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The inventor of Sikh architecture Sardar Bahadur Bhai Ram Singh
12 Nov 2011

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Sardar Bahadur Ram Singh MVO (Member of the Victorian Order) an eminent architect of world fame was born in 1858 AD to a Ramgarhia family, (Sohal) at village Rasulpur near Batala. His father Assa Singh owned some land in the village but owing to financial hardships those days, he had to move and settled at Amritsar , most probably near the timber market Cheel Mandi where most of the Ramgarhias had carpentry shops.

Not much is known of the earlier life of Ram Singh before he joined the Lahore School of Carpentry in 1874 which later became the Mayo School of Arts with John Lockwood Kipling (the father of Nobel Laureate Richard Kipling) as its Founder Principal. The Young Ram Singh, already an accomplished and acknowledged carpenter because of his Ramgarhia background, began to develop his conceptual and intellectual capacities and outgrew the limits of his training to achieve a deeper knowledge of other related arts. By dint of his incisive understanding of the theoretical basis of design and his practical skill in the craft, he soon got appointment as teacher in his own school where he integrated the native Indian tradition with the colonial in furniture making, tapestry making, interior decoration and architecture and soon surpassed his peers.
          When John Kipling retired and went back to England he managed to invite Ram Singh to London to participate in an international exhibition where his, Ram Singh’s, entry was adjudged the best model of traditional style of Indian architecture and his work attracted the notice of top architects of Europe. Even the Queen, Queen Victoria, granted him a special audience and impressed by his art and craftsmanship in woodcarving, she invited him to design a Durbar Hall in the Royal Palace which he meticulously did. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and given a hearty send off by the Queen and after his return from England , he was made the Principal of Mayo College of Arts Lahore. But in addition to his duties as chief of the Mayo College , he started working as an architect too.
          In Lahore he designed the Chiefs College , Lahore Museum , Punjab University Senate Hall and many other well known structures. In fact he was one of the outstanding and much sought after Indians of the late 19th and early 20th century after he designed buildings in the then princely states of Jind, Nabha, Patiala, Bahawalpore, Jammu & Kashmir, Mysore etc. He was without a rival and thanks to an equally versatile Executive Engineer and builder Sir Ganga Ram, the duo shaped much of the pre -1947 Lahore.
          However, Ram Singh’s Magnum Opus, in the new style Sikh architecture invented by him, is the historic main building of Khalsa College Amritsar also reflected in design and dimensions, in the Aichson College Lahore.
          It may be recalled that when Ram Singh was in London , Queen Victoria commissioned her court artist the Austrian, Rudolph Svoboda to paint his, (Ram Singh’s) portrait which still hangs at the entrance to the Durbar Room at Osborne House. It is pity that this gem of an architect remained unknown to common people for such a long time. A fitting tribute to this Sardar Bahadur deserves that a replica of the same painting is displayed in the Rivaz Hall (now rechristened Sundar Singh Majithia Hall) of Khalsa College Amritsar. The SGPC should also take appropriate steps showcase this hero of the working class and include his work and art in the Sikh Museum .
          The recently published “The Raj, Lahore and Bhai Ram Singh” by Pervez and Sajida Vandal National College of Arts Lahore is so expensive that even some libraries cannot afford to buy a copy thereof. It is suggested that the SGPC or some other NGO arrange a brief Punjabi version of the same in order to do justice, even though delayed to this great inventor of Sikh architecture.
 
Prof. Mohan Singh
4091 Kote Baba Deep Singh
Amritsar 143006 India
Phone No. 0183 2581514; (91)9463726723