Saturday, 9 August 2014

Maharaja Ranjit Singh to Guru Teg Bahadur, records and relics kept at Gaya

Depiction of Guru Tegh Bahadur

Vyjayanti Mala Bali, the accomplished actress of the 1970s, was stunned when a Pundit in Gaya charted out her entire family tree in considerable detail. So was Sunil Dutt.

Neither had any idea that their family tree went such a long way over 300 years. In fact, they had heard about relatives on whom they had little detail. But here, meeting the Dadhiwale family of Gayawal Pandas brought them face to face with their family members they have never known!

Gayawal Pandas are a celebrated breed who have extensive details on the family tree of the rich and famous from all parts of the country. If you are digging for your ancestral roots, Vishnupad Mohalla is the place where you are most likely to find it. The Gayawal Pandas have employed specialists for ages to list details of pilgrims visiting the shrine city during the historic world famous Pitripaksh Mela beginning on  September 8 each year on the eve of the Mahalaya, and the onset of the 10-day Durga Puja. Meet Heera Nath Jee Dadhiwale, the Gayawal Panda whose fathers have preserved the records of thousands of pilgrims who have visited the city in the last 300 years.

His family’s clients have included even royal families of united Punjab, including Lahore and parts of Pakistan. And, the family library has preserved the records of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, apart from the erstwhile kings and queens of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.

This family also has the Hukmnama of Aurangzeb and Shahjehan, the Mughal emperors, besides the handwritten Hukamnama of Guru Teg Bahadur—the most prized possession of the family.

“We learnt many pages of history from our forefathers who also passed on their skills on how to preserve the Tamra Patras, palm leaf scrolls and later the paper registers. The tradition continues even today. Our Katibs (script writers) are well versed in noting down every detail of the families that visit Gaya to offer Pinda for the salvation of their ancestors’ souls, the ritual performed only in Gaya, the Moksha Dham (salvation Place),” said Dadhiwale Pandajee.

Anil Kumar Ojha, Hindustan Times  Gaya (Bihar), August 04, 2014

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sikh Studies Conference provides insights on new research.

Sikh Studies Conference at Imperial College, London 

 August 2nd, 2014

The first Annual Sikh Studies Conference, Imperial College, London brought together scholars, artists and documentary makers to showcase their work related to the Sikh faith. It was organised by Dr Kamalroop Singh and Ragi Harminder Singh Ragi.

The focus of the conference was unity and the different lectures focussed on this them. The conference was split into four distinct areas: Sikh Scripture, Performance and Society, Film and Art, and Current issues.  Prof Upkar Singh OBE, introduced the event and was in charge of proceedings.

Prof. Upkar Singh

The Keynote Speech was given by Prof Pashaura Singh, Professor at University of California, Riverside, USA. He discussed how certain translations of Gurbani can be distorted without considering the whole context of a shabad. He gave an overview on Sikh Studies in the USA and stressed on the number of different chairs in the USA and the question was posed as to why the UK did not have any.

Prof. Pashaura Singh

Continuing on the theme of scriptures, Sikh Scholar Gurinder Singh Mann, Leicester went through rare 18th century sources and gave an Historical analysis on the Dasam Granth. Clearly showing that scholars had missed these important texts he emphasised how important they were to understanding the role of Guru Gobind Singh's bani. This was followed by Dr Kamalroop Singh's presentation-Dasam Granth Sahib Textual History. Singh used subject matter from his PHD thesis to discuss how early pothis and manuscripts of the Granth has been over looked, together with explaining the transmission of the Guru's bani. The theme of Guru Gobind Singh's Durbar was extended by Satnam Singh-Denmark in his Court Poetry of the Tenth Guru. Evaluating the work of Pyara Singh Padam, Satnam showed the immense number of translations undertaken by the Court poets of the Guru.

The second session Performance and society began with Harjinder Singh Lallie, University of Warwick who discussed The Performance of Kirtan. He used a number of classical Kirtan samples from well know Kirtanis from different kirtan gharanas (schools) to act as case studies which highlighted the structure of a Kirtan performance. This was followed by Ragi Harminder Singh who gave an overview of the Panjab Cultural Association project of cataloguing of Kirtan recordings. His team of musicians undertook renderings of shabads from Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib.

Ragi Harminder Singh and team

Rav Singh gave a unique view of Sikh History in London by adopting the famous London Monopoly board to provide a fascinating account of Sikh and Anglo-Sikh history.He showed how Sikh history could be seen throughout many locations in London. Davinder Singh in his Gurmat Psychology explained how the human mind has made incredible advances in the fields of science, technology, medicine, engineering yet remains profoundly ignorant of the development, evolution and transformation of the Human mind.

The last theme focussed on Film and Art.  Eric Schlaflang-Saving Our Girls - Foeticide gave an understanding on how deep rooted this problem is. Navdeep Singh Kandola's showed footage from his Nihang Singh Documentary considering how the Akali Nihangs need to be given more exposure so that they could be better understood and some of the myths associated with the warriors of Guru Gobind Singh could be eliminated. Jason Askew Anglo-a specialist in military and historical artwork gave an overview of some of his paintings depicting the Anglo-Sikh wars, Sikh soldiers in the World Wars and also depictions of 1984. 

The last presentation was given by Captain Harjot Gill in his Sikh Identity and the Armed Forces. He cited examples of how there was a need for uniformity within the British Military. He also ended the conference by thanking all the speakers and attendees.

The videos of the conference will be made available on the website in due course. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Baba Baghel Singh: Sikh Heritage museum opens

Union Finance and Defence Minister Aurn Jaitley at the heritage museum, Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in New Delhi on Saturday.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley inaugurated the Baba Baghel Singh Sikh Heritage Multimedia Museum at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi today. To showcase the broad perspective of Sikh heritage and teachings of the Sikh Gurus, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, the chairman of the Sun Foundation, has established the Baba Baghel Singh Sikh Heritage Multimedia Museum in memory of his late father, Gurucharan Singh Sahney.

In this endeavour, he has been supported by the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC).

The museum is named after Baba Baghel Singh, a Sikh warrior who conquered Delhi in 1783, according to a press release on the event.

While addressing the gathering of devotees, Sahney said, "The lives and times of Sikh Gurus have left an indelible imprint on mankind. The museum portrays the teachings of Sikhism."

Painting depicting Baba Baghel Singh at the Red Fort, Delhi. 

Speaking on the occasion, Jaitley said Sikh religion is full of sacrifices for the country and it preaches universal brotherhood and secularism.

Manjit Singh, the DSGMC president, said that the museum will showcase the values of Sikh religion which preaches peaceful coexistence.

Tribune News Service, New Delhi, July 26

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Restoration work at Golden Temple continues

A view of the damaged gold work on the roof of the Golden Temple’s first floor which is undergoing restoration. 

Restoration of gold work begins at Golden Temple; to take 2 months 
Experts use special 22 carat gold paint for the project

Restoration work on the interiors of the first floor of the sanctum sanctorum at the Golden Temple has entered a crucial phase with experts starting work on the damaged gold work. In the previous phase of restoration, the conservation experts had restored the precious art work on the walls of the first floor.

Though the restoration of art work had finished last month the restoration of gold work took some time to take off as the gold paint required for it was not available. Sources said it was a special gold paint manufactured by a European firm. It is 22 carat gold and 10 gm of this paint costs around Rs 1 lakh. The gold work inside the shrine has suffered damage with the passage of time as also due to rising pollution. It has witnessed flaking as well as tarnishing at various spots. Besides, the gold work has also been painted with other colours in few areas apparently during a ‘sewa’ performed in the past.

The gold work is primarily on the roof and the arches of the holy shrine. The experts engaged in the work are also doing documentation alongside the restoration work. They could be seen photographing and videographing the entire process. Incidentally, the documentation work was also done prior to the start of the restoration work last year.

Sources said the restoration of gold work on the first floor of the Golden Temple is expected to take around a couple of months. The gold work had already undergone the cleaning process during the initial phase of restoration. The effort initiated by the SGPC by roping in experts has infused a fresh lease of life into the wall paintings which have regained their pristine grandeur. The wall paintings on the first floor involved the most intricate work and it took the team almost six months to restore it.

There was considerable flaking in some areas and subsequently artists were engaged to “reconstruct” the lost part of the wall paintings, while taking a clue from the existing pattern. The restoration work was preceded by compilation of a detailed damage assessment report in which the entire wall paintings were documented. It took the experts around a couple of months in preparing this report before they could finally embark on the project in December last year. Significantly, this is the first time ever that the restoration work on the interiors of the shrine is being done.

The gold-plating and the artwork inside the Golden Temple was done during the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The interiors of Sri Harmandar Sahib boast of rare architecture comprising ‘mohrakashi’, ‘tukri’ and ‘gach’ work. Earlier, the gold plates on the outer walls of the shrine were first replaced in 1999 after a gap of 170 years.

The SGPC entrusted the task of regilding the domes and upper portion to UK-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha in February, 1995, and its completion coincided with the tercentenary celebrations of foundation of Khalsa Panth in 1999.

Bold endeavour

The restoration of gold work took some time to take off as the gold paint required for it was not available
Sources said it was a special gold paint manufactured by a European firm
The gold-plating and the artwork inside the Golden Temple was done during the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Perneet Singh, Tribune News Service, Amritsar, July 18

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sikh scholar discusses the history of the Akali Nihangs

New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, UK on 13th July 2014 hosted a lecture on the Akali Nihangs. This was part of the exhibition: Sikh Fortress Turban running until 17th August 2014.

The talk was announced by Daljit Singh Makan who works with various organisations and groups to promote the Sikh faith.  The speaker was Historian and Author, Gurinder Singh Mann, himself from Leicester. The talk considered the role of the Sikh army from the inception in the 17th Century to the role played by the Sikhs under Guru Gobind Singh.

Daljit Singh Makan introduces Sikh Scholar Gurinder Singh Mann

Mann using rare sources and anecdotes showed how the Akalis were initially formed under Baba Buddha and Guru Hargobind. The development continued under Guru Gobind Singh who on initiating the Khalsa wore the blue attire. Using the Rehtanamas, verses from Bhai Gurdas 2nd and the Sri Sarbloh Granth, Mann showed how the terms Akalis and Nihang were similar and dissimilar.  

Using verses from the Sri Dasam Granth Sahib, Mann showed how the word Nihang was deployed by Guru Gobind Singh in his compositions. The knight-errants or Akalis of valour who held sway in the eighteenth century was a story of courage, wisdom and battle tactics. The warriors discussed including Nihang Baba Gurbaksh, Nawab Kapur Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and Baba Deep Singh. As well how the Akali Dals developed under the Misl system under Buddha Dal and Taruna Dal.

The relics of Baba Deep Singh 
Mann also showed frescoes of the Akalis in different locations in India. He also made the valid point that Sikhs were depicted incorrectly by modern painters and by using frescoes and historical texts a better analysis could be used. The vocabulary or Nihang Singh di Bole was also discussed and how this was developed by the Khalsa under testing times.

Leading up to the British period, the role and significance of Akali Phula Singh was elaborated on. The territorial gains made by Maharaja Ranjit Singh rested on many occasions the deeds of the Akali Nihangs. 
It was also shown by Mann, the contribution of the relatively unknown Baba Hanuman Singh who fought in the Anglo-Sikh wars and courted martyrdom after his Akalis were betrayed in Patiala. It was also at this time that the Akalis suffered huge losses and after the annexation of Punjab the Akalis faced further persecution by the British. With the advent of the Akali Dal-political party and the coming of the SGPC, the Akalis lost many of their Gurdwaras. 
Frescoe showing Guru Gobind Singh and his Akalis

In modern times the Akalis have much to contribute however at the same time they need to explain their maryada and traditions as they are misunderstood by the Sikh masses. Mann did a great job in showing the Akali Nihangs in a great light. The lecture was followed by questions where Mann explained how the Akalis did not enlist into the British Army and as a result did not fight in the world Wars. Mann also gave information on the Akali Turbans as well as explaining the role of the Sikh Misls. Mann thanked Malika Krammer (Curator) and the New Walk Museum, the British Museum and Daljit Makan.

The lecture was appraised by Sikh and non-Sikhs alike that were in attendance. It is a credit to the New Walk Museum that an exhibition and lectures on the Sikhs are taking place at public institutions where non Sikhs can gain a better understanding of the Sikh faith.

Forthcoming from the Gurinder Singh Mann is the book Akali Phula Singh and his Turban.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Should the last Sikh maharajah be returned to India?

Maharajah Duleep Singh was removed from the throne in 1849

A Sikh charity is planning to exhume the body of a prince, the last ruler of a Sikh empire, from his grave in the English countryside and send it back to the Indian state of Punjab. But how did he come to end up in exile?

This is the extraordinary story of Maharajah Duleep Singh, a boy prince who was born in Lahore in 1838 to a very powerful ruler.His father Ranjit Singh died the following year, which led to unrest in Punjab.At the age of five the boy prince sat on the throne of the Sikh kingdom, although his mother and uncle conducted the state's affairs in reality.

More unrest followed and by the time the second Anglo-Sikh war broke out in 1845 the British had the perfect opportunity to step in.In 1849, Punjab was annexed to British India and Maharajah Duleep Singh was removed from the throne. He was to be the last ruler of the Sikh kingdom.

The young maharajah was separated from his mother Maharani Jind Kaur, who was imprisoned, and he was taken away from his home in Lahore to Fatehgarh, in what is now the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. This had become an establishment for the wives and children of the British officers - almost like a British settlement within India.

Duleep Singh was placed under the guardianship of army surgeon John Spencer Logan and his wife Lady Logan, and was given a bible."He was taught a very English way of life - his language, culture, religion were cut off from him and he became a ward of the British. And here he could be moulded to how the British wanted him to be," says historian Peter Bance.

Eventually, the young maharajah converted to Christianity.In May 1854, he arrived in England and was introduced to Queen Victoria who took an immediate liking to him.

"He was that exotic prince and she treated him like a favourite son and he would be invited to every royal gathering. He even holidayed with Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. He became the ideal party piece that every lord and lady wanted at their event," Mr Bance says.

Copy of the portrait of Duleep Singh by Winterhalter. 
It is now in the Royal Collection at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

Queen Victoria had this portrait of the young maharajah painted by Winterhalter. It is now in the Royal Collection at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight So for a decade, the maharajah simply enjoyed the fruits of his position - he had a very lavish lifestyle, hunting and shooting with the royal family and travelling all across Europe.

In private he had become the quintessential English aristocrat; in public he still presented himself as an Indian prince.However, after 13 years of separation from his mother, he was reunited with her. Now a frail old lady, she was no longer regarded as a threat to the British Empire. She joined the maharajah in England and started to remind her son of his lost kingdom and his Sikh identity.

Two years later when she died, Duleep Singh married Bamba Muller, who had been born in Cairo with strong Christian values.After Punjab was annexed, many Sikh soldiers ended up fighting for the British Empire. The couple went on to have six children and moved to Elveden Hall, tucked away in the Suffolk countryside.

But by the 1870s, the maharajah was financially in trouble - bringing up six children and supporting his lavish lifestyle on the pension he received from the British government meant he was heavily in debt. He began to question the government about his land and property back in India, claiming the annexation of Punjab had been done in an underhand way. He wrote endless letters to the government, seeking compensation for his lost land in India, but without any success.

On 31 March 1886, Duleep Singh took his boldest step - he set sail for India along with his family and told the British he would revert to the Sikh faith and reclaim part of his land. The British could not risk a possible mutiny. When the ship docked in Aden, en route to India, the maharajah was detained and placed under house arrest. His family returned to Britain.

The grave of Duleep Singh
Maharajah Duleep Singh's grave is in the English countryside. Duleep Singh did indeed convert to the Sikh faith but after several frustrated years of wandering, all the while being spied on by the British secret service, he died alone and a pauper, in Paris in October 1893. Says journalist and author Christy Campbell: "In the space of 24 hours the British foreign secretary was instructed to get the body of Maharajah Duleep Singh embalmed, placed in a coffin and brought back to Britain and back to Elveden. It was given a Christian burial at St Andrew's and St Patrick's Church. For reasons of state, the British government had to make sure he was buried a Christian to claim him forever."

Mr Campbell, the author of The Maharajah's Box, says it is appropriate to exhume the maharajah's body as he should never have been buried in England.But the exhumation has divided opinion among the Sikh community.

Amandeep Singh Madra says it is something he and his charity, the UK Punjab Heritage Association will not be supporting. As far as they are concerned, the last will written by Duleep Singh makes it clear: "I wish to be buried wherever I die."They say his remains should be left alone.

For others in the Sikh community, the issue is exactly where should the last king of the Sikhs be laid to rest?

Prince Charles unveiled the statue to Duleep Singh at Elveden in Suffolk in 1999.

He was born in Lahore, in what is now Pakistan. There are mutterings of returning him to Amritsar, the Sikh holy city, but nothing has been decided.The Church of England's point of view is expressed by Reverend Paul Tams, from St Andrew's and St Patrick's: "My instinct is he should be left here to rest in peace."

As the maharajah was given a Christian burial the campaigners will have to get the Church of England on their side before they can lodge their application with the ministry of justice - the government department that deals with exhumations.
But they remain undeterred.

"We would never have gone public with this if we didn't think we were going to be successful," says Jasvinder Singh Nagra of the Maharajah Duleep Singh Centenary Trust.But for now, the maharajah remains buried at Elveden.

By Perminder Khatkar,


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