In the long moments that divided a country into two, lives, dreams, families and parchments of history seemed to have been dissolved forever. In a diabolical storm of politics and the separation that ensued, parts of land that belonged to the people were lost behind the lines. This is the rich history behind one of those sites- the myth, history and the laical character of the space that was created; and lost for a while.
Pul Kanjari is located around 35kms from Amritsar, on the road to Lahore. Now, it lies 5kms away from the infamous Wagah border. It is claimed to be one of many historical heritage sites built by art aficionado Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The myth surrounding this pul (bridge) is that the king got it constructed for a dancer in his court, Moran. When she was crossing the canal, one of her shoes fell into the water and she coaxed the king to construct a bridge for her to cross it.
This interesting story also has architectural links. Known for constructing mastodon forts, moats and castles, Maharaja Ranjit Singh helped create many advancements in the technology and techniques of building and construction. His built forms have withstood nature’s torments for almost 400 years without any discernible damage. Like his other complexes, Pul Kanjari is admired for its simple design and layout, resilient materials and construction.
Like other structures, the bulk of the structure is made of Nanakshahi bricks, having lesser width and thickness, allowing more detailed work to be done. This sets a sandy, dusky hue as the overtone for the place, fresco details can be seen in the exterior walls also. However, the bridge is hardly what is the attraction of the site. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, known for his progressive ideologies made this space secular as well.
The complex consists of a Shiva temple, the Sarovar (canal), a baradari (house with 12 doors) and a mosque. Though the baradari is in ruins now, the other structures have been renovated, and are worth seeing to observe the character of such a space. 2 centuries later, we still struggle to accept the idea of secularism- religion that has caused a divide in this country for so many years.
Ironically, this space should witness such violence, bloodshed and the tragedies associated with the partition. A war memorial was constructed in the honour of the soldiers who lost their lives, in the 1971 war. The single-use of material gives a homogenous texture to the entire edifice- knowingly or unknowingly which can be admired as a truly perspicacious character. Uniting people using a singular built form was truly commendable at the time.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, throughout his reign, has created many impressive structures, pan India. His methods were frowned upon, his ideologies questioned. However, his structures beamed with character, strength and the symbol of a lasting dynasty, centuries later. Perhaps someone who can be understood as a leader before his time.
It is the proximity to the border and the slow burn of inter-border tourism that has made this a lost part of history. The same soil that people rejoiced together in, was soaked in blood once, the war between religions that stood united in the same ground. An image almost too sacrilegious to conjure, the nectar drained out of a space like this. Though it is frequented by some, it does not get the justice it deserves with its simplicity and evolved genius in the brick. Pul Kanjari is truly worth visiting- the brick capturing the history that it never had the intention of creating, a hauntingly beautiful enigma.