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The IUP Journal of Architecture
Architectural Evolution of Gurdwaras: An Overview
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Gurdwaras have a pivotal position in the religious, social and political life of the Sikhs. Gurdwaras have also played a vital role in shaping the course of events of the Sikh history and in the development of the Sikh religious tradition since 1469. The important Gurdwaras were built at sites associated with important incidents in the lives of the Gurus or at places which are important milestones in Sikh history; or they have been erected in memory of the martyrs who gave up their lives in defence of their faith during the long period of persecution to which the Sikhs were subjected. Historically, Gurdwara succeeded Dharmsal. Guru Arjan had compiled pothi or granth (later Guru Granth Sahib) of holy hymns in 1604, the Dharmsal where these pothis were placed was therefore considered as the Guruís abode, Gurdwara. Architecturally Gurdwaras have evolved from a simple single room structure to magnificent structures with elaborate detailing and decoration. This paper tries to trace the architectural evolution of Gurdwaras over a period of time.

 
 

Sikhism, one of the youngest of the world’s religions, is, in fact, a product of the Sufi and Bhakti school of thought. It was established by Guru Nanak Dev, and was developed by ten gurus during the period from 1469 to 1708. Guru Nanak Dev was the first guru and Guru Gobind Singh was the last in a physical form, after which he designated the Sri Guru Granth Sahib the ultimate and final Sikh Guru in 1708. Sikhism had gradually progressed untouched until under Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth guru, it became a power to be reckoned. He completed the compilation of the sacred scripture, the Adi Granth in 1604; his execution in 1606 was a turning point in Sikh history. The Islamic orientation of the Mughals, involving repression of the Sikhs, made Guru Gobind Singh bring about major changes which started the process of distinguishing Sikhs from others (Preeti and Girishwar, 2003). The Sikhs gradually turned from the quietist sect of Nanak Panthis (those who followed the path of Nanak) into a militant fraternity of the Khalsa created by the Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. The century that followed witnessed Sikh dominance as a political power, with Banda Singh Bahadur striking a near fatal blow to the Mughal rule in Punjab (Khuswant, 2004b). His arrival was a great inspiration for the rural people of the Punjab to join the Khalsa.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s 40 years (1799-1839) remain the golden age of Sikh political achievement (Khuswant, 2004b). During the second half of the 18th century and after, as the Sikhs acquired political power, Gurdwaras sprang up in most of the areas of Sikh habitations and on sites connected with the lives of the Gurus and with events in Sikh history.

The Gurdwaras have a central position in the religious, social and political life of the Sikhs and they are an integral part of Sikh history, heritage and culture. Most of these are by and large commemorative buildings built at sites associated with the Gurus or at places, which are important milestones in Sikh history, or they have been erected in memory of the numerous martyrs who gave up their lives in defence of their faith during the long period of persecution to which the Sikhs were subjected (Teja, 1922). For example, Gurdwara Sis Ganj at Delhi is connected with Guru Teg Bahadur. Gurdwara Saheedan Sahib is connected with Baba Deep Singh. Most of the historical Gurdwaras were built during the second half of the 18th century and in the early 19th century when the Sikhs had gained political power in Punjab (www.gurudwara.net). Most of the historical Gurdwaras were gifted with liberal grants of land by the ruling chiefs and nobility. This period of Sikh rule led to the construction of some impressive religious structures. The Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar has been the center of Sikhism during the entire span of the eventful history of Sikhs; it became the source of Sikh inspiration and carried the message of Sikhism afar. During the days of their persecution, a visit to Harmandir Sahib exercised an inspirational influence (Teja, 1922).

 
 

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