M A I N   N E W S

Army to hand over fort to Punjab
Varinder Walia and Ashok Sethi

Amritsar, April 9
The military history of the legendary Mahraja Ranjit Singh and the British that remained behind the iron curtain for more than one and a half century, will now be thrown open to the public following the formal handing over ceremony of the 250-year-old historic Gobindgarh Fort, to the state government by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to mark Baisakhi here.

For three generations, people could not visit the monument as it had remained the Army garrison since 1849, when Punjab was annexed by the British and after the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Many parts of the fort are in a state of decay and crumbling. The fort has remained out of bounds for even Army personnel. ‘Hawa Mahal’ (the heart of the fort), which once housed the office and residence of Gen O. Dyer, the British Army Commander responsible for the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, is in an extremely dilapidated condition. It is reported the General got sadistic pleasure in watching patriots being hanged in ‘Phansi Ghar’ (hanging place), which is situated just opposite his residence-cum-office. The Army had tried to keep these buildings intact with the measly funds at its disposal but refrained from using them.

Briefing mediapersons, Col Parmvir Singh, Col G.S. of the Panthers Division, said the fort occupied a unique place in the Indian military history. Built in 1760, it used to be called ‘Bhangian Da Kila” (Bhangis was one of 12 Sikh misls). According to historians, in 1808, the fort was known as the fort of Gujjar Singh Bhangi. It was re-built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the help of Jodh Singh. The legendary Maharaja strengthened the fortification in order to keep his treasurers and treaties under safety. The specially constructed ‘Toshakhana’ in the centre of the fort would also store large quantities of grains and provisions for the 12,000-strong army.

The fort was constructed with brick and lime with numerous Army bastions and iron gates and 25 cannons on the ramparts, now replaced with modern weaponry. Interestingly, the present occupant of the fort is 176 Field Regiment of the artillery. The inner protection of the garrison was done through trenches and bunkers.

According to historian V.N. Datta, the maharaja regarded this fort as the safest place for keeping the wealth of his vast state. The fort has the most striking edifices.

The official note of the Army reads, “The fort was constructed on a square pattern with parameter of 1500 square meters with two strong gates, four large bastions and well-defined rampart. The majestic entrance has been named as ‘Nalwa Gate’ after the great Sikh warrior. The other end of the gate is known as ‘Keelar Gate’ and it is rumoured that from its close proximity existed an escape tunnel connecting it to the Lahore tunnel”. However, the Commanding Officer of the Artillery Regiment, Col S. Mukherji, said they had not been able to locate such a tunnel so for.

The British Army had added ‘Darbar Hall’, ‘Hawa Mehal’ and ‘Phansi Ghar’ (hanging place) after the annexation of Punjab. After Partition the fort provided temporary shelter to a large number of refugees from Pakistan and in October 1948 it was handed over to the Army.

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