“What’s there in Ambala ?” I asked my brother when he invited me to stay over for a couple of days during the Rakhi long weekend.
“Well, there are these old churches” he promptly replied, knowing very well my love for heritage monuments.
I visited Ambala mainly to spend some time with my brother (as we hardly get to spend time together due to our different locations & constant travels) during Rakhi long weekend. The town (located in Haryana, India), is mostly an Army Garrison/Cantonment town has a relaxed vibe to it and quite an interesting history related to Army. However, for me, the most interesting part was visiting the old churches in Ambala, most of them dating back to colonial era.
There are around 9 major churches in Ambala and we visited only 4 of them. However, all of them were quite unique in their own way, with fascinating story behind each of them.
The first (and apparently the most well known) church we visited was St. Paul’s Church. It was consecrated in 1857 and it widely believed to be the oldest church in the state of Haryana (India). While looking for it, we first entered a small roofed building which did not look like the grand church we saw in pictures (that church was in view but we could not find the gate to enter it). There was one lone man (maybe the caretaker) sitting there, who told us that the building was St. Paul’s church in fact and the grand building adjacent had been mostly destroyed (except the façade) many years ago during India-Pakistan conflict in the 1960s. Thankfully, he also told us the way to reach the older church building.
The original St. Paul’s Church building façade is still very impressive and has been well preserved. The plaque (below) has some interesting information on the church. As all churches in Ambala, St. Paul’s church was built as a garrison church for the british army officers and their families.
We next visited The Holy Redeemer Church, which is a catholic church. One of the first things we noticed was the difference in the building styles of the two churches. While St. Paul’s church was built in gothic style, the Holy Redeemer church was more modern in this structure.
The St. Thomas Orthodox Syrian church was located on MG Road, which, my brother said was well inside the main road of Army cantonment and had many heritage/old buildings of importance both for army and general public. We went drove around this road and I was rather impressed how well the Army has maintained the heritage structures. I quite liked the way information banners had been put up for various old structures on the road side; it was quite a nice way to pique any heritage lovers’ interest. The area inside the church was very quiet and it almost felt abandoned. My brother being a more adventurous one went straight and saw a bible on a seat inside in the side patio and called me. The church building looked well maintained but not renovated (the paint was coming off at many places).
The building style of the church was completely different from the last two churches we visited, having turrets, windows and doors in a different pattern and also much more toned down in size & shape. It seemed to be a very feminine sort of a building, very inviting (as compared to the gothic style of churches which sort of is more imposing).
The last church we visited was Marthoma Syrian Church on Durand Road. This church looked most desolate, although it was located on a main road of the town. The main door was shut tightly and it seemed the grass on the lawn had not been trimmed for some time. There were cows grazing on the lawn in front of the church too. We found a good vantage point to click photos and while we were going about doing so, a gentlemen came along as told us that this was ‘madrasion ka church’ and people come here to pray on Sundays and sometimes on Wednesdays. From the information we had read on one of the boards on MG road and our general knowledge on Syrian churches (and legacy of Syrian Christians in India), we came to the conclusion that south Indians must make up most of the church goers here (our hunch is mainly from Kerala as Syrian Christian community is mostly concentrated there). The church was consecrated in 1908 and has a seating capacity of 75. The style of the church is akin to the building style of Syrian churches and buildings.
While we wanted to visit the other churches too, we were short on time and thought that as we had visited the most important churches (in terms of heritage) in Ambala, we can come back to explore some more later.
The churches in Ambala offer an interesting sight into the social heritage of the town, as it was set up for British Army and their families, so churches were one of the most important places for the colonial masters (at the time) and their families to socialize. Over time, the natives (that’s us!!) took over and now Indian Christians are the people keeping the churches in action. The style and structure of each church building is completely different and unique and makes for an interesting visit.
If you happen to visit Ambala, please do visit the interesting churches in the town.