Jalandhar / Amritsar: Who replaces historical frescoes with bathroom tiles? Much more has happened as the Sikh heritage has been destroyed in the name of modernization. Once again, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak committee has come under fire for entrusting the preservation of Sikh heritage and art to kar sewa (voluntary service) groups, most of whom have proven to be its destructive experts.
The struggle to save Guru Ramdas Sarai and the “bungas” of Darbar Sahib from demolition sums up the erasure of Sikh heritage by the Sikhs themselves over the past decades. It also reflects the desperation of ordinary Sikhs to save what little remains, even though it is not very ancient or related to the gurus. The sarai (inn) is 90 years old and the underground bunga (a general term for a tunnel-like dwelling place built around Sikh pilgrimage centers by conquering chiefs or other prominent Sikhs) was the home of Giani Sant Singh , the Granthi leader of Darbar Sahib during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Gianiji oversaw the gold plating of the sanctum sanctorum and his descendants lived in the “bunga” until the plaza project acquired it.
Offline and online outrage against the proposed demolition of historic Sikh structures is a new trend on this side of the Radcliffe Line. Nature and time have razed many pillars of heritage without much resistance, even as some renowned Sikh intellectuals raised their voices. If these historical bores were insensitive, the masses were indifferent. As antiquity was replaced by marble and glazed tiles, there was little difference between historical gurdwaras and others.
In western Punjab, the ancient Sikh shrines may be overlooked but have not completely disappeared. In eastern Punjab, they came under the hammer in the name of “sewa”, under the supervision of the SGPC since its opponents are disorganized.
SGPC chairperson Bibi Jagir Kaur has been criticized for agreeing to demolish Guru Ramdas Sarai, but much of this destruction of heritage lasted long before she took office. “The community woke up late,” says history professor Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, formerly of the University of Punjab. “Already, important structures and signs of our history have been destroyed under the pretext of kar sewa. Only the British, when they annexed the Punjab, erased the symbols of the Sikh Empire in this way, ”he adds.
The professor claims that even after independence, the Sikh heritage was ignored. “No other community has treated its heritage like this. All new construction should be kept away from historic sites. It is not the money or the ignorance, but the design is behind the demolition, otherwise it is not possible to ignore the public opinion. The bullet marks of Operation Bluestar disappeared in just 37 years, but, a few meters away, those of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre remain even after 100 years.
The fortuitous discovery of an ancient jora ghar near the Golden Temple by miners from Baba Kashmir Singh Bhuriwale’s kar sewa group has called into question the clumsy management of Sikh heritage. Baldev Singh Wadala’s Sikh Sadbhavana Dal confronted the SGPC and the Kar Sewa group, accusing them of “erasing the last pieces of Sikh heritage”, and asked the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to investigate .
The ASI informed the district administration that the remains belonged to a heritage structure and recommended their preservation. With the SGPC reluctant, Sadbhavana Dal started a movement to push for preservation. The Dal also took the SGPC for its proposal to demolish the oldest existing Sikh sarai, Guru Ram Das Niwas, founded in 1931.
Welcoming the concept of kar sewa in Sikhism, former director of the Guru Ram Das Planning School at Guru Nanak Dev University, Balwinder Singh, said: “It should be overseen by conservation specialists rather than by ordinary architects.
When asked whether the SGPC had properly preserved the Sikh heritage, he replied with calculated words: “It depends on the head of the organization. The previous SGPCs had preserved the frescoes and other works of art.
Sikh heritage is destroyed in the name of modernization. Punjab Congress President Navjot Singh Sidhu, then Punjab’s Minister of Archives and Museums, had expressed concern about the construction of concrete structures at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur and Naorwal in Pakistan for the Kartarpur Corridor. He even sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, suggesting that the sites associated with the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, be declared heritage villages and that the antiquity of Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Sahib be preserved.
The early SGPCs resisted local pressure to hand over Dera Baba Nanak’s gurdwara to Kar Sewa Wale Baba, while Sangat Langah Kartarpur resisted the demolition of a 1744 gurdwara. , Roop Singh, denied these plans but agreed to the surveyors taking photographs. The local sangat claimed to want to preserve the heritage structure of the building with a mixture of modernism.
The sangat of Tarn Taran also opposed the partial demolition of the centuries-old “Darshani Deodi”. Much of the 200-year-old hand paintings of Guru Nanak Dev’s life story had disappeared from a 40-meter-high, nine-story octagonal structure in Gurdwara Atal Rai Sahib due to inclement weather and neglect. Realizing the importance of expert handling of the frescoes, tukri and gatch work late enough, the SGPC hired experts when much of the damage had already been done.
Box: Panel of Sikh Sikh Heritage
In April 2019, Senior Counsel HS Phoolka asked Acting Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh of Akal Takht to form a commission of Sikh heritage experts for the restoration and repair of historic buildings. The jathedar promised to consult with the SGPC and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC). A few other Sikh groups also lobbied to preserve the marks of Operation Bluestar and the 1984 riots.
Box: Architectural wonder
Near Anandpur Sahib in Kiratpur Sahib, Baba Gurdita Ji Da Dehra, stood on a hill like an architectural marvel. This ancient structure built with Nanakshahi bricks had beautiful brick patterns even on its floor. The Dehra has minarets that had rare jaali made using these little bricks. However, all this old-fashioned craftsmanship was covered in marble and cement, even though about two decades ago SGPC secretary Dr Gurbachan SIngh Bachan stopped work after learning about it. Now the brickwork is barely visible at this Dehra.
Inset: bathroom tiles replace frescoes
A 1992 kar sewa replaced Gurdwara Atal Rai Sahib’s priceless historical frescoes with bathroom tiles. The American Sikh Council (ASC) advised the SGPC to establish its own team of archaeologists to avoid such blunders. A spokesperson for the ASC, who declined to give his name for political reasons, said: “The SGPC should have a permanent, highly qualified and professional staff of heritage curators, who ensure that the structures are saved. where Sikh blood was shed. ”
Alleging that the SGPC appears to operate more like “a typical corrupt business run by incompetent men”, the spokesperson said: “Even ordinary Sikhs in Punjab have lost their moral compass and the courage to speak out.” ASC takes care of 74 gurdwaras.
Box: Protests only started in 2018
Resentment among Sikhs over the self-erasure of their heritage did not show much until September 14, 2018, when for the first time they dared to prevent the SGPC and Baba Jagtar Singh Kar Sewa Wale from demolishing the 16th century Darshani Deodhi in Tarn. Taran. Founded by Guru Arjan Dev and completed during the Sikh Empire three centuries later, it was a rare living example of ancient engineering, architectural aesthetics, craftsmanship, and frescoes (murals). Ten days later, the DSGMC was also prohibited from breaking Gurdwara Rakabganj with the help of the Bhuriwale kar sewa group which had been ordered to remove Guru Ram Das Sarai to Amritsar. On September 23, Sikhs gathered there and threatened to throw a morcha. In this case and now when it comes to bungas, social media has helped shape public opinion.
Box: Bungas intact, says Bibi
We consult panthic scholars and historians on the preservation of historic buildings, yet there are deliberate attempts to discredit us. This happened when a building surfaced during kar sewa near the Golden Temple. Our diggers excavated it, and they isolated the site. The bungas have been preserved in the condition in which they were found
Bibi Jagir Kaur | president of the SGPC
Box: Structures disappeared, history erased
Thanda Burj | Site of Sirhind linked to the martyrdom of the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh, where they were held with their grandmother for a few frosty nights in December 1705 before being bricked alive
Chamkaur Di Garhi | A haveli from which the last Sikh guru fought an extremely unequal battle with the Mughal army, in which his two eldest sons sacrificed their lives
Bebe Nanaki’s house | Home of Guru Nanak’s older sister in historic Sultanpur Lodhi, where the founder of Sikhism stayed for years before embarking on udhasis (long journeys). Wrecker: Baba Jagtar Singh Kar Sewa Wale, who also razed Darshani Deodhi in Tarn Taran two decades later
Anandpur Sahib | In the historic town where Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa, its checkpoints of Holgarh, Taragarh, Fatehgarh, Anangarh and Lohgarh were demolished for its tercentenary in 1999. Colonel Ravi Batra had described these forts in his book, “The leadership at its best Moule ‘as proof of the military genius of Guru Gobind Singh. The rare frescoes have been lovingly whitewashed