adduce an argument for the propriety of their treatment in the method used with your children. Passing along the hill-sides, one occasionally sees a number of little cascades, one above the other, the water at the mouth of each passing along a narrow bamboo duct, and then falling some 1½ to 2 feet. These have been arranged by the village women, who every day in the hot and cold weather, take their young children, during the sunny hours, and put them to sleep under the cascades. A pillow is made of dried grass, and the head is so placed, that the stream of water shall fall on the region of the brain.  The mothers sit watching their children all the time.  In the cold season, the time devoted to this penance is shorter; but in the hot weather, the operation is commenced at about ten o’clock in the morning and continues till evening.  It is said that children not subjected to this treatment generally die.  The benefits derived are steady bowels, healthy eyes, free action of the throat, and a less inclination to small-pox.  There can be no doubt of the efficacy of the system, for otherwise the people would not go to such excessive trouble.  There seems to be some great heat in the constitution of these hill people, which needs an antidote, or else their natures are incapable of bearing the heat of the climate.”

 


					

Glimpses of History: Secret Letters during Gurkha War 1814-1816

Interesting insights are offered by a reading of the ‘Secret Letters’ that formed a part of the ‘Papers regarding the Administration of the Marquiz of Hastings in India’ that were tabled at a General Court of the ‘United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies’ on 3rd March 1824.

Marquess of Hastings (1813-23)

A secret letter by Mr. Rutherford dated 27 Dec 1814 describes in detail the information gathered about the strength of the defences at Morni Fort that was under Gurkha occupation. A similar letter by Captain Hearsey similarly desribes the vulnerability of the hill forts, including the Morni Fort. A secret letter from Lord Moira dated 1st June 1815 describes the ‘Agreement entered into between Kajee Ummer Sing Thapa and Major-General Ochterlony, on 15th May 1815. Morni Fort and all forts between Jamuna and Satluj, that were under Gurkha occupation were to be evacuated and be handed over to the British. The letters are reproduced below:

Secret Letter from Capt. Hearsey, 27 Dec. 1814:“Mornee,   Tucks-aul, and all the hill-forts, are built on the summits of the hills:   they are built of slabs of stone without any cement, and are not above thirty   paces square, above twelve feet high, and the stockade which surrounds them   is easily destroyed.  These forts, in   general, have no springs or tanks of water within them, but the garrison is   obliged to fetch it from some distance below.    By cutting off this necessary article of life the goorkas got   possession of them.  I presume, a shell   from a four and a half inch howitzer would cause the immediate evacuation of   them.  They can easily be approached by   infantry under cover to within less than musket-shot.  The garrison, which seldom exceeds one   hundred and fifty men, are ill-supplied with stores or ammunition.”
Secret Letter from Mr. Rutherfurd, 27 Dec. 1814The following notices of Forts, &c. have been lately obtained from   Individuals employed by me to procure information:  Forts of Dhornee and Mornee- The   first of these is stated to be about four coss from Nahun to the south-west,   in the first range of hills, but seven months ago was in ruins. The latter is   in good repair and occupied. Its gateway is to the east. Its walls are of   stone and rise about fifteen feet high to the east, north, and west; but to   the south it is raised to a considerable height, in order to form apartments   for the accommodation of the Rajah of Sirmoor, who used to reside here, and   after his expulsion from Nahun defended himself in it for some time.  It is provided with one gun. Water is   brought from a spring about a coss off, and kept in a reservoir.  There are two roads to it from the plains,   which wind round to the right and left, and advance along the hills on a   level with the fort.”
Secret   Letter from Lord Moira, 1 June 1815 

‘Agreement   entered into between Kajee Ummer Sing Thappa and Major-General Ochterlony, on   the 15th May, 1815

            In consideration of the high rank and   character of Kajee Ummer Sing Thappa, and of the skill, bravery, and fidelity   with which he has defended the country committed to his charge, it is agreed   :

1.         That   Kajee Ummer Sing Thappa, with the   troops now in Raujgurh, shall   march out and retain their arms and accoutrements, the colours of their   respective corps, two guns and all private property, which shall be duly   respected and preserved, and every attention and delicacy observed in respect   to the zenana of the Kajee, and every person under his authority.

2.         In   consideration, also of the gallant conduct of Kajee Runjore SingThappa, it is agreed that he shall likewise   march out of the fort of Jeytuck   with two hundred men, who are to retain their arms, colours and one gun, with   the Bharadars (chief officers) and their followers, about three hundred more   in number, unarmed, with his own and their private property, which shall be   respected, and the sanctity of the Zenana preserved.

3.         Kajee   Ummer Sing Thappa and Kajee Runjore Sing Thappa, with their property and   followers, are at liberty to proceed by the route of Thaneisur, Hurdwar, and   Nujeebabad, to join the troops eastward of the river Sarjoo, or by whichever   route they determine to proceed to that destination.  Conveyance shall be provided for the   transportation of their property to the confines of the Nepaul  territory.

4.         Kajee   Ummer Sing Thappa and Kajee Runjore Sing Thappa, shall be at liberty to meet   wherever they please.

5.         All   the troops, in the service of Nepaul, with the exception of those granted to   the personal honour of the Kajees, Ummer Sing and Ranjore Sing, will be at liberty   to enter into the service of the British Government, if it is agreeable to   themselves and the British Government choose to accept their services, and   those who are not employed will be maintained on a specific allowance by the   British Government, till peace is concluded between the two States.

6.         Kajee   Ummer Sing Thappa, on his part, agrees to leave the fort of Malown, whenever bearers and other conveyance are   prepared for his private property.

7.         Kajee   Ummer Sing Thappa also agrees to send immediate orders for the evacuation and   delivery, to persons properly authorized, of the forts of Bhylee (Irkee), Subbatoo, Mornee, Jeytuck, Juggutgurh, Rowsheen,   and all other forts and fortresses now held by the Nepaul troops between the   Jumna and Sutleje rivers.  The   garrisons of all which forts, strong holds &e. shall enjoy their private   property unmolested, and the arms and warlike stores in each shall be left in   deposit, for the future decision of the Right Honourable the   Governor-General; with exception to such among them as are related to Kajee   Ummer Sing Thappa by kindred, about eighty-three men, who shall be at liberty   to retain their arms and accoutrements.

8.       Kajee Ummer Sing Thappa also agrees to send immediate orders to Kajee Bukhtour Sing   for the evacuation of the territory of Ghurwall, to deliver over the forts, &c, in that district to the officers of the British Government, and to   proceed to Nepaul by the Kamaon route, with their garrisons, all public and   property including warlike stores, accompanied by a Chuprassie with a pass,   on the part of the British Government.

 

Separate Article – Kajee Ummer Sing Thappa wishes it  to be understood, that he shall give immediate orders for the instant surrender of the distant forts, in the hope that it may lead to an early renewal of the relations of amity which have subsisted between the two states for these sixty years, and by the advice of Bum Sah and the Baradars of Kamaon.’

 

 

Glimpses of History: Rajah’s encounter with Col. Gillespie 1807

‘A Memoir of Major-General R. R. Gillespie (1816)’ by Major William Thorn has an interesting account of the encounter of Lt. Col. R. R. Gillespie with the Rajah of Morni in 1807. Col.Gillespie rose to fame with his daring cavalry charge at the head of the Light Dragoons in July 1806 from Arcot to Vellore to crush a revolt by the native troops against East India Company.In 1807 the Light Dragoons left for England, but Col. Gillespie stayed in India and was transferred to the 8th Royal Irish Regiment stationed at Cawnpore. The incident occurred when Col Gillespie had gone for tiger hunting with the Adjutant-General and the Military Secretary to Mornee. Mornee was a popular hunting ground. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the Afghan invader,  is said to have camped at Pinjore for tiger hunting at Mornee in 1765. The party was encamped amongst sylvan surroundings of Mornee for the shoot, unaware that Gillespie’s services were being coveted for higher game than tiger. The local Rajah, being at enmity with the Sikhs, had need of a military commander of merit. At this time India was filled with military adventurers ready to sell their services to the highest bidder. Whether the Rajah of Mornee mistook Gillespie for one of these men or whether he had heard of his reputation, is not known. He approached Gillespie with the offer of the command. Gillespie of course refused. The Rajah was furious and surrounded Gillespie’s camp with troops and threatened to use force. Little did he know the man with whom he was dealing. Gillespie, sitting in his tent, the flap open wide, sent out an order for the leader of the armed forces to appear before him.The leader arrived and stands before him. Gillespie stared at the hill man for a full minute or more. Under the solemn survey of those brown eyes of Gillespie, the left eye large and compelling, the right eye threatening from a slight droop in the upper lid – the hill man’s glance wavered. Nervously the toes of the bare feet wriggled on the matting floor of the tent. Finally Gillespie spoke. Pulling out his watch and setting it on the camp table before him, he said, “Go tell the Rajah, your master, that if in half an hour he does not recall his men from around my tents, I shall take his fort and expel him from the country.” The sublime assurance – indeed the whole episode – was considered typical of Gillespie. At most, his party, including cooks, servants and coolies, cannot have exceeded thirty men. Not only was the ultimatum obeyed, but an escort of honour was provided to conduct Gillespie’s party through the Rajah’s territory. Gillespie returned to the Royal Irish at Cawnpore.Gillespie’s scorn for danger and wreckless disregard for the odds finally led to his death 7 years later. Major General Gillespie died leading his troops on 31st Oct 1814 in an impossible attempt to capture the Kalunga Fort during the Gurkha wars.

Major General Gillespie recounted the encounter with the Raja of Mornee in his letter to a friend in October 1814 days before his fatal charge to take the Kalunga Fort from the Gorkhas. He wrote, “You recollect Mornee, where the Rajah wanted us to command his people.  That very spot where he encamped is close to where a detachment must enter the mountains for the purpose of attacking Nahan.  The recollection of my friend will render this spot dear to me, and bring past scenes in glowing colours to my imagination.” 

 ‘A Memoir of Major General Sir R R Gillespie’ (1816) by William Thorn and ‘The Bravest Soldier, Sir Rollo Gillespie, 1766-1814: a historical military sketch’ (1937) by Eric Wakeham recount this famous incident. The extract from the book is reproduced here.

The Nineteenth Light Dragoons being ordered to Europe, Mr. now Lieutenant Colonel Gillespie, on the 16th April, 1807, exchanged into the Eighth or Royal Irish Light   Dragoons ; soon after which he was appointed to command the cavalry in Bengal, against the Seiks.  On the   breaking up of the camp at Ludheana, he went to Hurdwar,* in order to enjoy the favourite Indian recreation of tiger-hunting.  On this occasion we are again presented with Colonel Gillespie engaged in one of those striking adventures which appear to have marked his life :-

While they were encamped for this   purpose, at a place called Mornee, in the Kemaoon mountains, the Rajah of   those parts, who was then at war with his neighbours, the Seiks, offered the command of his troops to Colonel Gillespie, which was of course refused, as   our government was at that time in a state of amity with the Seiks.  But the Rajah being unwilling to lose the   advantage which fortune seemed to have thrown in his way, of gaining a   European leader for his army, in an attack he was about to make, conceived   that he should gain by menace what was denied to his entreaty.  With this view, he ordered the small camp of the English gentlemen to be surrounded by large body of armed men : upon which, the Colonel, whose presence of mind never forsook him in an emergency, and whose courage was not to be daunted by threats or numbers, called the   chief of the party before him, and pulling out his watch, said to him, “Tell the Rajah, your master, that if in half an hour he does not recall his men   from around my tents, and leave the road open to me and my company, I shall take his fort from him, and expel him the country.”  The determined manner with which this was   spoken completely awed and astonished the chief, who reported the message so   faithfully, and with such a description of the firmness of the Colonel, that   the Rajah not only withdrew his forces, thus leaving the passage free, but voluntarily gave the Europeans an honourable escort to attend them out of his   territory.  When this instance of heroism occurred, it was little to be apprehended that among these very mountains, and probably upon this very spot, the Colonel should six years afterwards terminate his glorious and eventful career.Sir Robert Rollo Gillespie, K.C.B.

Glimpses of History: Letters of Gouree Sah, Commander of Morni, 1815

During the Gurkha invasion of the Hill States, Morni fort was taken by Gouree Sah,  a  Chhetri-Rajput, a hill tribe from Pyuthan in South West Nepal.Pyuthan was one of the 24 small kingdoms in the Chaubisi Rajya confederation in the vicinity of the Gandaki river. Gorkha was also one of the Chaubisi Kingdoms, 60 KM west of Kathmandu and in 1742 the young and ambitious Rajput, Prithvi Narayan Shah, became its King. He took control of the Chaubisi States and then expanded eastwards towards Kathmandu valley. He had unified most of modern Nepal by the time of his death in 1775. Gouree Sah, a descendant of the erstwhile royal  family of Pyuthan, was one of the loyal commanders of Bada ‘Qaji’ (General) Amar Sing Thapa and his son Qaji Runjore Sing Thapa and a firm believer of the Gurkha Empire.  Amar Sing Thapa was a relative of the all powerful Prime Minister of Nepal, Bhim Sen Thapa and was nearly 70 years at the time of the conflict with the British in 1815.

Amar Sing Thapa

Lal Sahee, nephew of Gouree Sah had defected to Major-General Ochterlony. He was made ‘Subah’ (a native commissioned rank higher than the non-commissioned Subhedar) in the Ist Nasiri Battalion of Gurkhas, Garhwali and Kumaoni hillmen raised by Ochterlony and was made incharge of a company of 128 men. Kishna Oopurettee soubhadar was another Gurkha defector to Ochterlony’s camp. There were large scale defections of Gorkha ‘sirdars’ and troops following the protracted sieges at Jytock and Malaun by the British.

Gouree Sah was holed up inside the Mornee fort in 1815 when the British struggled to oust the Gurkhas from Jaitak Fort after seizing Nahan.

Gurkha warriors

The Mornee fort was under siege by a party led by Mohun Singh, a zamindar of Kotaha in early 1815. This is apparent from a letter dated 7th March, 1815 addressed to William Fraser, Esquire, (the Political Agent at Delhi) by J Adam, Secretary to Government, the relevant portion of which reads as follows:-

“The Governor General observes that the district of Mornee is enumerated by you among those heretofore composing the Rajah of Sirmore and his Lordship conceives that it has been included through some inadvertence. You are aware that this district was formerly subject to a Mussulman family, at present represented by Jaffar who has raised an useful body of irregulars serving with Major General Ochterlony. In the original arrangements contemplated by the Governor General, the restoration of Meer Jaffer to his paternal possessions was included provided he should act to the extent of his means in support of our cause. It appears that he has, fulfilled this condition, and it is the intention of His Lordshp, that Meer Jaffer should be put in possession of the lands of his forefathers, when the General settlement of the country shall be effected. The Governor General hopes, that no obstacle to this arrangement will arise from any hope which you may have held out to Mohun Singh the principal Zimindar of Kootaha who is engaged in the siege of Mornee, the Governor General will be happy to learn what hopes may have been held out to Mohun Singh by you, and to authorise an arrangement in his favour which may satisfy his just expectations without interfering with the prior claims of Meer Jaffar.”

The siege party would probably have comprised only irregular troops (some 5000 irregular troops were raised by the British as part of their war efforts against Gurkhas) as the British were unwilling to commit regular troops to Mornee and were trying to influence Gouree Sah to surrender the fort by asking Lal Sah and Kishna Ooperettee to write to him and persuade him to surrender. Gouree Sah’s steadfast loyalty and will to fight to the last is reflected in his replies to Lal Sah and Kishna and his letters to Runjore Sing that were intercepted by the British. Gouree Sah pleads with Runjore Sing not to lose heart and even suggests ‘tantra’ to decimate the British. He predicts the victory of the Gurkhas and advises Runjore Sing to pray to Bhim, the mighty Pandav.The letters of Gauree Sah have been reproduced in James Baillie Fraser’s account of the Gurkha War in the ‘Journal of a Tour through part of Snowy Range of the Himala Mountains’ (1820). The letters are reproduced here.

Intercepted Letters of Ghoorka Officers

            The fort of Mornee, situated some miles from Blackhill, being occupied by a Ghoorka force, it was desirable to get possession of it; but it was not deemed worth the expense of men that an assault would have cost, and therefore a  negotiation was set on foot to gain it. It was commanded by Gowree Sah, a brave, faithful old soldier, to whom Kishen Oopulee Soubahdar, who had deserted to us from the enemy, as well as   Lall Sahee and some others, were desired to write, sounding him as to the likelihood of being brought to give up the place.  The following correspondence took place with Gowree Sah: it will be found exhibiting a fine picture of steady calm fidelity. The whole is translated almost verbatim.

 

Letter of Gowree Sah to Kishna Oopurettee, dated Chyt, 5th day, Burwar

           ” Your note has been received and understood: to what you write about the fort I reply; I have eaten their salt, and if the debt of salt be not discharged, a man is lost hereafter.  I was born of a Rajapoot woman, and carried in her arms.  There is not any great good in long life.  You write I have received only 2500 rupees, and now am in the fort for so small a debt. Money is nothing.  I have eaten the salt, and drink the water of the Ghoorkas.  If I return this I shall be happy when I die.  What need is there of writing more?  You are yourself wise, and understand what it is I wish to express.”

A second letter was sent, which produced   this answer.

Letter from the same to the same, 8th Chyte

            “You ask a   reply to the letter you have sent.  I   have replied once, which is as good as a hundred times.  I have said and still say, until Rajgurh   and Jytock fall, I will answer you with powder and ball.  I have plenty of it.”

Letter from Gowree Sah to Lal Sahee his nephew, and Kishna Oopurettee’s father, both  in Colonel Ochterlony’s camp ; dated 6th Chyte.

            “What you write, that I am a rajah’s son whose family has been destroyed by the Ghoorkhas, and that it did not become   me to hold out in the fort, is answered ; that I am the son of a rajpoot.  I have eaten their salt, and will not disgrace my family’s name nor my own name.”

“If you suppose you will find me alive you are mistaken ; you may find my corpse.  I am born of a rajpoot : I am as such prepared to die, and thereby attain a happy regeneration.”

 

                             Letter from Gowree Sah to Dhunnee Ram, of the same date.

“Lal Sahee sent you here, and has caused you much trouble.  What I first wrote to Lal Sah, I wished  merely to know whether he had or had not gone over ; now I know he has, and has also disgraced his house and ancestry.

“This I will not do.  If I survive, I shall be fortunate ; if I am slain, my state will be happy. Until Jytock and Rajghur fall, do not talk to me of surrender ; I have eaten of Ghoorkha’s salt, and have ammunition and all manner of supplies.”

Translation of a letter from Runjore Sing Thappa, Commander in Jytock, to Gouree Sah ;   written the 10th Chyte, or 4th April. (Intercepted.)

            “Your letter   is received and understood; you write that “others are ungrateful, dastardly,   and treacherous.  I will support the Peeoothana* name, and prove true.”  In such times  when you write so, I am highly gratified. By the favour of God, when this danger is past, you shall receive all honours, dress, drums, and colours, and be promoted, and the other officers   under you equally rewarded.  Kishna  Ooperettee Soubahdar is gone to deceive and turn you aside ; call him to you   by any means or method, and shoot him.    By so doing you will greatly please me.  Uzumba Punt Qazee did not choose a happy hour, nor consulted properly.  He   fought and lost an action, even he is taken prisoner, but we are from that   more confident and not dispirited.  We   will cut to pieces and drive away our foes.  Be on all points at rest and confident.  I send you four rupees, the present for the ensuing festival.”

*   The meaning of this name is unknown. 

Letter from Sheamul Soobahdar, his cousin, to Gouree Sah, Commander of Mornee, 4th   April, 10th Chyte.

            “What you   write, that Lal Sah is a traitor, and has disgraced all the rajpoots, is true: you desire me to speak to Runjore to prevent the wives and families of  Dumbear Sahee, Ureemur, Dan Sahee, and Purtab Sahee, being seized, when the wife and family of Lal Sahee is put in confinement.  The Qazee recollects this, and will pay   attention, but he says the criminals alone shall suffer.  Lal Sahee is a traitor and ungrateful, and   has sent his ancestors from heaven to hell. He has lost his name and cast. The Ghoorkha empire is not to be overthrown.  Be strong in your position and faithful to your trust; recollect your name and ancestry.”

These letters being intercepted, and a fabricated one from Runjore put into the   cover, the following answer was received from Gouree Sah, dated 21st Chyte.

            “Your letter   has been received, stating that the enemy had approached the fort on the side   of Rynka; that Punt Qazee did not consult, and went hastily to fight ; that   the battle was lost and himself taken prisoner ; Captain Bulbhudder severely   wounded, and many jummadars and soldiers killed ; that the enemy had   surrounded the fort on all sides, and that the garrison were starving for   want of food.  To this I reply, the two   kingly powers are at war.  You have   conquered in ten or twelve battles, and are renowned.  The enemy have gained one action; what of   that?  Do not be alarmed at having lost   so many men, and being so completely surrounded.  If you live and stand at present, you will   gain a thousand battles more.  If you   feel want of confidence and despair in Jytock, the Ghoorkhas will be slain,   scattered about as they are.  If you   stand out in Jytock, reinforcements will come from the east, and all united   drive away the English if they were a thousand nations. I have consulted the   shasters: until the 15th day of Bysak you will be greatly distressed;   afterwards your fortune will turn.  Do   this; form an iron sheet and make upon it the picture of Bheem-Sing, and the   hoonooman of the moon and the sun; put it, upon a Sunday, into the eastern   tower of the fort : by this fortune will turn.  (Bheem-Sing is one of the pandooan of the Hindoos, a very sacred character).

“Find out the name of the commander of the British army, write it upon a piece of paper, take it, and some rice, and turmerick, say the great incantation three   times ; having said it, send for some plum-tree wood and therewith burn it.  For fighting and defence dig a ditch and fight in it.  As for this fort, so long as we have water, and its four towers stand, we stand in it ; when they are thrown down, we must leave it. I have grain for a period to the 15th or 20th of Bysack.  I sent two * soldiers with a letter to you;  send them back. What is become of the army which was coming from the east?  Call it quickly.”

 

                                                     *   They were taken.

The Gurkhas and the British were caught in a vicious stalemate in April 1815 when Gowree Sah vowed to hold on to Mornee till Jytock was held by the Gurkhas. Qaji Amar Singh Thapa, the Nepali General was holed up in Malaun fort besieged by the troops of General Ochterlony.  Malaun was referred to as Rajgurh in Hindur (Nalagarh). Amar Singh’s gallant commander Bhakti Thapa had died on the battlefield on 16th April 1815 at Deonthal trying to break Ochterlony’s stranglehold.  His two wives committed Sati on his funeral pyre.

Bhakti Thapa

Amar Singh’s son Qaji Runjore Singh Thapa held the Jaitak fort north of Nahan. Runjore had routed the British troops under Major-General Martindell and foiled their attempts to dislodge him. His brave commander, Qaji Ujumber Punt was however taken prisoner in a major set back in end March 1815, when Major Richards overran a Gorkha post on the eastern ridge near Jaitak fort. Punt Qaji had earlier defeated an army of 3000 irregulars under Lieutenant Young with his 200 valiant Gorkhas. Almora fort that was held by the Gurkha commander Bam Shah, the brother of Prithvi Narain Shah, fell on 27th April 1815. The Gurkha hopes of relief from the East were now gone. Amar Singh Thapa struck an agreement with Major-General Ochterlony on 15th May 1815 and the Gurkhas surrendered Malaun, Jaitak, Mornee and other forts held by them in return for a safe passage for the Gurkha Generals and their personal troops and families. Amar Sing Thapa crossed over to Nepal with his son Runjore and 450 of their personal troops unmolested by the British. Bam Shah was likewise allowed to cross over honourably to Nepal after the fall of Almora. Gouree Sah, probably handed over the Mornee fort as a consequence of this agreement. 4500 of Amar Sing Thapa’s Gorkha, Garhwali and Kumaoni troops joined the British army in the Nasiri and Sirmoor Battalions. Amar Sing Thapa on his return to Nepal after the surrender became a recluse and confined himself to a temple built earlier by him. He died in August, 1816. He is recognized as one of the greatest generals of military history.

Early 19th Century Gurkha Warrior

References:

  1. Narrative of a five years residence at Nepaul Volume I; Captain Thomas Smith (1852)
  2. A Special Corps; A.P. Coleman (1999)
  3. Military Sketches of the Goorka War in India; For R. Hunter (1822)

History of Morni

The 14 ‘BHOJS’ of Thakur Rajputs: The Morni Hills were originally held by Rajput Thakurs who had divided the territory into 14 small estates. Each of these estates was called a ‘BHOJ’ and included several hamlets or ‘DHANIS’. The sub-division thus effected persists to this day and each bhoj retains much the same boundaries as it did in the old Rajput times. The Morni hills formed a part of the Kotaha pargana with the Rajput kings of Sirmur as the over lords. The hold of the Sirmur Rajas over Kotaha was occasionally threatened by assertion of independence by the Thakurs of Morni/ Kotaha.  After one such episode, the Raja of Sirmur requisitioned the help of his Rajput allies from Hindustan. Kotaha was subdued and was placed under Pratap Chand, the son-in-law of the Raja of Sirmur. Partap Chand’s  family held Kotaha for 11 generations.

The Legend of ‘Morni’: When Raja Bakht (Bhagat?) Prakash (1583-1605) ascended the throne of Sirmur, he demanded the hand of Suwati, the daughter of Man Chand (Dup Chand/ Dip Chand according to some sources), the Thakur chief of Kotaha/ Mornee. The Thakur chief refused the admission of subjection to the Raja and Sirmur troops attacked Man Chand’s Mornee to tame the rebellious chieftan. Man Chand gathered the support of the 22 khels (clans) of the Kanet Rajputs of Kotaha Paragana but was forced to flee to Delhi with his family. Man Chand then became a Muhammadan and assumed the name of Moman Murad. He married his daughter to Prince Jahangir at Delhi. The marriage took place sometime before 1605 when Jahangir became the Emperor. He also forced his son to convert to Islam. Jahangir then despatched the imperial physician, Hakim Qasim Khan as his Political Agent alongwith troops in aid of Moman Murad. Raja Moman Murad then reconquered Kotaha upto Bursinghdeo range.  ‘Morni’ was a hill named after the wife of Raja Moman Murad. Raja Moman Murad’s son Fil Murad had no issue and Hakim Qasim Khan became the ruler of the Kotaha. He was declared Mir of Kotaha by the Mughal Emperor. With Qasim Khan began the long line of Sayyid Mirs of Kotaha and his descendants wrangled with the Rajas of Sirmur (and the Sikhs as well as the Gurkhas) to retain control of the pargana.

Such confrontations seem to have been quite common. As per another legend Raja Mahi Prakash of Sirmur (sometime around mid-17th century) demanded the daughter of Rup Chand of Keonthal. In the battle that ensued, Mahi Prakash was aided by his father-in-law, the Raja of Goler and Rup Chand was defeated at Hath Koti. Rup Chand’s son submitted to the victors and gave his sister in marriage to the Sirmur raja.

R.C. Temple in the ‘Legends of the Punjab’ has translated a bardic account of the battle between Raja Mahi (Malhi) Prakash of Sarmore and Anup Sen, the Raja of Kyonthal. Anup Sen’s daughter Sitala refused to eat or drink at the prospect of being asked to marry the Raja of Sarmore to settle the feud. Raja Mahi Prakash was initially routed at Desu Dhar but won a decisive victory at Ratipani.

Mir-Kasim-Ali-Khan-I

Mirs of Kotaha and the Rajas of Sirmur: Meanwhile, in 1621 Raja Karm Parkash of Sirmur founded Nahan, as the capital. His successor, Mandhata, was called upon in 1654 by a firman of Emperor Shah Jahan to aid the Faujdar of Jammu and Kangra, Iraj Khan to capture Srinagar in Garhwal. Khalil-ullah Khan was then made the commander by Emperor Shah Jahan to invade Srinagar which was captured in 1655 with the help of Raja Subhag Singh of Sirmur (the successor of Mandhatta). Raja Subhag Singh received the ilaqa of Kotaha by a firman on 21st March, 1655 in reward for the service of Sirmur. The Sirmur troops then evicted the zamindar of Kotaha (descendants of Qasim Khan?).

The Mirs, however, seem to have again made a comeback as the Kotaha pargana was ‘recaptured’ by Raja Kirat Prakash of Sirmur in 1750. In 1756, when the Chauhans of Amballa led by Fateh Chand sought refuge at Kotaha from Ahmad Shah Durrani’s murderous armies, 7000 Chauhans are said to have been massacred ‘by the imperial forces under the Rai of Kotaha’. Kotaha ilaqa as well as Naraingarh and Bhirog was ruled by Mir Muhammad Bakr in 1760 when Ahmad Shah Abdali’s army crossed the Naraingarh region.

Bakir Ali Khan I, Mir of Kotaha

Bakir Ali Khan I, Mir of Kotaha

The commander of Meer’s forces at Naraingarh, Mirza Singh is said to have fled in the face of  the royal army. Naraingarh was then annexed by the Raja of Patiala and made over to Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. Jassa Singh appointed Mirza Singh as his deputy to govern Naraingarh.  In 1765, Ahmad Shah Abdali while marching to Kunjpura from the Jullunder doab camped at Pinjore and went tiger hunting in the Morni hills that were a popular hunting ground. Thereafter, he moved along the foothills through Kotaha to reach Kunjpura. Mirza Singh once again fled from Naraingarh in the face of Ahmad Shah’s army.

Afghan soldier 19th century

This time Naraingarh fell into the hands of Punjlassa Rajputs and thereafter to Raja of Sirmur. Futteh Singh Ahluwalia, the grand-nephew of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and a famous general of Runjeet Singh’s army, recaptured Naraingur from its rebellious chief after a short but bloody battle at the Naraingurh fort in 1806. The stone fort was surrounded by a deep moat and the Sikhs received a severe setback initially. The garrison defending the fort was massacred by the victorious army.

As per Walter Hamilton (1820) the Sayyid Mirs lost control over Morni sometime around 1775, in all likelihood to the Sirmur kings. Yet, the Mirs held their own against the wave of Sikh conquests and retained their control over Kotaha as feudatories of the Ahluwalias. The jagirdars of the Cis-Sutlej region were referred to as the ‘parleh’ jagirdars and included Mir Jafar Ali of Garhi Kotaha, Mirza Singh of Bhirog, Mian Kushal Singh of Ramgarh and Gopal Singh of Manimajra. Runjeet Singh himself is said to have surveyed the Fort at Kotaha with his troops sometime around 1806 to 1808, but found the Mir’s ‘Garhi’ impregnable.

Gorkha Rule: Kirat Prakash was succeeded by Dharm Prakash who maintained Sirmur’s hold of the pargana. Thereafter, Dharm Prakash’s brother Karm Prakash ascended the throne of Sirmur. Karm Prakash was inexperienced and debauch and his brother Kanwar Ratan Singh seized the throne. Karm Prakash escaped with his family to Kalsi and sought the aid of Kaji Runjore Thapa, the Gurkha chief and promised to acquiesce to the Gurkha seizure of Dehra Dun. The Gurkhas seized the opportunity and invaded Sirmur. Ratan Prakash was expelled and Gurkhas established their own government.

City of Nahun in the 19th century

City of Nahun in the 19th century

Kotaha pargana including Morni declared its independence from Sirmur. Karm Prakash, the real ruler of Sirmur State was left in the lurch. He lived at Subathu under the Ramgarh State for some time and later moved to Buria where he stayed until his death in 1826 AD. At this time Rani Goler, wife of Karm Parkash appealed to the British Commander at Ludhiana, Col. David Ochterlony for assistance to recover the State from the illegal occupation of the Gorkhas.  This appeal coincided with general declaration of war by British Government against the Gorkhas.

Ratan Prakash after his expulsion from Nahan sought refuge at the Morni Fort, where apartments were added at the Southern end of the fort. The ‘Bara (Twelve) Thakurais’of the lower Shimla Hills that had earlier supported  the Gurkha Commander Amar Simha Thapa now sought to rally under Ratan Prakash from the Morni Fort to overthrow the Gorkha rule. Amar Simha Thapa despatched Runjore Sing Thapa and Kunwar Birabhadra to seize the fort. The Gorkhas laid seige to the fort and a fierce battle was fought with use of cannons, muskets, swords, Khukris and Khandas. Birabhadra led the Gurkhas and routed Ratan Prakash who fled the battle leaving the ladies to follow him on foot. The Gorkhas inflicted terrible cruelty on the losing side.

Fight to the Finish

The fort was then entrusted to Gouree Sah, a  Chhetri Rajpoot of the erstwhile royal family of Pyuthan, one of the small kingdoms in the Chaubisi Confederation before the Gorkha King Prithvi Narain Shah unified Nepal.  He was steadfastly loyal to the Gurkha commander Qaji Runjore Sing and a believer of the Gurkha Empire.

Gurkha warrior

He resisted all attempts by Col. David Ochterlony in 1815 to agree to surrender the fort and he swore loyalty to the Gurkhas and expressed his firm resolve to fight to the end.

Restoration of the Sayyid Mirs: The Kotaha  fort was under the control of Mir Jafar Ali Khan I, a descendant of Hakim Qasim Khan, who had successfully resisted the inroads by the Sikhs. On the arrival of the British army in the hills, he joined Sir David Ochterlony with a good body of irregulars.  Ochterlony laid siege to the Gorkha army in Malaun under Bada Qaji Amar Sing Thapa. British troops under Major-General Martindell at Nahn were routed by Qaji Runjore Sing when they tried to dislodge him fro Jaitak Fort, 7 KM north of Nahn. The forts  at Malaun, Jaitak and Mornee were evacuated by the Gurkhas only in pursuance of the agreement between Amar Sing and Ochterlony on 15th May 1815. The British, however, did not reinstate Karm Parkash. The sanad was granted to his son Fateh Parkash and the Goler Rani was appointed as regent during his minority.

Fateh Parkash, Nahan Raja (1815-1850) with his sons; a portrait by Emily Eden in the period  1837 - 1840

The Jaunsar pargana with the forts of Morni, Jagatgarh, Kiardadun were retained by the British under them.

Morni-fort

Kotaha was then bestowed upon Mir Jafir Ali Khan who represented the family of Qasim Khan in consideration of his ancient title and the service during the war against the Gurkhas. The following are the terms of the Sanad presented to the Mir on 26th October 1816, by General Ochterlony on behalf of the Governor General, conferring the Morni tract upon the family :-

“WHEREAS by the Grace of God the whole body of the Gurkhas has been driven out of this country and all the place belonging to this district having been brought under the British Power, the old places of the many ancient Rajas who had lost their rule and estates by the Gurkha tyranny have come by the generosity of this Government in consideration of the Rajas’ priority and possession under the head of gratuity (bakhshish). Therefore by the order of His Excellency the Governor-General of India, the taluka of Morni, including- the fort and the villages appertaining thereto as detailed below and three (3) Saver Chaukis and the income from fairs of the shrines of Bhowani (goddess) in Tilokpur and Samlotha, besides the collections from the lands of Tilokpur situate in the low country (des), together with all description of rights or interests, outer and inner (kharji and dakhili), which were in the hands of the Gurkha karindahs have been restored to and established in the name of Mir Muhammad Jafar Ali Khan Sahib of Kotaha in permanent tenure, generation after generation and issue after issue. The said Mir Sahib ought to consider this document as a genuine Sanad and take possession of his villages, and taking care not to encroach upon the territories of others, he should heartily employ himself in settling down the people and awarding justice to all complainants, and return thanks for this bounty by zealously submitting to and obeying the orders of the British officers with great constancy.

And whenever a disturbance may take rise, he should attend himself with his present forces for Government service, and should not disobey orders for procuring Begaris as is practical, from his ilaka, such as may be required on the occasion, and that it is incumbent and proper upon himself to construct such roads within the precincts of the taluka of Morni for the passage of a cart, as may be considered requisite. Than the above-mentioned matters no further demand of Peshkash (present) or nazrana (offerings) will be made from him on the part of the British officers, at any time.

 The arrangement of the subjects in the said taluka will be that they shall consider the said Mir Sahib as the permanent proprietor of the taluka, generation after generation, and shall omit nothing in paying the proper revenue, increasing the cultivation, showing submission and obedience and other-manners becoming the capacity of ryots. In this matter they are severally enjoined.”

Meer with his courtiers at Baradari, Kotaha Fort

Meer with his courtiers at Baradari, Kotaha Fort

Mir Jafar Ali Khan died on 12 Oct 1831. His son Muhammad Akbar Khan was recognized as his successor and was granted a khilat (honorary costume) by the British Government. The benevolence of Akbar Khan I can be made out from the following excerpt of the letter dated 10th Nov. 1842 by George Clerk, Envoy to the Court of Lahore to T.H. Maddock, Esq., Secretary to the Government of India with the Governor -General:

‘At the time of the last hard year, I had occasion to pass through these hills, and I noted that the only Chief who opened his granary and the treasury to assist his zameendars, was the Chief of Kotaha, a Mohamedan of the plains, to whose father, Sir David Ochtertony gave the Hill district of Mornee, for his zealous cooperation, to the extent of his humble means, when the general called on him for a quota of troops during the Goorkha war.’

Note: The present day descendants of the Mirs of Kotaha, however, place Hakim Qasim Khan in the time of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. As per the family, four brothers rode with Humayun’s army from Persia. After the battle, the eldest, Mir Barkhurdar joined the service of the Mughals while the youngest died as a sufi saint, popularly known as the Nau-Gaza Peer (the title being drawn from his extraordinary height). Barkhurdar’s descendant fought in Aurangzeb’s army and participated in the siege of Golconda fort in 1687. He was gifted a shield and a sword by the emperor.

Shield gifted to Kotaha Mirs by Emperor Aurangzeb

His son, Mir Saunda had three sons, Mir Kasim Ali Khan I, Mir Ahmad Husain and Kamaludiu Husain. Kasim Ali Khan I got the jagir of Kotaha from Farrukhsiyyar or inherited it from his forefathers. The Rajput chief of Mornee, Dip Chand, died without an heir, and Mornee was given to Kasim Khan I by Muhamad Shah Ghazi. Kasim Khan I was succeeded by his only son, Mir Muhammad Baqar Ali Khan I who fought the Sikhs over Naraingarh in 1760 and died fighting near Sadhaura.

Fearsome Sikh Soldiers of 19th century

He was succeeded by Mir Jaffer Ali Khan I who in turn was succeeded by Mir Akbar Ali Khan I in 1831. There are some difficulties with this version as this conflicts with the legend of Moman Murad (originally Thakur Man Chand/ Dup Chand/ Dip Chand of Kotaha/ Mornee) and his conflict with Raja Bhagat Prakash of Sirmur. Man Chand’s daughter married prince Jahangir sometime before 1605 at Delhi when he was yet to become emperor. The family’s version, however, gets credence from an obituary of Mir Bakir Ali Khan II, published in the Journal of Royal Society of Arts in June 1902 that read as follows:

Obituary

Raja Saiyid Muhammad Bakir Ali Khan, C.I.E. – An extensive genealogical account of the late Raja Saiyid Muhammad Bakir Ali Khan, C.I.E., of Kotaha and Pandrawal, Member of the Society of Arts, who died on the 20th January last, appeared in the Oudh Ukhbar (an Urdu journal) of the 5th April. The biographer states that the late Raja’s ancestors obtained a jagir of Pundri and other villages from the Emperor Bahlol Lodi (1452-1489 A.D.). During the reign of Aurangzeb three brothers were in joint possession of this property, viz., Saiyid Muhammad Kasim Ali Khan, Saiyid Ahmad Husain, and Saiyid Kamaluddiu Husain. The eldest, Kasim Ali Khan, received the Zamindari of Kotaha from the Emperor Farrukh siyar, as a reward for distinguished military services, and Muhammad Shah Ghazi subsequently added to this an estate which had been left by Dipchand without an heir. Kasim Ali Khan also acquired 7 1 other villages by purchase. A considerable portion of this property was taken possession of by the Gurkhas during the time of Mir Muhammad Jafar Ali Khan, grandson of Kasim Ali Khan, but was recovered in 1816, with the aid of the British forces under Sir Daniel Ochterlony. Jafar Ali Khan was succeeded by his son Mir Muhammad Akbar Ali Khan, at whose death his nephew, the late Raja, son of Kasim Ali Khan II, succeeded as ruler of Kotaha and Morni. Saiyid Muhammad Bakir Ali Khan was well versed in Persian and Arabic, a skilled architect, and possessed of a remarkable memory. His kindly disposition, liberality, and just administration rendered him extremely popular amongst his people, by whom he was much beloved. He was also noted for his strong religious principles, his support of Muhammadan festivals and institutions, and his endeavours to promote the spread of education. He heartily co-operated with Sir Saiyid Ahmad Khan in the foundation of the Muhammadan Anglo – Oriental College at Aligarh, and was one of the chief contributors, and an ardent supporter of that institution. A special memorial meeting of the trustees of the College was held on the 22nd January, the proceedings of which are fully reported in this issue of the Oudh Ukhbar, which also gives an account of a meeting of the leading men of Pundri, and 17 chronograms in verse, by various contributors, expressing the year of the Raja’s death according to the Christian and Hijra eras.

Mutiny in 1857: In June 1857, at the time of the Mutiny, the then Mir, Akbar Ali Khan, fell under suspicion of having given assistance to a bands of rebels heading for Jamuna along the foothills through Ramgarh-Naraingarh area. Mr. T. D. Forsyth, Deputy Commissioner Umballa fined him rupees 1000 for his lukewarm response to the British call for help in intercepting the band of mutineers. The Mir came under further suspicion on account of a letter written by his son-in-law Abul Hussun from Muzaffarnagar in September 1857. This led to the search of his fort, where a large quantity of gunpowder, sulphur etc was found. Thereafter, the Deputy Commissioner dismantled his forts at Kotaha and Morni under the orders of the Chief Commissioner of Punjab. The Mirs of Kotaha had been earlier exempted from the commutation for military service under orders of 1850 and 1852 (the exemption did not apply to Mir’s jagir villages in the plains of Naraingarh). The exemptions were withdrawn as punishment in 1858 and the usual commutation tax at two annas per rupee of revenue was levied. The dismantling of forts was, however, only partial and relaxation was given by the Commissioner. Mr. Melville succeeded Forsyth and was of the opinion that the Meer had been unfairly dealt with. The Meer allegedly rebuilt the fort during this time. It is, however, likely that the fort was left largely untouched in 1857 other than some damage to the outer structures. Captain Tighe succeeded Melville in 1864 and the Mir came under the severe displeasure of the British Government on a charge of conspiracy, and ‘on an attempt to partially rebuild his fort at Kotaha without permission’. A civil engineer was deputed to destroy the fort completely. He took two months to accomplish the task with dynamite and mines! (See post on the ‘Ruins of Kotaha’).

Meer Akbar Ali Khan had in the meantime died at the age of 80.  He was succeeded by his grandson Baqar Ali Khan II, the son of Qasim Ali Khan II who had died earlier in 1850. The Governor General spared the new incumbent the resumption of his jagir but  banished him from the district. The Meer was forbidden to reside either at Morni or Kotaha, and his whole property in Naraingarh was brought under direct official management. The Meer was no longer allowed to retain arms except in terms of the Arms Act. The ryots and zamindars of hill villages of Mornee were allowed to retain only limited arms for the destruction of wild beasts. On a further enquiry made in 1876, the Government cancelled the sentence of banishment and the property was finally restored to the Mir in 1880. The exemption of commutation tax was restored in 1892.

Rajas of Pindrawal: Akbar Ali Khan’s son Qasim Ali Khan II had married Latif-ul-nissa the daughter of Akbar Khan son of Bargujar Thakur, Nahar Ali Khan, the taluqdar of Pitampura, District Bulandshahr. Qasim Ali Khan II died at Lahore in 1849-50. His son Mir Baqar Ali Khan II, settled at Pindrawal in the Bulandshahr district of the North-West Provinces. He  inherited a large zamindari property at Pindrawal, where he got, after arbitration, 24 of the 88 parts into which the villages of the estate were divided. He also inherited large estates in Koil, Khair and Atrauli parganas of Aligarh District and estates in Budaun district.  Raja Baqar Ali Khan II donated a substantial amount of money to build MAO College at Aligarh. He also donated Rs. 30,000 towards the construction of the Bulandshahr Town Hall. He was created a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, on January 1, 1883 by the British government in recognition of his services.  He was also a member of the Society of Arts, Great Britain.  Mir Baqar Ali II died on 20th January 1902.

Baqir Ali Khan II C.I.E.

Baqir Ali Khan II C.I.E.

The Oudh Akhbar carried his obituary and his death was reported in the Journal of the Society of Arts, 1902. Mir Baqar Ali Khan II left two sons Sayid Mohammad Jafar Ali II and Kunwar Asghar Ali Khan. Kunwar Jafar Ali Khan II was the elder and succeeded Baqar Ali.

 

Raja Mir Jaffer Ali Khan II

Raja Mir Jaffer Ali Khan II

 

Jafar Ali Khan II built a fort at Atrauli, Aligarh in 1909 that stands to date. Jafar Ali Khan II died at Aligarh in 1920.

Raja Mir Asghar Ali Khan

Raja Mir Asghar Ali Khan

Asghar Ali founded the Asgharabad Estate after the partition of pindrawal that went to his sister Bibi Sughra Begum as he died without an heir.

Asgharabad Estate, Aligarh

Jafar Ali Khan II was succeeded by Raja Mir Muhammad Akbar Ali Khan II, OBE who became a member of the UP Legislative Assembly in 1937.  He was accorded kalgi and khilat by the Governor of Punjab in a special durbar at Sirhind. He built a hospital at Morni and died in 1958.

Raja Mir Akbar Ali Khan II O.B.E.

Raja Mir Akbar Ali Khan II O.B.E.

He left three sons, Hon’y Captain Raja Mir Muhammad Kazim Ali Khan, Mir Muhammad Qasim Ali Khan III and Raja Mir Muhammad Raza Ali Khan of Pindrawal and Kotaha.

 

Hon;y Captain Raja Mir Kazim Ali Khan

Hon;y Captain Raja Mir Kazim Ali Khan

 

Raja Raza Ali Khan resides at Aligarh and is presently president of the Shia Degree College, Lucknow & also a Member of the Court of Aligarh Muslim University. The present day descendants of the Mir family include Raja Raza Ali Khan’s son Rajazada Mir Ahmad Ali Khan.

Family Tree of Meers of Kotaha, Pandrawal & Asgharabad

Sources:

  1. Gazetteer of the Ambala District, 1892-93
  2. Gazetteer of the Sirmur State, 1934
  3. Aligarh: A Gazetteer, 1909; Author: H.R.Nevill
  4. A glossary of the tribes and castes of the Punjab and North-West frontier  province (1911), Vol III;  Author:  Rose, H. A.; Ibbetson, D.;  Maclagan, E. D.
  5. A geographical, statistical and historical description of Hindostan and Adjacent Countries; Volume 2. Author:  Walter Hamilton Esq. 1820
  6. British Library Collections, India Office Records 1831-32.
  7. The Golden Book of India; Author:  Roper Lethibridge, K.C.I.E. 1893
  8. The Struggle for Kangra Fort; Author: Dr. Shiva Prasad Dabaral ‘Charan’
  9. Traditional Trade and Trading Centres in Himachal Pradesh; Author: Poonam Minhas 1998
  10. An imperial vision: Indian architecture and Britain’s Raj; Author: Thomas R. Metcalf – 2002
  11. Umballa District Report dated 22nd January, 1858 by Mr. T. D. Forsyth, Deputy Commissioner Umballa to the Chief Commissioner, Punjab on the occurrences during the critical period of 1857.
  12. History of the Sikhs (1739-1768); Author: Hari Ram Gupta 1939
  13. Journal of the Socity of Arts, Volume 50; no. 2587 (June 20, 1902); Author(s): H. W. Venn and Alexander Kinloch; Published by: Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce
  14. Statistical, Descriptive and Historical account of the North-Western Provinces; Author: Edwin Felix T. Atkinson  1876
  15. Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, East India; Volume 9 (1854)
  16. The Rajas of Punjab; Author: Sir Lepel Henry Griffin (1870)
  17. Allen’s Indian Mail Volume XXII No. 646 dated 17th October 1864
  18. A Special Corps; A.P. Coleman (1999)
  19. The British-Indian Military Repository, Volume IV (1826)
  20. Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya mountains (Ed. by Emma Roberts); George Francis White, 1837
  21. Legends of the Panjab (Volume I); R.C. Temple (1884)
  22. India and its Native Princes; Louis Rousselet (1876)
  23. Pictorial History of China and India; Robert Sears (1852)
  24. The Calcutta Review; Volume 31 (1858)
  25. A History of the early nineteenth century Punjab; Ram Sukh Rao, Joginder Kaur (1980)