Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sikh online Exhibition: The lost palace of Amritsar


So much of our Sikh architectural heritage has been lost over the years.

I am amazed when I see photographs of churches and mosques and palaces over a thousand years old that are still intact. Here we are as Sikhs, the youngest major world religion, yet we have hardly any architecture over a hundred years old still standing.

While researching artist August Schoefft’s epic painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Darbar Sahib for a exhibit, I became intrigued by an unusual structure appearing in the painting. It was a large and majestic palatial building on the parkarma of Darbar Sahib, with huge columns and spectacular arches, unlike anything I had ever seen before.

That initial curiosity about this unusual looking building started a quest that lasted years.

I then started specifically looking for this building in every old photograph or painting of Darbar Sahib and its surroundings that I could find.

Trying to find information about this mysterious building became a challenge, a journey of discovery. Why was it that one of the largest buildings on the parkarma ever built, a palace so large that it dwarfed every other structure on the periphery of the sarovar at Darbar Sahib and seemed to be even larger than the Akal Takht in volume, had simply disappeared from our records and collective memory?

The lost palace of Amritsar

What was this building? Who built it? What happened to it?

The lost palace haunted me like a ghostly figure clouded in mystery in the fog of time.

Research eventually revealed bits and pieces of this historical jigsaw puzzle. Old paintings, some of the earliest photographs ever taken of Darbar Sahib in the 1850’s and early traveller’s accounts, all revealed the remarkable story of the lost palace.

Like a time traveller I was able to take a journey of discovery from the time of the great Sikh Empire, to the advent of British rule in Punjab and the fascinating story of what happened to the lost palace and the strange and hideous structure built by the British to hurriedly replace it in the 19th century.

Visit the newly launched exhibit, ‘The Lost Palace of Amritsar’, to find out more about the history of one of the jewels of Sikh architecture, lost to British greed and vandalism.. The lost palace may no longer exist, but its remarkable story represents an invaluable reclamation of our Sikh heritage from the mist of time.



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