Fact is none can rival the Katoch royal family of Kangra for antiquity, for one of its ancestors, Susharma Chandra, fought in the Great War Mahabharata on the side of the Kauravas. And Susharma was only the 234th king of this line. Most people go to Kangra valley to visit McLeodgunj unaware of this jewel, the Nagarkot, Himachal’s most famous and impregnable ancient fort, about which it used to be said: “He who holds the fort holds the hills.”
The proof of its antiquity lies just outside the fort. Here you find a rock with some unfamiliar inscriptions. Experts believe it dates from the third to the first century BCE and commemorates the construction of a pond in two languages; Sanskrit written in the Brahmi script in the upper line, and Pali written in the Kharoshti script in the lower. And it proves that besides Kangra or Nagarkot, the surrounding country was also inhabited by a Sanskrit speaking people all those years ago.
Coming to Kangra, if we go through our scriptures especially Mahabharata, Kangra was the ancient kingdom of Trigarta, while archaeological findings from the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods and from the Iron Age suggest even older human settlement in the region. Nagarkot is said to have been built by Susharma Chandra. When Kauravas lost in the War, Susharma had to give up his capital near present day Multan (in Pakistan) and retreat to the hills of Jalandhar. Jalandhar in ancient times denoted a vast region named after the demon Jalandhar, whose body was buried under the ground, sprawling from the hills to the sea. And since Susharma chose to build his fort over a ground covering Jalandhar’s ear, it came to be known as Karna Garh, which subsequently morphed into the Hindi ‘Kan Garh’, before being finally morphed to Kangra.
The Nagar Kot (Nagar = city Kot = fortress) of Kangra was the capital of the Katoch kings of Kangra until Mahmud Ghazni’s invasion of 1009 AD, which ended Kangra’s isolation and made it a province of the rulers of Delhi. Kangra and the Nagar Kot were conquered by Mahmud-bin-Tughlaq in 1337, by Firoze Shah Tughlaq in 1351, and by Jahangir in 1622. In the late-eighteenth century, Nagar Kot fell into the hands of the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh, until the British ousted them in the 1820s. While the fortress had survived nearly a millennium of siege and warfare, much of it was finally brought down in the severe earthquake of 1905.
Among the palace buildings that have partly survived are offices of state, magazine, mosque, gallows, living quarters and the remains of two splendid temples: The Ambika Devi temple and a Jain temple with a statue of Mahavira, both of which date from the time of the Katoch rulers of Kangra (9-10 century CE).