In an attempt to encapsulate the essence of Sikh culture and heritage in the country, a multimedia presentation of rare photographs was screened at Kuch Khaas on Thursday.
The photographs offered snippets from a coffee-table book, “The Sikh Heritage of Pakistan,” and showcased the community and its lifestyle in vibrant colour. From scenes of everyday life to cultural aspects and religious rituals, there is a lot of detailing and a story behind each image. Gurdwaras and shrines next to lakes and springs, turbaned men offering respects, women and children swathed in the characteristic saffron and blue and the intricate architecture all have something to say.
The book, which has been co-authored by Dr Syed Safdar Ali Shah, an educationist, scholar and researcher, currently serving as Academics director at National University of Science and Technology. The book has been illustrated with photographs by Syed Javaid Kazi, an internationally-acclaimed photographer and president of the Photographic Society of Pakistan.
While talking about the motivation behind the screening and the book, Shah said, “This is to showcase the fact that holy places of minorities are well-looked after and they are free to practise their religions. We wanted to project a true image of the country where followers of different religions coexist and often it is property issues which are garbed in religious conflict.”
As the Sikh religion was founded in the Punjab, the native spirit manifested itself in the buildings and rituals. The gurdawaras reflect the religious consciousness and spiritual aspirations of the Sikh community.
“Since Punjab was the centre of activities of Sikh gurus and later the political power base of the Sikhs, there are numerous sites dotted all over Pakistan which are sacred to them,” he added. The book also contains rare paintings of Ranjit Singh’s court and his prized horse.
“The main challenge in compiling the book was visiting diverse areas within the country to photograph religious sites and get security clearance.” However, he added, the duo was welcomed warmly and generously by the community in their sacred places.
While a large number of Sikhs frequent Pakistan each year, little to the locals realise the significance of the rituals and the culture, said Shah. He underscored the emotional attached the Sikhs have with the shrines and monuments which are a part of the local history and cultural heritage.
Commenting on the display, Australian High Commissioner Peter Heyward, who is also a patron of ASG, said, “The descriptions of culture portray aspects which are not apparent to the causal observer but they say much for the richness and strength of the culture in this region.”
Shah offered historical perspectives and similarities between Sikhism and other religions. He noted that Sikh religious leader Guru Nanak was revered by the Hindus and Muslims alike. He also read out the verses of Moor Mantar, which offers an interpretation of Surah Ikhlas.
“Being a Pakistani, one feels so ignorant that there are these beautiful heritage sites that one knows nothing about,” Asian Study Group (ASG) President Parveen Malik. “Publishing books on the minorities is one of the most wonderful gestures a Pakistan can make,” she added. The screening was organised by ASG.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2013.