GURŪ KĀ BĀGH MORCHĀ, one of the major compaigns in the Sikhs' agitation in the early 1920's for the reformation of their holy places. Gurū kā Bāgh in Ghukkevālī village, about 20 km from Amritsar, has two historic gurdwārās close to each other, commemorating the visits respectively of Gurū Arjan in 1585 and Gurū Tegh Bahādur in 1664. The latter is laid out on the site of a gh (garden) which gave the place its name. Like most other gurdwārās, the management of these two had passed into the hands of mahants or abbots belonging to the monastic order of Udāsī Sikhs. The grant of jāgīrs to such sacred places in Sikh times and the offerings of the devotees had made the custodians wealthy and prone to luxury.

         In 1921, one Sundar Dās Udāsī was the mahant of Gurū kā Bāgh. He was indifferent to his ecclesiastical duties and lived a dissolute life, squandering the resources of the gurdwārā. To save the shrine from being occupied by reformist Sikhs, he however signed a formal agreement with them on 31 January 1921, promising to make a new start and receive the rites of Khālsā initiation and to serve under an eleven member committee appointed by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. But seeing how the government was everywhere supporting the mahants, he repudiated part of the agreement and said that, though he had surrendered the gurdwārā to the Shiromaṇī Committee, the piece of land known as Gurū kā Bāgh attached to it was still his property. He objected to Sikhs cutting down for the laṅgar (gurdwārā kitchen) firewood from that land. The police, willing to oblige him, arrested on 9 August 1922 five Sikhs on charges of trespass. The following day the arrested persons were hurriedly tried and sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment. This sparked off the agitation, and the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee decided to send every day a batch of five Sikhs to chop firewood from the grove of trees on the land of Gurdwārā Gurū kā Bāgh and court arrest if prevented from doing so. From 22 August, police began to arrest jathās on charges of theft, riot and criminal trespass. The arrests gave a fillip to the movement and more and more Sikhs came forward to join protest. On 25 August, Amāvas day, the gathering was so large that S.G.M. Beatty, Additional Superintendent of Police, ordered the police to disperse it by a lāṭhī-charge .

         Government violence led the Shiromaṇī Committee to increase the size of the jathās. On 26 August the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar issued warrants for the arrest of eight members of the executive of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. A council of action, headed by Tejā Siṅgh Samundrī, now took over charge of the Akālī morchā. The government banned the assembling of people at Gurū kā Bāgh, and police pickets were posted on roads and bridges to intercept volunteers coming into Amritsar. Yet jathās of black-turbaned Akālīs chanting the sacred hymns reached the spot every day to be mercilessly beaten by police until they fell to the ground to a man. This happened from day to day. Political leaders, social workers and reporters came to witness what was described as an ideally non-violent protest. A.L. Verges, an American cinematographer, prepared a film of the proceedings under the caption, Exclusive Picture of India's Martyrdom. English missionary and educationist C.F. Andrews (1871-1940) visited Gurū kā Bāgh and saw, as he put it, "hundreds of Christs being crucified." He sent to the Press a detailed report on what he witnessed on 12 September 1922:

        It was a sight which I never wish to see again, a sight incredible to an Englishman. There were four Akali Sikhs with black turbans facing a band of about a dozen policemen, including two English officers... They were perfectly still and did not move further forward. Their hands were placed together in prayer and it was clear that they were praying. Then, without the slightest provocation on their part, an Englishman lunged forward the head of his lathi which was bound with brass. He lunged it forward in such a way that his fist which held the staff struck the Akali Sikh, who was praying, just at the collar bone with great force. It looked the most cowardly blow as I saw it struck...

        The blow which I saw was sufficient to fell the Akali Sikh and send him to the ground. He rolled over and slowly got up once more, and faced the same punishment over again. Time after time one of the four who had gone forward was laid prostrate by repeated blows, now from the English officer and now from the police who were under his control. The others were knocked out more quickly... I saw with my own eyes one of these police kick in the stomach a Sikh who stood helplessly before him. For when one of the Akali Sikhs had been hurled to the ground and was lying prostrate, a police sepoy stamped with his foot upon him, using his full weight; the foot struck the prostrate man between the neck and the shoulder.

        The vow they had made to God was kept. I saw no act, no look, of defiance. It was true martyrdom for them as they went forward, a true act of faith, a true deed of devotion to God..

        They believe intensely that their right to cut wood in the garden of the Guru was an immemorial religious right, and this faith of theirs is surely to be counted for righteousness, whatever a defective and obsolete law may determine or fail to determine concerning legality...


        Sir Edward Maclagan, Lt-Governor of the Punjab, visited Gurū kā Bāgh on 13 September 1922. Under his orders, the beating of the volunteers was stopped. Mass arrests, imprisonments, heavy fines and attachment of properties were resorted to. In the first week of October, the Governor-General Lord Reading held discussions with the Governor of the Punjab at Shimlā to find a way out of the impasse. The good offices of a wealthy retired engineer, Sir Gaṅgā Rām, were utilized to resolve the situation. Sir Gaṅgā Rām acquired on lease, on 17 November 1922, 524 kanāls and 12 marlās of the garden land from Mahant Sundar Dās, and allowed the Akālīs access to it. On 27 April 1923, Punjab Government issued orders for the release of the prisoners. Thus ended the morchā of Gurū kā Bāgh in which, according to Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee records, 5, 605 Sikhs went to jail.


  1. Pratāp Siṅgh Giānī, Gurdwārā Sudhār arthāt Akālī Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
  2. Josh, Sohan Siṅgh, Akālī Morchiāṅ dā ltihās. Delhi, 1972
  3. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1978
  4. Teja Singh, Gurdwara Reform and the Sikh Awakening. Jalandhar, 1992
  5. Sahmi, Ruchi Ram, Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines. Ed. Ganda Singh. Amritsar, n.d.
  6. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983

Rājinder Siṅgh