Kot Khalsa: The land of Sikh chieftains who
plugged Khyber Pass
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Kot Khalsa on Amritsar-Wagah road is an archelogically rich area. It is the spot where Maharaja Ranjit Singh stationed himself to recruit able-bodied persons for the Khalsa Army when he took over the Holy City of Amritsar in 1802.

It was this army, a formidable military machine, that helped the Maharaja carve out an extensive kingdom and maintain it despite hostile and ambitious neighbours. He then fought fierce battle in Afghanistan, capturing the Pashtuns around Peshawar. It was the first time that Pashtuns were ruled by a non-Muslim. In fact, for more than a thousand years invaders had come down from the Khyber Pass and ruled eastern lands. Ranjit Singh reversed this trend. His army plugged the gap in the mountains and made it impossible for the invaders to cross over to Hindoostan.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the only ruler not only in India but in the entire world who himself selected each and every recruit of his army. It gave a chance to soldier of his army to have a glimpse of his master. The personal touch resulted in the recruits becoming devoted and loyal soldiers to his Majesty.

For recruitment, the Maharaja would sit on the plinth of the well of his Maharani, Roop Kaur, who was the daughter of Sardar Jai Singh Ghorewalia and sister of Kumedan Charat Singh and Kumedan Bhup Singh of village Kot Sayedmood (now Kot Khalsa).

The historical well, bearing the nameplate of Maharani Roop Kaur, was built using Nanakshahi bricks and lime. Even Muslims were allowed to draw water from it with their leather ‘boka’ (bag). The well has, however, lost its heritage look now as it has been covered with a cement umbrella- type cover.

The Kot Khalsa village is more than three centuries old. Its earlier name was Rampur and was largely inhabited by the Hindu trading community. It was plundered by invaders several times. Later, Sayed Mehmood, a Muslim warrior occupied the area and established himself at a tactical place with a ‘khai’ (moat) filled with rainwater around it. The place therefore came to be known as ‘Kote Sayedmood’ (meaning fort of Sayed Mehmood). After the annexation of Amritsar, Maharaja Ranjit Singh selected this strategic area for building a cantonment for the defence of the Holy City. The Sayeds were shifted to another village allotted to them in Sialkot.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave the charge of the cantonment to Sardar Jai Singh Ghorewahia. The name of the village was changed to Kot Khalsa by Sardar Bahadur Ajaib Singh Sarkaria, grandson of Kumedan Khushal Singh Sarkaria. The name is derived from Kot Sayedmood and Khalsa College for which its residents had donated 365 acres of land. In return, the College management has been giving free education to the successors of the original residents of the village on the verification of Major Mohinder Singh Sarkaria.

Though the Punjab state has spent crores of rupees on organising heritage festivals every year, nobody has bothered to visit Kot Khalsa which has witnessed wanton destruction of archeologically valuable sites. However, Major Mohinder Singh Sarkaria (84), who is a direct descendant of the famed Sikh warriors, has been making efforts at his own level to preserve the history of Kot Khalsa. Major Sarkaria was decorated by the President of India for meritorious service and permitted to retire and retain the rank of Major for life vide Gazette of India on April 14, 1973. He has an illustrious family background and is living in Roop Mahal named after his great grand bhuaji (aunt), Mahanrani Roop Kaur who was married to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1809. His great grandfather, Raja Sahib Kumedan Khushal Singh Sarkaria, had conquered Kabul. In recognition of his achievements, Maharaja Ranjit Singh with the express consent of eldest sons, Maharaja Kharak Singh and Maharaja Sher Singh, adopted Kumedan Khushal Singh as his son.

Even as horse-driven tongas and buggies have become a rare sight these days, Major Sarkaria is seen doing the rounds of the Holy City with his six-year old grandson in his cart wearing the army uniform. He has been using it for 40 years on the roads of Amritsar and The Mall, Jalandhar Cantonment. His forefathers and grandsons all liked horse-riding even before the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He has named his house after his aunt, Maharani Roop Kaur, where the buggy remains parked.

Major Sarkaria has a passion for horses. His three daughters — Harsohan Kaur, Kavmohan Kaur and Pawanbrij Kaur are trained riders. His grandson insists on riding a bridegroom’s decorated ‘ghori’ whenever he comes across one. He has been doing it ever since he was three years old. Major Sarkaria’s forefathers have been cavalry soldiers. His father, Sardar Bahadur Risaldar Ajaib Singh Sarkaria, honoured with OBE (Order of the British Empire), served in the Seventh Haryana Lancers and was declared the hero of the siege of Kotal-Amara (Turkey). In a hand-to-hand fight, he had five heads to his credit. Forefathers of Major Sarkaria used to till land with horses and therefore came to be known as ‘Ghorewahia’.

He was the first Indian officer who was transferred to the Civil Services as a Magistrate. He was selected as a Jail Superintendent and served in Jalandhar for 11 years. Major Sarkaria’s elder brother, Colonel Ram Singh Sarkaria, participated in World War I. He was educated in America for five years and in Oxford University for a year. He remained abroad from 1922 to 1928. He returned as the first bacteriologist and took up an appointment with Agriculture College Layalpur. He invented ‘Barseem’ green fodder in 1930, which proved to be a boon for animals during summer months.

Risaidar Sardar Kojha Singh Sarkaria, grandfather of Major Sarkaria, served in Central India Horse with distinction and fought the Afghan battle. On retirement, he was granted the status as ‘Kursi Nashin’ which entitled him to Chair before any officer of any rank up to the Viceroy and Governor General of India.

The father of Sardar Kojha Singh was Raja Sahib Kumedan Khushal Singh Sarkaria, who at the tender age of 16 was considered worthy of commanding the famous ‘Charyaria Cavalry Regiment.’ He was appointed ‘Kumedan’ (commandant) in place of his late father Kumedan Bhoop Singh by Maharaja Ranjit Singh ‘sayid moodia’. In recorded history, a 16-year old boy has never been the commandant of any army unit. He proved his worth many times when he conquered Kabul and hoisted the Khalsa flag of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The title of Raja Sahib was bestowed on him with the entitlement of wearing a ‘kalgi,’ occupying a chair in the presence of his Majesty. His uncle, Kumedam Charat Singh, was also permitted the same ceremony. Khushal Singh was later adopted by his Majesty. The highest gallantry award of ‘Kokab-e-Iqbal-e-Punjab’ was awarded to him. He and his collaterals were declared ‘Sarkaria’ i.e. belonging to the government of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. His descendants continue to be Sarkarias.

Kumedan Bhoop Singh’s father, Sardar Jai Singh, was similarly know for his valour during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time.



My City
Develop Holy City like Chandigarh
Dr Ranbir Singh Pannu

I have lot of fascination for my city. Day in and day out, I wish Amritsar too should develop like Chandigarh, Bangalore and Delhi.

This city is a little better than a village. It is unfortunate that Amritsar has failed to develop even though it has the distinction of being home to the Golden Temple. It is also close to Wagah border and enjoys a good climate, fertile land, adequate underground water etc.

The roads here are in a miserable condition. You cannot drive 100 yards without negotiated potholes The municipal corporation and corruption in its working is responsible for the bad condition of our roads.

The roads are narrow and they have been encroached upon by hawkers.

Sanitation is at its worst in this A-class city. Garbage litters our roads and creates unhealthy conditions, besides being an eye sore. The Mayor had said in 2002 that he would make Amritsar as clean as Singapore in 15 days but the conditions have only deteriorated. It was turned out to be an empty promise. We citizens are, of course, largely responsible for this mess. We wash our cars on roads, frequently hold langars in the open and leave the garbage unattended.

On paper, a lot of money is coming to the MC but little improvement is visible.


* We must have water drain channel along all roads.

* Material used for road construction must be frequently tested,

* The public should use the RTI to know the amount of money spent on various projects in the city.

* People littering the roads or public place should be fined.

* The municipal commissioners should be sincere and committed to their duty. They should rise above petty quarrels.



Merger in verse
P.K. Jaiswar

The Punjabi and Urdu poets from India and Pakistan created a “jugalbandi” on the theme of “Merging Indo-Pak borders” at the Mushaira held at DAV Public School here recently.

The Nazams on common heritage like Waris Shah, Guru Nanak Dev, Porus and Heer-Ranjha highlighted the wish of melting away the manmade borders.

Prof Aga Ali in his poignant Nazam “Chhat” said: “Barsey badal chovey chhat...hal gariban...rovey chat” (Raining clouds tell the story in tears of the poor).

Indian poets Ramandeep and Gurvinder Singh versified on emotions that unite Punjabis. Akram Sheikh recited a poem on “Pagal Hawa”. Ijaz Naaz wove the images of swings, giddha and budding of golden “sarson” in villages around Amritsar and Lahore. Anjum Salim, a top Urdu-Punjabi poet and publisher, spoke about the walls built by our forefathers and windows and doors carved by his generation. He exhorted the youth to build bridges and corridors to each other’s heart.

A poem by Zahid Mumtaz “Eh college hai ya fir hussan di factory, mundey kuriyan aisey firdey ney jesey algebra teh geometry” received the loudest applause. Earlier, the five-member Pakistani delegation of poets led by Ijaz-ul-Naaz was welcomed by the school Principal, Ms Neera Sharma.



Rajouri girls relish Punjabi delicacies
Our Correspondent

Eighteen girls from Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir recently visited the holy city with a message of oneness, peace and love for mankind.

Their tour was organised by the Army. The girls visited Spring Dale Senior School and interacted with students. They relished Punjabi delicacies, including sarson da saag and makki di roti. The girls also witnessed Sonal Mansingh’s performance in the school.



A different outing for students
P.K. Jaiswar

It was a different day for students of Shri Ram Ashram Public School from regular school activities as they went on cleanliness-cum-beautification drive led by an NGO, My Mother: Most Beautiful. Dr Sushil Gupta, a government employee heading the NGO, after a multi-media demonstration took students of junior classes on a tour of the city.

Ms Preeti Sharad, Principal, said along with regular curriculum, schools must also take time to sensitise students on environmental cleanliness.

While addressing the students, Dr Gupta talked about the lack of government infrastructure in addition to non-cooperative attitude of its employees as the reason for the holy city’s present state of affairs. He urged the students to undertake the role of awakening the authorities via complaints, letters and e-mail messages as also approaching the media to highlight the conditions. He also appealed to the senior citizens to devote an hour each week to supervise and help the NGOs besides collecting nominal contributions from residents of respective areas to make more such teams.



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