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History of Jaisalmer

 

Ancient Jaisalmer

The majority of any inhabitants of Jaisalmer are Bhati Rajputs, who take their name from an ancestor named Bhatti, renowned as a warrior when the tribe were located in the Punjab. Shortly after this the clan was driven southwards, and found a refuge in the Indian desert, which was henceforth its home.

The Maharajas of Jaisalmer trace their lineage back to Jaitsimha, a ruler of the Bhati Rajput clan, though Deoraj, a famous prince of the Bhati clan during the 9th century, is esteemed the founder of the Jaisalmer dynasty. With him the title of “Rawal” commenced. “Rawal” means “of the Royal house”. According to legend Deoraj was to marry the daughter of a neighbouring chief. Deoraj’s father and 800 of his family and followers were surprised and massacred at the wedding. Deoraj escaped with the aid of a Brahmin yogi who disguised the prince as a fellow Brahmin. When confronted by the rival chief’s followers hunting for Deoraj, the Brahmin convinced them that the man with him was another Brahmin by eating from the same dish, something no Brahmin holy man would do with someone of another caste. Deoraj and his remaining clan members were able to recover from the loss of so many such that later he built the stronghold of Derawar.[1] Deoraj later capturedLaudrava (located about 15 km to the south-east of Jaisalmer) from another Rajput clan and made it his capital.[1]

The major opponents of the Bhati Rajputs were the powerful Rathor clans of Jodhpur and Bikaner. They used to fight battles for the possession of forts and waterholes as from early times the Jaisalmer region had been criss-crossed by camel caravan trade routes which connected northern India and central Asia with the ports of Gujarat on the Arabian Sea coast of India and hence on to Persia and Arabia andEgypt. Jaisalmer’s location made it ideally located as a staging post and for imposing taxes on this trade.

[edit]Founding of the City

Bada Bagh panorama

In the 12th century Rawal Jaisal the eldest son of the Rawal of Deoraj was passed over in favour of a younger half-brother for the throne of Laudrava.[2]Enlisting the aid of Shihabuddin, a Muslim invader from Ghor in Afghanistan, Jaisal captured Lodurva. As he had previously agreed with his ally to allow the city to be sacked for 3 days he was left upon gaining the throne with a ruined city.[1]

While checking out Trikuta a massive triangular rock rising more than 75 metres out of the surrounding sands as a more secure location for a new capital, Rawal Jaisal meet a sage called Eesul, who was staying on the rock. Upon learning that Jaisal was of Yaduvanshi descent, Eesul told him that according to ancient mythology Krishna and Bhima had come to this location for a ceremony, where Krishna had prophesied that a descendent of his Yaduvanshi clan would one day establish a kingdom here Eesul showed him a spring which Krishna had created and his prophecy craved into a rock. Encouraged by this meeting Rawal decided to move his capital to this location despite Eesul predicting that it would be sacked two and a half times.[3]

So it was that in [1156}] Rawal Jaisal established his new capital in the form of a mud fort and named it Jaisalmer after himself.

[edit]Medieval Period

During the Islamic invasion of India, Jaisalmer escaped direct Muslim conquest due to its geographical isolation and the natural protection provided by the desert. The Rawals of Jaisalmer agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Delhi Sultans. The first jauhar of Jaisalmer occurred in1294, during the reign of Alauddin Khilji of Delhi. It was provoked by Bhatis' raid on a massive treasure caravan being transported on 3000 horses and mules.[3][4] Alauddin Khilji was so outraged that his army marched upon Jaisalmer. Rawal Jethsi sent the children, elderly and sick, together with some troops to refuge in the desert and applied a scorched earth policy to the countryside surrounding Jaisalmer while building up a massive store of food within the fort. According to local ballads, the Bhatis defended the fort for 8 years during which the forces left outside of the walls occupied themselves attacking the supply lines of the besiegers. During the siege Rawal Jethsi died and was succeeded by his son Mulraj II. By 1294 the besiegers had received sufficient reinforcements that they were able to impose a complete blockage of the fort which soon exhausted the Bhati’s ammunition and food. The Bhatis, facing certain defeat, decided there was no alternative but to perform the rite of jauhar. 24,000 women committed suicide, most on a funeral pyre though some were killed by the swords of their male relations when the pyre proved too small. The men 3,800, in number then threw open the gates of the fort and advanced to their death.[5] For some years afterwards Jaisalmer remained abandoned before the surviving Bhatis reoccupied it.

In the late 14th century Sultan Ferozshah also besieged Jaisalmer after a prince of Jaisalmer raided his camp at Anasagar Lake near Ajmerand carried away his prize steed. The siege led to the second jauhar of the prophecy, the suicide of 16,000 women and the death of Rawal Dudu and his son Tilaski together with 1,700 warriors.[5]

During the 15th century the Bhatis once again reoccupied the site and continued to rule with some independence.

The “half jauhar” of the prophecy occurred in the 16ht century when Amir Ali, an Afghan Pathan chieftain obtained Rawal Lunakaran’s permission to let his wives visit the queens of Jaisalmer. Instead of a retinue of palanquins containing women they were full of armed warriors, which took the guards of the fort by surprise. When it seemed to the Rawal that he was fighting a losing battle he slaughtered his womenfolk with his own hands as there was insufficient time to arrange a funeral pyre.[3] Tragically immediately after the deed was done, reinforcements arrived, sparing the men from the Jauhar and Amir Ali was defeated and blown up by a cannon ball. Hence, it is called a half jauhar or Sako.

[edit]Mughal Era

While initially Jaisalmer came into conflict with the Mughals. Rawal Lunakarn had a fight with Humayun when the latter passed through Jaisalmer en route to Ajmer. In the 1650s Rawal Bhim Singh (1578–1624) formed an alliance when he married a draughter to Prince Salim, later Emperor Jahangir. Rawal Sahal Singh (1651–61), supported emperor Shah Jahan during his Peshawar campaign which lead to him formally acknowledging the supremacy of the Mughals. The resulting peace and prosperity promoted an increase in the caravan trade and allowed Sahal Singh to rebuild Jaisalmer fort in stone and extend the kingdom northwards to the Surej River and westward to the Indus River. Attempts to expand to the east bought Jaisalmer into conflict with Bikaner, which lead to Anup Singh of Bikaner invading the kingdom. He was repulsed by Maharawal Amar Singh (1661–1702) though peace was only finally concluded by Maharawal Akhai Singh (1722–62).[6]Despite these disruptions the period was a time of growth and prosperity with the ruling family and the resident merchants building many beautiful palaces and havelis.

Due to its isolated location and the protection of the desert the kingdom was little effected by attacks by the Marathas which effected other kingdoms in the region. However from this time until the accession of Maharawal Mulraj in 1762 the fortunes of the state rapidly declined, as most of its outlying provinces were lost to Rathor clans of Bikaner and Jodhpur, the treasury became depleted and the population shrunk.

[edit]Maharawal Mulraj

Territorial stability was obtained during the reign of Maharawal Mulraj’s (1762 to 1819) when in 1818 he signed a treaty with the British, which protected Jaisalmer from invasion provided it was not the aggressor and guaranteed the royal succession. Jaisalmer was one of the last Rajput states to sign a treaty with the British. Jaisalmer was forced to invoke the provisions of the treaty and call on the services of the British in 1829 to avert a war with Bikaner and 10 years later when it was threatened by Afghan forces.[7]

[edit]Mehta family and migration of Bhati Royal family towards Pakistan

Facade of a mansion in Jaisalmer

The reigns of both Maharawal Mulraj and his successor were plagued by bitter intrigues between him and the Mehta family who were the hereditary holders of the office of prime minister. Prime minister Swarup Singh Mehta was beheaded by the Bhati heir-apparent in a dispute over a maiden who preferred the prince to the Mehta. It is also claimed that he insulted the prince in public over a debt he owed to him. His young son Salim Singh, 11 at the time, secretly swore revenge on the ruling family. Eliminating many rivals by violence and with many of the ruling family deep in debt to him by the time he succeeded to the position of prime minister he effectively controlled the kingdom. Once in office he used spies and detention of members of the leading families as hostages to maintain control while isolating the power of Rawal Gai Singh (1820 to 1846) who had succeeded to the throne He introduced such heavy taxation that approximately 5000 of the merchants immigrated to other kingdoms which contributed to the downturn in the fortunes of Jaisalmer.[8] Colonel James Tod who was the British political agent for Jaisalmer at this time requested intervention by the British but before this could a occur the situation was resolved in 1824 when Salim Singh was stabbed by a noble and for good measure when it appeared he might survive his wound he was poisoned by his own wife.

So in all this situation of chaos Maharawal Gai Singh Bhatti ordered the Royal family to migrate towards the peaceful land of Punjab. Because in the Bhati dynasty of Jaisalmer there was serious threat to the Royal lives. Finally many of the members of Royal family reached the Punjab of present Pakistan, near to Jhang and Chiniot, along with the battalions of Royal Guards. In Punjab the Royal family got almost 5000 KM square land, by the British Raj as a Appreciation gift to the Royals of Jaisalmer. Due to peace and prosperity many of the members of the Bhati Royal family preferred residing in Jaisal Bhattian (Pakistani Punjab). And still living in Pakistan.

[edit]The Bhati Royal Family In Pakistan

British Raj fully welcomed these members of the Bhati Royal family and gifted millions of agricultural land to them in Punjab. So Royal Family started their Punjabian territory in Punjab. Interesting fact is tht the Royal Family once again put the name of their terroritory capital (JAISAL BHATTIAN) 'in local language', and 'in English' that is (Jaisal of royal bhatis) in Punjab. So Bhati Family of Jaisal holding the Royal Flag in Pakistan. But rights of Monarchs have been usurped in Pakistan by the civil Govt.

[edit]Princely Jaisalmer

Flag of the princely state of Jaisalmer

During the British Raj, Jaisalmer was the seat of a princely state of the same name, and was entitled to a 15 gun salute.

As traditionally, the main source of income for the kingdom was levies on caravans the economy was heavily affected when Bombay emerged as a major port and sea trade replaced the traditional land routes. Maharawals Ranjit Singh and Bairi Sal Singh attempted to turn around the decline but the dramatic reduction in trade impoverished the kingdom. A severe drought and resulting famine from 1895 to 1900 during the reign of Maharawal Salivahan Singh only made matters worse by causing widespread loss of the livestock that the increasingly agriculturally based kingdom relied upon. Maharawal Jawahir Singh’s (1914–49) attempts at modernization also failed to turn the kingdom’s economy around and it remained isolated and backwards compared with other areas of Rajasthan.

[edit]1947 Onwards

Following the independence of India in 1947, Jaisalmer acceded unto the dominion of India. On May 15, 1949, it was united with certain otherprincely states to form the present-day Indian state of Rajasthan.

The partition of India in 1947 lead to the closing of all the trade routes on the Indo-Pak border and reduced Jaisalmer a drought-prone desert backwater on the international border. Ironically, skirmishes between India and Pakistan gave Jaisalmer a strategic importance and resulted in it being built up into a major army base. Later, the Rajasthan Canal served to revive the surrounding desert areas. The opening of a paved road in 1958 and the completion of a railroad in 1968, connected the hitherto remote town with the rest of Rajasthan.[9] These links allowed Jaisalmer due to the attractions of it’s old city to develop into one of the major tourist destinations in Rajasthan.

 

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