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Here’s how the Sikh twins created a Post-Modern genre of Art

The sisters work on the same painting simultaneously, two at a time, which is as curious an approach as it is must be difficult to execute

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  • It was on the portrait of the last Sikh king, Maharaja Duleep Singh that gave the two sisters a sizeable reputation
  • At first sight, they fell in love with the Indian art of miniature painting
  • Amrit and Rabindra, though born and brought up in the west, still hold their motherland to be the source and the image of their works

At a time when the idea of European individualism influenced the art and the philosophy of people, the Singh Twins, as they like to call themselves, worked with their mutual oneness, creating art that was unique and inspiring in nature. With the famous portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh and the controversial painting depicting the Golden Temple after Operation Blue Star, Amrit and Rabindra Kaur have certainly made a mark in the history of art.

The partition of India led Amrit and Rabindra Kaur’s family to move to London. Talking about their life in Liverpool, where they have continued to live since the age of four, they told Firstpost, “We grew up in a quiet little village and were sent to a Catholic Convent school for its high standards of education, discipline and spiritual grounding. We were the only Indians and non-Christians there, but it didn’t stop us getting involved in the religious life of the school.”

The Christian imagery which is rich in iconography, symbolism, decoration and narrative, ignited their passion for art. They said that it played a huge part in influencing their aesthetic taste and led to their love of Art Nouveau, Renaissance, Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolists art. “As children we spent our spare time drawing fantasy and fairytale images inspired by these art movements,” they added.

Being similar in the physical sense of it is one thing but having the same ideology and passion comes with the kind of baggage most people, let alone artists, are not familiar with carrying. These sisters work on the same painting simultaneously, two at a time, which is as curious an approach as it is must be difficult to execute, says the Firstpost article.

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“At school we were first separated in class and then placed in different classrooms, against our will. Later, when we were studying the 20th century Western Art History as part of a BA (Hons) degree in Combined Studies, we were heavily criticised by our art tutors for developing similar styles of work (something that was a natural outcome of our joint love for the Indian miniature tradition rather than any conscious decision on our part to be the same). They felt we were not being individual enough. Which went against the ideal they held and taught about ‘individuality’ being ‘the be all and end all’ of contemporary art,” the twins say.

At the very first sight, they fell in love with the Indian art of miniature painting. “The technical skill, intricate detail and imaginative compositions; their beautiful jewel-like quality with the illuminated gold work, their narrative power; their satire (often used within the social and political themes) and their rich symbolic language, fascinated us,” the Singh Twins said.

But they are disappointed at the receding influence of our traditional art in the modern Indian art. They feel that inspiration need not be looked elsewhere when there are so many indigenous art forms and techniques that are glorious and unique in its own way.  “It seemed that India in general no longer valued this art form which was reduced to cheap imitations for the tourist industry,” they iterated.

A painting titled Nineteen Eighty-Four, which shows the Golden Temple after Operation Blue Star, garnered them praise but a fair share of negative reviews, as it was termed ‘violent’ by some. “The feedback to 1984 moved us but it also humbled us because we don’t feel that we had been particularly brave in depicting this event. It is easy to speak out against injustice when you are not in fear of serious repercussions. We sometimes wonder if we lived in Punjab whether we might perhaps have thought twice about creating it?” the twins ask.

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Casualty of War A Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh Copyright @ www.singhtwins.co.uk
Casualty of War A Portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh Copyright @ www.singhtwins.co.uk

But it was the commission from the National Museum of Scotland on the portrait of the last Sikh king, Maharaja Duleep Singh that gave the two sisters a sizeable reputation. In 2009, the sisters were to draw a portrait of the king with attention focused on the belongings of the Maharaja that were part of the museum’s collection. “We had been fascinated by the tragic story of Maharaja Duleep Singh for many years. It was a dream commission!” say the twins to Firstpost. The portrait was called the ‘Reclamation of the Last Maharaja’ and was regarded positively by most.

Amrit and Rabindra, though born and brought up in the west, still hold their motherland to be the source and the reflection of their works. “Despite living here (in the UK), our lives and our work is a reflection of our cultural values that continue to be inspired by our very Indian traditions,” they say.

– prepared by Ajay Krishna, an intern at NewsGram.

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  • Aparna Gupta

    Art is always appreciated in our country. These sikh girls had a very creative mind.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Art should be encouraged in India, there are many artists who need recognition and deserve much more than exhibitions

  • AJ Krish

    It is all about one’s creativity and how much passion one has for art. Going against what they were taught , the Sikh Twins followed their passion and created a whole new genre.

  • Aparna Gupta

    Art is always appreciated in our country. These sikh girls had a very creative mind.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Art should be encouraged in India, there are many artists who need recognition and deserve much more than exhibitions

  • AJ Krish

    It is all about one’s creativity and how much passion one has for art. Going against what they were taught , the Sikh Twins followed their passion and created a whole new genre.

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‘Concept of equality’ pervades world’s biggest community kitchen

The Golden Temple complex itself gets millions of visitors from across the country and other parts of the world annually

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Bangla Sahib is one of the most famous place of worship of Sikhs in Delhi. Wikimedia Commons
Equality is important for the biggest community. Wikimedia Commons

If there is one big leveller for people, irrespective of their religion, caste, gender, social status or riches, it is the “langar”, or community kitchen, at the Golden Temple complex, where the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Harmandir Sahib, is located, in this city considered holy by Sikhs.

Referred to as the world’s largest community kitchen, the Sri Guru Ram Das Jee Langar Hall of the Golden Temple complex is unique in several aspects. On an average, it feeds over 100,000 people daily — from children to old people — from all religions, castes, regions, countries; and people from varied social, economic and political backgrounds.

“It is a 24×7 operation that carries on day and night all 365 days of the year. This has been going on for centuries, since the concept of langar was introduced by Guru Nanak Dev (the first Guru of the Sikh religion and its founder; born 1469) and propagated by other Gurus,” Wazir Singh, senior in-charge of the langar preparation, told IANS here.

Unlike other government organisations and institutions in India, there are no provisions for reservations based on caste or religion. Wikimedia commons
The Golden Temple complex provides food for many. Wikimedia Commons

At any given point of the day or night, the place is not only swarmed by devotees wanting to partake what is considered as blessed by service but by hundreds of volunteers who are ever-so-ready to be part of the voluntary cooking and serving process. The langar food is even sent thrice daily to the two Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)-run hospitals in Amritsar, especially to a ward where treatment of mentally-ill patients and drug-addicts is being carried out. The SGPC is tasked with the management all Sikh shrines.

“We have over 500 volunteer employees. The sangat (community) also pitches in with great enthusiasm daily. People come from across Punjab on trucks and tractor-trolleys — even other states, different countries — to help in this massive exercise of making and serving food. Several local residents, including women, have been coming here for years. People take time out of their government and private jobs to serve here, irrespective of their religion or caste. We welcome everyone with love,” Wazir Singh, speaking in Punjabi, pointed out, even as he continued to issue instructions to staffers involved in cooking the langar.

The langar is all vegetarian — comprising mainly of dal (maa-chole ki dal), rice (slightly salted for taste), chapattis, achar (pickle) and a vegetable, along with something sweet (kheer or prasad). In the morning, the “chai langar” comprises of tea and rusk.

The devotees sit down on the matted floor inside the langar hall in rows. To manage the huge rush, the SGPC volunteers allow only a few hundred to enter the hall at one time. The whole operation is carried out in a meticulous manner as a daily routine.

Also Read: ‘Government chalked out 1984 anti-Sikh genocide’

“The whole exercise is quite enormous but it goes on, with the blessings of the almighty, seamlessly. The daily expense is around Rs 15 lakh. We use 100 quintals (100 kg) rice and up to 30 kg (each) of dal and vegetables daily. Over 100 LPG cylinders (domestic size) are used daily for the cooking along with hundreds of kilograms of firewood for the traditional cooking. Nearly 250 kg of ‘desi ghee’ (clarified butter) is used in the cooking. We have over three lakh steel plates. We can serve 10 lakh (one million) people in a day,” Gurpreet Singh, in-charge of the kitchen, told IANS. SGPC functionaries pointed out that 30,000-35,000 people from Amritsar and nearby areas are daily visitors to the shrine and partake langar thrice. Many of these are migrants from other states and poor people who cannot afford meals.

“Our doors are open for everyone without discrimination. We follow the concept of equality here,” said Amrit Pal Singh, a SGPC official at the Information Office. The chapattis, in the thousands, are made on eight chapatti-making machines and even by hand by women and men volunteers. The steel utensils (plates, glasses and spoons), used by devotees, also numbering in lakhs, are washed voluntarily by the devotees themselves or by volunteers.

“The shrine complex has such a spiritual attraction about it. The langar served here leaves you satisfied in many aspects. The whole experience touches your soul,” Ramesh Goyal, a devotee from Bathinda, said.

“I had always heard about this shrine. Today, what I experienced was heavenly. The langar service is unparalleled in any religion. They do it with so much devotion and humility despite such huge crowds. It is unimaginable,” Tariq Ahmed, who had come here with his family from Patna in Bihar, told IANS. Anup Singh, a young Sikh devotee from Amritsar, often accompanies his grandparents and parents to the shrine.

Sikh Community, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh
Children belonging to Sikh Community, Wikimedia Commons 

“I love to serve chapattis to the people having langar. It is a very satisfying and fulfilling experience,” he said. “The whole exercise is carried out selflessly. It is a big task but everything is carried out smoothly. We keep introducing changes depending on the needs of the devotees,” Roop Singh, Chief Secretary of the SGPC, told IANS.

The SGPC, known as the mini-parliament of Sikh religion, manages the Golden Temple complex and gurdwaras across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. It has an annual budget of over Rs 1,100 crore, mostly from donations at the gurdwaras.

The Golden Temple complex itself gets millions of visitors from across the country and other parts of the world annually. The strong Sikh diaspora in other countries like United States, Britain and Canada actively contributes to the shrine and visits it whenever they can. IANS