|Himachal Pradesh has been inhabited by human beings since the dawn of civilization. It has a rich and varied history which can be divided into several distinct eras.
Prehistory and Protohistory
About 2 million years ago man lived in the foothills of Himachal Pradesh, viz in the Bangana valley of Kangra, Sirsa valley of Nalagarh and Markanda valley of Sirmour. The foothills of the state were inhabited by people from Indus valley civilization which flourished between 2250 and 1750 B.C. People of Indus valley civilization pushed the original inhabitants of Ganga plains who were known as Kolorian people towards north. They moved to the hills of Himachal Pradesh where they could live peacefully and preserve their way of life.
In the Vedas they have been referred to as Dasas, Dasyus and Nishadas while in later works they have been called Kinnars, Nagas and Yakshas. The Kols or Mundas are believed to be the original migrants to the hills of present day Himachal.
The second phase of migrants came in the form of Mongoloid people known as Bhotas and Kiratas. Later on came the third and most important wave of migrants in the form of the Aryans who left their Central Asian home. These laid the base of history and culture of Himachal Pradesh.
Early History up to Harsha
According to the Mahabharta the tract which forms the present day Himachal Pradesh was made up of number of small republics known as Janpadas each of which constituted both a state and cultural unit.
Audumbras: The were the most prominent ancient tribes of Himachal who lived in the lower hills between Pathankot and Jwalamukhi. They formed a separate state in 2 B.C.
Trigarta: The state lay in the foothills drained by three rivers, i.e. Ravi, Beas and Satluj and hence the name. It is believed to have been an independent republic.
Kuluta: The kingdom of Kilita was situated in the upper Beas valley which is also known as the Kully valley. Its capital was Naggar.
Kulindas: This kingdom covered the area lying between the Beas, Satluj and Yamuna rivers, i.e. the Shimla and Sirmour hills. Their administration resembled a republic with members of a central assembly sharing the powers of the king.
Gupta Empire: Chandragupta slowly subdued most of the republics of Himachal by show of strength or use of force though he usually did not rule them directly. Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta extended his boundaries to the Himalyan region. He introduced Buddhism to this tract. He built many stupas one of which is in the Kullu valley.
Harsha: After the collapse of Gupta empire and before the rise of Harsha, this area was again ruled by petty chiefs known as Thakurs and Ranas. With the rise of Harsha in the early 7th century, most of these small states acknowledged his overall supremacy though many local powers remained with the petty chiefs.
A few decades after Harsha's death (647 A.D.) many Rajput states ascended in Rajsthan and Indus plains. They fought amongst themselves and the vanquished moved to the hills with their followers, where they set up small states or principalities. These states were Kangra, Nurpur, Suket, Mandi, Kutlehar, Baghal, Bilaspur, Nalagarh, Keonthal, Dhami, Kunihar, Bushahar, Sirmour.
The small hill kingdom enjoyed a large degree of independence till the eve of Muslim invasions in northern India. States of the foothills were devastated by Muslim invaders from time to time. Mahmud Ghaznavi conquered Kangra at the begining of the 10th centuary. Timur and Sikander Lodi also marched through the lower hills and captured several forts and fought many battles.
Later on as the Mughal dynasty began to break up; the rulers of the hill states took full advantage. The Katoch rulers of Kangra availed of this opportunity and Kangra regained independence status under Maharaja Sansar Chand who ruled for nearly half a centuary. He was one of the ablest administrators of the region. After he took formal possession of Kangra fort, Sansar Chand began to expand his territory. The states of Chamba, Suket, Mandi, Bilaspur, Guler, Jaswan, Siwan and Datarpur came under the direct or indirect control of Sansar Chand.