If you think a Museum cannot exist without objects, think again! The amazing Virasat-e-Khalsa created by Amardeep Bahl is a wonder which leaves you awe-struck and you have to keep going back to know more and more.
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Our next Museum-Learning Module is Legacy Punjab, and Sikh History for Class 8 of Vivek High – and am so glad that I get to keep visiting this Museum for it. This is because every visit, I discover something new. After spending a total of 18 hours over 5 visits I have decided to write this post – after I *think* I finally understood it all.
Built on a 100-acre site at Anandpur Sahib, 85 km from Chandigarh, the Viraat-e-Khalsa or Khalsa Heritage Center stands at a site that is the birthplace of the Khalsa Panth, the present day Sikh religion. The second holiest Sikh shrine, Takht Keshgarh Sahib, is located here. At the Takht Keshgarh Sahib, you can see the real weapons and swords, but I will leave that post for another day.
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.
15th 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 first petal highlights the milieu of the times Guru Nanak Dev was born in, tracing his life with travels (udasi) undertaken. The Kartarpur scene is where he bestows the “Guruship” on Bhai Lehna, naming him Guru Angad.
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)!
Petals in the crescent building cover lifespan of Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkrishan, Guru Teg Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh and Gurta Gaddi.
While Guru Hargobind worked on militarising the Sikh for revolt against injustice and tyranny, Guru Har Rai and Guru Harkrishan dedicated their lives to social reform and humanitarian work.
The other two galleries are about Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Supreme Sacrifice and Guru Gobind Singh. There’s a mini auditorium where you sit for a short screening on the creation of the Khalsa Panth ( narrated by Divya Dutta / Kabir Bedi) before moving on to the last gallery of the Museum’s first phase.
Guru Gobind Singh formed the Khalsa in 1699 at Anandpur Sahib.
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. I personally loved this second phase a lot more.
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. These are experiences that need to be internalised but I couldn’t really hear the speech clearly because the crowd wanted to video the robotic wonder!
The princely states, colonial times and Ghadr movement are well depicted in the Museum, as is the Partition.
But the one that really touched me were those immediately after Partition. The depiction of Sikh dynamism which transformed Punjab with its resilience and determination is unparalleled and is sure to leave you with goosebumps.
The creation of Chandigarh as a new city, and people rebuilding their lives reiterates the values of Sikhism again – the ones about hard work, facing the challenges and supporting one another. This is what Punjab and the Punjabi community really is about : simple people, dedicated, peace-loving and smiling – even in the face of adversity. There’s a lot to learn from this Museum and reflect on, so make sure you are keeping a day aside for an experience you will never forget.
PS: You will notice a lot of visitors with no footwear. This is because there is a deep sense of reverence for the religion. Please refrain from judging. I heard a few people make fun of this, and I felt a little bad to see the offended visitors. Museums are everyone’s happy place, and there’s no rule to be happy!
On your way out, don’t forget to check out the amazing Museum Shop!
It’s really well-priced and well-stocked too! I loved the books for children, and some of the magnets.
If this post inspires you, go visit Virasat-e-Khalsa. As the country’s most visited Museum, it is bound to leave you in awe of Sikh Heritage.