Saturday, December 21, 2002
S L I C E  O F  H I S T O R Y

Hisar: Hub of Haryana’s history
Lalit Mohan

THE term ‘Hariana’ has been in vogue for over a century and according to the Gazetteer of 1908 this was the historical name for the contemporary Hisar district. This is also the area with the earliest recorded history in the state.

An 11th-century miniature sandstone shrine from Hisar preserved in Allahabad Museum
An 11th-century miniature sandstone shrine from Hisar preserved in Allahabad Museum (photo: AIIS, Gurgaon archives)

The ancient capital of the fertile tract watered by the Ghaggar was Hansi, which was recognised by archaeologists even at the turn of the last century as one of the oldest towns of India. The Gazetteer says, "The numerous architectural remains of Hindu origin, found built into the walls of Muhammadan tombs and mosques throughout the district, testify to its having been the abode of an ancient and vigorous Hindu civilisation." It also mentions an inscription in Tosham that commemorates the 305 AD victory of "Ghatotkacha, the second known member of the Gupta line." The Kushan rulers were well entrenched in this area.

In the eighth century, the Tomars over-ran the district and then the Chauhans occupied it. In 1036 Hansi was conquered by Mahmud Ghaznavi’s son. After Mohammed Ghauri took over in Delhi in 1192, the Jats tried to get it back, but were defeated by Qutb-ud-din. However, the Jatu Rajputs, an offshoot of the Tomars, continued to dominate the area until 1254, when the entire district was assigned as a fief to Ulugh Khan-I-Azam, later known as Balban.


Although there is a view that Hisar is a corruption of ‘Isukar’ referred to in Panini’s ancient texts, most historians believe that the town was founded in 1356 by Feroz Shah Tughlaq. Its original name may have been Hisar-Feroza, or Feroze’s fort, but somewhere along history the ‘Feroza’ part was dropped. It had large portions lifted from Hindu temples, according to the Gazetteer nothing but ruins of one gate remain today. Just outside the fort the Sultan built a palace for a local Gujjar girl he married, and this is seen even today as ‘Gujjar Mahal’.

The palace includes a baradari, water tank, bath, diwan-e-aam, mosque, a tunnel and gardens and was supplied with water by what was later known as Western Jamuna Canal. (During British times the mahal was used for a while as a grain store, but in 1911 the then Deputy Commissioner had it emptied and handed it over to the Department of Archaeology).

Meanwhile, in 1408 the fort fell into the hands of rebels against Mohammed Tughlaq, but was recovered personally by the emperor four years later. An imperial garrison was stationed there at the time of Babar’s invasion, and even after the Mughal takeover it remained the headquarters of a sarkar.

The district was trampled under foot by Timur’s marauding hordes and, judging by the account of booty he collected from here, it must have been fairly prosperous. During the 18th century, the tract was held by Muslim tribes claiming Rajput origin. "On the death of Aurangzeb in 1707," says the Gazetteer, "we find Nawab Shah Dad Khan, a Pathan of Kasur, ‘nazim’ of the sarkar of Hisar; and under his rule, from 1707 to 1737, the people and the country appeared to have prospered exceedingly."

In 1739, Nadir Shah ravaged the land. Subsequently, there was a triangular tussle for control over it between the Bhattis in the north, the Delhi rulers and the Sikhs who plundered it on several occasions between 1754 and 1768. In 1761, Nawab Amin Khan, the Bhatti chief of Rania was appointed the ‘nazim’, but he had no better luck. After the battle of Jind, it was occupied by Amar Singh, the successor of Ala Singh, the founder of Patiala, who built a fort there and became master of Hansi, Hisar and Sirsa territories.

After Amar Singh died in 1781, an agreement was made which assigned Hisar, Hansi, Tosham, Rohtak and Meham to the Mughal empire; Sirsa and Fatehabad to the Bhattis and rest of their conquests to the Sikhs.

The famine of 1783 practically depopulated the town. In 1797, it was taken possession of by an adventurer, George Thomas, who maintained an independent kingdom for three years. "Another interesting building is the Jahaj, apparently once a Jain temple converted into a mosque, and used as a residence by George Thomas, of whose Christian name the present title is a corruption," says the British chronicler (raised to the ground by vandals, the site will now be used for a veterinary hospital). Meanwhile, the inhabitants had begun to return to the town. Thomas’ defeat in 1802 at the hands of Bourquin, a French general of Sindhia, saw it pass briefly into the hands of the Marathas.

A hundred years later the British government’s Gazetteer was to record: "In 1803, Hisar and Sirsa, with the territories ceded by Sindhia, passed nominally to the British, but little was done to towards enforcing order till 1810, when an expedition was rendered necessary by the continued raids of the Bhatti chiefs."

During the 1857 uprising, the detachments of Hariana Light Infantry and the 14th Irregular Cavalry stationed there mutinied and killed the Collector and 11 other Europeans. The Gazetteer says: "The Ranghars and Pachhadas and Pachhadas of Hisar and the Bhattis of Sirsa, followed by the majority of Muhammadan villagers, rose in insurrection; but before Delhi had been recovered a force of Punjab levies, aided by contingents from Patiala and Bikaner utterly routed them."

The Hisar municipality was created in 1867. A hundred years ago its receipts and expenditure averaged Rs 28,700 and Rs 29,300 respectively, per annum. The town’s large cotton ginning and pressing factory employed about 400 workers in 1904.

In 1884, Sirsa tehsil and 126 villages of Budhlada were transferred to Hisar, while Fazilka and remaining 31 villages of Dabwali were amalgamated with Ferozepore district. The small Budhlada tract was transferred from Karnal to Hisar in 1889.

At the begining of the last century, Hisar district contained eight towns and 964 villages. Its population was 781,717 and it had five tehsils — Hisar, Hansi, Bhiwani, Fatehabad and Sirsa. More than 70 per cent of the population was Hindu. Because of large areas of sandy soil, the density of population was low, 150 people per square mile. The commonly spoken dialects, according to the 1908 chronicler, were "Hariani, Bangru or Deswali in the south, Punjabi in the north, and Bagri in the south-east."

The largest caste group at the turn of the century were the Jats, who were divided into four classes: The Deswali Jats of Hariana, the oldest residents among the four; the Bagri Jats who had come from Bikaner; the Sikh Jats of Sirsa and the Muslim Jats who "form part of the nondescript collection of tribes known as Pachhadas," the name suggesting that they had come from the west or paschim.

The Rajputs comprised nine per cent of the population and three-fourths of them were Muslims, according to the Gazetteer. "As a rule the Rajput, retaining the military traditions of his ancestors, is a lazy and inefficient agriculturist, somewhat prone to cattle-stealing."

Cattle was then, as it is today, very important for the economy. The government-run cattle farm in Hisar was started in 1833. It covered 66 square miles. Cattle fairs at this town and Sirsa were quite popular. Camels were used for carrying loads where the soil was soft.