The term history is derived from the Green word ‘historia’ which means information or an enquiry into truth. The word history has been used to refer not only to the process of inquiry but also to knowledge obtained as the result of investigation into human action and written account of the same. History has expressed both vertically and horizontally. The study of history is important for several reasons. It tells us how, when and where people developed the earliest cultures. It indicates how they started agriculture, which made life secure and settled. It shows how ancient civilization originated and developed, and utilized natural resources, how they created means for their livelihood. We come to know how they founded villages, cities and large kingdoms. We come to know about the language that we speak today, have roots in past and have developed through the ages.
The ancient history of Himachal Pradesh, like many other regions of India is lost in obscurity because of the lack of accurate source material. History of Himachal has remained unexposed and unearthed, the main cause of this phenomenon is that, for most of the time, Himachal as a state, what we see today was non existent. It was a territory under the control of local rulers; Rajas, Ranas, Thakurs and frequently devastated by natural calamities and foreign aggression. Local rulers were also not is good terms. This resulted into frequent battles and destruction of invaluable records of the time.
Whatever source material pertaining to Himachal Pradesh is available with us can be divided into the category i.e. Archaeological and literary. The former sources could further be categorized as stone tools, coins, monuments, inscriptions and sculptures etc. Of the literary side we have Sanskrit works, Greek and Chinese traveller’s accounts of pedigree (vamshavalis) which give us a fair amount of informations about the people, their culture, life etc.
Archaeological Sources: The importance of archaeological sources for the history of Himachal Pradesh is manifold in the absence of reliable literary sources. However, the archaeological sources are also not as eloquent and sufficient to make any authentic declaration on the subject. In the past years very little excavation work has been made due to financial and technical problems. In the Shivalik hills and interiors no systematic excavation has been made to excavate the historical sites. The archaeological sources include stone tools, implements, coins, inscriptions, monuments and sculptures. The places where excavations have been made include Guler, Dhaliara, Dehra, Masrur, all in Kangra district, to trace out the remnants of culture in the sub-Himalayan basin. Other surveys conducted in the area of Jwalamukhi, Dehra-Gopipur and Nurpur give indication about the early stone age. Some other prospective sites are-Balh valley, salanu near Manglore. Nawahi near Sarkaghat, Binaul in Siwa-Binaul in Siwa-Badar and Kao Mamel in Mandi district, Nirath, Dattanagar, Sholi, Sarahan, Nirmand, Hatkoti, Kamru, Sungra, Kothi, Chitkul, Kullu, Mandi, Naggar, Bajaura, Jagatsukh, Dashal and Khokan.
There are a good number of monuments in Himachal Pradesh in the form of Forts and Temples which can throw adequate light on the history of Himachal Pradesh.
(1) Coins: The only hope in retrieving the history of Himachal Pradesh lies in numismatics- the study of coins found in the region. But hardly any attention was paid to them for long. During the British period many small principalities were scattered all over the region; none of them was interested in their heritage of the past. No attempt was even made to collect ancient coins or gather any kind of information about them.
(2) Inscriptions: A large number of copper plates and other relevant material is preserved in the Bhuri Singh Museum Chamba. These inscriptions throw light on the early socio-economic and political history of Himachal Pradesh. The earliest inscriptions have been found in ‘Pathyan’ and Kanihara in Kangra district, Soopur from hillock cave inscription of Hatkoti in Shimla district and Salanu near Manglore in Mandi district. The Nirmand copper plate of 7 th century AD issued by Mahasamanta Maharaja Samudrasena is an important historical document.
(3) Stone Inscription: In Himachal Pradesh a large number of stone inscriptions have been found. These inscriptions can be put under four broad categories viz., Rock inscription, Fountain inscription, Slab inscription and Sati stone inscriptions. These inscriptions which may be classified broadly into three headings of commemorative, Donative and Dedicative have helped lot in the reconstitution of the history of ancient Himachal Pradesh. Those inscriptions have been written in various scripts such as Sharda, Kharoshti, Brahmi, Tankri, Kutila, Nagari, Sankha, Bhotia or Tibetan and Sidhamatrika.