Mandi district as we now see was formed by merging the two princely states of Mandi and Suket, when the State of Himachal Pradesh was created post independence (1948). The kings of Mandi and Suket are believed to be descendants of the mighty Sena dynasty of Bengal. After the Islamic invasion of Bengal in 1204 where the Sena dynasty lost Gaur, some members of the royal family fled to Ropar in Punjab, where king Rup Sen was killed. One of his sons, Bir Sen, then moved to the hills where he formed the State of Suket.
While the princely state of Mandi was created sometime in the 13th century by Bahu Sen, the city of Mandi emerged as a separate entity much later, at the beginning of the 16th century. It is believed that the Suket king Sahu Sen quarrelled with his younger brother Bahu Sen, and the latter then left Suket. Bahu Sen later established an independent territory at Manglan in Kullu, and became a local ruler (a Rana) of the Mandi state. It was his descendant Raja Ajber Sen (the 19th descendant of Bahu Sen), who founded the present Mandi city centered around the ‘Bhootnath Temple’ between 1500 CE-1534 CE, building his palace near this temple. The temple of Trilokinath was also constructed during his reign by his queen.
The history of Mandi and Suket states is replete with frequent wars with each other, and also with the other adjoining states. While Mandi and Suket remained bitter rivals, they refrained from producing any devastating effects on each other’s States. Their main bone of contention was the fertile valley of Balh, and both the States wanted control over it. In February 1846 both the rulers of Mandi and Suket met Mr. Erskine, the then British Superintendent of the Hill States of India, and pledged their allegiance to the British government, and in return they secured the protection of the British. Within a month a treaty was signed, which allowed the secession of the Doab area around Satlej and Beas (including Mandi and Suket) from Punjab control to the British government.
Not much is known about the history about the Suket part before the Senas took control over it, and until 765 CE the area remained indistinct, as a part of the Punjab Hills. At this time it is believed the area was under the control of various local chiefs, or ranas and thakurs, and the only place from this area which finds a mention in the Skandapurana as a teerthbhumi, is Rewalsar. However, the area is full of stories associated with the Mahabharata, and a small village named Karanpur is believed to have been found by Karna, the son of Kunti. Another temple at village Gumma marks the area as the place where the Pandavas stayed after escaping from Lakshagriha.
In the first half of the 20th century, Raja Suraj Sen, who did not have an heir, dedicated the State to God Madhav Rao (Krishna), thus making it a theocratic state. His successors still hold the State in trust for the God and act as Madhav Rao’s representatives on various festivals and other formal occasions. Madhav Rao is the guardian deity of the state/district, and all state/district occasions are held in honour of him. He is also the principal deity of all the gods worshipped within the state /district of Mandi. Among the most famous celebrations is the Shivratri mela, where all the local deities gather in Mandi city to pay their respects to Madhav Rao. During Holi, Madhav Rao is carried in a chariot and taken to the nearby Bhootnath temple for a visit, and as he returns at day end to his own abode in the palace, the Holi celebrations also stop. The main prasad at this time is luchi, a Bengali version of the puris.
Trilokinath Temple in Mandi
Located in the Purani Mandi part and close to the main bus stand on the Mandi-Pathankot National Highway, this temple was built by Sultan Devi, queen of
Raja Ajber Sen. The sanctum houses a murti of Shiva and devi Parvati. There is also a stone murti of a three faced Lord Shiva inside the temple which gave the temple its name Trilokinath. a beautifully carved standing Nandi faces the sanctum. The shrine also has houses sculptures of Goddess Narda and Goddess Sharda, along with many other Hindu deities. Standing on the temple courtyard one can view the beautiful Beas flowing by its side, and the Panchavaktra temple which stands just opposite, on the other side of the Beas. The temples are tri ratha to pancha ratha types, with a curvilinear shikhara of the nagara style and the amalaka and Kalash on top. The shikhara of the main temple, which is pancharatha, is now devoid of any design, but originally held chaitya dormers in relief as evident from some parts still showing the design. There are detailed and heavy ornamentations on the temple walls right upto the plinth, with sculptures of Shiva and Parvati on the bull, Mahisasuramardini, hunting and dancing scenes, among various others, that adorn the walls. The temple walls have many niches, and one of the cardinal niches holds two fluted pillars and a beautiful Brahma in it. Interestingly, the mandapa of the main temple has four projections on its four corners that show a stellar pattern rising from the base and forms almost like four separate shrines, each with a shikhara and amalaka of their own. There are open vatayans or windows on two sides of the mandapa wall, one of which still carries the original design and shows a beautiful pillared window with a jutting out ornamented balcony like structure, or a kakhsanana. The mandapa shikhara is pyramidal. There is a sukhnasika on which stands a lion. The garbagriha outer walls hold small niches with small shikharas on top. The smaller temples show triratha plan with chaitya dormer carvings on their shikharas in relief and amalakas on the side marking the talas. The walls in two of these smaller temples show ornamentation, while the third one holds plain walls. The walls have niches on all three sides of the three smaller shrines.
Note: while the ASI board says the temples were built in the 16th century, from the older pillars still visible inside the later period thick pillars in the temple mandapa, and the tri ratha styles of the smaller shrines, I personally feel the temples could originally go back further to 7th- 11th c. CE, and the Rani most likely renovated these or built over the partially ruined older temples keeping the older parts intact.
Inside the temple: there is a mandapa, antarala, and a garbagriha