Ramnagar is a historic town about 38 km west of Udhampur. It is named after its last ruler, King Ram Singh, who was ousted by Sikh forces in 1822 AD. It is a beautiful city that is divided into thirteen districts and has the status of a subdivision that works under the administrative control of the subdivision judge. It also has a municipal committee that looks after the city’s civil affairs and a degree college, which is in a quaint and quiet location on the outskirts of the city, spanning an area of about 300 canals. The Jammu University campus also works here. Ramnagar was formerly ruled by the Bandral Rajputs and was the capital of the former state of Bandralta. It was founded by the Chamba royal family from the Chambyal dynasty. The first king of this state was Bahattar Dev Verman, the brother of Vichitar Verman of Chamba, who ruled Chamba in the 10th century AD. The Vansavali or line of kings of this dynasty contains only 21 names. This dynasty ruled Bandralta until 1822 when Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered it and overthrew the beloved ruler Raja Dev in 1822. It then became Raja Suchet Singh. granted as a fief who was a great general and the younger brother of Maharaja Gulab Singh. He ruled Bandralta from 1822 until his death in 1844 AD. After the death of Raja Suchet Singh in 1844 AD in Lahore, his Ranis became Sati and Ram Singh, the second son of Maharaja Ranbir Singh, became the Feudal lord of Bandralta and renamed it Ramnagar. After the death of Raja Ram Singh, this Jagir was brought together in the Kingdom of Jammu, as both Raja Suchet Singh and Raja Ram Singh had no descendants.
Ramnagar is famous for its rich culture and priceless heritage. The royal palaces were built by the Bandral Lords, but renovated and reconstructed by Raja Suchet Singh, who previously resided there. He also built a fortress and the Purana Mahal, which consists of a complex of three-story rooms with high walls and watchtowers at regular intervals. The walls of the rooms are decorated with stucco work and painted with floral patterns. The wooden parts of the ceiling are richly decorated and the corners of the roofs have protrusions in the form of lotus flowers. Nama Mahal or the New Palace was built by Raja Ram Singh. The complex has open courtyards surrounded by rooms with two opposite entrances in opposite wings. The outer walls are high and supported by buttresses. The rooms have wooden ceilings and the interior walls are decorated with floral patterns.
Shesh Mahal was built during the reign of Raja Ram Singh in 1885. It is a royal mansion made up of two forecourt with burjis on the corners. Behind it are halls and rooms that are flanked on both sides of the central aisle. Sheesh Mahal is a peculiar building modeled after the old havelis, with a wide ornate entrance flanked by lush chambers richly decorated with wall paintings. To the right of the entrance are three halls popularly known as Darbar Hall, Sheesh Mahal, and Rang Mahal. Darbar Hall is a large chamber 46 feet by 18 feet with frescoed walls. These murals are painted in the Pahari style of Bandralta and the great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are exhibited with ingenuity and skill. Some murals show the portrait of Raja Suchet Singh with his courtiers and some show the battle scenes with the king in the middle of the episode. This hall must have been used as a royal court. The second large chamber is smaller but richly decorated with several panels richly decorated with the panels of runners, creepers, pendants and floral borders that cover the frame of hunting scenes, work yard scenes and portraits of kings and courtiers, as well as hunting scenes. Unique to this part of the place is the beautiful portrait of Nayikas, which is adorned with the transparent petticoats. Nayika is well covered with outerwear decorated with necklaces, earrings, nose rings, and hair clips. Some paintings depict battle scenes with thousands of cavaliers, elephants, and armored soldiers marching to the battlefields. They are armed with weapons, followed by rifles on wheels. This part of the palace is known as the Rang Mahal and must have been used for entertainment, music and dancing for the kings. In addition, the walls of Rang Mahal are adorned with a series of love games by Lord Krishna with gopies. There is also a painting of the wedding scene by Raja Suchet Singh which highlights the rites and rituals of the Dogra Society’s wedding ceremony. The third chamber next to the Rang Mahal is that of Sheesh Mahal, the walls of which, as the name suggests, are decorated with cut glasses that are at times woven with fine paintings. The subject of these paintings is the same as that of Rang Mahal, but in the corners some paintings of English ladies are replaced with paintings by masters of the Bandralta school.
The Baradari or Pavilion by Raja Ram Singh has six doors instead of 12 to allow free airflow. The structure has 3 doors on one side of the square structure despite each side. It was built by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1844. The pavilion has two floors and the central area where Raja Ram Singh held court has a mirrored ceiling.
The Old Palace of Ramnagar was a fortified and secure area; therefore no need for a separate fortress was felt. But with the changed circumstances, the need to build a fortress was recognized and a place was chosen that was a ridge at a distance of about 800 m from the old palace. It has a square structure of 42.65 x 42.65 m and boasts a masonry made of huge cut stones pounded with lime powder and the paste made from legumes. The four corners of the fortress form the four towers, which were built on a solid foundation. The fort has a perfect structure and walls up to 60 meters long that form the outer parapet of the fort. There is a main gate that opens to the east side of the moat that is 12 meters high and 6 meters wide. The entrance to the gate is covered by two heavy wooden gates 20 feet long and 5 feet wide. There are images of god Hanuman and Durga on either side of the gate and on the left side of Durga there is an image of Bhairava. There are two fountains, one on one side of the door and the other on the back of the courtyard. The entrance to the fort is through a large deodi measuring 10.5 mx 4.4 m, which is supported by corrugated columns. On the right side of the Deodi is a wide chamber that may be intended for the security officer. The interior of the fort is well-tended with lush green lawns, and there is an ammunition chamber near the fort, where solid iron cannonballs are well preserved. The fort is connected to the grassland with the help of a wooden bridge that spans the gap in the moat, 4.5 m wide and 4.50 m deep. The fort was declared a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1972 for its upkeep and maintenance.
When the queen heard the news of the king’s death from King Suchet Singh in 1844, she performed the rites of sati in the place where samadhi is located today. This samadhi is built in the mausoleum style with a crenellated door with four metallic jugs that taper to the tip.
Ramnagar is also famous for many temples as the religion has deep roots here. The Narsingh Temple in the city is the most famous of all temples since ancient times. Besides the locals, many people from Udhampur, Jammu and neighboring places also visit this temple and organize Havna and Langars. There is the famous Akshardham cave on the outskirts of the city and the ‘Aapshambhu’ temple in Dalsar, which is visited by many devotees. The Shiv Mandir at the bus station is another temple that is most visited by the devout. Chountra Mata Shrine, Pingla Mata Shrine, Sheetla Mandir, and the Badhole and Tarmian temples are other religious places near Ramnagar that are quite famous and attract a large number of devotees. There are tourist places of Gandhtop, Dudu-Kirchi, Basantgarh, Shiv Gali, Seoz Dhar, Dalsar Lake, RC, Peak, Bharnara, etc. endowed with unparalleled natural beauty and attracting a large number of tourists every year.
In addition, Ramnagar is also known for dairy products and edibles. The variety of Ramnagar cheese and kalari is in great demand across the Jammu division. The Sevian from ‘Besan’ and popularly called ‘Boor’ and Golgappes (Pani Puri), Burfi etc. are also popular with locals and tourists. Ramnagar is also known for making top quality rajmash (kidney beans), kachalu, khoya, etc. In the upper reaches, coats and pajamas (called ghuttanna), made from the wool of local sheep, woven and sewn locally, reflect the true Dogra culture. Folk songs and folklore, namely Geetrus, Bhaakh, Goaalu songs, Massade, Kud, etc., are very popular in Ramnagar and testify to the rich culture and legacy of the Dogra that thrives here.
(The author is a Sr. Lecturer (English) at the Govt. Hr. Sec. School, Thial (Udhampur).