Uttrakhand is smack in the middle of the Himalayas, with Himachal Pradesh in the West and North-West; Tibet in the North; the plains of Western Uttar Pradesh in the South and Kumaon in the East.
Historically, it has been described in the ancient text of Kedarkhand to extend from Gangadwar (modern day Hardwar) in the South to the high mountains in the North, and from the Tamsa (Tons) river in the in the West to Buddhachal (probably the Nanda Devi group of peaks between Garhwal and Kumaon) in the East.
Today it is an administrative division of the raising state of Uttaranchal, comprising the districts of Chamoli, Dehradun, Pauri, Tehri and Uttarkashi.
The history of Garhwal is older than that of the Ramayan and Maha- bharata. It is a land of popular myths, like that of Lord Shiva appearing as Kirat, of Urvashi, Shakuntala and the Kauravas and Pandavas. Worship of Lord Shiva is pre-dominant in this region.
In earliest times, Garhwal was known as Kedarkhand, or the region of Kedarnath. Scriptural texts mention a number of tribes that inhabited the region, such as the Sakas, the Nagas, Khasas, Hunas and Kiratas. The Nagas were a mysterious race whose traces are still to be found in the Hills. The hooded snake was sacred to them, hence their name. (Naga-Snake) .
The Khasas were the dominant race in the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas till the coming of the Rajputs and Brahmins from the plains.
According to one version, Garhwal derives its name from the fifty two forts that had come together to form a loose confederacy.
The first recorded name of this region was Kartipur. Later on, according to another tradition, since it was surrounded on all sides by mountains – it came to be known us “Giri – avil”, which, by passage of time, got trans- formed into Garhwal.
Bhanupratapa was the first known king and, later on, his son-in-law, Kanakpal took over. Their kingdom was known as Chandpur Garhi. King Kanakpal came to Garhwal from Rajasthan (Gujardesh) of the region Bagarh. He brought with him the Bagerhi language, therefore Garhwali and Bagerhi language, written and spoken, are very similar to each other.
Garhwal resembles other parts of the Himalayas where various ethnic groups live side by side. Following chiefly the agrarian-pastoral way of life, native Garhwalis make their living from the hilly land the best they can. Some, like the Bhotia traders, migrate far and wide, although the ancient trade routes with Tibet have been closed since 1950. Most of the indigenous people like Jaunsari, Bhotia, Buksha, Tharu, and Raji are heterodox Hindus and Buddhists, while Sikh migrants from West Punjab have settled in the lowlands since 1947. A few Muslim groups are also native to the area, although most of them have settled recently. The Muslim Gujjar herders also migrate to the hills.
To understand the Garhwal of today it becomes necessary to go back to the times of pre-history, which has its impact in the lifestyle of the people, even at present. The second significant stage in the history of Garhwal is the arrival of those who were fleeing the invasions from beyond the north west of India. Finally came the British and it was only after Independence that Garhwal could become the forward looking region that it is today. To know more about the period of your choice click the relevant subject :
Garhwal has been held in high esteem by the Hindus. The Vishnu Purana, Mahabharata and Varahasamhita scriptures mention a number of tribes dwelling on the borders of the Bharat of that time and amongst them the Sakas, Nagas, Khasas, Hunas and Kiratas probably lived in the Garhwal- Kumaon region of today.
The Sakas were perhaps the earliest ruling races of the Kumaon hills. They have also been referred to as the Sacae by classical writers of history and as the Indo-Scythians by modern ethnographers. The royal house of, both, the Kumaon and Garhwal hills are probably descendants of the famous Salivahana.
There are many traces of the mysterious race known as the Nagas. They were evidently a race for whom the hooded snake was sacred and later legends have identified the members of the tribe with their emblem. Writing the history of India, Wheeler (as cited by Walton 1910) describes them in the following words, “In Garhwal we have the traces of the Nagas in the names of pattis Nagpur and Urgam and the universal tradition of their residence in the valley of the Alaknanda. At the present day, Sheshnag is honoured at Pandukeshwar, Bhakal Nag at Ratgaon, Sangal Nag at Talor, Banpur Nag at Margaon, Lohandea Nag at Jelam in the Niti valley and Pushkara Nag at Nagnath in Nagpur.”
The name Khasa has a very wide significance. The Khasas were the dominant race in the Garhwal and Kumaon hills till the advent of the Rajputs and Brahmins from the plains. Some authors are of the opinion that the Khasas, like the Nagas, were once a very powerful race and came to settle down in Garhwal from central Asia
. Today’s Khasas profess to be Rajputs, who have fallen from their once honourable position by the necessity of living under conditions where the strict observance of the ceremonial usages of their religion was difficult. They are, perhaps, numerically the most dominant race in the Garhwal hills, though the line of division between them and later immigrants from the plains has now become faint.
In the early ages, Garhwal was ruled by a number of petty princes who at a later date assumed the form of a loose federation or Baoni of about fifty two states. It is not very clear whether these chiefs owned the suzerainty of the more powerful kings of the plains. On the basis of local traditions and ancient inscriptions, it can be assumed that two or three chiefdoms or principalities were more important.
These are, first, Brahmapura described by Huein Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller in 629 A.D. Though the exact borders of this kingdom are not known, it must have been somewhere in central Garhwal, probably Barahat in Tehri; and second, Jyotirdham or Joshimath, which was the capital of another important ancient kingdom that covered parts of present day Garhwal and Kumaon. It was ruled by the Katyuris.