Kids Corner

Photos below - by the author.


Day Four In Amritsar:
International Fateh Academy






Today started with a quick trip back to the Golden Temple. I had a few questions for the Curator and a gift to present on behalf of the Ancient House Museum.

After dropping into the Information Centre to announce ourselves, Damandeep and I headed to the curator’s office. I presented the museum with a framed photograph of the Duleep Singh statue in Thetford, by local photographer Maria Schepers.

It’s a rather nice feeling to know a little bit of Thetford is now in the Sikh Museum at the Golden Temple! Iqbal was delighted with his gift, and very keen to answer my questions about the artists in residence at the museum.

Artists Gurinder Pal Singh and Sukhwinder Singh joined us and happily talked about how they work, the materials they use and their experience of working at the museum.

Gurinder Pal Singh has been at the museum since 1996. I also discovered that their portrait of Maharajah Duleep is more popular with visitors because of the artist who painted it, rather than the subject.

We had just enough time to pay another visit to the Sanctum-Sanctorum – this morning it was shimmering in the sun and looking glorious. People were beginning to flood into the Harmandar Sahib complex, sitting in the sunshine and contemplating the Guru’s teachings.
Towards the Sri Akal Takht Sahib, I noticed a group of men. Damandeep explained that they were dhaaddis -- bards, minstrels -- reciting rousing and moving poetry in the vaar (epic) genre in Punjabi. The crowd listening certainly seemed to be enjoying the recitals and the music providing quite a jolly atmosphere.

Walking around the complex, it is fairly noisy due to the use of loud speakers to broadcast the hymns from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib being sung throughout the day, ensuring that the Guru’s words can be heard across the entire precincts.

Today we entered the Sanctum-Sanctorum from the left hand side. As ever, it was full of people paying their respects or sitting, listening and contemplating.

One of the things I was very keen to establish when I arrived here was a link between a school we work with at Ancient House, and a school in Amritsar. The opportunity was simply too good to miss.

Fortunately, Town Close School in Norwich (United Kingdom), who come for the ‘Seeking the Maharajah’ exhibit every year, agreed to work in partnership with the International Fateh Academy on the outskirts of Amritsar.

The Academy was opened seven years ago and welcomes children from around the world as well as from across the subcontinent. The school is housed in a beautiful new building similar in style to the famous Khalsa College.

We received a very warm welcome from the staff and school Chairman, Jagbir Singh. The school had organised a wonderful performance by some of their students.

First the girls performed a traditional Giddha folk dance, followed by the boys with Bhangra and finally the most spectacular Gatka featuring both boys and girls. I have seen Gatka performed several times in the past, but never by such young people, and they were amazing.

The school has been selected as the first Centre of Indigenous Games and Martial Arts -- for Gatka Martial Arts -- by theSports Authority of India. I felt a bit like a member of the Royal family sitting on the front row watching the children perform especially for our visit!

When we were taken around to the performance area, I noticed several rows of chairs behind the two large sofas placed in front of the stage area. Naively, I presumed that they were for members of staff or other guests. Instead, it turned out, they were for the press!

I had been warned that there were going to be some journalists present during our visit to the school, but I had no idea how many!

It was quite surreal to be filmed whilst watching something, from all angles. The children were doing such a brilliant job ignoring the camera-men that I decided to do so too. However once the performance was over it was interview time and I suddenly found myself surrounded by microphones and cameras.

I am astonished by the level of interest in Ancient House here, but it is great to see how many people want to hear about our plans for a new Duleep Singh Gallery and the British Council project I am working on. I’m not sure this is quite what the British Council had in mind, but it has given me the platform to talk about working in an international partnership and what we can share with each other.

Something Norfolk Museum Service does really well is s-h-a-r-e.

After finishing with the press, I gave a talk to the students selected to be part of the school partnership project about the story of Maharajah Duleep Singh and why we have a shared heritage. Some of the students were very enthusiastic. It came as quite a surprise when pictures of children engaging with Sikh culture popped up on the large screen. I was so pleased to find one of the boys waiting at the end to say how much he had enjoyed finding out about Duleep Singh.

I really am hopeful that the two schools can develop a long-term friendship with new buddies created each year. The staff at the school were incredibly friendly as are the staff from Town Close. Both schools are very well suited for each other, so fingers crossed!

I suspect that Damandeep must have told the school that I was interested in the traditional textiles of the area, as when we were about to leave Jagbir Singh presented me with the most beautiful hand embroidered Punjabi shawl – something that will long remind me of the fantastic afternoon.

February 27, 2015

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International Fateh Academy"

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