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Heritage at risk : The jewel in desperate need of a polish

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Heritage at risk : The jewel in desperate need of a polish

Published: May 9, 2016
The haveli attached to Gurdwara Bhai Biba Singh. PHOTOS: HIDAYAT KHAN/EXPRESS

The haveli attached to Gurdwara Bhai Biba Singh. PHOTOS: HIDAYAT KHAN/EXPRESS


It was a momentous occasion for Sikhs when the worship hall of Gurdwara Bhai Biba Singh opened after almost 60 years in March. However, the wooden structure that was built during the era of Sikh leader Maharaja Ranjeet Singh still begs for preservation.

The dilapidated building is believed to be some 200 years old and built by Bhai Biba Singh. However, historians are unaware of the exact date of construction. Regardless, it is one of the shining jewels of the Sikh era and is nestled among havelis belonging to the community in Chaka Gali, Hashtnagri.


The ceiling is embellished with wood and glass work, but all of that is now in desperate need of repair. Entry has been closed by the Gurdwara administration as there are fears that the roof will collapse.

Bobby Singh Bansal told The Express Tribune a historian has recently written a book called Remnants of the Sikh Empire which states that places of worship were not so ornately decorated, unlike the shrine of Biba Singh which was given the royal treatment.

The main entrance of the shrine or samadhi has been designed with a decorated archway and is supported by marble pillars. A jharokha (decorated bay window) towers from above and has been aligned with similar windows on the top floor.

The damaged ceiling of the hall clearly shows the inlaid mirror work which has been embellished in red and set in triangular and circular patterns.

The large open interior of the main hall is equally grand and impressive. The central hall is supported by a beam of carved pillars, rich cornices and finished with lattice work on the balcony panels.

After the Sikh army recaptured the city of Peshawar in 1834, its first governor, General Hari Singh Nalwa, ordered the construction of a Sikh shrine, possibly the first one, in the Jogiwara locality of Hashtnagri in the city, Bansal said. He added Sikh nobleman Bhai Biba Singh constructed the shrine on behalf of General Nalwa during the Sikh reign of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.

“Bhai Biba Singh was an influential officer and built an impressive haveli for himself, which was later attached to the Sikh shrine believed to be over 180 years old today,” Bansal added. The samadhi is towards the rear and is believed to be the burial places of Bhai Biba Singh.


It was common during Sikh times that owners of such grand structures were buried in their own houses.

The gurdwara underwent major repairs after a fire had damaged the historical edifice in 1927. Although the Sikh community restored the main hall of the shrine, the langar hall (free kitchen) remained dilapidated. During Partition, most of the Sikhs moved onto other areas of Pakistan such as Hasan Abdal, Lahore and Rawalpindi. As a result, the shrine was abandoned for decades.

Sikh community elders have said they are even ready to restore this structure by themselves, but
need permission from the government.

“The Ranjeet Singh-era woodwork is crumbling and is under imminent threat of destruction,” said Manjeet Singh, a Sikh who has also started a struggle on social media for the structure’s renovation. He urged the government to allot funds for its restoration. “Besides its religious significance for Sikhs living in the city, the structure is like an architectural jewel of the old city,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2016.

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