Tuesday, January 2, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Golden Temple artwork
Destruction or preservation!
From Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

AMRITSAR: “It is a shame ... why can’t you use natural pigments for preserving this great heritage?”

These were the words of Duncan McCallum, a land-use planner of historic buildings and Director English Heritage, UK who was shocked to see the colossal damage to the ‘great artwork’ at Harmandar Sahib during his recent visit to Punjab.

The artwork at Harmandar Sahib has suffered not due to lack of funds, as enquired by Mr McCallum. This is mainly because of the indifferent attitude of all concerned.

The land of ‘five rivers’ witnessed invasions and political upheavals from time to time. With the result, people of Punjab hardly found any time for artwork. However, after the victories of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Punjabis started taking keen interest in exploring their artistic expressions too. The Sikhs adopted the various traditions, especially Muslim for decorating their shrines, especially during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. However, during the rule of Mr Parkash Singh Badal, who had promised to give governance on the pattern of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, it is the rich heritage of Punjabis which has suffered the most.

The minor research project sponsored by University Grants Commission has pointed out the present status of the artwork of the Golden Temple. Mr Balvinder Singh, Project Coordinator and Head Department of Guru Ram Dass School of Planning and Ms Ranbir, a lecturer in the Department of Architecture, Guru Nanak Dev University, have done documentation of the artwork of Harmandar Sahib which brought to light the callous attitude of the SGPC management while preserving the heritage.

The researchers have stated that with overall development taking place in Punjab, the dawn of the 19th century saw the rise and development of the art of paintings too. Ranjit Singh’s rule in this era has been termed as a period of artistic and cultural renaissance in Punjab. The power and wealth of Maharaja Ranjit Singh attracted the surrounding Pahari painters too. “By the early nineteenth century, the Kangra School of Art was at decline. Kangra and surrounding hill states were conquered by the Maharaja and the artists were attracted towards the plains as lavish patronage to art was extended by Maharaja Ranjit Singh”.

However, after studying, analysing and documentation of various art forms, the authors pointed out the ‘grey areas. The chapter ‘present status’ reads, “Due to age and weathering effects, these magnificent artforms requires special attention to be restored to their original splendour .... It is pertinent for the present generation to give this valuable treasure to its progeny in its true form ...” The study of these artworks has shown that each of these requires a technical examination to either protect these from further damage or to restore them to their original form.

The important artwork — ‘jaratkari’ around the outerwalls of the main shrine is facing problems mainly due to changing colour of the marble slabs, missing inlaid stones and the restoration done in an incongruous way. “There is a need to replace the stones as well as marble slabs in harmony with the existing ones”, states Mr Balvinder Singh, in his research work.

The ‘mohrakashi’ work on the walls along the staircase (on the first and second floor) which has been damaged to a great extent needs immediate attention, says the research. Mr Balvinder Singh and his colleague say “Along the wall of one of the staircase leading to first floor, the damaged artworks has been ruthlessly scrapped off and thus it has vanished completely”. The researchers say that no doubt the restoration work done by fixing metal sheets along the stairs leading to main shrine, having pure kind of the ‘mohrakashi’ work on the top of the damaged original work looks quite congruous”. However, he says “On the first floor hall of the main shrine, at places glass sheets have been used to cover and protect the original artwork which is a good attempt. However, the glass sheets have fixed in such a manner that it does not look juxtaposed and merges with the work”.

“The ceiling and upper portion of the side walls in ‘Darshani Deori’ which adorned with minute and ornamental artwork have been plastered and covered with embossed gold plates with the result unique artwork has been vanished. The underside of the cornice of the main shrine has faced the same treatment”.

Mr Balvinder Singh says, “the ‘Gach and tukri’ work seems better but still at places it is under the arch on the first floor of the main shrine the prayers (Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib and Anand Sahib) need immediate attention”.

The authors visualise another threat, which at present is not visible, but may damage the ‘gach work on the ceiling of the first floor, is due to covering of the roof with same transparent material for water proofing. But, the rain water as well as moisture trapped inside the transparent sheets will not evaporate, instead, it will percolate and may damage the invaluable ‘gach’ work on the ceiling below.

The authors of the UGC project also made valuable suggestions for preserving this age-old heritage. Mr Balvinder Singh said measured drawings of each and every art form should be prepared and documented. Apart from this, sketches and photographs of all floral designs should be prepared and documented so that in case of damage they can be restored in their original style. He said the restoration of vanished ‘mohrakashi’ artwork should be done with natural pigments instead of paint. He claimed that paints had less life and give a very shining look.

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