Near Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar
By Professor (Dr) Surjit Singh Bhatti
In 1762, the famous Sikh leader Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia (1723-1803) built two watchtowers to detect and defend Amritsar’s historic Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple), against the armed attacks led by Ahmed Shah Abdali. The Afghans attacked this Holy Sikh Shrine many times and tried to inflict the maximum possible damage to the Sanctum-Sanctorum and the Lake (called Sarovar) in which it was built by Guru Ram Das, the Fourth Sikh Guru and his son Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth Guru. Ironically, the Fifth Sikh Guru Sahib had invited a Muslim Saint Sayeen Mia Meer, to lay the Foundation Stone of Harmandar Sahib, the highest divine “Abode of Universal Peace” in 1589.
The Holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) in Harmandar Sahib is worshiped by all Sikhs as their Eternal Living Guru and the Ultimate Source of All Spiritual Knowledge. Also, the Akal Takhat in the Harmandar Sahib complex is the Source of Sikhs’ Temporal Strength. Due to the great importance of this Holy Sikh Shrine, even during the British and post-Independence periods, attempts were made to demolish it. At one stage, after the Annexation of Punjab, the British Viceroy of India toyed with the idea of converting it into a Christian Church.
The word Bunga (Bunge or Bungay) stands for mansion (s) of residence. These were established by prominent Sikh clans or confederacies, called Missals. Ramgarhia Missal was one of the 12 Sikh Missals at that time. Later, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), Leader of the Sukerchakia Missal, united all Missals into a single powerful Khalsa Empire.
The Bunga Tradition
The Bunge assigned to teach Sikh Scriptures (Gurbani), Traditions and Tenets (Maryada) were called Gyaneeyan de Bunge (Mansions for Learning Sikhism). There were others known as Raagiyan de Bunge (Musicians’ Mansions) where people were taught to correctly recite and sing Gurbani according to the 31 classical musical forms (Raagas). Some gave training to preachers, by traditional sects (such as Nirmalay and Udasee), and were popular as Sampradayee Bunge (Mansions of the Sikh Sects). Purely residential mansions for the Sikh Chiefs and the pilgrims were called Sardaran de Bunge (Mansions of the Chiefs).
Mughal Emperors damaged Harmandar Sahib many times but the buildings were rebuilt again. Ultimately, the Chiefs of all the Missals assembled at the Akal Bunga (present Akal Takhat) to discuss plans to protect the Sikhs’ holy place of worship. It was decided that some Khalsa leaders and armies should remain near Harmandar Sahib. Forces of mostly the Ahluwalia Missal (spread around Kapurthala, Jalandhar and Phagwara) and the Ramgarhia Missals (spread around Sri Hargobindpur, Batala and Mukerian), were selected to dwell near the sacred precincts as guardians of the holy shrine. They were directed to call the chiefs of other Missals for help in case the need arose.
Sikh Chiefs subsequently built many such Bunge to protect Harmandar Sahib and their other holy shrines. These were primarily meant to station the Sikh armies. However, they also provided accommodation for Sikh pilgrims and served as Sikhs’ Academies. Most of them were destroyed during or after the British era. Only the two Ramgarhia Bunge have survived. They are visible from the walkway (parikrama) inside the Harmandar Sahib and from miles around Amritsar.
( View of Ramgarhia Bunge from Harmandar Sahib )
Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia was a great Sikh warrior. Along with two other famous Generals, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Sardar Baghel Singh, he conquered vast territories, up to and including Delhi. From Delhi’s Red Fort, he ripped off the main ( 6.25 ft x 4.50 ft x 0.75 ft ) marble slab from the famous Moghul Throne (popularly known Takhat-e-Taus) and brought it to the Ramgarhia Bunga in Amritsar. He also brought 44 red-stone pillars, ornamented with engraved designs. These were used for supporting the roof of the upper storey of the Bunga. These 156 feet tall towers are designed as identical minarets and their red-stone facades are decorated with delicately chiseled patterns.
( View of Harmandar Sahib from the Ramgarhia Bunge )
Construction of the Ramgarhia Bunge
Ramgarhia Bunge are located in the south-east of Harmandar Sahib complex, Amritsar. Each of the two towers has three storeys. The three floors have flat roofs with arches on them, opening into a Sunny courtyard in the center. Small sized bricks (called Nanak-Shahi) have been used in the construction of (three feet thick) walls. The vaults and walls used lime and mortar (which make a water-proof combination), but no woodwork has been done anywhere. Two staircases have been provided to approach the lower floors, one from outside and the other from within the courtyard. The walls have special windows, from where firing is possible by guns inside. Also, two Kaal Kotharies (dark rooms) were constructed, near the throne of Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, for locking up the prisoners of war.
These Bunge were made to house about 500 soldiers with their own and additional arms and ammunition. There is enough space for storage of rations for them for several months. Besides, a deep well is available for fresh water supply. Rooms on all floors and in the basement have ventilators that open into the circum-ambulatory walkway (Parikrama) of Harmandar Sahib. The recitation of Gurbani within the Harmandar Sahib is audible continuously inside the rooms of the Bunge. The ground floors of these towers now have been opened into the main Harmandar Sahib for the visitors to see their precious history and heritage.
The picture below shows the throne of Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia.
In Amritsar, Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia had also designed a fortress called Ram Rauni (later known as Fort Ramgarh). It was named in honor of Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru who was the founder of Amritsar. This fortress has faded into history with the ravages of time. Fortunately, Ramgarhia Bunge have stood as a symbol of his historic contributions to defending the Harmandar Sahib. These Bunge are now being renovated and converted into a Sikh History Museum.
(Inside view of the Roof of the Ramgarhia Bunge)
Sardar Jassa Singh was Chief of the Ramgarhia Missal and a great General. He occupied the area to the north of Amritsar between the Ravi and the Beas rivers. He also added the Jalandhar region and Kangra hill areas to his estate. He had his capital in Sri Hargobindpur, the city he established in memory of Sri Guru Har Gobind Sahib, the Sixth Sikh Guru. An old palace belonging to Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgarhia still exists in Sri Hargobindpur city.
Professor (Dr) Surjit Singh Bhatti,
Formerly, Dean-Faculty of Sciences,
Guru Nanak Dev University,