Sultanpur Lodhi: A Note
Head, Master Programme in Conservation Studies, Faculty of Architecture,
Graduate School, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India.
April 24 2009.
My visit to Sultanpur Lodhi was organized at the courtesy of Shri Bhai Baldeepsinghji, Chairman of ANĀD Foundation New Delhi from 18th to 20th of April, 2009. I was accompanied by Shri Bhai Baldeepsinghji, Shri Gurjotsingh and Susri Harpreet Kaur and Susri Sushma Shetty, all Architects from Shri Ashok Lall’s office in New Delhi, who all have been working under the guidance of Shri Ashok Lal and Shri Bhai Baldeepsinghji on Sultanpur Lodhi Conservation Plans. We were privileged to stay in Gurudwara Ber Sahib in Sultanpur Lodhi, which is one of the most important place associated with Guru Nanak Dev. I sincerely acknowledge my sincere gratitude to ANĀD Foundation and Shri Bhai Baldeepsinghji for their kind assistance and support during my visit.
Note on Visit:
Sultanpur Lodhi is a small town surrounded by large patches of agrarian land. The town is on the banks of Kali Bein River which is near the confluence of Ravi and Sutlej, the two great rivers of Punjab. The town has some important historic structures including a fortified Sarai, which stands on the south east of the Gurudwara Ber Sahib. There are other religious buildings and residences connected with Guru Nanak Dev’s period in the town before he set out for his travels, which are also revered important relic.
There are a number of Gurudwara in the town but the most important one is the Gurudwara Ber Sahib. This Gurudwara is situated on the river Kali Bein and is associated with the most important teaching of Guru Nanak Dev, where under the tree of Ber he preached his belief in equality of humanity. Most of the Gurudwara structures are constantly being repaired, upgraded and enlarged with additional facilities added. Most of these display this constant renewal and so in most cases its historicity is lost.
The Qila Sarai, as is locally known is an imposing structure situated on a slight elevation and approached from north, through an imposing gateway. As the name suggests, this must have been a place used by visiting merchants and guests to the city who came here for trading purposes. The Sarai must have been used for different purposes during different periods as the buildings within suggest, including building of number of cells for a jail. The Sarai in its present condition is badly mutilated as it has been given over to the Police department, who has built new structures within its imposing central court yard. There are two older structures which must have been built earlier, one of them is known as a ‘Diwan’ which is badly ruined and neglected and the other is a mosque which is cared for. The walls of the Sarai are badly damaged, partially collapsed and precariously standing in parts which can crumble very soon. There are new buildings being constructed in very close proximity of the wall on its west side where such building activity could greatly harm the safety of the old structures of the walls. The eastern wall of the imposing north gate is also in a dangerous condition and severely cracked which can crumble any time.
The Hadira, presumably a Tomb of the Lodhi period survives on the north of the Gurudwara Ber Sahib across the river. This is an imposing brick structure of historic value. The structure is an imposing cube form with very strong corners and central openings with a central hall space. Its surroundings are now completely ruined but considering its location by the river it also must have had the typical gardens around it. This Hadira along with other smaller mosques within the settlement are important relic of the architecture of Lodhi era with its distinct character, which was achieved using very delicate thin bricks incorporating ornate details to its corners and edges of arches and small projections over the openings in thick walls with interplay of planes of the walls. There are very interesting small mosques within the city which also display a type of structure with a pillared verandah in front with three bays, triple dome structure with mihrab in the central bay. The bricks used in this period were very thin and thereby they could afford to develop minute details in its treatment of edges and corners of the structural elements which provided a very ornate character to the entire structural imagery.
The bridge, though half destroyed, also exhibit an important example of civic architecture, which need to be somehow retained, even restored and reconstructed for posterity. The Ghats along the river associated with Guru Nanak Dev are also no more existing, however, some efforts could be made to rediscover their traces as these are very important indicators of this important town and its linkage with Sikh culture.
The town as a settlement is successively built over during its two thousand years’ history. Besides being a place of great religious importance, it is a major agricultural centre for its wheat produce and has a very rich land lord and merchant population. This has obviously resulted in refinement of its settlement structure comprising imposing Market Yard with very ornate properties belonging to rich merchants flanking the yard. The individual houses owned by nobility in its various residential streets and mahollas are also equally rich in its residential character. The buildings in general display a rare tradition of very delicate brick masonry with excellent local brick work done with very ornate quality and characteristic thick walls punctuated by very delicately carved balconies projecting from the walls. The Haveli architecture though now being replaced with new construction, is only visible in fragments, help us imagining the characteristic richness that was a very rich heritage of the history of the indigenous architecture of this region. The fragments that still exist of this great local tradition must be restored and conserved. It is evident that if the local people get some guidance in restoring this rich heritage they are willing to conserve the same. It is in absence of any such help that such an important heritage is being lost by the people in spite of their awareness of its value and affinity.
Sultanpur Lodhi thus, culturally and for its religious importance, is a very important historic town, which needs a very serious support for its conservation and the efforts initiated by ANAD Foundation need to be strongly supported in all ways in order to revive this town further and preserve its valuable heritage. The Conservation shall be seen as an effort to plan its further evolution and growth in a positive way so that the rich historic heritage is preserved and is treated as a basis for its future vision and growth.