Hundreds of paintings belonging to the Sikh School of Art have been destroyed in renovation

”I’ve issued directions to kar seva babas, asking them to restrain from causing damage to any art work,” says SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) too has begun to take a keen interest in conserving old frescoes.

A fusion of Mughal, Hindu, Kangra and Pahari school of art, the Sikh School of Art, once enjoyed patronage under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Bhai Kehar Singh, one of the leading artists of the school, was followed by Bhai Gian Singh (1883-1953), whose paintings decorated the walls, roofs and corridors of the Golden Temple. His follower G.S. Sohan Singh furthered the art by experimenting with oils and watercolours. But many of these frescoes were destroyed during Operation Bluestar in 1984.

The kar seva babas (voluntary workers) who undertook reconstruction with the consent of the SGPC, had little knowledge of the art forms that were destroyed. Today a few frescoes at Har Ki Pauri inside the sanctum sanctorum in the Golden Temple are the only remnants of the old Sikh School of Art.

Artists say that paintings were not even spared at the Dukh Niwaran Sahib gurdwara at Patiala when it was being rebuilt. ”They’re doing away with things of antique value,” says Dr Sukhdev Singh, state convener of INTACH.

”Now there are very few artists left in the state who are well-versed in this school of art,” says Satpal Danish, who hails from the family of Bhai Gian Singh Naqqash. Danish is now planning to set up a trust named after his father’G.S. Sohan Singh’for the preservation of Sikh Art.

It’s a small step, but a much needed one.

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