An Insight into One Man’s Quest and Journey: Peering Soul and Peering Warrior

Sikh heritage in Pakistan expert Amardeep Singh showcased his two completed documentaries entitled Peering Soul and Peering Warrior. SARJIT KAUR shares what the author is up to next

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By Sarjit Kaur | MALAYSIA |

On 6 January 2019, Amardeep made a comeback to the Malaysian circuit, to showcase his two completed documentaries entitled Peering Soul and Peering Warrior. The documentary screening was made to a packed audience in Penang, Ipoh, Seremban and Kuala Lumpur.

He brought alive, compelling images and heart-warming stories from his two books –‘LOST HERITAGE The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan and THE QUEST CONTINUES: LOST HERITAGE The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan’. Peering Soul explores the spiritual remnants of the Sikh legacy in remote areas in Pakistan whilst Peering Warrior is a historical account and glimpse of Forts in the Sikh era in Pakistan.

Amardeep also shared encouraging developments and milestones in Pakistan, post his two books.

The next project he embarks is called – ‘Allegory – A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels’. As I write, he is already on ground in Sri Lanka, his first country in the exploration.

Manshera Gurdwara was converted into a Municipal library (photo: Amardeep Singh)
A. PEERING SOUL – Exploring the Spiritual Remnants of the Sikh Legacy in remote areas in Pakistan

In the 1947 separation, 10 million people moved and 1 million people died. All races suffered, it was not just Sikhs. After the separation, we have to acknowledge that nations have been formed and cultures living there. The question is – how do we reconnect to our past?  Amardeep reminded us that our heritage is not confined to Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Panja Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. We need to see and experience beyond.

His documentary Peering Soul delves into the spiritual remnants of the Sikh Legacy in remote areas in Pakistan. He brings to focus, the life and practices of forgotten communities which continue to thrive and evolve across Pakistan. Islam, Hindu and Sikhs co-existed back then, as a multi-cultural system and community. People would light up lamps every Friday. Old writings in Gurmukhi and Urdu were found engraved on buildings. Blotched yet attractive frescos were seen at Gurdwaras.

Some of his captures in the documentary:

In Hazro village, Amardeep was warmly embraced by the local community. Ik Ongkar was inscribed in Gurmukhi on a former Hindu temple, now used as a residence. In the premises of Baherwal Gurdwara – Ik Ongkar Sat Gurprasad was engraved on the walls. These simply reaffirm that languages have no religion.

The ill-fated well near Gurdwara Thoha Khalsa carries melancholy recollections. Women would jump into the well as a self-protection act. They wanted to die but there was no more space in the well, so they had to force their heads inside. It was a very sad episode.

I touched the fatigue yet delicate structure embodying Jhari Sahib Gurdwara. It was tunnelling into its final days. This heritage monument had once served the spiritual needs of the Punjabi community.  It heaved a sigh of relief – as if waiting to be found. It faintly whispered to me – “I can now perish in peace…”

 

B. PEERING WARRIOR – Historical account and glimpses of Forts of the Sikh era in Pakistan

The Sikh empire under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh extended from the Khyber Pass in the west, to western Tibet in the east, and from Mithankot in the south, to Kashmir in the north. His reign ended in 1839 upon his demise. The Sikh empire thereafter weakened due to internal divisions and political mismanagement.

In 1849, British invaded Lahore capital and defeated the Sikh Empire. They ruled till 1947 when Pakistan was founded as a result of the independence of India from the British Rule. India was simultaneously partitioned to create the new country, Pakistan.

The Sikh Khalsa Army was the military force of the Sikh Empire. Military forts were built to defend against enemies. Amardeep shares 27 Forts of our Sikh era, where he travelled to 126 cities and villages in Pakistan.

Among others, these were two significant captures in the documentary:

In 1837, the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh rushed to Shab Qadar Fort. There was a huge Afghan invasion. The army broke the gates and got inside. In order to control the invasion, the gates were sentenced to 100 years in imprisonment. The left and right doors have been tied to the fort for the last century. While the fort should have been released in 1940, they are still chained in 2018. A forgotten structure brought to light…

Peering through the gated monument of the walls of Lahore Fort – it reminded me of a painting depicting the hustle and bustle of this once, iconic place. Within the sounds of silence, the fort unbearably whispered – “Why are our glorious chapters forgotten? Where is the desire to explore legacy? Doesn’t humanity have a responsibility to embrace us?” With a heavy heart, I stepped out of Lahore Fort. I don’t have the answer to these questions …

These were Amardeep’s inner conversations with the monuments in his Peering Warrior documentary, which is a historical account of the Forts in the Sikh era in Pakistan. He takes us peering inside the legendary forts where the Sikh history resides, with footages never seen before. He was granted access to many Sikh monuments by the Pakistan Government. These structures were either locked from public use or viewing due to its dilapidated and unsafe nature.

Amardeep shares that when we start talking and creating awareness of the Forts in the Sikh era, people will start visiting them and tourism can naturally develop. If we can adopt 5 monuments in the next 10 years, we would have achieved our objective, he says. Hence the intent of the documentary with life images of the forts, to bring education and awareness to the masses.

Remains of Chowa Guru Nanak Gurdwara with Rohtas Fort in the background. The photo went on the cover of the Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan (photo: Amardeep Singh)
A 4-YEAR QUEST AND JOURNEY

A quick recap on Amardeep’s journey on the lost heritage of the Sikh legacy in Pakistan. Fueled by passion and the need for closure, Amardeep left the corporate world and embarked on this trip in 2014. He had two burning questions – Where is my father’s roots?  Where are the remnants of our glorious chapters after British left India – re the footprints of our community?

Seek and you shall find. Lo and behold – he found his answers! 80% of that territory fell in Pakistan. He travelled to Pakistan and embraced every divine evidence presented before his eyes. His lens captured centuries old heritage in the form of gurdwaras and forts.

After a year of research and writing, his first book – ‘LOST HERITAGE The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan’ was published in January 2016. There, he miraculously travelled to 36 cities and villages in Pakistan in 30 days, amidst tight security.

2 years after, on 20 January 2018, we were taken through Amardeep’s lens on his second journey and labour of love to Pakistan, entitled ‘THE QUEST CONTINUES: LOST HERITAGE The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan’. He approached the subject holistically to cover religious places, architecture, forts, arts and culture where he researched and travelled to 90 additional cities and villages in Pakistan.

 

SPROUTING DEVELOPMENT

The author has seen some shoots and sprouting development arising from his two books after four years of labour, therefore justifying his road less travelled. While he is not taking credit for the developments, he feels a sense of joy that there has been adequate education and awareness created. This would have spurred the universal energy to open the gates of humanity that were closed for so long.

A journey which started in 2014; he relates some of the uplifting progress in Pakistan:

  1. More Gurdwaras identified for adoption and restoration

The journey of restoring gurdwaras have been going on for the last 20 years by the Pakistan Government. However, there has been awareness created, to adopt more.

Recently two gurdwaras were adopted by the Walled City of Lahore Authority (responsible for conservation, planning and development of historical sites) namely Rohtas Fort gates which leads to Chowa Guru Nanak Gurdwara (front hard cover of the Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan book) and also Bkai Karam Singh Gurdwara at Jhelum.

Intricate wooden carvings and Gurbani inscriptions on the walls of Bhai Karam Singh Gurdwara (photo: Amardeep Singh)

 

Walled City had seen the two gurdwaras featured in his first book – the Lost Heritage, and were inspired that these structures needed to be restored. His book has been a catalyst for them to consider.

  1. Opening of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor

Kartarpur Sahib Corridor will soon be opened to facilitate Sikh Yatris. India and Pakistan have approved the construction of a corridor linking India to the historic Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Narowal district, where Guru Nanak Dev Ji, spent his last few years with his followers. Once built, the corridor will allow Sikh pilgrims from India a visa-free access to the Gurdwara to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Ji in November 2019.

  1. Local university to expand research work

The Chancellor of Punjab University in Lahore has given assurance that they will carry on and expand Amardeep’s current extensive research work. The Chancellor exclaimed that the university should have embarked on this research work and asked why they didn’t board on this project to begin with.

Amardeep had donated 100 sets of books to the University and placed them there, so the next generation can have first-hand accounts, see the greater than life relics thru his lens and read about our Sikh legacy.

  1. Restoration in its original form

Amardeep has been instrumental in brokering a tripartite arrangement for the Sikh era monument in Lahore Fort to be restored.

This is after a 2-year dialogue. It is a tie up between Aga Khan Foundation, Walled City of Lahore Authority and a US-based foundation.

Entrance to Lahore Fort (photo: Amardeep Singh)

If we can get one Sikh era monument in the Lahore Fort to be restored in its original form, it can lead us to learning and adoption for expansion in other places, he says. A breakthrough indeed! Large organisations can adopt the 2nd largest monument and so forth. Once we have 3 monuments adopted, he explained that the World Bank and UNESCO will then come in, to support this heritage cause.  But we have to get the work started.

 

PRESERVING OUR LEGACY

How can we achieve the objective of preserving our legacy? Amardeep offers the following suggestions:

  1. Convert monuments to place of public use

Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabh or also known as Manshera Gurdwara (see first photo above) has in recent years been converted into a Municipal library. Some of its colourful frescos were recreated, close to their original design during the repair and restoration work.

Amardeep explained that continuous maintenance work must also be carried out. Gurdwara Daultala for example, was used as a school but vacated thereafter, as it was no longer in a safe condition.

Manshera Fort has been used as a base of a police station. Mingora Gurdwara on the other hand, houses 70 Punjabi homes and they are able to maintain and read the Guru Granth Sahib scripture.

  1. Education and awareness

We need to continuously educate and create awareness for people to experience our spiritual heritage. Relevant organisations can continue from his work. Let us encourage the adoption of monuments.

  1. Employ competent people to restore

The relevant authorities must stop giving restoration contracts to incompetent people. While 24 historical gurdwaras located in West Punjab (Pakistan) have been restored, they have been contracted for restoration to people from East Punjab (India) and these groups which are focussed on reconstruction of gurdwaras are not competent in heritage maintenance. They bulldozed and reconstructed the structures with marble and gold, which takes away the pristine art form and original structures.

Unfortunately, we focussed on the blankness of the white marble and not the richness of the frescos, be it coloured paintings or manuscript writings on the wall. As for the gold, perhaps it was a natural manifestation of our materialistic state.

Our forefathers left us with a lot of treasure. Restoration means putting back structures the way they were, so they are kept intact. Where there is deviation, we must report, so the work can be stopped, as sadly what is lost cannot be brought back.

 

THE ANGKOR WATT OF SIKH HERITAGE

Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and one of the largest religious monuments in the world, on a site measuring 163 hectares.

The ancient site attracted 1.05 million foreign visitors in the first four months of 2018, up 11 percent compared to last period, based on ticket sales. Revenue from ticket sales to foreign tourists reached USD$48.2 million during the January-April period in 2018, up 23 percent from last period.

Amardeep says it loud and clear. We are sitting on a gold mine! Pakistan can be the Angkor Watt of Sikh Heritage. Let us have the vision to bring about a change. If we have 10 to 12 sites restored in its original form, we have a Sikh heritage trail.

What is our intent? Embracing humanity as a universal force regardless of our background and race. Wherever he went and as he mingled, people embraced him with warmth and care. Amardeep’s work focusses on simply these basic ingredients – heritage and legacy where people can come together. It is never about politics.

Where can we focus? Spiritual reminiscence in remote areas. Jamrund Fort for example, was built by Hari Singh Nalwa, the Commander in Chief of the Sikh Khalsa Army. He was known for his role in the conquests of several places. He built this fort to protect the plains of Punjab from foreign invasions taking place through the Khyber Pass. This fort has the view of Kyber Pass. Specifically, the room where Hari Singh Nalwa’s body was kept, is a historical attraction and tourism wise, people will be prepared to travel there, to pay homage and respect to this revered man and historical site.

The time has come to allow more people to experience our Sikh heritage. The income it will generate for the people of Pakistan will assist this part of humanity greatly. From an eco-system perspective, there will be a compelling reason and continuous cycle to maintain and enhance the structures.  It will be a win win situation for all.

Amardeep briefing the audience on his next project called Allegory at Asia Pacific University, Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Sarjit Kaur)

 

AMARDEEP’S NEXT PROJECT: Documentary entitled ‘Allegory – A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels’

Treading Guru Nanak’s Path Today

Amardeep is one person who does not rest on his laurels. His current project is the makings of a documentary called ‘Allegory – A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels’ which means – revelation of a hidden meaning and is a tapestry of Guru Nanak’s travels. Emotional documentaries evoke people’s hearts.

Amardeep would be travelling to the 9 countries that Guru Nanak treaded namely – Pakistan, India, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

He starts on January 12th 2019 and will complete in 9 months to end in November 2018, in time for Guru Nanak’s celebration. He would take another year to compile and assemble these rare footages and materials into a documentary by November 2020.

The documentation of the sites interspersed with narratives of the past will convey the universal message of humanity of Guru Nanak, and this will continue through generations.

Guru Nanak visited numerous Muslims, Sufi and Hindu sites to break barriers across faiths and engage in spiritual dialogues. Diversity is where we thrive. Who will tell the stories? Who will show the Hindu temples he visited? We have been focussing on gurdwaras. But Nanak is bigger than Gurdwaras, says Amardeep.

An introduction video on Amardeep’s ‘Allegory – A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels’ documentary can be viewed here

 

Keeping Guru Nanak’s Memories Alive

The oral narratives of Guru Nanak’s stories, known as Janamsakhis have been forgotten and sovereign nations have made many of the historic sites inaccessible. Thus, there is a compelling need to explore and film the sites visited by Guru Nanak, so the faded memories can be kept alive.

Amardeep will take us thru sites that Baba Nanak and Bhai Mardana travelled and show the diversity of every country, which is fascinating! We will have an account, in this current day and time of the wisdom and messages of Guru Nanak’s travels. A 2019 literature, travelling 550 years back in time! Amardeep will document and bring together the untold story.

I am the Guru

I am the Disciple

My name is Nanak

I reside everywhere

 

AUDIENCES SAY

Sharing what our audience had to say about his work and how we can play our part …

  • Optimal Sikh era – Amardeep did a wonderful job in creating awareness on the remnants that have been left behind re the gurdwaras and forts. This is a very important mission that needs to be documented, so our next generation is aware of what we were, especially during the era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Because, that was the optimum period of Sikh history and achievement in modern times. I wish we can support this venture through certain contributions, small or large. Crowd funding from the community i.e. raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, would go a long way – Colonel Mohan Singh (Retired)
  • Youngsters’ understanding Guru Nanak – It is so important for our youngsters to know what went on, in Guru Nanak’s journey and have an appreciation of His message of peace which was not only for Sikhs, but all faiths. Guru Nanak advocated that we have no hate, judgement or discrimination for any faith, and love them all. For this venture to be sustained, every effort and contribution will enable the journey to be a successful one – Pardeep Singh
  • Preservation and race against time – The revelation of our lost heritage is like opening of a pandora box. It requires a framework for restoration of the various sites in Pakistan. It is an emotional equation towards the footsteps of Baba Nanak who travelled throughout Pakistan. It is sad that the beautiful architectural buildings and place of worship are in a dilapidated state today.
  • A lone crusader, Amardeep followed his love and emotions for Sikhs and in the process, the Lost Heritage was born in the race against time, to preserve whatever remnants of our gurdwaras and forts for the future generation to know and see. It is an uphill task indeed but seeing his perseverance and commitment; the completion of restoration work now becomes a definite objective. There is definitely – the budget to consider. People like us, need to pull our resources together and make a difference where we can, towards this project. After all, it is for the betterment of our children and legacy – Jaswinder Kaur.
CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARDS ‘ALLEGORY – A TAPESTRY OF GURU NANAK’S TRAVELS’

For this project, Amardeep will have his crew on the ground. It will cost him USD$1,300 a day for their travel and research expenses. The project needs support for this 9-month journey.

For those keen to contribute towards his – ‘Allegory – A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels’ project across 9 nations, the following are two transfer options and details. Please drop him a note at +65 9832 6508 to notify the transfer, so all contributions for the project can be accounted for.

Option 1:

Account Name: Lost Heritage Productions Pte Ltd

Account Number: 288-904203-2

Bank Name: DBS Bank

Bank Address: 12, Marina Boulevard, DBS Asia Centre, Marina Bay Financial Centre, Tower 3, Singapore 018982

Swift Address: DBS SSGSG

Option 2:

Paypal account

lostheritageproductions@gmail.com

 

RELATED STORIES:

Our legacy has been forgotten (Asia Samachar, 5 Feb 2018)

Pakistan proudly hosts of over 300 Sikh historical religious sites, gurdwaras (Asia Samachar, 27 Jan 2018)

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

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