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For the art that isn't known...

Sikh art is a rich yet unexplored domain. "An Insight into Sikh Art" attempts to unveil some interesting facets. RANA A. SIDDIQUI speaks to Kavita Singh to get an insight into the book... .


NO DOUBT Maharaja Ranjit Singh who adorned the throne of Punjab and North-West Frontier Province from 1780 to 1839 was a true patron of art. Be it restoring the Lahore Fort, rebuilding the Golden Temple, donating silver doors to the Jwalamukhi Temple, commissioning elaborate manuscripts and miniature paintings or giving away exquisite Kashmir shawls to darbaris, his dedication towards spreading the love of art bore fruit. So much so that people barely know anything about `Sikh art' beyond what he propagated.

"Sikh Art had been mainly confined to portraits that people know about, but there is much more to it," says Kavita Singh, an Associate Professor at the School of Art and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The thought gave rise to vigorous research, after the tercentenary of the founding of the Khalsa in 1999 proved an eye opener for her. The result is "New Insight into Sikh Art,' her book published by Marg Publications that "leaves Lahore" and deals with art that the gurus of the religion and the Patiala maharajas patronised. There is also mention of the patronage other than royal, and 19th to 20th Century essays and images of and by the community as well as sacred objects and sites.

Hence, works in collections like the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh, and examples from the Adi Granth, Kashmiri style paintings intended for a manuscript and architectural projects of Guru Arjan and Guru Hargobind, etc. figure among the illustrations.


For long this art remained unknown to the people. Scholars believe that Sikh art did not develop itself enough to be popularised. Singh subscribes to this view partially. "There was a lack of desire among the artists to come up in this domain. Moreover, whatever works they were producing were not varied and interesting enough to catch attention and most importantly, an interest in art has to be triggered by scholarships and scholarly opinion, that later is followed by popular opinion - which never happened," reasons she for the art arriving on the shores of popularity, "quite late."

Hence, the book does the needful and leaves much scope for further research in the subject. You find interesting paintings, be they "Nineteen Eighty-Four" depicting Indira Gandhi's controversial Operation Blue Star as well as alluding to George Orwell's "1984" painted by Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh; little known portraits of Sikhs from Patiala; photographs of individuals and Sikh families depicting a significant era or moment or other significant works.

Though at places the book seems to be an attempt to solve the age-old query of Khalsa or other `Sikh' community yet, it finally rounds up by confining itself to trace studies in paintings, essays, images, Sikh objects, artefacts, etc. in which Sikhs were represented in art.

A compilation of articles by well-known researchers, a conservation architect, an authority on Indian art and a curator, the 150-page glossy book priced at Rs.2250, inspires the new generation to further research. "This field is evolving. There is much to explore about the Sikh Art in Sikh Kingdoms like Kapurhthala, Jind and Nabha," informs Singh.

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