Thetford Museum Visits the Punjab

3/25/2015 5:48:43 AM

PATWANT SINGH, India's highly acclaimed Sikh historian and author, who has also provided the foreword for this delightful publication, writes "The purpose of this fine book will be best served if the reader remains focused on the reality of what happened during the ten years after Ranjit Singh’s death, and till the time Duleep Singh died in a faraway land. British historians excel at verbal nobility in describing their own past glories, and explaining why they went to war and the exemplary manner in which they conducted it. But reality can be quite different. As George Bernard Shaw very aptly put it “… you will never find an Englishman in the wrong.

Karen Emma-White, who was representing the Ancient House, a museum founded by Prince Frederick Duleep Singh is a textie specialist and is keen to enhance the museum's 'Duleep Singh' connection. Read of her facsinating visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar in her own Words...



It’s difficult to put into words about how you feel when you first see the Golden Temple – my day was slightly different to others who were on a pilgrimage as it started with a meeting of officials in the information centre, to gain permission to take photos within the Sikh Museum and to discuss how Ancient House Museum & The Sikh Museum might engage in some kind of partnership. It’s quite difficult when you are very used to having your own voice in a workplace to sit back and let others talk on your behalf, not only is there a language barrier in play due to my lack of Punjabi, but additionally any permission granted was going to be the result of prolonged negotiation by several people all with very distinct connections to the organisation. Lobbying on my behalf today was Mr Sukhdev Singh Sandhanwalia, Dr Manmohan Singh, The former Secretary of the  SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) & Peter Bance.

Eventually we were successful in gaining permission for The Sikh Museum and a meeting with the President of The SGPC later in the day. Our first stop after an initial look around the Parkarma (water tank area) was Mr Iqbal Singh’s office, curator of the museum. Our first discussion centred on the wall of silver poles once used to hold up a canopy above the causeway between the Darshani Deori and the Sanctum-Sanctorum and how further tarnishing could be prevented.


The poles have a wooden core and are individually marked. They would definitely benefit from carefully cleaning and some plastizote between the pole and brackets.

The Sikh Museum has a large collection of paintings and a variety of objects including works on paper and weapons, all in very good condition. In contrast to museums in the UK, there were plenty of signs asking visitors not to talk or touch. Most exciting was the discovery of two artists in residence, each working on paintings commissioned by the SGPC.

The sight of several fairly stiff ‘Britishers’ (I’ve been labelled as one of these since Monday’s heritage walk!) attempting to sit cross legged on the floor to eat must have been quite amusing for some of our fellow diners. Having watched this on TV more once, I could barely believe I was sitting there. I’ve spent the past 8 years talking to children about visiting a Gurdwara and of course included an image of the Golden Temple as the ultimate destination – to be here now, taking part just feels incredible. Currently a new building is under construction which will eventually triple the size of the Langar Hall. To complete my experience I had a go at washing up, to my credit I was only told off twice & had a friendly slap on the hand once! Total items washed up – 2. Best stick to the day job….


After Langar it was time for our fabled meeting with the President of the SGPC – nothing could prepare me for what was coming. After a considerable wait in one room, once the President arrived with a huge security entourage, we were fast tracked to another waiting room and offered tea. Eventually we were gestured into a crowded room and told where to sit or stand – the President arrived in the midst of advisers, security and petitioners. I was introduced to the President along with Peter Bance, and people began to lobby on our behalf, firstly for the opportunity to take limited photography in the Sanctum-Sanctorum and for an additional visit to a restricted area. Our first request was refused – the second is pending next week.

Unfortunately we had a thunderstorm whilst we were inside the Tera Singh Samundari Hall, but it didn’t dampen our spirits as we finally approached the Sanctum-Sanctorum. Although we were not allowed to take photos inside, we were able to fast track the long queues and go straight in after buying our Karah Prasad. Words cannot describe the beauty of the Sanctum- Sanctorum. It simply shimmers from every surface. It’s very crowded as visitors approach the Guru Granth Sahib all desperate to pay their respects and spend some time listening to the saptahak path. The staircases are lined in beautiful marble, with hand painted floral motifs on the ceilings, some of which are being renovated from the original drawings using traditional stone pigments.

I left feeling relieved that I would been able to return during my stay in Amritsar – for a first day it’s been amazing, but simply too much to take in during one visit. On our way out Peter and I had the opportunity to meet Politician Jagmeet Singh Brar, the former MP was delighted to hear how highly he thought of British Museums and that partnerships between Indian and British museums could lead to real positive changes for India.

24th February 2015

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