British Empire’s Grand Plan to Steal Jewels of Sri Darbar Sahib

A prestigious Toshakhana of Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar

Toshakhana or tosha khana, from Persian (tosha = food or provisions for journey or food articles in general + khana = house or storage room) means, in Punjabi, a treasury or secured storehouse for valuables. It is now generally used for the storehouse in the Darbar Sahib complex at Amritsar where costly items presented as offerings to the Harimandar Sahib, the Akal Takht and the shrine of Baba Atal which have accumulated over the centuries (mostly during Sikh rule over the Punjab) are kept under tight security. They are taken out for jalau (display) in the shrines on special occasions such as major festivals or anniversaries.

They mostly comprise gold and silver ornaments such as chhabbas (domelike pendants), seharas (fringes of pearls and gems), chhatars (umbrellas), jha.la.rs (bejewelled frills) and other invaluable items, such as the door leaves of the Harimandar lined with gold sheets and valuable rumalas (scarves or wrappings for Guru Granth Sahib) are also stored in the Toshakhana. Two particularly rare items kept in the toshakhana are a richly bejewelled canopy, a present from the Nizam of Hyderabad to Maharaja Ranjit Singh who reportedly considering it too lavish a gift, sent it to the Harimandar Sahib and a chandan da chaur (flywhisk) made of sandalwood fibres which took years for Haji Muhammad Maskin, a Muslim craftsman to prepare. He had made two similar whisks, one of which he had presented at the Holy Ka’aba at Mecca, and was in search of a holy place in India deserving of his offering. Guided by Bhai Hira Singh Ragi, a wellknown exponent of gurmat kirtan (singing of sacred hymns of Guru Granth Sahib), he offered the second whisk at the Harimandar on 31 December 1925.

The Toshakhana is located on the first floor of the Darshani Deorhi, the gateway to the Harimandar, where it is guarded by employees of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. The contents were properly accounted for and the records kept by the secretary of the local managing committee until 1945, when the local committee was disbanded and the administration of the Darbar Sahib complex was put under the direct control of the Shiromani Committee.

It was the confiscation of the keys of this treasury by the British administration on 7 November 1921 that resulted in the events known as the keys agitation, the first direct confrontation between the government and the Akalis during the Gurdwara Reform movement. It ended in the restitution of the Golden Temple keys to the shrine authority on 5 January 1922. When under mounting pressure the British government finally caved, the Sikhs were asked to send representatives to pick up the keys. The Sikhs, however, refused to do this, so a government official came to the Darbar Sahib complex and surrendered the keys wrapped in a red piece of cloth to Baba Kharak Singh, then president of the Shiromani Committee.

The Morcha Chabian

The Morcha Chabian, a campaign for the recovery of the keys of the Sri Harmandir Sahib treasury, marked a dramatic episode in the Sikh agitations in the early 1920s, to reform the management of their places of worship.

For instance, Sri Harmandir Sahib had been managed by a government nominated sarbrdh (controller) since 1849. The Golden Temple came under Akali control in October 1920, but the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee nominated the old sarbrdh, Sundar Singh Ramgarhia, as a member of the new committee and appointed him to continue to administer the affairs of the Golden Temple. Even though the sarbrdh now functioned under the directions of the Committee, but, since he still retained possession of the keys of the Toshakhana (treasury) of the Golden Temple, some of the Akali reformers felt that governmental control, however nominal, still remained.

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In response to their complaints, on 20 October 1921, the Shiromani Committee resolved to ask Sundar Singh to hand over the keys to its president, but before they could implement the decision, news of the decision reached the deputy commissioner of Amritsar who forestalled the Akalis. On 7 November 1921, the extra assistant commissioner Amar Nath, raided the house of Sundar Singh Ramgarhia with a police party and took away the keys.

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On 11 November, the government attempted to replace Sundar Singh with their own appointee Captain Bahadur Singh, in effect overriding the choice of the SGPC. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee refused to recognize the new sarbrdh. On 12 November 1921 a protest meeting was convened in Bagh Akaliari at Amritsar which was addressed by Baba Kharak Singh and other Akali leaders. Akali meetings took place at Gujrariwala, Gujjar Khan and other places. Captain Bahadur Singh resigned, but the government remained adamant. Dan Singh of Vachhoa and Jaswant Singh of Jhabal, two prominent Akalis, were arrested at a divan at Ajnala on 26 November 1921.

Learning of the arrests the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, in the middle of a session at the Akal Takht at Amritsar, adjourned its meeting. Soon over 50 of its members reached Ajnala to continue the divan. The district authority declared the divan to be an “illegal assembly” and arrested all the prominent Akalis, including Baba Kharak Singh, Sardar Bahadur Mehtab Singh and Master Sundar Singh Lyallpuri. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 27 November condemned the official action and called upon Sikhs to observe 4 December as a protest day. Sikhs were further asked not to join any function in honour of the Prince of Wales, who was expected to visit India early in 1922.

Arrests continued to be made and soon Master Tara Singh and Amar Singh Jhabal were among those held. Failing to control the Sikh protests and foreseeing how it might affect Sikh soldiers and the peasantry, the government announced on 3 January 1922 its decision to return the keys to the Shiromani Committee so that Poh sudi 7/5 January 1922 could be celebrated as the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, but the Committee refused to accept the keys until all the Sikhs arrested during the movement were released unconditionally.

In the Punjab Legislative Council of 11 January 1922, Sir John Maynard, the Home Member announced the release of all Sikhs under detention. However, the Akalis refused to go and fetch the keys from the deputy commissioner. A government official was eventually sent to deliver the keys wrapped in a piece of red silk to Baba Kharak Singh, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, at a divan (19 January 1922) at the Akal Takht.
The Akalis’ victory was hailed throughout the country. Mahatma Gandhi sent a message of congratulation to the Akalis saying, the “First decisive battle for India’s freedom” had been won.
References

1. Ganda Singh, ed., Some Confidential Papers of the Akali Movement. Amritsar, 1965
2. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1983
3. Teja Singh, Gurdwara Reform and the Sikh Awakening. Jalandhar, 1922
4. The Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore). December 1921
5. Josh, Sohan Singh, Akali Morchian da Itihas. Delhi, 1972
6. Pratap Singh, Giani, Gurdwara Sudhar arthat Akali Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
7. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee da Panjah Said Itihas. Amritsar, 1982






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