AMRITSAR A city in the state of Punjab with a population of 780,000 (in 2001), Amritsar was founded in 1577 by Ram Das, the fourth guru of the Sikhs. Arjun, the fifth guru, is said to have compiled the Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs, in Amritsar around 1603, placing it in the central Sikh temple, Har Mandir, surrounded by a sacred tank. This temple, still the most sacred place of the Sikh faith, is called the Golden Temple, after its gold-plated cupola. The sixth guru, Hargobind, added the Akal Takht, a stronghold tower of worldly power, to the temple complex. That tower served as a bastion for the defense of the Har Mandir.
Amritsar is the site of a national calamity, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919. This Bagh (garden) is a central square surrounded by walls. A political meeting was being held here when the British brigadier Sir Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to shoot without warning at the unarmed crowd, which could not disperse. More than 400 dead were found at the end of this massacre, some 1,200 left wounded. The general had intended to "cow down" the rebellious Punjabis in this way, in a calculated act of martial terror. Indian nationalists, however, turned Jallianwala Bagh into a national shrine, marking the decline of the British Raj. Mahatma Gandhi chaired a Congress committee appointed to investigate and report on the massacre. He was careful to state only proven facts, but his factual report clearly showed that Jallianwala Bagh was a trap, deliberately set by a brutal British officer.
Many years later, Amritsar was marred by another national tragedy. Separatist Sikhs led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale captured the Golden Temple and converted its Akal Takht into a well-defended stronghold. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi initially supported Bhindranwale, hoping to weaken Sikh opposition to her Congress Party rule. But he had soon outgrown her tutelage, and she finally felt compelled to order the Indian army to storm the Golden Temple in June 1984. Bhindranwale and his followers died in the Akal Takht, which was destroyed when troops and tanks entered the temple. Indira Gandhi was subsequently assassinated by two of her own Sikh bodyguards in her New Delhi garden.
Bawa, Joginder S. The Heritage of Amritsar. Amritsar: Faqir Singh, n.d.
Horniman, B. G. British Administration and the Amritsar Massacre. Delhi: Mittal, 1984.
Singh, Fauja. The City of Amritsar: A Study of Historical, Cultural and Economic Aspects. New Delhi: n.p., 1978.
Tully, Mark, and Satish Jacob. Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi's Last Battle. London: Cape, 1985.
In 1919, many Sikhs who, disregarding the Rowlatt Acts, had gathered on Vaisākhī in Jalliānwālā Bāgh, were killed by British soldiers under the command of Brigadier General Dyer. This event, of great significance for the Independence movement in India, and for establishing ‘minimum force’ as a rule in crowd control, is known as the Amritsar massacre.
David Anthony Washbrook