For many centuries, India’s Gobindgarh Fort has held special significance – not only because of its commanding position in the region, but also because it once held the precious Kohinoor diamond.
43 acres in the heart of the city amritsar Gobindgarh Fort is the embodiment of Punjab’s heritage, with a glorious history spanning 261 years, from the days of Bhangi Misl to Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the British East India Company , and finally to the Indian Army. The moment I stepped through the gates of Gobindgarh Fort, I was mesmerized by the men in yellow kurtas, turbans and drums, bringing the essence of Punjab to life. I came here for the holy festival of Amritsar and experienced unparalleled spiritual bliss at this iconic military fort in the heart of India’s vibrant state of Punjab.
Just a stone’s throw from the Golden Temple, Gobindgarh Fort was formerly known as “Bhangian da Killa” (Bhangian fort), named after its 18th-century founder, the powerful Dhillon Jats of Bhangi Shire part. The fortress, built of bricks and lime with 25 powerful cannons on its walls, was in the hands of Bangui’s rulers until 1805. However, it was not until the early 19th century that Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave it a new name in his honor. Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru.
History of Gobindgarh Fort
In the 18th century, the Punjab region was ruled by clans known as Misls, of which the Bangui clan was one. The tribe, under the leadership of local chief Gujar Singh Bhangi, built a mud fort in the 1760s, which later became known as “Bhagian da Qila”. For nearly 49 years, the Mislers held on to the fort until their financial situation weakened and eventually deteriorated. In 1809, Misler was led by the minor ruler Gurdit S. Bhangi and his mother Mai Sukhan. Mai Sukhan demanded nazrana (tribute) from Arur Mal, a sahukar (merchant) in the town of Bhangi. Arur Mal refused to pay and later fled to the town of rival Kanhiyas milsl to avoid any kind of payment.
At that time, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a rising force in Sukchakya Mishra and when Alur Mal and Sheikh Kamaruddin issued a call to take over the fort and territory of Gurdit Singh When invited, the Maharaja seized the opportunity. To seal the deal, Ranjit Singh asked Mai Sukhan to hand over the infamous Zamzama Cannon, also known as the “Bhangian di Tope”. It was the booty shared by Sukerchakia Misl during the war with Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1765. Unfortunately, the power of the Zamzama Cannon (literally “Occupier of the Fortress”) was not enough to convince Mesuhan, and he refused the Maharaja’s request.
Ranjit Singh stormed through the Ahluwalia gate and the Bangi people could not withstand his immense power. The Maharaja captured the fort, including the powerful Zamzama cannon and Mesohan, while the Banguis were rewarded with some villages. After declaring victory, Maharaja Ranjit Singh extended his gratitude to Shri Harmandir Sahib.
The illustrious Maharaja of the Punjab, who reigned gloriously from the Sutlej to the Indus and from the Punjab Hills to the Khyber Pass, would travel to Amritsar every year to change his territory and take a dip in the sacred waters of the holy tank. He would visit before it rained and stay till Dussehra passed. After the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849, the fort became part of the British Empire and was garrisoned by the Indian Army shortly after India’s independence in 1947. Throughout its history, Gobindgarh has been at the center of Punjab’s political scene.
Renamed to Qilla Gobindgarh
The capture of the fort was a major victory for King Ranjit Singh, who proudly renamed it “Gobindgarh” in honor of the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji . Undoubtedly, a key motive for his acquisition of the fort was to protect the city of Amritsar and the beloved Shri Harmandir Sahib (better known as the Golden Temple) from potential of intruders. The bean-shaped city is particularly vulnerable because it is under constant threat from hostile Afghans coming from the northwest border.
An impenetrable obstacle for invaders, the fortress stands outside the ancient city walls, in stark contrast to other fortresses that guard the historic town from the inside. In 1805, Fakir Azizuddin, the second governor-general and foreign minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, began to invest considerable resources in its restoration, expansion and reconstruction. With the help of French generals who joined Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the fort was transformed into an almost impenetrable fortress.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh captured this majestic fort in 1805 and marveled at its immense wealth. He hid priceless treasures within its formidable mud walls, including the infamous Kohinoor Diamond. Little does he know that the diamond’s old adage – “Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity” – will soon be put to the test. Over the next few years, the British rulers captured the fort and its precious diamonds, starting a new chapter in history.
To this day, the fortress is still square in shape, with parapets at the four corners and two doors, giving it an indestructible feel. The only monument of its kind, the golden walls stand tall and ready to tell the story of the Misr family, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the British era. Visitors can’t help but be drawn to Toshakhana, a place with extraordinary weapons and coins that bring the past to life. Toshakhana, which formerly housed the famous Kohinoor diamond, is now a numismatic museum that houses ancient and rare coins as well as replicas of the Kohinoor diamond once worn by maharajas.
In the 19th century, the British Army took over the fort and brought it into the modern era with innovative improvements that allowed it to withstand the more advanced weapons of the time. Therefore, it remained a fort until India’s independence in 1947. The mighty Hari Singh Nalwa stands tall and his name is immortalized on the magnificent Nalwa Gate (the main entrance to the fort). Unbeknownst to many, there is a secret tunnel leading to distant Lahore, whose four unwavering fortresses stand proudly in a display of bravery and strength.
But the fort’s most striking feature is its three bastions linked together by a rampart – a powerful metaphor for unity and solidarity. In 1850, during the signing of the historic Treaty of Lahore, the then Governor-General bequeathed the famous Kohinoor as a gift to Prince Albert as a sign of mercy. Gobindgarh Fort was divided into two parts, one for crown decoration and the other for making precious jewellery, Gobindgarh Fort lost its grandeur.
Now, as the Indian government continues to grapple with the issue of reclaiming Kohinoor Fort from the Tower of London, the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board is doing its best to restore the fort to its former glory. For nearly a century, Gobindgarh Fort has been closed to the public, shrouded in mystery by a complex of walls, trees and greenery. It was a military reserve that witnessed Punjab’s golden years and its eventual fall to the British Empire until its eventual independence.
In 2006, the Government of India officially handed over the fort to the Punjab Government for protection and conservation, and it was declared a historical monument by the Punjab Government in 1964, preserving its rich and wonderful history. After India’s independence, the Indian Army heroically captured the fort, which provided shelter to a large number of Pakistani refugees during the partition of India.
Finally, the much-awaited restoration work of Gobindgarh Fort has been completed and the Punjab government has opened the gates of the fort to the public. The wait was worth it – the restoration project cost 950 million rupees and the fort is now open to the public and houses a historic hotel, a cafe and a museum. It’s quite an exciting transformation – from a military fort to a spectacular museum filled with the glorious history of Punjab. The fort is popular among tourists and has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Punjab.
Time: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Entrance fee: Rs. 30 per person