Who’s really destroying Sikh heritage?

In seeking rebuild the Akaal Takht and undo the damage done by the Indian State, these Panthic groups ended up erasing what was left of its history - GURNAM SINGH

Historic frescos brutally smashed in reconstruction of Akal Takht – Photo: Source unknown
By Gurnam Singh | OPINION |

Who is really responsible for destroying our Sikh heritage?

We all know that in June 1984 the imperial forces of the Indian State led by [Indian Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi occupied the Sikh homeland of Punjab and laid siege of the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar. What followed was four days of death and destruction resulting in serious damage to the complex. The Akaal Takht was damaged beyond repair.

Subsequently, in order to hide their crime, the Indian State hired a group of Nihangs to rebuild the Takht. However, in January 1986, some Panthic groups during a Sarbat Khalsa gathering at Darbar Sahib, led by Damdami Taksaal, passed a resolution to dismantle the ‘sarkari’ ‘reconstructed Akaal Takht’ structure and replace it with a structure to be built by the Khalsa Panth.

Whilst I totally support the principle behind this move, I recently came across some disturbing images (see above) of the totally insensitive way in which the new building was erected, where some of the historic frescos that remained were brutally smashed. And so, in one sense, in seeking rebuild the Akaal Takht and undo the damage done by the Indian State, these Panthic groups ended up erasing what was left of its history.

SEE ALSO: Sikh heritage and art drained over years in Punjab and Delhi

Just a quick reminder. Originally referred to as Akaal Bungha, the Akaal Takht was founded by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind. As well as serving as a focal point for the emerging Sikh Panth, in defiance of the Mogul imperialists, it was as a symbol of political sovereignty. Along with Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas, the sixth Sikh Guru originally constructed a 9-foot-high concrete slab known as a ‘Thara’ on June 1606. But tragically, as far as I know there is no trace of the original structure, but certainly the original frescos are no more.

I sometimes wonder, given the amount of ‘self-destruction we have done to our history and heritage, whether it is fair to blame everything on the imperialists, whether they were the Moguls, Afghans, British and now Indians. You make your own mind up!

[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk]

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



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