RIKABGANJ AGITATION (1913-20) marked the Sikh protest against the demolition by the British of one of the walls of the historical Rikabganj shrine in New Delhi. Gurdwara Rikabganj, sacred to the memory of Guru Tegh Bahadur, at present a. splendid marble edifice, was, in the early years of the present century, a small structure in what was then known as the Raisina village. This was close to the site where the new imperial complex was to be raised in consequence of the colonial government`s decision to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi.

To Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, the chief architect, Gurdwara Rikabganj with its modest looking building, a large barren estate and an uneven boundary wall, appeared to be an eyesore ill becoming the neighbourhood of the planned Viceregal Lodge. He wanted the Gurdwara to be demolished for the sake of his architectural design, but the local authorities were unwilling to take such a drastic step. The Chief Commissioner of Delhi, W.M. Hailey, in consultation with the chief engineer, decided instead to pull down the hexagonical stone wall enclosing the Gurdwara and replace it with a quadrangular iron railing and convert the inner area of the shrine into a garden. To acquire the land which was part of the Gurdwara estate, a sum of Rs 39,133 was deposited in the name of a charitable trust, controlled by the mahant or custodian of the Gurdwara.

In May 1913, the wall enclosing Gurdwara Rikabganj78 feet on the north and 322 feet on the east was demolished to lay out a straight road from the northeast corner of the shrine to the Viceregal Lodge. Initially, the government action went unnoticed because of sparse Sikh population in Delhi and because of the Gurdwara being located outside the city, but, as the news spread to the Punjab, a wave of resentment arose. Telegrams, petitions and memoranda protesting against the sacrilege began to pour into the offices of the Viceroy, the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, the commander in chief of the army and the chief commissioner of Delhi.Sikhs residing in Burma, China, Hongkong and the United States sent telegrams asking for the reconstruction of the dismantled wall.

In February 1914, a series of divdnswsis held at Lyallpur, Lahore, Shimla, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Tarn Taran, Rawalpindi, Patiala, Montgomery and various other places, criticizing the government and urging it to rebuild the demolished wall at its own expense. As the agitation became widespread, the Punjab Government adopted a sterner policy. Harchand Singh, a prominent leader of the movement, was threatened with prosecution. The security of the Khalsd Akhbdr, a weekly newspaper financed by him, was confiscated in July 1914. But just when the agitation was beginning to spread to the rural areas, World War I started.

The protest was muted, but it was revived as soon as the hostilities ceased. Master Mota Singh, Harchand Singh and Teja Singh Samundri, all of whom had initially played a prominent role in the Rikabganj movement sought the help of Sardul Singh Caveeshar, then a prominent leader of the Central Sikh League, which had been formed in December 1919, to act as a political spokesman of the Sikhs. Sardul Singh convened a public meeting in the Bradlaugh Hall at Lahore, under the auspices of the Sikh League, and had a resolution adopted that a Shahidi Jatha, or martyrs` band, comprising one hundred volunteers should proceed to Delhi on 1 December 1920 to reconstruct the demolished wall of the holy shrine. If the government obstructed, the jathd should lay down their lives.

Sardul Singh, who had already inserted a call in the Akal, a Sikh newspaper published from Lahore, inviting one hundred men who should be willing to sacrifice their lives, received an overwhelming response. Within a fortnight, seven hundred volunteers, including some Hindus and Muslims, had offered to join the Shahdii Jatha. The British administrators had meanwhile decided to find an “honourable solution” to have the Rikabganj wall reconstructed. In March 1920, the local authorities and a committee of the Khalsa Diwan, Delhi, decided at a joint meeting to have a new wall enclosing the Gurdwara built, on a pattern approved by the chief engineer.

The Gurdwara and the entire estate were to be placed under the management of the Khalsa Diwan, Delhi. Sardul Singh`s Shahidi Jatha was thus forestalled. The plan for the reconstruction of the Rikabganj wall was given wide publicity. When the wall was built, government had its photograph published in newspapers.


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