The city of Amritsar

Darbar Sahib

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.

Bazaar outside Golden Temple

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.

Amritsar Muncipal council

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.

Bunga Ramgarhian at Darbar Sahib Complex

A mud 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.


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. Misr Chajju Mal was instrumental in obtaining the possession of Amritsar by Maharaj Ranjit Singh. Misr Chajju Mal was commandent of kanayha Misl during the period of Rani Sada Kaur in 1803, he fought battle in Achhal War on behalf of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. His noble son Raja Ralia Ram was diwan of customs and his elder son Sahib Dayal was also associated with him. Misr Chajju Mal antecedants Misr Sughia Mal and his son Misr Kamal Nian were courtier in mughal darbar. They migrated to Lahore when Afghans were threatening peace of punjab and other adjoining areas namely Ahmad Shah Abdali and Nadar Shah Durani. Misr Kamal Nian was grievously injured while fighting Afghans and his 24 members of family were liquidated during the war. Misr Kamal Nian died immediately after this event. His son Misr Chajju Mal was only 10 year old at that time when he grew up he found service in Kahanya Misl whose leader was Jai Singh. After Jai Singh's death Rani Sada Kaur took up the reins of Kahanya Misl. She depended largely on Misr Chajju Mal. Misr Chajju Mal died in the year 1822 and his samad exist in Bagh Raja Ralia Ram. In the same Bagh the samads of Raja Sahib Dayal, Rai Gyan Chand and Sardar Harcharan Das also exist. Raja Ralia Ram Bagh is located barely 2 km from Darbar Sahib, the holy sikh pilgrimage site., in Katra Kanhaiyan. 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.

Darbar Sahib in 2001

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. Gurdwara Baba Atal ji

Maharaja Ranjit Singh's ambition was not confined to mere occupation of the city. In his imagination and affections the city of Guru Ram Das occupied a special place. The golden grandeur of the Harmandir, and much of its artistic embellishment, was the result of the Maharaja's feeling for this holiest of the Sikh shrines. Here he sat on the floor like an ordinary Sikh, listening to the Guru Granth. The present structure of Baba Atal, with a beautiful frescoes, another legacy of the Maharaja.

In the third decade of the 19th century Maharaja Ranjit Singh started constructing a wall around the city to improve its fortifications as well as to mark his unshared sway over the city which had come to serve as his second capital. It was completed finally at the cost of over 12 lacs of rupees. The thick outer wall, encircled by a wide and deep moat, was made of unbaked bricks. The inner wall too was encircled by a moat. It was thinner but made of baked bricks. Twelve gates with bridges on the moats controlled all ingress and egress with a number of soldiers posted at each under the directions of the city administrator appointed directly by the Maharaja. All the twelve gates (darwazas) are named by Aliuddin: Lahori, Khazana, Hakiman, Rangar Nanglian, Gilwali, Ramgarhia, Ahluwalia, Doburji, Deorhi-i-Kalan, Ram Bagh, Shahzada and Lohgarh. Some of them came to be known by different names subsequently. The Darwaza-i-Rangar Nanglian is now known as Bhagtanwala Gate, Ramgarhia as Chatiwind, Ahluwalia as Sultanwind, Doburji as Ghee Mandi, Deorhi-Kalan as Mahan Singh Gate, and the Darwaza-i-Shahzada as Hathi Gate.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh paid special attention to two gates: the Lahori and the Ram Bagh. Close to the former he built six bastions. Ram Bagh GateThe Ram Bagh Gate was beautifully designed under the supervision of Faqir Azizuddin by architects brought from Delhi. There was an outer gate connected with the inner by a strong bastion. A beautifully designed red stone baradari adorned the inner gate. The special care that the Maharaja bestowed on these two entrances to the city in easily understandable. The Lahori Darwaza, as the name implies, opened on the road to Lahore and it was the gate nearest to the Gobindgarh fort which the Maharaja had constructed in 1809. The Gobindgarh fort was not altogether a new structure. In the late 18th century the Bhangi Chief Gujjar Singh had built a fort on the present site of Gobindgarh. Ranjit Singh decided to reconstruct that fort to make it larger and stronger. A formidable moat, three lines of defence, and several strong bastions provided with heavy guns constituted the massive strength of Gobindgarh. Fakir Imamuddin was appointed its first Qiladar to be followed by other trusted and competent commanders of the Maharaja. The treasury of Ranjit Singh, his toshakhana, was kept in this fort under the charge of Misar Beli Ram. A British diplomat estimated Outer Ram Bagh Palacethe contents of the toshakhana at 100,000,000 rupees. The Maharaja used the fort also for his residence in Amritsar before the Ram Bagh Palace was constructed.

The Ram Bagh Gate, as the name implies, faced the Ram Bagh Palace and served as the entrance to the city from the Palace, with a road lined with tall trees connecting the outer Ram Bagh Gate with the outer Gate of the Ram Bagh Palace. Completed in 1831, the Ram Bagh Palace was enclosed by a fourteen feet high masonary wall with ramparts for guns. On all the four corners of this enclosure ornamental burjis served as watch towers. A near contemporary artist's view presents Ram Bagh as a formally patterned complex, with the main building in the centre. This was the palace of the Maharaja, a beautifully proportioned two storeyed structure, with a cool basement chamber (tehkhana). Close to it was a swimming pool, for the ladies of the court. A little more distant were smaller palaces meant for the sardars to reside as guests. On three sides of the main palace were two-storeyeo structures presumably to lodge the most trusted sardars of the Maharaja. Several baradaris, small but exquisite structures, adorned the enclosed complex which itself was surrounded by a thick mud wall and a moat. The outer gate of the Ram Bagh Palace was in this wall, connected with the inner gate in the masonaly wall. A monument to the taste of the Maharaja the Ram Bagh Palace served as a source of inspiration for the nobility.

Palatial havelis and garden houses sprang up in and around the city of Amritsar during the reign of Ranjit Singh and his successors. Some of the havens became the nuclei of new katras and some of the gardens were thrown open to public. But most of them were used as garden houses. Inside the city wall it is possible to identify the Bagh of Ralia Ram and the Bagh of Dhanna Singh Malwai, besides several others like Bagh Atar Singh, Bagh Chet Singh, Bagh Narsingh Das and Bagh Ohrian. Outside the city wall, there were numerous gardens, particularly in the north, north-east and the north-west. Among these were the gardens of Prince Kharak Singh, Prince Tara Singh, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, Sardar Desa Singh Majithia, Jamadar Khushal Singh, Sardar Jawala Singh Padhania, Giani Gurmukh Singh, Raja Dhian Singh and the garden of Gul Begam. The city of Amritsar was more picturesque during the Sikh rule than ever afterwards.

The city of Amritsar was more populous under Maharaja Ranjit Singh than ever before. Some of the old lcatras witnessed large increases in the number of their inhabitants. Many new katras came into existence. New markets and bazars were added to the increasing briskness of the old. Jamadar Khushal Singh had a haveli in the city, and around this haveli grew up a katra consisting of over a thousand houses. In the garden of Karam Singh, between the Rangar Nangalian and the Hakiman Gates, developed a residential colony on the land sold by his descendants, and became a part of Katra Karam Singh. The Maharaja granted land to the Faqir brothers in the west of the city and, through their encouragement, it was developed into a flourishing locality known as Katra Hakiman. The descendants of Dal Sough Naherna, who was adopted as a son by Sardar Fateh Singh, developed Katra Dal Singh, leaving some land with the widow of Sardar Fateh Singh which developed as Bazar Mai Sewan after her name. Katra Sant Singh grew up on land granted by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Giani Sant Singh. Sardar Nihal Singh Atariwala developed a katra in his own name. Close to the Harmandir, towards the south, Misar Beli Ram founded a katra known after his name. And so did Moti Ram, close to the Lohgarh Gate. Katra Mihan Singh was founded by Karnail Mohan Singh, the well known governor of Kashmir. Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia also founded a katra known after his name. Katra Himmat Singh, adjoining the Bagh known as Jallianwala, was founded by Sardar Himmat Singh Jallewalia. Katra Sher Singh was coming into existence before the death of Maharaja Sher Singh. New markets and bazars also sprang up in the city, besides the old centres like Guru Bazar and Chauk Passian. In some cascs the names are suggestive of the main activity: Namak Mandi, Ghalla Mandi, Lakkar Mandi, Bansanwala Bazar, Bazar Sirki-bandan, Bazar Tokrianwala, Papranwala Bazar, Misri Bazar, for instance. To these may be added Majith Mandi, Chauk Natha Singh and Karmo Deorhi.

A foreign observer remarked at the beginning of the 19th century that many a banker and trader of Lahore had abandoned that city to settle down in Amritsar. It was a considered policy of the Sikh rulers to encourage traders and craftsmen to migrate to the towns they founded. The rulers of Amritsar were no exceptions. Of Maharaja Ranjit Singh this is even more true. Amritsar became a great centre of manufacture and trade in the early 19th century . When the French traveller Jaquemont visited Amritsar in the 1830s he found the city throbbing with the activity of Khatri, Bania, Khoja, Kashmiri and Afghan traders and merchants. Trade goods changed hands at Amritsar, catering to international demands. The merchants of Amritsar exported silken and woollen cloth, shawls, grain, handy ginger copper-ware and English cloth to Afghanistan and Central Asia. It received in rerturn raw silk, gold, carpets and horses.

The value of goods manufactured in Amritsar and sold abroad every year ranged between five and seven lacs of rupees. The most important industry of Amritsar was textiles. Pashmina shawls came first. Maharaja Ranjit Singh encouraged Kashmiri craftsmen to migrate to Amritsar. Much of the shawl manufacture was in the hands of the Kashmiris. High quality wool was imported from Tibet. In the 1830s there were 20 manufactories in Amritsar, manufacturing shawls worth 30,000 rupees a year. By 1849, the value of shawls manufactured in the city had risen to 4,00,000 rupees. Income from octroi at this time amounted to 9 lacs. Exact figures for silk are not available for the reign of Ranjit Singh. But the earliest known figures give some idea of the quantities involved. In 1850-51, over 2,000 maunds of silk yarn were imported into Amritsar. Out of these only three to four hundred maunds were sent to other cities. The rest of the silk yarn was dyed and woven in Amritsar. Over 2,000 persons were employed in the manufacture and trade of silken goods. The Khatris of the city handled much of the manufacture, reaching the craftsmen through middle men (dalals) who earned good profit. So popular was the industry that Maharaja Sher Singh introduced the larger width of 2,400 thread for a cloth of his choice. The usual width was of 2,000 threads. The dyres and weavers had their own kuchas: Kucha-i-Patrangan and Kuch-i-Bafandan. Manufacture of cotton cloth was largely confined to khes and coarse cloth. The most important fine cloth woven in Arnritsar was susi. Muslim julahas and Hindu harwalas constituted the majority of weavers.

Other industries were there in Amritsar, but much less important than textiles. In the 1820s there were at least 20 manufactories exporting samovars to Kashmir. Brass, copper and bell-metal-ware and icons were made in the city and sold largely in Bazar Kaserian. Some of the crafstmen specialized in high quality wares with ornamental designs. Sardar Lehna Singh Majithia introduced the manufacture of guns in Amritsar, and the use of iron in manufactories appreciably increased. Work in gold and silver leaf and in gold and silver thread was well known in the city from tne days of its foundation. During the early 19th century it received great encouragement from the royalty and the nobility, and from rich merchants and traders. Amritsar excelled in ivory work and wood carving. Not all the talent employed was local, but many craftsmen settled down in the city. Ivory work on the Darshani Darwaza of the Harmandir gives an indication of the high quality work in ivory done in Amritsar. Some specimens of fine ivory work, with miniatures, can still be seen with the descendants of some distinguished families. Specimens of wood carving can be seen on some old doors, windows, panels, railings ceilings and facades of balconies, reminding of the quality of work done during the Sikh rule. The art of wood carving owed much to the large number of Sikh carpenters in Amritsar. Extraction of oils and some work in leather goods do not exhaust but nearly complete the list of important industries of Amritsar.

Towards the end of Sikh rule, the population of Amritsar was larger than that of Lahore. Nearly a lac of persons lived within the walled city, belonging to different races and religions. The most numerous were the Punjabis, Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims. 'Though the Hindus and Sikhs were the earlier settlers, the Muslims came to form a very considerable proportion of the total population of the city. The catholic outlook and attitude of the Sikh rulers would largely, though not wholly, account for this situation. A large number of dharamsalas and gurdwaras were built in the city, and many akharas of the Udasis and the Nirmalas came up during the period of Sikh rule. There is no evidence of any comparable establishments of the Hindus and Muslims. But in every locality there were temples and mosques. Dozens of bungas were constructed around the holy tank of the Harmandir to lodge pilgrims. Some of these came to serve as centres of learning as well. If the akharas and bungas served as centres of elementary Sikh education, pathshalas and maktabs catered to the need of learning elementary arithmetic and account keeping, and of rudimentary acquaintance with Arabic and Persian. The number of literate persons in any case was not large. Informal learning remained more important than formal education. Men of high learning were few and they were honoured in inverse proportion to their numbers.

Many Europeans visited Amritsar in the early l9th century, some as travellers but many more in connection with political and diplomatic matters. The latter included a Governor General of British India, Lord Auckland, who was received in the Ram Bagh Palace and taken to the Harmandir where he paid homage, like the Maharaja who accompanied him. A sister of the Governor General was struck by the proud bearing of the men of Amritsar with their flowing beards and lofty turbans. Some of the European visitors have left a record of their appreciation for the beauty and the grandeur of the Harmandir, covered with gold on the outside and with every square inch of its inside displaying artistic talent of the highest order. This was literally the centre and metaphorically the heart of the city.

Some of the visitors have left behind their impressions of the city as well. The architecture of the city appeared to be a combination of Hindu and Muslim styles, reaching its culmination in the architecture of the Harmandir which appeared to acquire at the same time a unique style of ltS own, the Sikh style. Some of the visitors were struck by the buildings of the city, tall and spacious and numerous. They did not care to mention the more modest mansions, or the single room houses of the poor, or the huts of the virtual outcaste, but they were there. Large empty spaces, pools and drabs as well as tanks covered more than a third of the walled city. People lived in clearly marked localities which became virtual fortresses once the entrance gates were closed. The narrow and winding lanes of the city at night were dark and empty. During the day, they were full of people, passing one another barely short of rubbing shoulders.

Statue of Shaheed Udham Singh at Amritsar

The European visitors remarked on the congestion, the dirt and the filth of the lanes. There was no proper drainage. There were no proper bathrooms in houses and no adequate means of flushing the latrines at their tops. The dirt of the streets presented a contrast to the cleanliness of the inside of an average household. Civic sense and civic responsibility were unknown, and people got used to much that today may be revolting. In this respect Amritsar was like any other city of India, or Asia. Conditions in most of the cities of Europe had changed by the early 19th century. With little sense of their own pasts the European visitors underlined the contrast. Standards of judgement differ from time to time, and place to place. But in the context of the early 19th century Asia, Amritsar presented the spectacle of a grand and picturesque city, with all its contrasts of richness and poverty, filth and cleanliness, refinement and vulgarity and of spiritual and mundane concerns. It was a city full of life and vigour that the British took over in 1849.


During the near century of British rule in the Punjab, Amritsar remained the headquarters of a district, except from 1859 to 1884 when it was also the headquarters of a commissionery consisting of the districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Sialkot. In terms of administrative status, therefore, Amritsar lost its parity with Lahore which became the undisputed capital of the province under the British.

One of the early measures of the Administrators of Amritsar was to remove its fortifications. The bastions of Gobindgarh were demolished. The bastions of the city wall close to the Lahori Gate were also demolished. In fact, the entire double wall of the city was demolished and in its place a new wall only a few feet thick was constructed. The bastion of the Ram Bagh Gate was removed. By now, only the inner gate remains, a fine specimen of the architecture of the days of Ranjit Singh. The other gates were reconstructed, some of which are still extant as memorials of the early British architecture. The outer moat came to be used for drainage (ganda nala) and a circular road was constructed along the new wall. Both the walls of Ram Bagh Palace were demolished; the main palace and other garden houses were used by the British officials in the beginning for residential purposes and as offices.

In due course the new rulers built offices and houses for themselves. They helped the Christian missionaries to establish their institutions in the city . Within the first five years, St. Paul's Church on the Court Road and the Church Mission Society's Bait al-Masih outside the Ram Bagh Gate were constructed. Close to Mahan Singh Gate was constructed the Church Mission House in 1862 to serve as the headquarters of the Society. Though finished in 1874, work on the Clock Tower in the vicinity of the Harmandir was started in 1862, on the site of the bungas of the Ladowalias and Nau Nihal Singh which were demolished to accommodate a church as well as the clock tower (demolished in 1945). Amritsar Town Hall The Town Hall was completed in 1870 and the building of the Government School in its neighbourhood was completed in 1873. Outside the city wall, the Railway Station was constructed in 1859, and the District Courts and the Treasury in 1876. The Alexandra School for girls was established by the Church Missionary Society in I877-78. Work on the Victoria JubilJeb Hospital was started in 1891 and the civil hospital, which had functioned outside the Ram Bagh Gate since the early 1850s, was shifted to the new building in 1904. Till the end of the 19th century, however, only a few hundred persons were living in the civil lines outside the city wall, and they were almost exclusively European.

During the first thirty years of British rule, the population of Amritsar shot up to over 12 lacs. But in the next thirty years, on the whole, it did not increase at all. The largest increase in the population of the city took place in the second quarter of the 20th century, from about 1,60,000 persons in 1921 to about 4,90,000 in 1941. This was also the phase of rapid industrialization in the history of Amritsar.

Amritsar Muncipal council

Morphological development of the city was closely connected with its demographic and industrial growth. Some new areas were brought into use in the late l9th century. In 1873 a new gate was constructed, breaking the wall between the Ram Bagh and Shahzada Gates, to connect the Town Hall with the Railway Station and the Civil Lines. This was known as the Hall Gate, after the name of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. On both sides of the road connecting this gate with the Town Hall, shops were opened by enterprising businessmen to cater to the European residents of the city and its rich gentry. The bazar came to be known as Hall Bazar. Shopping cum residential areas developed at right angles to the Hall Bazar, like Katra Sher Singh. A few dhabs were filled up to use the site for markets and houses. The dhab of the Ahluwalias was filled in 1889 and the Ghee Mandi locality developed inside the Doburji Gate. On the site of the fort of the Bhangis came up a katra called Chitta Katra or Katra Sufaid.

Amritsar office building

However, new construction did not keep pace with the increase in the number of people. The old localities became more and more densely peopled. The proprietors of land in the city, whether individuals or institutions, were reluctant to sell it. The needs of the growing population could be met by multistoreyed houses built on old sites. The result was a higher density of population, which meant greater congestion. Coupled with insanitary conditions, congestion meant frequent epidemics. Consequently, the population of Amritsar did not increase in the late 19th century, the death rate remaining all the time higher than the birth rate. Immigrants came to the city from Kashmir and the submontane districts of Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur and Sialkot. But even in the opening decade of the 20th century, the number of people who left Amritsar was larger than the number of people who came to settle down. By the beginning of the 20th century the inhabitants of Amritsar had started living outside the city wall. In 1911, there were over 10,000 persons living outside the walled city. By 1941, the number rose to 94,000. During the first half of the 20th century, though some new localities were developed within the wall, like Bagh Ramanand and the area around Hindu College, much of the development took place outside the city wall, particularly after 1920. A number of houses were built in the Civil Lines on the Mall, Lawrence Road and Maqbul Road. New colonies developed on the present site of Dayanand Nagar and Brahm Nagar, known in the 1930s as Nai Abadi, and Chauk Khan Muhammad. By 1940 Sharifpura, Hussainpura and Tahsilpura had come into existence. The Model Town area and Rani ka Bagh (where Jamadar Khushal Singh had his garden house once) were being developed. Kot Sayyid Akbar Ali Khan, on both sides of the Ram Tirath Road, and Putlighar had come into existence, the latter mainly as an industrial area. Another industrial area to come into existence in the 1930s was Islamabad. Several other abadis came up during the present century under British rule: Sarai Bhagwan Das, Muslim Ganj, Durgiana Abadi, Nawan Kot, Kot Mahammad Shah, Kot Ralia Ram, Kot Saggu, Muhammadpura, for example. A large number of slums also came into existence on nuzul and neglected lands, particularly near the railway line, the Grand Trunk Road, the city wall, near dhabs and tanks, religious establishments and industrial areas: Haripura, Kot Kishan Chand and Ghaffulpura were such slum areas, besides the huts of Sikligars, Bazigars, Mahigirs, Singharias, Tappariwasis, Bagarias, Dhobis, tanners and beggars. The Municipal Area in 1931 came to have a perimeter of 16 miles, nearly four times the perimeter of the city wall. The total population on Amritsar in 1947 was nearly three times larger than its population in 1855. Nearly half of this population was Muslim.

Much of the growth in the population of Amritsar was due to its industrial and commercial activities during the period of British rule. The new rulers were anxious to increase the volume of trade with other countries as well as between the cities of British India. For this purpose they adopted several measures. Railways and roads were constructed to link the city of Amritsar with other important cities, and with the hinterland. Before the end of the 19th century Amritsar was connected by rail not only with Pathankot, Lahore and Multan but also with Peshawar, Karachi, Bombay and Calcutta. Traffic by railways was supplemented by a network of roads. Transit barriers were minimized. Postal, telegraphic and telephonic links were forged in due course. Improved means of transport and communication strengthened the sinews of trade and commerce.

As the premier grain market in India, Amritsar exported large quantities of wheat, gram, rice and oil seeds. Its heaviest trade was in wheat. The traders of Amritsar purchased wheat from Lyallpur, Montgomery, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Lahore, Gurdaspur and Ludhiana to meet the demand from many cities in India and abroad. Large quantities were purchased by the owners of flour mills who exported flour rather than grain. A regular system of finance and brokerage was evolved for trade in grains, the major dealers having their offices in all the important markets. In 1937, the trade of Lyallpur and Okara put together was not equal to the trade of Amritsar, though these two markets came next to Amritsar in the Punjab. Out of a total of 152 pakka areas in the first four markets of the Punjab, Amritsar claimed 117, that is more than 75% of the total.

Besides grains, Arnritsar became the chief mart of European and Indian piece goods. The merchants of Arnritsar imported European piece goods through Karachi, Bombay and Calcutta, and exported them to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Merchants from Kashmir and from all the cities of the Punjab received piece goods mostly through the merchants of Amritsar, with Katra Ahluwalia as the main centre of trade in the city. After the second World War, Indian piece goods from Bombay, Ahmedabad and Kanpur entered the market in a big way and the merchants of Amritsar started purchasing them for the familiar markets in the Punjab, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Central Asia. In 1945, Indian piece goods worth 4 krors of rupees were exported from Amritsar.

For teas Amritsar had a monopoly. Demands from all over India and abroad were met by the traders of the city. Some of the other goods that Amritsar exported to other cities were pashmina shawls, carpets, silken cloth, copper and brass utensils, chemicals, leather goods, hides, screws and steel. A special export of Amritsar was celery which was grown largely in Amritsar district. It was exported mostly to the United States of America. Amritsar was an important market for horses. In 1892 the number of horses sold in Amritsar was 9,000. Altogether, the city of Amritsar became the most important commercial emporium of northern India, more important than Lahore which in terms of population had become larger than Amritsar even before the end of the l9th century. The first branch of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in the Punjab was opened at Amritsar, in 1915.

Many of the goods sent out were manufactured in Amritsar itself. Chief among its manufactures were textiles, now as before. Pashmina shawls remained an important item in the third quarter of the 19th century. In the last quarter, however, the industry declined due as much to inferior wool and weaving as to change in fashion and the loss of a major market in France. Carpet weaving rose upon the ruins of the shawl industry, absorbing the Kashmiri craftsmen on the lookout for employment. Around 1900 carpet industry was in its most flourishing state. In the early 20th century it suffered several setbacks and started declining. In 1910 there were 1800 looms, but four years later there were only 40. New factories were established in the early 1 920s and remained in operation till 1947. A few woollen mills were also set up to produce woollen cloth. Manufacture of silken cloth received a new filip in the third quarter of the 19th century, and the industry was at its peak in 1885. After a decline due to short supply of raw silk from Bukhara, competition from European manufacturers and loss of handkerchief market in Burma, the industry picked up with the introduction of art silk, machinery and technical know how from Japan in the third decade of the 20th century. Amritsar Rayon Mill was established in 1932. In cotton industry Amritsar was known more for ginning and pressing rather than spinning and weaving. In 1901 there were 7 ginning factories out of a total of 13 connected with cotton industry. Guru Ram Das Cotton Weaving Factory was started in 1924, followed by Bharat Under Cloth Weaving mill in 1928 and Hans Raj Weaving Factory in 1932. Competition from Bombay, Ahmedabad and Kanpur remained an important obstacle in the way of Amritsar cotton industry.

Metal work remained important during the British period. In 1891 there were 274 persons working in copper, brass, kansi, Phil and bharat, producing wares of common use, besides icons and some good quality articles. In the last quarter of the 19th century high quality work declined very considerably and it was difficult to find well designed, decorated and engraved vessels, except samovars which were used for preparing tea in Kashmir. Work in gold, silver and ivory continued from the Sikh times. Paper knives playing-card boxes, chess boards and combs were the main items of manufacture.

A distillery was started in 1898 and the industry flourished during the 20th century. Within the first fifteen years the stillhead duty paid by the distillery increased from less than 2 lacs to nearly 13 lacs of rupees. In the 1940s more than 100 operators were working in the distillery before it was shifted to Khasa from its initial site near Mahan Singh Gate. A few iron foundries were set up in the second quarter of the 20th cenwry, of which Islamic Foundry was the largest. During the second World War iron industry got into good going. Established by Dharam Vir Vennani in 1941, the Universal Factory manufactured machine tools for the arrny. The Partap Steel Rolling Mill too was established during the War for manufacturing saria. In 1947 about 900 workers were employed in iron and steel industry. On the whole, the maximum industrial growth in Amritsar took place in the second quarter of the present century.

The physical, demographic, commercial and industrial growth of Amritsar during the period of British rule was accompanied by some important institutional, socio-cultural and political developments. Like all other cities of British India, Arnritsar came to have a civic administration of its own. For the first ten years after annexation, the administrators of Amritsar tried to administer the city with the help of local panchas and chaudharis, in addition to the distinguished individuals of proven loyalty, like Sardar Mangal Singh Ramgarhia, Colonel Gopal Das Majithia, Rai Kalyan Singh, Mian Samadjoo and Jan Muhammad. In 1857, however, some residents of the city were punished for plotting against the British and several of the panchas refused to cooperate with the administrators of Amritsar. For ten years now the British officials tried to run the city administration with a Town Committee consisting of the heads of the various departments of the governmental with the Deputy Commissioner as its president.

The Town Committee was replaced by the Municipal Committee in 1868, consisting of 6 officials, 6 nominated and 11 elected members, with the Deputy Commissoner as its president and one of the British officials as its secretary. This Committee used to meet normally on the first Tuesday of the month in the Ram Bagh Palace till the Town Hall was built. Sub-committees for sanitation, buildings, and octroi were constituted with an elected or a nominated member as president for each. The income of Municipality came from octroi, tax on vehicles, house tax and tax on marriages which was duly recorded like births and deaths. In 1872, the elected members objected to the expenditure on the Clock Tower and other 'Gothic' structures at the cost of the citizens.

In 1873, the total membership was increased to 26, of which 6 (including the Deputy Commissioner as president) were to be official and the remaining 20 non-official members, 12 of the latter being elected and 8 nominated. Subsequent changes increased the total number of members, and the proportion of non-official and elected members, with fixed proportions of communal representation. By 1947 43% of seats were meant for Muslims, 43% for the Hindus and 7% for the Sikhs, with one - seat for labour.

The Municipality looked after public works, public health, sanitation, education, public safety and medical relief. The Electricity Department was separated from the Engineering Department in 1918. The post of the Executive Officer of the Municipality was created in 1931, and that of a Town-planner in 1939. Income of the Municipality increased after 1910 due largely to water and electricity charges. After 1920, octroi was replaced by 'terminal tax.' Income from this head in the early 1940s ranged between 8 and 10 lacs of rupees, the largest portion coming from piece goods. The major items of expenditure, besides the municipal establishment, were public safety, education and public health. The Municipality of Amritsar did some creditable work in all these spheres. What is more important, it trained the citizens of Amritsar in democracy. Teja Singh Samundri Hall at Golden Temple Complex

Before the close of the third quarter of the 19th century, Amritsar became the centre of Sikh resurgence. The first Singh Sabha was formed in Amritsar, in 1873. Its objectives were to restore Sikhism to its pristine purity, to promote religious and historical studies, to promote Punjabi journalism, to spread Sikhism and to promote education. Singh Sabhas were established at other places also with similar aims and objectives. Moving in the same direction, they did not work without occasional discard and tension. A central organization was provided by the Chief Khalsa Diwan which was constituted in the early years of the 20th century. The Khalsa Tract Society was formed a few years later to publish and propagate the ideas of the Singh Sabha Movement. Sikh Education Conference was instituted in order to deliberate on the best ways and means of spreading education among the Sikhs.

It was in this context that Khalsa College was established in the neighbourhood of Amritsar. Its foundation was laid on March 5, 1892, but the first year class of the College was started in May, 1897. Meanwhile, a school was opened in the city. The first boy to be admitted in the school on October 23, 1893, was Kartar Singh, the son of a Bedi sahukar of the city. Abdulla, the son of a Kashmiri dyer (rangrez) was admitted ten days later. The first batch of graduates from Khalsa College came out in the opening year of the 20th century. The college grew up as the premier Sikh education instruction in the Punjab. There is hardly a walk of life in which the alumni of this institution have not made their work. An embodiment of the aspirations of the Singh Sabha Movement, the College became an effective instrument in the realization of those aspirations.

Hindu and Muslim institutions of formal education came up largely in the second quarter of the 20th century, like the Hindu College and Islamia College. Their role was not quite similar to the role of the Khalsa College which catered to the needs of Sikh youth all over the province.

The city of Amritsar became the cradle of modern Punjabi prose and poetry. Bhai Vir Singh, who is generally regarded as the father figure in modern Punjabi literature, was born in Amritsar in 1872. 'He broke the Sikh literary tradition loose from Brij classicism and adopted Punjabi language as its main medium. But in so doing he also opened up the possibilities for transformation of Sikh literary tradition into a broadly secular cultural activity.' The tradition of Punjabi fiction started by Bhai Vir Singh was carried further by Charan Singh Shaheed and Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid. In the hands of Nanak Singh it was to acquire a distinct secular idiom. Master Tara Singh also wrote his first novel in Amritsar. Dhani Ram Chatrik, an associate of Bhai Vir Singh, made a distinctive contribution to Punjabi poetry, singing of the peasantry and the city of Amritsar with equal felicity.

Urdu literature and journalism also flourished in Amritsar. The most emindent Urdu poet of our times, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, was teaching English in the Islamia College at Amritsar before 1947, Saadat Hasan Manto, an equally eminent writer in Urdu, was a resident of Amritsar. The background of half a century of creative writing in Urdu enabled these eminent writers to come up with a great promise. In Urdu journalism, the Vakil-i-Hind was edited for some time by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

The art of painting was known to Amritsar in the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. That tradition gradually declined and died for want of patronage. In the 20th century, painting as an art revived with a difference. The artists of 20th century Amritsar are different from their predecessors of the 19th century in their idiom and technique. The largest and the best contribution to the modern art of painting was made by Thakur Singh.

In 1907, Denzil Ibbetson, Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, remarked that a 'new wind' was blowing through men's minds in the Punjab. Two years later, Madan Lal Dhingra of Amritsar, who had gone to England for studying mechanical engineering, shot down Sir Curoz Willie and refused to defend himself. A nation held in bondage with the help of foreign bayonets, he remarked, was in a prepetual state of war. To him, assassination of the instruments of foreign rule was a legitimate alternative left to a member of the subject nation.

Amritsar became a centre of the activity of the revolutionaries for some time in the second decade of the 20th century with which some well known figures were connected: Rash Bihari Bose, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Ajit Singh, for instance. In 1918, the Punjab Provincial Congress held its meetings in Amritsar. The political leaders of Amritsar, Dr Satya Pal and Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, stimulated political activity. The events of 1919 reveal an intense political consciousness among the people of Arnritsar. Against the Rowlatt Acts the city observed successful hartals on March 30 and April 6. The Ram Naumi on April 9 witnessed an unprecedented fraternization among all the communities of Amritsar. The city was handed over to General Dyer on April 11, and the stage was set for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

April 13 was the day of Baisakhi and a large number of people poured into Amritsar to pay their homage at the Harmandir Sahib. Processions were banned by Dyer through a proclamation. Even a gathering of four men was to be looked upon and treated as an unlawful assembly to be dispersed with the force of arms. In response to a call for peaceful protest, more than 15,000 persons came to the Jallianwala Bagh. Dyer arrived with 50 riflemen at 5.15 p.m. and took his position at the only entrance to the Bagh. He ordered his men to open fire, to fire low and to fire for effect. Over 500 persons were killed, and over 1,000 were wounded. Dyer was clear in his mind about the objective: 'It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, from a military point throughout the Punjab'.

The cold blooded massacre of peaceful demonstrators did produce effect on the Punjab, on the entire country as a matter of fact. But the effect was just the opposite of what Dyer had intended. The massacre intensified the political struggle. Towards the end of the year the annual session of the Indian National Congress was held in Amritsar, attended by many national leaders, including Muhammad Ali Jinah, and by nearly 36,000 people. One of the resolutions passed in the session was to urge upon the British Parliament the necessity of establishing fully responsible government in India on the principle of self determination.

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre indirectly transformed the Singh Sabha politics into Akali politics. In November 1920, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee was formed to give a new direction to Sikh politics in the Punjab. Taking the ideas of the Singh Sabha Movement to their logical conclusion the Akalis believed that the sacred Sikh shrines and Gurdwaras were a collective concern of the Sikh Panth and they should be placed under the control of the Panth as represented by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. The ntorchas launched by the Akalis in pursuance of their decision to take over the management of the Gurdwaras were peaceful but determined. The keys of the toshakhana of the Harmandir Sahib were handed over to them by the government on February 12, 1922. The passing of the Gurdwara Bill in 1925 was the culmination of the Gurdwara Reform Movement Through their political activity of the early 1920s the Akalis entered the arena of politics in a big way. They have stayed in politics ever since to exercise a decisive influence on the politics of the Punjab and the politics of the country.

Amritsar was the cradle of the Singh Sabha Movement, no doubt. But it was also the city where Hindus and Muslims were influenced by the socio-cultural and socio-political developments in the country Sabhas and Anjumans, with their respective programmes of education and cultural revival, sprang up in the city, particularly in the first quarter of the 20th century. Just as the country as a whole, including the province of the Punjab, was witnessing a sharpening of communal consciousness, Amritsar too witnessed an uprush of communal expression of social concerns. The growing wealth of the middle classes in the city and the province enabled them to undertake new projects and to forge new associations for social, political and cultural activities.

The political leaders of Amritsar continued to participate in national politics. A branch of the All India Trade Union Congress was opened in the city in 1936 through the efforts of Shaikh Hasamuddin who,was a member also of the Ahrar Movement of Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari. During the Quit India Movement the people of Amritsar remained in the first ranks. The spectre of partition undermined communal harmony almost all over the country and Amritsar was no exception. It witnessed arson, pillage and rapine. Many of its residents tried their best to see their Muslim brethren safe across the border, and they helped their country men coming from across the border. The city started getting rehabilitated at the same time as it was being abandoned.

The partition of the country left nonetheless a deep scar on the city of Amritsar. A more or less hostile border slowed down its progress. But nothing has stood in the way of its growth. Its development in every field in the last thirty five years has been very considerable. In the sphere of commerce and industry it has maintained its importance. In the field of art and literature Amritsar has improved upon the traditions of the British times. In the field of education it has made a great progress, with a large number of schools and colleges. It is now the seat of a University named after the founder of the Sikh faith, which has the potential of an excellent institiution of higher learning.


  1. Copyright © J.S. Grewal"The City of Golden Temple"