The present town of Dehradun was founded in the early eighteenth century by Ram Rai, the elder son of seventh Sikh Guru, Guru Har Rai, who came to the area in 1675. Dera (Dehra) refers to a camp, while Dun is a reference to a local term used for a river valley between a smaller mountain range (Shivaliks) and the main Himalayas.
Sikh Guru Har Rai died in 1661 leaving behind two sons, Ram Rai and Harkishen. Both claimed succession, but because Ram Rai was son of a handmaiden, Harkishen was preferred over his brother. Ram Rai, however, refused to abide by the judgement and differences ran so high that the matter was referred to Aurangzeb for arbitration. Aurangzeb also cast his vote in favour of Harkishen and sent Ram Rai away. He, however, did not abandon the pretension of Ram Rai to the spiritual leadership of his sect. Harkishen died in 1664 and was succeeded by his uncle Teg Bahadur. Ram Rai again pressed for his claim and posed a threat not only to his position but also to his life. Teg Bahadur was however, arrested and executed in 1675.
Aurangzeb also directed Ram Rai to retire to wilderness and refrain from meddling in public affairs or face the same fate. Following the emperor’s directive Ram Rai resided for a short time at Kandli on the Tons and then settled down in Kharbara. In order to find a suitable location for his camp he dedicated to pitch a Jhanda tied to a javelin. The spot in village Dhamwala, where his javelin pierced the earth became the dera (base camp) of the guru and is known as Jhanda Sahib. Marking this settlement is a Gurudwara called ‘Ram Rai Darbar’ a seat of the Udasi sect. Guru Ram Rai ji’s seat is still here and a Mahant ji is the head of the Gurudwara. Every year a fair is held here known as Jhanda Mela on the fifth day of Holi- a festival of colors in the sacred memory of the revered Guru.
The art form of the region have greatly influenced the wall paintings at the Durbar Sahib were painted in three phases, from early 17th century to middle of the 19th century. They are a sight to behold. The Archaeological Survey of India has taken up the restoration of Darbar Sahib’s wall paintings depicting the Mughal, Rajasthani and Kangra style of mural paintings.
The walls of the Guru Ram Rai complex present richly decorated paintings on various subjects. Most prominent are scenes from the Mahabharat, Gita, Krishna Leela and Ramayan. Besides Noor Jahan, Heer-Ranjha and Laila-Majnu, some Britishers also find place in the paintings of the famous Durbar Sahib.
The construction of the Durbar was initiated by the Guru’s wife Mata Punjab Kaur in 1676 and was completed in 1699. and is modelled on the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. Not to be missed within is the ‘Dehra’ of Mata Punjab Kaur:
To get to Dehra Dun by train the choices are Mussoorie Express, Shatabdi, Jan Shatabdi etc. From the railway station, Jhanda Sahib is practically walking distance.