Art of the matter

The SGPC, allege historians and critics, has allocated no budget for heritage protection, is ignorant of its historic buildings, has had its staff painting the murals white, destroying paintings and replacing traditional nanakshahi bricks in old buildings with marble and other stones. What’s needed is a heritage wing with experts to check the “destructive tide”, they say.

While admitting that there have been complaints, SGPC chief Jathedar Avtar Singh, said that care is taken not to destroy the Sikh heritage. He said he would take up the matter at the executive body meeting, which will be held in a month or so, and if everybody agreed, experts’ help would be sought to preserve the art and architecture of the gurdwaras.

While INTACH carried out the renovation of the upper domes and walls at the Golden Temple some years ago, it was suddenly stopped by the SGPC without any explanation. The UK-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewa Jatha also carried out repair work, but the original craftsmanship was not preserved. It’s not the high cost of renovation—which could run up to Rs 1 crore, say experts—that is the stumbling block. The SGPC has enough funds and Sikh NRIs are more than willing to help, but there is a lack of initiative on the part of the SGPC.

“When the Akal Takht was rebuilt after Operation Bluestar in 1984, art took the worst hit,” says Brij Bedi, a social worker who has captured the Golden Temple in its various avatars on his camera. The heritage wing, he suggests, should work as an advisory body for the SGPC staff and should be consulted while restoring art work.

Renowned artist Satpal Danish, whose forefathers were hired to beautify the walls of the Darbar Sahib, is also justifiably concerned. “Glazed tiles were used on the ground floor of the Gurdwara Baba Atal. We have voiced our concern, but there’s no one to listen,” he says.

“Many devotees are ignorant about this treasure. The paintings on the walls in the Golden Temple and at Baba Atal depict the janamsakhis of Guru Nanak Dev and other gurus,” says Sukhdev, adding that even books and documents at the Sikh Reference Library in the Golden Temple complex are not being preserved.

It may take the combined force of the Sikh devotees to rouse the SGPC into action.

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