The history of Sikh architecture starts with the coming into being of Sri Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar. The architect for the job was none other than Guru Arjan himself.
A book published by the renowned art and architecture critic Patwant Singh has shown, with stunning photographs, Gurdwaras in India and most parts of the world, effectively highlighting diversity as the common factor among them. However, it is true that most of these structures were existing when they were converted into Gurdwaras with minor functional modifications by way of renovation.
Baba Harbans Singh, Kar Sewa Wale, along with other saints started the renaissance phase by enlarging and face-lifting the historical Gurdwaras, which were generally small and in a poor state. Their commendable effort was whole-heartedly supported by the Sikh community by way of funds and through Kar Sewa, mainly by the rural folks. This phase of reconstruction and modifications is continuing for three decades and has achieved its objectives effectively. Workers, skilled in the art of making domes, arches, mouldings and relief work are employed for the make-over. No Gurdwara can be made without their advice and participation.
Having said that, I must add that the community got so attuned to this style of architecture that any new ideas have become
totally unacceptable for the construction of new Gurdwara buildings. The managing committees of Gurdwaras would often instruct the architect to copy the design and style of a particular Gurdwara without considering the merits of the site and situation. In a way, they are right as this involves the least risk of wasting public money and also gives a fair idea to laymen as to what their structure is going to look like. But all this has resulted in a stereotype construction all over.
This is not the end. Most places in the process have also lost the very ambience required for a place of worship. Distance from Guru Granth Sahib is created by erecting all-round railings and by placing them right in front, of the monstrous Golaks in addition to providing space for TV cameras and a platform for Raagi Jathas etc. The feeling of proximity or nearness to the Guru is lost to the devotee. Long queues in the middle along the length of the hall, totally obstruct the view and become a source of disturbance to the seated audience. One can argue that ideally, Gurbani has to be savoured or absorbed through ears and not the eyes, but we all are made of common clay and everybody has not reached a state of mind to have total control over senses. A better way would be to have side entries from the shortest possible route within the hall; the rest of the queue can be outside the main hall.
I had tried this method in the mid-seventies in a Gurdwara in Ashok Vihar, Delhi, but, to my surprise, when I visited the place
Nothing much has been done in the field of Sikh architecture by the community or the architects. Over the years, they have failed to evolve an order or style for the construction of Gurdwaras, befitting the legacy of Sri Harmandir Sahib.
last month after a gap of more than a generation, I found a frontal entrance there also. At Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, this problem has been partly solved by routing the devotees around the audience. One such example where this problem is very glaring is the historic Gurdwara Nanak Piao in Delhi.
Before I deviate too much from my main topic of evolving new contemporary forms of structures, I would like to make a
mention of a small shrine on the premises of Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce at Pitampura in Delhi. I am grateful to the College treasurer, who insisted on my visiting the shrine after our return from a Gurdwara project in Sonepat on a piece of land donated by a Brahmin lady way back in 1926. This shrine in the college premises has nothing in common with our traditional Gurdwara architecture, but it has the feeling of the presence of the Supreme Power next only to Sri Harmandir Sahib. The ultramodern pyramid-shaped square building has
eight split air-conditioners to make it feel more comfortable for young students.
I will request the management to take more and more people to this shrine for a change in the stereotype mental block from which most Gurdwara committees are suffering. In fact, the more vocal members of the committees are often the more ignorant ones and I beg their pardon for having said so.