Saturday, April 29, 2000
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Aditi Tandon describes the landscaped site which flanks the gate to the historic city of Anandpur Sahib

Showcasing three centuries of Khalsa People behind the project

A TRIBUTE to the 300 years of the Khalsa now seems to be complete with Sri Anandpur Sahib proudly narrating volumes on humanism and universal appeal of Sikhism to one and all who enter its portals. The history of the community has been captured intensely in the landscaped site which now flanks the gate to the historic city of Anandpur — a place close to the Sikh heart. The Rs 30-lakh project, commissioned by Markfed and Punsup, was completed within the stipulated two months to coincide with the concluding celebrations of the tercentenary of the Khalsa. The work at the site had begun on February 1.

  An aerial view of the landscaped siteInterestingly, the project was conceived earlier by the Punjab Government which wanted the entry and exit to the historic city adorned. The work, however, could not be executed until this year when tenders were floated. The project was finally allotted to a city-based landscaping expert Sonia Dhami, who is the brain behind the entire structure as it looks today — a perfect supplement to the architectural beauty of the existing gates. The project has not only shaped into a technical marvel, but it also offers a wonderful insight into what Sikhi is all about. And the interesting part is that it enlightens and informs via visually appealing artwork, comprising life-size statutes, relief panels, stone wall panels and engraved rocks and boulders. The work seems to have been planned to the last detail, as is reflected in the meaningful portrayal of every piece of concrete that has been used. There is a main focal point which is the castle wall and this wall lies surrounded by smaller focal points in the form of panels, engravings, rocks and boulder compositions. The landscape has free-flowing curves which have been linked with the focal points, creating an interesting visual sequence.

Langar: The Sikh ritual that reinforces the spirit of brotherhoodIn description, the site may be a maze of concrete, but in concept it is a virtual 10-minute journey through the three centuries of the Khalsa. The layout depicts almost all aspects of history relevant to the fraternity of Saint Soldiers. It reflects the Khalsa's travails and tribulations; its victories and accomplishments. The project is a live screen which flashes not only the martial fervour of the Khalsa, who valiantly fought the enemy in the battlefield, but also shows his softer humane side. Bhai Kanhaiya is shown offering water to enemy soldiers. When Bhai Kanhaiya was confronted by Guru Gobind Singh on this account, he explained his conduct saying, "Master, since I have come in touch with you, I see God everywhere and His entire creation as His children. Amongst the wounded, I fail to distinguish between a friend and a foe."

Yet another scene explains the dynamics of langar, the Sikh ritual which underlines the principle of universal brotherhood. There are a series of depictions, portraying the Sikh tenets which revolve around three main acts — kirat karo, naam japo, wand chhako. The panels also give a detailed account of Guru Nanak Dev and his nine successors. A description of how the Khalsa came into being lies engraved upon rocks.

A statue of Bhai Kanhaiya offering water to enemy soldiers, against the backdrop of Anandpur Sahib gateAs one walks through the garden, one finds that even the plants have been chosen to serve a useful purpose. The plants grown symbolise the scenarios projected — the battlefield scene is depicted by the thorny cacti, while the purity of the Khalsa is portrayed by a lotus pond.

The uniqueness of Sikhi stands magnified through every little work that has been executed. Each section of the landscape — right from the relief panels, depicting the baptism of Panj Piaras (Bhai Daya Singh, Bhai Dharam Singh, Bhai Himmat Singh, Bhai Mohkam Singh and Bhai Sahib Singh) and the martial zeal of Holla Mohalla to the rocks engraved with various achievements of Guru Gobind Singh — furthers one common objective of enlightening the visitor on the historical events related to Anandpur Sahib. The engravings speak of the significance as well as the location of various gurdwaras of the holy town.

The sequence starts with the detail of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru who founded the settlement of Anandpur Sahib by buying the land of Makhowal village on the banks of the Shatdrav (Sutlej). Set against the picturesque Naina Devi range, this was the place where Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa. Then there are engravings about Gurdwara Guru Ke Mahal, the shrine which marks the residence of Guru Teg Bahadur. There is information on the three gurdwaras — Gurdwara Bhora Sahib, Gurdwara Manji Sahib and Gurdwara Damdama Sahib. It was at this place that Guru Teg Bahadur gave a hearing to the Kashmiri Pandits' account of the forcible conversions they were being subjected to by Aurangzeb.

An account of Anandpur forts engraved on rock boulders Following this, is information on Guru Teg Bahadur’s martyrdom and Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib. Engraved on the rocks is the account of the day when Guru Teg Bahadur's severed head was brought to Anandpur Sahib by Bhai Jaita. Last, but not the least, is the historic Akal Bunga from where Guru Gobind Singh called upon his followers to fight injustice and tyranny.

The rocks also talk about Gurdwara Kila Anandgarh Sahib, Gurdwara Kila Fatehgarh Sahib, Gurdwara Kila Lohgarh Sahib and Gurdwara Kila Holgarg Sahib which mark the sites where forts were built by Guru Gobind Singh for the defence of the town. In 1700, the Guru commenced the Holla Mohalla celebrations at Holgarh, where martial games and horse riding events were organised.

The entire place exudes warmth, and rightly so, for it is a labour of love, a dream come true for Sonia Dhami and her team of workers, including architect Sukumar Relief panel showing a detail of the Sikh Panth and the symbolic lotus pondJeirath, who had been camping in the city for the past two months. The art work has been executed by Amarjit Virdi and Manjit Singh in consultation with renowned Punjabi painter Jarnail Singh. The engravings, which are concise and well drafted, have been composed in consultation with Prof Manjit Singh, Jathedar of Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib.

The efforts of 80 labourers, six masons and 15 gardeners have produced a landscape that is a visual treat and imparts rhythm and harmony to the surroundings. As one walks out of the place, its imprint remains in the mind and so does Guru Gobind's message:

"O Lord bless me with this boon that I may never be deterred from doing pure deeds,
Fearless and determined to win, I should go to battle, with divine wisdom guiding my mind,
I crave ever to sing your glories and when comes the final end,
I should die heroically on the battlefield.


People behind the project

COMPLETING the landscaping work at the sites flanking the two gates to Sri Anandpur Sahib was not an easy job, given a two-month deadline by the government which wanted the project completed by Baisakhi. But the inconceivable task was made possible by a team of devoted workers. The following were behind the timely and successful completion of the work:

Sonia DhamiSonia Dhami, Director of Terrier Utility Services, the company which bagged the prestigious tender: For Sonia, who landed into the arena of gardening after taking an MBA (finance) degree from PAU, Ludhiana, the project was a dream come true. She says, "For me, this project was a great challenge because I had to capture the history of Anandpur Sahib at one place. I read extensively and in December, 1999, submitted the tender, giving the entire layout about the placement of natural rocks and of sculptures on episodes specific to the locale. We have only incorporated those instances from the history which either have relevance to Sri Anandpur Sahib or to the life of Guru Gobind Singh."

Naturalism was another thing which had to be kept in mind while designing the site. "We have not used any artificial plants in the site. We wanted a coherence between the landscaped site and the thorny plantations which dominate the lower Shivaliks. That is the reason why we used 30 varieties of cactus to depict the barrenness of the battlefield."

Sukumar JeirathSukumar Jeirath, architect for the project, currently employed with a Chandigarh-based concern: For Sukumar, who passed out of the College of Architecture in 1997, the project was a chance to make a difference in a big way. He says: "Time was very short. Ground-filling alone took a month. I was personally involved in the whole scheme and the success of this scheme was all I was praying for all this while."

Amarjit VirdiAmarjit Virdi, Chandigarh-based artist who graduated from the Government College of Art, Sector 10, in 1993: With a background in painting and sculpture, Amarjit was chosen bySonia to execute the art side of the project. He worked on the relief panel depicting the Khalsa Panth apart from the langar and the Holla Mohalla scenes. Though working on the drawings already made by renowned painter Jarnail Singh was not a very difficult task, time was the biggest factor. Says Amarjit, "By Holla Mohalla, the statues had been erected. It was then that we realised our pace was good enough."

Manjit Singh GillManjit Singh Gill, a Moga-based artist, who graduated from the local Arts College with specialisation in sculpture: Reflecting on his work, Manjit says: "Working on this project was like working on Guru ka Darga." He worked on one relief panel and on the battlefield scene which shows Bhai Kanhaiya offering water to enemy soldiers.

Girish Vatish, also a product of the local Arts College, assisted Amarjit Virdi.