Gorkha Invasion

Gorkha invasion , nature and consequences

The Gurkhas conquered Kumaon and Garhwal in 1804. After annexing these states, the Nepalese army, under the leadership of Amar Singh Thapa, and his son and his deputy Ranjor Singh Thapa, started making preparations for the conquest 6f the Punjab Hill States. However, in this region, their expansionist designs clashed with those of Raja Sansar Chand, Katoch ruler of Kangra, who too was quite ambitious and wanted to establish a Katoch kingdom in the Punjab. He subdued the hill chiefs of Chamba, Mandi, Kullu, Guler, Nurpur, Kutlehr and Kahlur. In the plains, situated to the south of his dominion, he tried to take possession of Hoshiarpur and Bajwara during 1803-04. He had to fight with Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who defeated him and compelled him to withdraw from the plains. The Katoch chief now turned towards Bilaspur (Kahlur) and Bara Thakurais.

In the Cis-Sutlej hills, Bara Thakurais or twelve lordships (petty states), had become a bone of contention among the rulers of Nalagarh (Hindur), Bilaspur and Sirmaur. Few years before 1804, most of the Bara Thakurais were under the control of the ruler of Sirmaur. The latter had also annoyed the powerful Katoch chief of Kangra by opposing him when he was establishing his control over Bilaspur and Mandi. Raja Sansar Chand formed an alliance with Raja Saran Singh, an energetic and ambitious ruler of Nalagarh.

The allies  were able to annex a big chunk of Bilaspur territory in the Cis-Sutlej area and also established suzerainty over the twelve Thakurais. The annexation of portions of Bilaspur and Bara Thakurai territory proved to be a grave mistake on his part. It not only led to his downfall but also to the extinction of his kingdom.

The Kangra Raja’s action against Bilaspur and Bara Thakurai aroused resentment among the rulers of other hill states, who had become a victim of his aggression or were apprehensive of his quite acquisitive tendencies. They did not like his overbearing nature either. That is why the hill chiefs formed a coalition against him and sent a united invitation through the Raja of Bilaspur to Amar Singh Thapa to invade Kangra. They also promised to help him with their contingents wherever he crossed the Sutlej. The Gurkhas were keen to conquer the hill tracts as far west as Kashmir. They even thought of establishing their power in the Punjab plains. That is why the Gurkhas accepted the invitation.

The Gurkha forces under Amar Singh Thapa overran Nalagarh and crossed the Sutlej. They fought a pitched battle with Raja Sansar Chand at Mahal Mori in May 1806. The Raja was defeated, he first moved to Sujanpur Tira and then took refuge in Kangra fort along with his family. The Gurkhas pursued him thither and besieged the fort. The seige continued for long time. Raja Sansar Chand, in despair looked to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for help, the Kangra fort being offered as the price for his assistance.

In May 1808, the Maharaja marched from Lahore with a large army and attacked the Gurkhas. The latter were defeated at the hands of the sikh ruler, retired across the Sutlej after suffering dreadfully during the seige and in the retreat. Maharaja Ranjit Singh entered Kangra fort with his followers and took it under his possession. With the cession of Kangra fort to Ranjit Singh, the Kangra state, as well as all the other states of the Jalandhar group, became subject and tributary to the Sikhs.

After returning to Cis-Sutlej territory, the Gurkhas tried to teach a lesson to Raja Saran Singh, Raja of Nalagarh, who had refused to acknowledge their suzerainty. The Raja’s state was plundered and seized, and he was compelled to move into Plasia, a stronghold in Nalagarh. It appears that the ruler of Nalagarh sought the British help. The Gurkhas who had been defeated and pushed out of Kangra, at that time did not want to fight with the British. The Nalagarh chief, therefore, was left unmolested in Plasia and the Gurkhas turned to conquer and consolidate their position in the other Cis-Sutlej states. Amar Singh Thapa sent his son, Ranjor Thapa to attack Sirmaur which fell without a fight. Karam Prakash escaped and the Gurkhas occupied Nahan. They ensconced their feet at some of the fortified posts such as Nahan and Jythak.

In 1810, the Nepalese turned to. Jubbal, which they conquered without much difficulty. The Thakurs of Balsan, Kotgarh and Theog then joined against the invaders and solicited help from their powerful neighbour, the Raja of Bushahr. The latter, foreseeing that the Gurkhas attack on his state was iinminent, dispatched a strong force under his wazir to help the Thakurs. In May 1811, Amar Singh Thapa himself marched from Sabathu with a large army. Amar Singh defeated the Thakurs and Bushahris, marched towards Rampur, capital of the Bushahr state and established control over it. Unfortunately for the Bushahris, at this time, their Raja Ugar Singh died. Most of Bushahr proper was held by the Gurkhas, who established a line of forts along the Hattu range, Kurana, Baghi, Nawagarh, Sungri, Bahli etc. Rampur was scaked and all the state archives and papers were destroyed. The young Raja Mohinder Singh of Rampur fled to Kinnaur. Amar Singh Thapa sent a detachment of army in pursuit of the young Raja and to capture state treasure at Kamru. The Gorkha force was surprised by the Kinnauris at Chhattu bridge near the village of Chugaon or Tholang in the Rajgraon pargana, and severely handled in a night attack. The Gurkhas had to retreat because of the reverse and the difficulty of obtaining the supplies.

Amar Singh Thapa realised the impossibility of first subduing and then, keeping under control for a long time a rugged tract like Kinnaur which is situated in the lap of the highest mountains in the Himalayas. It was under these circumstances that the Gurkhas under the leadership of Amar Singh Thapa agreed to sign the peace agreement with the Bushahr. After concluding the peace agreement in 1813, Amar Singh Thapa withdrew to the lower hills and settled at Arki, a strategically important post in the Baghal state. However, before his return, the Gurkhas commander had subdued the petty chiefs, holding territories in the neighbourhood of Bushahr.

Soon after occupying the hill states, the Nepalese had taken steps to consolidate their position, they built a chain of forts and demolished others which were not of much use to others. The chiefs of Sirmaur, Nalagarh, Keonthal, Baghal, Kuthar and Balsan were exiled and many others were suffered to remain dependent on the Gurkhas for a scanty subsistence. The Gurkhas proved hard and grinding masters. They adopted repressive measures to realise revenue and procure provisions. Similar measures were adopted for the transportation of their baggage, which indeed was an arduous task in the hilly areas. Many families fled across the Sutlej on their approach, and the tract exhibited the greatest marks of devastation and depopulation.

However, the Gurkhas were not allowed to remain in control of the hill states for a long time. It was the East India Company which became the Paramount Power in this area after the Anglo-Nepalese War, 1814-16. The relations between the Nepalese and British had become estranged because of boundary dispute. A logical result was the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16. In the Cis-Sutlej hill states, such as Nalagarh, Baghal, Rawingarh, Jubbal and Nahan, many decisive battles were fought between the British and the Nepalese. Almost all the chiefs of these states and their people helped the British. The Gurkhas were defeated and compelled to return to their shell. In March 1816, the treaty of Sangauli was signed, under which inter alia, the Gurkhas renounced all claims to Kutnaon, Garhwal and the Punjab Hills, which now passed under the control of the British.

The hilly region, later classified as the Shimla Hill States, was of great advantage to the Company. First, its climate was quite salubrious, and thus it was suited for the development of hill stations where British invalids could take refuge from the scorching heat of the plains. Secondly, its possession provided direct access to West Tibet, which produced highly prized shawl wool, a lucrative article of trade. Finaly, from political and military point of view, the area was quite important. Its occupation created a wedge between the Gurkhas of Nepal in the east, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s possessions in the west. If these powers tried to join hands against the British on the other side of the Himalayas, or if an ambitious and powerful chief by establishing himself in the hills, beyond the Sutlej threatened the Company’s possessions, then the British were now in a commanding position to defend themselves.

It may be noted that while the Anglo-Nepalese war was yet to start, the Governor-General, the Marquis of Hastings, in a detailed secret letter written on September 30, 1814 to David Ochterlany his agent stationed at Ludhiana, laid down the general principles of policy which were to be followed towards the hills chiefs and their subjects.

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