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Sacred Words:
A New SikhMuseum Exhibit

SANDEEP SINGH BRAR

 

 

 

The nucleus of the Sikh universe has always been the words and teachings of the Sikh Gurus as manifest in the poetry of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The poetry of the Gurus is enshrined in art. The fact that the Gurus wrote their poetry as lyrics to be sung accompanied by musical instruments introduces another dimension of art ... music.

There is yet another dimension to the art of the Gurus and that is the sheer beauty of the written words themselves – the lines, shapes and curves of the lettering.

It is this third dimension of the art of the Sikh written word that is showcased and celebrated in the new SikhMuseum.com exhibit, “Sacred Words“.

Before the advent of the printing press in Punjab, for hundreds of years scribes had worked painstakingly and lovingly to produce copies of the Guru Granth Sahib and other Sikh texts. Sometimes the task could take years as in the case of producing a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib.

The Kartarpur Bir, the first version of the Adi Granth completed in 1604 by Guru Arjan's scribe, Bhai Gurdas, is a work of art, but its primary purpose was to collect the authentic poetry of the Gurus and help spread the teachings of the Gurus.

Some of the early Gurmukhi script that we find during this time and also evident in the Hukamnamas (edicts of the Gurus) is quite different from that used today. Each letter and word has thin, long, flowing lines that express a stunning beauty in their highly stylised form.

For nearly half of their 550 year existence to date, Sikhs have lived in a constant struggle for survival. It was not until they eventually achieved sovereignty in the late 18th century culminating in the establishment of the Sikh Empire that they could turn their focus to the promotion of the arts.

This was the era when Sikh calligraphy as an art reached its zenith as Sikh patrons commissioned talented artisans and scribes to produce copies of the Guru Granth Sahib and other texts that were not only functional but also works of artistic expression.

The first printed Guru Granth Sahib was produced in 1864 in Punjab and signalled the beginning of the end of the rich Sikh tradition of calligraphy. By the advent of the 20th century, this skill had become virtually extinct as patrons were no longer interested in commissioning scribes to produce written copies of the Guru Granth Sahib or other Sikh texts.

Today there are only a handful of skilled Sikh artists and scribes that are keeping the tradition alive.

The SikhMuseum.com’s “Sacred Words” exhibit brings together a stunning collection of historic Sikh calligraphy to a global museum audience using the power of the Internet. Many of the images have never been seen before.

Showcasing centuries of Sikh calligraphy, it features images of Guru Granth Sahibs, Hukamnamas of the Gurus, Sikh calligraphy of other manuscripts as well as calligraphy applied to objects beyond traditional pen on paper … coins, for example.

Not only will the exhibit viewer see remarkable examples of calligraphy, but they will also develop a deeper understanding through the detailed descriptions of each exhibit item which include translations where appropriate.

For example, one of the fascinating exhibit items is a Guru Granth Sahib in which on the last page of the sacred Granth the scribe wrote out the recipe to make the ink that he used as a guide for other scribes to use. Exhibit viewers can read an English translation of the this ink recipe: an ink recipe so good that this Guru Granth Sahib can still be read clearly without any fading of the letters even three centuries after the scribe finished his masterpiece.

It is hoped that the “Sacred Words” Exhibit will not only help develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the richness of the centuries old Sikh art of calligraphy that once flourished, but that it will also provide terms of reference and inspiration to today's artists to keep this unique aspect of our artistic heritage alive.



Please CLICK here to view the “Sacred Words” exhibit.

[The author is the curator of SikhMuseum.com and the creator of the world’s first Sikh website, Sikhs.org.]

September 23, 2013

 

 

 

Conversation about this article

1: Gurmit Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), September 23, 2013, 8:55 AM.

I'm blown away by these treasures. Your "photographer's eye" has taken the images to the next level. Your best exhibit yet ...

2: Nav Kaur (Australia), September 26, 2013, 5:37 AM.

Simply incredible! Thank you for making these beautiful treasures so accessible.

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A New SikhMuseum Exhibit"









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