Tehri Garhwal gets its name from the presence of a number of forts built by the Panwar dynasty rulers in old days. It had been an epicenter of politics and economics of Uttarakhand since ages. It is surrounded by Uttarkashi district in the north, Rudraprayag in the east, Pauri Garhwal in the south and Dehradun district in the west.
Tehri Garhwal is considered one of the sacred hill districts of Uttarakhand. It is made up of two words Tehri and Garhwal. Tehri has been derived from ‘Trihari’, which signifies a place that washes away all three types of sins born out of thought (mansa), word (vacha) and deed (karmana), and the other part ‘Garh’ means a country fort or glen. Many historians believe that there were 52 garhs or forts in Garhwal but a new study shows that there were more than 160 garhs, says Bhawani Pratap Singh Panwar, custodian of Purana Darbar House, Tehri. The Muni-ki-Reti and Tapovan areas in the district were known places of penance for saints in ancient times.
Devprayag on the confluence of the sacred Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda is a small town of great religious importance in the district. Devprayag was known for the Raghunath temple that was built in the 12th and 13th century. The temple was damaged in an earthquake in 1803 but Daulat Rao Scindia restored it, according to Yashwant Singh Katoch, editor of the book “Garhwal ka Itihas” written by Pandit Harikrishan Raturi.
Raturi says the royal family of Tehri Garhwal belongs to the ancient Panwar clan of Rajputs. Kanak Pal, the progenitor of their family line, arrived in Garhwal from Dhar, Malwa, in 688 AD. Before 688 AD, the whole of the Garhwal region was divided into small ‘garhs’ruled by independent kings known as Rana, Rai or Thakur etc. It is said prince Kanak Pal before reaching Garhwal created a small hamlet near Saharanpur known as Gangoh. According to British writer GRC Williams, the numismatic records reveal that Kanak Pal was the younger brother of King Vakpati and was known as Gang. Hence the name of the hamlet Gangoh, near Saharanpur.
Kanak Pal under the influence of a saint thought of renouncing the world and headed towards the Badrinath shrine in Chamoli district for penance and meditation. It is believed that the King of Chandarpur Garh, Bhanu Pratap, was in search of a groom for his daughter and came to know about Kanak Pal’s presence at the Badrinath shrine.
He rushed to the shrine and requested Kanak Pal to marry his daughter. Kanak Pal initially did not show interest but when he saw Bhanu Pratap’s daughter, he fell for her beauty and agreed to marry her.
Bhanu Pratap, satisfied with the outcome, handed over his kingdom to Kanak Pal and retired into the forests of Badrivan in Chamoli district and later died. Gradually, Kanak Pal and his descendants extended their empire by conquering all garhs and bringing petty nobles and tribal clans under their sway.
Raja Sohan Pal, the ruler who succeeded Kanak Pal, completed the task by establishing a degree of hegemony over most of Garhwal. However, it was Som Pal’s successor Ajay Pal who fully consolidated the gains and substantially expanded the kingdom.
Ajay Pal (or Purba Deo) ruled from 1500 to 1519 AD. He excelled as a warrior, administrator and scholar. He relentlessly waged wars against his neighbours and conquered 64 forts and subjugated 52 petty rulers. The only defeat Ajay Pal faced was at the hands of the king of Champawat, who had come right at the border of Badhaan and challenged his sovereignty.
There are many legends about the royal family of Garhwal but the one that stands out is of Rani Karnavati, wife of King Mahipati Shah, who took over the throne after his death in 1631. She is known to have cut the noses of captured Mughal soldiers who attacked the kingdom of Garhwal. After Mahipati Shah’s death, his seven-year-old son Prithvi Shah was named the heir to the throne but as he was still a sibling, Rani Karnavati took charge and ruled Garhwal for many years with Srinagar as its capital.
According to historian Niccolao Manucci, Nazakat Ali Khan, the chieftain of the Mughal army of Shah Jahan, attacked Garhwal around 1635 AD. According to the book “Garhwal ka Itihas”, brave Rani Karnavati undeterred by the attack set up a camp at Ranihat. It is believed that Rani Karnavati fought the Mughal army soldiers with full strength and forced them to flee the battlefield. She punished the captured Mughal army soldiers in her own unique way by cutting their noses, say historians. It was after this nose cutting incident that Rani Karnavati came to be known as “Nak Kati Rani” (The Rani who cut the noses of Mughals).
French writer Tavernier also mentions the defeat of the Mughal army at the hands of Rani Karnavati who was able to keep her kingdom safe from invaders. She is also known to have ruled the kingdom ably as caretaker for five years.
Nose chopping made Rani Karnavati famous throughout the region. She was able to successfully defend the kingdom from the Mughals and other invaders for several years.
A painting depicting Rani Karnavati cutting the noses of Mughal army soldiers is still intact and available at the Amar Niwas guesthouse owned by Bhawani Pratap Singh at Dehradun. Bhawani Pratap is also the custodian of the Purana Darbar House of Archaeological and Archives Material Collection Trust. Purana Darbar refers to the old palace of the Garhwal kings when they shifted their capital to Tehri.