Kids Corner

Architecture

The Lost Palace of Amritsar

by SANDEEP SINGH BRAR

 

 

So much of our Sikh architectural heritage has been lost over the years.

I am amazed when I see photographs of churches and mosques and palaces over a thousand years old that are still intact. Here we are as Sikhs, the youngest major world religion, yet we have hardly any architecture over a hundred years old still standing.

While researching artist August Schoefft’s epic painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Darbar Sahib for a SikhMuseum.com exhibit, I became intrigued by an unusual structure appearing in the painting. It was a large and majestic palatial building on the parkarma of Darbar Sahib, with huge columns and spectacular arches, unlike anything I had ever seen before.

That initial curiosity about this unusual looking building started a quest that lasted years.

I then started specifically looking for this building in every old photograph or painting of Darbar Sahib and its surroundings that I could find.

Trying to find information about this mysterious building became a challenge, a journey of discovery. Why was it that one of the largest buildings on the parkarma ever built, a palace so large that it dwarfed every other structure on the periphery of the sarovar at Darbar Sahib and seemed to be even larger than the Akal Takht in volume, had simply disappeared from our records and collective memory?

What was this building? Who built it? What happened to it?

The lost palace haunted me like a ghostly figure clouded in mystery in the fog of time.

Research eventually revealed bits and pieces of this historical jigsaw puzzle. Old paintings, some of the earliest photographs ever taken of Darbar Sahib in the 1850’s and early traveller’s accounts, all revealed the remarkable story of the lost palace.

Like a time traveller I was able to take a journey of discovery from the time of the great Sikh Empire, to the advent of British rule in Punjab and the fascinating story of what happened to the lost palace and the strange and hideous structure built by the British to hurriedly replace it in the 19th century.

Visit the newly launched SikhMuseum.com exhibit, ‘The Lost Palace of Amritsar’, to find out more about the history of one of the jewels of Sikh architecture, lost to British greed and vandalism.. The lost palace may no longer exist, but its remarkable
story represents an invaluable reclamation of our Sikh heritage from the mist of time.

To view The Lost Palace of Amritsar exhibit, please CLICK here.

 

The author is the Curator of SikhMuseum.com and the creator of the world’s first Sikh website, Sikhs.org.

October 26, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Harvind (U.S.A.), October 26, 2011, 8:15 AM.

Absolutely fabulous. So interesting and much needed research.

2: Balkar Singh (Belgium), October 26, 2011, 8:21 AM.

Where are the tomes that should've been written about this? Have I missed them or have they never been researched and written. One of our central problems is that our intellectuals - historians, authors, scholars, playwrights, poets, researchers - in India have let us down miserably. Why is Sandeep Singh - sitting in distant Canada, in the year 2011 - suddenly discovering this fact? All of the Sikh historians and writers in India should be hung by their toe-nails! Harsh, yes. So has been their neglect and failure. If I'm wrong, I want to hear from them directly - the cowardly J.S. Grewals and his ilk!

3: Harvind  (U.S.A.), October 26, 2011, 1:24 PM.

I would like to discourage you from lynching all the intellectuals in India/Punjab. Our problem is larger. We only consider intellectuals from Punjab if they write in Punjabi. How much research has been done on the news gazettes of the time or other documents that were printed in Punjabi/ Farsi/ Urdu? There are many brilliant scholars in Punjab none of us know about because of our own handicap of needing to learn in the English medium.

4: Balkar Singh (Belgium), October 26, 2011, 2:44 PM.

Sorry, Harvind ji, but your apologia on behalf of the fellows who have dropped the ball in India doesn't hold water. So tell me, has there been any work done on this "Lost Palace" in Punjabi? In Farsi? In Urdu? Moreover, every aspect of Indian history is being researched and published about in English - the lingua franca of the world today. If what you're saying is true, then I'd add to my list of dunces all the University Vice-Chancellors, Deans and Heads of Departments. If anybody had two cents of brains in India's academia, every time a good work is published in Punjabi, it would be quickly followed with an English translation. And please don't tell me Punjabis and Sikhs don't read books. Balderdash! If good books were being written, everyone would read them. Remember Bhai Vir Singh and the rich 'tract' period of the early nineteenth century? Well-written Sikh tracts were selling like hot-cakes, lapped up by individuals and households across the land. That is how the Singh Sabha renaissance was achieved. Excuses, excuses, excuses - they'll get us nowhere! [Wish Jerry Barrier, bless his soul, was still around to tell us about HIS research into those truck-loads of tracts!]

5: Jas Grewal (California, U.S.A.), October 26, 2011, 3:21 PM.

I agree with Balkar Singh. I have never read anything about this Palace, even in Punjabi books. All I had read was that there were many buildings built around Harmandar Sahib by famous Sikh Sirdars and Maharajas. They were razed to make way for the parkarma. We have not been told enough of the destruction by the British and their attempt to turn the Darbar Sahib into a Christian den. The other point is that our new generations in Punjab, even from villages, are sending their children to English medium schools and they speak Hindi or English at school level and their young brains are manipulated to believe that Punjabi is an inferior language. It's true, English is the language of economic prosperity, but blinded with greed, Punjabis are disowning their own mother tongue, even though it is not necessary to do so. The same is happening across Punjab on both sides of the border. The neglect of all aspects of our heritage is tied to this fact. We need another Sikh Renaissance to awaken the Sikh/ Punjabi psyche.

6: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), October 26, 2011, 4:22 PM.

Another Sikh renaissance is at hand. Works like Sandeep Singh's are the first few showers of a rainstorm that will irrigate Sikh minds into a renewed spring. The internet will be the medium of the Singh Sabha this time around. Wonderful work, Sandeep.

7: Gurmeet Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 27, 2011, 1:05 PM.

A labour of love ... my heart rejoices in the fact our community has an individual such as Sandeep Singh, researcher extraordinaire, plowing through volume after volume of text just to extract a few lines to further the cause.

8: Rabinder Pal Singh (New York City, U.S.A. ), October 27, 2011, 3:44 PM.

The reason historical facts are coming to light now is simple - the Internet. It has allowed us to peek into and search archives of museums, libraries and browse old books and photos, in collections or those on the market for sale. A person living in the West has more access with a fast internet connection and a credit card. Yes, Sardar Sandeep Singh is special because he is devoting time and money and let's not forget his investigative skills to bring these hidden gems to the masses like us. I have learnt so much in the last few months just by mining the free Google Books library.

9: Artika Bakshi (Sri Lanka), November 01, 2011, 5:15 AM.

Interesting! I am currently based in Sri Lanka and have been trying to research Guru Nanak's visit here!

10: Dalvir Singh Gill (Canada), March 02, 2013, 9:13 PM.

Wonder how many stories like this are buried under the dust of time.

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