Monday, 16 April 2018

N for Nandana

The city of Nandana and the Nandana Fort was founded by Anandapala, a powerful kings in the line of the Hindu Shahi dynasty of Kabul, estimated around 1005 AD. Nandana is located on the verdant valley on the eastern flanks of the Salt Range hills in the Punjab region of (modern-day) Pakistan. The city had a very short life, but is an important one in the context of the Kabul Hindu Shahi dynasty lineage, being its last capital before its decimation in war.

The Hindu Shahis of Kabul

The Shahis of Kabul ruled over the Kabul valley and extended surrounding regions from the 4th to the 11th Century, and were classified in history into two broad eras, viz., the Kabul Shahis and the Hindu Shahis.

The Kabul Shahi dynasty commenced right after the Kushana rule in that region (famous for King Kanishka) in the 4th Century. At that time, Kabul and the upper North-west region (modern-day north Afghanistan) was inhabited by people of mixed races who practised different faiths. The line of the Hindu Kambojas (initiated into Hinduism at the time of the Ramayana – said to be by Lord Rama himself when he founded the city of Kabul) were prominent, while Bamiyan and Kabul also had strong influences of Buddhism, albeit on the decline. While Hinduism and Buddhism were the primary faiths practised in the region, the culture of the people was quite influenced by the Turkic interactions of its western neighbours.

The Kabul Shahi rulers were often harassed by wars against them by Turkic Muslim armies across their western borders. In 671, during one such invasion when the Muslim armies invaded Kabul, the capital was shifted to Uddabhandapura, situated further east towards the Kashmir valleys.The Kabul Shahi kings were Hindu-Kshatriyas, and had illustrious Hindu ministers and generals in their court and army. During the attack and destruction of Takshashila, (India’s first global university and seat of learning), the Kabul Shahi kings had given shelter to many Buddhist monks and Hindu Brahmins who had fled there. It was one such Brahmin minister Kallar (a.k.a Lalliya) in the court of the last Kabul Shahi king Lagaturman, who effected a coup d’etat and overthrowing the king, installed himself as the ruler. The lineage of Kallar, who were Brahmins who gave up their priestly duties and took up martial arts, were known as the Hindu Shahi dynasty of Kabul.

The Hindu Shahi dynasty began their reign in 870 AD. King Jayapaladeva was one of their most significant kings and was the contemporary of the Turk ruler Sebuk Tigin of Ghazni and his son Mahmud (977 – 1001). His kingdom stretched from Laghman to Kashmir and from Sirhind to Multan, coving an expansive tract of land. However, he continued to have repeated battles with Mahmud of Ghazni on territorial supremacy in the region, as the Ghaznavid Empire and the Hindu Shahi kingdom shared borders. King Jayapala was once and for all decisively defeated by Mahmud in 1001 and he self-immolated himself on the funeral pyre to escape capture and forced conversion to Islam at the hands of Mahmud. Kabul was invaded, destroyed and annexed to the Ghaznavid Empire and thus forever lost to the Hindu Shahis.

King Anandapala, son and successor of Jayapala ascended the throne in 1002 and continued to reign the Hindu Shahi kingdom, but within a few years, his capital Uddabhandapura was also attacked, invaded and annexed by Mahmud, forcing him to retreat further south towards Lahore.

Foundation of Nandana

It was during the time of King Anandapala’s reign in Lahore that the idea of setting up a fortress city on the hills came to his mind. Some historians say that Anandapala wanted to take advantage of the Salt Range hills strategically and was at the same time lulled by the pristine beauty of the verdant valleys in that area.

Thus, around 1005, he built the city of Nandana on the hills of the Salt Range, with a fort placed strategically to protect and provide resistance to the invading armies. The city, though not a large one, had decent population and gradually grew popular more for its wonderful location and views than for anything else, until one day it became the capital of the Hindu Shahi kings. Its founder King Anandapala is credited to have built a Shiva temple on the highest part of the hill city, the ruins of which still stand today. The King named this city ‘Nandana’ after the divine mythical garden present in Lord Indra’s palace in heaven, thus symbolically praising the natural beauty and divinity of the city.

Anandapala’s foresight had proved him right, as Mahmud returned to attack and continued to inflict heavy losses on the Hindu Shahi kingdom. The Battle of Chach was Anandapala’s last stand against Mahmud of Ghazni, post which he signed a tributary treaty with the victorious Sultan. After Anandapala’s death in 1010, his son Trilochanapala succeeded him.

The end of Nandana

King Trilochanapala ascended the throne in 1011 but of a much reduced kingdom. In his endeavour to expand the territories of his kingdom, he waged wars with other Hindu kings of north India and was successful in extending his kingdom to the upper Yamuna plains and into the Sivalik hills. However, during Mahmud of Ghazni’s later campaigns in India when he attacked Mathura and Kannauj, some of Trilochanpala’s own mutinous troops who fought in his army against Mahmud, assassinated him.

Bheempala succeeded his father Trilochanapala to the throne of the Hindu Shahis in 1021, but by this time the Hindu Shahi kingdom was reduced only to their capital city of Nandana. The empire was at its lowest, but Bheempala ruled over the city of Nandana peacefully for five years. In 1026, in the fierce Battle of Nandana, Bheempala personally commanded his troops in defence of his city, fought valiantly and seriously wounded the commander of the Ghaznavid army, Muhammad bin Ibrahim. The record of the battle of Nandana is described by the contemporary Muslim chronicler Utbi in his work where he describes King Bheempala as “King Bheem, the fearless… fought with courage and valour…”

The city of Nandana was taken, ravaged and looted by the Ghaznavid army and King Bheem was killed in the battle. The city being completely destroyed, was gradually depopulated and fell to ruins eventually being erased from its once beautiful location atop the Salt Range hills.

The Battle of Nandana not only saw the end of the last capital of the Hindu Shahi dynasty being wiped out, but the entire dynasty itself collapsed and ended. King Bheempala therefore was the last king of the once famed Hindu Shahi dynasty. Bheempala’s descendants served as generals and courtiers in Kashmir. They gained positions of prominence in the royal court of Kashmir and intermarried with the royal family. In the subsequent battles which the King of Kashmir fought against Mahmud of Ghazni, one of Bheempala’s sons, Rudrapala, finds mention in the description of the war by Kalhana, a 12th century Kashmiri Brahmin and author of Rajatarangini, as being “a valiant general in the battlefield…”

Nandana: modern times

Whilst since 1026, the city of Nandana fell to ruins after its destruction, there have hardly been any mention or reference to it. However, in the last few decades with proper excavations being conducted in the Salt Range hills, the city is being rediscovered. Today only the ruins of the Nandana Fort and the Shiva temple built by King Ananadapala, the founder of Nandana, stand as testimony to this once beautiful and short-lived ancient city and its claim to heritage and history.


Photo: View of the ruins of Nandana Fort

Photo credit: Amir Islam, Wikimedia Commons

Connect with me on Twitter: @Sayan74

I am participating in the #BlogchatterA2Z challenge and today’s letter is ‘N’.


  1. A very interesting read, Sayan.

  2. Yet again a place that I have come to know of only through your post. Last few places have been outside the country like Lahore, Multan and you've managed to increase the curiosity quotient with each one. I can't even guess what O might be. Really amazed at your research and writing.

    1. Thank you Sonia for your kind words and encouragement! I am delighted that you have liked my post and the research work. Yes, although some of these places fall outside our borders now, but they cant be ignored from a mythological or historical point of view. I was feeling that many people may not be aware of the history of these cities, hence chose to write about them over a few very popular ones.

      Well, keep a lookout for O.. am sure you will know the place once you read about it !

  3. Because of my interest in History which was on its peak during my post grad, I used to read history series of civil services. I read about the city there first but not in such detail. It was yet another great post Sayan.

    1. Wow.. it's great to hear about your strong interest in history! Thank you Shipra, for appreciating my work :)

  4. Enjoyed reading about the rich and ancient history of Nandana. Thanks for yet another informative post, Sayan!

    1. You are welcome Shilpa and thank you for reading and commenting. I am happy that you liked reading the post.

  5. Oh! What a sad end to a beautiful city. Nandana in its prime under Anandapala must have been a glorious city full of great culture and beauty.


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