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Amritsar - A Repository of Sikh School of Art and Architecture
Amritsar, the city of the world famous Golden Temple has been a repository of the Sikh School of Art and Architecture, The Sikh School of Art and Architecture has developed from the blending of the Kangra and the Moghal styles. The synthetic treat-ment of both has resulted into what we term as the Sikh School.

The founder of the Sikh School of Paintings was S. Kehar Singh Artist who lived in the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Besides Maharaja Ranjit Singh Kanwar Nau Nihal Singh and Maharaja Sher Singh patronised many artists like Kehar Singh, Kapur Singh and Hira Singh.

But as far the origin of Sikh School of architecture is concerned we fail to find a name in Sikh History. The reason for this appears to be the supreme spirit of devotion working in the minds of the craftsman who worked as dedicated persons. But so far as the theory of synthetic origin of the School is concerned, we do learn from Sikh History that even the Sikh Gurus preached such view in their religious discourses. We find a number- of references in Gurbani and Janam Sakhis to the effect.

The Sikh Gurus were themselves great builders and had given definite shape to the style in architecture. Guru Nanak had built Kartarpur (Ravi) after his own concept of Temple architecture. Guru Amar Das built the Baoli and Temple at Goindwal (Amritsar). Guru Ram Das added Santokhassar and Amritsar Sarowar and founded the town of Amritsar, while Guru Arjan Dev built the Harimandir and the Tarn Taran. Guru Hargobind Sahib built the Akal Takhat, Lohgarh, Kartarpur (Jullundur) and Kiratpur. Guru Tegh Bahadur founded the town of Anandpur Sahib at Makhowal. Guru Gobind Singh built many Sikh temples and forts such as Kesgarh Sahib, Anandgarh, Lohgarh etc.

For the specimens of both the Sikh art and architecture we must look to the Hari mandir (the Golden Temple) Amritsar which is the capital of the Sikh religion and a great centre of fine arts. Poetry and music i.e. Gurubani and taan were bestowed to it, at its very inception and Sikh School of Art and Architecture has also flourished here.

Bhai Kehar Singh was the originator of the Sikh School of Art. His nephew and pupil, Bhai Bishan Singh worked in the Golden Temple for a number of years and his grandsons Bhai Nihal Singh and Bhai Jawahar Singh (sons of Bhai Bishan Singh) and Mohant Ishar Singh also devoted a long time on the frescos of the Golden Temple.

In Sikh School of Art the artist depicts the objects in it real forms by means of shades. This School has made a great contribution in the art of Chitrakari, a number of varieties of which can be seen in the Golden Temple—such as gach work, fresco painting, inlay work, tukri and Munavat etc.

Works of fresco painting are seen in the Golden Temple in the corridors, on pillars and window roofs on the first floor, above Har-Ki-Pauri, in the upper storey room and on the sides and roofs of stairs. On the first floor most of the work is renovated by Bhai Atma Singh and Bhai Harnam Singh Naqqash. The work in the window ceilings are designs painted by Muslim artists hailing from Chineot.

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The old artists used self-made colours for fresco paintings. But the repairs and retouching have been done in oils. A cursory glance would show that the old-works are definitely superb as compared to the retouched ones but the old pieces are not being preserved while the fresh designs and drawings made on the lines and patterns of the old artists are being preserved in glass frames.

Fine frescos were found above Har-Ki-Pauri where on Northern side was a plant (bush) by Bhai Gian Singh Naqqash and on the southern side that of Bhai Nihal Singh and Bhai Jawahar Singh, the great fresco painters. These works were superb pieces of fresco painting but all of these have been retouched.

In these fresco paintings and in the corridors one finds vines, plants, flowers, leaves, cranes, lions, pea-cocks, fish and moths etc, finely depicted. Human faces have rarely been shown. There is one fine painting of Guru Gobind Singh and Five Beloved ones on narrow stairs. This is of the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who commissioned an artist from Kangra, whose grandfather's painting of Guru Gobind Singh was lying with Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra, to execute this work and got this fresco made after the original. This is one of the finest specimens of fresco paintings. Guru Gobind Singh has been shown riding a horse, two Sikhs are moving ahead of him, one holding falcon and the other the flag and followed by one Chawar Carrier and three of the Five Beloved ones. The Picture is a specimen of perfect art of the artist.

Floral designs of Bhai Gian Singh Naqqash can be seen upto a height of about six feet in upper storey room below the dome. Bhai Mehtab Singh and Bhai Harnam Singh's arts is preserved in the wider stairs. The old Bungas of Sri Darbar Sahib, which have been demolished, were the repositories of splendid paintings of important events of Sikh History. Sights of such fine paintings are visible even now on the walls of the Ramgarhia Bunga especially on the pillar facing the Dukh Bhanjani shrine where pictures of Maharajas and princes may be seen even now are also vanishing.

Inside the main Darshani Deori where marble slabs have been fixed, Mahant Ishar Singh's fine paintings were depicted, which were appreciated by art critics with one voice but alas these have also disappeared.

On first floor of Sri Akal Takhat and in the entrance walls of Baba Atal fine paintings depicting various events of Sikh History, anecdotes of Janamsakhi and Hindu mythology are painted. These are also very fine pieces of art.

Gach-work has been done on the first floor above the Har-Ki-Pauri. This is the art of Bhai Nihal Singh Bhai Jawahar Singh artist. Here one finds verses of Gurubani written in gach (plaster) by Bhai Gian Singh Naqqash who had repaired some old designs also in this Balcony.

Ornamental plaster—work is also found here above the Har Ki-Pauri where incessant reading on the old hand-written volume of Guru Granth Sahib continues throughout the year. Fine glass- work is also seen here as well as above the main worshipping place.

Munavat of fine quality in plaster is also seen in the Golden Temple. It is done on the pillars, and arches on the first floor and is visible while entering the main temple and looking above the copper fencing. This is the work of famous artist Bhai Bishan Singh His own writing on a pillar of southern side bears testimony about the same. This work though about 150 years old looks as if very fresh. Time has not affected its glitter. The golden coulouring given to it befits the environments. Munavat in gach is also done above the Har-Ki-Pauri, where Gurubani is also written in Munavat besides the floral designs.

Munavat in stone is also found in the Golden Temple. On both hands in the Deodi and Har-Ki-Pauri specimens of Munavat in marble are seen. Fine flower plants and insignias of the Sikh Regiments who have sent contributions for the work, have been depicted in white marble splendidly.

Copper decorations covered with gold leaves are predominant in the Golden Temple. On all the four walls of the main Temple, carved copper plates may be seen above the marble slabs upto the parapet. Plants, vines and flowers have finely been drawn and the plates are covered with gold leaves. Such work is also there on the ceiling of the first roof and beautiful designs are found on the parapet of the upper storey and also outside the main Darshani Deodi where busts of Guru Nanak, Bala and Mardana have been drawn on a b1ig copper plate covered with gold leaves on the southern side. Similarly chittar of Guru Nanak, Bala and Mardana has been depicted on the wall of the main temple building facing the bridge. Just above the cornice on this side is a grand depiction of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, riding a horse and followed by a Sikh holding a Chavar and headed by a flag held by another Sikh. In the Har-Ki-Pauri and above the marble also such work is found, besides in the arches in the main temple where a number of verses of Gurubani are also written on copper plates.

Inlay work (Jaratkari) of precious and semi-precious stone in marble is very important here. This fine work figures all around the four walls of the Golden Temple upto a height of about 8 feet. These are probably the most beautiful pieces of mosaic.

Amongst these are some very fine art specimens Trees, fruits, vines, reptiles and birds have so finely been depicted that one wonders to see the fineness of work. Foreign visitors and art critics, very much appreciate these inlaid designs. The artists have shown their adeptness in selecting stones matching in colour to the object depicted and fineness to hair thread has been shown.

Besides the four-walls of the Golden Temple four beautiful works are there in the Darshani Deodi - two on each side, Inlay work is also found outside the Darshani Deodi along the door-sides. The various and types of stones used may be described as Jades.

In fact the art of the Golden Temple is superb. Every leaf, every design reflects airs of spirituality and gives message of peace, love, service and devotion. Creator's creation is depicted in manifold form and uniformity of Creator is evident in the variety of creation. No signs of compulsory labour are found but spirit of sacrifice, renunciation, love, service and devotion pervade the environments.

- Bhan Singh
This article was originally published in The Sikh Review of

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