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