Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Mughal and Sikh era towers crumbling brick by brick

The crumbling towers of Lahori Gate at the entrance of Qila Sarai at Sultanpur Lodhi. The police station and DSP's office continue to function from here.

Ten days after the crumbling of one of the two ‘minars’ (towers) of Lahori Gate at the entrance of historical Qila Sarai at Sultanpur Lodhi on Thursday last, the authorities concerned are yet to wake up to the cause.

Heaps of debris that lie at the entrance of the gate presents a picture of neglect on the part of the heritage and tourism authorities towards the significant archaeological monument.

The monument dates back to 800-year-old Lodhi dynasty and its two gates, Lahori Gate and Delhi Gate (which lies permanently closed on the back side), were part of the erstwhile GT Road. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan is learnt to have rebuilt it. It was here that his sons Aurangzeb and Dara Sheikoh took up their studies. Guru Nanak Dev is also learnt to have spent time here.

The fort currently houses the Sultanpur Lodhi police station and the DSP’s office. The partially broken Lahori Gate is the only access point for the scores of police employees and residents coming here daily. Even after Thursday’s incident, the police vehicles continue to pass through the gate, shaking its fragile structure every now and then.

Onlookers say the life of the remaining part of the gate would not be much unless it is preserved at the earliest. As birds perched on it today, some loose bricks and dust started falling. “Any calamity, storm or even heavy rain may lead to the crumbling of the other ‘minar’, which seems to be losing its balance now,” says Sonu, a trader who has his shop opposite the building.

In August 2008, a conservationist group, The Anad Foundation, led by prominent vocalist Bhai Baldeep Singh, had even presented a proposal for restoration of the two gates and the fort to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. They had prepared an estimate of Rs 7.2 crore, but the government continued to turn a blind eye.

The government is learnt to have rather hired its own consultants two years ago, got the fort re-plastered with a thick coat, only to scrap it later. Bhai Baldeep Singh says, “I call it pseudo-conservation, the result of which is before you. The inexperienced hands rather left marks on the beautiful thin bricks. It was the worst masonry which they did. I do not mind to call it murder of the last traditional remains in Punjab.”

For the commoners, the fort and the gate seem to have become irreparable, though conservationists believe otherwise. “There is no monument that cannot be restored. It only needs the mind and hands of an expert. The collapsed portion can be reconstructed by experts,” says US-based Harjap Aujla.

Kapurthala Deputy Commissioner DS Mangat says he would get in touch with the officials and apprise them of the situation.

Raji Pramod Shrivastava, Secretary, Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Museums, Archives and Archaeology, says, “I will send a team to the site on Monday to ascertain what needs to be done.”

About the monument

The building dates back to 800-year-old Lodhi dynasty
The Lahori Gate and Delhi Gate were part of the erstwhile GT Road
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan is learnt to have rebuilt them
His sons Aurangzeb and Dara Sheikoh took up their studies here
Guru Nanak Dev is learnt to have spent time here

Deepkamal Kaur, Tribune News Service
Sultanpur Lodhi, September 14

Sunday, 14 September 2014

SGPC removes plaque with wrong information at Golden Temple

A view of the newly cemented portion of Maharaja Sher Singh Gate where a plaque was installed earlier at Golden Temple in Amritsar.

The SGPC has removed a plaque put up at the historic Maharaja Sher Singh Gate adjacent to Akal Takht in the Golden Temple complex after a plea was filed with the Sikh Gurdwara Judicial Commission, stating that the plaque carries wrong information about the descendants of Maharaja Sher Singh.

When The Tribune team visited the Golden Temple complex, it found that the plaque was removed from the gate and the place where it was installed is now plastered with cement. The Maharaja Sher Singh Gate also holds great significance due to the fact that the SGPC has preserved it as a memory of the Operation Bluestar.

The gate bears a number of bullet marks of the Army operation carried out in 1984. The SGPC took off the plaque after Vigyan Singh, a resident of Sarhali, filed a petition with the Sikh Gurdwara Judicial Commission, alleging that the management of the shrine has resorted to negligence and has given wrong information about the descendants of Maharaja Sher Singh, which is tantamount to distorting history.

He also stated that this was leading to dissemination of wrong information among scores of pilgrims visiting the holy shrine daily. He said the SGPC, which is the mini-parliament of Sikhs, should have verified facts pertaining to Sikh history before putting them up for public display. When contacted, Sikh Gurdwara Judicial Commission Chairman MS Brar confirmed that the petition was filed with them. However, he said, it was later withdrawn as the “two sides reached an agreement”. On the other hand, Darbar Sahib manager Partap Singh admitted that they have removed the plaque after a mistake in it came to the fore, adding that it would be put up again after making the correction. He said he had no idea as to when this plaque was installed.

Perneet Singh, Tribune News Service

Amritsar, September 13

Saturday, 13 September 2014

British Army honours Sikh role in World War One

The British army has honoured the contribution made by Sikh soldiers during World War One.

Thousands of Sikhs from the Indian sub-continent fought and died for Britain during the conflict.

The commemoration at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst featured a re-enactment by 36 Sikh volunteers.

Kameldeep Singh Samra, from Birmingham explains why it is so important to remember the thousands of Sikhs who died fighting for the British Empire.

See video at the BBC website

Friday, 12 September 2014

The 21 Sikhs of Saragarhi

A small body of Sikhs defended a vital North-West Frontier post against 10,000 Afridi and Orakzai attackers. Today is the 117th anniversary of their heroic effort.

Britain’s Parliament interrupted proceedings and rose to give a standing ovation on September 12, 1897 to 21 valorous soldiers — all of them Indians, all of them Sikhs — for what was undoubtedly a tremendous act of collective bravery, and one of the greatest ‘last-stands’ in military history, the Battle of Saragarhi.

The North-West Frontier of undivided India, now a part of Pakistan known as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, is a harsh place. Embroiled even today in bloody conflict, it has been home to a multitude of battle-hardened tribes for centuries. In this tumultuous region, between the forts of Gulistan and Lockhart, which were built by one of India’s most proficient military commanders, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, is where Saragarhi is situated. As there was no visual contact between the two forts, Saragarhi was created as a heliographic communication post to signal between them.

Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen had started to revolt against British annexation of the area in the latter part of 1897, resulting in a multitude of attacks on both Gulistan and Lockhart, especially during the first week of September that year. Elements of the 36th Sikhs, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Haughton, had been moved to the area and had been successfully repelling attacks from the tough, hardy Pashtuns.

On September 12, the frustrated tribesmen changed strategy; they decided to cut off this vital communication link that was being guarded by a detachment of the Sikhs, having only been reinforced in the previous couple of days by Havildar Ishar Singh, and just 20 other ranks. At 9 am, no less than 10,000 tribesmen assembled to launch an assault on Saragarhi.

Haughton, who was based at Fort Gulistan, received a signal that Saragarhi was about to come under attack from a mammoth force. His reply couldn’t have been anything but demotivating for the defenders; he was unable to send any immediate relief. The Sikhs, however, resilient and undeterred, knew quick, hard decisions were required. Ishar Singh and his men decided that they would fight to the last man. This was not just bravado. The tactic could, if successful, delay an attack on the forts, giving the troops there more time to prepare and for reinforcements to arrive. Fierce fighting ensued once the assault began and the Sikhs fought a series of delay tactics to ensure the fighting continued for as long as possible.

So much so, that as the battle was prolonged, and Afghan casualties mounted, commanders of the assault force tried offering the defenders favourable terms of surrender. That wasn’t an option for the Sikhs. Attack after attack was repulsed. Ishar Singh and his men continued to stubbornly hold out, while inflicting a steady toll on the enemy, despite an acute shortage of ammunition which eventually ran out. The tribesmen made more than one attempt to rush the gates of Saragarhi, but this too was unsuccessful. Finally, a breach was made in one of the walls by a small body of tribesmen which was not visible to the Sikhs, having stealthily crept up using a blind spot and laboured at the wall for a while. By this time the battle had raged on for the better part of the sunlight hours.

One can only imagine the fierce and brutal hand-to-hand combat that ensued between these ridiculously lopsided forces once the wall was breached. A determined Ishar Singh ordered his troops to fall back into an inner layer of Saragarhi, while he distracted and held the attackers at bay — another classic delaying tactic. After he fell, the enemy managed to finally breach the inner layers, and except for Sepoy Gurmukh Singh, who was regularly communicating details of the battle to Haughton, his commander in Fort Gulistan, every defender had been killed. The determined Gurmukh asked his commander if he could now fix his bayonet, and an account describes him packing his equipment into a leather bag before doing so. The attackers decided to set fire to Saragarhi and according to Haughton’s account, engulfed in flames, Gurmukh’s last words were the Sikh battle cry: “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal (Victory belongs to those who recite the name of God with a true heart)”.

The courageous decision of Ishar Singh and his men had achieved the desired outcome. The battle had raged for over six hours and while there were a couple of patrols launched from Gulistan and Lockhart to distract the enemy, which reported there were around 14,000 attackers, the tribesmen had stayed focused on Saragarhi. The Sikhs, knowing very well what their fate would be, had held out against some of the most unfavourable odds for many hours, buying enough time for their comrades. Gulistan and Lockhart were saved from falling into Afghan hands and the lives of the vast majority of their regiment was saved too. For this extraordinary act of bravery and valour, all 21 Sikhs were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, which was the highest gallantry award given to Indians at the time. This remains the only instance when an entire body of troops has been given the highest award for the same battle.

When the relief party finally arrived at Saragarhi, there were over 600 dead Afghans and 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikhs along with one non-combatant — a camp follower and cook of the Sikhs who had been with them. Some of those enemy casualties are said to have been caused by artillery fire, after all the Sikhs had fallen; but in any event, for just 21 men to hold off the utterly overwhelming assault force of 10,000-14,000, this battle remains utterly remarkable and among the most heroic last-stands, ever — something akin to the Battle of Thermopylae fought between a Greek alliance and the Persian Empire in 480 BC.

The 36th Sikhs survive to this day. They were re-designated as the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment — which is, unsurprisingly, the most highly decorated regiment of the Indian Army. Now 20 battalions strong, the entire regiment remembers the heroic and selfless sacrifice of these soldiers by commemorating Saragarhi Day as their Battle Honour Day each year.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Help towards a permanent Word War Sikh memorial in the UK

130,000 Sikhs fought in World War One - now a special monument at the National Memorial Arboretum will ensure they're never forgotten.

When the First World War broke out, nearly 130,000 Sikh combat troops were sent to every corner of the conflict.  To put that into context that's more people than could fill Wembley Stadium, and a greater number than the current British Army.

We feel it's important to remember our ancestors contribution and promote their heroics.  While this is a story we all believe in wholeheartedly, it's lamentable that there is no national memorial dedicated to their memory and sacrifices.

A mock up of the memorial

That's why the "Sikhs At War" project is bringing together a team of professional British Sikhs - including members of the Armed Forces - to create an everlasting memorial.

The "WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund" will set up and administer the UK's first national memorial to Sikhs who served during the First World War - and it'll be funded via Kickstarter by grassroots supporters - YOU.

Please help towards the memorial at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2057591483/ww1-national-sikh-memorial

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Anandpur Sahib Heritage Foundation aims to promote and improve the infrastructure of the town.

The Nihang Singhs show their martial ways at Holla Mohalla.

Anandpur Sahib is the location where two of the most important festivals are celebrated: Baisakhi-the birth of the Khalsa and Holla Mohalla- display of the Sikh Martial Arts. The town is particularly associated with the Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.

Whilst millions of visitors come to Takht Keshgarh Sahib and the Sikh museum (Virasat-e-Khalsa), a lack of development and infrastructure prevents it from making it an international destination for visitors. As a result further initiatives are required to give Anandpur the recognition it deserves.The Anandpur Sahib Heritage Foundation has now set up plans to do exactly that.

The Foundation is setting up a number of new initiatives including:

* Development of Charan Ganga Stadium for Holla Mohalla Celebrations
* Preservation and Conservation of Historical Buildings Initiative
* Development of a Museum with relics of the Khalsa

This is together with improving the infrastructure and improving conditions for the local population.

Many Havelis and structures in Anandpur require immediate attention. 

Putting Anandpur on the Map
Vikram Singh Sodhi a descendant of Guru Ram Das and managing Trustee of the Foundation has been highlighting the initiatives across India and recently in the USA at San Jose Gurudwara and Glen Cove Gurdwara, New York. The Foundation has also been meeting individuals and groups in the UK.

On the 4th September 2014 at the Nehru Centre, London a panel shared their contributions on Anandpur Sahib with the audience. The session was started by Vikram Singh Sodhi who explained the significance of the town and the vision of creating Anandpur Sahib into an International visitor centre

Vikram Singh Sodhi explains the aims and objectives
 of the Anandpur Sahib Heritage Foundation

Vikram explained how his ancestory was in part responsible for the developing the town including the work undertaken by his Grandfather Kishan Singh Sodhi in the Nineteenth Century. He went to discuss how the holy town will be developed with initiatives of improving the conditions for visitors at Holla Mohalla. The history of the town is also an important part of the project and significance of the town was highlighted and how many of the Haveli’s and structures from the Guru period needed preserving.

Sikh Scholar-Gurinder Singh Mann discussed
 the literature produced in Anandpur Sahib. 

This was followed by a presentation by Sikh Scholar Gurinder Singh Mann who explained how the town was founded and the significance it held for Sikhs. He discussed the importance of Holla Mohalla and as well as discussing the literary pursuits undertaken by Guru Gobind Singh and his Kavi’s at Anandpur. Mann showed specimens of manuscripts written there as well as discussing relics of the Khalsa at Takht Keshgarh Sahib.

Astrid Harrisson gave an overview of capturing
 Holla Mohalla through her photography.

Holla Mohalla is one of the busiest festivals of the Sikhs. The vigour and martial exploits has been captured by Author and photographer Astrid Harrisson. She explained how she had visited Holla Mohalla and was amazed at the colourful displays of the Akali Nihangs. As a result she was taken to photograph the breath taking displays of Shastar Vidya and Tent Pegging. She stated that it was a privilege to capture the Akali Nihangs and the warmth extended by the Sikhs to let her see the wonderful festival of Holla Mohalla.

The contributions highlighted by the panel showed the importance that Anandpur Sahib holds in history but also in the present time. With the right collaborations and input from Sikhs across the world the Foundation aims to put Anandpur Sahib on the world map.

More information visit: http://anandpursahibfoundation.com/
Facebook page:www.facebook.com/anandpursahibheritagefoundation
Gurinder Singh Mann-www.sikhscholar.co.uk
Astrid Harrisson-www.astridharrisson.com


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