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RAI SINA TO NEW DELHI: SIKH HISTORY IN LUTYENS ENCLAVE

Image Credits: https://www.dsgmc.in/

By 1910, Calcutta had become a strong hold of anti-British formations. This compelled the British to strip it of its capital status and transfer capital to Delhi. Delhi at that time had little space and infrastructure which could support the functioning of capital of an empire.

British decided to add another city to existing layers of seven cities (Inderprastha, Siri, Rai Pithora, Jahan Panah, Purana Qila, Tughlaqabad and Shahjahanabad). It was not named New Delhi and there was a proposal to name it Georgeabad also. In December 1911 Coronation Darbar was held in Delhi where King George V and Queen Mary announced the transfer of capital.

This was the first and last time that a reigning emperor visited India. They laid foundation stones for new city at village Dhaka (now Kingsway camp) and left India on HMS Medina.

In 1912 Viceroy Hardinge entered in the city and led a procession in Chandni Chowk on an elephant. A bomb was thrown at him. He escaped but started to fear Delhi. He ordered cutting off all the trees of Chandni Chowk. He did not like the site of new city at Dhaka village.

Malcolme Hailey, commissioner Delhi also agreed with him. When the team of Swinton, Lutyens and Baker arrived at Delhi, they also developed abhorrence for the area and began searching for an alternative site. Extensive tours of area surrounding the city were conducted while riding jeep, horses and elephant. Ridges, ruins, grave yards, mausoleums, mosques, khangah, temples and small villages of Jats and Gujjars stood there. Rai Sina, Rakabganj, Malcha, Madhoganj and Jaisinghpura, these were the villages where New Delhi stands today. Most of this region was under the control of Jaipur state, as the names of places like Jaisinghpur and Madhoganj suggest.

SIKH GURUS’ VISITS TO NEW DELHI

This house enjoyed close relationship with the mughals and with Sikh Gurus as well. It started during Guru Hargobind’s confinement at Gwalior.

Raja Jai Singh of Amber played a major role since Aurangzeb began to have a closer vigil at Kiratpur from Guru Har Rai’s time. Raja Jai Singh’s house at Jai Singhpura saw the stay of Ram Rai, Guru Harkrishan Ji and Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji. It was at this house that Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji came to see Guru Harkrishan Ji in the presence of Ram Rai. Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji visited this place after he was released from his confinement at Delhi. He visited this place for the third time while coming back from Assam where he had gone with Kanwar Ram Singh.

Owners of this place were Mirza Raja Jai Singh, his wife Pushpa Devi and son Kanwar Ram Singh whose names we find associated with Guru Harkrishan Ji, Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji and Ram Rai. Today this place is Gurdwara Bangla Sahib.

Another village in the surroundings was Rakabganj. Rakab means stirrup and Ganj means market, but in Sikh history this place is known as the site where Guru Tegh Bahadar’s body without head was cremated by Bhai Lakhi Rai Vanjara, whose life and death at Rakabgnj is recorded by Bhat Keso.

Lakhi Shah Vanjara is said to have burnt his house to camouflage the cremation of Guru’s body. He brought the ashes to Anandpur sahib. He died in 1680 at Rakabganj.

In 1707, Guru Gobind Singh Ji visited Rakabganj and marked the place of cremation. In 1783, Sardar Baghel Singh made an agreement with Shah Alam regarding the construction of Gurdwaras in Delhi. Gurdwara Rakabganj also came in to existence as a result. For very long period it remained under the management of Mahants .

The site of Rakabganj saw more activity only after the Rai Sina Hill was chosen as the site for new city. It was after the perfect agreement among all the members of Imperial Delhi Project took place. When the issue of architecture for new city came up, Lutyens expressed his reservations about Indian architecture. Indians were good at building mausoleums but not the buildings of public utilities.

New city needed buildings where legislative functions could be preformed, where steel frame of Raj could work and live, where Indian princes could stay (accepted with reservations) and where Viceroy, Commander in Chief could live with their exalted glory. Government House where the ‘President of Indian Republic’ stays today is built of same Dholpur stone which created Red Fort, the exalted seat of Mughals.

SIKHS STOOD UP TO SAVE RAKABGANJ

British thought of themselves as legitimate successors of Mughals. Wider boulevards were planned to link New Delhi with Shahjahanbad. One such plan brought Sikhs in to direct confrontation with the government. Lutyens wanted to connect Viceregal Lodge with Chandni Chowk up to Jama Masjid with a wide tree lined boulevard. The huge grounds and long stone walls of Gurdwara Rakabganj stood in the way. Lutyens , unaware of the significance of place, suggested its removal. Malcolme Haily who was an expert on Sikhs (who later played major role in making Gurdwara Act), cautioned against this.

But it decided to pull down the boundary wall, acquire surrounding land for road while leaving little space around the Gurdwara Building. Chief Khalsa Diwan leaders like Sunder Singh Majithia, Gajjan Singh Narangwal saw nothing wrong with the decision. In 1913, Gurdwara wall was demolished and land was acquired after making payment.

It was Harchand Singh Lyalpur who upset the apple cart. He mobilized the opinion of Sikhs against the act. Bhai Randhir Singh Narangwal also joined the agitation. First world war started in 1914 and activities of construction came to a standstill .In the mean while, thousands of letters, petitions, memoranda etc. arrived at Viceroy and Punjab Governor’s office against the act of demolition of Gurdwara wall. After the end of world war, central Sikh League was established. Sardul Singh Caveeshar took up the issue in 1919.

He called for an army of volunteers to build the wall and lay down lives in case of confrontation with govt. Hindus and Muslims also came forward as volunteers. The Amritsar Massacre had created deep scar on the face of govt. To avoid any further confrontation, government decided to rebuild the wall and restore the land to Gurdwara. Wall was rebuilt in 1921 and this act was much propagated in press to undo the damage. New city was not named New Delhi for long.

NEW DELHI WAS INAUGURATED IN 1925

In 1916, its Municipal Committee was named Rai Sina Municipal Committee (named New Delhi Municipal Committee only in 1925). The city was inaugurated in 1931. From 1911 to 1921, New Delhi had seen all cooperation, contribution and confrontation on the part of Sikhs, as far the British rule is concerned.

Today, Gurdwara Rakabganj and Indian Parliament are divided by a road. The sacred memory of great sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji is a reminder that the idea of India and protecting its honour ( Hind di Chadar) was the legacy of great Gurus also. Parliament of India must invite a special session to celebrate 400 years of birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji. Mr. Om Birla, speaker,Lok Sabha is the first name in the National committee and he can remind Indian Parliament about the role of Guru Tegh Bahadur ji in his struggle to protect religious pluralism in his times.


About the author:
Dr. Amanpreet Singh Gill

Dr. Amanpreet Singh Gill The writer, Dr. Amanpreet Singh Gill teaches Political Science at SGTB Khalsa College, North Campus, Delhi University. He’s also a Convener, of a course committee on social sciences, in Central board of secondary education (CBSE). Apart from short stories, he writes on Punjab politics and Sikh history. He has authored six books in Punjabi and English. Non-Congress Politics in Punjab (2015), 1708 Dasam Guru di Dakhan Feri (2017) and Kes History of Sikhs and other Essays (2020) are some of his better known works. He can be reached at:amanpreetdu@gmail.com He can be reached at: amanpreetdu@gmail.com

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