Canadian Sikh Heritage | Sikh Art and Architecture
Sikh Architecture,Sikh Art,Golden Temple,Harminder Sahib,Sikh Gurdwaras, Five Takhts
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Sikh Art and Architecture

The Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple):

When coming across the terms Sikh art and architecture, there is one building which seems unanimous in all minds- the Harimandir Sahib (otherwise known as the Golden Temple), in Amritsar, Punjab. And indeed, art according to the Sikh mind can be seen as culminating through- this amazing structure. Although some have interpreted the Golden Temple as a later form imitating the Mughal style of architecture, what it represents in fact, is both Muslim and Hindu forms of art and architecture, as it truly is the most striking example of the hybridity in terms of Sikhs bringing together the most significant aspects of Muslim and Hindu styles of architecture. And what are these unique and amazing features?

To begin with, the very crux of the temple itself arises from the big tank, or “waters of life” area which was originally located by the first Sikh Guru, Guru NankDevJi, as being a majestic site for reflection and meditation. From this one spot, the shrine itself sprouted, much like a lotus flower as it is often described as, upon which its entire glorious reflection can be seen in the crystal clear waters. The exterior of the shrine itself is covered entirely with golden plates and marble, whereas the inside is covered with fresco paintings, detailed designs of art inlaid in marble, of varying textures, colors, and hues. The two storied shrine is topped by a golden dome which is also designed to resemble the lotus symbol. Once inside, and past the large hall, is where the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji emanates, resting under a fully and gorgeously decorated canopy. And yet, although the golden aspect of the shrine itself is what amazes most, it is the architectural layout of its surroundings which is just as impressive. The entrance gate to the temple for example, which is comprised of the models of Rajput and Bengal Mughal Chhatri style, is 10 feet by 8 feet piece embossed with panels in which the backside is decorated with glorious ivory artwork consisting of images such as birds, lions, tigers, etc. The art itself which is contained within the Golden Temple also reflects the diverse and open nature of Sikhism as it consists of Hindu mythological themes, as well as including Rajput, Persian, and Mughal influences. It is indeed no wonder that the Golden Temple incorporates such intrinsic architecture and art, all the way down to the minutest details. As the key site for Sikh religious spirituality, its historic beginnings and its gorgeous displays hold deep meaning and connections to Sikhs and even non-Sikhs around the world.

Sikh Gurdwaras:

As can be seen with the architectural layout of the Harimandir Sahib, every gurdwara in the world has its own specific qualities which are significant to Sikhism. One such quality seen in any Sikh Gurdwara is that there are entrances on all four sides, which signify the Sikh belief that all peoples of the world are welcome in any gurdwara in the world, regardless of their sex, caste, creed, or religion. Just as there are four entrances in a gurdwara, so does each gurdwara contain a “deorhi,” or entrance gateway. The “deorhi” itself is an impressive structure and large in size as it often serves as an office or “daftar.” In terms of the overall shapes of the gurdwara’s around the world, there are four basic shape types: the square, the rectangular, the octagonal, and the cruciform. In terms of overall size in a storey, gurdwara’s can range from one to nine storeys in length. One significant quality which all gurdwara’s have is the dome on the very top. Most often white in colour, the domes sometimes may be outlined in brass or a copper-gilt shielding. In any case, the dome may also sprout from a floral base, much like Mount Kailasa in the Hindu tradition.

The Five Takhts:

Takht, the Persian word for a throne, refers to the five Sikh Takhts which represent the Sikh thrones of religious spirituality and authority. Located across Punjab and even Maharashtra, the five thrones are comprised of the following: Sri Akal Takht Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab; Takht Sri Harmandar Sahib in Patna, Bihar; Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib in Anandpur, Punjab; Takht Sri Hazur Sahib in Nanded, Maharashtra and Takht Sri Damdama Sahib in Talwandi Sabo, Punjab.

Though each of the five Takhts is a key site for Sikh religious authority, the throne located in Amritsar (and directly across the Golden Temple) holds more precedence as the ultimate site of authority on all issues concerning the Sikh religion.

Initially built by Guru Har Gobind Singh Ji, the Sri Akal Takht Sahib in Amritsar was originally representative of a resistant force to oppressive Mughal forces in the seventeenth century.

Anandpur Sahib Temple and Forts:

Although most think of Sri Kesgarh Sahib when discussing Anandpur Sahib, there are in fact, a number of amazing structures contained in this city including some key Sikh Gurdwara’s as well as Forts. One of the most significant, and well known of these structures, is of course, the Sri Kesgarh Sahib. As one of the five thrones of the Takht, Sri Kesgarh is indeed a sight to behold. Built in 1699, the massive pure white building was the site for the last living Guru, Gobind Singh Ji’s creation of the Khalsa Panth through the initiation of the “Panj Pyaras.” Inside Sri Kesgarh Sahib, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is located in the main hall; and behind this main hall, in the middle, and protected behind a glass, there contain 12 relics associated with Guru Gobind Singh Ji and other Sikh martyrs. Another beautiful Gurdwara in Anandpur is the Gurdwara Guru De Mahal, of which the foundation was laid by Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji. Although the name implies one set structure, the Gurdwara is in fact comprised of a number of individual buildings and Gurdwaras including Gurdwara Bohra Sahib, Manji Sahib and Damdana Sahib. In addition to the many Gurdwara’s located in Anandpur, there are also a great number of forts, which each have historical significance in themselves. The greatest of these forts, was the Anandgarh Sahib Fort. With the laying of its foundation on March 31, 1689, the fort became the main refuge and living ground for Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Indeed, due to its impressive and solid structure, of which was next to impossible to penetrate, Guru Gobind Singh Ji spent sixteen years amidst this area. Another fort, the Lohagarh Sahib Fort, is located two kilometres away from Sri Kesgarh Sahib and is also considered to be the second most formidable of the Sikh forts. Although during the time of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the fort was utilized as an arms manufacturing factory, today, the fort is more a site of peace and tranquility as it now contains gorgeous green fields and a garden. Another important fort, which was built by the tenth Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, Ji, and before it became the Sikh temple Kesgarh Sahib, was the Kesgarh Fort. Much like the Anandgarh Sahib Fort and the Lohagarh Sahib Fort, the Kesgarh Fort was also a site for protection for the Sikh Guru and his Khalsa army during the tumultuous times of wars between the Sikhs and the Mughals. Indeed, because he spent twenty five years of his life in Anandpur, it was necessary for Guru Gobind Singh Ji to protect himself, his Khalsa army, and all Sikhs in the area.

Haveli:

In addition to the architectural structures of the Sikh gurdwara’s, the simple structure of the village haveli’s and homes are indeed worth mentioning. Though in earlier times for the Sikhs in northern Punjab, their homes could easily be described as mud-huts, while the elites lived in elaborate haveli’s, in modern times, the term haveli can also refer to a simple village home. Often times, the doorway leading to the haveli will be a massive sized door, studded with nails for secure protection. Once inside, the living rooms for the males are what are most visible, whereas the second storey contains the more private rooms for the women, the kitchen, bathroom, etc. At they very top of the house, there contains the baradari, which is only useful during festive seasons, weddings, etc. And every room is equipped with windows with netting (jallies), as well as wooden doors. One specific haveli which demonstrates the overall beauty of the structure, was that of Nau Nihal Singh’s, who was the grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and ruler over the sovereign Sikh empire for a short period of time. Located inside the Mori Gate, Nau Nihal Singh’s haveli was rectangular in size, although very large overall.

Although the massive four storey structure also included a basement, it was the fourth floor which was most impressive. This fourth floor, otherwise called the “Shish Mahal,” which was in remembrance of, and a duplication of, the palaces of the Mughals. The roof of the haveli is amazingly intricate, as it was divided into a number of geometrical compartments, in which each one was further fitted in by a small size mirror. To add further to the roof’s beauty, the middle of the roof was embossed with an image of the sun.

Paintings:

There were countless numbers of painters hired within the Sikh court who would make portraits of the elaborate darbars and court meetings that were held. Maharaja Ranjit Singh is one key figure within Sikhism who held a certain attachment to the arts. Most often however, it would be the European and foreign visitors to the Sikh court, who would often end up portraying aspects of Ranjit Singh, his life, and his court. And even under the auspices of Ranjit Singh, wall paintings became popularized as they became common fixtures in many homes. And as such, during Ranjit’s reign, he made sure that over 700 shrines in memoriam to the Sikh Gurus were embellished with art and paintings. Many artists also attempted to capture the images of the gurus, as certain images became predominant; for example, the image of the first Sikh Guru, Nanak Dev Ji, wearing a head covering like a Mughal crown, as he sits under a tree where birds are perched nearby. Or the other common image in painting of the tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh Ji, seated atop his horse while holding a falcon. Such representations of all ten Gurus through the arts became predominant during the 18th and 19th centuries as Ranjit Singh promoted such ventures. Of course, for Ranjit Singh, wall paintings covered much more than the Gurus and the darbar, as there were also great murals erected which showed specific battles; for example, the two French generals of the court, Ventura and Allard, had a mural depicting themselves in battle erected in their homes in Punjab, India. One of the most celebrated painters during Ranjit Singh’s period was Kehar Singh Musawar of Lahore and Amritsar who was well known for his western style paintings. And though during Ranjit Singh’s times, it was the royal court which hired artists and painters alike to produce art, following the annexation of Punjab in 1849, it was the British who utilized the same painters and artists for their own purposes.