Patiala is a unique place where History and Legend inextricably intermingle. The land of Patiala and its residents feel a sense of honour to be a part of this old-young ambience. Situated in the well-demarcated Malwa region of the state of Punjab, Patiala became and continues to be the heart-throb of the Malwa belt. Its position as the cultural and educational centre of Malwa will remain unchallenged in the times to come. Like all great cities of the world, Patiala’s proximity to rivers is a natural fact. The river Ghaggar flows through the district. Another seasonal rivulet, The Patiala Nadi, also makes its presence felt on the very threshold of the city. As a matter of fact, the prominence and glory of Patiala is unlikely to be dimmed since the city happens to be one of the nine cities selected for up gradation as a counter-magnet to Delhi in the National Capital Region.
Patiala has had the great fortune of being founded by the venerable saint-soldier Baba Ala Singh around the year 1763. Baba Ala Singh, who came from the Phulkian family, was a part of the Sikh Confederation that sacked and partitioned the erstwhile Mughal province of Sirhind. In this partition, Sirhind and its surrounding areas were allocated to Raja Ala Singh. As the legend goes, Baba Ala Singh visited this part looking for a possible site to construct his fort. During this visit, he came across a Muslin faqir (saint) who recommended the raising of the fort exactly at the site where it was later constructed. This is where the Qila Mubarak (the fort) stands to date. A Sikh ruler laying the foundation of his fort and town on the advice of a Muslim saint. What could be more open-hearted and elevating than this! Over the years this legend has acquired the contours and force of a historical fact. In any case, interestingly enough, the history of Patiala lies somewhere in the misty mixing of factuality and legend. Indeed, this imparts an inimitable aura of mystery and majesty to the city of Patiala. Till date, the city prides itself on its religious tolerance, generosity and ineradicably secular underpinnings.
Baba Ala Singh was succeeded by his grandson Amar Singh and in turn by a line of descendants who proved to be competent rulers, committed to the core, for the all-round development of Patiala. These powerful rulers put the city securely on the royal map of India by elevating it to a position of pre-eminence. In the early 19th century, the kingdom of Patiala entered into an alliance with the British. This brought about a long era of peace and prosperity to the city and its neighbouring areas. As luck would have it, after the revolt of 1857, many artists, artisans, administrators, musicians and chefs who had had no choice but to flee from the Mughal court shifted to the court at Patiala. This added tremendously to the prestige of the Patiala court and understandably heralded in the golden era of the state.
The next several decades saw Patiala reach the very pinnacle of its glory in fields as diverse as music, architecture, art, education, painting, masonry, crafts and culinary traditions. Not surprisingly, the loss of the former glory began with the Partition of India after Independence. But paradoxically enough, what Patiala lost in its royal mystique and splendour, it gained in its nationalist fervour and commitment to the democratic ideals of the Union of India. In the Darbar Hall of the Qila Mubarak Complex, Maharaja Yadavindra Singh of Patiala signed the historic Instrument of Accession with Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel making Patiala the first Royal State to join the Union of India. Once again, Patiala achieved another formidable first leaving hundreds of royals and far bigger royal states of pre-independence India well and truly behind. Later, Patiala regained some of its past glory when it became the capital of PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab State Union). In 1956, with the merger of PEPSU and Punjab, Patiala ceased to be a capital city.
And yet, in many ways, the dizzying heights that Patiala had touched in art, architecture, and education and the remarkable feats it had accomplished in sports, administration and over-all progress in a matter of nearly two centuries as a royal state could neither get dimmed completely nor disappear altogether. If the glitter did vanish, the glory of the gold did remain behind, solid and unshakeable. Even after all this, Patiala was and still continues to be one of the four major cities of Punjab. Its status as the educational and the cultural centre of Punjab remains unchallenged even in the current times. It continues to be the pulse of the Malwa belt even now. In a way, it seems amazing that even the decades of neglect failed to undo its prestige and unseat its pride of place in the annals of Punjab.
Even today, among all the major cities of Punjab, Patiala remains one of the best places to live in and the worthiest to visit. Beyond doubt, its rich, history-laden air and its serene and quietly gracious ambience invite all and alike to experience it, savour it and soak it all in. Thus, visiting Patiala does not amount to merely visiting a place, rather it means having an experience. Experiencing Patiala is experiencing history, experiencing dignity and experiencing the former royal stature in all its sobriety and poise.