The History OF Jhanda Sahib Gurudwara and the Garhwal School of Painting

Dehradun, as we are aware, derived its name from ‘Dehra’ or ‘Dera’ that was set-up by Guru Ram Rai around 1675 AD. The Guru was known to have close friendship with the then Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The reasons attributed to this bonhomie lies in the display of mystical powers at the Mughal Darbar in Delhi. Pleased with the Guru, the emperor bestowed upon him a jagir in the neighbourhood of the Red Fort area – the area that is now popularly known as the ‘Majnu ka Tilla’.

His proximity to the Mughal Emperor disconnected Guru Ram Rai from the Sikhs, and he eventually decided to leave Delhi and set-up a dedicated base for himself and his followers, largely to undertake social and other humanitarian works. He was asked by the emperor to consider a place near the hills. The Guru with his entourage started moving towards the hills and decided to set-up the base or the “Dera” where-ever the horseshoe gets detached or breaks the 1st time. That’s the place we know today as Dhamawala or the Jhanda Sahib. Interestingly, the Jhanda Sahib temple is equidistant from the Ganga and Yamuna rivers that flows on each side of Dehradun (albeit some kilometres away).

Guru Ram Rai in a discussion with the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (displaying his magical powers) – the story of the 3 legged goat

Guru Ram Rai left for heavenly abode in 1687. The title of Guru was abandoned after his death and Mahant was appointed to oversee the continuity of the Gurudwara and the preachings. Aurangzeb, to honor his friendship with the Guru, decided to create an architectural marvel at Dhamawala (Dehradun). The construction of the Jhanda Sahib took place between 1697 and 1707 and was overseen by Guru’s wife – Mata Punjab Kaur.

Cenotaph of Guru Ram Rai (at the centre of the Jhanda Sahib Gurudwara complex)

The Central cenotaph and the minarets were designed eloquently. Gardens can be seen around these structures which truly resonated with the prevalent Mughal architecture at that time. The structures adorned many colourful miniature paintings depicting flora and fauna, stories from the Gurmukhi (the sikh holy script), depiction of meetings between Aurangzeb and the Guru, Indra Sabha and the images of Krishna with his Gopis to name a few. These intricately painted walls truly exemplify the deftness of the artisans in those periods.

These miniatures paintings are what we define as the Garhwal school of painting which draws influence from the prevalent Mughal culture of that period and the artists from the Kangra region in Himachal Pradesh.

  • How it got influenced by the Mughal Culture?

This dates back to 1658 AD when Aurangzeb was on a killing spree in order to forcefully take over the throne of the Mughal Empire. We know about how he imprisoned his father and went on a rampage to kill all his brothers including the elder brother Dara Shikoh. Aurangzeb also wanted to kill Sulaiman Shikoh, the eldest son of Dara Sikoh. On learning this, Sulaiman decided to seek asylum and he knocked the door of Raja Prithvi Sah, the ruler of the then Tehri Dynasty. Sulaiman arrived at Tehri along with his people which also included 2 of the Mughal painters. This was the beginning of the Mughal influence in the art and culture of Garhwal. Sulaiman eventually decided to leave Tehri and sought to head towards Ladakh, but someone informed Aurangzeb about his plans, which eventually lead to Sulaiman’s capture and subsequent death. However, his painters decided to stay back, and their future generations continued to influence and shape the region using their brushes and paints. Mola Ram was an accomplished Garhwali painter in the late 18th and early 19th century. He extensively promoted the Garhwal paintings and was admired by the Shahs of Garhwal, later by the Gorkhas who ruled the region until 1816 and then by the British too.

  • The KangRa influence in the Garhwal Paintings

In the middle of the 18th century, Kangra region in Himachal Pradesh developed its own art form which over the years became known as the Kangra school of painting. The unique aspects in those paintings were the verdant greenery depicted, paying attention to details, expression of one’s sentiments, all clubbed in miniatures. Owing to the matrimonial alliance between King Pradhyuman Shah of Tehri and the princess of Kangra dynasty in Himachal Pradesh, Garhwal paintings were further influenced by Kangra style of paintings. Unfortunately, in 1804, when the Gorkhas attacked Garhwal, Raja Pradhyuman Shah was killed in the battle of Khurbura (near Dehradun). However, these paintings had spread far by then. The culture continued to be embraced by the successive rulers too.

To summarise, the Garhwal or the Pahari school of painting has the following key features;

  • Paintings largely show green landscapes, architectural motifs and human figures
  • Paintings are largely miniatures
  • Paintings that show various scenes and anecdotes from the famous Hindu mythologies
  • Delicate use of thin brushes along with use of vibrant colors like yellow, red and blue


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