Around 45 km south-west of Chandigarh is the town of Sirhind in Punjab. Today, a pilgrimage centre known for Gurudwara Fatehgarh Sahib, an important Sikh shrine, the town has a history that is as magnificent as it is brutal.
Due to its strategic location, Sirhind was once a major city – in fact, it was the second most important city in Mughal Punjab after Lahore. But a tragic incident – the murder of two young boys, the sons of Guru Gobind Singh – cast such a long shadow across Sirhind that it slipped into oblivion. Visit it today and you will find a smattering of old monuments from Sirhind’s glory days; you will also encounter tales of a curse.
One of the earliest mentions of Sirhind can be found in the work of the 6th-century astrologer Varahamihira. In his text Brihat Samhita, he refers to it as the home of the ‘Sairindhas’ tribe. In the medieval period, Sirhind was an important military outpost of the last Rajput ruler of Delhi, Prithviraj Chauhan (1166-1192 CE) as it marked the northern frontier of his kingdom.
After the defeat of the Chauhans in the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192, Sirhind became part of the Delhi Sultanate. Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388) excavated a canal through the city for efficient water supply as he understood the importance of Sirhind, which controlled the routes to the hills of Kangra and acted as an important trading junction.
The real heyday of Sirhind started when Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire, acquired the region from the Lodi dynasty just before the First Battle of Panipat in 1526 CE. With the increasing importance of the Delhi-Lahore-Kabul route, Sirhind grew as the strongest fortified town of Punjab under the Mughals. Goods from China and Tibet began to arrive here.
Due to its strategic location, it was also the centre of commercial activity. Khafi Khan (ca. 1663-1731), a Mughal historian, wrote in his chronicle of the Mughal dynasty titled Muntakhabu-l Lubab that Sirhind was an opulent town with wealthy merchants, bankers and tradesmen, essentially men of money and gentlemen of every class. For more than a century, it remained one of the most flourishing towns of the empire and served as a trading hub for high-quality cotton textiles from across India. Economic prosperity made Sirhind develop as a centre of culture too as it attracted visits by saints, scholars, poets, historians and calligraphers, who wanted to be where all the action was.
According to the lore of that era, the city had around 360 mosques, gardens, tombs, caravansarais and wells. Sadly, only about three dozen of these remain today, including the beautiful Aam Khas Baug. A significant specimen of Mughal architecture, the Aam Khas Baug’s origin has been traced to the reign of Emperor Akbar, who first visited Sirhind in 1566.
Another monument that has survived the ravages of time is the Jahaz Haveli belonging to Todar Mal (not the Todar Mal in Akbar’s court), a diwan in the court of the Mughal Governor of Sirhind, Wazir Khan (1635-1710 CE). Made of bricks, the entire haveli was decorated with fountains and pools, with a grand reception area to receive and entertain guests.
But it was the singularly brutal act of the same Governor, Wazir Khan, who sealed the fate of Sirhind forever. In 1705, the Mughal armies captured the Sikh stronghold of Anandpur Sahib, in present-day Ropar district of Punjab, around 84 km from Sirhind. Soon after, Guru Gobind Singh’s mother Mata Gujari and his two sons, 9-year-old Zorawar Singh and 6-year-old Fateh Singh, were captured through treachery and taken into custody by the Mughals. Wazir Khan ordered that both the young boys be entombed alive in Sirhind. This terrible deed was carried out on 26th December 1705. Outraged Sikhs, under the command of Banda Singh Bahadur, the famous military commander of the Khalsa army, swore revenge and defeated and killed Wazir Khan in the Battle of Chappan Chiri in 1710.
After the decline of Mughal power, what followed were decades of pitched battles in Punjab involving not only the Sikhs and Mughals but also the Afghans, Marathas and British, each vying for political dominance. However, Sirhind had such a tragic association for the Sikhs that they wanted to have nothing more do with the place. They built the Gurdwara Fatehgarh Saheb to commemorate the martyrdom of the two young boys.
In 1764, Sirhind came under the control of the rulers of Patiala after they defeated the Afghan administrator, Jain Khan. Many of Sirhind’s monumental buildings were pulled down and the debris was used to build the famous Qila Mubarak in Patiala. Over time, most of the inhabitants too left the city and settled in Patiala.
Today, only a handful of monuments tell the story of Sirhind’s glory days – and its tragic past.
LHI Travel Guide
Nearest airport is Chandigarh Airport. Sirhind is also well connected to other major cities of the country via regular trains. Within Punjab, you can a get a bus to Fatehgarh Sahib on a regular basis.
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