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Malkiat Singh
"Soul of Sikhism"

Singh© Malkiat Singh

Curator: Sandeep Biswas

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Curators Statement

Sikhism was founded around the 15th century as a monotheistic religion by first of the ten Sikh gurus  “Guru Nanak Dev”.  Sikhs are easily recognised by their elegant and conspicuous head gear, the Turban or Pagri and a full face beard.

A minority community in India, they have always been extremely important to Indian history and its evolution. The community primarily dominant in the northern Indian state of  Punjab, their contribution to agriculture, music, Indian folk culture, art, literature, sports, various industries and armed forces among many other fields are highly recognised.

Malkiat Singh’s documentation of the Sikh community is a visual journey of an ardent visual storyteller, who is also a strong follower of the discipline and faith. He has travelled extensively spanning almost 2 decades to live and experience every aspect of the life of various sects of Sikhism, exploring and  searching for a deeper meaning within their distinctive world.

Through this photographic series we witness a large crowd cleaning the Holy Pond at Gurudwara Sri Harminder Sahib (Popularly known as The Golden Temple) in the city of Amritsar, people working in the community kitchens that feed thousands of devotees and visitors regardless of their race or ethnicity, an artist who paints the Sikh Gurus and various portraits of the Sikh men and women within their everyday lives are among a few mesmerising historically significant moments, which beautifully narrate about their proud identity within a world of coherence.

The images are a visual treat for anyone looking for an insightful journey into the lives and celebrations of the Sikh communities in and around the country. These photographs draw us into an experience, where they create a perception for the viewer as if one is gazing at paintings from the renaissance era.

Malkiat’s work aesthetically offers an insight into their vibrant festivals, rich culture, spiritual ethos, their firm sense of belonging as a community as well as their colourful yet traditional and simple way of life

©Sandeep Biswas

The Soul of Sikhism (essay)

A fierce warrior, a devout pilgrim and a humble servant of Wahe Guru. The Sikhs are all that and then some more. Their turbans and untrimmed hair make them stand out in a crowd. And they rise head and shoulders above by their enterprising nature and high spirits. For a religion barely 500 years old, Sikhism has evolved tremendously as a community binding religion. These soulful photographs of the many faceted Sikh people are a tribute to these honest, hardy, humble and honorable people who lead by example, share without disparity and offer unconditional support to the weak and deprived.

We see them as the intense Nihangs who celebrate the eternal victory of good over evil at the Hola Mohalla festival. This festival is an emblematic celebration of a military victory over the enemy, a spectacle of revelry on conquering. The exuberantly tossed colors epitomize the typical Sikh high spirits and the mock battles and skilled displays portray their combative prowess. Known to be Guru Govind Singh's favored and trusted warriors, the Nihangs preserve their heritage and traditions across time, with the fierceness and pride unique to a born combatant.

Malkiat SinghThe same Sikhs are the benevolent and humble Kar Sewaks who clean the Holy Sarovar, an act that symbolizes faith and reverence at the very summit of devotion. Kar Seva epitomizes this sense of devotion through conspicuous physical labor. Harimandir Sahib is Sikhism's temporal and spiritual epicenter and de-silting its surrounding Sarovar is equitable with the highest form of service. Distinctions of status, gender and age vanish as a million hands toil as one, to scratch, scrape and scoop out the once submerged sediment. Each individual dissolves with the rest to emerge metamorphosed into a colossal force, impelled forth as an upsurge of ordained souls abounding in faith and commitment.

And they are the pious pilgrims to Hemkunt Sahib who ascend on wings of faith, gaining strength from their devotion and totally surrendering their soul into His hands. The climb up the steep, unrelenting track to the Hemkunt Sahib Gurudwara is symbolic of the effort and resolution needed to attain one's sacred ideal.  The stony path is witness to years of the devout, the acquiescent and the inquisitorial trudging over it. And for all who walk this path, it becomes a journey of expressing one's faith in Wahe Guru, an affirmation of the covenant of faith that binds the Sikh community together.

 © Sandeep Goswami 

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About Malkiat Singh

Malkiat Singh has been capturing the rich colors of the Indian life and culture for more than two decades. The photography of Sikh sacred space has been his passion. He remains ever enthralled by the deeply moving interplay between the spiritual and the customary lives of the Sikh community. He took up photography as a full time vocation following his graduation in fine arts from the Shilpa Bharti {Rajasthan College of Arts). Eventually he also earned his post graduation in the same subject. Among the numerous citations and awards conferred upon him for excellence in photography, there are the UP State Lalit Kata Akademi Award for Art Photography and the Sahitya Kala Parishad awards. His work has been a part of various state and national level exhibitions of the Laiit Kala Akademi. Credited as a photographer with numerous books to his name, his medium of expression remains his vision through his lens. Some of his foremost books are ‘The Great Glory -Sikhism’ published by Rupa & Co, ‘Banda Singh Bahadur’ and Guru Granth Sahib-The Guru Eternal’, both by Himalayan Books. A series of coffee table books for Uttarakhand Tourism titled ‘Uttarkashi-Blessed by the Himalayas’, ‘Ganga -The River Eternal’ and ‘Tehri Garhwal -Kingdom in the Clouds’ being the notables amongst them. His photographic works are listed by and on display at The Harvard Art Museum in Massachusetts, USA.

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