What a weekend it’s been! At The Rugby World Cup semi-final in New Zealand on Saturday morning 15 French men and a referee contrived to break my heart. Our brave boys in red couldn’t have given any more. Every muscle strained, every blade of grass covered, every thunderous tackle made, every high ball taken, and by the end of the eighty minutes every cheek salted and tissue sodden. Who would’ve imagined that dejection and deepest depression felt as a result of events down under could almost have overtaken the delight and fervour caused by what had taken place at The Nehru Centre in Mayfair 24 hours earlier?
As part of the DSC South Asian Literary festival, The Nehru Centre played host to the launch of United Kingdom Punjab Heritage Association’s latest publication: The Golden Temple Of Amritsar, Reflections Of The Past, the book designed to be the accompaniment to the triumphant success that was the The Golden Temple exhibition, recently held at The Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London.
The image of The Golden Temple is one which is instantly recognised by millions across the world. The epicentre of the Sikh faith and a place of pilgrimage for countless numbers, this much loved place of worship has a hidden and intriguing history which is spectacularly brought to life in a publication which was in fact the source material for the recent exhibition. The book presents the rich history of The Golden Temple from its spiritual beginnings as the site where Lord Buddha is said to have meditated, to its acquisition by the Sikhs and the construction of the temple complex, then on to its becoming the glistening golden structure that we know it as today courtesy of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and through to its turbulent history under British rule.
The authors Parmjit Singh and Amandeep Singh Madra have brought together 500 of the rarest and most beautiful images of the temple along with a selection of what are considered to be the most important eye witness accounts covering each decade from the 1800s through to the 1950s. Commentaries from memsahibs, travellers, rogues, raconteurs and spies are used expertly to bring the sketches, paintings and photographs to life. The collation of these images and accounts into a marvellously ornate binding of ivory decorated with gold and deliciously textured and encased is down to design guru Juga Singh. What an accomplishment they have made. And they know it!
UKPHA is non-profit organisation founded by Parmjit and Amandeep whose mission in part is to foster an appreciation of Punjabi material heritage in Britain, and my how they have done that here. At the Nehru Centre throngs of fascinated and appreciative clamourers could be seen jostling members of UKPHA and their army of dedicated and passionate volunteers, eager to get an insight into the ideas and concepts behind the book and keen to show their appreciation of it. In the midst of the chaos Parmjit, Amandeep, Juga and others could be seen granting requests for an audience with a charm and serenity that emanates from their satisfaction with their newest publication. The authors have taken their passion for their own culture and heritage and made it accessible to a world of people who may never have otherwise been able to enjoy it. They have achieved what they set out to accomplish and now want the public to revel in the fruits of the labours.
UKPHA being UKPHA the launch evening had to have a wow factor. Two classical masters gave performances that showcased some of the finest examples of Sikh tradition still practised, although tragically seen all too rarely, in the world today. First to provide the necessary snap, crackle and pop was Nidar Singh Nihang, the last of the great Sikh master swordsmen and carrying the title of Grand Master of Traditional Sikh Battlefield Arts. Nidar Singh, seemingly plucked from the pages of the 18th century gave the audience an insight into the psyche and skills of the Sikh warrior and a spectacular and dazzling display of their martial traditions. Following this came an historical re-enactment of some of the most significant battles fought in and around the temple complex. The second performance came from Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand, one of the last of the great Muslim musicians to perform at the Golden Temple. Born in Amritsar, Bhai Ghulam was forced to leave his homeland after 1947 and partition, with it he left the musical traditions passed onto him by his fore fathers. That was until UKPHA found him his first audience in over 50 years.
The success of that evening’s event was beyond doubt. The book is an astonishing feat, the performances of the two classical masters were staggering, the authors were mightily impressive and those that attended left with approving critiques. As I stepped, smiling, past the bust of Pandit Nehru and into the brisk autumnal evening, even his austere expression seemed to have changed into one of awe and admiration.
What a night!
And then came Saturday.
To order a copy of the book, or receive further information, please click here.
Photo credit: Prab Bhatia