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Sikh paintings - Sikh Art of Himalayan region

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 5:28 AM
Sikh painting is a distinct contribution to Indian art. The paintings originated in the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was a liberal patron of arts. He commissioned painters to decorate the walls and the panels of the wonderful Golden Temple, Amritsar. Thus the story of Sikh Paintings began. Apart from the ruler, many rich merchants and religious leaders commissioned painters to carry out paintings on diverse subjects. Sikh Paintings primarily depict historical characters and events. The phase when the Sikhs got stability in their rule in the Planes, under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, caused these painters to come down again and work for a court which was very friendly with art and artists and became a true patronage for them. The 2nd half of the 19th century marked the development of such paintings. 

In Maharaja Ranjit Singh's time, Sikhism had royal patronage, and the Sikhs began to devote themselves to the magnificence and splendour, the cult of the Gurus and the Sikhs' passionate adoration of their spiritual leaders demanded artistic expression. The walls of over 700 shrines associated with the Sikh Gurus in the Punjab were available for embellishment. The endowments and grants worth thousands of rupees' made possible the building of these shrines in pucca masonry. Contributions in the form of money, grain and labour by the Sikhs for the construction of these shrines, was a ritualistic of the bhakti (devoutness) cult imbibed by this faith. Many individuals had portions of the walls painted as acts of dedication. Representation of the Sikh Gurus constitutes the major portion of themes pertaining to the Sikhs and more than half of the murals portray Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, the first and the last of the Sikh Gurus

Their popularity as national saints of the Sikhs' has been remarked. From among the extant remains of wall paintings in Punjab, the earliest rendering of Guru Nanak is from the late eighteenth-century mural panel in the temple of Shri Nam Dev at Ghoman in district Gurdaspur. By the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, representations of the first master became much more popular, being based on traditional accounts. 

Guru Nanak often appears accompanied by Bala and Mardana. Except in one of his portraits in the gurudwara of Satkartarian at Sri Hargobindpur, where he is seen wearing a head-dress resembling a Mughal crown, he is shown with his head covered with a cap (topi). Under a tree, on which birds mostly parrots are shown perching, he sits in characteristic meditative pose, not very different from how he is seen in many modern calendar paintings, his back supported by a round pillow, a rosary in his right hand, the left hand resting on the mat on the floor. A typical example of this type of representation is seen in the Bairagi temple at Ram Tatwali in district Hoshiarpur. Another important theme is the siddha goshti, Guru Nanak's religious discourse with the siddhas, usually representing Nanak facing the leader of the siddhas backed by a number of siddha ascetics sitting in their hierarchical order.

Many a time the Guru appears along with his sons, Shri Chand and Lakshmi Das, sitting respectfully before him. Apart from several similar themes, there are lengthy series of murals illustrating, in a detailed fashion, his entire life based on tradition as well as on large corpus of literature called the Janam Sakhis. The most representative extant series are to be seen in the gurudwara of Baba Kala Dhari at Una, and in the shrine of Baba Alat at Amritsar. Beginning with the birth of Guru Nanak, the first part of the series illustrates themes from the Guru's childhood consisting of scenes of the Guru attending school, disagreeing with his teacher's lessons on worldly knowledge, grazing his father's buffaloes and cows, feeding the poor etc. 

Guru Gobind Singh often appears on horseback holding a falcon and accompanied by a hound and a few attendants. The best extant wall-paintings on this theme, which is repeated over and over again, is to he seen in the samadh of Baba Dyal Das at Barnala and in the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Guru Gobind Singh baptizing the 'Five Beloved Ones' is another popular theme and one of its representative examples still survives amongst the wall-paintings of Akal Takhat. Paintings depicting him in a sitting posture with an attendant behind are also seen painted but not often. In one of the wall-paintings of gurudwara Gurusar at Bargarhi in district Faridkot, he is portrayed playing dice with Rai Jagga, the Chief of Kot Kapura. 

A mural in the samadh of Baba Mohar Singh at Tanda, in district Hoshiarpur, represents Guru Gobind Singh along with his four sons. Murals depicting other Sikh Gurus show the Guru sitting with an attendant behind, waving a yak's tail fly-whisk or peacock-feather fan. Scenes from the lives of Gurus were also painted on the walls of a dharmshala (inn) of Lehru, a village in district Ludhiana. Wall paintings illustrating interesting themes related to Guru Har Gobind appear on one of the panels in the samadh of Mangni Ram at Amritsar, portraying his religious discourse with Mian Mir. Wall-paintings representing Guru Nanak flanked by the rest of the Gurus were painted several times, but the theme portraying all the Gurus in a single panel seems to have come into vogue not earlier than the second half of the nineteenth century.

After the Gurus came, in terms of popularity, themes that depict Sikh martyrs, who became victims of Muslim bigotry. The most prominent among them are Ajit Singh, Jojhar Singh, Fateh Singh and Zorawar Singh, the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh. They have usually been illustrated in action in the battlefield, and are best represented in a panel in gurudwara Pothi Mala at Guru Harsahai in district Ferozpur. A number of other martyrs Dip Singh, Nena Singh, Gurbaksh Singh, Kharag Singh adore the walls of the shrine of Baba Atal. Banda Bahadur, one of the most courageous leaders and martyrs of the Sikhs, after Guru Gobind Singh, has been depicted only once in the Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran. Nihang Singhs form one of the most interesting themes in the murals of nineteenth-century Punjab. Their may of life is elaborately represented in the paintings. 

They appear as doorkeepers or guards with drawn swords, beating drums, riding horses and elephants, hunting, fencing etc. Many wall-paintings relating to them are extant in the gurudwara Bargarhi near Kot Kapura, in the samadh of Rani Jind at Hoshiarpur and in the samadh of Baba Mohar Singh at Tanda. In gurudwara Lohgarh at Dina, in district Faridkot, are to be seen two most prominent leaders of the Nihangs, Akali Phula Singh mounted on an elephant and Nena Singh riding a horse, their names being indicated in Gurumukhi characters above their heads. Sikh themes are also to be seen in a considerable number of paintings connected, one may or the other, with nineteenth-century royalty and nobility.

A considerable number of portraits, some based on life and others on imagination, mostly depicting nineteenth-century Sikh royalty and aristocracy, are to be seen among the extant wall paintings all over the Punjab. Among the portraits, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's remains the dominating figure. In one of the frescoes in the Royal Palace at Lahore, Ranjit Singh was portrayed in the presence of Baba Nanak with his hands joined in supplicatory manner. At Ram Tatwali, in district Hoshiarpur, a remarkable painting portrays the Maharaja seated in a chair while Dhian Singh, Gulab Singh and Suchet Singh, the Dogra brothers stand with folded hands before their master. 

Other interesting murals delineating the Maharaja in different situations are to be seen at Shri Palkiana Sahib near Jaura, a village in district Amritsar, in the mansion (haveli) of Seth Panna Lal Phul Chand Sharda at Ferozpur, in the house of Shri Anant Ram at Tanda, in the Shiv temple at Bhunga in district Hoshiarpur and in the temple of Baba Hari Har at Nut Mahal. Individual portraits of Sher Singh, Dhian Singh, Gulah Singh, Suchet Singh and Fakir Aziz-ud-Din appear in the Bairagi temple at Ram Tatwali. 

Some renowned Sikh painters were; Gian Singh who had created world famous fresco paintings in the Golden Temple, Pandit Bihari was another great Sikh painter. Amongst contemporary painters, renowned ones are Sobha singh, S. Kripal Singh and S.G. Thakur Singh.All paintings are courtesy of Art of Legend India.
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