views updated Jun 11 2018


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.

Dietmar Rothermund


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.


views updated May 29 2018

Amritsar (Pañjābī, ‘pool of nectar’). Sikhs' spiritual capital. Amritsar, Pañjāb, is 400 km. NNW of Delhi and 30 km. from Pakistan. It is especially holy to Sikhs on account of the Harimandir (Golden Temple). Amritsar, first known as Gurū kā Chak, Rāmdāspur, and Chak Rām Dās, was founded 1577 CE by Gurū Rām Dās, who built a brick temple there. The city took its name from the pool. In 1984, the Indian army stormed the Harimandir to dislodge Sikh militants.

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.

Amritsar massacre

views updated May 29 2018

Amritsar massacre, 1919. On 13 April 1919 at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar, General R. E. H. Dyer ordered his soldiers to fire on a protesting though unarmed crowd, killing 400 people. The shootings were for defiance of a martial law ban on assembly imposed under the Rowlatt Act, passed against sedition at the end of the First World War. The Act and the massacre became symbols of British oppression to the Indian freedom struggle, then developing a mass political following. Mahatma Gandhi led nation-wide demonstrations, which brought him to leadership of the Indian national movement.

David Anthony Washbrook


views updated May 14 2018

Amritsar City in Punjab state, nw India. Founded in 1577, Amritsar is the religious centre of Sikhism, and site of its holiest shrine, the Golden Temple. It was the scene of the Amritsar Massacre (1919), when hundreds of Indian nationalists were killed by British troops. Amritsar is noted for its handicrafts. Industries: textiles, silk weaving. Pop. (2001) 975,695.


views updated May 21 2018

Amritsar a city in the state of Punjab in NW India, founded in 1577 by Ram Das (1534–81), fourth guru of the Sikhs. It became the centre of the Sikh faith and the site of its holiest temple, the Golden Temple. It was the scene of a riot in 1919, in which 400 people were killed by British troops.