Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Historic Panj Temple of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s era cries for care

One of the walls that was whitewashed.

Even as the Archaeological Survey of India and Punjab tourism authorities have been restoring various heritage buildings in and around Amritsar, Panj Temple, about 25 km from the holy city, lies in a state of neglect.

More than one-and-a-half-century-old Panj Temple comprises four small temples of lord Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha and Surya in as many corners with the main temple of lord Krishna and Ram at the centre.

The temple was built during the reign of Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh and has been a rich treasure trove of resplendent frescoes of Hindu deities and first Sikh master Guru Nanak Dev.

However, the invaluable frescoes have been decaying due to lack of knowledge among the inhabitants of the area. The lower portion of the walls, which were adorned with priceless frescoes, of the three of the four temples, have been ignorantly whitewashed by the caretakers of the temple. A small temple-like structure situated opposite to the temple lies closed and is in a shambles.

In the absence of any check, some locals have even constructed their houses around the temple, which is now under private possession. The present owner, Mohinder Pal, is said to be the descendent of the former priests and caretakers of the shrine. He says the family lacks enough resources to restore the wall paintings in its original form. He claims that the frescoes got damaged due to moisture and the wall paintings in the Shiva temple have been whitewashed in the absence of any conservation plan.

"The structure of the temple, especially the four domes, which are made up of Nanakshahi bricks, is a unique style of architecture," says Dr Balwinder Singh, a conservationist and head of the department of Guru Ram School of Planning, Guru Nanak Dev University. He says the structure is of great importance and needs to be safeguarded from the mindless urbanisation. The fort-style temple is built in Mughal style with domes on the top.

The floor patterns are a testimony to the fact that it was constructed during the Renaissance period in Punjab, he says. Similar floor patterns have been found in the historic Ram Bagh garden, Gurdwara Baba Atal and Pul Kanjri.

Dr Kanwaljit Singh Kang, who has compiled research work on frescoes in his book "The wall paintings of Punjab and Haryana" (published in 1985), has also mentioned about this temple.

Dr Kang says the construction of the temple could be dated back to 1841. The main sanctum sanctorum stands on the circular plank surrounded by a "parikarma", he says.

The language department, Punjab, has also written about the temple in its survey book -- "Fatehgarh Churian" -- published in 1994. It says it is first religious place of the township. The temple was constructed by Rani Chand Kaur of Kanhaiya Misl, who was married to Kharak Singh, elder son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

"This was especially constructed by Chand Kaur for the family members and visiting guests," say residents of the area.

Expressing his dismay, Rajneesh Khosla, who is known for preservation of handwritten manuscripts, points out: "It is a matter of great concern that such a rare piece of art, exhibiting our past and which can be a great tourist attraction, is dying a slow death due to official apathy." He wrote a letter to the Union Tourism Ministry urging it to send a team of experts for the preservation of the temple.

PK Jaiswar, Tribune News Service, Fatehgarh Churian, July 31

sorry state of affairs

About the temple...

Situated about 25 km from Amritsar, the Panj Temple is over 150 years old
Built during the reign of legendary Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Has a rich treasure of frescoes of Hindu deities and Guru Nanak Dev

Lies in bad shape...

Lower part of walls in 3 of 4 four temples, once adorned with frescoes, ignorantly whitewashed
A small temple like structure situated just opposite to the main temple is closed and is in a shambles

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