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Mandi- The Ancient Town en route Old Silk Route

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Location and Geography

Mandi district is a part of the state of Himachal Pradesh in India and is located between 31.1350 to 32.0430°North, latitude and 76.3720 to 77.2315°East longitude. The area is bounded by district Kangra on the northwest, district Hamirpur & Bilaspur in the west, district Solan in the south, district Shimla in the southwest and district Kullu in the east.

The main Mandi town is at an altitude of 760 meters above the sea level and is situated at the foothills of Shivalik mountain ranges. The river Beas separates old Mandi from the new Mandi town. River Beas is the main watershed of the whole district with only the southeast region draining into the Satluj river. On the north side the Uhl, Luni, Rana and Binu and on the south the Hanse, Tirthan, Bakhli, Jiuni, Suketi, Ranodi, Son and Bakar rivulets are the principal tributaries of the river Beas.

The innumerable transverse spurs at various places break the main ranges of mountainous terrain running from north to south. The Jalori range has dense forests and divides the watersheds of Satluj and Beas, and has a passage for the high road from Kullu to Shimla through Jalori pass. The temple of Shikari Devi is situated at the highest peak of the range at 11,060 feet.

The Jalori range has three spurs which extend through the Mandi Saraj region. The first is the Nargu range is a continuation of the Bir Bhangal which separates Mandi from Kullu and lies towards the north of the river Beas. The Bhubu pass is the passage on the range at the height of 9,480 feet. These ranges have the mountains up to 13000 feet with deep gorges.

The second mountain range called Ghoghar-Ki-Dhar runs down through the center of the region parallel to the Nargu range. The salt mines of Drang and Gumma are found in this range which has moderate slopes of sparse forests and beautiful pastures.

The third is the Sikandar Range which begins at and runs northward for fifty miles from the meeting points of Suket and Bilaspur areas. It has pine forests and rich grassy meadows. The name of the range has been derived from the name of Delhi Sultan Sikander Lodhi, who crossed it on his way to the conquer Kangra in 1225. The highest point on the range is around 13,000 feet adjoining the Kullu district whereas the lowest point is about 1,800 feet near Sandhol.

Due to a variation in altitude, the climate of the region is not uniform and the lower regions are hot in summer, while the hills are bitter cold in winter. Except for the rainy season, the climate of Mandi is hospitable.

The Rewaksar lake near Mandi

Silk Road  from Europe, Egypt, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Java-Indonesia, and Vietnam, China.Red is land route and the blue is the sea water route.

Silk Road from Europe, Egypt, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Java-Indonesia, and Vietnam, China.Red is land route and the blue is the sea water route.

The flag of erstwhile Mandi State

The flag of erstwhile Mandi State

Mandi is Located on Ancient Silk Route

The ancient network of interlinking trade routes leading to the lucrative silk trade to China was known as the silk route or silk road. Because silk was the major trading commodity along this connection of about 6,437 Km., across the Afro-Eurasian landmass or an extensive transcontinental network. Several other goods were also traded through the route.

The East, South and west Asia, were connected with Europe, North-East Africa, and the Mediterranean world, through this historical trade route. This route was a link between ancient Europe and Egypt; then Syria and Turkey; and from there it led to Iran and Afghanistan. Thereafter it bridged the distance between Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Mandi in India and at last China.

The trade of silk from China along the length of 4,000 miles on this route, began during the times of Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). It was due to the missions and expeditions of Zhang Qian, that the part of the route in central Asia was developed around 114 BC. Other trade routes across the continents already existed before the silk route.

Various ideologies, technologies, religions and philosophies, and diseases like plague also traveled along the Silk Routes.

The Indians and Bactrians were the ancient traders on this route. Then from 5th to 8th century came the Sogdian and afterward the Arabs and Persians.


The ancient history of Mandi is shrouded in mystery till the formation of the principality of Suket in 765 AD. Before this time the area was under the sway of small chieftains or Knights called Ranas or Thakurs in the local dialect.

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An ancient and holy place of pilgrimage, known as Rewalsar, finds a reference in Skanda Purana. It is believed that Karan, a hero of the Mahabharata, founded a place called Karnpur, which is a small village and the Pandavas took shelter in a temple at Gumma, after the attempt to burn them down failed. Not much is known about Mandi in classical literature of India.

In the history of Tibet, there is a reference of Padam Sambhav (750-800 AD), who was a great Buddhist preacher. He was summoned by king Tisong-De-Tsen of Tibet to preaching Buddhism in their country. Padam Sambhav belonged to Zahor, an area around Rewalsar in Mandi district.

The ruling dynasties of Mandi and Suket had common pedigree of the Chandravanshi line of Rajputs of Sen families of Bengal. They also claim their descent from the Pandavas of the Mahabharata era. It is believed that the clan ruled Indarprastha or Delhi for 1,700 years.

Then due to some altercation, Khemraj the last ruler of the family, was dethroned by his Minister or Wazir named Bisarp, who took over the reigns in his own hands. After being so humiliated, Khemraj lost his kingdom and fled to Bengal. Here his family ruled for 13 generations for about 350 years or so. Later during foreign invasions, the family fled to Ropar in Punjab, where the king, Rup Sen, got killed and his son Bir Sen, fled to the hills and reached Suket in Mandi district.

Modern History

In 765 AD, Bir Sen led the foundation of a small kingdom in Suket. In 1200 AD, the principalities of Mandi was separated from suket, because Sahu Sen quarreled with his younger brother Bahu Sen. The latter left Suket and settled at Manglan in Kullu district. Here his descendants lived for 11 generations, till Kranchan Sen got killed while fighting against the King of Kullu. Then his pregnant queen fled alone to her father who was the chieftain of Seokot. There she gave birth to son who was named Ban Sen, because he was born under the Ban tree. At the tender age of 15, Ban Sen defeated the chieftain of Kilti, who was used to plunder the travelers. Ban sen succeeded to the chieftainship after the death of Seokot chieftain, who had no heir. Later on, he killed the chieftain of Sakor and annexed the area. Thereafter he changed his capital to Bhiuli suburb of present Mandi town.

That is how in the beginning of the sixteenth century, the principality of Mandi emerged as a separate state. The present Mandi Town was founded in 1527 AD, by Ajbar Sen, who was the descendant of Ban Sen, and the nineteenth descendant of Bahu Sen. The Mandi town is the capital of the erstwhile Mandi state and is the headquarters of present Mandi District. Instead of being a chieftain, Ajbar Sen assumed the designation of the king and annexed new territories. During his reign, the Mandi palace and the temple of Bhut Nath were built while the temple of Triloknath was built by his queen.

Sidh Sen, a possessor of great miraculous powers, succeeded Gur Sen in 1978 AD, and made Mandi a powerful state. Large areas from the adjoining principalities were annexed during his reign. By the end of 17th century, Guru Govind Singh visited Mandi. It was from Raja singh, the chieftain of Kullu, that Guru Govind Singh had sought assistance against the Mughals. But Raja Singh imprisoned Guru Govind Singh, and the latter escaped from the prison. On his visit to Mandi, Raja Sidh Sen entertained Suru Govind Singh with great hospitality. Sidh Sen constructed a great tank before the palace and built the temples of Sidh Ganesha and Sidh Kali.

Throughout the entire history, both the states of Mandi and Suket remained rivals and often resorted to warfare.

It was on 21st February 1846 that the chiefs of Mandi and Suket owed their allegiance to the British rulers and sought their protection before Mr. Erskine, who was the superintendent of the Hill States for the British Government. Therefore a treaty was concluded between the British Government and the Sikh Durbar, on 9th march, 1846, by which the whole of the Doaba region between Beas and Sutlej rivers including the ststes of Mandi and Suket, were ceded to the British Government.

On 1st November 1921, both The political control of states of Mandi and Suket were later on transferred from Punjab Government to the Government of India on 1st November 1921. This arrangement continued till 15th August 1947.

On 15th April 1948, when the state of Himachal Pradesh came into existence, the present district of Mandi was formed after the merger of Mandi and Suket.

Religious Beliefs

The people of the region are deeply religious and their actions in almost every sphere of life are regulated by religion. This feature was quite evident during ancient times, when Raja Suraj Sen, the King of Mandi, abdicated in the name of god Madhav Rao or Lord Vishnu and started ruling as His representative. He did so because he was without an heir. After that, the royal families followed the tradition and always held their position in trust for the God.

The Lord hence became the guardian deity of not only the State but of the innumerable village Gods in the entire kingdom. In present times too, all the local Gods and Goddesses gather in the town & pay their honor to the Lord during the international Shivratri fair.

The people also worship of Shiva and Parvati, and there are many temples in the town namely, the Panchavaktra or the five-faced Shiva, Ardh Nareshwara or the half Shiva and half Parvati, the Triloknath or the three-faced Shiva, Bhootnath or lord of demons.The Consort of Shiva is known by various names like Bhimakali, Sri Vidya, Bala, Kali, Tara, Bagla, Durga etc.

Temples of Mandi

  1. Tarna temple is devoted to Goddess Kali and is situated at an altitude of 300 feet above sea level. It was built by king Shyam Sen, and there are about 305 stairs to reach the temple.
  2. Panchvaktra Shiva temple has an image with five faces and has been built in Shikhara style of architecture.It is situated at the confluence of Beas and Suketi rivers and has been declared as national heritage.
  3. Bhima Kali temple has recently been built at the place where the ancient capital of Mandi was situated. It is situated on the bank of river Beas and is dedicated to Goddess Kali.
  4. Bhutnath temple is devoted to Lord Shiva and was built by king Ajber Sen in 1527 AD. It is located in the heart of the town. It was built at the time when the capital of erstwhile princely was shifted from Bhiuli to present site.The image of ruling deity of Mandi is carried to the temple every year before the beginning of international Shivratri Fair. Built in stone masonry, the Shikara style of the temple has a small porch surmounted by a conical spire. The front is an addition and the porch is supported by fluted pillars.
  5. Triloknath temple was built in 1520 AD, by the queen Sultan Devi, the consort of Raja Ajber Sen. It has a three-faced image of Lord Shiva and is one of the oldest temples in the town. It has an exquisite architecture with floral patterns and the beautiful idols of Narda, Sharda, and many other deities.
  6. Mahamritunjya Shiva temple has the image placed on the lotus in a meditative posture or "bhumisparsha mudra", while the four arms of the idol hold traditional symbols.
  7. Ganpati temple was built by king Siddha Sen and is dedicated to the son of Lord Shiva. It has the image of Lord Ganesha and the place was used for Tantrik sadhana by the king.

© 2013 Sanjay Sharma

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