Saturday, 29 November 2014

Drawing the line: Lecture on maps and prints of the Punjab.

KARACHI: Very seldom does one get to hear such an absorbing account of an important period in the history of the subcontinent and the development of the art of cartography. Eminent art historian and author F. S. Aijazuddin delivered an engaging lecture on the exhibition ‘Drawing the Line (rare maps and prints)’ under way at the Mohatta Palace Museum and on his book ‘The Resourceful Faqirs’ at the museum on Friday evening.

Mr Aijazuddin, using a series of inspiring images of rare maps, paintings and sketches, talked about the history of map making starting with the earliest map of Iraq (2400BC). He said one of the initial Arab maps was from 1154 and quipped that the Arabs saw the world upside down (north-south, south-north). Ptolemy was the first one to use the grid system on a map to measure latitude and longitude. At the time, map makers depended on maps drawn by maritime captains. There were three techniques of map making: woodcut, line engravings and lithography (the last one came in use in the 19th century).

Mr Aijazuddin said the earliest map that he had was from 1846; it was done using Ptolemy’s method. One of the later maps, when the art of map making was further developed, depicted the area inhabited by the Makranis who were referred to as the fish-eating ‘hairy race’. Maps of the Mughal Empire and Africa followed, with the famous Jonathan Swift lines: “So geographers in Africa maps/ With savage pictures fill their gaps/ And o’er uninhabitable downs/ Place elephants for want of towns.”

When Shah Shuja of Afghanistan sought refuge from the British, he stayed in Lahore for some time and gave the Koh-i-noor to the maharaja.

The second part of Mr Aijazuddin’s lecture was on the Punjab ruled by Ranjit Singh. He said it was in the beginning of the 18th century that Punjab became accessible. It was the time when there was a Sikh kingdom in Lahore reigned over by the diminutive, pockmarked, illiterate but highly intelligent Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In 1799 he became the master of Lahore. The maharaja had three assistants — brothers Faqir Azizuddin, Faqir Imamuddin and Faqir Nuruddin (the family that author is a direct descendant of). The brothers had earned unusual powers considering the fact that they were Muslims. The family had practising hakims and earned the trust of the maharaja when he went to a hakim after having an eye infection. It was a risk that paid off, he said.

Mr Aijazuddin shed light on the qualities and duties of each brother. Azizuddin was a masterful negotiator, Imamuddin was the keeper of Govindgarh Fort and Nuruddin was an important member of the court and after the passing away of the maharaja was a member of the Regency Council. When Ranjit Singh gave the run-around to East India Company’s Charles Metcalfe, the latter got upset. The maharaja asked Azizuddin to negotiate with him on his behalf. The successful conclusion of the negations led the British to draw a line fixing the frontiers of lands under Ranjit Singh along the Sutlej River, demarcating Punjab from British India. This was for the first time that Punjab became a nation-state, and Ranjit Singh was acknowledged as a maharaja.

Mr Aijazuddin pointed out that in order to expand his business Ranjit Singh needed money. So when Shah Shuja of Afghanistan sought refuge from the British, he stayed in Lahore for some time and gave the Koh-i-noor to the maharaja.

Expanding on the politics at the time, Mr Aijazuddin said Alexander Burnes desired to visit Ranjit Singh to hand over King William’s gift of five dray horses to the maharaja. Ranjit Singh resisted because Burnes wanted to do reach him by the Indus, which had a military purpose. But when the Mirs conceded, Burnes embarked on the journey up the Indus via Multan to Lahore. Ranjit Singh asked Azizuddin to draft a letter to return the gift to the king in a way that didn’t offend him. Azizuddin’s skills were tested, but he wrote a cleverly worded letter. Similarly, when the British saw the Russian threat in Afghanistan, Azizuddin there too was involved in successful negotiations.

Mr Aijazuddin said December 1838 was the twilight in Ranjit Singh’s reign. Six months after the killing of one of his important generals in Peshawar, he died. He was cremated in Lahore. He was succeeded by his son Kharak Singh, who was addicted to opium, so his son Naunehal Singh controlled the kingdom, who was very anti-British. Ironically, the haveli built for him in Lahore housed a school called Queen Victoria’s Girls School. After Naunehal Singh’s death Sher Singh assumed power. All of Ranjit Singh’s successors continued relying on the Faqir brothers. When Sher Singh was murdered in 1843 the eight-year-old Dulip Singh came to power, but the kingdom was controlled by his mother, Rani Jinda. Subsequently, the British defeated the Sikhs and the Treaty of Lahore was signed.

“Once Sikhs made history, now they are relegated to it,” commented Mr Aijazuddin and added that of the three Faqir brothers, Azizuddin was the first to die in the late 1840s. Two years later Imamuddin passed away followed by Nuruddin.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Punjabi scholars recall the importance of the Jangnama by Shah Mohammad.

 The writings of 18th-century Punjabi poet Shah Mohammad were recalled by various Punjabi scholars and experts during a seminar 'Shah Mohammad Da Jangnama: Jang Hind-Punjab Da' at the Khalsa College here on Thursday.

Shah Mohammad (1782-1862), who lived at Vadala Viram near Amritsar, recalled with pride the glorious days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's empire in his long poem 'Vaar Shah Mohammad', also known as 'Jangnama Shah Mohammad' or 'Hind Panjab da Jang.

The experts at the seminar emphasised that the writings of Shah Mohammad, who is the primary source of accounts on Ranjit Singh's rule, are relevant even today as he reflected upon the socio-cultural aspects of Punjab and many of those challenges are still staring into the face of Punjabi society.
Khalsa College principal, Dr Mehal Singh, said, "Ranjit Singh's rule was exemplary and writings of Shah Mohammad were the primary source of the history of that period and the way Shah Mohammad lyrically evoked the memory of the bygone days when the Sikh warriors had subdued Khaibar, Kangra, Jammu and numerous other places. He describes with admiration the deeds of heroism and sacrifice of eminent Sikh leaders such as Sham Singh Attariwala and Ranjodh Singh. The historical framework the poet has laid out for the events that took place has not so far been superseded."

Noted Punjabi novelist Jaswant Singh Kanwal, known for his famous novels `Lahoo Dee Lo' and `Jungle De Sher', delved deep into how Punjab had been facing various societal problems which needed to be addressed immediately. "Punjab was in trouble when Shah Mohammad wrote about its challenges and its society is still divided and facing challenges today,'' he said. The seminar was organised by Shah Mohammad Memorial Trust in collaboration with the department of Punjabi studies of the College.

Dr HS Bhatia, head of department of Punjabi studies, GNDU, said that though Shah Mohammad was basically a writer and not a historian, but his writings reflect upon the political, social and economic conditions of Punjab in the late 18th  and early 19th centuries.

Senior journalist Varinder Singh Walia stated that Maharaja Ranjit Singh established a great rule, bringing unity of Punjab and giving the rule a secular outlook. His empire could not be sustained due to his failure to choose a successor, he added.

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times   Amritsar, November 13, 2014

Friday, 24 October 2014

Faith preserved, Guru Hargobind's sacred robe restored

Chola Sahib, the 400-year-old sacred robe that sixth Sikh Guru wore on the first Bandi Chhor Diwas in October 1619, has been restored close to another Diwali.

Guru Hargobind wore the 52-tailed cloak on the day when he liberated 52 Hindu kings along with self from the Gwalior prison of Mughal emperor Jahangir and returned to Amritsar on Diwali, which Sikhs celebrate since as Bandi Chhor Diwas (day of liberation). Preserved at Ghudani Kalan, a village near Amritsar, the relic was restored by the team of conservators headed by Namita Jaspal.

“This fabric of faith dates back to the early 17th century and the villagers are attached to it emotionally. It is a gift from the Guru for their hospitality once. It was a tradition with the Sikh Gurus to leave their belongings to their hosts, and the cloak is a symbol of that,” said Namita, professional conservator since 1995.

About the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) view on the authenticity of the robe as Guru’s relic, she said: “I’m sure they know, since they once took it, but the villagers fought for it and got it back. Since then, they want to keep the SGPC away from it.”

In 2011, the villagers approached Namita because the fabric had aged, weakened, and lost flexibility. They requested her to visit the village for saving it. “Historians don’t know if it is authentic but going by the old references and people’s strong belief, it should be the same chola,” said BS Dhillon, head of the department of Guru Granth Sahib studies at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

“History does state that the chola that the sixth Guru wore on the day of the release from the Mughal prison had 52 corners, and the one on display at the village has this characteristic,” said Sikh historian Simarjeet Singh, adding: “People who believe in history do recognise it as Guru’s relic.”

Conservator’s challenges
Conservator Namita Jaspal working on the Chola.
There are always more than the usual challenges involved working on historical objects that have religious sentiments attached. “All I knew was that the faith of the community had to be preserved,” said conservator Namita, who has also guided the restoration of the wall paintings at Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar.

Fungus had eaten the robe, and it had lost fabric at many places, because of not only ageing but also vandalism. Over the years, in different times, the torn areas had been sewn, which had helped limit the damage. Namita had to wear gloves to touch the revered Chola Sahib.

 “I told the villagers I couldn’t do my work without touching it. Even then, the frowning sewadars would watch over me. Within a month, I restored their faith,” she said.

Usmeet Kaur, Hindustan Times  Amritsar, October 21, 2014

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Badal unveils 'Golden Temple plaza'

CM Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal and Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh at the inauguration of Golden Temple entrance plaza in Amritsar on Wednesday

Heritage and conservationists have had reservations regarding the new Harimandir Sahib plaza.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal today dedicated the first phase of the Golden Temple entrance plaza to the people here this evening. This will pave the way for easy movement of the pilgrims at the main entrance of the holy shrine.

Dedicating the plaza, the CM termed it as an architectural marvel which was a tribute by the state government to add to the glory of Darbar Sahib.The CM said the SAD-BJP government was committed to perpetuate the glorious history of the state. He said the government had constructed world-class monuments such as Virasat-e-Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib, Chapparchiri War Memorial at Mohali, memorials of big and small holocaust at Sangrur and Gurdaspur, besides the upcoming Jang-e-Azaadi memorial at Kartarpur. Likewise, special focus was being laid on the development of religious towns of state.

The plaza’s features include 8,250 square metre of marble paved area for hassle-free movement of devotees, increased public amenities at ‘jora ghar’ (shoe-keeping facility) and ‘gathri ghar’ (baggage room), shaded peripheral colonnade compatible with the holy shrine’s character, perforated stone screen walls, aesthetically designed architectural lighting, entrance gateways and a fountain at its centre. The work on the second phase entailing a string of facilities in the basement is yet to start.

Among these amenities would be a state-of-the-art interpretation and information centre for tourists, VIP lounge, bank, ATM, airlines and railway inquiry, a multipurpose hall, security and services area, toilets and other public conveniences. The work on the plaza started in May 2011 and was supposed to be completed by Diwali last year. Talking to the mediapersons, the CM expressed hope that the Union Government would soon start the work on the ‘Smart City’ project for Amritsar.

Some highlights

8,250 square metres of marble paved area for easy movement of devotees
White and pink marble having thickness of 37 mm put up by expert craftsmen from Rajasthan
Seating facility for around 25,000 pilgrims around trees and fountain
‘Jora Ghar’ (shoe-keeping facility) and ‘Gathri Ghar’ (baggage room) spread over 650 square metres with specially designed corridor

Perneet Singh/Manmeet Singh Gill,Tribune News Service
Thursday, October 23, 2014, Chandigarh, India

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Harmandar Sahib: When development needs direction

Harmandar Sahib is not separate from the fabric of the city. The defining edge of the shrine is fluid — formed by the waters of the sarovar. The heart exists and hence the body exists. 
Gurmeet S Rai

THE urban morphology of Amritsar has remained similar in texture and pattern over the centuries. In the heart of the walled city is located Sri Harmandar Sahib within the pool of nectar. Several decades, or not so long ago, the Amrit Sarovar sat seamlessly — just as the heart sits seamlessly in a body. The shrine was not separate from the fabric of the city. The defining edge of the shrine was fluid — formed by the waters of the sarovar. The heart exists and hence the body exists. The rhythm of the heart as the Guru envisioned was the community, and the community guarded the site with its entire existence. History has several instances where the community rallied around the site to protect its sanctity and symbols of value as defined by the founding fathers of the faith.

The distinctive character of Harmandar Sahib comes from elements of spatial planning, its architecture, visual character, recitation of Gurbani — the sound scape, life and activities within the precinct — with the Guru at the centre in the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine. The distinctive character of Harmandar Sahib comes from elements of spatial planning, its architecture, visual character, recitation of Gurbani — the sound scape, life and activities within the precinct — with the Guru at the centre in the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine.

Do plans for interventions in sites of immense cultural significance such as the Golden Temple take into consideration the physical attributes that contribute to understanding the values of the site? Do the urban infrastructure and design guidelines recognise the distinctive relationship between the city and the sacred precinct? I am afraid not.

In the absence of proper articulation of these principles or of any guidelines for planning, the planners and architects are oblivious to these. Who is to be blamed here — the planners or the site managers or the political system that does not provide a platform for dialogue and undermines the academicians and specialists alike.

Evolution of the city

Harmandar Sahib has evolved through three distinctive periods. Guru Ramdas envisioned the sarovar — the waters. Guru Arjan Dev added the floor of the parikarma and the steps of the sarovar were built of Nanakshahi bricks. The material palette was modest, in the spirit of the faith. End of the 18th century saw the introduction of materials for embellishments. It was under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh that decorative features were introduced by way of cut stone floors, pietra durra on the walls of the shrine with embossed gold sheets above. Frescoes and other plaster-based rendering using coloured glass, mirrors and gold leaf were introduced into the interiors of the Prakashsthan (the self-illuminated space which houses Sri Guru Granth Sahib). The work of the karkhanas or the workshops in Harmandar Sahib was run with the resources contributed by the community — both poor and the rich.

The decorative floors in the 19th century were confined to the chhoti parikarma, and the plaza in front of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and the farther portion of the outer parikarma. The outer edge of the complex in the 18th and the 19th century came to be defined by the mansions of the misls, the bungas. The spaces between the bungas were the streets of the city.

Distinct physical character

The distinctive physical character of Harmandar Sahib comes from elements of spatial planning, its architecture, visual character, recitation of Gurbani — the sound scape, life and activities within the precinct — with the Guru at the centre in the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine. The precinct is located in the lowest part of the city. This un-gated sacred precinct gives refuge to all in all times. The sound scape of the bani is a constant reminder of ‘oneness in diversity’. The buildings that form the edge with the stepped profile of verandas and terraces were introduced in the middle of the 20th century after the creation of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee in 1925, which enabled the Sikh community to once again look after its sacred sites (that had come under the management of the District Administration, under the British after Punjab was annexed in 1849).

The uniformity in design — the typology with rooms with verandas in front, are put to use for the activities related to the shrine and were created as a defining edge — a ‘buffer’ between the city and the sacred precinct. While the complex evolved the defining principles for the transformation were consistent through the ages and were not compromised.

The dense urban morphology with its narrow maze of streets and architecture in brick and lime converge at Harmandar Sahib and is in sharp contrast to the character-defining elements of the sacred precinct.

Incongruent change

The city grew over time. Amritsar came to be recognised as a city of spirituality and productivity. The contribution of people of Amritsar through the ages as an empowered community has left an indelible mark on the conscience of the nation.

It is extremely evident that the character has changed in Amritsar in the recent times, in tangible as well as intangible ways.

The city is choked with traffic. The walled city has an immensely degraded environmental quality with polluted air and water. There is immense noise, fumes and visual clutter in what remains of the historic city in the immediate vicinity of Harmandar Sahib. In the absence of an effective storm-water drainage, the monsoons of 2014 saw the parikarma getting waterlogged! Waste water flows in open surface drains.

Not only are the 19th and the early 20th century buildings of heritage value in the walled city of Amritsar being demolished to make way for new buildings, these new buildings with dominant hoardings are being built with a material vocabulary of steel and glass and gaudy colours that are completely in contrast to the essential character of a historic city.

Amritsar was rich in its craftsman in brick buildings and produced pioneers such as Bhai Ram Singh — the architect builder of the Khalsa College and several character-defining brick buildings of Lahore. But not only are the brick buildings of the walled city being demolished now, those built by Bhai Ram Singh are also under a threat. These include the old office of the Deputy Commissioner, the ITI building adjacent to the Hall Gate and the Saragarhi Gurdwara. Are these inadequacies impossible to address given that Amritsar attracts the attention of governments and political bodies in power who endow the city with resources for development?

Off-track planning

The current planning and development paradigm undermines the voice of the collective. The need of the community is understood only at the level of the gross — as only confined to the need of the body. Over the past two decades Amritsar has seen the launch of several programmes for development and upgradation of infrastructure. While the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission brought in the elevated road into the city leading into the walled city and a multi-storeyed car park, a recently introduced large white-marbled forecourt to Harmandar Sahib with a basement visually competes with the pristine visual character of the sacred precinct.

The water fountain in the forecourt as a visual element of design too will compete with the water as an element of the sacred precinct. Water in the walled city was only in the sarovars and has always had a special meaning. The fountain in itself is associated with entertainment which doesn’t fit in with the sacred ambience of the shrine. Is this the most appropriate design intervention in the forecourt of Harmandar Sahib? On the other hand pedestrian and vehicular circulation in the areas outside the shrine for the anticipated increased footfall continues to be choked.

Are the needs of the walled city with Harmandar Sahib understood properly by the planners? The approach to demolish the existing fabric and replacing it with wider roads and more car parks will certainly not address the ever-growing demand for space. It is evident today that the current approach of providing augmented infrastructure without regulatory policies will not address the needs of the city.

Long-term threats

The increased capacities of buildings with increased users only induce more demand on the infrastructure. Constructing larger and taller buildings like the recently built SGPC building adjacent to the Saragarhi Gurdwara to house more pilgrims in extreme proximity to the Golden Temple may provide more accommodation to the pilgrims. But this is certainly not based on an understanding of sustainable development principles, especially around sacred sites worldwide. It is easy to recognise that what may appear informed by noble intentions, the very increase of ‘infrastructure’ and augmented facilities for the visitors and pilgrims will pose a threat in the long term.

Time to wake up

The modern concepts of development in India today are far removed from the notion of the collective. Compromising the defining principles of sites of significance and their setting leads to irreversible loss of heritage, both tangible and intangible to the community. Can political and administrative decision makers allow for a dialogue between the academicians, community and planners to inform the planning and conservation processes? Can an agreed vision inform development in heritage cities, more specifically Amritsar?

Amritsar is important. The year 2017 will see the people of Amritsar celebrate 440th year of the founding of the city. Can the community — local, regional and global — play a role in the future development of this city. With the newer schemes for development in the pipeline (Amritsar as a SMART city) and projects and programmes for the conservation or heritage of Amritsar for an integrated development of the city as a cultural tourism destination under the aegis of the Government of Punjab with the support of Asian Development Bank (IDIPT 2014-2020), there is a window of opportunity once again, and let’s not miss it! Amritsar deserves integrated thinking by an empowered community once again.

Much-hyped projects

Over the past two decades, Amritsar has seen the launch of several programmes for development and upgradation of infrastructure, especially aound Harmandar Sahib. Some of these are:

* Elevated Road project leading to the walled city was undertaken under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission .

* Multi-storeyed car park to decongest areas in the vicinity of the Golden Temple

* Marble forecourt at Harmandar Sahib with a basement

* Water fountain in the forecourt

— The writer is Director and Principal Conservation  Architect, Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (India) Pvt Ltd

Published in the Tribune: Tuesday, October 21, 2014, Chandigarh, India 

WWI centenary brings up untold history of Sikh soldiers at Surrey Library

Surrey resident Steven Purewal has put together an exhibit commemorating the involvement of Punjabi soldiers in WWI. Pictured behind Purewal is King George V wearing a ceremonial turban.

SURREY — Coming up on the hundredth anniversary of the First World War this Remembrance Day, images of poppies, Canadian maple leaves and saluting soldiers will adorn Surrey’s public places. Tales of valour, honour and duty will be remembered.

But there’s another side of the story that hasn’t been told, until now.

Duty, Honour & Izzat, a new exhibition put together by Surrey resident Steven Purewal, details the story of 500,000 Punjabi combatants who fought alongside Canadians in WWI.

Purewal, a British-born Indian, has been collecting primary artifacts from WWI pertaining to the involvement of Punjabis, such as war medallions and propaganda art. He said that the Sikh side of the story has been grossly underrepresented and even the public school system completely bypasses that aspect of its history.

“The deficit isn’t just at the common layman’s level, it’s even in academia,” Purewal told the Now at the Central City Library, where the Duty, Honour & Izzat exhibition currently resides.

“And even within professional historians, they have not picked up on this because they have no reason to. The only people who have a reason to tell this story are the people from that community, and we haven’t done it ourselves,” he said.

Purewal is, of course, referring to the unrecognized Sikh soldiers who fought in the First World War that were omitted from the history books in several famous battles; namely, Flanders Fields, Vimy Ridge and both battles of Ypres. And that’s just to name a few.

“We’re not saying, ‘Why haven’t you told our story?’ because we haven’t told it ourselves,” Purewal said. “That’s the point of this project, is really telling the story so we don’t have that occur again.”

While he’s been sitting on this information for quite some time, collecting artifacts and sources, Purewal said it became more pertinent than ever to put together the exhibition now that the centenary of WWI – which happened from 1914 to 1918 – has approached.

“I spent the whole summer doing this,” he confirmed. “I thought, ‘If we don’t do it this Remembrance Day, I think we haven’t done justice to these people. It has to be done now.’”

One of those injustices, Purewal points to, is an incident with Surrey’s Newton Legion that turned away Sikh veterans wearing turbans during a Nov. 11 ceremony.

Another is the foreword in a popular children’s book  widely used  in local schools  In Flanders Fields  - The Story of the poem by John McCrae, which lauds the involvement of Canadian, Australian and New Zealand troops in WWI. There’s no mention of Indian troops, which outnumbered the Canadians and Australians combined.

“If you read these things, you wouldn’t know that thousands of (Punjabis) had already fought in those grounds, (nor that) they were even there in the war,” he said.

“These (books) are null and void after this. They’re inaccurate, and they do a lot of harm because it translates to a perception in the mainstream that ‘You guys don’t carry your weight, you don’t participate in Remembrance Day’... It’s a huge omission that needs to be corrected.”

The omitted information from WWI is what also links many South Asians to the Fraser Valley.

“The reason that there are so many Sikhs in the Lower Mainland is because of our military heritage. For 150 years, being a Sikh was synonymous with being a soldier… we basically came out here at Queen Victoria’s behest,” Purewal said. “We were full-fledged British subjects.”

As part of Duty, Honour & Izzat, Purewal and SFU are teaming up to bring an ex-British military officer for a public lecture at SFU Surrey on Nov. 10. As well, 10 Surrey schoolteachers have signed up for a workshop with Purewal to add the untold bit of history to their curriculum.

“We haven’t done our forebears justice by not having told the story already, that’s how I see it and that’s why I’m compelled to tell the story,” he said. “We have a joint heritage, a joint history (with Canadians). By not recognizing it, it undermines our ability to have a better common future.”

Duty, Honour & Izzat: The Call to Flanders Fields WW1 Centennial Exhibition, put together with the help of Surrey’s Simon Fraser University and some government funding, is on display at City Centre Library until Nov. 2, and will move to the Surrey Archives from Nov. 4 to 15.

Kristi Alexandra / Now Staff. October 17, 2014:


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