From a historical town to a decrepit village

People used to come to Pul Kanjri from far-flung areas, including Amritsar and Lahore, for shopping. Basically, the town was inhabited by Arora Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus who lived happily till Partition.

The historical town has been reduced to a tiny village now. Those who survived the bloodbath in 1947 left the place and settled in Amritsar, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and other parts of the country. But every year on August 22, they come here to pay tributes to their ancestors and perform akhand path in the memory of those who had died.

The majestic “Baradari”, built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who used to stay there for a night while travelling from Amritsar to Lahore, is in a dilapidated condition. The ramshackle relics that are falling to pieces tell a sad story.

Some of the frescos of Hindu deities and Guru Nanak Dev with Bala Mardana are still intact in one of the ramshackle buildings. However, many of the beautiful wall paintings have been destroyed with the passage of time. Some visitors have defaced these historical frescoes by scribbling their names on them.

The chances of reviving the pristine glory of a once-bustling town seem to be remote. The ruins of the rich heritage need huge funds that the Central and the state governments may not like to spare. However, the Border Security Force (BSF) has now been tasked with the responsibility of restoring historical monuments.

The dilapidated “Baradari” and “Dhab” (place of bathing) and ‘unsafe’ village gurdwara building can be saved only if declared “protected national monuments”, say the office-bearers of a welfare society.

Though the BSF has been making efforts to clean the pond and adjoining structures, neither the state government nor the Central government has released any funds so far. Mr Pardeep Katyal, Commandant, said that though the BSF had not received any budget from the state or the Central government, they had been making all-out efforts to restore the old glory of the place. He, however, said the BSF had submitted a detailed plan to preserve the site. He said the Punjab Minister of Tourism, Mr Jagmohan Singh Kang, and senior officials of the district administration were convinced that Pul Kanjri had the potential to attract a great rush of tourists who visited Wagah border to see the “beating the retreat” ceremony every day.

Last year, the ‘Friends Of India New Zealand’ (FOINZ) had announced an ambitious plan to restore the heritage site to mark the 58th anniversary of the Kabaili attack, but so far they have not taken any initiative. Mr Katyal said this organisation had not approached any official for taking up the gigantic work of restoration.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, a copy of which has been sent to the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, Mr H.P. Luthra, general secretary of the FOINZ, had unfolded a plan to revive the glory of the historical town.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh had built a “Baradari” (having 12 gates), where he used to stay on his way from Amritsar to Lahore. A 12-foot-wide canal, now a small water channel, used to run along this town.

According to residents, the canal used to carry water from “Kahnuwan chhamb” to the Shalimar Gardens, Lahore, and was constructed by Emperor Shah Jehan.

Moran’s pique

There is an interesting story behind the name of the village.

A young dancer (the word in Punjabi is Kanjri) by the name of Moran, hailing from Lahore, played a key part in the development of the village.

She used to dance at the darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Once on her way to dance at the Maharaja’s “Baradari”, her shoes fell into the water channel on the way. The piqued dancer refused to dance until a ‘pul’ (bridge) was built.

Hence the place became popular as Pul Kanjri, and the village subsequently developed into a large trading centre.

At that time, this place was noted for trade and commerce, and it had a good number of visitors.

Interestingly, in spite of his illustrious position, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was directed by the then Jathedar Akal Takht, Akali Phula Singh, to undergo a religious punishment for having illicit relations with Moran. Akali Phula Singh ordered 50 lashes for Maharaja Ranjit Singh right there.

Ranjit Singh took off his shirt and bowed down to receive his punishment. Later, Jathedar Akal Takht asked the Sikh sangat to forgive the Maharaja. — VW

Monumental neglect

 The historical importance of this place notwithstanding, hardly any VIP visits this site. However, the Railways Minister, Mr Lalu Prasad, is one of the few persons who evinced keen interest in preserving the relics during his recent visit to the village. He was extremely impressed with the immense heritage of this ruined village and suggested that top notch architecture experts be entrusted with the work of restoring the heritage.

He was of the view that the magnificent structures at Pul Kanjri were made of “Lahori bricks” and that the restoration work should start immediately.

Unfortunately, the land mafia is having a field day here. The orders of the SDM prohibiting the “excavation, cutting of trees and any damage to historical buildings” are being violated, as land mafia has already encroached upon the land belonging to the original inhabitants of the village. — VW

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