Ramnagar is a historical town located at a distance of about 38 Kms to the west of Udhampur. It is named after its last ruler, King Ram Singh who was ousted by the Sikh forces in 1822 AD. It is a beautiful town divided into thirteen wards and has got the status of a sub division functioning under the administrative control of Sub Divisional Magistrate. It has also a municipal Committee to look after the civic affairs of the town and a Degree College located at a scenic and serene place on the outskirts of the town, spread over an area of about 300 Kanals of land. The Campus of the University of Jammu is also functioning here. Ramnagar was earlier ruled by the Bandral Rajputs and it was the capital of the erstwhile state of Bandralta. It was founded by the royal family of Chamba belonging to Chambyal Dynasty. The first king of this state was Bahattar Dev Verman,brother of Vichitar Verman of Chamba who ruled Chamba in the 10th century AD. The vansavali or lineage of the kings of this dynasty contains only 21 names.This dynasty ruled over Bandralta till 1822 when Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered it, overthrowing the much loved ruler, Raja Dev in 1822.It was then granted as fief to Raja Suchet Singh,who was a great general and the younger brother of Maharaja Gulab Singh. He ruled Bandralta from 1822 till his death in 1844 AD. After the death of Raja Suchet Singh in 1844 A.D in Lahore, his Ranis became Sati and Ram Singh, the second son of Maharaja Ranbir Singh became the feudal lord of Bandralta and renamed it Ramnagar. After the death of Raja Ram Singh,this jagir was merged in Jammu Kingdom as both Raja Suchet Singh and Raja Ram Singh had no progeny.
Ramnagar is famous for its rich culture and priceless heritage. The Royal Palaces were constructed by the Bandral lords but they were renovated and reconstructed by Raja Suchet Singh who used to reside there. He also built a fort and the Purana Mahal which consists of a complex of rooms rising to three storeys having high walls with watch towers at regular intervals. The walls of the rooms are decorated with stucco work and painted with floral designs.The wooden parts of the ceiling are profusely decorated and the corners of the roofs have projections in the forms of lotus flowers. Nama Mahal or the New Palace was built by Raja Ram Singh. The Complex has open courtyards surrounded by rooms with two entrances facing each other in opposite wings.The outer walls are high and are supported by buttresses. The rooms have wooden ceilings and the interior walls are decorated with floral designs.
Shesh Mahal was built during the reign of Raja Ram Singh in 1885.It is a royal mansion consisting of two forecourts having burjis at the corners. Behind these are halls and rooms flanked on either side of the central passage. Sheesh Mahal is a peculiar building constructed on the pattern of old Havelis with a wide decorated entrance flanked by lavish chambers profusely decorated with wall paintings. On the right side of the of the entrance, there are three halls popularly known as Darbar Hall, Sheesh Mahal and Rang Mahal. Darbar Hall is a big chamber having size of 46 feet by 18 feet the walls of which are decorated with frescos. These wall paintings are done in the pahari style of Bandralta and great epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, the subject exhibited with acumen and skill. Some wall paintings carry the portrait of Raja Suchet Singh with his courtiers and a few portray the battle scenes with the king in the centre of the episode.This Hall must have been used as the royal court. The second big chamber is smaller in size but profusely decorated in several panels richly adorned with the panels of runners, creepers,, trailers and flowery borders covering the frames of hunting scenes, working court scenes and portraits of kings and courtiers, as also hunting scenes. Unique feature of this part of the place is the beautiful portrait of Nayikas adorned with the transparent petticoats. Nayika is well covered with upper garments ornamented with necklaces, earrings, nose rings, and hair clips.Some paintings include battle scenes with thousands of cavaliers, elephants, armoured soldiers marching to the battlefields.They are equipped with weapons followed by guns on wheels. This part of the palace is known as Rang Mahal and it must have been in use for entertainment, music and dance for the royalty. Moreover, the walls of Rang Mahal are decorated with a series of love frolics of Lord Krishna with Gopies.There is also a painting of the marriage scene of Raja Suchet Singh in which the rites and rituals of the marriage ceremony of Dogra Society are highlighted. The third chamber adjoining to the Rang Mahal is that of Sheesh Mahal the walls of which, as the name suggests, are decorated with cut glasses intermittently woven with fine paintings. The subject matter of these paintings is the same as that of Rang Mahal but in the corners, some paintings of English ladies have taken place of the paintings done by masters of Bandralta School.
The Baradari or pavillion of Raja Ram Singh has six doors to allow the free flow of air rather than 12 doors. The structure has 3 doorways on one side of the square shaped structure in spite of every side. It was built by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1844.The pavillion consists of two storeys and the central area where Raja Ram Singh held court has a mirrored ceiling.
The Old palace of Ramnagar was fortified and secure area;So no need of separate fort was felt. But with the change in circumstances, the need to build a fort was felt and a site was selected which was a ridge situated at a distance of about 800 mts from the old palace.It is square in structure 42.65 x 42.65 mts in measurement. It boasts of a masonary work of huge cut stones mortared with lime powder and the paste of legumes.There are four corners of the fort which make the four turrets constructed on solid foundation. Perfect in structure, the fort has walls which are as long as 200 ft and constitute the outer parapet of the fort. There is a main gate opening towards to the eastern side of the moat which is 40 ft in height and 20 ft in width. The entrance to the gate is covered by two heavy wooden gates 20 ft long and 5 ft wide. On both sides of the gate, there are images of god Hanuman and Durga and to the left side of Durga, there is an image of Bhairava. There are two wells, one just on one side of the door and the other at the back of the courtyard. Entrance to the Fort is through a large Deodi with measurement of 10.5 m x 4.4m supported by fluted pillars. On the right lateral side of the Deodi, there is a wide chamber perhaps meant for the security officer. The interior of the fort is well maintained with lush green lawns and close to the Fort, there is an ammunition chamber wherein cannon-balls of solid iron are well preserved. The fort is joined with the green land with the help of wooden bridge bridging the gap of the moat, 15ft wide & 15ft deep. The Fort was declared a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1972 for its upkeep and maintenance.
When the Queen of King Suchet Singh heard the news of the king’s death in 1844,she performed the rites of Sati at the place where the Samadhi is now located. This samadhi is constructed in the mausoleum style with a door having pinnacles with four metallic pitchers tapering upto the apex.
Ramnagar is also famous for many temples as religion has deep roots here. Narsingh Temple located in the town is most famous of all the temples since the ancient times. A large number of people from Udhampur, Jammu and adjoining places, besides the local people, visit this temple and organise Havna and langars. There is famous Akshardham Cave on the outskirts of the town and ‘Aapshambhu’ temple at Dalsar visited by a large number of devotees. The Shiv Mandir located at the Bus stop is another temple most visited by the devotees. Chountra Mata shrine, Pingla Mata Shrine, Sheetla Mandir and temples at Badhole and Tarmian are other religious spots in the vicinity of Ramnagar, which are quite famous and attract a huge footfall of devotees. There are tourist spots of Gandhtop, Dudu-Kirchi, Basantgarh, Shiv Gali, Seoz Dhar, Dalsar Lake, RC, Peak, Bharnara etc which are endowed with unparallelled natural beauty and attract a large number of tourists every year.
Not only this, Ramnagar is also famous for milk products and eatables. The variety of Cheese and Kalari from Ramnagar is much in demand throughout the Jammu Division. The sevian made from ‘Besan’ and called ‘Boor’ in the local parlance and golgappes (Pani Puri), Burfi etc are also liked by the locals and the tourists. Ramnagar is also known for producing best quality Rajmash (Kidney beans), Kachalu, Khoya etc. In the upper reaches, coats and pyjamas (called ghuttanna) made from the wool of local sheep, locally woven and stitched reflect true Dogra culture. Folksongs and folklores namely Geetrus, Bhaakh, Goaalu songs, Massade, Kud etc, are quite popular in Ramnagar and bear ample testimony to rich Dogra culture and heritage thriving here.
(The writer is serving as Sr. Lecturer (English) in Govt. Hr. Sec. School, Thial (Udhampur).