The world is burning up in flames shower it with Your Mercy, and save it! Save it, and deliver it by whatever method it takes
The quote was written on the walls of one of the most beautifully designed and curated exhibition gallery of Virsaat-e-Khalsa. The religious museum is designed by one of the iconic architect Moshe Safdie. Located in the holy city of Anandpur Sahib the museum is within the vicinity of gurudwara and have two major complexes on each side of ravine connected by a ceremonial bridge. The 500 years of Sikhism and establishment of Khalsa is the main theme of the museum which not only attracts tourists but also pilgrims from all over the country.
It was here in 1699, on the day of Baisakhi, that the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa Panth and baptized the `Panj Piaras` (the first five baptized Sikhs known to be the loved ones of the Guru).
The Museum building, which is shaped like hands offering prayers, unfolds Sikh history and tradition -like never before.The project has two main complexes, which are joined with a connecting ceremonial bridge. The canopy on this bridge is a strange experiment in architecture and is situated in the opposite direction of the sun and does not provide any shade.
The western complex houses an auditorium with a seating capacity of 400. It has a huge exhibition gallery and a library (including a library of Music), housing all journals, magazines, books and periodicals on Sikhism.
The eastern complex has a north wing also known as flower building. It has another part, which is called boat building or heritage building. The roof of the flower building is shaped in form of five petals – depicting Panj Piaras of Guru Gobind Singh or perhaps even the five tenets of the religion. Each petal houses a gallery tracing the life history of all gurus from birth to attaining salvation/ martyrdom. The petal at the highest altitude has information and exhibits on the Guru Granth Sahib.
The awe inspiring experience begins at ‘Panj Pani’ —The Boat Building which houses the largest hand-painted mural in the world, created by none other than the amazing Orijit Sen. It is a 360-degree mural depicting the past and the present of Punjab, as seen in its villages and towns and cities. When you enter this gallery, it is pitch dark, suddenly broken by the sound of birds chirping and a blue tint of light. The feeling and the scenic view is hard to put in words and is best experienced. You realize that the room is like a deep well with adorned walls (almost like a popup card) beginning with the dawn of the day, taking you through numerous love stories, Punjabi festivals, rituals, occupational works, the Golden Temple of historic times, and ending with the setting of the sun – all while visitors ascend the height on a central circular walkway. The visual experience is coupled with Punjabi songs, and expectedly, you can find visitors on a Sunday Bhangra-ing their way up the ramp.
15 century Punjab
There is also a depiction of 15th-century Punjab, where under the Lodi reign, casteism and superstitions had taken over people.
After this gallery, you are given an Audio Guide with language selection options. It is one of those automatic ones which will sense which gallery you’re entering and start the guide! As you start the journey in, the familiar Ik-Onkar takes over, revealing a crystal-lights installation which is pretty interesting!
The origin of Sikhism
Thematic carpets adorn walls of this part of building for which weavers from Mirzapur had been roped in. This exhibit, with special sound effects, is situated in a drum-like building and an audio message highlights the core principles of Sikhism.
Thus starts a mesmerising journey into the lives of first five Gurus through the five petals of the flower building. The narrative begins with Guru Nanak Dev and ends with that of Guru Arjan Dev.
The subsequent galleries depict achievements of Guru Angad Dev and Guru Amardas. One of the galleries is divided into two, by recreating a baoli in the middle, to highlight Guru’s contribution. The use of shadow puppets and indian crafts is predominant throughout the galleries.
Growth of Sikhism & the Creation of Amritsar
The gallery in the fourth petal contains exhibits on the contribution of Guru Ram Das, including the construction of the city of Ramdaspur, adding 11 ragas to existing corpus of Gurbani and the Lavan. The city of Ramdaspur has been recreated in an embroidered panel.
The gallery in the fifth petal showcases key events in history of Sikhism: construction of Harmandar Sahib and writing and installation of Adi Granth. A pathway leading to the gallery has a replica of Harmandar Sahib. The gallery also has an ethereal, glowing representation of Prakash Sthal – the place of the Adi Granth in Harmandar, in the centre. Around this central installation are shown stories related to the establishment of Adi Granth. Four arch-shaped doorways around it recreate different scenes describing the life and times of Guru Arjan Dev.
The Sacrifice of the Gurus & the formation of the Khalsa
There is another gallery depicting Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom in the form of a sculpture on the terrace. It is a Tatti Tava ( to symbolically depict how the Guru would have felt the heat of being roasted alive).
The Eternal Guru
After the formation of the Khalsa, years of struggle followed Guru Gobind Singh. With the loss of his family and army, he completed the Guru Granth Sahib in refuge, before becoming one with God.
From here you go downwards to the lower level, and on your way, you can read short excerpts from the Guru Granth. This is the second phase of the Museum which opened in November 2016. The 13 galleries in this phase trace the the socio-political and religious development of the Sikh community from early 18th century to present times.
The galleries at the lower level chronicles the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the Khalsa from Banda Bahadur to colonial times.
Baba Banda Bahadur
The Khalsa rule under Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s command lasted a brief period during which the community emerged as a power capable of shaking the foundations of Mughal rule. It was a time when the common folk reclaimed their ownership over the land of Punjab. When the news of Sikh outbreak reached Bahadur Shah, the Mughal forces responded by raiding and persecuting the Sikhs. After the siege of Gurudas Nagal which lasted for 8 months, rife with attacks and counter attacks, Banda Bahadur and his companions were finally captured and taken to Delhi.
The period after the death of Banda Bahadur was marked by wars, invasions and intense violence. The year 1765 marked the end of this long period of unrest and brutal massacres. With the Khalsa finally defeating Abdali and taking control of Lahore, independent Sikh Rulers started to emerge in Punjab. This was a period of peace, prosperity and development in Punjab. The arts and crafts received patronage and the creative side of the Sikhs started to emerge. Prosperity had come back, and its depiction at the museum is nothing short of real.
Another important gallery in this phase is dedicated to the Misls. Through the 12 Misls, the Sikhs became the true caretakers and rulers of Punjab. Collectively,the misls came to be known as the Dal Khalsa. Any horse-riding Sikh warrior could join any one of the 12 Misls. You can experience the automated mannequins of Sikh warriors with robes and armaments used by the Misls.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh & Sikh Leadership
There’s a double-panorama screen showcasing the coronation ceremony of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his court until the British period. There’s a black curtain which comes on, and two walls of this gallery become a panorama screen such that a horse moving on one wall, can be followed onto the other one!
Martyr Bhagat Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Master Tara Singh and other political and religious Sikh leaders also get space in the galleries. Master Tara Singh goes on to be immortalised through an animated robot. The princely states, colonial times and Ghadr movement are well depicted in the Museum, as is the Partition.
The depiction of Sikh dynamism which transformed Punjab with its resilience and determination is unparalleled and is sure to leave you with goosebumps.
Amritsar: Land of Historic Value
Around 15th century, Guru Nanak began teaching a faith which was quite distinct from Hinduism and Islam. Based on his teachings and the nine gurus that succeeded him, Sikhism emerged as a monoaethist religion in the Punjab region of Indian Subcontinent. The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, named the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, terminating the line of human Gurus and making the scripture the eternal, religious spiritual guide for Sikhs. The Sikh scripture articulate the fundamental belief of Sikhism. Written in Gurumukhi script Guru Granth Sahib acknowledges the Vedas, Puranas and Quran but it does not imply a syncretic bridge between Hinduism and Islam. On the contrary the religion was emerged as a ray of hope for the people of India who were stuck in obscurity – who craved for a way out from the rigorous invasion and persecution by the Mughal rulers.
To name a few religious places which holds utmost importance for Sikhs are Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) in present day India and Kartarpur Sahib in present day Pakistan. The partition of Punjab at the time of independence was very disturbing for millions of people. The Radcliff line drawn by British Government didn’t consider what religious effect it will have on people in the foreseen future.
The Sikhs of India cannot visit the holy place of Guru Nanak’s demise which was later built into Kartarpur Sahib transpiring Darbar Sahib (The Golden Temple) as the preeminent pilgrimage site for Indian Sikhs.
A small village close to Amritsar named Wagah witnessed the bloodshed of the Partition. It became of supreme importance overnight as international border checkpoint between India and Pakistan was built there named Wagah Border.
A flag retreat ceremony happens in the open auditorium at sunset on all days. An aura of celebration can be sensed as the patriotic songs are played before the ceremony. The procession is marked with loud shouts of patriotism from both sides. Both nations have been performing this ceremony since 1959. The procession happens with clinical military precision and lasts for about 45 minutes.
One can see well-dressed Indian Border Security Force soldiers in khaki and Pakistani Sutlej Rangers dressed in black taking part in the ceremony.
As it appears the city has a long history of being at war. It all started with invasion from the west during Lodhi rule followed by oppression from Britishers, then massacre of millions at partition and so on. One of the infamous incident which marks the history is Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. It was a cowardly attack on the unarmed Indians as they gathered to protest peacefully. Thousands of people died on 13 April 1919 as the British Indian Army fired rifles. The preserved walls of Bagh is retaining a series of bullet holes.
These are few of the reasons which makes Amritsar a place of cultural and heritage value. Lanes filled with history and delectable cuisine makes the visit worthwhile.
Fitrana: Charity before sunrise
I gave the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet for offering prayer perfectly, giving Zakat and giving good advice to every Muslim.(Sahih Bukhari, Chapter 24, 484)
Fitrana, also called as Fitrah or Fitra or Zakat al Fitr, is the obligatory charity that Muslims have to give after the sighting of the Eid moon. Sadaqat al-Fitr is a duty which is wajib (required) of every Muslim, whether male or female, minor or adult as long as they have the means to do so. According to Islamic tradition (Sunnah), Ibn ‘Umar said that the Islamic Prophet Muhammad made Zakat al-Fitr compulsory on every slave, freeman, male, female, young and old among the Muslims; one Saa` of dried dates or one Saa` of barley. The head of the household may pay the required amount for the other members.
Without giving this, their Eid is not complete. It is to remind people that Eid is more about others and less about us. Muslims give Fitrana before Eid to ensure that others around them are in the position to celebrate Eid with them. One cannot be happy celebrating while his neighbour goes hungry.
Ideally, the Fitrana is to be given after sighting the moon for the beginning of month of Shawwal that marks the end of the month of Ramadan. Eid is on the 1st of Shawwal. The Fitrana is to be paid before you pray the Eid prayer but since it isn’t possible to find poor and needy in only a few hours between sunset and dawn, Muslims give Fitrana from the 27th of Ramadan. After giving Fitrana muslims offer Eid prayers i.e. Salat al-Eid and celebrate the festival by breaking the fast, organising feasts and exchanging gifts. Admits the celebration of holy festival of Eid we often forget the essence of it: kindness and charity.
As the passion for photography increased it took me to various places, some enrapturing and some tranquilizing. One such visit was to Norbulingka Institute (Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India). It all started on a mistful Sunday morning as I fastened my shoes and decided to roam around Dharamshala armed with my camera. Located on a small hill with serene beauty and alluring cafes, Norbulingka enticed me in a beat. All Tibetan architecture on outside with vibrant red striking a contrast against lush full greenery, the institute is a sight deserving appreciation at once. Since 1988, institute has preserved Tibetan art and culture not only for the displaced Tibetans but for all who are curious to know about it. Named after Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet, institute primarily works towards carrying on Tibetan traditions and heritage by providing training, education and employment to Tibetans in the region.
A buzzing hive of activities ranging from Thangka painting, wood painting, wood carving, metal sculptures (both hammer and mold) that its students (between 3-6 year courses for graduation) engage in makes it even more lively. The sound of a tiny stream was following wherever I went, calming my mind and swooning my heart. It was all I needed to enter the temple and witness the mighty statue of Lord Buddha. Thoughts of home life drift off into the far away distance as I sit in the inner sanctum of the temple grounds under the gaze of His Holiness.
After such an astounding experience, I returned back to my place determined to visit the place where it all started, where Lord Buddha was enlightened – Bodhgaya!
Bodhgaya: Land of Enlightenment
Bodhgaya is a city of tremendous religious and cultural importance, meanwhile Bihar lying along the Gangetic plains is one of the reasons this Buddhist circuit is such a crowd puller. And as I have always advised to do the research about the place you are visiting, I did that too. I got to know about various monasteries, museums and Mahabodhi complex (most important of all) and yes, about some really nice food joints too! I planned my trip for two days and I decided to visit Mahabodhi temple on the first day itself.
After arriving in Patna, capital city of Bihar it took me around four hours to reach Bodhgaya (Gaya is the connecting place between Bodhgaya
and Patna). When I advanced towards the temple in the evening, I found myself confused. Have I reached Tibet instead of Bihar?
The Mahabodhi Temple is believed to be the place of Gautam Buddha’s enlightenment, making it a sacred pilgrimage destination for his followers. And in a place which is brimming with the calming vibe of Buddhism, it is almost impossible not to feel affected deep within. As I entered the Mahabodhi Temple, I was impressed by it magnanimity. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is designed symmetrically, and a walk around it unfolds the history without throwing off the balance. Even with the influx of innumerable people, it never feels suffocating. And the atmosphere around it enchants its visitors. Wandering in the complex with an awed
face and capturing the site, I caught the eye of a monk who smiled at time (possibly, because of my foolishness) but the warmth of his face encouraged me to approach him and I did. I asked him about the place and he looked at me for few seconds. As my thoughts trailed towards my immature act of asking someone such thing, I began to retreat with an apologetic smile just when I heard him saying:
Through zeal knowledge is gotten, through lack of zeal knowledge is lost; let a man who knows this double path of gain and loss thus place himself that knowledge may grow.Buddha
It doesn’t happen usually to me that people speak so much in few words. Before I could respond he asked me if I would like to have a walk around the complex with him. As I nodded and we proceed, little did I know this place would be magical for me, as it has been for some many including Siddhartha himself.
He told me about the great saga of how Siddhartha attained enlightenment by touching the earth, thereby calling it to witness the countless lifetimes of virtue that had led him to this place of enlightenment, he resolved not to rise again until enlightenment was attained. Three days and nights passed and Siddhartha’s intention was realized. He became the Buddha, meaning the ‘Enlightened One’.
The Buddha then spent the next seven weeks at different places in the vicinity. The Buddha is said to have walked back and forth between the location of the Animeshlocha Stupa and the Bodhi tree. According to legend, lotus flowers sprung up along this route and it is now called Ratnachakarma, or the Jewel Walk. I got a lot to absorb in such fewer moments, and I decided to call it day.
Next day, I visited The Great Buddha Statue which looked substantial from the main gate. But as I started walking towards it, I realized how enormous it is! This 80 feet tall statue is made up of sandstone bricks and marble and it shows Buddha in the meditation posture. Even though the statue is magnificent in its own stance, I was equally interested in the eight disciples on either side.
Also, there are many more monasteries and temples that have been built by the Buddhist communities of various Asian countries – Japan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. The structures have been constructed in their national styles. All of them are very close to each other and while roaming in rickshaw (it will cost you between 50-80 INR) I got to see almost all of the monasteries, but the one that enticed me to come in was Thai monastery. Its structure is similar to any Thai temple and the back part of it has the Buddha polished with gold water. My trip to Bodhgaya was more like traveling inwards. Visiting the birthplace of Buddhism and sharing the space where Buddha once meditated filled my heart with gratitude. The only thing I remember as a farewell to that place was the thought ‘when will I get to come back here again?’
Venice of the East
Kochi – Queen of the Arabian Sea (earlier known as Cochin) is a cosmopolitan city in Kerala with a bustling commercial port. From the long stretches of beaches to the aromatic fragrances of spice fields and from hidden aquatic world of the coastal backwaters to the jungles of the Cardamom Hills around the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kochi is, no doubt, a rare marvel of Kerala’s tourism treasure.
The major port city is bracketed by various islands marking it as Queen of the Arabian Sea. Prior to 14th century when flood carved out the harbour of Kochi and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants, Kochi was never mentioned in the travelogues of famous explorers. Since then it became an important spice trading center on the west coast of India.
It is very contrasting to see the city grow commercially yet it has a cultural gem which is guarded and is a great exhibition in itself to tourists.
Fort Kochi the thumb shaped peninsula is the gem of Kochi. It is 20km from mainland of Ernakulum the district which is keeps the economy of the entire state regulated. The main sections – modern Ernakulam and the old peninsular districts of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin to the west – are linked by bridges and a complex system of ferries. During the twenty minute ferry ride from Ernakulam to Fort kochi you will be able to see man made island Willingdon which haws a Navy base.
Upon reaching Fort Kochi you will realize how refreshingly different it is from bustling mainland. Historical remains and heritage of the place makes the long history of the city being colonized by different rulers quite evident. The history of European involvement from the early 1500s onward is dominated by the aggression of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, who successively competed to control the port and its lucrative spice trade. This left a diverse cultural trail at the port city. The town is made up such that it is like a small exhibition. Spice markets, Chinese fishing nets, a synagogue, a Portuguese palace, India’s first European church and seventeenth-century Dutch homes can all be found within an easy walk. Few of the major attractions are:
Fort Kochi Beach: the atmospheric harbor side is strung with elegant Chinese fishing nets, now emblematic of Kerala. The remains of the Fort Immanuel can also be seen here
Church of St Francis: it is the first built by Europeans in India. Vasco da Gama was buried here in 1524, but his body was later removed to Portugal.
Mattancherry Palace: The sight at the top of most itineraries is Mattancherry Palace. While its squat exterior is not particularly striking, the interior is captivating, with some of the finest examples of Kerala’s underrated school of mural painting, along with Dutch maps of old Cochin, coronation robes belonging to past maharajas, royal palanquins, weapons and furniture.
Pardesi Jewish Synagogue: The neighborhood immediately behind and to the south of Mattancherry Palace is known as Jew Town. The synagogue’s oldest artifact is a fourth-century copperplate inscription from the raja of Cochin.
Kathakali Centre: Kochi is the only city in Kerala where you are guaranteed the chance to see live kathakali, the state’s unique form of ritualized theater. These mesmerizing dance dramas – depicting the struggles of gods and demons – are an unmissable feature of Kochi’s cultural life.
Indo-Portuguese Museum: The Indo-Portuguese Museum, located within the premises of the Bishop’s House, displays various artifacts collected from different churches. The museum, preserves the rich heritage of Indo-Portuguese culture, art and architecture in Kerala, owes its origin to Dr Joseph Kureethra, the erstwhile Bishop of Kochi.