Kids Corner


My Final Day In Punjab -
Sardar Shaam Singh Attariwala





What an amazing last day in Punjab I’ve had – never did I imagine that I would be held up by an elephant or have such an enjoyable day hearing sagas from Sikh military history.

My day started with a trip to Attari.

I had been invited by Colonel Attari who had read about my visit and I accepted his kind offer.

So with the sun shining, I set off with Bir Inder Singh Sidhu. Attari is situated 3 km away from the line that bisects Punjab between India and Pakistan at Wagah.

Just before reaching Attari, we passed the impressive monument to the legendary 19th century warrior, Sardar Shaam Singh Attariwala on the Grand Trunk Road.

Shaam Singh Attariwala has gone down in history for his bravery and fierce loyalty to the Sikh Empire, leaving his village at age 60 to fight for Maharani Jind Kaur and the Khalsa Army at the Battle of Sabraon in 1846.

Following his martyrdom, his body was returned to Attari on the back of an elephant. Today the memorial in his honour contains a small museum, a guest suite along with several samadhis and a gurdwara. There is also a large tank built for the wedding between Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s grandson, Prince Nau Nihal Singh and Shaam Singh Attariwala’s daughter, Nanaki Kaur.

The memorial is run by a family trust and has aspiring plans to turn the site into a fascinating visitor attraction.  Every year on February 10, Martyrs' Day is celebrated in memory of the great General; it’s now on the state level function list and attracts a swarm of VIPs every year.

I was greeted by several members of the Attari family, all of whom are involved in the trust, along with the caretaker, the resident granthi, several journalists … and, as is the case wherever you go in India, quite a large pack of dogs!  

Inside the museum there are a series of images relating to the family’s story and the General. On one panel featuring the Darbar of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, you can see from the highlighted figure of Shaam Singh his prominence and stature in the royal court.

I also came across a memorial plaque and reference to Sardar Surat Singh who was awarded the Victoria Cross. I’ll be adding this reference to our Thetford Remembers Project. The family comes from a distinguished line of soldiers and continues to play an active part in the military today.
Following the museum visit, I was welcomed into the small but beautiful gurdwara, to hear the granthi read from the Guru Granth Sahib. Very generously I was allowed to take as many photos as I wanted to use with our school sessions. As with most of my visits, I was given a gift for the museum; the gifts from this trip have grown into quite a collection.

Much to my amusement when we were leaving, the granthi hopped on his motorbike – I had to take a photo! I was asked if it’s  normal to see the English clergy on motorbikes in the UK. Not normally armed with a kirpan, was my reply!

Next stop was the family havelies (mansions/estates).

The original Attariwala fort dates back to the 18th century, and is now divided into individual homes for the family. I was able to see the actual sword that belonged to Sardar Shaam Singh, a huge privilege as it normally only comes out for display on special occasions such as Martyrs’ Day.

I suggested the museum have a replica made as I feel certain that visitors would like to see it. The family was very generous inviting me into their homes, and it was great to see how they were all working together as a team.

The family has a small archive; amongst the letters in their collection was an invitation from Princess Bamba Duleep Singh.

I was invited to take langar at lunchtime with the family back at the complex. It was delicious and definitely the best I’ve had during my visit to Punjab.

Unfortunately it was soon time to leave.

On our way back the most peculiar thing happened. We were held up by an elephant! As we approached the Shaam Singh Attariwala Memorial Gate, an elephant appeared from the right hand side of the gate and stood right in front of the car much to my amazement. I was thrilled to see one close up on my last day as I’ve heard so many stories about Maharajah Ranjit Singh using them as transport whilst I’ve been here.

Never one to miss a photo opportunity, I hopped out and asked if I could have a pic taken.

Finally, to finish my visit, I really had to go back to the Golden Temple and see it lit up at night. I was mesmerised as I stood looking at the sanctum sanctorum shimmering on an inky black pool in the night. It was quite busy when I arrived, people were standing and sitting around the sarovar, joining in the singing of the shabads and generally enjoying the serene atmosphere.

I felt it was the perfect ending to my first trip to Punjab and the subcontinent. I’ll be leaving with a full notebook of work to do with the museums I visited and the promise of a return to the many new friends I’ve made.

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Our collective thanks to the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail ("ASHT") in the United Kingdom for inspiring and facilitating this extraordinary visit to the homeland of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the Last Emperor of Punjab.

March 8, 2015


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My Final Day In Punjab -
Sardar Shaam Singh Attariwala"

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