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Preserving a Sikh Shrine in Iraq

In a significant development, the Government of Iraq has decided to rebuild the 15th century Sikh Guru Guru Nanak Dev’s shrine which was destroyed in the 2003 war in Baghdad. [link]

plate8.jpgGuru Nanak Dev Ji is said to have visited theplace on his way back from Mecca where he stopped to speak withreligious leaders including the caretaker of the mausoleums of Abdul Qadir gilani and Bahlol the Wise, who were greatly impressed by his views on God and religion. A monument, in the form of a platform, was raised where Guru Nanak had sat and provided these discourses. It is documented that Sikh soldiers who went to Iraq during the First World War, 1914-18, raised a Gurdwara here, but now onlya room exists which is visited by Sikh and non-Sikh Punjabis who work in Iraq. In addition, it is noted that since the gurdwara is located withina graveyard, visitors are banned from staying overnight, cooking meals or holding Langar and Kirtan. I was not able to locate any information regarding who is currently in charge of the gurdwara or what the dynamics of the gurdwara are (without Langar or Kirtan). I do wonder if a Guru Granth Sahib is kept there and, in that case,who does the seva.


Saving Baba Atal

My Nana Ji (maternal grandfather) often says: Ja savair da bhulia, shaam noo ghar muriavye, ta oh nu bhulia nehee keheeda. That if one is lost in the morning, but finds his way home by evening, hes no longer lost. Hopefully thats the case with Sikhs and their preservation of history and architecture.

Over the years, well-intentioned but individuals kar sewa babas took on the responsibility for the renovation and expansion of Sikh religious institutions across South Asia. Unfortunately, in almost every case, they lacked any expertise in preservation and caused way more harm then good. The result has been, literally, a whitewashing of Gurdwaras. With an out with the old and in with the new attitude, old historical structures have been torn down, modified beyond recognition and historical paintings and frescos have been painted or tiled over.

For me the most shocking example of this came from the Baba Atal tower in Amritsar, where hideous green bathroom tiles (that no self-respecting homeowner would ever use) were installed over top of century-old paintings. Here is pic that were sent my way a few years back.

Thankfully, someone has woken up to the fact that bathroom dcor isnt the best way to preserve our history for future generations.

The heritage experts engaged by the SGPC and the district administration have found priceless frescoes from the first floor of Baba Atal, the tallest building of Amritsar, hidden under bathroom tiles put up by Sikh Babas during previous kar sewa.

The art work is exquisite. Most of the art work, hidden during the kar sewa can be retrieved though it requires extra care and expertise. The experts are careful that further damage is not caused while removing marble or bathroom tiles.

Earlier, the SGPC had entrusted kar sewa to the Sikh Babas who had destroyed the Sikh heritage, much to the chagrin of experts. Deputy commissioner Kahan Singh Pannu today held a meeting with experts in the Golden Temple complex after monitoring the restoration work of Baba Atal and Ramgarhia Bungas.

Earlier, the kar sewa, carried out to repair age-old murals at Gurdwara Baba Atal, had earned flak from heritage lovers. Interior walls of the first floor were adorned with murals depicting Sikh history. About 100 panels of murals had been left on the first floor of the gurdwara, while the rest of them had been destroyed beyond recognition. Link

This is an area where the Sikh diaspora can have a direct impact. Most kar sewa efforts are highly dependent on dollars and pounds coming in from abroad. Before giving from your dasvand to these causes, please make sure and find out what the project is actually doing. The last thing anyone wants to further devastate the little physical we have left.

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