118 years of Trust Regional vignettes THE TRIBUNE
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Saturday, August 8, 1998



Land of scenic and architectural splendour
By Balkrishan Prashar

THE historic town of A panoramic view of Chamba townChamba, majestically surrounded by lush greenery, has a rich past and an ancient culture. Babbling brooks and rippling rivers further garnish the scenic splendour of this town which is a favourite haunt of art lovers, archaeologists, environmentalists and researchers throughout the year.

Established in 935 AD, Chamba derives its name from ‘Champa’ (Champavati), the beloved princess of King Sahil Verman. Attracted by the scenic beauty and cultural elegance of Chamba town, Champavati was instrumental in shifting the princely seat from Brahampur (now Bharmour) to Chamba. Thus, the area was named after her.

The magnificent temple of Champavati (dedicated to the princess herself), built in the heart of the town by her doting father King Sahil Verman in the 10th century, is reminiscent of the pristine past of the town.

It is believed that Champavati had become ‘enlightened’ and held spiritual discourses with Yogi Charpat Nath, who lived where the shrine now stands.

The king became suspicious of his daughter’s association with the yogi. He once visited them with a sword in his hand apparently to behead them. No sooner did the king appear before them, the yogi got angry and vanished with Champavati.

Later, a ‘heavenly voice’ was heard that said the king must erect a temple to atone for committing the sin of distrusting his daughter. Consequently, the king decided to erect the temple. Hence, the town came to be known as Chamba.

Besides, the ancient temples of Laxami Narayan, Hari Rai, Bansi Gopal and Sita Ram have a unique architecture that stands out in the entire region. Among all these temples, the architectural splendour of the Laxami Narayan shrine is the most captivating. It is a cluster of six shrines dedicated to six different deities — Laxami Narayan, Radha Krishna, Chander Gupt, Gauri Shankar, Triyambkeshwar and Laxami Damodar. These temples are located in the heart of the town.

The three main temples — Laxami Narayan, Radha Krishna and Laxami Damodar — are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, while the other three temples — Chander Gupt, Gauri Shankar and Triyambkeshwar — are dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Laxami Narayan is said to be the most ancient among them. Small shrines dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Mahakali and Hanuman in the main Laxami Narayan temple evoke a lot of archaeological interest.

The samadhi of Sidh Baba Charpat Nath is located opposite the Laxami Narayan and Radha Krishna temples. It is said that during the regime of King Sahil Verman, Yogi Charpat Nath played a significant role in helping the Raja rule his state. Whenever the king was in a crisis, he sought the help of Charpat Nath.

The town also houses Bhuri Singh Museum which was founded in 1908 by the farsighted Raja Bhuri Singh (1904-1919), one of the rulers of the erstwhile princely state of Chamba. Named after the king himself, Bhuri Singh Museum houses a rich collection of epigraphs and other relics of the past. Several other sections pertaining to art and craft were gradually added to museum.

An exquisite collection of miniature paintings was transferred from the king’s palace to the museum, as were the documents of historical value from the state archives.

The collection was catalogued by Dr J. Vogel. His catalogue of the Bhuri Singh Museum (1909) and Antiquities of Chamba State, Part-I (1911) involved a lot of research.

Official records reveal that Alexander Chunningham, the great pioneer of Indian archaeology, visited Chamba and Bharmour in 1839 and drew attention of the people to the rich cultural wealth of Chamba. The Laxami Narayan temple, a cluster of six shrines, is located in the heart of the town

After more than six decades, Dr Vogel, Superintendent, Archaeological Survey of India, Northern Circle, carried out systematic explorations in Chamba from 1902 to 1908 which led to the discovery of Sanskrit inscriptions both on stone and metal.

The museum exhibits Pahari miniature paintings, illustrated manuscripts, stone sculptures, fountain slabs, wood carvings, ancient coins, inscriptions on stone and metal, historical documents, textiles, cultural anthropology, manuscripts in Sanskrit and photographs. Sculptures, terracotta items, paintings, coins etc. from various parts of the country have also been included in the museum’s treasure.

Chamba is also known for the Bhuri Singh power house on the Saal rivulet in the outskirts of the town. This was the first hydel power house set up in the northern region. As a result, Chamba town could get electricity for domestic use earlier than Lahore, the capital of the erstwhile Punjab province.

The residents of the town still hold Raja Bhuri Singh in high esteem and cherish his farsighted plans for the development of the town. Raja Bhuri Singh set up 35-KW-DC hydel power generation house at Chamba in 1908, a time when hydel power generation was not yet prevalent in the country.

The extension work on this power house was executed in 1938 during the regime of Raja Sham Singh. At present, the power house has the capacity of 450 MW.

Another distinguishing feature of the town is the leprosy hospital in Sarol, on the outskirts of Chamba town. It is the first hospital of its kind in Asia.

Founded in 1875 by Dr Hutchison Belley, a British physician under the auspices of Belle Mission, London, the leprosy hospital was set up in Sarol village under the guidance of the then Raja Ram Singh, one of the rulers of the erstwhile Chamba state.

Dr Belley, who dedicated his whole life to the care of ailing lepers, breathed his last in Chamba. Soon after his death, the Belle Mission, London, was shifted to Purulia in West Bengal and the leprosy hospital in Sarol was handed over to the state. Currently, the hospital is being run by the state government under the National Leprosy Eradication Programme.

In order to eradicate leprosy, a society has also been formed which is headed by the Deputy Commissioner. The hospital runs two mobile units which operate in the district.

The units administer treatment at the Drug Distribution Points (DDP). The programme has so far yielded excellent results.

Eminent persons

lSahil Verman: The founder ruler of Chamba.

lBhuri Singh: King of the erstwhile Chamba state. He pioneered the all-round development of Chamba.

lGurditta Mal Mahajan: Chief Engineer of the erstwhile Chamba state.

lKailash Chand Mahajan: The first Padamshree awardee of Chamba. He was Chief Engineer, IPH, Punjab, and also served as Chairman of the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board and Secretary (Power). He was also an ace hockey player.

lSagar Chand Nayyar: A veteran politician of the town.

lHarash Mahajan: MLA.

lRajiv Nayyar: Recipient of the Shri Parushram Award (highest sports award of Himachal Pradesh) for his outstanding performance in cricket.

lDr A. J. Mirza: A renowned physician.

Nalin Gautam: A famous trekker and mountaineer of the region who has scaled the country’s highest peak, Kanchanjunga.

lDev Barotra: A popular artist.

lMaheshi Devi: The first national awardee (for her craftsmanship of Chamba rumaal) of the town.

lS.C. Nayyar: A prominent cricketer of his time. At present, he is the Secretary, Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. He is also Junior National Cricket selector too.

lKishori Lal: The Industries Minister in Dhumal’s government.

lLala Prakash Chand: First person from Chamba who became Deputy Commissioner during the British times.

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