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Clock Tower Amritsar


amar_jkp

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A British Vision

Under British rule came a new vision for Amritsar. This new era featured an exertion of European cultural imperialism marked by the tragic demolition of the lost palace by British authorities and the construction of a large gothic style clock tower in its place to dominate over Darbar Sahib and the Amritsar skyline.

Construction of the clock tower started in 1862 and work on the project would continue for over a decade until eventually completed in 1874 [1] at a cost of over Rs. 50,000. [2] Although a clock tower traditionally has a small base, it was decided that the lost palace and all other buildings in the area would be demolished during construction to create a large open courtyard around the new clock tower.

The clock tower was designed by John Gordon, the Municipal Chief Engineer of Amritsar. [3] Unlike some other British buildings in their Indian empire where elements of eastern architecture were sometimes incorporated, the new clock tower was designed entirely in the traditional European gothic style with red bricks. [4]

The Clock Tower at Amritsar now in course of erection, at an estimated cost of 23,000 rupees ; the style adopted in this building is the decorated Gothic. The ornamentation, though simple, is very effective, and the proportions are singularly graceful. It is proposed to place in it a clock with illuminated dials, and as it is situated on the highest ground in Amritsar, and is itself 145 feet in height, it will be a very prominent object in the city.
Hand-book of the Manufactures & Arts of the Punjab, Volume II
B.H. Baden Powell, Lahore, 1872

The clock tower was initially designed by the authorities as part of a master plan to be facing a Town Hal [5]. Although wisely deciding to relocate the Town Hall to another section of the city, work on the clock tower continued. The construction of the gothic clock tower and the demolition of the lost palace met with serious disapproval from the Sikhs [6], but the British ignored this and moved forward with their project. While Guru Arjan had Darbar Sahib built on the lowest elevation in the city as a mark of Sikh humility, at 145 feet the gothic clock tower completely dominated the sacred space of Darbar Sahib and the surrounding landscape of Amritsar.

But there is one incongruity, one slightly jarring note, and that is the obtrusive brick clock-tower which dominates the enclosure at the entrance. Built in a style which might be termed Early New England Gothic, it must have reminded many an American wanderer of the fire-engine house in his native village, or the ambitious but inexpensive church-tower of sanded wood. Far from being intended as a gratuitous insult to the Sikhs, it was most probably a generous donation on the part of the European community, meant to serve as a perpetual object-lesson in architecture, and as a dignified protest against barbaric excess of ornament.
From the Black Sea through Persia and India
Edwin Lord Weeks, New York, 1896

Although there have been some suggestions that the clock tower was really built by the British as a church, photographic evidence indicates that it only had a weather vane at its pinnacle and not a cross. Also the interior chamber was a relatively small room of approximately 20ft by 20ft, not a very large or practical space for congregations or church services.

Looking completely out of place at Darbar Sahib the clock tower was an eye sore and much hated by the Sikhs yet it would endure for over 70 years.

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Photo 5 of 9
Clock Tower of Amritsar
ca. January 24, 1906, Hannah P. Adams, gelatin silver print, SSB Collection

An elevated view of the gothic clock tower photographed from the roof of Darbar Sahib. An important view as it allows us to see into the large courtyard where the lost palace once stood. The courtyard is not visible from ground level photographs of the clock tower due to the large wall separating it from the parkarma.

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