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: www.thenownewspaper.com/

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sikh Relics at Patiala Fort still not moved to Anandpur Sahib

PATIALA: Despite repeated assurances by the Punjab government, at least eight relics of tenth master of Sikhs Guru Gobind Singh are still lying locked at Qila Mubarak in Patiala since last six years. The relics, lying at a closed place, are away from public gaze despite the fact that the government had decided in January to shift these to a museum at Anandpur Sahib. The apathy of the department of culture, archaeology and museums is the primary reason for inaction.

The relics - a turban, three swords, a cloak, hair with comb and a manuscript - were in possession of the descendants of the erstwhile Nabha royal family till 2008. That year the Punjab and Haryana high court directed the state government to take possession of the relics and display them at a suitable museum.

"Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) is already working on the project of shifting relics from Patiala to Anandpur Sahib. SGPC is designing a special bus for shifting these relics. I have been told that it would take three more weeks to design the bus," said N P S Randhawa, director, department of culture, archaeology and museums.

In December 2013, while hearing a second case regarding the matter, the Punjab and Haryana high court had directed the descendants of the Nabha royals to deposit all relics of the Guru they had with the state government.

According to Encyclopedia of Sikhism, some of these relics were with Peer Budhu Shah, a Sufi saint whose sons and hundreds of disciples fought under the command of Guru Gobind Singh against the hill chieftains. Legend has it that some years after Budhu Shah's death, some of these relics eventually found their way to the family of the maharaja of Nabha. These were kept in Hira Mahal - the royal palace of the Nabha princely state.

Amaninder Sharma,TNN | Oct 7, 2014,

Also see Relics of Guru Gobind Singh to be placed at Takht Keshgarh Sahib

Speed up Punjab heritage conservation: Say experts

Chairman of Dilbir Foundation Gunbir Singh addresses a seminar on “Dialogues on legacy conservation-Tangibles” at Bhai Vir Singh Museum in Amritsar on Saturday.

Experts were unanimous in their opinion of accelerating the pace of work on conserving the heritage of the holy city in a seminar held on “Dialogues on legacy conservation-Tangibles”. The seminar was organised by Dilbir Foundation at Bhai Vir Singh Museum.

Speaking on the scenario in Punjab, Namita Jaspal discussed her conservation work at the Golden Temple during the last nine months. Earlier, she scientifically restored the holy robe of Guru Hargobind, the sixth guru, placed at Chohla Sahib Gurdwara.

Another conservationist Gurmeet Rai speaking on policy barriers versus legacy saviours: Solutions thereto, shared her experience of the present conservation scenario. She stressed on the need of generating awareness among the masses about conserving and valuing the heritage.

President of the Dilbir Foundation (DF), Gunbir Singh, said the message of organising the event at the residence of Bhai Veer Singh was to showcase the preservation of his orchard with organic means. “This venue now is a place to bring school students in order to connect them with nature,” he added.

He said a community, a state or a nation stands to gain by caring for their assets as tangible or intangible heritage. “Punjab has an incredible wealth of tradition and values that is simply dissipating.

Fortunately there are still vestiges of our ancient existence still visible at places. The frescos, the Idgahs, the serais, the relics and the archaeological evidences are still heartening,” said Gunbir.

“In tangibles programme, our foundation wishes to work in these areas. Our dialogue today aims at identification and creating roadmaps for restoration and conservation. We have to do our duty as inheritors, and adopt the mission to protect our cultural assets as a fundamental right of our existence,” he added.

Gunbir said the foundation had also alluded to making a restoration plan of Bhai Vir Singh Niwas as a key deliverable of these dialogues.

Neeraj Bagga
Tribune News Service,Amritsar, October 11

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Golden Temple plaza: Will it add to grandeur of shrine?

Will the white glistening marbles outside the Clock Tower or Ghanta Ghar entrance of the Golden Temple add to its grandeur and beauty?

This was the idea with which Punjab administrators were toying when they proposed the entrance plaza project for the shrine, as they felt that old structures did not give a presentable look to the area. They felt that an open space should be created on which pilgrims and visitors could move around more freely without bumping into vehicles that once plied to and fro on the busy road a few steps from Ghanta Ghar.

As of now, shopkeepers and residents taking the road to reach their destinations stop for a moment to have a glimpse of the sanctum sanctorum from under the archway of Ghanta Ghar and bow their heads.
However, the proponents of the plaza project hardly bothered about 'daily darshan' aspect of the shrine, as they were more concerned with thousands of devotees and tourists flocking to the shrine everyday.

When chief minister Parkash Singh Badal proposed the project in 2010, he had the Taj Mahal in mind. Thereafter, the project designers proposed a marble flooring outside the Ghanta Ghar entrance, which found a nod by the chief minister too, but criticis felt that greenery would have been more suitable and soothing to the eyes as it would not be easy to walk barefoot on the marble in summer.

Its designer SS Behl, professor, department of architecture, Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), observed: "The plaza has been made in semblance with the internal construction, with a white spread of marble similar to the internal premises, making the path to the shrine easy and adding to the beauty."

"An important feature of the structure is that it has come up at the same level as the marble flooring of the Clock Tower," explained prof Behl.

Demolishing old order

The proposal to demolish old structures outside the Clock Tower entrance was not a recent, and was taken during the fifth and final phase of the 30-metre Golden Temple periphery beautification plan launched in June 1988. Like other four phases around the shrine, this area too was to be developed into a green belt.

In 2009, the old market outside the Clock Tower entrance was demolished and a green space came up. However, when the plaza project took shape in 2010-11, the green belt was done away with to make way for the marble flooring. The wall that demarcated the area of the shrine from that of the municipal corporation (MC) was also demolished and the road running along the wall now does not exist.

The project

The foundation stone of the project was unveiled in the winter of 2011 and it was to be completed in two years; however, the deadline dragged on leading to cost escalation from `78 crore to `117 crore.

After the project missing many deadlines, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal recently announced that it would be thrown open to devotees on Diwali. However, this is far from the truth as a major portion of the work, being executed in the basement, is nowhere near completion.

The 8,000 square yards plaza top, having two arch-shaped entrances, is expected to be opened for devotees on Diwali, while work in the basement will carry on.

The basement when finished will have an audio-visual information centre for visitors giving information on the Sikhism, the shrine and the Holy City, besides other tourism-related details.

It will also have modern facilities for pilgrims and visitors. It will have a VIP parking facility, a conference room fixed with modern gadgets, internet cafes, railway ticket booking kiosks, waiting halls and various other facilities.

Harkirat Singh , Hindustan Times Amritsar, October 09, 2014

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Golden palanquin worth Rs. 1cr presented to Harmandir Sahib

A 'palki' (palanquin) carved out of 3-kg gold was given in offering to the Harmandir Sahib by a Kanpur-based Sikh family here on Wednesday.

The palki, which is worth around Rs. 1 crore, was handed over to Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Avtar Singh Makkar at the shrine.

The Guru Granth Sahib will be placed in the palki, which was offered by Mohinder Singh Kathuria and his wife Prabjit Kaur.

The Jathedar while accepting the offering, offered a prayer for the wellbeing of the Kathuria family.

The golden dome on the top of the palki was also given in offering at the shrine by two devotees, Surinder Singh and his brother Swinderpal Singh.

The dome was later fixed to the palki. This dome was carved out of 1.25 kg gold.

Hindustan Times  Amritsar, October 02, 2014


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