History & Culture

Brief History

Guruji PaintingAmritsar, literally a Pool of Nectar, derives its name from Amrit Sarovar, the holy tank that surrounds the fabulous Golden Temple. First time visitors to Amritsar could be forgiven for the impression that Amritsar is like any other small town in northern India. But Amritsar stands head and shoulders above any other city, its status elevated and sanctified by the presence of the venerable Golden Temple.

Located in the heart of Amritsar, the temple complex is surrounded by a maze of narrow lanes, or katras, that house one of the busiest markets in India. But the Golden Temple is a serene presence, radiating a calm that makes people bow their heads in reverence. The gurudwara, as Sikh temples are called, is the holiest of Sikh shrines. It is not just Sikhs who travel to the Golden Temple to pay homage, the sacred shrine is equally revered by Hindus and people of other faiths who, too, make the pilgrimage to offer prayers at Harmandir Sahib.

There more to Amritsar than that - Amongst other sights is Jallianwala Bagh, site of the gruesome massacre of unarmed Indians by British troops. A major tourist attraction these days is the Indo-Pakistan border crossing at Wagah, just a short distance from Amritsar, with its elaborate change-of-guards drill with a lot of strutting and intimidatory showing off by both sides.

If you are 'doing' north India, Amritsar is a city you should not miss. It's easy to travel there from Delhi by road and by rail. It is easy to navigate through the city; few guides bother you as tourism is not the most important commercial activity here. Ask them in Amritsar, and they will tell you that if for nothing else you must travel here for the roadside chhola-bhaturas.


Guru Ram Das PictureThe Origin of the city of Amritsar lies hidden in the mists of time due to the scanty evidence available in its early history .On the development of the city, the generally accepted view is based on the Amritsar District Gazetteers, the authoritative works of reference on local history.

The various Opinions that the land was granted by emperor Akbar to Guru Amar Das (later on transferred to Guru Ram Das), or was acquired by Guru Ram Das before the grant was actually obtained, or the land was purchased by the Guru on a payment of Rs.700 from the zamindaar of the village at tung at the instance of Emperor Akbar, or presented by the people of village Sultanwind out of regard and reverence for the Guru are all versions based on popular tradition .There are no documentary evidences to support or contradict these views. But the version regarding the purchase of the land by Guru Ram Das is in keeping with the tradition of Sikh Gurus who never took any land grants from the rulers.

It seems that originally the site of Amritsar was a community land lying between the village of Sultanwind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali, and later it was acquired by the Sikh Gurus either on payment or was received by them free of cost. Opinions may vary on the question of acquisition of the site, but it is certain that the selection of the site was planned and not accidental. It was the choice of the Gurus themselves, and the site of Amritsar was revenue free land.Even the early name of the city chak Guru,bears testimony to the nature of the settlement as detached or revenue free. Probably, Chak Guru was granted exemption from land revenue by the Mughal government during the reign of Emperor Akbar,Whose policy of religious toleration and religious grants even to non-Muslims centres is a well known fact.

The original plan of the new project was chalked out by Guru Amardas and Conveyed to Ram Das for execution .Guru Ram Das was given guidelines for the location of the site and was instructed to found a village,to build a House for himself, to dig a tank and to develop the centre gradually into a city. Arrangements were made for money and assistance. some intelligent, experienced and elderly Sikhs were instructed to assist Ram Das to implement the project.The project was thus executed by Guru Ram Das.

First of all a boundary line of the settlement was drawn. The foundation was laid by Guru Ram Das and the village was named Ram Das Pura .Opinions vary on the date of the founding of the city. Probably the foundation was laid in 1573 AD but the popular view is that it was done in 1577.

The construction of the new centre was started with great enthusiasm.Some huts and houses were built and then excavation of the tank was startad. when a portion of the project was completed, Bhai Jetha went to Goindwal to report the progress of the work.This time Guru Amar Das directed Ram Das to dig another tank at the low level area near the site of the tank under construction.On his return, Guru Ram Das selected the site for the second tank surrounded by a large number of Jujube trees.

The construction of the second tank commenced on Nov.6,1573 and Guru Ram Das personally supervised it.Many Sikh devotees came to participate in the Sewa. Simultaneously with the construction of the tank all care was taken to develop the village Chak. 52 types of caste groups from Patti,Kasur and Kalanaur were called for ensuring regular supply of essential commodities to the settlers. A market called Guru ka bazar which exists now also was established. Some wells were dug for water supply. A number of rich bankers and traders also settled down in the town.

The construction of the tank and the town was going on smoothly. But Guru Ram Das had to rush back to Goindwal at the call of the dying Guru Amar Das, while the work was in progress. The work was resumed on his return in 1577 and the construction of the tank and town was completed in the same year.

On the completion of the project, the Guru called the local business community and told them to take charge of the holy place but they humbly pleaded their inability to perform religious duties and requested the Guru to engage some Brahmins and mendicants for the job.

The Guru and his disciples were thrilled at the completion of the new pilgrimage centre. Guru Ram Das composed beautiful verses in glorification of the sarowar, making an injunction upon his followers to take bath in the holy tank and meditate the name of God. The tank acquired a reputation fo sanctity and became the head-quarters of the Sikhs. The Amrit Sarowar remained un-bricked till Guru Arjan Dev ascended the Gur Gaddi in 1581. The tank was made pacca and its side stairs were bricked. The tank was named .Amar sarowar or Amritsar. Gradually the fame of the sacred tank led to its identity with the latter appellation and the city got its final name of Amritsar. Guru Arjan Dev also settled in the new city artisans and craftsmen of diverse calling and inculcated in his followers keen interest in horse trade.

Early Period

It has been established now that the whole of Amritsar district was a part of the vast area covered under Indus valley Civilization during the early period of history. This civilization developed prior to the Aryans civilization in this region. These evidences for the prevalence of this ancient civilization in this district of Punjab have been furnished by the discovery of certain sites by the archaeologist. The important sites pertaining to Indus valley civilization in Amritsar district are as under:

  • Vadalol
  • Chhina
  • Gharinda
  • Har

Gobind Garh FordIn addition to above, several sites also lie in a row in the Ravi, Beas, Doab.

Even in ancient times, trade was a primary factor in the urban development of societies. The Indus valley civilization also flourished with the growth of trade by overland and sea routes. It has been proved by the discovery of various seals of the ancient sites.

Ever since the discovery of the Indus Civilization, attempts have made to decipher the Indus script. In this respect, many theories have been propounded about the use of the seals, and the language used therein has been taught to be Sanskrit or Dravadian or an ancestors form thereof, depending largely on the initial approach of the scholars concerned. However, it has been now been established that the direction of writing of Indus script is from right to left. Many effects about Indus civilization will come to light as soon as Indus script is deciphered. During the vedic period, the area now belonging to Amritsar district is believed to be the abode of many Saints and Sages. According to a legend, it was at Ramtirth that Sita took shelter in the Ashram(Cottage) of Rishi(Saint) Balmiki during her exile. Both love and Kush received there education at Ramtirth by the learned Sage Balmiki.

The area of the Amritsar district also came under the Greek influence when in about 326 B.C., the area of Punjab up to the bank of river Beas was conquered by Alexander. Later on, it became part of Maurya and Gupta empire.

After the overthrow of Greeks, the area of Amritsar district became a part of the Mighty mauryan empire which extended up to Afghanistan. The most enlightened ruler of the mauryan was Ashoka, the great, who during the reign of his father Chandergupta Mauyara was the Viceroy of the principality of Taxila which included the area of present Amritsar district. Subsequently from the beginning of the 4th century to the end of the 6th century, it had the privilege of being under Gupta administration, which because of its efficiency is known as the golden age of Hindu period. Chandergupta was the most famous emperor of Gupta dynasty. Later on, it came under Kushan rulers and Kanishka was the most important ruler of this dynasty. With the rise of Rajputs, it began to be ruled by Rajputs till it became a part of the Shahi Kingdom of Punjab. It is believed that brave people of Majha formed a significant part of the armies of mauryan, Gupta, Kushan and Shahi rulers.

Medieval Period

During the last quarter of 10th century, Raja Jaipal of Shahi Dynasty ruled over Punjab including the present area of Amritsar district. His son and successor, Anangpal was finally defeated by Sultan Mahmmod of Ghazni in A.D. 1008. From that time, until the final overthrow of the Muhammdan Supremacy, The Amritsar district was attached to the Suba or Province of Lahor. The Important Muhammdan dynasties were the slave dynasty, the Lodhi dynasty and the Mughal dynasty. During the medieval period, the people of Amritsar district were influenced much by the teachings of the Sikh Gurus who were contemporaries of the Mughal rulers. Before the people of Amritsar district came under the benign influence of the Sikh Gurus, there were not big cities or towns in this district. However, Fatehabad( in Tarn Taran Tahsil) was an important town which lay on the old Delhi and Lahore road. It had an imperial serai for the halting of armies and carvanas. As most of the Mughal rulers were fanatics, the Sikh Gurus and their disciples were bound to come in conflict with them. The impact of the Sikh Gurus on the people of Amritsar district and their conflicts with the Mughals are briefly given as under:

Amritsar and the sikh gurus

The People of Amritsar District came under the influence of teachings of Guru Nanak in the beginning of 16th century, Bhai Lehna (later known as Guru Angad Dev), a residence of Khadur Sahib became a devoted follower of Guru Nanak.He preached people on the lines of Guru Nanak.He preached people on the lines of his Guru. He converted Takhat Mal, the headman of the village, and many others to his faith. A community kitchen (langer) was also initiated and men from far and near started pouring in to receive spiritual instruction from him. Even Guru Nanak visited him at khadur Sahib twice and on his second visit, seeing his never-failing devotion to god and man took him back to Kartarpur and appointed him as his successor on 14 July 1539 and called him Angad.

Guru Angad Dev settled at Khadur Sahib, his native village and made it his headquarters. He began to preach and spread gospels of Guru Nanak with great devotion.

He allowed one of his disciples-Gobind to build a township on the bank of the river Beas, but refused to call the new settlement after his own name and called it Gobindwal (now Goindwal) to commemorate the memory of the disciple.It was on 29 March 1552 Amar Das Ji, the most devoted follower of Guru Angad Dev, was appointed by Baba Buddha as the third Guru of the Sikhs in the benign presence of the Guru. It may be stated here that Humayun also visited Khadur Sahib and received the blessings of Guru Angad Dev.

Guru Amar Das guided the Sikhs from Goindwal from 1552-1574. In the year 1567, when Akbar visited Lahore, he made a call on the Guru at Goindwal. On being told that the Guru would see no one, high or low, till one had partaken of the food from the langar (community Kitchen), Akbar, a man of broad sympathies and high culture, welcomed the Idea and partook of the food distributed there, sitting in a row with his subjects of humble origin.

Guru Amar Das established 22 manjis (dioceses) in many parts of the country to popularise Guru Nanak's message.Many people came to the Guru to listen to his precepts.The Guru also got constructed a baoli at Goindwal and fixed the first of Baisakh as the day of the annual gathering of the Sikhs.He introduced several new ceremonies on occasions of birth and death,replacing the chanting of Sanskrit Shiolokas by the recitation of Gurbani.He preached against the purdah system, the seclusion of women, encouraged inter-caste alliances and remarriage of widows.The Guru condemned the practice of sati (burning of widow on the pyre of her husband’s dead body).

In 1573, Guru Amar Das deputed Ram Das ji to start excavation of the tank later known as Santokhsar and to found a new town later known as Amritsar. Arrangements and control of funds for the purpose were entrusted to Baba Buddha.A number of intelligent, experienced, devoted and elderly Sikhs were instructed to join Ram Das in accomplishing the task. The inauguration of the work was made in the traditional Indian style.Paid labourers were engaged. The visiting Sikh devotees were exhorted to lend a helping hand. Before regular excavation work of the tank (later on named 'Santokhsar'), started, the boundary line of the new settlement was marked and it was named chak Guru or simply the chak. Later on it began to be called, variously, as Guru ka Chak, Chak Guru Ram Das, or Ram Das Pura. Kilns were laid and a number of hutments were built. The Guru also took abode in a hut near the site (later named Guru ke Mehal)

After the portion of the project was completed, Ram Das went to Goindwal to pay his homage to Guru Amar Das and report the progress to him. This time, Guru Amar Das instructed Ram Das to dig another tank at a lower level near the site of the tank that was already under construction. On his return to the Chak, Ram Das made a search for the beri, the covered site for the second tank as instructed by Guru Amar Das .The site having been selected, the construction of the second tank (later on named Amrit sarowar ) commenced under the personal supervision of Ram Das assisted by Baba Buddha. According to Gian Singh Giani (Tawarikh Guru Khalsa, p.344), the digging of the tank commenced on 7 Kartika 1630 BK (6 November 1573). A large number of labourers were engaged. Many Sikh devotees came to the chak to participate in the work of the digging of the tank.The digging continued for many months.Simultaneously with the construction of the tank, every care was taken to develop the chak also. A large number of traders and businessmen from the neighbouring areas were induced to settle in the new township. In due course a market, called Guru ka Bazar, also sprang up there. Some wells were dug for supplying drinking water. A number of rich sarafs (bankers) and banjaras (traders) found their way to the town. A considerable number of the disciples of the Guru shifted to the town.

In 1574, when Guru Amar Das saw his end approaching, he summoned Ram Das to Goindwal and made him his successor on 1 september 1574.Guru Ram Das ascended the spiritual throne of Guru Nanak at the age of about forty years in 1574. During his brief period of seven years, he achieved considerable progress in expanding the activities of the Sikh religion. He sent out many of his disciples called Masands even to neighbouring countries like Afganistan to spread the gospel and also to collect offerings of the devotees which he needed more than ever not only to run the community kitchen, but also to complete the excavation of the sacred tank later called Amritsar and to expand the activities of the city of Ramdaspur he had founded in the life time of Guru Amar Das.

Amritsar - The Cultural Hub of Punjab

The city of Amritsar a dazzling showcase of composite culture and secular heritage .It has a proud past a glorious present and a promising future. This most important city of Majha has rightly been called the mukut-mani (Jewel of the crown)of the Punjab. A rich repository of spiritual and national heritage, It has been hailed as the home of all virtues’(sifti da ghar) .while praying, every devout Sikh longs to be blessed with a pilgrimage to Amritsar and a holy bath at the Golden Temple (Amritsar ke darsan isnan). A visit to Amritsar is believed to wash off all the sins.

A focal point of Sikh faith, a pivot of Punjab politics, a gateway to the Middle-East, a nursery of defence pool, an alert sentinel at the Indo-Pak border, Amritsar is the place where the first Sikh Army was raised by the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind. The city saw the fierce onslaughts of the invading armies of Ahmad Shah Abdali and a reckless carnage at the Jallianwala Bagh. An epicenter of Kooka and Akali movements and a symbol of resistance against the British tyranny, Amritsar had been a favourite place of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was in Amritsar that the clarion-call for the liberation of India sounded louder and clearer. In the recent times, the has at regular intervals borne the brunt of Indo-Pak conflicts.

Amritsar is like a diamond with many facets. The essential spirit of the city is found not only in its gurudwaras & temples, mosques & churches, takias & khankahs but also in its theatres & galleries, parks & gardens, archives & libraries, art & architecture, museums & memorials, havelis & forts, fairs & festivals, vibrant folk dances & scintillating taans, narrow lanes & winding alleys, parlours & boutiques, clubs & pubs, traditional bustling markets & lip-smacking cuisine.

The most dominating asset, however, is its people who are friendly, God-fearing, hospitable, hard working informal, robust and with a tremendous zest for living. They are fond of good food, good dress and all the external symbols of life.

Amritsar is the heart-beat of the Majha region which has provided Punjabi literature with its standard language. A launching pad of several renowned artists, authors and poets, the city has been a home of handloom and carpet industry for more than a century. The city is proud to have the second largest Milk plant in the country.

Amritsar is not just bhangra or giddha, sarson ka saag and makki ki roti, it is an attitude and a way of life, despite the modern winds blowing, the city still enshrines and exudes its essential cultural identity. Being the only land-route opening to Pakistan the city has become a favourite rendezvous of Track-II diplomacy.

  • Baba Atal Baba Atal
  • Durgiana Temple Durgiana Temple
  • Jalianwala Bagh Jalianwala Bagh
  • Khalsa College Khalsa College
  • Maharaja Ranjit Singh Maharaja Ranjit Singh
  • Golden Temple Golden Temple

Amritsar Other Attractions

Jagdev Kalan is related with the name of Muslim poet Hasham Shah, the famous author of Sassi-Punnu. In an era of Indo-Pak bonhomie, this village is a hotspot for mutual meeting-ground of interests, secular thinking and composite heritage.

Kotli Sultan Singh about 32 kilometers from Amritsar, is the native place of Mohammad Rafi, the legendary singer of the celluloid world.

Serai Amanat Khan is a very charming and elegant structure situated in a small village south west of Amritsar. The Serai has a beautiful gate constructed in a Mughal style of architecture. The tomb of Amanat Khan is surrounded by four minarets. The mosque near the tomb is decorated with Persian verses.

For more information, you can visit website : Punjab Tourism : Amritsar External website that opens in a new window

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