The Magnificent Historical Fort of Sapni in Kinnaur(Himachal)

One day in the summer of 1664, the sagacious maharaja Kehri Singh (1639-1696), the hundred & twenty second descendent of Bushahr was propitiating Goddess Bhimakali and Basheru devta at his Kalyanpur palace . Thereafter, he was closeted with his Kinnaura wazir and army commander Chhodas in serious deliberations. He was toying with the idea of avenging the long drawn skirmishes with Guge (Tibet) and Ladakh, who were making inroads into the territorial jurisdiction of Kinnaur, during the reign of his father Raja Kalyan Singh(1607-1639).Maharaja Kehri Singh was a chivalrous king, fully trained in statecraft and warfare.He was a statesman and a strategist. An “ajanuyaku”,the title used for those who could touch knees with his hands while standing upright.At that juncture, Guge was passing through an intense strife between the Nyingmapa and Gelukpa sects of Buddhism.The fifth Dalai Lama Nawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682) of Gelukpa sect, with the assistance of Mongols, maneuvered to retain the temporal and spiritual powers over Guge and rest of Tibet and ordained for himself the Mongol title of Dalai(ocean).

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Panoramic view of the Fort

Maharaja Kehri Singh also wanted to attract the wool trade with Tibet and Ladakh into his kingdom. With these twin objectives ,he first tried to muster the support of the “attharah Thakurais “,his vassalage and twenty five hill kings but none was willing to undertake such perilous journeys through craggy narrow paths, steep mountains above and turbulent Sutlej below. Moreover, they thought that in such a misadventures against the powerful kings in the far off lands, defeat of Bushahr was certain. But the maharaja was determined. He promptly marshalled a posse of his trusted Kinnaura soldiers and set out his journey towards Guge in the garb of traders and also to take a holy dip in Lake Mansarover. On reaching Tibet ,he discovered that the Guge king was waiting for an opportunity to wrest back some of the territories taken over by Ladakh and Maharaja Kehri Singh promptly agreed to assist the Guge King in this mission. This meeting resulted into an historical Treaty of Puling Changthang between the Bushahr king and Galden Tchhewang, the commander of both Mongol and Guge forces.The copper plate which was subsequently discovered by A.H.Francke around 1910 at Namgia, the border village of Bushahr, written in Tankre script and in Tibetan language. Unfortunately, this historical copper plate is no where to be found but its text is quoted lavishly by the historians.The phraseology of this treaty is an ultimate example of an eternal friendship in the annals of history, which lasted for several centuries .Invoking Lord Buddha as a witness to this treaty and the devout Hindu king invoking “OM SVASTI”the Goddess Durga and Kali,the treaty reads as under;

                                                 “Till the Kailash of the white snows ,palace of the Lord three times ,navel of the Jambudvipa, will melt, till the great Mansarover will empty itself;till the feathers of the winged black raven will become white,till the kalp(yuga)will change,in order that the actions with in the circuit of the borders of the two most noble upper and lower kings , who must completely protect the good path of release(consisting in)the good works ,may become the means (for obtaining) the happiness of the creatures ,since it is necessary to allow the passage of the messengers, couriers and envoys appointed by the two kings upper and lower, the word is completely binding.”The treaty also authorized Bushahr to establish trade centres at Gartok,Tsaprang and Rutog etc in Tibet subsequently.

Thereafter, the combined forces of Guge and Bushahr forced Ladakh to sign a friendship treaty of Tangmogang in 1665. In these campaigns, the army commander Chhodas of Bushahr played very critical and crucial roles to get back the lost territories from Ladakh and Tibet. This treaty paved the way for trans =border trade between Tibet,Ladakh and Bushahr.Eventually , Rampur the capital of Bushahr became the centre of international trade and every year the famous Lavi Mela is held from Nov.11 to 14 .The British saw tremendous strategic importance and developed Hindustan –Tibet Road with the assistance of Kinnauras.

In order to strengthen the bond of friendship, princess of Guge was given in marriage to Maharaja Kehri Singh and she was known as Guge Rani of Bushahr.The Maharaja built an imposing palace for her at Sapni village in Kinnaur, known as Guge Rani ka Kila.This village is known as Rapang which means a village made or founded by rajas. Maraja Kehri Singh being a devout Hindu, there are no traces of any Buddhist influence in this palace.There is a havan kund and the wooden panels contain the images of Hindu pantheon of gods. Sapni is located away from the main road at 2600 mtrs.and remains out of reach for most of the travelers. It is an excellent monument of the Indo-Tibetan architecture ,though in a state of neglect, still stands in its dignified aloofness overlooking the deep valleys and breath taking panoramic views.Along with this palace there is an old fort of famous Bhimakali .Originally this palace had seven stories but due to Kangra earthquake of 1905,two top stories suffered massive damages. During the golden rule of maharaja Padam Singh(1914-1947) these damaged stories were repaired and now there are only five stories. The renowned scholar,historian and archaeologist Dr. O.C.Handa ,( an eminent author of several books in this field) opines in his book,KINNAUR ,Unfolding Exotic Himalayan Land that it may be hazardous to fix the date of construction of this fort but keeping in mind the historical data, one may provisionally fix the period to 12th-13th century and Kamru fort of around 10th-11th centuary.The Kamru castle may be earliest in the group followed by Sapni castle and Bhimakali temple at Sarahan. Dr. Handa after exploring such like historical monuments, in the western Himalayas, feels that no other castle is as imposing as that of Sapni and of Chaini in Banjar (Kullu).The Bushahr kings used to visit this castle regularly to propitiate goddess Bhimakali . Piri Nag the presiding deity of Sapni village also visits the fort to propitiate the Goddess and Kinner Kailash the abode of Indra on the occasions of famous festivals and also to conduct homa . From across the Buran/Rupin pass (4725 mtrs.) falling in the Rohroo areas of Shimla distt. the deities from the villages of Zanglik,Tangnu,Jakkha,Pekha also frequently visit the fort of Bhimakali to pay their obeisance to the Goddess from time to time.In fact, till some years back there was a forest in the neighbourhood of the castle which was recorded in name of devta from Jakha ,before it was vested wih govt. The Sapni fort was also used as a garrison for the Bushahr army.

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                                                       The Hindu Gods

The Sapni fort came into limelight during the Gorkha campaigns in Bushahr (1810-1815).The Gorkhas were planning to attack the fort but their advancement was fiercely resisted and repulsed by the Bushahr army under the charge of Kinnaura waziers Tikkam Dass and Badri Dass. Gorkha force was surprised by the Kinnaura guerilla force at Choultu bridge and severely mauled in night attack and the bridge across the Sutlej was destroyed. James Baillie Frazer an army attaché to Brigadier General Ochterlony and General Martindale closer to the heels of these Gorkha campaigns recorded the first hand account of the fightings in his book,Himala Mountains(1820) .He says that the fighting strength of Bushahr constituted only the ill equipped but hardy and trustworthy Kinnaura troops 3000 strong out of which 1000 were armed with match locks.The arms used by them were chiefly matchlocks and hatchets.The resolute Kinnauras repulsed the attack by using an ingenious defence system.They hurled volleys of massive boulders and rocks (locally called dheeng) in the manner of Roman catapult with tremendous force over the enemy positions.Group of sturdy men bent tall and strong deodar tress in the opposite direction by pulling them backwards with the ropes tied to their tops where heavy boulders were positioned.In one abrupt action,the ropes were released ,hurling the boulders on the target.Fearing the fussilades of heavy missiles coming on them,the Gorkhas ran for their lives in utter chaos.Guarded by such a people, a country wild and impregnable,like this might defy the powers of the invaders.

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                                            Fort in its splendid isolation

Observing the human characteristics of Kinnauras,Captain Loyed William Alexander Gerard around 1824 stated in his books that they are the frankest and most honest race of people he has ever seen in India.They possess neither craft nor ingratitude, and they may trusted to the world,s end.Thieves and robbers ,the indigenous inhabitants of mountain regions ,are unknown,and the same character belongs to the interior tracks of Busahir, or to that portion of the interior called Koonawar lying within the snowy mountains.They are honest and good natured but also show a pride ,which one rarely finds in India.They are always ,cheerful and one hears them continuously singing with the hard field work.Singing and dancing appears to be an element of life of these peopol.By every festive occasion they meet here and spend hours together, of course some times the whole night.Their singing also sounds just melodious for our European ear. Though the basic traits of Kinnauras still remain as such but the modernity is making deep inroads to wreck this ancient civilization and culture.

After witnessing the vicissitudes of its existence, the old monumental fort at Sapni, though in its splendid isolation,is a crumbling structure now.The Chief Minister of Himachal Raja Vir Bhadra Singh,who is the 131st descendant of Bushahr lineage is extremely keen to restore the glory and architectural grandeur of all such ancient forts,castles and monuments in Himachal Pradesh.He said that special efforts shall be undertaken in this regard at the earliest.

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