In March the Sikhi Book Club discussed this article by Balvinder Singh from the Guru Ramdas School of Planning in Amritsar. It was originally presented in an international symposium in Greece in 2007. The article highlights the concepts of conservation and the need for adopting this approach for historical Sikh shrines. It also describes the unique art forms which are included in our historical Gurdwaras and the deterioration of the Panth’s approach to art since the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The paper traces the history of art forms and their techniques and suggests guidelines for their documentation and preservation.
The author structures this article in the usual way for an academic piece of work, with an introduction to the concepts and basic philosophy of the Sikh tradition. He then begins by summarising the components of a Gurdwara and the spiritual significance of aspects such as the langar kitchen. The author then moves on to the discuss the evolution of art in Punjab, predominantly under royal patronage. This aspect of Sikh history is not commonly known amongst modern day Sikhs and this article provides a useful insight into the cultural renaissance which took place in Punjab during the 19th century.
Balvinder Singh then describes some historical Sikh shrines in more depth, choosing to focus on Sri Harimandar Sahib, Baba Atal Rai, Darbar Sahib in Tarn Taran, Hazoor Sahib in Nanded and Dera Sahib in Lahore. The various art forms in each of these Gurdwaras are described, including Jaratkari (inlaid stone), Mohrakashi (frescos), gold embossing and Tukri (mirror work). The technical details of each art form are described for those who are interested, and pictures are present throughout to help the reader visualise the tehniques involved.
Finally the author discusses the present (often shabby) condition of several of these art forms. For example, the increasing pollution in Punjab has affected the colour of many of the marble works which are present in the Gurdwaras and these now require examination and restoration if they are to be preserved. Examples of good preservation techniques are also highlighted and accompanied by pictures. A number of potential guidelines are presented at the end of the article to act as suggestions which will help in the conservation of our rich architectural and spiritual heritage.
Whilst it is unclear what impact this article has had on the conservation of Sikh heritage in Punjab, it is clear that this is an excellent piece of work which summarises some of the key unique aspects of our art history.