A Century in Frames: Capturing the Evolution of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar

by Manjari Singh

As we celebrate the Parkash Purb of Guru Ramdass, the 100-year journey of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, unfolds through a captivating exhibition titled ‘Reflections of the Past.’ Organized by Itihaas, in collaboration with Timeless Amritsar and Rang Punjab, this exhibition is a remarkable collection of paintings and photographs documenting the transformation of Darbar Sahib and its surroundings from 1856 to 1956.

The treasures on display provide a unique insight into the history of Amritsar, as seen through the eyes of both foreign and Sikh artists. English and French artists, along with the celebrated Bhai Gian Singh Naqash, have contributed to this stunning visual journey. These historical artworks have been sourced from museums in the Netherlands, UK, Pakistan, and Canada, and have been thoughtfully curated to connect the youth to the rich Sikh heritage and the city’s history.

The exhibition prominently features a digital reproduction of one of the earliest known photographs of Darbar Sahib, taken in 1858 by Italian-English artist Felice Beato. Beato’s devotion to capturing the Golden Temple and its surroundings has left us with invaluable records of the architectural evolution of the holy site. By studying these photographs and paintings, we can trace the changes that various historical structures, including Baba Atal Sahib Gurudwara and the clock tower in the temple’s periphery, underwent over the course of a century.

The collection also includes paintings and photographs that depict the glorious era of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Visitors can admire the Bungas (traditional Sikh buildings) that flourished during his reign, the clock tower that once stood in the temple’s vicinity, and key figures from the Lahore court. A particular painting, displaying Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Maharaja Sher Singh, and infant prince Duleep Singh listening to the recital of Guru Granth Sahib at the Lahore court, has garnered the attention of many. This masterpiece, now part of the Princess Bamba collection, was sourced from Lahore and is a testament to the rich Sikh heritage that spans borders.

Among the numerous artworks displayed, you can find pieces originating from the Agha Khan Museum in Toronto, the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK, the Royal Collection Trust in the UK, and various private collections. These works depict the notable Sikh generals, the vibrancy of the Lahore court, Maharani Jindan, and the architectural beauty of the Bungas from that era.

A significant addition to the exhibition is the reproduction of frescoes by Bhai Gian Singh Naqash, an artist whose work holds a special place in Sikh history. His contribution to the exhibition adds depth to the narrative of the spiritual and artistic heritage of Darbar Sahib.

This magnificent exhibition, dedicated to the Parkash Purb of Guru Ramdass, offers a captivating visual journey through a century of Darbar Sahib’s history. It is an opportunity for both residents and visitors to Amritsar to connect with their city’s past, appreciate its rich cultural heritage, and gain a profound understanding of the city’s transformation over time.

If you haven’t had the chance to witness this extraordinary exhibition, it is open until October 31. We encourage you to visit and experience the captivating visual journey through time, as you immerse yourself in the historical grandeur of Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.

Manjari Singh

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