Restored Gobindgarh Fort to be handed over to Punjab
Amritsar, Apr 9: The majestic Gobindgarh Fort which is to be handed over to the Punjab government occupies a unique place in Indian history as it is inextricably interwoven with folklore and historical saga of Amritsar.
For centuries, its walls have been silent witness to changing fortunes and masters including Maharaja Ranjit Singh who established Sikh rule in the then Punjab and Brig Gen R E H Dyer, the man responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of April 13, 1919.
Originally it was known as 'Bhanglan ka Kila' when it was built in 1760 but was rechristened as Gobindgarh Fort by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1805. It underwent first reconstruction and got a facelift during 1805-1809.
Acceding to the long pending demands of the Punjab government and considering Sikh sentiments, the Union Government has finally decided to hand over this fort to the state government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made this announcement on March 24 when he was in this pilgrim city for flagging off the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service.
This magnificent heritage, exquisitely crafted by deft craftsmen, withstood the rigors of time boldly for two and a half centuries, but have been showing the ravage time had wrought on it. The fort has been under the occupation of the Indian army since 1948 and by the year 2003, the need for a facelift was felt.
The ' Nanak Shahi' bricks, lime and mud arches had developed cracks over a period of time. Non availability of expertise for changes in construction patterns, values, norms and lack of due attention over two centuries made the restoration work a formidable challenge.
The fort is constructed in a square pattern with two strong gates, four large bastions and a well defined rampart. Its majestic entrance is known as Nalwa gate. At the other end of the fort lies Keelar Gate and it is rumoured that from its close proximity an 'escape tunnel' connects it to Lahore. The fort also houses the 'Toshakhana' (treasury), Durbar Hall, living accommodation and store houses. A large portion of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's treasure was kept in the 'Toshakhana'.
In 1849, after the Second Sikh War, the British took possession of Amritsar and Gobindgarh Fort became their military bastion. It was occupied by them till 1947. Gen Dyer, the infamous British commander responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre stayed in this very fort on his arrival in the city with his troops a day before opening fire on hundreds of peaceful protestors. Hawa Mahal, Phansi Ghar and certain other monuments were added during British legacy. From October 1948, the Fort was garrison for troops of the Indian Army.
Restoration initiative was taken up by the Indian army to protect this invaluable monument from time to time with the little funds available at its disposal and with no outside help. As the condition of this unique heritage was deteriorating very fast, the 'Panther Division of the Indian Army resolved to arrest any further damage to the structure.
When various agencies were contacted, a cost of Rs 80 crore was estimated for its reconstruction. Nonetheless, the army has its own ways of accepting challenges and executing works at a minimum cost and in the quickest time frame.
The guiding principle for restoration was that the originality had to be maintained and existing material to be re-utilised. All the wooden parts which over the years had withstood bravely the vagaries of weather were to be recrafted and utilised. Even the plaster was to be reused.
The first phase of delicate restoration work commenced in May 2003 and has continued since then. The project involved restoration of the main gate, passage, Nalwa Gate and the imposing fort walls.
The first step entailed strengthening of the Central Arch, being the mainstay of the front gate.
The strengthening of the arch was done the grouting cement and this task was undertaken in a way that nothing would be visible from the outside. The next on the agenda was the roof. Logs of seasoned wood were to be restored in the same way as in the past.
The patterned lime plaster and the exterior of the Fort Gate were taken up in the next phase. It was an extremely difficult task as it involved delicate work where the small bricks were chiselled and arranged laboriously in a circular fashion. These, over the years, had been covered by layers of plaster. Once rearranged and visible, the pattern provided the look of a canopy.
The stupendous effort of the Indian Army has given a new life to the Fort and it is alive again.
The army has made a beginning, but once the fort is formally handed over to the civil administration a lot would need to be done further to preserve such a vital national treasure.