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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Underground structure near Golden Temple has ex-clergy kin, SGPC divided

Although reluctant initially to stop construction work at the site, the SGPC later relented and sought the opinion of experts about the structure that had been discovered.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
July 31, 2021 8:32:19 am
Old structures found during fresh digging outside the Golden Temple premises in Amritsar, Punjab. (File)

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) on Friday, based on a report submitted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), said that an old building found during excavation outside the Golden Temple in Amritsar was not a historical building related to the temple itself, but had heritage value.

Addressing a press conference here on Friday, SGPC president, Bibi Jagir Kaur said, “The ASI has submitted its report on the old building structures. The experts from the ASI have mentioned that the building found underneath the Golden Temple is not historic, but has heritage value and ought to be preserved. Amritsar Deputy Commissioner has now written to the Tourism Department (Punjab) to take proper steps for the preservation of the strucure.”

The Punjab government and the SGPC had stumbled upon the old building during an excavation outside the Golden Temple earlier this month. The tunnel-like arc-shaped structure found during abrupt digging at the site of a new ‘jora ghar’ being constructed, had led to a lot of speculations regarding its historical significance and even resulted in a minor scuffle between construction volunteers and Sikh activists over the protection of the new structure.

Read | Discovery puts focus on SGPC’s lack of policy on heritage buildings

Although reluctant initially to stop construction work at the site, the SGPC later relented and sought the opinion of experts about the structure that had been discovered.

An ASI team later during inspection had observed the remains of the structure appeared to be part of a residential complex of the late medieval period, constructed with ‘lakhori’ bricks (size 20x10x5 cm) laid in lime mortar. Traces of lime plaster were also visible at some places.

The structure was later identified as ‘Gianian Da Bunga’ by Yadwinder Singh, an Amritsar-based descendant of legendary Sikh figure Giani Sant Singh, a former head granthi of the Golden Temple. It was one of the many buildings that the erstwhile Punjab government had bulldozed and buried around Golden Temple in the late 1980s to make way for the Galliara project for security reasons. The Galliara project was conceived by the government after Operation Blue Star and aimed at removing all unauthorised buildings and beautifying the area around the Golden Temple, which had been strategically used by the Sikh militants for years.

Gianian Da Bunga belonged to Giani Sant Singhji, who was a contemporary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and looked after the gold plating of Darbar Sahib as its head priest, claimed 80-year-old Yadwinder Singh, who represents the sixth generation of Giani Sant Singh.

“When the building was acquired from our family in 1988 by the Punjab government, we were then we were told that it was heritage buildings and it would be preserved. I was born in that building and lived there till it was acquired from us. We were paid compensation and the building remained there for one year. We were sure that it would be preserved. But then the government demolished its upper part and buried the remaining structure,” said Yadwinder Singh.

Giving more details, Yadwinder said that the then Maharaja Ranjit Singh had handed over gold worth Rs 5 lakh to Giani Sant Singh for the gold plating of the Golden Temple. Giani Sant Singh’s name is also written on a golden plate inside Golden Temple for performing this volunteer service at the request of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was the gold plating that gave the name Golden Temple to Darbar Sahib later.

“Maharaja Ranjit Singh had an enormous amount of respect for Giani Sant Singh and had hence handed over the gold to him for plating it on Darbar Sahib. But now SGPC is saying that building, in which Sant Singh used to live, is not historical,” said Yadwinder Singh.

He added, “Ours was a family of scholars. Giani Sant Singh had translated Ramayan from Sanskrit to Hindi. That translation was later handed over to Punjabi University at their request.”

Yadwinder goes on to add that Gianian Da Bunga was spread over 1200 square feet – from Mai Seva Bazar to Thada Sahib – and belonged to 9th Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib. “There was also a well inside the building as well as an underground path to the Golden Temple. Sant Singh ji was the head priest of Golden Temple,” he said.

Reacting to SGPC’s comments that the building did not have much historical value, Yadwinder said, “Nothing much of the building is left. But whatever portion of the structure remains, should be protected and preserved. A large part of the building has been already destroyed by the Punjab government and the SGPC. Sant Singhji deserves a memorial and this structure should be made into one.”

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