Shyam Bhatia in London
A labour of love has gone into the creation of a massive new book about the Golden Temple that incorporates a comprehensive account of the photographic and visual history of the holy place, including the earliest known image from an 1825 miniature.
Amandeep Singh Madra and his co-author Parmjit Singh are the moving spirits behind this 303-page book that has been published on Friday by Kashi House, the publishing wing of the UK Punjab Heritage Association. The book has been designed by Juga Singh with writing and research back up provided by Harbaksh Singh and Gurdeep Singh Gill.
Critics describe the book as a coffee table presentation, but there is much more substance to “The Golden temple of Amritsar, Reflections of the Past (1808-1959)”, which starts with an impressive and detailed introduction that records pre-Sikh mythology, including the story of the Pandavs, as well as Lav and Kush and the visit of the Buddha. Also detailed are the past acts of destruction, the re-building of the temple and the Great Game played out between the British Empire and its European rivals from France to Russia.
Few can fail to be moved by quotes from the Gurus, such as Guru Arjan Dev, as well as the observations of secular, foreign visitors. Three Englishmen who visited Harmandar Sahib in 1897 had this to say, “It was beautiful, this offering of blushing flowers, the reverence, the meekness, the atmosphere of mysticism, the lavish resplendent wealth, the impressive music, the fascinating Eastern-ness of it all. We came away speaking no words.”
One of the most interesting and shocking stories, extracted from the published account put together by the late Professor Sahib Singh of Khalsa College, Amritsar, concerns the attempted auction of the Golden Temple by the British authorities in 1877.
This is a shock and awe story related to an actual miracle that happened when a ball of lightning that entered the temple in April 1877 from one door while the congregation inside was at prayer, hovered above the Guru Granth Sahib and disappeared through the opposite door, leaving everyone in a sense of shock. The shocked British authorities were told of the miracle on the morning they were planning to auction the temple. The auction was subsequently cancelled.
The authors also write about the ‘bungas’, the palatial dwellings along the temple periphery that belonged to the Sikh aristocracy, as well as to various religious orders who offered free education in languages and religion, as well as comparative religions. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s bunga was demolished by the British in 1870 to make way for a clock tower that overshadowed the temple itself. Demolitions of other bungas continued thereafter until none were left by the time of Partition.
Although the book is pricey at £45, it represents a huge amount of effort spanning two years with archives investigated from Delhi to Honolulu, including the uncovering of 70 eyewitness accounts.
Profits from the limited edition of 3,000 copies are to be ploughed back into special new edition of the now out of date and much sought after book, first published in 1999, entitled, “Warrior Saints, 300 years of the Sikh military tradition”.