Chamba is an ancient town in the Chamba district in the state of Himachal Pradesh, in northern India. According to the 2001 Indian census, Chamba has a population of 20,312 people. Located at an altitude of 996 metres (3,268 ft) above mean sea level, the town is situated on the banks of the Ravi River (a major tributary of the Trans-Himalayan Indus River), at its confluence with the Sal River. Though historical records date the history of the Chamba region to the Kolian tribes in the 2nd century BC, the area was formally ruled by the Maru dynasty, starting with the Raju Maru from around 500 AD, ruling from the ancient capital of Bharmour, which is located 75 kms (47 mt) from the town of Chamba.
In 920, Raja Sahil Varman (or Raja Sahil Verma) shifted the capital of the kingdom to Chamba, following the specific request of his daughter Champavati. From the time of Raju Maru, 67 Rajas of this dynasty have ruled over Chamba until it finally merged with the Indian Union in April 1948, although Chamba was under British suzerainty from 1846 to this time. The town has a large number of temples and palaces, and hosts two popular jatras (fairs), the "Suhi Mata Mela" and the "Minjar Mela", which last for several days and involve music and dancing. Chamba is also well noted for its arts and crafts, particularly its Pahari paintings, which originated in the Hill Kingdoms of North India between the 17th and 19th century and its handicrafts and textiles.
The temperatures in summer vary between 38°C (100°F) and 15°C (59°F) and in winter: 15°C (59°F) and 0°C (32°F). The maximum temperature recorded in summer is 39°C (102°F) and the minimum temperature in winter is −1°C (30°F). Climatically March to June is said to be the best period to visit Chamba, which is a well known hill station. The average annual rainfall in the town is 785.84 millimetres (30.939 in).
Chamba is an important centre for the making of traditional handicrafts, and the town has numerous small workshops maintained by the artisans. Many of the items produced are exquisite and lavish, testament to the towns' aristocratic heritage. Casting metalware in Chamba is an ancient tradition, dating back to the Bronze Age period, with items typically made out of copper or brass, and also iron, especially in the traditional making of implements and weapons by blacksmiths. Of particular note in this trade are the large plaques with reliefs, commonly used for wall decoration. The temple cupolas in Chamba district are often furnished with copper and brass items made in Chamba and often the golden kalasha or vessel crowning them is produced here.
Festivals, Fairs And Dances:
Two melas or fairs, also known as Jatras, are of particular note in Chamba; "Suhi Mata Mela" and "Minjar Mela". A notable event of such fairs is when the ‘chela’. a subordinate of the deity who is being worshipped goes into a trance and answers the queries and prayers of the devotees. An important festival held in Chamba is known as the "Suhi Mata Mela". Another popular festival held in Chamba is the "Minjar Mela", held on the second Sunday of the Shravana month, corresponding to the month of August in the Gregorian calendar.
- Champavati Temple: This temple was built by Raja Sahil Varman in memory of his daughter Champavati. The temple, located near the Police Post and the Treasury building, is built in the Shikhara style, with intricate stone carvings. It has a wheel roof and is large as the Laxmi Narayan Temple. An idol of the goddess Mahishasuramardini (Durga) is worshipped in the temple. The walls of the temple are full of exquisite stone sculptures. On account of its historical and archeological importance, the temple is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India. Champavati Temple, located in the heart of the city of Chamba, is a pilgrim destination for many Hindus.
- Lakshmi Narayan Temples: The Lakshmi Narayan temples complex, devoted to the Vaishnavite sect, includes the main Lakshmi Narayan temple, built in the 10th century by Raja Sahil Verman. It has been built to suit the local climatic conditions with wooden chatries and has a shikara, and a sanctum sanctorum (Garbhagriha), with an antarala and a mantapa. A metallic image of Garuda, the vahana (mount) of Vishnu is installed on the dwajastamba pillar at the main gate of the temple. In 1678, Raja Chhatra Singh adorned the temple roof with gold plated pinnacles, as a riposte to Auranagzeb, who had ordered demolition of this temple.
- Chamunda Devi Temple: Chamunda Devi Temple is located in a prominent position on the spur of Shah Madar range of hills, opposite to the Chamba town. It was built by Raja Umed Singh, and was completed in 1762. It is the only wooden temple with gabled roof (single storied) in Chamba, while all others in the town are built from stone in the north Indian Nagara architectural style. There is a mandap in the foreground of the temple of 5.1 metres (17 ft) x 6 metres (20 ft) size with an agni-kund or fire pit in the centre and a gable roof covered with slates. The mandapa has carvings in wood in its multi paneled ceiling with reliefs of human figures on the pillars and brackets.
- Akhand Chandi Palace: The Akhand Chandi Palace, noted for its distinct green roof, was built by Raja Umed Singh between 1747 and 1765 and used as his residence. Later, Raja Sham Singh refurnished it with the assistance of British engineers. In 1879, the Darbar Hall (also named 'Marshal Hall' after the builder) was built. Raja Bhuri Singh added the Zenana Mahal (residence of Royal ladies). The building was exemplary of the fusion of Mughal and British architectural influences. The palace provides scenic views of the Chaugan, Laxmi Narayana Temple, Sui Mata, Chamunda Devi Temple, Rang Mehal, Hari Rai Temple and Bansi Gopal Temple.
- Church of Scotland: The Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian Church, known as 'St. Andrew’s Church', was established by the first missionary in Chamba, the Reverend William Ferqueen, who served there between 1863 and 1873. The foundation stone for building the new church was laid by the Raja of Chamba on 17 February 1899, in the presence of the Scottish reverend Dr. M’Clymont who had come from Scotland. The Raja had contributed a generous grant to build the church and ensured that it was exquisitely built in fine stone masonry.
- Bhuri Singh Museum: The Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba was established on September 14, 1908 in honour of the raja at the time, Raja Bhuri Singh, who ruled Chamba from 1904 to 1919. J. Ph. Vogel, an eminent indologist, and expert on the history of Chamba state, proposed the museum to preserve a number of valuable inscriptions, mostly in Sarda script, which contained some rare information about the medieval history of Chamba; the parasites of Sarahan, Devi-ri-Kothi and mul Kihar are still preserved in the museum. Bhuri Singh donated his family collection of paintings to the museum, including royal portraits which ranged from Basohli to Guler-Kangra in style, and embroidered Pahari miniatures. Numerous artifacts, important to the heritage of Chamba were added, including coins, hill jewelry and royal and tradiitional costumes, arms and armour, musical instruments and other items.