Finally, Amritsar to pay tributes to its 19th century master architect Bhai Ram Singh

While walking inside the district courts complex in Amritsar, one cannot help but notice the striking colonial-era building of the old deputy commissioner (DC)’s office.

Surrounded by banyan trees, the 150-year-old brick-and-lime structure with slanting roof has literally risen from the ashes in the wake of a major fire in November 2015.

The building with a cafeteria and a small garden will soon house the municipal library-cum-cultural centre to be named after Bhai Ram Singh, the foremost 19th century architect from the city who is credited with designing the iconic Khalsa College, Amritsar besides Lahore’s Aitchison College, Mayo School of Arts (now National College of Arts), Punjab University, Museum, and Chamba House.

The restoration work at the library is underway as part of the ‘Hriday’ project of the National Institute of Urban Affairs in partnership with the Amritsar municipal corporation. One of the library halls will showcase the works and life journey of the long-forgotten architect.

Bhai Ram Singh once worked with John Lockwood Kipling, founder of the Mayo School and father of poet Rudyard Kipling, and was known in the United Kingdom for designing the Durbar Hall of Osborne House, the summer retreat of Queen Victoria.

The Batala-born boy who worked as a carpenter in Amritsar went on to join the Mayo College in Lahore to further his talent. His genius for designing was soon noticed.

Work began in 2015

While the exteriors of the library are nearly done, work on the interiors will begin soon and the project is likely to be completed by spring.

Conservation architect Gurmeet Rai, who is overseeing the restoration work, says, “Working on the heritage sites of a city is not just involves dealing with brick and mortar, it is to evoke the human spirit that went into making it. Bhai Ram Singh’s story is truly remarkable. After the Durbar Hall assignment, he worked as the principal of the prestigious art college, thus erasing the line between an artist and artisan.”

Food for the soul

While the cafeteria is going to be named ‘Durbar Hall Café’ the garden around will be dedicated to Punjabi litterateurs Nanak Singh, Dhani Ram Chatrik, Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari and Saadat Hasan Manto, who spent many years here. Another cultural space that is being created is in the restored UBDC canal and power house. The plan is to utilise the space for performing arts.

The writers and artistes of the city have welcomed the project.

Preeti Gill, who set up the Majha House Cultural Centre at White Avenue in Amritsar last year, says, “The city will benefit from the contribution of seasoned conservator like Gurmeet and there is much to look forward to for other spaces like playhouses among others.”

First Published: Oct 10, 2018 09:03 IST

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