The undivided culture of Punjab, a tribute to pluralismpunjab Updated: Apr 28, 2017 09:09 IST
Punjab governor VP Singh Badnore releasing a book edited by Aabha Narain Lambah (left). Pakistani architect Nayyar Ali Dada (right) has authored a chapter on Lahore.(HT Photo)
It is a tribute to the vibrant and pluralistic culture of undivided Punjab. And a rebuttal to all those self-styled high priests of culture who’ve always mocked at the lack of culture in a state, happy to tom-tom its loud pop beats, bling and agriculture.
That’s how Aabha Narain Lambah describes “Punjab — Building the Land of the Five Rivers”, a book edited by her. Lambah, a conservation architect who grew up in Chandigarh and traces her roots to Sialkot in Pakistan, says she thought the world needed to know about the tremendous contribution of Punjab to the civilisation and architecture of not just India but the sub-continent. The undivided Punjab has the oldest archaeological sites in the sub-continent as compared to other states, said Lambah, while pointing to the Indus Valley site at Rakhigarhi in Haryana.
“It’s one of the great cultural centres of the world. I am glad 70 years after Partition, Marg (the publishers) also thought the same.” Incidentally, Marg, the publishing house, was set up by Mulk Raj Anand, a Punjabi.
Babri mosque in Panipat
The book maps the cultural landscape of the undivided Punjab with its Sufi shrines, forts and palaces to come up with some interesting nuggets. For instance, Panipat too has a Babri Masjid, also called Kabuli masjid, and while not much is known about the contribution of Babar to his namesake mosque in Ayodhya, the one in Panipat was commissioned by him to commemorate his victory in the first battle of Panipat, and has a distinctive Samarkand-style dome. Another discovery the book makes is that of Narnaul, the birthplace of Sher Shah Suri, which is replete with monuments from his era. “They are far more superior than his monuments at Sasaram in Bihar that everyone talks about,” says Lambah.
Calling the book a celebration of cultural fusion and the Ganga-Jamuna ‘tehzeeb’, Nayyar Ali Dada, who’s authored a chapter on Lahore, said, “The Persian invaders melded very well with the local culture and the fusion created a very superior culture in Punjab. Architecture is like whiskey and good blending brings out character.” Dada, a much-feted architect of Pakistan, who is also working on the Pakistani embassy in Delhi, runs an art gallery in Lahore with musical archives, 90% of which are of Indian music.
The book uses monuments to weave the rich history of Punjab from the ancient times to that of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Misl era, and the more recent period of the princely states.
Dwelling on Sikh architecture, Lambah said it took the best of everything and came up with a beautiful symphony. “It borrowed elements from Rajasthan, Bengal, the Mughal India, Persia and gave them a unique identity by melding them.” “Punjabiyat,” she declared, “is this amazing mix of culture and ideas.”
Asked about what was most emblematic of the Sikh architecture, she said it was the ‘samadhi’ of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at the site of Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom in Lahore. “It’s a tiny jewel to which only Indian passport holders are allowed entry and it’s breathtaking.”
Looking at the Punjabi culture in its entirety, the book also has a chapter on the royal cuisine of Punjab by Neha Prasad. It samples a wide array of dishes, from the French food served in Maharaja Jagatjit’s court in Kapurthala to the ‘pulaos’ whipped up in the kitchens of the Patiala kingdom.
The book also explores the spiritual roots of the state through the built form in two chapters on Sufism and Sikhism. So, it is but natural that it has a chapter each on the eyes of undivided Punjab – Amritsar and Lahore. Catherine B Asher, an authority on Islamic architecture, has also penned a chapter on Islamic architecture in the state.
Lambah, who travelled to Lahore for the book, hopes it will inspire the present-day rulers to preserve their rich history in bricks. The conservation work undertaken by Punjab, she rues, is too little and too late. Lambah, who’s worked on Qila Mubarak, Mughal Serai and Bahadurgarh Fort, among other monuments, calls for adaptive reuse to keep the heritage live. After all, people alone can breathe life into monuments.
Capitol complex to be restored
The UT administration has tasked Aabha Narain Lambah, a conservation architect based in Mumbai, with restoration of the Capitol Complex. Lambah, who studied at Carmel Convent, says she grew up cycling from Sector 18 to 9. “I know the landscape of the city, and look forward to working on the complex.” Speaking at the book launch, Punjab governor VP Singh Badnore quipped how it was France which nominated the Capitol Complex as a heritage site and not the UT.