The Lost Palace

A majestic palace unlike any other once glimmered in the waters of the sacred pool of nectar at Amritsar. Learn about what was once one of the largest and most magnificent structures of its kind at the Darbar Sahib complex. Follow the history of the lost palace and the space it occupied from its origins in the Sikh Empire, to British Rule and eventually modern times.

1854 painting of the lost palace superimposed on a modern photograph showing the exact location and size of the palace.
This is the scene that one would see standing on the south parkarma today if the palace still existed.


The Bungas of Darbar Sahib

As a spiritual and inspirational hub of Sikhism The Darbar Sahib complex in the city of Amritsar has always been a very special place for Sikhs.

Surrounding the sacred pool of nectar at Darbar Sahib the leading members of the Sikh misls (confederacies) first established their residences and palaces (bungas) at Amritsar in the late 18th century. After a dark period, Darbar Sahib was reconstruction in 1764 after repeated destruction by Ahmad Shah Durrani and Sikhs began to enjoy a period of relative peace in Punjab where they were no longer fighting for survival as a people. With the rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singhs empire and its prosperity, at their height there were over 84 bungas around the sacred pool.

In the centre of the city of Umritsir is a gigantic reservoir of water, from the midst of which rises a magnificent temple, where the Grunth ( the holy book of the Sikhs ) is read day and night. Around this sheet of water are the houses of the maharajah, the ministers, sirdars, and other wealthy inhabitants.
Thirty-five Years in the East
L.M. Honigberger, London, 1852

Some of these palaces (bungas) were used as centers of religious teaching and education while most served as the residences of some of the powerful aind influential families of Punjab. Being on the sacred pool these palaces offered an intimate view and connection with Darbar Sahib.

Amritsar, 1859.
In the centre of the tank rose a gorgeous temple of marble, the roof and minarets being encased in gilded metal; marble pavements, fresco paintings, added to the splendour of the scene, and round the outer circle sprung up a succession of stately buildings for the accommodation of the sovereign and his court. The establishment of no noble was complete, who had not his bhunga at Amritsar.
Linguistic and Oriental Essays
Robert Needham Cust, London, 1880

The Tulao, or pool, struck me with surprise. It is about 150 paces square, and has a large body of water, which to all appearance is supplied by a natural artesian well. There are no sign of the spring to be seen. It is surrounded by a pavement about 20 to 25 paces in breadth. Round this square are some of the most considerable houses of the city, and some buildings belonging to the temple, the whole being inclosed by gates: although one can look very conveniently from the windows of the houses into this inclosed space, and some of the doors even open into it.
Travels in Kashmir and the Panjab
Baron Charles Hugel, translated from German with notes by Major T.B. Jervis, 1845

Over time eventually almost all of the bungas have disappeared, being replaced by new structures; today the only two remaining bungas are the Akal Takht (Akal Bunga) and the twin towers of the Ramgharia Bunga. Although they are long gone, the palaces (bungas) of Amritsar live on in memory and are still remembered every day in the common Sikh prayer of Ardas:

Chukiaan’, Jhandae, Bun:gae jugo j-ugg atall, dharam kaa jaaekaar. Bolo jee Vaaheguroo.
May the bungas, the banners, the cantonments abide from age to age. May the cause of truth and justice prevail everywhere at all times, utter, Wondrous God!.