A M R I T S A R    S T O R I E S



From café culture of Los Angeles to 'lassi' of Rajasansi
UN takes Rajasansi under its wing; Amritsar on world map

Varinder Walia and Ashok Sethi

A plush palace with ultra-modern cafes, a kaleidoscope of colours weaving a rich tapestry of Phulkari, glistening swords that shine brilliantly when unsheathed, smallish dice with which many a king wagered his kingdom, delicate jingling bangles, tall brass glasses famous for serving Punjabi yogurt "lassi" to guests - it's all set to be "Punjab darshan" complete with cultural and historical snippets for tourists, particularly foreigners, visiting Rajasansi. Punjab Government has selected the historical village of Rajasansi, about 11 km from the holy city of Amritsar, for the Central Government's United Nations Development New Country Programme (UNDNCP).

The project, with the estimated cost of Rs 28 crore, has already been submitted to the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. It envisages renovation of the old palace of Rajasansi, setting up of tourist information centres, kala Kendras for artisans, improvement of surroundings, illumination of historical buildings, laying of sewerage.

With the Rajasansi International Airport being upgraded, a visit to Rajasansi village may become even more comfortable and tourism may receive yet another boost. Foreigners, with their penchant for historical yarns and cultural snippets, are apt to find this village just the right place to satiate their inquisitiveness. Already a large number of tourists arrive daily at the holy city of Amritsar. In fact, with the city and the Golden Temple being likely to be granted the "Heritage" status by the UNESCO, Amritsar would soon be on the world tourism map.



Direct Singapore flight gives new connectivity

Spread over 1100 acres, the Rajasansi International Airport is undergoing massive upgradation these days. The airport can now handle wide-bodied aircrafts, including jumbos, due to the extension and the strengthening of runway, taxi track and apron area.

The airport, which is located a few kilometres from the international border, has started receiving about two lakh passengers from all over the world every year. The passenger traffic is growing with the increase in the number of flights. Mr V.S.Mulekar, Airport Director, says that the passengers' flow is likely to grow by more than 35 per cent annually.

The airport can become a strong economic hub if tourist and cargo potentials of adjoining Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana are fully tapped. Besides the scheduled 38 weekly flights by Singapore, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan connecting to various destinations around the globe, the weekly tourist chartered flights for NRIs and foreign nationals from England and Europe have given impetus to the flow of the passengers.

The recent direct Singapore flight, opening new routes and connections to Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia and even to Canada and the USA, has provided an international edge to the airport. The Singapore Airlines hopes to lift from here every week about 50 tonnes of cargo, including fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products, hosiery, shawls, leather and sports goods and hand tools. The airport authorities, in collaboration with the local industry, are preparing an export-import potential vision paper, which would open a gateway to the world.

A few problem areas like the Rs 16.80 crore terminal building that was expected to be completed by the end of the last year have been taken up by the authorities. This project had been hanging fire, as the Central Government's undertaking - Hindustan Steel Construction Limited - failed to do the construction work. The authorities have now assigned the task to a new construction company that has taken up the project on war footing. It is expected to be completed by the middle of the next year. It would provide modern décor and facilities, including escalators, conveyor belts, round-the-clock restaurants and coffee shop and other modern amenities.

Interestingly, the cargo complex has already been completed. The next phase, which would have refrigerated block required for the export of fresh vegetables and other perishable goods, is also expected to start soon with the help of the APEDA (Agriculture and Processed Food Export Development Authority).

However, some eyesores and problems still remain. An all-too-visible eyesore for a tourist landing here is the incomplete four-laning of the road connecting the city. The entire route between Amritsar and the airport remains in darkness after sunset.



Big boost to tourism on cards

A number of international airlines operating from different parts of the world to Amritsar are enticing more than two crore members of the Indian Diaspora, majority of them Punjabis, to visit their roots in India to start a tourism revolution in this part of the region.

According to a study conducted by the Institute of Tourism And Future Management Trends (ITFT), Chandigarh, more than 26 per cent of the 45 lakh international passengers from the Indira Gandhi International Airport are from Punjab. Thereby, 11.4 lakh passengers travel from this region. It is estimated, as per the present trend and surveys, that this region suffers a revenue loss of about Rs 500 crore annually on account of people from this area moving to Delhi to catch international flights. The commencement of the flights by the Singapore Airlines adds a new chapter to the economic and the social development of Amritsar.

The ITFT, in its study, points out that seven million NRIs in the world are of Punjabi origin and more than 75 per cent of them visit India to meet their families and friends. The airlines, including tourist charter carriers, have opened a new chapter by offering attractive fares. This makes the holy city an attractive tourist destination. According to available reports, more than 50,000 devotees, including a large number of NRIs and foreigners, visit the Golden Temple daily.

The credit for the first-ever tourist charter flight goes to the ambitious NRI from England, Mr Jimmy Pooni, who brought more than 250 tourists from India and Europe on a 7-day tour to this area. This paved the way for more charter carriers, including Al-Monarch, Air Slovac and Slovacian Air Lines, to start similar tours. While Mr Pooni's flight grounded after a couple of trips, the other tourist charter carriers continue to operate in the region.



Rajasansi is a small town, which was the residence of the erstwhile Sandhanwalia family. It is situated at the Ajnala Pargana, 1 km northwest of Amritsar, on the Amritsar Ajnala Road. Rajasansi was founded in the year 1570 A.D. by one Raja, a Jat of the Sansi tribe, and hence the town was named after him. The Sandhawalias - the rulers of Rajasansi - had built a palace. It is this palace, which is proposed to be renovated as a tourist site. Former ruler's palace, now called the Sandhanwalia Haveli, is a majestic building of historical significance. There are three mosques, a temple, a tehsil building, a civil hospital and a sarai. The population of the village, as per the 2001 Census, is 12,200. The village has been the hub of handicrafts. Many artisans still weave carpets on handlooms in their houses. — Photo by Rajeev Sharma



Traffic jams choke holy city
Political patronage to encroachers; tourists worst-affected
Pawan Kumar

The city boasts of places of historical and religious places - the famous Golden Temple, Durgiana Temple and Hanuman Temple, the Jallianwala Bagh Martyrs' Memorial, the ancient Ram Tirath Temple associated with the epic Ramayana. The beating-retreat ceremony at the Indo-Pak border too attracts thousands of visitors everyday. But the district administration seems to have done little to ensure smooth flow of traffic and basic civic amenities in the city. Hardly any short- and long-term plans have been outlined for the purpose. In case, a plan is made, it is seldom implemented. The situation is worse inside the walled city leading to the Darbar Sahib and the historic Jallianwala Bagh Memorial.

An unchecked increase in vehicles, including auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, taxis, 'tongas', coupled with illegal parking and encroachments has further added to the traffic chaos. Frequent traffic jams for hours together have become a routine affair here in the walled city. Political interferences in the functioning of police and administration during removal of encroachments have made matter worse. The political patronage to encroachers for vote bank politics has 'played havoc' with traffic and civic amenities here.

Although the foreign tourists visiting the holy city feel overwhelmed by its beauty and heritage, they often return with bad memories of traffic jams, pollution, harassment, encroachments and a feeling of "irresponsibility" on part of the government, the administration and the public.

The fact of the matter is that the holy city, in recent years, has become a victim of rampant encroachments, unplanned constructions and traffic jams. Besides area in the walled city, Putlighar Chowk, Chheharta Chowk and Bhandari Bridge are a few areas where traffic problem is endemic. In the absence of proper parking places, the tourists are most vulnerable, as their vehicles are sometimes challaned or they have to bribe through. Various NGOs have taken up this matter with the authorities concerned time and again, but nothing concrete has been done so far.

Mr Brij Bedi, President, Citizens' Forum and social worker, says that the traffic management is pathetic. "Most of the buses are overloaded and they ply without the required papers. Passengers are made to sit on rooftops. Then, there's this menace of pressure horns, besides hundreds of two-wheelers driven by underage drives without any valid driving licenses," he explains.



Come Navratras and little langoors dance in tunics
Rashmi Talwar

The unique "Langooranwala Mela" organised on the occasion of "Navratras" (nine holy days) commenced at the Durgiana Temple Complex from today.

The annual mela attracts childless couples from far off places. Devotees pledge to dress their child as a "langoor" (a type of monkey species that performer legendary feats in the army of Lord Hanuman in the epic Ramayana), if their wish is fulfilled.

These couples seek the blessings of the deity at the 500-year-old Sitla Mata Mandir in the precincts of the Durgiana Temple. A "ber" tree, believed to be as old as the temple, stands as a witness to couples praying for a child. Childless women tie a sacred thread to the tree and untie it on wish fulfillment.

Children dressed up as "langoors" are a sight to behold in their red tunics, conical red caps embellished with gold and silver motifs, even as their faces are pasted with fuller's earth and their features highlighted. Each "langoor" carries a tall silver- or gold-coloured staff.

For all nine days, the "langoors" dance to the beat of the "dhol". The mela concludes on the day of Dussehra.



Hindu, Khalsa College mired in controversies
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Even as Hindu College hogged the newspapers headlines when its alumni, Dr Manmohan Singh, became Prime Minister, the serious allegations levelled against the Principal and frequent strikes by teachers there has blurred its glorious image. The developments may compel Prime Minister to avoid rekindling his old bonds with the college, at least for the time being.

Hindu College was founded in 1924. Eminent social activists like late Sir Gopal Dass Bhandari and other illustrious philanthropists had decided to raise the then-existing Hindu Sabha High School to the level of an intermediate college. This status continued for 12 years until 1936 when degree classes were added and the college began to impart education in various subjects.

The College, which had carved a niche for itself on the basis of its glorious past, has lately been enmeshed in controversies. The Punjab and Chandigarh College Teachers' Union (PCCTU) has levelled serious charges of mismanagement, foul play and misappropriation of funds by the College Principal, Mr R.C. Verma. The SDM, Mr Manpreet Singh Chhatwal, who was entrusted with the inquiry into the allegations, has written to the Deputy Commissioner that such charges pertaining to financial matters should be probed by the UGC that was the funding agency of the college.

Another premier educational institution in the city - the 112-year-old Khalsa College - is also enmeshed in controversies these days. The sting operation "Principal Tehlka. Com" came as a rude shock to all concerned. The recording of conversation, purportedly between the Principal, Dr Jaswinder Singh Dhillon, and one Danish - an old student of the College - has been in news. As per the recorded conversation, the Principal seems to have adopted a novel way to get rid of students' strike. Though Mr Dhillon dismissed the contents of the sting operation, saying that Danish was a mimic, the latter has claimed that mimicry could be done for two or three minutes and not for 68 minutes. The misappropriation of student-funds and creating panic using the security personnel are some other allegations levelled against the principal.

The episode has come as a bombshell to those who love this 112-year- old Sikh educational institution, which played a significant role in the freedom struggle and was responsible for the Sikh renaissance after the annexation of Punjab by the British.



On forefront of freedom struggle

Khalsa College played a pivotal role during India's freedom struggle. In 1921, the students and teachers registered their protest against the British rule by boycotting the visit of Prince of Wales to the college. A rousing reception was given to Gopal Krishan Gokhle and Mahatma Gandhi in 1917 and 1920 respectively, during their visits to the college. The college students, who played a significant role during the freedom movement included Master Tara Singh, Partap Singh Kairon, Teja Singh Samundri, Sohan Singh Josh, Niranjan Singh Talib, Giani Shankar Singh, Mr Achhar Singh Chhina and Dr Gurdial Singh Dhillon.

Some of the distinguished alumni who excelled in various fields included former university vice-chancellors Bhai Jodh Singh, Dr Kirpal Singh Narang, Dr Bishan Singh Samundri, Dr Amrik Singh, Dr Karam Singh Gill, Dr R.C. Paul, Dr Surjit Singh Bal, Dr Khem Singh Gill and Prof Gurdip Singh Randhawa, besides a host of IAS and decorated-military officers. The college has produced a number of Olympians in hockey. Col Gurmit Singh, Shahjada Khurram, Lattif, Balbir Singh , Dharam Singh, Bhakhshish Singh, Harbinder Singh, Ram Sarup Passi and Inder Singh are a few among them. In athletics, Parveen Kumar, Bahadur Singh, Jagraj Singh, Balwinder Singh, Issar Singh won laurels for their country.



Khalsa College's rich history

It was established on March 5, 1892 by the then-Lt Governor of Punjab, Sir James Broadwood Loyal, and Dr William H. Ratigan took over as the founder-president of the governing council. The basic aim of starting the college was to spread modern education among the Sikhs. The college was founded through persistent efforts of the Singh Sabha Movement.

The college building is a unique architectural monument, designed by the renowned builder, Bhai Ram Singh. It conforms to rich Sikh tradition of architecture and has been rated as one of the finest buildings in the country. It is a tourists' delight . However, the later construction of the avoidable dividers on the main passages has become an eyesore .The Central and the State Governments should take steps to preserve this great architectural and educational heritage.



Galaxy of stars

Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw, Bishan Singh Bedi, the ace Indian spinner and former captain of Indian cricket team, Madan Lal, a legendry cricketer, Dinesh Khanna, a former captain of Indian Badminton team and only Indian to be an Asian champion in this discipline, Devinder Ahuja, an Arjuna awardee, Justice H.R. Khanna, a former Justice of Supreme Court, Ms Kanchan Chaudhary Bhatacharya, DGP Uttranchal , Maharaj Krishan Rasgotra, former Indian Ambassador to France, Lt Gen B.K.N. Chhibber, a former Governor of Punjab, Mr P. Shiv Shanker, a former Union Minister, Justice R.L. Anand of Punjab and Haryana High Court and Mr R.L. Bhatia are among the alumni of Hindu College.



Yogi Harbhajan Singh's message inspires
Miri Piri students

Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

You can see them washing marble floor of the Parkarma (walkway surrounding the holy tank) of the Golden Temple, partaking of langar (community kitchen) and taking holy dips in the Sarovar, with their heads bobbing up and down in the holy water. These American and European Sikh convert students at the local Miri Piri Academy are invariably the centres of attraction. Their knowledge of the Sikh tenets, their performance of Kirtan and playing of "Gatka" is unmatchable. The credit for all this goes to Yogi Harbhajan Singh, who was described "Pope of New Age Sikhism" by the media following his demise at the city of Espanola recently.

A number of Americans joined the Sikh fold under the influence of Yogi Harbhajan Singh. He was the founder of the Miri Piri Academy and a naturopathy centre at Anandpur Sahib. He wanted students to be Sant-Sipahis (saint-warriors). The academy, started on 17 acres of sprawling campus on the outskirts of the holy city, has been a centre of learning the Sikh traditions in an atmosphere of discipline. The Academy is responsible for inculcating the spirit of fearlessness in body and mind, as per the teachings of the Gurbani. The students also study music, sports and Yoga.

"I want these children to be stronger than steel. They should walk taller than the stars, be brighter than the sun, and be as peaceful, bright and beautiful as the moon," he would often say.



Theatre buffs regret dismantling of open-air stage
Neeraj Bagga

The 50-year-old open-air theatre has been dismantled to make way for a concrete structure for Punjab Cultural Complex
The 50-year-old open-air theatre has been dismantled to make way for a concrete structure for Punjab Cultural Complex

The open-air theatre, located at the Gandhi Grounds, where legendary artists like Balraj Sahni, Raj Babbar, Gursharan Singh thrilled viewers for many years, has been turned into a concrete centre housing the Punjabi Virsa Vihar (Punjabi Cultural Complex), much to the dismay of theatre lovers.

The four-storey structure built at a whopping cost of Rs 1crore in nearly six years, became operational recently. Mr Mukesh Kundra, the organiser of the "Creative Theatre of Amritsar", regretted that it was unfortunate that the open-air theatre that dated back to nearly half-a-century was dismantled in 1998 without taking artists' fraternity into confidence.

Recalling the "days of the yore", he said the theatre had an old-world charm about it and it had catered to the needs of the artists for more than five decades. Some of the famous plays staged here, according to Mr Jatinder Brar, a noted Punjabi writer, were Balraj Sahni's "Arsh-Farsh", Balwant Gargi's "Loha Kutt", "Kanak Di Balli".

"The open-air theatre had some unique qualities of engineering, which helped the artists to perform without the availability of microphones and other paraphernalia. Spectators could view performance from close quarters and observe even the minutest expressions of the artists," Mr Kundra pointed out. "It served as a free launching pad for budding artists," he added. Mr Madan Bajaj, a retired bank employee, who had acted in several plays organised at the open-air theatre, recalled that Sundays were meant either for watching plays or acting in plays organised at the theatre. This cost nothing, but provided wholesome entertainment to all, he explained.

Meanwhile, the new complex houses a museum depicting history of drama of the region and a dance centre, in addition to a music centre. It has a hall with a seating capacity of nearly 250 spectators and a library showcasing books on Punjabi culture.

Its construction was facilitated out of the MP fund by Mr Kartar Singh Duggal, a former MP and noted Punjabi writer. The theatre lovers, however, have a grouse that the cultural centre should not have been constructed at the cost of the old open-air theatre. Describing the theatre as a part of the cultural heritage, Mr Jatinder Brar, a noted Punjabi writer, recalled that theatre troupes from Russia and other countries, besides theatre groups from all over the country, loved to perform there.

Interestingly, the authorities had earlier conceived to construct a sports' hostel in place of the theatre. The decision led to at least 12 theatre groups joining hands to constitute the "Amritsar Artists' Association". This association pressurised the government to withdraw the orders about the dismantling of the theatre. However, a compromise was affected and a decision to construct a theatre- related complex was taken up. The open-air theatre, consequently, gave way to the cultural centre. "Today, the ready availability of a platform to showcase theatre-related skills has been destroyed forever," rued Mr Kundra.

Twice-inaugurated centre

The new centre has seen two inaugurations and has been christened twice during its nearly six years of planning and construction. Two inauguration plaques outside the centre show that it was first inaugurated (when still unfinished) by Mr I. K. Gujral, former Prime Minister on October 5, 2001. Its name, at that time, was "Virsa Vihar Amritsar". The second plaque has the name of Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, who inaugurated the complex again on August 31, 2004. Post-second-inauguration, the complex is known as the "Punjabi Virsa Vihar" (Punjabi Cultural Centre).



Drumming their way to ‘dhol’
It’s ‘drum up’, not ‘doll up’ for city’s women artistes
Rashmi Talwar

With Punjabi women taking to playing the traditional "dhol", yet another male bastion seems to have crumbled! Apart from "dhol", women are increasingly taking on to other traditional folk instruments of Punjab. These musical instruments were hitherto played exclusively by men.

Balancing a heavy "dhol", beating the "tili and daaga" (playing sticks) in perfect synchronisation with "bhangra" is not an easy task, says 18-year-old Niti Mahajan, one of the girls who has ventured into this field.

The efforts to revive folk music instruments of Punjab are in full swing. BBK DAV College Head of Music Department, Ms Ritu Sharma, took up the formidable challenge to train college girls to play the instruments that had hitherto remained a "taboo" for women. An eight-member band of women performers has emerged from her relentless effort.

These young women won a string of prizes during the youth festival of the Guru Nanak Dev University three years back. They also won "Surtal 2002", a state-level function organised in Patiala by ministry of cultural affairs. The team played for Pakistani and British delegations.

Melodious and innovative musical compositions, skillful renditions and numerous practice sessions have successfully honed the skills of these young women artists. Ms Mahajan's strong point is her "rhythm-control". "Initially, the 'dhol' felt very heavy and I was unable to balance it on my shoulders. So I rested it on a table to learn the beats. I often forgot the beats, and my teacher, Mr Baljit Singh, would hit the beats with the playing sticks lightly on my head to practically drill them into me," she says. In her first performance on the stage, she used a stool. But later, she rested the "dhol" on her shoulders and danced like a typical "dhol" player.

Music is in the family of the teenaged sisters Simran Kashap and Satnam Kashap, nieces of famous Wadali brothers, Puran Chand and Piara Lal. The girls' father, a "hazoori raagi", has been encouraging them, while their younger brother Gurinder Singh, a music composer, set many a tune for them, say the sisters.

Another girl Megha Bhasin, apart from being a "dhol" player is an accomplished "been" (instrument played by snake charmers and yogis) player. She also has the skills to play eight other folk instruments, including "nagara" (a war instrument), "chimta", "ghungroo", "sapp" (scissors), "bambi". "It took me at least three months of breathing exercises to play the "been" that is one of the most difficult instruments to play," says student-artist Ritu. Another artist Simran is an expert in playing instruments like "ektara", "tumbi", "daff", "chimta", and "sapp". Ms Satnam shows her promise with "ghara", "sarangi", "manjari", and "nagara". In fact, one of the most breathtaking performances by Ms Satnam had her play a metallic "ghaggar" rhythmically on a dim-lit stage. Although she suffered blisters while striking "ghaggar" with metal rings on which small firecrackers were strategically placed, yet she was in high spirits.



Varsity’s ‘Heritage Village’ to showcase culture

The "Heritage Village" concept of the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, may turn out as the biggest project for the revival of traditional folk culture and heritage. Conceived by Dr S.P. Singh, Vice Chancellor of the varsity, it has Dr Gurmeet Singh as its Director. The blueprint of the project has been prepared by Dr Manjit Singh of the Town Planning Department here.

The foundation stone of the village was inaugurated on the day of Baisakhi. The village would have "chappar" (pond), "khuh" (well) and dhabha. Many traditional folk music instruments would be displayed there. Other projects in the offing are the displays of folk art and craft, costumes, domestic items and utensils, architecture and landscaping, folk games, folk medicines.



Folk music through dance and war

Ghungroos, sapp and kato are used in bhangra, while ghaggar, dholki, ghara, bambiha are used by giddha dancers. Bambiha is also used for singing "jagao". Dhaad and sarangi are used for singing of "vaars" (events from lives of Gurus). Nagara and shankh both are war instruments. Ghungroo or bells, vanjali or flute and been are musical instruments with a hypnotic effect. Shankh or conch and been are the most difficult instruments to learn. Both need breathing exercises and synchronisation. Surprisingly, conch-blowing does not need much effort, though it needs a specialised technique.



Khalsa College all set for folk museum

Khalsa College, Amritsar, here has its own plans for the revival for folk culture. It is all set for establishing Rs 2.75 crore project of "Guru Hargobind Singh Auditorium". It would also be setting up a "folk museum" to house folk items, including folk instruments. These musical instruments would include both rustic and refined folk instruments.


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