The History, Culture, Women and the People of Mandi

Top view of Mandi Town
Photo Credit- Wikimedia Commons by
 Mystic nishant99

Introduction

Millions of people have passed through Mandi over the centuries. The traders, writers, travelers and lovers have always been impressed by the place. It is a proper city in the hills and is a cultural island where the people have protected their traditions and ways of life for hundred of years.
The Official Flag of Princely state of Mandi
Photo Credit- Wikimedia Commons by Anshulkumardhiman 


Situated on the banks of river Beas at the foot of Shivalik ranges, the historical town of Mandi lies on the ancient Indo- Tibet ancient trade Silk Route and is well entrenched at the centre of Himachal Pradesh. It became an important point of transit for the traders between Hoshiarpur and Ladakh. It is said that the place got its name from the status of market or mandi, while some people attribute the name to the sage Mandavya Rishi who performed a penance here for a long time.

It is a gateway to the famous valley of Kullu and Lahaul. But its tourism potential is yet to be exploited. 


The tourists bypass it literally after a bypass has been provided and a new bridge built to avoid the traffic of the town. It is one of the best connected points in the hill states with roads leading to Pathankot, Hoshiarpur, Chandigarh, Shimla, Kullu, Lahaull, Leh and Ladakh.

The town is known for its 81 old stone temples built in Shikhare or house boat style.

There are several legends about the Kings and the people of erstwhile Mandi state. The Purani or the old Mandi came up on one side of the river and an old suspension bridge supported by steel ropes connects it to the new Mandi town.



History


A Bengali prince came here ages ago and founded one of the most enlightened ruling dynasties. The Khatris and the Punjabis arrived here soon after and dominated the scene as the rulers’ aides, as landlords and as traders. The Rajputs came here fron Rajasthan.



The Victoria Bridge Mandi
Photo Credit- Wikimedia Commons by Satisthakur023

The Mandi town was founded by Raja Ahbar Sen in 1527 AD. The suspension bridge was however constructed by Rajah Bijay Sen in 1877 AD. Rajah Sidh Sen who must have been very tall and hefty conquered more land from the neighboring Suket and Bhangal states to extend the boundaries of Mandi and left an impact on the people. Sidh Sen had two sons of the same age from two queens and decided the succession in a novel way. He kept a sword and a heap of dust before the two children. The one who went towards the sword and started playing with it was named Shamsher Sen and succeeded the king. The other one who played with dust was called Dhur Chatiya or the dust licker.


Sidh Sen was also known to possess the magical powers. Much after his death the people continued to dip his sword in water and then offer the water to a pregnant lady who was having difficult labor. The miniature paintings in Bhasholi style was introduced during his reign. Sanju was one of the important painters of this School.

The portrait of Ishwari Sen (1784-1826), Raja of Mandi
Photo Credit- Wikimedia Commons by 
Sridhar1000
 


Zalim Sen was the only ruler of the Sen Dynasty who was said to be cruel and who had adopted harsh ways to extort money from the people.


It is interesting to know what travelers and visitors said about Sen Kings.


Moorcraft, who visited the place in 1820 AD, said of Rajah Ishwari Sen, “He is short stout man of about 35, having limited understanding and extreme timidity. The latter he inherited from his father of whom it is asserted that he passed and order that no gun should be fired in his country. He must have been the prisoner of Rajah Sansar Chand of Kangra, who invaded Mandi in 1792 AD. He was restored to the throne by the Gurkhas whom he helped to invade Kangra. He also helped Maharaja Ranjit Singh in latter’s invasion of Kangra and Kullu”.


Vigne, another English traveller, who passed through Mandi in 1839, wrote about Rajah Balbir Sen, “The young Rajah is himself short and stout in person and jovial of good natrure with remarkable European like countenance. He was uncommonly civil and prodigal of his expression of regard and friendship of the English, and unlike many other Rajahs, he allowed me to depart when I wished without pressing me to stay a day longer than suited my convenience.


Among the recent Rajahs, whom the people remember a lot is Rajah Joginder Sen, who tried to develop his state in a modern and scientific way. He exploited the salt mines of Gumma and prepared a plan to modernize them, but it was not done as it involved huge expenditure of Rupees 2 Lakh. He established and industrial estate at Jogindernagar, where the first hydroelectric project of North India came up on the land given on lease by him. He invited scholars, religious men and musicians from distant places for the benefit of the people and for interaction with the scholars and the musicians of the state. He opened many schools and sent many brilliant students outside for higher studies at the expenses of the state. He listened to the public grievances daily.


The Mandi district contributes for more than 15% of the fruit production in Himachal Pradesh. The present district of Mandi was formed by the merger of two princely states of Mandi and Suket on 15th April 1948. It was the day on which the state of Himachal Pradesh came into existence. Ever since its formation the district had not witnessed any change in its jurisdiction.



The People


The main communities living in the town are the Khatris, Brahmins and Namdharis. The latter were told by their Guru that a nearby place Rewalsar and the area in its vicinity would be the only safe place when there is turmoil everywhere. The Guru wanted them to shift here and they settled in large number displacing the Khatris from trade. This proved a blessing in disguise and the Khatris went for higher education and are doing well all over the Himachal Pradesh.


The interactions of these people have resulted in a unique culture of sophistication. Formerly the Khatris came from Punjab over a period and became the permanent residents of the place and served the Rajah and the state in different capabilities. They were the senior and the junior officers, landlords and traders. Today they live and look like typical hill men who have lived here for centuries. The Khatris came here as a part of general Aryan movement north words following the Muslim invasions from time to time. Some even went to the higher hills- because some gaddis in higher reaches have Punjabi Khatri origin while others stayed at Mandi and in the adjoining areas in the villages. Mandi being an important trading center – they did well here. There are many sub-castes of Khatris settled at Mandi, more important being Malhotras and Kapoors followed by Vaidyas, Visht etc. They contributed not only to the economy of the place but also to the cultural and social life of Mandi. They almost ruled on behalf of the Rajah till some decades ago when some tenants got the ownership rights of the lands they tilled but which were owned by the Khatris and the Brahmins.


It is interesting here to see the Namdharis running all types of shops, selling cloth, grocery, grain, jewelry, general merchandise and even sweets and fruits. The Namdharis have prospered in peace here except for a brief period of disturbance in 1984.



Culture

The Khatris retain some of the old customs and values of Punjab and adopted some of the new ones of the hills. Shivratri, the most important festival of the state is celebrated with enthusiasm. People take a lot of interest in the program-mes of music and dance.


The Khatris brought with them their love for good food. The feasting particularly at the time of wedding has continued to be a very special occasion. Sometimes the meal has to be served in shifts due to lack of sitting accommodation available to the guests. The food is a mixture of old Punjabi delicacies and the hill preparations. The meal starts with sweet called meetha budana and is served on leaf trays or pattals. Sepu Bari is the important dish served in courses. The people of Mandi in general are fond of eating which is evident from the good stuff available at the halwai or sweets shops. The tasty fried fish is sold by the hawkers in the bazaar.


Temples 

A number of temples were constructed on both sides of the river Beas in the town while some were built on the banks. Most of them are the Shiva and Kali temples. The temples of Bhootnath, Triloknath, Panchvaktra and Shayamakali are the most famous among them. 


The three faced idol of Lord Shiva is housed in Triloknath templePhoto Credit- Wikimedia Commons by Nabanita Sinha
The Sati stones on the left bank of Suketi rivulet form an important landmark in Mandi. They are the monuments of the devoted queens and other women in the royal household who were burnt or got themselves burnt in pyre after the death of Rajahs from time to time. The figures of Rajas, Queens and the slave girls who sat on the burning pyre of dead Rajah were carved on these stone slabs. There ar the evidences that once as many as 25 women died with one particular ruler of Mandi state. 
The system of Sati, Kali worship, patronage to arts and several customs and traditions must have been the result of the influence of the rulers of Bengali descent. It is possible that the ancestors of the rulers of Mandi came from Nadia region of Bengal and might have left their original place after being hounded out by the Muslim Chieftains. 

According to another view the Mandi town was almost shop-less when the Namdhari migrants came to Mandi in 1940 in truckloads. So the replacement of Khatris from the business is an irrelevant conception. But as far as the old style of Hatis and was not so conspicuous in 1940. 



Personalities


Mandi has produced its quota of leaders and freedom fighters. Swami Krishnanand and Swami Swaroopanand who became rivals later are among them. Bhai Hirda Ram was the notable freedom fighter from Mandi, who took part in Gadar movement at Lahore.  M. L. Sharma was an intellectual freedom fighter and had worked with Jawahar Lal Nehru. He was declared a political suspect even after the freedom of India. The books written by him were included in the school curricula.

There is some tradition though not much of social work. Some old retired people have setup Deen Dukhiya Sahayak Sabha or the platform for the have-not which provides help for the needy. There have always been scholars and artists here. Master Mani Karan has spent a lifetime collecting old and rare manuscripts, coins, statues etc. These collections are large enough for a small museum. 


The Women of Mandi


The most important and of course the beautiful feature of Mandi is its women. They are a class in themselves and offer to an observer a unique and insulated example of the status of women not found in the most parts of the country, surely not in the neighboring Punjab and Haryana. 

The women of Mandi are among the most beautiful in the hill state. They are fair slim and taller than other hill women, have sharper features, healthier looks and pleasant manners. They know how to dress to look more attractive. They go on for latest fashion in dress especially shalwar and kameez. Some of them even pay the tailors to see latest films to copy the new dress designs. They know the skill of make- up just the right proportion which makes their faces more charming without losing the natural look.

They are frank and bold. They dress in the best when visiting the market for making purchases or just for window shopping, a typical city activity in the plains. They may also come out of their houses for a stroll in the evening without any fear. But they are dignified all the way. They meet and talk freely to men whom they know without any inhibitions. 

They men respect their freedom. The sophistication and important status enjoyed by the women in this city, perhaps influences by the Khatri families, has developed over centuries and has affected the women of other communities too. They are educated and enlightened and to any outsider coming from an area where women are suppressed, it may look that they dominate the men. But the fact is that they enjoy equal status. This could not have been the case back in Punjab from where the Khatri families migrated centuries ago. This might have been the result of old traditions interacting with others at this new town. Interestingly the women in nearby Knagra district continue to be suppressed and are far from equal to men.
The freedom and equality has not gone to the heads of the women of Mandi. Rather they have utilised this status for the betterment of the community. Even family planning as a voluntary concept was adopted by these women in the early thirties of the 20th century. Generally they preferred to have two or three children so that they could be educated well. The result is before everybody to see. The men of this town are highly qualified and well placed in Himachal Pradesh and outside the state even in foreign countries. 
Most girls like to stay in this city and the marriages were generally arranged with local boys only. After the engagement the boy and the girl move about freely unlike in the rest of the region. Whether they are the arranged or love marriages, the view of the girl and her consent matters. Of late they have started looking for a match outside Mandi and some even go for the inter-caste marriages. 
The girls are better educated now and they expect the better educated boys to marry them. 
But some boys have taken to drugs and easy way of life, which is not liked by the girls. Any boy should have willingly given up drugs for a girl of this town. 
After all the more girls manage to stay on here, the more glimmer they lend to the city, the more dignity they add to it. They would carry forward a tradition of unique status of women, a tradition which was born and nursed here. 
The sisters here have as much say in family matters as the brothers, daughters are cared for in the same way as sons, the mothers influence the decisions just as the fathers do, and the wives have as much rights in running the houses as the husbands have. A few things may sound peculiar but a man is often referred to as so and so’s husband. A daughter-in-law is treated well by the mother-in- law. A married woman goes to the house of her parents almost every day to spend the whole day there. 
It is possible that the education which was introduced much earlier here than in other hill areas, and the enlightenment resulting from the interaction with the scholars and migrants from other areas have something to do with the present status of the women here. They love life and have and equal opportunity to do so.


Physical Development


As far as the urban development is concerned, a lot is happening already. The new mini Secretariat along with the modern court complex have come up in place of the part of the palace which was damaged in a fire. A two story Indira Market Shopping Complex has sprang up in Sunken or Subhash Garden. There are plans for the indoor and outdoor sports complex, an auditorium and improvement of Tarna Temple Complex and construction of an artificial lake in Beas River. The new bridges on Beas and Suketi have come up. There is a move to introduce the water sports at Pnadoh and organize the package trips for the tourists in the remote areas of Mandi district. The idea is to make this place a tourist attraction rather than just a transit point en route to Kullu and Manali. 

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