This delightful book explores the varied factors that led to Simla becoming first, an important sanatorium for British civilians and soldiers; subsequently a refuge from the heat of the plains; till it finally became the official summer capital of the British Raj, and assumed the character of 'little England'.
Kanwar meticulously draws on contemporary reports, official documents, and personal interviews with old residents of Simla to present a lively and well-rounded picture of the social, historical and political development of this hill-station-cum-capital.
This new edition includes a well-researched afterword that highlights the heritage of the Raj as a phase of architectural history, both in India and in England.
Pamela Kanwar, a resident of Simla, was Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla; Honorary Director, Institute of Tribal Studies, Himachal Pradesh University; and affiliated Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.
My affair with Simla began when I came to live here in 1972, and I turned to research that culminated in a doctoral dissertation. My fascination for the town, however, grew on, and I spent several years thereafter delving into ideas and material unique to the urban and social experience of the summer capital and its imperial milieu. The hill stations as perceived and experienced by the Europeans have long been, and continue to be, the real subject of historical enquiry and theoretical construction. The conceptual framework and methodology of the urban system of the hill towns has often been examined in the light of British cultural experience in India in the nineteenth century. The prolific documentation letters, diaries, accounts, municipal and government records-lends itself to a history of the British of themselves and about themselves. It is important to create a space for indigenous perceptions and experience.
While innumerable accounts describe British life in Simla, there are no comparable sources that evoke the Indian ethos. Much reliance had to be placed on personal interviews. Old residents were initially selected for their reputation as knowledgeable persons. There was a continuous search for clues about people who might have been political participants, activists, or those who could provide information on an occupation or caste. A wide range of people along the social scale were approached. Although a formal and compact questionnaire was devised, deviations crept in. It proved more expedient to hear the interviewees narrate their experiences, impressions of salient events and catch the nuances of attitude and what they considered meaningful and significant. A follow-up, by counter-checking from other sources (archival, municipal, newspapers), aided in piecing together a coherent account of Simla through Indian eyes.
The vast amount of material available that reflects British interests and concerns contrasts curiously with official reticence about its acquisition and choice as summer capital. Unlike for New Delhi, there was no formal Durbar which pronounced the hill station to be summer capital. The Simla tract was exchanged with local rulers in 1830. The document is not enshrined in a Sanad or Treaty; the details form an innocuous part of the first Settlement Report of the Simla District compiled by a Deputy Commissioner, some twenty years after the event (see Appendix I).
The restriction of movement of Indians on the Mall exercised so many people, that I have included as Appendix II, the Simla Municipality 'Bye-Law for the Regulation and Prohibition of 'Traffic'. Finally Appendix Ill, ‘Membership of Simla District Congress' and IV, 'Office-Bearers and Members of the Congress Committee in 1932', offer a factual statement about the mobilization and leadership of Simla Indians.
Local people have always called the town 'Shimla' and hence this spelling was officially adopted in 1983. I have retained the older nomenclature to minimize the confusion that could occur in the scores of references and since it was renowned by that name in the past.
The origin of the name Simla or Shimla is somewhat more difficult to explain. The Simla Kali Bari records link the name to Shyamala Devi and rely on Edward Buck's account that 'Majee' was enshrined in a small temple surrounded by a verandah, that stood in the grounds of Rothney Castle. An Englishman on camp had the wooden idol thrown into a khud and made the temple into his kitchen. At night he had a vision of two horsemen attacking him with spears, and awoke shouting for help. When told that the 'Majee' would wreak vengeance unless restored to her house, the idol was installed in a new temple near Christ Church. In 1835, when which was acquired for the Rothney Castle estate, the deity was shifted to Kali Bari.
The Kali Bari records identify the 'Majee' mentioned in Buck, as Shyamala Devi. On the spot where the Kali Bari stands, a tantric Sadhu sat in deep meditation underneath a big deodar tree, before an image of the Goddess Chandi. The Sadhu was held by the people of the neighbouring areas and the Gurkhas in great reverence for his supernatural powers. On his death, in the course of a few years, the image of the goddess and all that remained was taken over by the Bengalis. A wooden dhajji structure in the shape of a temple was built and both images, that of Kali and Chandi were installed in it. The image from the Rothney Castle site was installed in the Kali Bari as well.
The Rev. Long's interpretation quoted in the Simla Guide of 1870, that Simla derives its name from 'Shyarnalay', the house built of slate erected by a fakir on Jakhu, has been described as far-fetched. Simla s origin is not mentioned by early travellers, as for example, Kalka, the gateway to the hills, which is described as a place of worship dedicated to Kali. Both Buck and the official Gazetteer are silent on the question. Simla hill folk have usually never heard of Shyamala Devi. The name alters nothing of Simla's past as imperial refuge, although the interest its origin evokes may not be only a matter of semantics but also a pointer to the town's changing identity.
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