Our Own Worst Enemy

In the West, preservation of historical monuments and manuscripts is keenly  pursued. Being a young country, the United States lacks the magnificent architecture of medieval Europe yet it has preserved its own historical monuments in the best possible way. A trip through the winding roads on the flatland of Gettysburg gives a glimpse of the battlefield where the Civil War was fought.

Sikhs are not good at preserving history. On the pretext of kaar sewa we are actively destroying it. Referring to the recent gilding of the Golden Temple, Patwant Singh raised the question of the missing gold plates, which were from the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Rightfully, he suggested that these plates should have been preserved in a museum. (‘Controversy, conflict eating into heritage sites of Punjab’, Varun Soni, India Reporter) The original haveli (mansion) of Guru Tegh Bahadur was demolished and in its place stands Gurdwara Bhora Sahib. In their desire to celebrate the tercentenary of the formation of Khalsa in 1999, the fort at Anandpur Sahib was disfigured and demolished. It was from here that Guru Gobind Singh had fought some of his battles.

A letter posted in the Spokesman (Chandigarh) informs us about the demolition of Shahidi wall in the recent past. A Sikh woman who had taken her grandchildren to show them the wall where Guru Gobind Singh’s youngest sons were bricked alive had published this letter. She wrote: "My ten year old grandson was with me. He asked, ‘Where is the wall in which the Sahibzadas were bricked alive” Not only my grandson but countless grandsons and granddaughters will ask this question. How will the coming generation know that the original monument relating to the Sahibzadas martyrdom was destroyed not by our enemies but by our own people’"

Many frescoes on the ground floor of Gurdwara Baba Atal were removed during kaar sewa and replaced by glazed tiles. A resident of Pakistan came to Amritsar with a letter from his grandfather who had painted some of the murals on the walls of Baba Atal. He urged the SGPC to preserve the art. (‘Frescoes damaged during renovations’, Varinder Walia, Tribune, September 1999)

Interestingly people responsible for maintenance of Sikh heritage have a different definition of preservation. The Ramgarhia Bunga was recently renovated. When a conservation architect explained the need for preservation of the original pattern, a member of the Ramgarhia Federation promised to "preserve" a few bricks as nishani (remembrance). (‘The Massacre of the Past’, Nirupama Dutt, Indian Express, 18 September 1999).

It is also felt that gilding of the Golden Temple was not correctly done to prevent deterioration of the inner walls over a short period of time. From some accounts it has become evident that, instead of lime plaster coating, a cement-slurry coating was applied. As a consequence the paintings on the inner side of the main building have already begun to flake because of dampness.

Kaar sewa is an integral part of Sikh life. But it should be done intelligently. Though the intentions may sometimes be noble, lack of professionalism can be devastating.

The result is evident.

One response to “Our Own Worst Enemy”

  1. I agree with the main issue of this article wholeheartedly. During my first and only visit to the Harminder Sahib in Amritsar, I was disheartened to witness the names of individuals carved into the walls of the surrounding structures around the Harminder. I questioned this insanity, since it is logicial that space would run out of for writing the names of persons, and most importantly Sikhism and the Gurus teaches us about the dangers of our own egos. What a better display of ego than to have ones name etched into the walls of this important spiritual, religious, peaceful, historically relevant rallying point and source of inspiration for all Sikhs. And at the same time what a disappointment due to this self generated vandalism.

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