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Sikh Heritage in Pakistan


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In sharp contrast to the destruction of Sikh material heritage in India (principally by Sikhs themsleves) our built heritage in Pakistan is largely untouched. This is partially due to the Aqaaf board (the body set up to administer and look after refugee proprty after 1947) and partially due to the greater respect that Pkaistani Muslims appear to have for architectural heritage. It is also likely that the relative poverty of West Punjab has stopped the worst excesses of "modernisation" which seems to have spread like a cancer throughout the Eastern part of the state leading to old havelis in Amritsar being demolished to build ugly/ unecessary shopping complexes.

Anyway, I wanted to share an insight into what I saw. I did present a few of these this in Toronto in March at the event that was hijacked by some people who were preoccupied with blasting us as RSS sympathisers rather than seeing what is happening to their own heritage !

It is telling to note that the damage to our heritage in Pakistan is largely instances of whiteashing in Gurdwaras and Samadhs by ignorant Sikh caretakers and outright religious vandalism akin to the blowing up of the Bamyian Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban. You will see what I mean in the last two pictures

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Samadhs to three ranis (of Ranjit Singh, Sher Singh and Nau Nihal Singh) now long forgotten. In the grounds of the Govt Islamia College Lahore

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Intricately carved doorway to the haveli of Hari Singh Nalwa in Gujranwala. Still in a good state of preservation and used as a local Madrassa

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Beautifully excecuted frescos inside the upper story of the Samadh of Ranjit Singh, Lahore.

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Fabulously decorated frontage of the haveli of Nau Nihal Singh built in 1837. Now the Victoria Girls High School, Lahore

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Interior of the haveli that was used to imprison Rani Jindan in Sheikhupura Fort. This haveli was built by the mother of Sher Singh during the Sikh period and has since fallen into disuse and is crumbling.

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Taken pre-1998 this picture shows the central shrine within Ranjit Singh's samadh. The central "lotus flower" contains some of the ashes of Ranjit Singh and the smaller "flowers" contain the ashes of the ranis who committed Sati with the Maharajah.

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Levelled in preparation for the 1999 celebrations the Sikh caretakers of the samadh removed the maharajahs ashes and threw them away to make a platform upon which a golakh stood for the visitors. An act of religious vandalism that mirrors that of the Taliban.

Amandeep S Madra

www.sicques.com

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Absolutely Shocking !!

I didn't know that the urns with the ashes had been removed - I am Speechless !!

The Taliban analogy is not too strong - when are we gonna learn !

This is disgusting destruction.

How can we ask for the 'Sewa Sambhaal' of pakistani gurdwaras in our Ardas everyday - if when we do get the chance we destroy them !! Very Upsetting !

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It was a common convention for a part of teh ashes to be put into the lotus flower in a samadh. Most Samadhs of great sikhs from this period will have this. Incedentally it was in 2000 that the Smadh of Jass Singh in Amritsar was torn down and the ashes were un-ceremoniusly binned.

Whatever the reasons this was the wish of the person and I dont htink that it is anyoe else's right tio impress their own interpretation of what is right and wrong onto someone else's desire.

aman

www.sicques.com

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The taliban destroyed the Bamyian BUdhhas becuase they found them un-islamic. Sikhs who destroy monuments, whitewash artwork, bring down samadhs etc becuase they percieve them as un-Sikh are doing the same thing. Apples and apples if you ask me.

MOreover the taliban applied their personal view of islam on the entire afghani community. Well, this heriateg is ours, its yours and its mine as well as theirs, yet they see themselves as thought police who can destroy and plster over what they personally dont like and they shoudl be accountable for that - again that is what the taliban did. Again apples and apples.

Aman

www.sicques.com

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Valid point, alot of sikhs do not see the overlap that the gurus created to unify people, and majority of older art work represents that too.

The sad thing is that people are paranoid about the ancients hindu gods that they hate to see a picture of the guru's within them, that when you simply look at Guru Granth Sahib, you see all the bhagats/saints are not even "sikh" and yet Guru sahibs have their works within so when we bow to the bani we bow to kabir ji, farid ji, bhagat ravidas etc

sad shame, next people will say remove the bani of the bhagats because they were not sikhs, or did someone try that already?

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Amandeep Singh Jee, maybe to the average layman here whose has had very little exposure to Punjab, your claim be seem very much real. But I have been to Punjab and have even talked to Karseva Babay. They don’t do destruction of our heritage because they perceive it as being ‘unsikh’ as you claim. They do it because they are under the impression that they can create something better looking by replacing it with gold and marble. Taliban on the other hand, destroyed the Buddhas because they thought of it as being against thier religion. These are two different reasons.

I believe that all the Karseva Babay need is awareness through some education. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree with you that it is wrong when our heritage is being destroyed, but you have to understand WHY they are doing it and not throw accusation at them by lebeling them as Taliban/wahabi/RSS/GOI agents. By labeling people of something they are not is not going to help the cause.

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Lalleshwari, you seem repeat the same old crap like a broken record. We already have enough enemies of the Panth. We don’t need another anti-panthic element like you to turn brother against brother. What we do is our internal matter, we don’t need others telling us what to do in our house.

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Singh47,

You may be surprised to hear this but I actually agree with you that the Kar Saeva Babas are destroying sikh heritage in the name of modernisation and are rebuilding gurdwaras in an act of genuine, if misguided (in my opinion) devotion. I didnt explain this too well the last time. I too dont think that they are doing this becuase of some taliban streak. However they are not the ones casuing the problems in this specific case. The distinction that I would ask you to draw is between those kar seva babas and those at Dera Sahib Gurdwara who whitewashed over specific frescoes in the dera sahib gurdwawa because they depicted scenes they didnt like (i will post pics very soon) and the same caretakers who desecrated the samadh of Ranjit singh (see pics) and other smadhs becuase they did not like what it symbolised. Incedentaly they also whitewashed specifi panels of frescoes inside the shrine becasue again they were ideologically opposed to them. There is a distinction between the two acts which I hope I have explained a bit better this time.

As for the khalsitanis. A large number were camped out at the dera sahib gurdwara for many years and at the height of the khalistanis flight into pakistan even at the adjoining ranjit singh samadh. Funnily enough, even though these were many of the same people who were tearing down modest village samadhs they really didnt impact the chrine at all and seemd to leave it pretty intact. The real damage was doen in the run up to 1999 (when the khalstanis had long gone) when the SGPC inspired celebrations lead to the descration of the central shrine, the whitewashing of the paintings and the painting of the outside of the shrine in a gaudy mix of yellow and white. I really do think that the ideological prmblem came from Indian Sikhs from eth SGPC who found the frescoes and the smadh quite embarrasing so it swas simply removed.

Amandeep

www.sicques.com

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I forgot to say Amazing Photographs!

The photos of the frescoes at the Ranjit Singh Samadh are the first I have ever seen - Many Thanks !!

Did you have a chance to go to the Fakirkhana Museum - There was great fanfare in the Pakistani Press that the Fakirkhana collection was going to be digitized and put on the web- I haven't seen any evidence of that on their website - but I guess it's probably early days . The pilgrims that go to Lahore tend not to go to this museum - I think it is 'by appointment' only - the Pakistani press said it is the largest Private collection of Antiquities in Asia - Have you got any pics ?

How was your trip to Pakistan ? - I've got a few relatives that have been as independent travellers and they give conflicting accounts - one loved all the "Sardar Ji Sardar ji" attention , one was impressed by the genuine Love shown by the West Punjabis - but one had a hard time - but that might be due to the fact he went a few months after the Indian Nuclear tests !!

How was your experience ? - I would love to go - as an Independent traveller not part of the Yatra package - My Mum was born in 'the Baar' Lyallpur district (now Faisalabad ) and was about 7 at partition - I would Love to take her and my Massi so they could see their ancestral homes again.- Plus I've always wanted to see Lahore and Nanakana Sahib.

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Amandeep Singh, I think that it is just a matter of educating the Karseva Sants. They certainly have the devotion, but as you said it is misguided. They are under the impression that they are enriching our heritage by doing such ‘seva’. They don’t see the irreparable damage being done in the name of seva that you, I and many others here see. I believe that if an organization can be formed by like minded Sikhs who want to preserve our heritage we can make a difference by educating the Karseva Sants. But something needs to be done soon.

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Amandeep Singh, I think that it is just a matter of educating the Karseva Sants. They certainly have the devotion, but as you said it is misguided. They are under the impression that they are enriching our heritage by doing such ‘seva’. They don’t see the irreparable damage being done in the name of seva that you, I and many others here see. I believe that if an organization can be formed by like minded Sikhs who want to preserve our heritage we can make a difference by educating the Karseva Sants. But something needs to be done soon.

I agree fully !

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Yes, but when we do have some positive program suchas getting World Heriatge Status which woudl have stopped the kind of poorly guided seva from ever happening it gets blocked by seperatists and sgpc politics. WHS woudl have stopped the gnnsj from carrying out the seva in a destructive way - they coudl have still done it but with help and guidance from the world's experts. Now they and the SGPC have free reign to bodge the inside ofthe darbar sahib too.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but it is clear that the power in the sikh world belongs to idealogues & revisiontists (who hate culture and heritage) and seperatists who have a paranoid fear of outsiders. The victims are all of use as the two groups battle it out to tear apart and steadily deconstruct and dismantle all of our precious items of material and cultural heriateg.

aman

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Some more pictures from the last Pak trip

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Intricately carved doors to the Haveli of Hari Singh Nalwa. A matching pair of these doors are in the Lahore Museum. These doors survive unpainted unlike many others within the haveli which is now a Madrassa and girls school.

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A sneaky picture taken inside the girls school of the inside of HAri Singh Nalwa's HAveli, Gujranwala. If the Mullah had noticed it would have been my last picture . . .ever.

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Ruined Haveli inside Sheikhupura Fort. Built in the SIkh period this building has lamost collapsed completely some evidence of sikh period wall paintings are still evident. THe National College of Arts in Lahore had partially documnted the oldfrescoes and anecdotally mentioned that the building contained paintings of Akalis.

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Folksy wall art in a small sikh shrine in Nankana Sahib

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Clumsy whitewashing of wall paintings by teh sikh caretakers of Ranjit Singh's Samadh (upper storey)

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THe Samadhi of Kanwar Nau NIhal Singh - Maharajah for a day

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One of the finest and most intact and perfectly preserved mirrored ceilings that I have ever seen in any building in the subcontinent. This is the ceiling of the Samadh of Ranjit Singh. Someone has seen it necessary to embellish further with cheapo Christmas decorations !

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Panel with wall painting inside Dera Sahib gurdwara - this building seems ot pre-date ranjit singh with paintings from that period. Note the whitewashing up to the panel and the shoddy attempt to decorate the wall to the right of the painting.

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Opposite wall - obvioulsy a panel that once contained an "un-sikh" painting is now quicetly made Sikh again

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Everyone shoudl recognise this painting as the famous Dusherra Scene by August Schoefft wherea triumphant Sher Singh is seen riding back into the Lahore Fort where he is in the legendary durbar of Ranjit Singh and all his courtiers.

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And now the real setting for the painting inside the lahore fort is a quiet courtyard that was the inspirational background for Schoeffts masterpiece:

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