Golden Temple tales chart course of Sikh history
- 25 August 2011
- From the section London
Going back more than two centuries, nearly 80 historical artefacts are on display in central London at the world's first major exhibition on the Golden Temple of Amritsar, north India.
They include some of the earliest-known paintings and photographs of the temple, along with film footage and eye witness accounts from western travellers.
The 10-week show, organised by the UK Punjab Heritage Association, has already attracted thousands of visitors, including many from across the world.
The exhibition traces the temple's history, from the 1800s up until the middle of the 20th Century - described as the "golden era" of the temple and the height of Sikh empire.
On the ground floor of the Brunei gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies, in the Bloomsbury area, an accurate to-scale Perspex model of the temple, as it once stood, is displayed on a table.
It shows trees surrounding the shrine, along with tall buildings, known as "bungas", where intellectuals would meet and debate.
Parmjit Singh, the museum's curator, said the model depicts the shrine at its best.
"When it was at its peak, the temple was not only recognised as a centre of devotion for pilgrims of many other faiths, it was also a centre of learning,'' he said.
''The Sikhs at one point were important players on a world stage. We want people to be able to experience that with real objects,'' he explained.
The exhibition paints a picture of a shrine where everyone has been welcome for hundreds of years.
It hopes this will remind people about the central of message of the Sikh faith - everyone is considered equal - and help tighten cohesion between British Sikhs and other communities.
This "all-inclusive" theme is illustrated through some of the earliest colour film footage of life inside the temple - showing people coming from all walks of life.
Visitors learn there were Muslim singers, known as rababis, in the temple up to the partition of India in 1947.
They would perform alongside the Sikhs; a tradition going back to the times of Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion.
People can hear this music, including a rare recording of one of the last great singers to have performed - once again echoing the message of a shrine "open to all", regardless of background.
The temple's history is shaped by the rise and fall of the Sikh empire and the second floor of the exhibition illustrates this journey with various historical items from Sikh history.
In the centre of the floor is a full-sized mannequin of a Sikh warrior dressed head to foot in original, ornate, gold body armour and weaponry.
He is dressed in the way a high-ranking warrior would have been at the height of the Sikh Empire.
The eventual decline of the Sikh Empire is captured in a glass cabinet displaying the original hand written receipt for the transfer of the famous Koh-I-Noor Diamond to the British Empire.
Sitting alongside the receipt is an exact replica of the jewel as it once was, in its original form before it was re-cut to become a part of the British Crown Jewels.
Nearly all the artefacts being showcased have been borrowed from private collectors and therefore have never been seen by the public anywhere in the world.
Davinder Toor, a London-based collector who has lent many items to the exhibition, said he had found these objects all over the world.
''For me tracing and finding these objects is simply a passion; it's like time travel for me.
''I've been collecting these artefacts for more than 12 years, it's helped me to rediscover the history of my ancestors and I want to share that with others.''
You can listen to Asian Network Reports on BBC Asian Network on Thursday 25 August, at 12:30 BST and 18:00 BST. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer.