Crumbling Heritage of Chenani

Rajinder Chand Anthal
Chenani played an important role in the annals of history of J&K State from eighth century AD onwards. The state of Chenani was established by Chandel dynasty kings now known as Anthal Rajputs. It was one of the longest single dynasty ruled principality in J&K upto 1947. Due to their centuries old rule, these kings built many temples, forts, palaces and havelies which form the valuable heritage wealth of J&K and a connecting link between early and modern period of history.
It is a sad state of affairs that no proper attention has been paid by any successive government for preservation and protection of theses heritage sites and now many of them find place in oral history of this land. To start with, let us take the Temples built by kings of Chenani. It is believed that Grand SHIV temples of unique style at Sudhmahadev, Udhampur, and Purmandal were built by some Raja of Chenani. These temples are somehow existing due to land grants allotted by kings and now managed by J&K Dharamarth Trust. The oldest Temple of Jalandhra Mata near Kotli Fort Udhampur is about to collapse. Although declared protected monument long ago not even a single rupee was spent on its repair and renovation. Same is the condition of Naina Devi Temple in the upper reaches of Mantalai. This temple belongs to early medieval period, situated at a picturesque place on a lofty hillock amid dense Deodar Trees. If promoted Naina Devi can be one of the major Tourist destinations-cum-pilgrimage centres in this area. This was the dream of Swami Dhirendra Brahamchari to connect Naina Devi Temple by road and build a grand temple there. This project could not be completed due to sudden death of Swami. Other Temples of Chenani are at Gouri-Kund, Gau-Karan, Mantalai, Benisang, Mandir-Dushala, Haridwar, and Buda Kedarnath.

Visited by thousands of devotees each year these temples are struggling for their and existence. Now let us describe the worst condition of forts of Chenani State. Chorgala Fort near village Mada has totally disappeared from the scene. The other important Forts Garh-Barkot (Bain) and Dhar Shivgarh Fort near Patnitopare in total ruins. The only partially damaged available Fort is Kotli Fort in Laddan Udhampur. It can be one of the busiest tourist spots near Udhampur, if developed properly. This fort has been declared protected monument years ago but negligent attitude of concerned authorities has brought an end of this age old heritage. Apart from forts there were beautiful palaces in and around capital city of Chenani. Main source of attraction was the Singh-Garh Palace of Chenani which existed till late seventies. The shooting of famous Hindi film ‘Jaani-Dushman’ was completed in this palace. Instead of developing this palace it was dismantled for the construction of Tehsil building. Other small but beautiful palaces were at Motorshed and Champari. Now nothing exists there. The oldest palace of Chenani was at the extreme lower end of the town known as SHER-GARH palace of fifteenth century. This palace was burnt by Raja Suchet Singh of Ramnagar. Some portion of the palace was visible but no efforts were made to trace or protect the remains of this Palace and now completely made non-existent for the construction of Girls Hostel.
There were excellent Havelis constructed by Chenani Kings from time to time. One such Haveli was constructed for the reception of Tikka Rani Ji on her marriage with son of Raja Ram Chand of Chenani. This Haveli functioned as Guest House of Raja for some time. After 1947 J&K Police took control of this heritage building but put it in very rough use without any repair and renovation.
Still used by of Police Department this only left over heritage building is crying for survival. Another important Haveli known as Raja-ki-Haveli is situated at Haridwar (Sudhmahadev) near Shiv ji Maharaj Temple. Now the local Mahant family looks after this century old Haveli. Another Haveli constructed during the time of Raja Dayal Chand is situated in the village Bachhal and presently it is known as Kasata House. The precious items of Treasury, Arms and Ammunition was transferred by Raja Dayal Chand of Chenani to this Haveli in a secret manner to save it from repeated attacks of Sikh Forces. Another important Haveli of Raja Chenani was adjoining Shiv Ji Maharaj Temple Complex at Sudhmahadev. After 1947 this Haveli was handed over to a Mahant by Raja Chenani for public use. One Haveli each was constructed at Patnitop (Padora) and Kud near Shankar Hotel.
This description shows that the Heritage of Chenani was mismanaged in discriminatory manner after 1947 and put to end during the short period of about fifty to sixty years. All that Chenani had gathered in its long historical leap till independence was lost due to administrative negligence and if ignored the last remains of this important oldest hill state of Jammu will completely disappear. It is requested that the government should initiate protection and development of the Archaeological sites of Mantalai and Mada. Besides the Kotli Fort near Udhampur can still be renovated. The Police Station Building, Kasata House, Garh Barkot Palace and Haveli at Haridwar be protected and developed for protection of last remains of Chenani Heritage.
(The author is former Zonal Education Officer, Chenani.)