Preserving What History We Have Left

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was… The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Sikhs have never been big on preservation. Partly because we’ve spent most of our 500+ year history fighting for very existence, but in recent years its been a greater combination of complacency, incompetence and real external efforts to mess with our past. All of this has contributed to a situation where, it has been said by some experts, that 80% of Sikh history (architecture, artifacts, texts, etc) has been destroyed in the last 100 years.

According to a 1968 publication of SGPC called sada hath likhat sahit,’ the Sikh Reference Library contained 383 volumes that covered 980 different topics. Amongst this repository were several Hukamn?m?s, 2500 hand-written sarups of Guru Granth Sahib, and other rare historical documents. One historical document was written by Bhai Gurdus and bore a hand-written Mul Mantr page by the Ninth Nanak.

The library also consisted of a manuscript dated 1739 Bikram? that was prepared by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib five years after the martyrdom of Guru Teghbahadur Sahib – in this document, the Tenth Nanak added the writings of the Ninth Nanak at Damdama Sahib to the Guru Granth S?hib.

Unfortunately, the Indian Army set the building on fire on June 7, 1984, destroying a majority of these rare documents. In recent years, the Indian Defense Minister has also admitted to the burning or removal of material from the Sikh Reference Library.

Efforts are underway to preserve the precious little that we have remaining. However most initiatives are underfunded, understaffed, and underequipped to do the job. More importantly, our community really hasn’t come to grips with accepting that it takes more than amateur volunteers to make it happen.

One organization that I’ve come across as an exception to this is theNanakshahi Trust‘sPanjab Virsa Digitization Initiative.

The Virsa project is an effort to preserve numerous historical documents and manuscripts relevant to the Sikhs.
Through digitization, libraries of information will be replicated and made readily available to the masses.
The Virsa project aims to digitize manuscripts, rare historical documents, old printed posters, maps, twentieth-century political documents, and photographs.
Historical buildings in Panjab will also be digitally photographed and architects will create blueprints to preserve the original layout and design.

With a team of 22 people under Davinder Pal Singh, the trust has in a very short period of time done some incredible work:

  • Digitized over 5,00,000 folios of different manuscripts and books in total.
  • Digitized over 100,000 folios from 470 books, twenty authored by Giani Dit Singh and Sixteen
  • Hundred folios of Khalsa Akhbar, first newspaper in Gurmukhi script, it was a weekly newspaper
  • Digitized 33,000 folios of different manuscripts housed in the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh.
  • Digitized over 1,00,000 folios from over 400 manuscripts at Kurukshetra University. These include manuscripts of Gurmukhi, Devnagri and Sharda (Kashmiri) scripts, and official records in Persian and Urdu.
  • Digitized more than 292,000 folios of Guru Granth Sahib.
  • Scanned more than 9000 pages of different periodicals.
  • Converted over 75,300 pages of more than 250 publications to searchable format.

Their future projects include documenting the collection of Dr. Trilochan Singh, twenty eight manuscripts of Guru Granth Sahib, six of Dasam Granth and thirteen others inBanarasand the private collection of Baba Sarabjot Singh Bedi have been completed.The trust has submitted proposals to SGPC,KhalsaCollege,Amritsar, Panjabi Sahit Academy- Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan,New Delhiand Panjab Archives,Patiala.

Furthermore, all digitization will be utilized to create an Online Digital Library of the entire collection – a means of offering rare and fragile originals for viewing to the public.

I’m always amazed at where we Sikhs invest our money. If I had the choice of investing $100,000 on a new shiny gold dome for a Gurdwara, a hydraulic lift for an even taller Nishaan Sahib, a court case with the outgoing Gurdwara management committee, or investing in the preservation of our collective history, the choice would be obvious.

For more information on The Nanakshahi Trust or the Panjab Virsa Digitization Initiative, visit their website,email them at infoatnanakshahi.org or visit them on your next trip to Punjab (2516, Sector 65, SAS Nagar, Punjab, 172 223 4867).


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8 Responses to “Preserving What History We Have Left”

  1. Mewa Singh says:

    Great post Maple Leaf Sikh, it seems Nanakshahi gains recognition everywhere, but from the Sikh community. I worked with them in Chandigarh some years ago and your post inspired me to go to their website to make a donation, but it seems not to be working. Hopefully they'll get that fixed soon.

  2. Mewa Singh says:

    Great post Maple Leaf Sikh, it seems Nanakshahi gains recognition everywhere, but from the Sikh community. I worked with them in Chandigarh some years ago and your post inspired me to go to their website to make a donation, but it seems not to be working. Hopefully they’ll get that fixed soon.

  3. […] lamented by many Sikhs. In fact, one of my fellow langa(w)riters blogged about the need to preserve what history we have left. One group has been silently seeking to remedy this problem the Nanakshahi […]

  4. Roop Dhillon says:

    Sikhs and Punjabis in general are terrible at preserving these things..unless something makes them material wealth they don't care

  5. Roop Dhillon says:

    Sikhs and Punjabis in general are terrible at preserving these things..unless something makes them material wealth they don't care

  6. This is true if we destroy the books or libraries of a community we will not only destroy its history and also steal their future. Preserving your history is really important because history has a way of repeating itself. The wise communities preserve their histories and use it to prepare for their future.

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