Dr. Kirpal Singh
Former Head/Professor of Punjab History, Punjabi University, Patiala.
The dictionary meaning of heritage is: Something handed down from one’s ancestors or passed on as culture, tradition etc. We have to identify what type of heritage we have inherited. We have inherited from our past, the cultural, phenomenon i.e. earth, trees, rivers, rivulets which should be kept intact. Guru Nanak has said: bilhwrI kudrq visAw(God resides in nature)
We should preserve and beautify whatever we have inherited from our ancestors. This is one aspect of our heritage. However, I shall be dealing with the glorious historical heritage of the Punjab.
The Punjab, historically speaking, comprised territory from Delhi to Jamraud. Union Territory of Delhi created out of one of the Punjab’s districts in 1911. Five districts of north-western frontier were separated from the British Punjab in 1901. The boundaries of Punjab have always been changing. We shall be talking about the present Punjab, which was partitioned in 1947 and its territory was reorganized in 1966. A word about the glorious historical heritage will not be out of place here. Those events or high personages, who had brought great achievements in giving the people sense of pride and admiration, can be counted in glorious heritage. Socially, religiously and politically Sikhs Gurus have contributed great deal in elevating the status of the people of Punjab. Therefore, Professor Puran Singh has rightly stated:
pMjwb n ihNdU n muslmwn pMjwb ijENdw guru dy nwN qy [
I shall not be talking about the achievements of the Sikhs Gurus and their glorious heritage because their memorials are being looked after by the SGPC Amritsar.
Our history for last 500 years has been the struggle for liberation from political oppression, social injustice and religious persecution. It symbolizes our struggle against political tyranny and religious persecution. Baba Banda Singh Bahadur was the founder of independent Sikh state. His capital Lohgarh was known by the name of Mukhlispur has been suffering from indifference. Instead of building some memorial and making it a tourist place for the visitors it is in the state of neglect and negligence. Similar is the case of village Chhapparh Chhirhi where first battle for independence was won by Baba Banda Singh. Chhapparh Chhirhi village about 10 kms from Chandigarh on Mohali side. It was here the Mughal forces reached to check the Sikhs. Baba Banda Singh Bahadur had written letters to the Khalsa of Majha, Malwa and Doaba to reach and meet him near Ropar. He himself was taking of circuitous route viz Kaithal, Samana, Shahbad, Sadaura, Chhat, Banur and wanted to meet Khalsa at Ropar. The Sikhs on the other had of Majha, Malwa and Doaba jointly crossed the Sutlej where the Pathan contingent sent by Wazir Khan was defeated and they came to Ropar to meet Baba Banda Singh Bahadur. Again Mughal army was sent to intercept them. They all met at Village Chhapparh Chirhi where the battle was fought. It is 20 miles from Sirhind. Sikhs were untrained and had not ammunition whereas Wazir Khan’s Mughal army was well trained and had lot of ammunition. In the first round, Wazir Khan had the upper hand but later on the Sikhs with their usual enthusiasm killed Wazir Khan and his army began to flee. The Sikhs captured arms and ammunition from the fleeing army and with that ammunition they were able to conquer Sirhind fort. No attention has been paid to village Chhapparh Chhirhi viz the pool and group of trees where battle had been fought. It is pity that no memorial has been raised there. In Punjab we call a group of trees as Chhirhi. There was a pool as well as Chhirhi, therefore, the village is called Chhapparh Chhirhi. That pool and group of trees is still there need preservation.
Another great hero who has left the glorious heritage was Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He was builder of modern Punjab as he was able to consolidate it. Before him it was divided into various states and principalities. But for him whole of Punjab would have part of Afghanistan. He conquered Kashmir and Ladakh for India and became the only Indian sovereign who extended its boundaries.
Among several things he left, there are three monuments in Amritsar. He spent lot of money and time in building the encircling wall around Amritsar for this he consulted a number of foreign generals which he had employed. It has been described by a number of Muslim historians. It was almost impregnable that would have been a greatest monument to his memory. But unfortunately, for political reasons the British destroyed this wall after annexation of Punjab in 1849 and in its place ordinary wall was erected, the remnants of which are still visible.
Another great monument which has left was Gobind Garh Fort. It had been built on the site of Ram Raoni, the first fort built by the Sikhs to defend Amritsar. Maharaja Ranjit Singh built a very strong fort which was named as Gobind Garh. Though it is in possession of Indian Army it should have been repaired and thrown open to the public like Red Fort of Delhi. It would be befitting if some Museum is established in the memory of Maharaja Ranjit Singh there. The third great monument which was built by Ranjit Singh was Rambagh. Rambagh was built on the pattern of Shalimar Garden, Lahore. Now, it is in shabby condition. It should be improved and preserved.
Following his example his courtier also built gardens at Amritsar. There were 25 gardens in Amritsar like Bagh Akalian, Bagiche Ramanand and Bagh Teja Singh etc.
Punjab contributed a lot in freedom struggle. Sham Singh Attari had taken a vow not to allow Britishers to enter the Punjab so long as he was alive. On 10th of February 1846 early in the morning he wore white dress, prayed to God and riding on while horse plunged into the battle exhorting the followers to fight to the finish in the battle. According to the Melleson cries of INDIA LOST ‘INDIA LOST’ were heard. Sham Singh fell fighting heroically. Suitable memorial should have been built/raised at Sabraon as well as in his village Attari. His haveli at Attari is in ruins. It was the same haveli where Maharaja Ranjit Singh went with the marriage party of his grand son to marry the daughter of Sham Singh Attari. Nothing is being done to preserve this glorious memory of Sham Singh Attari at his village Attari which has become a border village after the creation of Pakistan.
There was another great freedom fighter Bhai Maharaj Singh – Garibaldi of Punjab, who fought against the British even after the annexation of Punjab. British army was pursuing him from village to village but he was so popular that he eluded arrest for years. With great difficulty he was arrested in 1853 and taken to Singapore as prisoner. He was the first Indian to be taken to Singapore as prisoner. We have raised no memorial commemorating his contribution in freedom struggle. It is our duty to raise memorial either at Aurangabad (District Amritsar) to which place he belonged or at his native village Rubban (District Sangrur).
One of the heroine who resisted the British administration over the Punjab was Rani Jind Kaur. She has been described the “the only man in Punjab” by Lord Dalhousie. The so-called second Anglo-Sikh war, the first war of liberation by the Sikhs was the result of her persuation. She was in correspondence with Dewan Mule Raj and Chattar Singh Attari exhorting them to rise against the British. She fled from the fort of Chinar and reached Nepal despite heavy guard by the British soldiers. Before her death in England, she asked her son to deposit her mortal remains in India which were deposited in the Godavari at Nasik by her son.
We can build victory gate type memorial at Amritsar and at other places associated with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Punjab Environment and Heritage Society has identified the place where Maharaja Ranjit Singh hoisted the Sarkar-e-Khalsa flag on an Ashatdhatu pole forty feet high, before he met Lord William Bentick near Ropar. That place should be reserved for raising a memorial of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Highest number of freedom fighters from Punjab were jailed or given death sentence. Life of every freedom fighter be described on a slab in the school of his native village so that the coming generations may remember him what such a man had made sacrifice for the freedom of the country. In this way, we will be remembering and making the people aware of our glorious heritage.