Preserving History the Right Way?

gobindgarh.jpgGood news! After years of coaxing and clamoring by Sikhs worldwide, the SGPC has recently committed to preserving Sikh buildings in their historic condition – instead of updating facades with rows of crisp white 4×4 tile, layers of white paint, and sheets of white marble, among other forms of traditional Sikh rehabilitation. The conduits for the SGPC’s work of keeping up historic and new buildings are the groups of Kar Seva Wale Babe and this week the SGPC announced that:

‘kar seva wale’ saints will be requested to maintain the original structures without making additions or alternations.

This is amazing news because in the past a lot of valuable Sikh history and art in the form of frescos and architectural detail has been lost due to the SGPC’s building renovations and updates. Now there seems to be an affirmative acknowledgment that such things can’t continue to happen – a step in what a lot (including I) feel is the right direction. However, the announcement comes at the heels of an interesting tid-bit regarding one historic Amritsar structure: In early January this year, renowned New York hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal announced that he had plans to turn Gobindgarh Fort into a hotel and museum. Hence, the question in the title of this post. As a historic building, Gobindgarh Fort is one of a the older forts in Amritsar, and was built around 1760 by the Bhangi Misl. It was later taken over and refortified by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and used to protect the city of Amritsar. It is, therefore, one of a number of historic buildings that would most likely be subject at some point to the SGPC’s newfound preservationist attitude. In announcing his plans, the report noted that:

Chatwal said that the amount of non-resident Indians as well as foreigners visiting Amritsar is massive because of the Golden Temple but unfortunately the city still does not [have] a world class hotel.

Obviously, allowing such a joint venture would meet a number of different needs simultaniously – fulfilling the desire to keep intact the old fort, meeting the needs of NRI and foreign visitors, and providing a steady stream of return on investment for Mr. Chatwal – BUT the big question is – whether this is the type of preservation Sikhs want. Does turning a historic Sikh fort into a heritage hotel really count as preservation? Thoughts?


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26 Responses to “Preserving History the Right Way?”

  1. baingandabhartha says:

    NO. Not as a hotel-as a museum-great. Build a hotel few miles away. The SGPC is full of illiterate sants and babays. There are few intellectuals whose voice is never allowed to surface. The SGPC is a bunch of dangars as far as I am concerned. They have squandered such resources and so many opportunities to uplift the quaum….

  2. baingandabhartha says:

    NO. Not as a hotel-as a museum-great. Build a hotel few miles away. The SGPC is full of illiterate sants and babays. There are few intellectuals whose voice is never allowed to surface. The SGPC is a bunch of dangars as far as I am concerned. They have squandered such resources and so many opportunities to uplift the quaum….

  3. P.Singh says:

    I agree with baingandabharta – converting the fort into a museum is a more palatable proposition, if only because the idea of Gobindgarh turned into a hotel, run at the whim and fancy of Mr. Chatwal (or Mr. Hilton, or whomever) does not sit will.

    Gobindgarh belongs to all Sikhs, a structure highlighting a certain period of Sikh history – privitizing the fort and turning it into a hotel, will necessarily have management placing financial statements ahead of preservation of history. Even a P3 type project involving the government and a hotelier will involve a fair bit of 'give and take' on how to balance preservation and education with maximizing profits.

    Much better would be a government funded preservation of the fort as a historical building, with minimally intrusive adaptations made to facilitate the creation of a museum within, and around its walls.

  4. P.Singh says:

    I agree with baingandabharta – converting the fort into a museum is a more palatable proposition, if only because the idea of Gobindgarh turned into a hotel, run at the whim and fancy of Mr. Chatwal (or Mr. Hilton, or whomever) does not sit will.

    Gobindgarh belongs to all Sikhs, a structure highlighting a certain period of Sikh history – privitizing the fort and turning it into a hotel, will necessarily have management placing financial statements ahead of preservation of history. Even a P3 type project involving the government and a hotelier will involve a fair bit of ‘give and take’ on how to balance preservation and education with maximizing profits.

    Much better would be a government funded preservation of the fort as a historical building, with minimally intrusive adaptations made to facilitate the creation of a museum within, and around its walls.

  5. I welcome the SGPC announcement. But like most announcements, I will wait for the action before applauding it. The SGPC has not been the victim of the kar sevaks, they have been complicit in the destruction. They have turned kar seva into an auction system that rewards the kar sevaks with the deepest pockets, and they have ignored the advice, pleas and petitioning by experts in the field. The SGPC continue to patronise a system by which old manuscripts are cremated regularly.

    Gobingarh, is almost the last bastion of Sikh architectural heritage left in East Punjab. The grand mud forts of chamkaur were felled in the 70s and Anandpur is now a network of generic whitewashed monstrosities. Very little of the built heritage of 100 years ago survives today, Gobindgarh is a rare example. It must not be allowed to be turned into a heritage hotel. The Egyptians wouldn’t allow the Great Pyramid to be turned into a hotel nor would the Americans allow Mt Rushmore to be disgraced in this manner. Sikhs and Punjabis must stand up to oppose this kind of hubris.

  6. I welcome the SGPC announcement. But like most announcements, I will wait for the action before applauding it. The SGPC has not been the victim of the kar sevaks, they have been complicit in the destruction. They have turned kar seva into an auction system that rewards the kar sevaks with the deepest pockets, and they have ignored the advice, pleas and petitioning by experts in the field. The SGPC continue to patronise a system by which old manuscripts are cremated regularly.

    Gobingarh, is almost the last bastion of Sikh architectural heritage left in East Punjab. The grand mud forts of chamkaur were felled in the 70s and Anandpur is now a network of generic whitewashed monstrosities. Very little of the built heritage of 100 years ago survives today, Gobindgarh is a rare example. It must not be allowed to be turned into a heritage hotel. The Egyptians wouldnt allow the Great Pyramid to be turned into a hotel nor would the Americans allow Mt Rushmore to be disgraced in this manner. Sikhs and Punjabis must stand up to oppose this kind of hubris.

  7. Tavleen Kaur says:

    I saw the Ramgarh Fort (Haryana) last year, and it is now a resort as well. Although because of this face lift, it's structurally in better condition now than the other parts of the fort that have been left untouched. Positives and negatives of this project aside, it gives an idea of what kinds of possibilities lie in restoration/preservation/reuse of historic structures.

    I don't think turning Gobindgarh into a hotel/resort is the best of ideas. But it makes me wonder, though, since the talks of opening up Gobindgarh to visitors fell through (or..have been delayed?)..how open would the Panjabi Government/Indian Army (which currently uses the space) be to the idea of turning Gobindgarh into a resort? And as resort, it would really limit who goes there..however..as a museum (given that none of its architectural significance is sacrificed in turning it into one), it would be of interest to a much larger crowd–tourists and locals.

  8. Tavleen Kaur says:

    I saw the Ramgarh Fort (Haryana) last year, and it is now a resort as well. Although because of this face lift, it’s structurally in better condition now than the other parts of the fort that have been left untouched. Positives and negatives of this project aside, it gives an idea of what kinds of possibilities lie in restoration/preservation/reuse of historic structures.

    I don’t think turning Gobindgarh into a hotel/resort is the best of ideas. But it makes me wonder, though, since the talks of opening up Gobindgarh to visitors fell through (or..have been delayed?)..how open would the Panjabi Government/Indian Army (which currently uses the space) be to the idea of turning Gobindgarh into a resort? And as resort, it would really limit who goes there..however..as a museum (given that none of its architectural significance is sacrificed in turning it into one), it would be of interest to a much larger crowd–tourists and locals.

  9. Kaur says:

    I definitely think it is a bad idea to turn this Sikh historical structure into a resort. However, my question is 'What can we really do about this'?

    As Amandeep Bhaji has pointed out Gobindgarh is almost the last bastion of Sikh architectural heritage left in East Punjab. I don't think it's sufficient to trust the government (Punjab or Indian) to take care of anything quite honestly.

    What can we do try to encourage the creation of the museum and not the resort seeing that there is already money influence involved?

  10. Kaur says:

    I definitely think it is a bad idea to turn this Sikh historical structure into a resort. However, my question is ‘What can we really do about this’?

    As Amandeep Bhaji has pointed out Gobindgarh is almost the last bastion of Sikh architectural heritage left in East Punjab. I don’t think it’s sufficient to trust the government (Punjab or Indian) to take care of anything quite honestly.

    What can we do try to encourage the creation of the museum and not the resort seeing that there is already money influence involved?

  11. what's in a nam says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mughal_architecture

    From the above wikipedia article:

    "Under Jahangir (1605–1627) the Hindu features vanished from the style; his great mosque at Lahore is in the Persian style, covered with enamelled tiles; his tomb nearby (1630-1640) was made a quarry of by the Sikhs from which to build the Golden Temple at Amritsar."

    HUH?!! Maharaja Ranjit Singh rebuilt the Harmandir sahib using material from Jahangir's tomb??? Can anyone quantify/ validate / invalidate this? (I hope someone can invalidate this)

  12. what's in a name says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mughal_architecture

    From the above wikipedia article:

    “Under Jahangir (16051627) the Hindu features vanished from the style; his great mosque at Lahore is in the Persian style, covered with enamelled tiles; his tomb nearby (1630-1640) was made a quarry of by the Sikhs from which to build the Golden Temple at Amritsar.”

    HUH?!! Maharaja Ranjit Singh rebuilt the Harmandir sahib using material from Jahangir’s tomb??? Can anyone quantify/ validate / invalidate this? (I hope someone can invalidate this)

  13. Singh says:

    what's in a name,

    i cant discredit that comment, but please take wikipedia with a grain of salt b/c not all of their information i completely accurate (although usually its a decent source). as far as the building materials for harmandir sahib – it is difficult to believe that a structure made of brick was created with materials stolen from jahangir's tomb. the cite makes specific reference to enamel tile, which does not appear at darbar sahib and additionally it alludes me what could have been stolen to construct the sikh building…the facade does not have any of the typical lavish mugal traits including carved stone. the gold was added by maharaja ranjit singh, but that is not a distinctly islamic architectural trait that could have been stolen. the interior is painted with frescos which could noth ave been stolen. so what could have been taken from jahangir's tomb? perhaps you can pose these questions to wikipedia and ask for a source (a book or textual account)

  14. Singh says:

    what’s in a name,

    i cant discredit that comment, but please take wikipedia with a grain of salt b/c not all of their information i completely accurate (although usually its a decent source). as far as the building materials for harmandir sahib – it is difficult to believe that a structure made of brick was created with materials stolen from jahangir’s tomb. the cite makes specific reference to enamel tile, which does not appear at darbar sahib and additionally it alludes me what could have been stolen to construct the sikh building…the facade does not have any of the typical lavish mugal traits including carved stone. the gold was added by maharaja ranjit singh, but that is not a distinctly islamic architectural trait that could have been stolen. the interior is painted with frescos which could noth ave been stolen. so what could have been taken from jahangir’s tomb? perhaps you can pose these questions to wikipedia and ask for a source (a book or textual account)

  15. what's in a nam says:

    Um yes I think I will ask wiki what their source was for this. Though in saything that the tomb was used as a quarry – I think that means that the type of material extracted would have been stone / other natural material from the earth.

    Urm re the enamel tiles – that was with reference to a mosque built by jahangir and not his tomb – it is not of relevence.

    okay thanks will contact wiki.

  16. what's in a name says:

    Um yes I think I will ask wiki what their source was for this. Though in saything that the tomb was used as a quarry – I think that means that the type of material extracted would have been stone / other natural material from the earth.

    Urm re the enamel tiles – that was with reference to a mosque built by jahangir and not his tomb – it is not of relevence.

    okay thanks will contact wiki.

  17. what's in a nam says:

    It was too complicated trying to get through to wikipedia so I deleted the line making reference to the tomb and quarry 😛

  18. what's in a name says:

    It was too complicated trying to get through to wikipedia so I deleted the line making reference to the tomb and quarry 😛

  19. Singh says:

    see how easy it is to change history on wiki…

  20. Singh says:

    see how easy it is to change history on wiki…

  21. what's in a nam says:

    Yes, it's quite scary. It made me think of how easy it is for history to be distorted by word of mouth or by text.

    It makes me wonder about the extent of truth in recitals of history, bearing in mind that most of the written and spoken word is influenced by a person's perspective. It also makes me think of how quickly people believe in what they are told and how destructive this fast judgement, based on what may not be fact, can be.

    Sorry I have diverted from the original conversation.

    I was never much of a conservationist until I started thinking about Sikh history. The fact that the architecture of an era / of a group of people with a specific set of beliefs can stand more true through time than the word renders conservation of significant buildings important.

    This said, my belief that representation in architecture and that meaning in architecture is important becomes stronger. That the construction of a building is more important than just bricks and mortar and than aesthetics; the whole process of creating the building should be influenced by the principle it stands to represent – though I guess that’s not always practical.

    Anyway personally I think turning the fort into a hotel is a bad move due to the degree of manipulation the interior would require in order to accommodate the function of temporary residency. Using it as a public building with larger internal spaces may allow the original form to be maintained more true to its original form.

  22. what's in a name says:

    Yes, it’s quite scary. It made me think of how easy it is for history to be distorted by word of mouth or by text.

    It makes me wonder about the extent of truth in recitals of history, bearing in mind that most of the written and spoken word is influenced by a person’s perspective. It also makes me think of how quickly people believe in what they are told and how destructive this fast judgement, based on what may not be fact, can be.

    Sorry I have diverted from the original conversation.

    I was never much of a conservationist until I started thinking about Sikh history. The fact that the architecture of an era / of a group of people with a specific set of beliefs can stand more true through time than the word renders conservation of significant buildings important.

    This said, my belief that representation in architecture and that meaning in architecture is important becomes stronger. That the construction of a building is more important than just bricks and mortar and than aesthetics; the whole process of creating the building should be influenced by the principle it stands to represent though I guess thats not always practical.

    Anyway personally I think turning the fort into a hotel is a bad move due to the degree of manipulation the interior would require in order to accommodate the function of temporary residency. Using it as a public building with larger internal spaces may allow the original form to be maintained more true to its original form.

  23. Phulkari says:

    I can respect people's desires to turn the Gobindgarh Fort into something else than a hotel … I would argue for the same. However, I ask what will we put into the museum? So many times I think "museums" are called for before we even know what we are going to put in them or even if there is anything to put in them. I know this is idealistic, but I would hope that a Sikh philanthriopic group (either in Punjab or abroad who would be committed to perserving as much of the authenticity and hertiage of the site as possible because I don't have enough trust in the SGPC right now to carry through with this) would take over the Fort and turn it into some additional rooms for those who would like to visit the Harminder Sahib (similar to how rooms are built as Gurdwaras for visitors) and run it. If we can figure out what we would put in a museum, then maybe we could have some space dedicated to this project. Any other ideas?

  24. Phulkari says:

    I can respect people’s desires to turn the Gobindgarh Fort into something else than a hotel … I would argue for the same. However, I ask what will we put into the museum? So many times I think “museums” are called for before we even know what we are going to put in them or even if there is anything to put in them. I know this is idealistic, but I would hope that a Sikh philanthriopic group (either in Punjab or abroad who would be committed to perserving as much of the authenticity and hertiage of the site as possible because I don’t have enough trust in the SGPC right now to carry through with this) would take over the Fort and turn it into some additional rooms for those who would like to visit the Harminder Sahib (similar to how rooms are built as Gurdwaras for visitors) and run it. If we can figure out what we would put in a museum, then maybe we could have some space dedicated to this project. Any other ideas?

  25. what's in a nam says:

    what about a library?

  26. what's in a name says:

    what about a library?