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Above: The Durbar Sahib on Diwali. Image on Homepage and below, first from bottom: Eid laser show at the Corniche, Jeddah. Second from bottom - courtesy, AceFrenzy.


Laser Fireworks at
The Durbar Sahib



Historical places, especially those of religious significance, have been bearing the brunt of environmental hazards ever since they were instituted. With the surfeit in our numbers and those of vehicles, historical places stand at the highest point of risk in terms of their sustainability.

Toxic gases have wreaked havoc on some of the most prized possessions history has handed down to us.

Amritsar's spectacular Durbar Sahib - popularly known as The Golden Temple - is one of them.

Hailed as the Mecca and the Vatican of the Sikhs  -  and much, much more  -  and providing solace to millions of all faiths, it is over 400 years old. And equally old is its exposure to environmental pollution.

Situated at the heart of Amritsar in Punjab, the complex inhales contaminated air around the year, to which the city's vehicular pollution adds generously.

Add to that, copious doses of toxic fumes emanating from the grand display of fireworks thrice a year, and the gold, intricate frescoes on the walls of the sanctum sanctorum, and the white marble all around, all take a severe beating.

The gold is not solid but electroplated, thus, delicate.

The frescoes inside the sanctum sanctorum are done with vegetable dyes, thereby making them extremely vulnerable to fading away because of corrosive gases.

The white marble is getting yellowed.

True, these features add to the beauty of the shrine, but also make it prone to irreparable wear and tear.

Apart from being of immense spiritual importance to the world, it is also a remarkable case study for students of architecture.

Due to its location and tradition, pollution has taken the shrine's constructed area under siege since many decades now.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) which manages the shrine has been taking protective and pre-emptive action frantically to counter the damage.

A massive Green Drive which has been on in the gurdwara for sometime now professes SGPC's belated waking up to the reality of environmental hazards.

It began with placing a hundred thousand potted plants inside the premises last year. Since the gurdwara does not have any arable land, the only way to pump in natural oxygen inside the complex was to summon smaller version of flora.

Of late, an important decision taken by the management has defied tradition and shown modern, progressive thinking. This decision will change the Golden Temple's legendary Diwali celebrations once for all.

And, it will change the level of risk to the architectural marvel.

The latest counter-pollution measure is to replace the gurdwara's aatishbaazi (fireworks) on Diwali and the birthdays of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh with a laser light-and-sound show.

The Diwali celebrations there have to be seen to be believed. Millions of people of all faiths throng the gurdwara on these occasions to enjoy the aatishbaazi.

A Punjabi adage eulogises the Diwali celebrations of Amritsar thus:

Dal roti ghar di, Diwali Amritsar di!

Gigantic pataakas (firecrackers) are burst by specialists (known as aatishbaaz) hired just for this job. Each show lasts four or five hours and fireworks worth millions of rupees are burst on a single evening.

This show may be a visual delight for the onlookers, but they do irreparable damage to the architectural marvel that the Golden Temple is. Firecrackers emit toxic gases like sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen which are extremely corrosive in nature. This show of aatishbaazi takes away a bit of the gold every time.

Come October 28, the day Diwali will be celebrated this year, the traditional aatishbaazi will be replaced with a laser light-and-sound show. Laser is a form of energy, which gets dissipated and is not dangerous.

Trouble is, we are so attached to fireworks that nothing less than hawais and anaars will do for us. So, the laser show will have to be simulated well with sound effects to make it appear close to the real thing.

We are as attached to the festivals as they are to the fireworks which are used to mark them.

By now, aatishbaazi has become an inalienable part of the Golden Temple's festivities. Being an observer of the damage pollution done to the gurdwara, I welcome these changes in keeping with Amritsar's tradition. Religion, faith, belief are in any way static concepts. But their practice ideally should be dynamic.

Change is the only constant!


[Courtesy: The Post]

September 21, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Satinder Gill (Khanna, Punjab), September 22, 2008, 2:20 PM.

The Laser light-and-sound show is indeed a welcome change. I am glad to hear that the SGPC has woken up to the reality and has taken the Green Drive to heart. It is very refreshing and our highest authority should be applauded for the same. We are constantly being forewarned of the dangers to our planet and I sincerely wish that we would do our part to 'Go Green' by shunning plastic bags that line our roads in India. Trees are felled with complete disregard. I often drive home with garbage such as empty cans, paper wrappers, etc., for the lack of finding a suitable place for disposal. We all need to pitch in and do our part, however little it may seem. Good article, Ruchi.

2: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), September 22, 2008, 10:55 PM.

I admire SGPC's effort to reduce pollution and taking steps towards protecting the environment. Although I also fear about the amount of electricity these laser lights will consume which is also bad for the environment. Do we need any of the two?

3: Roy Hasst (Invercargil,l New Zealand), September 27, 2009, 11:29 PM.

These lasers will not use too much power and probably not be that strong. I know the legal limit for emission of laser radiation in the U.S. at a laser light show is about 5 mW per beam. I have a 100mW laser that runs on 3 volts and about 1 amp P=VI, so 3 times 1=3 watts. That is almost no power! So, don't worry about the power consumption of these laser light shows!

4: Robert Tucker (Invercargill, New Zealand), December 03, 2009, 8:52 PM.

In fact the power Of these lasers would be about 200mW. This would consume only 1 watt of power. This is 200 times less than your ordinary incandescent bulb!

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