Virasat e Khalsa Heritage Complex is conceived as a repository of the rich heritage of the Khalsa, showcasing the history and culture of Sikhs and their homeland enshrining the eternal message of Guru’s.
Located in Sri Anandpur Sahib amidst rolling hills on a sprawling 100-acre estate the Virasat-e-Khalsa stands at a site that is the birthplace of the Khalsa Panth. It was here in 1699, on Vaisakhi Day, that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth. It had to be an inspiring tribute to the laudable and poignant saga of the people of Punjab unfolding Sikh history and tradition like never before.
It was in the year 1999, the tercentennial year of the Birth of the Khalsathat the dream process to start building the Khalsa Heritage Complex at Anandpur Sahib commenced. Moshe Safdie, the leading architect, of the project embraced a comprehensive and humane design philosophy, guided by a strong set of values.
The complex is divided into two sections that straddle a ravine, joined by a 540-ft long pedestrian bridge over a network of reflecting pools. The western side, which is connected directly to the town, features exhibition galleries, a two-level library centered around a grand reading room that overlooks the water gardens, is a facility for storing rare archival materials, and a 400-seat auditorium.
The eastern side houses permanent exhibitions presenting Sikh history, religion, and culture. The galleries are arranged in groups of five and reference the Five Virtues of Sikh religion. Themes such as the earth and sky, mass and lightness, and depth and ascension are represented in the museum’s sandstone towers and reflective, dramatic sweeping roofs.
The eastern complex has the Flower Building and a wing called the Boat Building or the Heritage Section. The roof of the Flower Building is shaped in the form of five petals – representing the Panj Piaras. Each petal houses an exhibit tracing the life history of all the Gurus from birth to attaining salvation/ martyrdom. The petal at the highest altitude has information and exhibits on the Guru Granth Sahib.
The museum is truly a Virasat e Khalsa. Not only are the visitors impressed by the majestic structure but also the multi-media galleries at the complex as well. Out of a total of 25 galleries, 15 are ready to greet the visitors. The rest will be made in the second phase of construction at the complex.
The awe inspiring experience begins at ‘Panj Pani’ —The Boat Building which houses the largest hand-painted mural in the world, depicting the past and the present of Punjab, as seen in its villages and towns and cities. The moment you enter the first phase, there is darkness in the room and then suddenly echoes the voices of chirping birds and a blue tint of light becomes visible. The feeling and the scenic view is hard to put in words and is best experienced. You realize that the room is like a deep well with adorned walls and the viewers ascend the height on a central circular walkway. The ceiling of this heritage building is made of glass and its floor is covered with water. The walls are covered with multicolored murals and cutouts depicting the culture, climate, seasons, and festivals of Punjab. The visual, sound and light effects are magnificent. Jasbir Jassi has lent his melodious voice for a medley of Punjabi folksongs. Beginning with the dawn of the day, taking you through numerous love stories, Punjabi festivals, rituals, occupational works, the Golden Temple of historic times, and ending with the setting of the sun, this part of the museum leaves you yearning for more. It took almost three and half years to complete the interiors which include paintings, murals and around 400 artists were involved in it including designers.
For the remaining galleries, visitors are guided by the auto-trigger audio guides, available in English, Hindi and Punjabi. ‘Auto-trigger’ implies that as you walk into any gallery and the audio guide plays content specific to the area. The first five galleries depict the spiritual aspects of the Panth by making use of research material, stories and technology.
Next, the visitor is greeted with the thought-provoking concept of Ik Onkar. The Mool Mantar echos all around high tech exhibit created with fiber optic lights, highlighting the core principle of Sikhism.
Then starts a mesmerizing journey into the lives of the first Five Gurus in the five petals of the flower building. These five petals tell tales from Guru Nanak to Guru Arjan.
The first petal has the milieu of the times Guru Nanak was born in, tracing his life through the far-flung travels (udasis) he undertook. Further, galleries depict the lives and contributions of Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das.
One of the galleries is divided into two, by recreating a baoli (step well) in the middle, to highlight the latter‘s life work. It has leather and shadow puppets with painted murals in background.
The gallery in the fourth petal contains exhibits on the contribution of Guru Ram Das, including the construction of the city of Ramdaspur, adding 11 ragas to the existing corpus of Gurbani, and the Laavan. The city of Ramdaspur has been recreated in embroidered panels.
The gallery in the fifth petal showcases the construction of Harmandar Sahib (depicted with tall columns covered with Zari embroidered cloth panels) as well as the compilation and investiture of the Adi Granth. Around this central installation are shown stories related to the Adi Granth. Four doorways around it recreate different scenes describing the life and times of Guru Arjan.
Guru Arjan’s martyrdom is depicted in the form of a sculpture on the terrace while the events around the Guru’s martyrdom have been narrated in an evocative manner.
The petals in the crescent building cover the lives of Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkrishan, Guru Teg Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh and Gurta Gaddi.
Sadly, there are a few shortcomings in the complex as well. The inbuilt marble etched with the name of Sardar Prakash Singh Badal who inaugurated this monument is pretty much there on the very entrance but ironically, no place for the names of those who created this architectural wonder. There is no information available either about the architect of the monument or about the designers and artists who have created these marvelous murals, panels, sculptures and other exhibits. The guides on duty also know nothing. Also the ticket booth where the passes are issued should at least have a covered pavilion to shade the long queue of people waiting for hours to get their pass. While we were able to get a wheelchair (which was a pleasant surprise) for my 95 year old grandmother, no one was able to guide us about the wheelchair accessible route.
We hope that some of these shortcomings will be taken care of when the additional galleries, which are yet to be built on the lower level will chronicle the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the Khalsa, from Banda Singh Bahadur to immediately after Partition, when Sikh dynamism helped revive a trifurcated Punjab with its flamboyant energy and resilience.
Although, it seems that there could be much more in the monument as the space isn’t fully utilized, and it has a few shortcomings, yet Virasat-e-Khalsa Heritage Complex is must visit place, a departure from the present times into the historical Punjab, from where you come out drenched in a feeling of pride.
Courtesy: Geet Sandhu – Edited for the Sikh Foundation