My City Amritsar has seen many ups and downs

It has many similarities with Venice (Italy) — the narrow zigzag streets, the surprisingly open spaces, the traditional wells. But the spiritual feelings are present only in my city. These feelings are there because it has the blessings of great spiritual personalities.

The city has seen various ups and downs in its physical growth during its short history. Initially, it was the victim of Mughal rulers. But the period of Sikh Misls from 1765 to 1802 is considered to have been favourable for its physical development.

During the period, various “akharas” (centres of learning), “bungas” (rest houses), “havelis” (houses with courtyard), forts and gardens were developed. The period from 1802-1849 is considered to have been the golden period for the physical development of my city.

It was during the period of Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh that a wall around the city with 12 gates was constructed, a fort in the name of Guru Gobind Singh was strengthened and a beautiful garden built on the pattern of Shalimar Bagh, Lahore, was created in the name of Guru Ram Dass, the fourth Sikh Guru, the founder of my city.

Decorative and architectural elements in the form of frescos and others ornamental elements are still depicted in its walled part. It was during this period that Sri Harmandar Sahib was decorated with frescos and other art forms such as tukri, inlaid stone, mohrakashi, gold embossing.

The next period is 1849-1947, when my city became a slave to the British. They were not much interested in the heritage of my city in particular and my country in general. Here I quote Lord Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament, February 2, 1835, “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem; their native culture and they will become that we want them, a truly dominated nation”.

This indicates the intention of the British. In my city, historic Rambagh’s layout was altered and many incongruous additions were made to Gobind Garh Fort, thereby destroying their originality. The major portion of the wall, and the gates were demolished, and the moat was filled. To quote Prof P. C. Khanna in his paper “The Ram Bagh — the splendour it was”, “It is rather unfortunate that the well-knit place of civic design created by Maharaja, like his dynasty, was soon destroyed after his death, through the vandalism of petty bureaucracy and unimaginative military, engineers and surveyors of British. To begin with it was renamed, after the East India Company, to Company Bagh. They tried to superimpose their own design in Ram Bagh. The garden at present is thus a hotchpotch of formal and informal styles”.

During this period, the physical growth started outside the walled city. This shows the concept of detached housing followed by modern principles and techniques of planning without the blend of traditional lifestyles and values.

(To be concluded)

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