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Sikh tradition associates the site of Amritsar with the visits of Guru Nanak during his itineraries, and legend connects it with Rama and the Buddha. The choice of this site for founding a township was made by Guru Amar Das, the second successor of Guru Nanak. it was not a new thing for a Sikh Guru to think of founding a town. Guru Nanak himself had founded Kartarpur,which has survived to the present day as Dera Baba Nanak. His successor, Guru Angad, had chosen the present Khadur Sahib as his headquarters. Guru Amar Das adopted Goindwal as the seat of his missionary activity, constructing there a baoli and making it a place of pilgrimage for his followers. For his son-in-law and would be successor, who was known as Bhai Jetha before he came to be known as Guru Ram Das, Guru Amar Das chose a new centre for missionary work.
In retrospect, it is easy to see that the site chosen for this purpose had the advantage of central location in the Bari Doab, with the city of Lahore only 20 kos or 60 kilometres away. It had an abundant supply of water, dotted with natural pools (drabs). As the Sikh tradition indicates, the proprietors of the villages of Tung and Sultanwind were not opposed to the idea of a Sikh missionary centre established in their neighbourhood. They were keen in fact to sell a sizeable chunk, just as the emperor Akbar was keen to grant a large piece of revenue-free land.
In the life-time of Guru Amar Das, Bhai Jetha moved to the site and, after preliminary preparation, started work on the excavation of a tank. Before the task was completed he went to Goindwal to pay homage to the Guru and, presumably, to apprise him of the slow progress of the project. Guru Amar Das advised him to dig a tank at another place. According to Giani Gian Singh, the new place chosen was the present site of the amrit-sarovar and the work of excavation was started in A.D. 1573. The work was progressing well when Guru Amar Das died in 1574, after nominating Bhai Jetha as his successor.
By 1577, the tank was dug to the satisfaction of Guru Ram Das. In his compositions we find him exhorting people to come for darshan-ashnnn as a meritorious act. Like the baoli at Goindwal, the sarovar of Guru Ram Das was meant to be a sacred place from its very inception. Devotees started coming from far and near. Many a devotee decided to settle down permanently in the township that was fast coming up in the vicinity of the sacred sarovar.
Guru Ram Das encouraged people of all professions to take up residence in the town. Immigrants from Patti, Qasur and Kalanaur are specifically mentioned in this connection by the early Sikh writers. So too are mentioned the names of those devotees who assisted the Guru in his task: Bhai Salo, Chander Bhan, Roop Ram, Guria, Gurdas and Udham. A market was established at the present site of Guru Bazar for a regular supply of essential commodities and exchange of goods. Sarrags and banjaras were induced to participate in the commerce, just as craftsmen were encouraged to manufacture goods. By the time Guru Ram Das died in 1581, a township had come into existence, appropriately known as Ramdaspur. It was also known as Chak Ram Das, or simply Chak Guru, probably with reference to the schak-basta' land given by Akbar.
The township founded by Guru Ram Das expanded during the pontificate of his son and successor, Guru Arjan. He gave to the town an institution which was to ensure its primacy among all the places of Sikh pilgrimage He enlarged the tank, using burnt bricks for the flights of steps on all the four sides. The successful completion of this self-assigned task is celebrated in his compositions.
Then he felt inspired to do something that was at once novel and grand. He decided to combine the tank with a place of worship (dharamsal). For this he needed much larger resources. His followers were increasing year by year, not only in the Bari Doab (doab means area betweeen two rivers, ba for river Beus and Ra for river Ravi denotes BARI DOAB) but also elsewhere, even outside the Punjab. Many of them had undertaken active trade, visiting large cities in the Mughal Empire. Guru Arjan Dev ji strengthened the organization by authorizing his duly appointed representatives (masands) to collect daswand, literally one-tenth (of income), on behalf of the Guru. Before the end of the 16th century, Guru Arjan was able to complete the construction of a dharamsal in the midst of the sacred tank to the mutual enhancement of their sanctity.
This was not all. Guru Arjan took one more step in the same direction. At the turn of the century he started compiling the authentic bani of his predecessors, adding to their compositions not only his own but also the compositions of Sants, Bhagats, Shaikhs and Bhats of known affinity. Bhai Gurdas acted as his amanuensis, taking down every word as it was dictated by Guru Arjan beside the tank known as Ramsar. The work of compilation was completed in 1604. With due ceremony the Granth, now known as the Adi Granth, was installed in the dharamsal constructed for daily worship in the midst of the tank. With this, the prototype of the present Harimandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, was complete. An integrated complex of three ideas, the institution of 'the lake of the nectar of immortality' (amrit-sar) was perfected, to serve as the heart and the soul of the nagari of Guru Ram Das in the future. For two hundred years, only this institution was known as Amritsar. In unconscious recognition of its greatness, the epithet came to be applied to the whole city in the early 19th century.
Guru Arjan founded other towns, like Tarn Taran in the Bari Doab and Kartarpur in the dist Jalandhar, but the praises he has sung of the institution of amritsar make it evident that no other place was to be regarded as comparable with it. Guru Arjan's interest in the town of Ramdaspur is evident from the wells and baolis he got constructed, the tanks he got excavated, the gardens he got laid out and the facilities he provided for trade.
Sikh tradition refers to the construction of a temple and a mosque by Guru Arjan for the Hindu and Muslim residents of the town. Khatri traders and Hindu artisans and craftsmen had come to stay and there is an equal probability that he encouraged Muslim traders and craftsmen also to reside in the town. In his compositions, Guru Arjan feels gratified to see a large number of people coming to the town., feels happy over the flourishing condition of the town and attributes it to the grace of God.
In 1606,Guru Arjan dev died the death of a martyr in Lahore. His association with the rebel Prince Khusrau was interpreted by Jahangir as a grave political effront; his association with Muslims on equal footing could be interpreted as an effront to Islam. When he refused to pay the fine imposed on him by Jahangir or convert to Islam, the provincial administrators tortured him to death. As in his life so in his death, Guru Arjan left an important legacy for the city of Amritsar.
Guru Hargobind, the son and successor of Guru Arjan dev, who ascended the gaddi in Ramdaspur, reacted strongly to the martyrdom of his father and predecessor. He decided to wear two swords, the sword of min symbolizing temporal authority as well as the sword of piri symbolizing spiritual leadership. His interest in temporal affairs found further expression in the construction of a platform called Akal Takht, literally the immortal throne., as oppose to the throne of the Mughal emperors.
Guru Hargobind encouraged martial activity and interests among his followers, exhorting them to learn horsemanship and the use of arms. Their response was a response to the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Hundreds of Sikhs from all parts of the Punjab were prepared to support Guru Hargobind in his decision to resist force by force. The construction of a fortress, called Lohgarh, in Ramdaspur was a logical corollary the Akal Takht. On the basis of reports sent by the local administrate (Akal Takht vs. Mughal Takht) Jahangir imprisoned Guru Hargobind in the fort of Gwalior. The detention did not deflect Guru Hargobind from his well considered policy. He resumed his activity after his release around 1614 and Jahangir took no further notice of it.
Guru Hargobind did not stay in Ramdaspur all the time nevertheless certain feature of the town are attributed to him; Chaurasti Atari, Guru Ka Chauk, Bagh Akalian, Kaulsar for instance. In terms of posthumous significance, however, the most important contribution of Guru Hargobind was the Akal Takht. It came to serve as the counterpart of the Harmandir in the temporal affairs of the Sikh community.
Thus, within the first fifty years of its foundation, the town of Ramdaspur came to have two vital institutions of the Sikh Panth which were complimentary to each other and which account for the survival of the town through the times of trouble and for its revival and expansion in the times of peace.
The time of trouble for the town of Ramdaspur started during the pontificate of Guru Hargobind himself. He came into armed conflict with the Mughal administrators of Lahore in the early years of Shah Jahan's reign. Mukhlis Khan, a Mughal commander, decided to attack Ramdaspur after his men were discomfited by the followers of Guru Hargobind during a hunting expedition. The Mughal commander was killed in the battle and his troops were beaten back. But Guru Hargobind decided to leave the town. After a few more successful battles against Mughal commanders, he decided to leave the Mughal territory. He settled down at Kiratpur in the territory of a Rajput chief.
The absence of the Sikh Gurus from Ramdaspur affected its growth adversely. Guru Har Rai, the successor of Guru Hargobind, is believed to have visited the town without opposition. But the control of the Harmandir and the town certainly passed into the hands of those who did not pay allegiance to the successors of Guru Hargobind. His attitude, of independence towards the contemporary government divided the Sikh Panth into two main groups: those who continued to pay allegiance to him in his anti-establishment attitude, and those who parted company with him on this vital issue. The descendants of Prithi Chand the elder brother of Guru Arjan, put forth their claims to the Guruship of the Sikh Panth. Entitled to a share in the income derived from the town they came to establish their control over the Harrnandir and the town in the absence of Guru Hargobind and his successors. When Guru Tegh Bahadur visited the town in 1664, he was not allowed to enter the precincts of the Harmandir. The spot where he stopped came to be marked later by the Gurdwara Thara Sahib. Sodhi Miharban and Harji, the son and the grandson of Prithi Chand, remained hostile to the acknowledged successors of Guru Hargobind. Under their control the town founded by Guru Ram Das does not appear to have developed any more.
Harji died in 1696 leaving his descendants divided over the question of succession. Three years later, Guru Gobind Singh, the son and successor of Guru Tegh Bahadur, established the order of the Khalsa, authorizing any five of his followers to go to villages and towns to initiate every professing Sikh all afresh into the order of the Khalsa. It is likely that the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh came to Ramdaspur also and initiated many Sikhs into the order of the Khalsa through the baptism of the double-edged sword (khande ki pahul). In the early years of the 17th century, Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa came into armed conflict with the Rajput chiefs first and then, directly with the Mughal government. After the death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, Banda Singh Bahadur led the Khalsa to several victories over Mughal commanders and established the rule of the Khalsa over a large portion of the Punjab. Their success, however, was short-lived. Banda Singh Bahadur was captured and beheaded in 1716 alongwith hundreds of his companions Soon afterwards, his followers disputed the control of Ramdaspur with the staunch followers (tat-khalsa) of Guru Gobind Singh. Through the timely intervention of Bhai Mani Singh, the control of the Khalsa over the Harmandir and the town was finally established by 1720.
Bhai Mani Singh adopted Ramdaspur as his headquarters, and assisted the Khalsa for about fifteen years in their struggle against the Mughal governors of Lahore. He encouraged the Sikhs to visit the Harmandir at the time of the Baisakhi and the Diwali. Many of the followers of Guru Gobind Singh, who had supported Banda Singh Bahadur in his career of conquest and misfortune, refused to sumbit to the Mughals. They started coming to Ramdaspur to convert more and more of the Khalsa to their viewpoint. At the same time Bhai Mani Singh tried to regularize the administration of the town. A glimpse of the situation in the late 1720's is afforded by the fact that twenty-one chaudharis of the town were present in a meeting convened for discussing the administrative arrangements of the town, particularly in relation to the income from octroi and other sources. The bi-annual visits of the Khalsa necessitated better facilities of accommodation and food supplies. The town began to revive. This trend was greatly helped by the gesture of conciliation made by Zakariya Khan, the governor of the province; in the early 1730's he offered a large jagir for the Khalsa in the vicinity of Ramdaspur (he was trying to woo sikhs since he wanted the support of Sikhs to against the impending Nadir Shah's invasion), enabling them to stay in the town in large numbers.
However, the phase of conciliation proved to be very short. The number of jathas or small groups each headed by a single leader, increased quite considerably and some of these jathas became restive. Zakariya Khan' s expectation of a long peace was belied when some of the jathadars resumed their older activity against government officials with the idea of paralysing the administration. He retaliated by resuming the jagir. The Khalsa became all the more aggressive. Bhai Mani Singh continued his efforts at consolidation and became the target of Zakariya Khan's wrath. He was taken to Lahore and hacked to pieces. A faujdar was posted at Ramdaspur to ensure that it did not serve as the nerve centre of the activity of the Khalsa. It may be assumed that the secular life of the town continued without interruption. But there was no possibility of the town growing under the hegemony of a hostile commandant bent upon imposing an authoritarian control over its people.
This situation lasted for a few years. In the countryside, however the Sikhs did not abandon their attempt at paralysing the administration, evolving guerrilla tactics to make the most effective use of their limited means. In 1738-39,Nadir Shah appeared on the political scene of northern India to impose humiliating terms on the Mughal ruler at Delhi. When he was returning to Persia, his rearguard was attacked by the Sikhs on several occasions. He asked Zakariya Khan about the place which the Sikhs inhabited. He was told that they lived in their saddles. Nadar Shah warned Zakariya Khan not to minimize the potential danger: 'They would soon wrest the country from your hands'. In this anecdote by a Persian chronicler the town of Guru Ram Das is mentioned as the place which the Sikhs visited twice every year in the face of all odds. Zakariya Khan now adopted vigorous measures of repression, becoming more stringent about Ramdaspur. He appointed Massa Ranghar of Mandiali to control Ramdaspur, including the Harmandir. Massa is said to have converted the temple into his court, occasionally inviting dancing girls to perform in the precincts of the Harmandir. Before long, however, Mehtab Singh of Mirankot and Sukha Singh of Mari Kambo conspired to get rid of the Ranghar. Mehtab Singh cut off his head, while Sukha Singh guarded the entrance. The news of this incident infuriated Zakariya Khan and he decided to take even stricter measures Till his death in 1745, Zakariya Khan did not relax his watch over the town of Ramdaspur.
Within four years of Zakariya Khan's death, the Sikhs found themselves in a position to adopt Ramdaspur as the headquarter of their political activity on a scale that added a new dimension to their politics. In 1748, when Ahmed Shah Abdali invaded India for the first time, the Sikhs met at Ramdaspur and resolved to constitute the Dal Khalsa for defence and aggression. The doctrine of Guru-Panth, a legacy of Guru Gobind Singh, proved to be an effective political instrument at this time. Every Sikh was equal with others, and at the same time the decision taken collectively by all the Sikhs (sarbatt khalsa) present at a given time and place was morally binding on all. Through a collective decision (resolution) (gurmata) at Ramdaspur in 1748 the leaders of the Khalsa agreed not only to pool their resources but also to accept the authority of one commander chosen for a particular campaign. The Dal Khalsa and the Gurmata were thus the obverse and the reverse of the political coin minted in Ramdaspur.
Amud fort called Ram Rauni was constructed in the town. The gallantry of Jassa Singh Thoka, a carpenter, in the battle of Ram Rauni earned for the fort the name of Ramgarh and for Jassa Singh the epithet of Ramgarhia. The activity of the Khalsa in the entire Punjab by the middle of the 18th century diverted the attention of the enemy from the town of Ramdaspur and it began to revive in the presence of a large number of the Khalsa visiting the town on many occasions to pay homage to the Harmandir and to participate in the deliberations of the Sarbat Khalsa.
However, the time of trouble was not yet over for the town. As the informal capital of the Khalsa it was bound to become the target of enemy attack sooner or later in a long war fought to the finish. In 1752, when Ahmad Shah Abdali defeated Mir Mannu (Muin al-Mulk) but reinstated him as the governor of Lahore on his own behalf, the Sikhs were occupying territories in the upper Bari Doab in accordance with a Gurmata adopted at Ramdaspur. For a few years Ahmad Shah was not in a position to pay attention to the Punjab, and Mir Mannu died in 1753, leaving his infant son and his widow, Mughalani Begam, to contend with the rival claiments for the governorship of Lahore. The Khalsa got the opportunity to consolidate and conquer. The situation became so serious that in 1757 Ahmad Shah Abdali appointed his son, Taimur Shah, to the governorship of Lahore, with one of his best commanders, Jahan Khan, to assist him. The town of Ramdaspur became their first target. Taimur Shah went to the extent of desecrating the Harmandir, when Baba Dip Singh ji Shaheed valiently defended Golden Temple in the best of Sikh Traditions.
Within a year, however, Khalsa, ousted Prince Taimur and Jahan Khan from Lahore. Adina Beg Khan became the governor and tried to suppress the Sikhs. He did not think of attacking Ramdaspur, probably knowing the strength of Sikh sentiments about the place most sacred to them. In any case, Adina Beg Khan died in 1758 itself and the leaders of the Khalsa occupied territories on a much larger scale now than ever before. Ahmad Shah Abdali was keen to settle his score with the Marathas. He invaded India in 1759 and having stayed in India for more than a year, fought the battle of Panipat in 1761. Ahmad Shah was victorious but in retrospect it is easy to see that the Khalsa had become too powerful to be dislodged from the Punjab. They plundered Ahmad Shah's baggage train in 1761 while he was returning to Kabul. He invaded the Punjab in the year following because all the administrators he had left behind were ousted by the Sikhs. Ahmad Shah Abdali decided to inflict a crushing blow to suppress them once for all. In the battle of Kup near Malerkotla in 1762 he took the Khalsa unawares. Thousands of them died fighting on the field. But only a few months later they fought Ahmad Shah Abdali near Ramdaspur, and they were virtually victorious: at nightfall Ahmad Shah retreated to Lahore and then, to Kabul. He came once again in 1764-65, but he was opposed by the Khalsa at every step; even his return was contested, the Taruna Dal Khalsa under Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Buddha Dal Khalsa under Kapur singh Virk hovering around the Afghan army in its retreat by slow marches. The Khalsa occupied Lahore and struck coin to declare their sovereign status. In 1767, Ahmad Shah struck at Ramdaspur, destroyed the Harmandir and desecrated the tank. But this was his last visitation. He was not destined to come near the city of Guru Ram Das for the rest of his reign. He died in 1773.
EXPANSION AND CONSOLIDATION
Ramdaspur was nose developing into a city. The principle of equality which the Khalsa espoused was at work in the reconstuction of the town of Ramdaspur. The Harmandir was reconstructed through a collective effort of all the leaders of the Khalsa. The Akal Takht too was reconstructed. Through individual or collective effort structures were raised on many other spots associated with the Sikh Gurus. Bungas began to be constructed around the central complex of the Harmandir. Some of the leaders of the Khalsa constructed forts and established townships of their own: the Bhangi Sardar Hari Singh in the south-west of Harmandir, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia in the south-east, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia in the east and Jai Singh Kanhiya in north. Charhat Singh too is believed to have constructed a fortress near the present Mahan Singh Gate. Several Sikh chiefs established their own katras. An outer ring of townships thus developed around the Ramdaspur of the days of Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan and Guru Hargobind.
Everyone of the Sikh chiefs established an autonomous administration in his own katra, appointing a chaudhari or a representative of his own. A walled locality with only one main gate, the katra provided all the security its inhabitants needed. But they were not obliged to stay in the katra of their first choice. Wherever they settled they paid ground-rent (teh-zamini) for the plots they occupied and chaukidari for the protection of property which the chief afforded to them. Each katra had a market of its own. The chiefs encouraged the traders and craftsmen of other places to settle down in their katras. Ramdaspur in the late 18th century became in fact a constellation of townships administratively independent of one another. The original core of Ramdaspur was regarded as a common heritage by all.
The first katra to come up around Ramdaspur was the katra of Sardar Hari Singh Bhangi(Dhillon), close to his fort and garden in the south-west of the town. To the west of Katra Hari Singh was developed a katra by Sardar Desa Singh Bhangi in due course. To the west of Katra Desa Singh was founded a new katra by Karam Singh Dulo which was destined to become the largest of all the Bhangi katras in the city. Katra Faizullapurian, on the present site of Bazar Kaserian, was founded by Sardars Khushal Singh and Sahib Singh in the late 18th century and it remained in existence as an autonomous unit under Sardar Buddh Singh till 1811.
Jai Singh Kanhiya, perhaps jointly with Haqiqat Singh of Fatehgarh Chunan and Amar Singh Kingra, established a katra which came to be called Katra Kanhiyan. It was a flourishing centre of trade under Chaudhari Chhajju who looked after its administration on behalf of Jai Singh first and then his daughter-in-law, Sada Kaur, the mother-in-law of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. To the west of this katra, Jaimal Singh, son of Sardar Haqiqat Singh, constructed a haveli around which arose some other houses and the area developed into a katra, called Katra Jaimal Singh. Sardar Amar Singh Bagga, an associate of Sardar Jai Singh Kanhiya, founded a new katra in the north of the Harmandir, and adjoining Katra Kanhiyan. It came to be known as Katra Baggian.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Jassa Singh Ramgarhia established their own katras in the north-east and the south-east of the Harrnandir. Katra Ahluwalian included the shop of Ramanand, a prominent sahukar, the Akhara of Mahant Parmanand, the Haveli of Bawa Mal Das and the Dharamsala-i-Jauharian. Katra Ramgarhian included Ramsar and Lakshmansar, Gali Loharan, Gali Tarkhanan and Chauk Kumharan. Not all the area under the jurisdiction of the chiefs was inhabited. Besides ponds and dhabs, large empty spaces lay around the havens of the rich and the eminent.
By the close of the 18th century, the town of Ramdaspur came to present an appearance which was quite different from its appearance in the phase of its foundation. The core was partly reconstructed and became more thickly populated. But a whole ring of forts with palaces, katras with their own markets and houses, and havelis with spacious gardens sprang up on all the side of the town of Guru Ram Das. Trade and commerce, crafts and manufacture, and art and architecture were revived. Besides the exquisite structure of the Harmandir the impressive Bunga of the Ramgarhia chief Jassa Singh is an artistic legacy of the late 18th century. It is safe to state that the town of Guru Ram Das became a city in the last quarter of the 18th century. Because of the role that the institution of amritsar played in the history of the survival and reconstruction of Ramdaspur, the city now came to be known as Amritsar.
In the beginning of the 19th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh took over the city. His first step in this direction was to oust his traditional rivals, the Bhangi chiefs, who had ruled from Amritsar for nearly half a century. The young Bhangi chief Desa Singh and his regent mother, Mai Sukhan, failed to withstand the combined forces of Ranjit Singh and his Ahluwalia and Kanhiya allies. The fort and the mint of the Bhangis, with the zamzama gun as a prize possession, were taken over and suitable jagirs were given to Mai Sukhan and her son. The fort of the Ramgarhia was the next to fall. Sardar Jodh Singh Ramgarhia had accepted Ranjit Singh's suzerainty and had been serving him as a competent commander till his death in 1815. Soon afterwards all his possessions outside the city of Amritsar were seized and his fort in the city was besieged. It fell after a short resistance and Ranjit Singh's control was established over the entire katra. In 1826, the Maharaja took over the territories of his old ally, Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia. The other possessions were returned on the intervention of the British, all his possessions in the city were retained permanently by Ranjit Singh. The only other autonomous area in the city of Amritsar was under the control of Ranjit Singh's mother-in-law, Sardarni Sada Kaur. Upon her death, the Kanhiya possessions in the city finally passed into the hands of the Maharaja. Through a gradual process, thus, the city of Amritsar came under a single administration.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh's ambition was not confined to mere occupation of the city. In his imagination and affections the city of G
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