SIKHS` RELATIONS WITH HILL STATES lying between the Ganga and the Chenab rivers from the time of the Gurus to the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh fluctuated from guarded friendship to open hostility. Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and later his son, Baba Sri Chand, had preached the Sikh tenets in the hill tract east of the Punjab proper. Under the order of Guru Amar Das (1479-1574), his nephew, Savan Mall, had gone to Haripur (Guler) state, to preach as well as to send down the River Beas timber needed for the new habitation being raised at Goindval.

Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) came in contact with some of the chiefs of these Rajput states in the Gwalior Fort where he, along with them, was held captive under the orders of Emperor Jahangir. He also helped Dharam Chand, a prince of Handur (Nalagarh) to regain his throne after his release from Gwalior. He, through his son, Baba Gurditta (1613-38), founded the township of Kiratpur in Kahlur (Bilaspur) state to which place he himself repaired in 1635. Kiratpur remained the seat of the Gurus until Guru Tegh Bahadur founded, in 1655, Chakk Nanaki, later renamed Anandpur. The rulers of Kahlur treated the Gurus with reverence until Raja Bhim Chand, who ruled from 1665 to 1692, became jealous of Guru Gobind Singh`s royal style and growing repute. The Guru withdrew temporarily from Anandpur, and accepting, in 1685, the invitation of the friendly ruler of Sirmur, took up residence in his territory.

Raja Bhim Chand forced upon him a battle which was fought at Bhangani, 11 km northeast of his new abode, Paonta, on 18 September 1688. The Raja and his allies were repulsed. Guru Gobind Singh returned to Anandpur later in 1688. Bhim Chand made his peace with him. Guru Gobind Singh in fact took sides with him in his battle against a Mughal commander fought at Nadaun on 20 March 1691. Bhim Chand was succeeded in 1692 by his son, Ajmer Chand, who, intent on evicting Guru Gobind Singh from his territory, revived the old animosity. In alliance with some other hill monarchs and soliciting help from Emperor Aurangzib, he attacked Anandpur successively in 1700,1703 and 1705.

The last assault took the form of a protracted siege, Guru Gobind Singh eventually evacuating the Fort. The hill chiefs and the imperial troops came in pursuit up to Chamkaur. Guru Gobind Singh, before his death at Nanded on the banks of the River Godavari in Maharashtra in November 1708, deputed Banda Singh Bahadur (1670-1716) to chastise the faujdar of Sirhind and the hill chieftains for their part in the persecution of the Sikhs. Banda Singh during his whirlwind campaign sacked Sirhind and reduced the hill states. Following a period of sustained persecution, the Sikhs emerged as a political power.

They reconquered Sirhind in January 1664 and struck coins at Lahore in the following year. Their raids into the Gang Doab and beyond beginning in 1764 brought the people to submission and they agreed to pay rakhi or protection money to them twice a year. The Raja of the Himalayan state of Garhwal bought peace by paying to the Sikhs an annual tribute of 4,000 rupees. As George Forster, A Journey from Bengal to England, testifies, only two Sikh horsemen were enough to overawe a Garhwal officer into readily paying the tribute.

Raja of Sirmur paid as tribute Rs 2,000 per annum to the Bhangi Sardars of Buna regularly until,1809 when this state passed under British protection. The first Sikh chief to invade Kangra hill states was Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, who reduced Kangra, Nurpur and Chamba to tributary states, yielding together about 2,00,000 rupees annually. Kangra, the strongest of the hill states, was ruled by Raja Sansar ChandKatoch from 1775 to 1823. In 1783,Jassa Singh helped by the Kanhaiya sardar,Jai Singh, besieged Kangra Fort which had been in Mughal possession since 1619. The Fort was ultimately occupied by the Kanhaiyas in 1783.

In 1803-04, Sansar Chand twice invaded Sikh territories in the region of Hoshiarpur and Bijvara but was pushed back by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), who occupied the Kangra Fort itself on 24 August 1809. All the hill states north of the River Sutlej accepted his suzerainty, and he appointed Desa Singh Majithia as his nazim or governor of the territory. Jammu was the principal state lying between the Rivers Ravi and Chenab. Its most famous ruler was Ranjit Dev who ruled from 1750 to 1781. He became a tributary of Sardar Jhanda Singh of the Bhangi misi in 1770. During the time of his successor, Brij Raj, Jammu was sacked twice by Mahan Singh Sukkarchakkia, father of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Brij Raj was killed in battle in 1787, and his son, Sampuran Dev, made a complete submission to the Sikhs.

References :

1. Hutchison, J., and J.Ph. Vogel, History of the Punjab Hill States. Lahore, 1933
2. Gupta, Hari Ram, History of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1978-82
3. Harbans Singh, Guru Gobind Singh. Chandigarh, 1966
4. Hasrat, Bikrama Jit, Life and Times of Ranjit Singh. Nabha, 1977