Uttarakhand Through the Ages

Prof. Ajay Singh Rawat

Uttarakhand is an integral part of the Indian heritage. For ages immemorial its magnetic pull has been drawing painters and philosophers, mystics and sages. The sublimest poetry that has thrilled humanity and the profoundest thought that has sought to unravel the mystery of the ultimate reality have found root in the folds of Uttarakhand or the Central Himalaya. Even today this region holds foremost position in the belief of the great majority of Indians as the abode of Gods, divinities and saints, the land of life sustaining herbs and medicinal plants, the catchment area of one of the most fertile plains on the face of the earth, the Indo-Gangetic plain and as the cradle of the Indo-Gangetic civilization.
The history of the nomenclature of the Central Himalayan region has been changing with the vicissitudes of time,  of the political scenario of northern India and of the region. During the Vedic
Badri Nath Kedar Nath
age this segment of the Himalayas was popular as Madhya Himvata. In the times of Ramayana, this region lying north of the Kausala kingdom was known as Uttar Kausala. During the period of Mahabharata it is possible that the name of this region must have been famous as Himvat. According to Vanparva, when the Pandavas started off on their pilgrimage to Badrinath, Yudhisthira told Bhim to sojourn with Draupadi and others in Gangadwara until he returned from his journey to Badrinath, Gandhmadan, Kailash etc. But later it was decided that all of them should go and soon they arrived at Subahu Vishaya, which was near Himvat. There they left behind their servants and goods and started on foot for Himvat Giri. While crossing the hills studded with lakes, rivers and forests they witnessed the country of Mlechha Gana. In the end after visiting several places, they reached the pilgrimage centres of Kailash, Badri , Gandhmadan and Vishala etc. While perambulating in this sacred terrain, they saw the famous mountain peaks of Mainak, Mandar and Meru. After visiting these holy centres of Himvat, the Pandavas reached Subhau Vishaya, from where they went back to their base camp via river Yamuna. In the description of their sacred wanderings, the name Himvat has often been cited. On the basis of the above description and taking into account the places, which are familiar like Badrinath, Gangadwara etc. it can be assumed that the hilly tract of this region was known as Himvat.
Gangotri Temple Hemkund Sahib
It was a part of the Panchala kingdom, the capital of which was Ahichhatra (Rohilkhand) and its boundaries extended up to the northern banks of the river Ganga. It has been stated that the king Drupada, the then ruler of Panchala divided the kingdom into two parts, viz Uttara (northern) and the Dakshin (southern) Kuru. The northern portion was ceded to Guru Dronacharya, the illustrious preceptor of the Kauravas and the Pandavas. As it was annexed to the Kuru kingdom, it consequently, came to be known as  Uttarkuru. At that time Uttar Panchala was a flourishing state, which had supplied seven 'aksohini' of warriors in the great war of Mahabharata.
The Central Himalayn region termed as the Swargbhumi and Devbhumi was considered as the most appropriate place for the performance of penance and religious activities. It had become the centre for pilgrims of different faiths and religions. According to tradition in the ancient period this region housed some of the most important ashrams of sages and seers like that of seer Kanva on the bank of the river Malini near Kotdwara. According to tradition Bharat the great king after whom Bharatvarsh is named was born here. The hermitage of sage Kaushik was sited near river Kosi, of sage Agastya at Agastrymuni, of sage Angira on the bank of the river Alaknanda, of sage Kashyap near Mount Gandhmadan and of sage Vashistha in Tehri Garhwal in the vicinity of Vashistha Gufa and Vashistha Kund.