Socio-Economic History of Bhadrawah


Kalhan’s Rajtarangini  is the first historical work which mentions Bhadrawah as a region of the Himalayas during the 12th century A.D. There is hardly any mention of Bhadrawah in the literary sources of the region either during ancient or medieval period. The modern historians J. Hutchison and J. Ph. Vogel have tried to construct the history of Bhadrawah using the Vansavalis , Annual Progress Report of the Archaeological Survey, some travel accounts, oral traditions and some modern works. For these historians, the historical materials pertaining to the history of Bhadrawah are very scanty. “It was a small State which played a very subordinate part in the politics and history of the time, and for this reason it was seldom brought to notice…Bhadrawah state included two valleys of Niru and the Kargad or Balesa Nalas, both of which are tributaries of the Chandrabhaga or Chinab. It was bounded on the north of Kashtwar, on the east of Chamba, and on the south by Balor or Basoli, and on the west by Chanehni…Bhadrawah is separated from Balor by the Chatar Dhar range in which is situated the Kund Kaplas mountain; farther west the range, there called Dodhara divides Bhadrawah from Chanehni. Towards the north the Chandrabhaga river and the Bhonjwah Nala or Kali Nai from the boundary between Bhadrawah and Kashtwar. On the east Dagani-Dhar separated Bhadrawah from Chamba.” (J. Hutchison and J. Ph. Vogel, History of the Punjab Hill States, Vol.II, First published in 1933, Reprint, 1999, Delhi, pp. 614-15.

Hutchison and Vogel consulted a Chamba copper plate of the eleventh century A.D. which pertains to the title deed of Soma-Varman and Asata Varman. This copper-plate mentions a man of Bhadrawah was a landlord of a village of Bhadram, situated near Chamba town. But Hutchison and Vogel do not treat Bhadrawah being a part of Chamba State during the eleventh century A.D. According to them, “It (Bhadrawah) was more contiguous to Balor, lying as it did immediately to the north of that State, and may have already come under its control, as stated in the Chronicle of that state.” (Punjab Hill States, Vol. II, p. 15)

 Kalhan’s Rajtarangini mentions it as Bhadravakasha which means “Happy Region”. It is also mentioned by the Rajatarangini that one Sahasramangala of Kashmir was expelled by Susala, the king of Kashmir and the former came to Bhadravakasha. Hutchinson and Vogel view this event as Bhadrawah being separate from Kashmir and it could have been a part of Balor state and occupied the status of an independent state in the middle of the fifteenth century. (Ibid. p. 15). Frederic Drew who visited Bhadrawah in the second half of the 19th century as a big and busy town. He gives some existing features of the socio-economic life of the 19th century Bhadrawah. Drew made a journey of the most parts of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions. He travelled to Bhadrawah via Ramnagar and entitles his journey from ‘Ramnagar to Bhadrawah’. The present article is largely based on the account of Fredrick Drew.

Drew starts the description of his journey to Bhadrawah with the topography of the region. According to him, “ When we (Drew and his team) had descended more than 5000 feet we reached valley of Bhadrawah. This is a nearly flat-bottomed valley, a mile in width; in length it extends thus open for about four miles, above and below narrowing so as to leave hardly any space between the hill-slopes. The hills which bound it are the ends of spurs from the forest ridges. Some of these spurs have bits of cultivated ground at different levels, and in some places we noticed traces of former cultivation-terraced ground evergrown with young pines of twenty years’ growth or more.” (The Jammu and Kashmir Territories, A Geographical Account, Jammu, 1999, p. 103.).

During the 19th century both the agriculture and horticulture were the major means of the livelihood of the people of Bhadrawah. The topographical features of the region conditioned the socio-economic life of the people of Bhadrawah in terms of the utilization of the land for productions, house and dress. Drew’s account shows that the land available for cultivation in Bhadrawah were very scanty. But water was available in abundance. Consequently, the available land engaged the people for agricultural productions, particularly rice, for long time. For Drew. “The valley-bottom has a slope of about 30. the land is terraced to this fall in step of a few feet each, so as to fit it to receive the irrigating water that here is plentiful enough to provide for a crop of rice. For this in the month of May, the people were busy preparing, both by ploughing and breaking up the ground with a heavy kind of hoe and mattock.” (p. 103) Drew’s mention shows that the peasants of Bhadrawah were very much conscious of the nature of the soil of their own areas and used both technique and technology accordingly. For instance the use of heavy kind of hoe establishes that the soil consisted of very less moisture. Therefore, both the artificial irrigation and rain enabled the peasants to carry on their agricultural activities.

The women of Bhadrawah contributed immensely to the agricultural productions. When Drew visited Bhadrawah he found that the women worked along with men for the completion of the processes of the agricultural productions. According to him, “Men and women (of Bhadrawah) combined, in gangs of ten or a dozen, were working over the fields, shoulder to shoulder, striking in regular time, and beguiling the hours by singing as they worked a monotonous but not in unpleasing chorus. The process that follows-and this, being higher labour, has got the same accompaniment of song is pounding the clods with what were exactly like croquet-mallets; after this a little rain is awaited for, that the earth may crumble and become fit for watering and putting in the rice.” (pp.103-04). On the basis of the abovementioned evidence ii may be observed that the people of Bhadrawah were hard-working people and worked with pride for the utilization of their indigenous land resources. They enjoyed the agricultural activities and more importantly women were participants and sharers of the economic development of the region.

The live-stock was also an integral part of the socio-economic life of the people of Bhadrawah. Since during winter fodder for their animals was scarcely available, the people of Bhadrawah meet this problem through an indigenous system of storage. Fredrick Drew was very much impressed by the storing system of the Bhadrawahis. He noticed it very minutely and recorded in a very systematic and interesting manner. He treats it an unique method of storing and writes, “Among these mountains the month of winter, with snow deep on the ground, make it necessary for the peasant to lay in a good store of fodder for his cattle. Nowhere do the natives of India or the Himalayas seem to have learnt the advantages of making a large rick. Perhaps the holdings are too small, and co-operation in such a matter has not been a arranged. In the neighbourhood we now are in they have two or three methods of storing grass, which itself is plentiful on the slopes in summer. Sometimes they fix a series of poles upright in the ground in one line, and make thatch over a ridge-pole at top, and then pile up the grass between and around the sticks. Another plan is to twist the grass into a loose rope and throw this over the forks of trees, where, having down, it is uninjured by the snow that falls, is easily pulled off when wanted for use.” (p. 104)

Besides agricultural productions and cattle breeding, the Bhadrawahis also developed horticulture and timber products as the means of their income. They grew apple pear, mulberry apricot and cherry etc. According to Fredrick Drew these fruit bearing trees were grown all over Bhadrawah including the residential areas. Both the poplars, deodars and chinars were grown in Bhadrawah. For the growing of these trees enough stream water was available.

Although pre-19th century population data of Bhadrawah is not available, the 19th century figures show that Bhadrawah town was very lively in terms of population. According to Drew, “The town of Bhadrawah is a busy, and, for such a hill country, a comparatively large place. I (Drew) estimate that there are 600 or 700 houses and 3000 inhabitants.” They people of Bhadrawah used deodar wood extensively for building of their houses. The materials used for building of houses and their main features during the 19th century are recorded by Drew in these words: “It (house) is build almost entirely of deodar wood; the frame work of the houses is altogether of wood; only between the double plank walls the spaces are filled in with stones, sometimes laid loose and sometimes cemented with mud; most of the houses have sloped shingle roof. There is a curious plan of building up pillars for the corners and sometimes for the middle supports, of the houses and the temples. Square slabs of wood a few inches thick are placed upright in pairs, one pair being surmounted by another at right angles, and so on alternately.” (p.104). Thus the Bhadrawahis used mainly three types of materials for building purposes: 1. wood, 2. stone and  3. mud. All these three types of materials were indigenous. The Bhadrawahis were not only comfortable in terms of the availability of the materials at local level, but more importantly these materials were environment friendly. The uses of the indigenous materials for building purposes encouraged the Bhadrawahis to remain self-reliant and not to be dependent on others.

Bhadrawah’s socio-economic contacts with Kashmir, Chamba and Punjab regions are depicted in Drew’s account. The arrival of the Kashmiris to Bhadrawah was a common phenomena. A large number of the Kashmiris settled in Bhadrawah and adjusted with the local population. Drew reports a sizeable population of Kashmiris in Bhadrawah during the 19th century. Reporting the representation of the Kashmiris in the socio-economic activities of the Kashmiris Drew writes: “More than half of the inhabitants of Bhadrawah itself are Kashmiris; these quite throw into the shade the original Hindu inhabitants; they have adopted almost all kinds of employment, number of them are shopkeeper, and number more are occupied in making shawls, on orders from Amritsar and Nurpur. Some Kashmiris have land, and cultivated it themselves; some, indeed, do this half year, and follow shawl weaving for the other half-during the long snowy winter. Around are several villages of Kashmiris; but here, outside the town, they are much outnumbered by the Bhadrawahis, the older inhabitants. I (Drew) could not find out at what time so many Kashmiris settled here, but, from the absence of any distinct tradition on the subject, we may conclude that it was least three or four generations ago.” (p. 105).

Bhadrawah was also very much favourable to the outside tourists. Drew observes: “At elevation of 5400 feet above the sea gives the place at this time of the year an agreeable temperature, that makes it a favourite withmany. Sometimes Gurkhas from  the British regiment at Bakloh, bringing their wives and families, spend their leave at Bhadrawah, where they can get the advantages of fine air and cheap living.” (p. 105) Since Bhadrawah had open market place and mosques and temple, people’s socio-economic needs were met easily.

Drew’s account shows that Bhadrawah was inhabited by the both the indigenous and migrants. The migrants number was sizeable. Because of significant number of Kashmiri migrants and their role in the socio-economic development of Bhadrawah it was known as “Chhota Kashmir” or “Little Kashmir.” It is important to mention that the ruling family of Bhadrawah belonged to the Mian Rajput. It establishes that the ruling family welcomed the migrants and allowed their settlements in Bhadrawah.

Thus Bhadrwah played an active role in the making of the history of the Himalayas. Its land and people were attracted the attention of others. It was not only favourable to the indigenous population, but it was also a provider of favourable livelihood to the migrants and tourist. It is very surprising that Bhadrawah failed to get the attention of the policy makers of the state to put it on the tourist map of the world in post-independence period.   





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