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Gobindgarh Fort: An Iconic Bastion of Amritsar

Located in the city of Amritsar in Punjab, the Gobindgarh Fort is a historic military fortress that encapsulates the rich and tumultuous history of the region. This formidable fort holds great significance as it witnessed the rise and fall of the Sikh Empire and the subsequent impact of British colonial rule. The fort once housed the highly coveted Koh-i-Noor Diamond.

Gobindgarh Fort

A Painting of Gobindgarh Fort, 1854 C.E. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


The sturdy fortress has an intriguing history that dates back to the early 18th century, when the land of Punjab was divided into several small principalities controlled by powerful Sikh clans known as misls. A local chieftain of the Bhangi Misl named Gujjar Singh Bhangi laid the foundation of the fort in the 18th century. Originally, the fort was called “Bhangian da Kila” or the fort of the Bhangis.

In the early 19th century, Ranjit Singh of the Sukerchakia Misl established the Sikh Empire and took over the region of Amritsar. He gained control of the fort and renamed it “Gobindgarh” after the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Large sums of money were invested to make the fort a solid defensive structure during this period. Maharaja Ranjit Singh adapted the latest European military technologies and several European mercenaries also enlisted in his army. The primary defensive walls were arranged in concentric layers, encircled by a wide moat, reflecting the cutting-edge European defensive architecture of that era. Such an arrangement effectively shielded the fort from cannon attacks. One of the primary reasons for the consolidation of the fort was to defend the city of Amritsar and Sri Harmandir Sahib from invaders. The strategic location of the fort outside the walled city served as an impenetrable barrier to getting through to the city. Over 12,000 men were stationed within the fort to safeguard the city. During Ranjit Singh’s reign, the fort became the center for essential supplies for his army as they ventured further afield, contributing to the expansion of the Sikh Empire.

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Empire began to disintegrate. The fort was captured by the British in 1849 after the second Anglo-Sikh War and remained in their possession until India attained independence. During the partition of India in 1947, the fort provided temporary shelter to a large number of refugees from Pakistan. In October 1948, the fort was handed over to the Indian Army and remained inaccessible to civilians for a long period. Finally, on February 10, 2017, the fort was opened to the general public.


The imposing brick and lime structure covers an area of around 43 acres. The fort is laid out in a square shape, with heavily guarded bastions constructed at four cardinal points. The Nalwa Gate is the main entrance to the fort. The gate was named after Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837), the commander-in-chief of the Sikh Khalsa Army, the army of the Sikh Empire. The other entrance is known as Keller Gate. It is claimed that the fort has an underground tunnel near the Keller Gate, which leads to Lohgarh Fort in Lahore. During its heyday, the fort housed 25 cannons and had 8 watchtowers.

A major attraction of the fort is a replica of the historic cannon “Zamzama” also known as the Taker of Strongholds. This massive, heavyweight cannon was cast in Lahore on the advice of the Afghan ruler Ahmed Shah Durrani. In 1762, Hari Singh, the Bhangi chief, attacked Lahore and took possession of the cannon. It then came to be known as Bhangian di Top. The cannon was acquired by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1802, during his occupation of Amritsar. He used it in his military campaigns in Daska, Kasur, Sujanpur, Wazirabad, and Multan. During these operations, the cannon sustained significant damage, rendering it unsuitable for any further usage. It was sent back to Lahore. Today, the original cannon stands in front of the Lahore Museum in Pakistan.

Gobindgarh Fort

Replica of Zamzama at Gobindgarh Fort. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Another noteworthy aspect of the fort is the Toshakhana, which served as the treasury of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Toshakhana is situated adjacent to the northern fort wall at the centre. It is a square structure consisting of two chambers, with walls reinforced by decorative masonry buttresses, known as "Burj." This structure once housed the famous Koh-i-Noor Diamond. Shah Shuja, the ruler of Afghanistan surrendered the diamond to Ranjit Singh in 1813. The Toshakhana has now been turned into a coin museum that houses old and rare coins and a replica of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond.

Gobindgarh Fort

Toshakhana. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The fort underwent significant alterations after the British took control of it. By 1859, the bastions were primarily used as barracks to accommodate soldiers. After devising a plan for the protection, administration and reuse of Gobindgarh Fort, the British constructed roofs over the bastions. A typical Madras roof characterised by wooden beams, purlins and tiles with mud terracing was built.

The Colonial Bungalow, Darbar Hall and the Phansi Ghar were some of the significant additions to the fort during this period. Built in 1864, the Colonial Bungalow comprises four officers’ quarters. On the eastern facade of the structure, a majestic colonial staircase was built, featuring decorative masonry buttresses. The quarters were designed in such a way that each of them had a separate entrance and a rear verandah. The Colonial Bungalow has now been converted into a Warfare Museum that showcases replicas of rare war instruments.

The Darbar Hall lies to the east of the Colonial Bungalow. This rectangular, double-storied structure was built in 1850 as a hospital. The ground level has three bays of rooms, each of which is further divided into two to three rooms. An impressive masonry staircase leads to the upper floor.

Gobindgarh Fort

Darbar Hall. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Chloronome House lies to the west of Durbar Hall. This colonial building was erected in 1853 for the treatment and purification of water by chlorination. It comprises two rooms, one of which includes a circular pit used to store a chlorination system. As part of the water treatment machinery, the building also features a water tank mounted on the terrace. However, some perspectives suggest that the structure was used as a Phansi Ghar- hanging place. It is claimed that this structure has witnessed the execution of numerous freedom fighters who bravely faced the gallows.

The fort houses several museums and art galleries that showcase rare artefacts, weapons and artworks. The Pagdi Museum or Turban Museum inside the fort exhibits different forms of turbans. This museum provides insights about the striking headgear, right from its evolution to modern times. The Gobindgarh Art Gallery houses remarkable digital paintings of the Sikh saints and martyrs. The fort also has a vibrant marketplace within its premises known as Haat Bazaar, that offers a treasure trove of unique souvenirs and handicrafts.

The fort boasts an impressive array of high-tech shows that bring history to life, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the grandeur and valor of the Sikh Kingdom. The fort hosts a 7D show known as Sher-e-Punjab that tells the story of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The enthralling show represents a remarkable blend of meticulous research and outstanding design. Kanda Boldiyan Ne or Whispering Walls is a mesmerising light and sound show that narrates the sweeping history of Gobindgarh Fort against the backdrop of the Colonial Bungalow. The show uses state-of-the-art projection mapping technologies, 7.1 surround sound and laser lights. It is held every evening post sunset.

Cultural performances that encompass various aspects of Punjabi culture are organised at the fort from time to time. The “Spirit of Punjab” is a live performance that takes place at the fort and celebrates the spirit and essence of Punjab. It showcases various forms of Punjabi folk dances, such as Bhangra and Giddha, which are performed by skilled artists dressed in traditional attire. The performances are accompanied by live music, including traditional Punjabi instruments like the dhol, tumbi, and algoza. Overall, the “Spirit of Punjab” at Gobindgarh Fort is a captivating cultural extravaganza.

Gobindgarh Fort

Spirit of Punjab- A live performance at the fort. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Gobindgarh Fort was declared a historical monument by the Government of Punjab under The Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act in 1964. Today, the fort stands as a proud symbol of Punjab's heritage and the spirit of its people. Its architectural splendor, coupled with the immersive experiences that it offers, makes it a premier tourist attraction.