Historical Town of Chenani

Ashok Sharma
Chenani or Cheneni is an important town located at a distance of about 28 Kms from Udhampur. It is the Tehsil Head quarter falling in District Udhampur, stretching to a vast area and is under the administration of a Sub Divisional Magistrate and a Municipal Committee comprising elected members.
It has a Degree college, a Sub District Hospital, Kendriya Vidalaya besides many Higher Secondary, High, Middle and Primary schools in its vicinity. This historical town, situated on the bank of Suryaputri, Tawi has witnessed great up heavels in the history of J&K. The name ‘Chenaini’ is believed to have been derived from Chanderi (Bundelkhand) from where the ruling clan of Chenani came in the 8th or 9th century. The state of Chenani was one of the most famous and oldest states of the 22 erstwhile Dogra states. It is said to be established by Chandel dynasty kings now known as Anthal Rajputs. It was founded by Raja Gambhir Chand son of Raja Harihar Chand of Chanderi in Bundelkhand and it flourished in the days gone by and in fact, used to be the capital of a tiny kingdom till 1822,when Raja Gulab Singh annexed it first to the Lahore empire and then to the Jammu state. It was one of the longest single dynasty ruled Principality in J&K upto 1947,having ruled in uninterrupted manner by 52 kings, roughly from 850 AD to 1947. However,since at least Raja Ranjit Dev’s time, it had been subordinate to Jammu and before that to the Mughals. It used to be one of the richest Jagirs. According to a European traveller, George Forester, the annual income of Chenani in 1783 was Rs one lakh which was later reduced to only Rs 65800 during 1944-45 when it had only 47 villages in it. It is said that the relations between the Kings of Chenani and the people were very informal. “If a person (accused, normally of a minor crime) was summoned to the court of the King (who doubled as a judge),and if it was not convenient for him to attend the king’s court that day, the accused would say so to the king. The King of Chenaniwould then fix the next hearing according to the pleasure of the accused.And if the person was found guilty and imprisoned, he could still move about freely during the day- he could till his fields, tend his flock or keep shop. He was required to report to the jail only in the evening, to spend the night there. This idyllic state of affairs continued in Chenanitill 1947”.(A History of Jammu, by Parvez Dewan, Page 80).It is said that the Raja of Chenani enjoyed the power to issue State Subject Certificates (PRCs) and was also empowered to collect Toll and Entry Tax for entry in his area. As Chenani was ruled by Chandel Dynasty for a very long time, they have be quethed a rich heirtage in the form of a large number of temples, forts, palaces and havelies. This valuable heritage serves to form a connecting link between the early and the modern period of history.
Rajinder Chand Anthal, who is a local resident and who has done a lot of research pertaining to Chenani feels sad to find that no proper attention has been paid by any successive Government for preservation and protection of theses heritage sites and monuments which have received little attention at the hands of the successive State Governments with regard to their preservation and conservation and many of them have been completely or partially destroyed. For instance, the kings of Chenani built many temples including the Grand Shiv temple of unique style at Sudhmahadev. Some of these temples still exist due to land grants allotted by kings and now managed by J&K Dharamarth Trust. The oldest Temple of Jalandhra Devi Mata near Laddan Kotli Fort Udhampur though declared a protected monument long ago, remained in a neglected state for a long time but now it has been renovated. It was built by the early Chandel kings, in honour of their Kuldevi, Mata Jalandhara Devi much earlier than the Fort. It presents an example of exquisite workmanship and architecture. Similarly, Naina Devi Temple which belongs to early medieval period and located in the upper reaches of Mantalai at a pictursque hillock ,is crying for attention. If renovated, this ancient Naina Devi can serve as one of the major Tourist and religious spots. Some other famous temples of Chenani which are widely revered but need due attention of the Government are located at Gouri-Kund, Gau-Karan, Mantalai, Benisang, Mandir-Dushala, Haridwar and Buddha Kedarnath.
Apart from the temples, the forts constructed by the Kings of Chenani tell a story of woe & neglect by the successive state Governments which ruled Jammu & Kashmir after independence. Chorgala Fort near village Mada is now nowhere in sight whereas the Forts of Garh-Barkot (Bain) and Dhar Shivgarh Fort near Patnitop are lying in dilapidated state. The only Fort, which has withd tood the ravages of time and is partially damaged, is Kotli Fort in Laddan (Udhampur) which has been declared as a protected monument. This fort,alongwith Shivgarh Fort ,was built by Raja Dayal Chand, then King of Chenani in 1820.When the Lahore-Jammu army overran Chenani on behalf of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore, Raja Dayal Chand shifted the women and the children of his family to Shivgarh Fort but the Laddan Fort never saw a battle. As it is located near Udhampur, It can prove to be a popular tourist spot , if developed properly. The Kings of Chenani had also built beautiful palaces in and around the capital city of Chenani. One of the most important of these palaces was the Singh-Garh Palace of Chenani which existed till late nineteen seventies. The famous Hindi movie ‘Jaani-Dushman’ was shot & completed in this palace but Instead of developing this palace as a heritage site, it was unfortunately dismantled to construct the offices of Tehsil in Chenaini. There were some other less known palaces at Motorshed and Champari, which have lost their existence. The oldest palace of Chenani was located at the extreme lower end of the town and it was constructed in the 15th century and known as Shergarh palace. This palace was unfortunately burnt by Raja Suchet Singh of Ramnagar. Though some remains of the palace did exist, no efforts were made to protect them and now a Girls Hostel has been constructed where this grand palace used to exist.
A large number of Havelis were also constructed by Chenani Kings from over a long period of their regime. 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 and it is still waiting to be restored to its pristine glory. 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 were 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 located adjoining Shiv Ji Maharaj Temple Complex at Sudhmahadev. After 1947 this Haveli was handed over to a Mahant by Raja of Chenani for public use. One Haveli each was also constructed at Patnitop (Padora) and Kud near Shankar Hotel. Thus, the valuable heritage of Chenani built over a long period of time by the Kings of Chenani and left to the care of the successive state and the central governments has been lost and destroyed, perhaps, owing to the apathy and neglect of the concerned authorities. Unless efforts are made to conserve and preserve the existing remains of some of the heritage sites, they too may be lost into oblivion for which the coming generations will not forgive us.
Thus, Chenani is a beautiful and historical town but no description of Chenani can be complete without the mention of religious shrines and picnic spots full of natural beauty located in its vicinity. It has the world famous picnic resort of Patintop which is thronged by the visitors both in summer and winter. It has now been connected to Chenani with a cable car. This picnic spot has witnessed tremendous development under Patnitop Development Authority. Hotels are available for night stay here. Kud, Sudhmahdev, Mantalai and Benisung are some other pictursque spots which abound in natural beauty. A three day mela at Sudhmahadev in June/July attracts lakhs of devotees to the shrines at Gauri Kund, Sudhmahadev and Mantalai. The ancient Vasuki Nag temple at Karlah is a famous shrine profoundly revered by the people. Now a 9.28 Km all weather Nashri tunnel with a fully integrated tunnel control system, named after Shri Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, is one of the main sources of attraction in Chenaini. It has reduced the distance of Jammu-Srinagar National Highway by about 30 Kms and travelling time by about two hours. Having been nestled in a cool climate, Chenani is a big producer of high quality vegetables and fruits, besides milk and milk products such as cheese, Kalari, Khoya etc., which are in great demand across the Jammu Division and outside.
(The writer is serving as Sr. Lect. (English), Govt. Hr. Sec. School, Thial (Udhampur)