he Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) is undertaking the restoration of gold plating and heritage artwork dating back to Maharaja Ranjit Singh's time in the Golden Temple. Earlier there were concerns about the inept way the restoration work was handled, so this time the work has been handed over to professionals. The SGPC is responsible for religious affairs and upkeep of the gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh including the Golden Temple.
The artwork was damaged over the years in Sikhism's most sacred shrine in Amritsar. The place where the shrine came up was developed during the time of fourth Sikh Guru, Ram Das, when the city of Amritsar started building around it. The gurdwara was built during the time of the next Guru Arjan Dev. It was subsequently destroyed in attacks and had to be rebuilt. Much of the present decorative gilding and marble work was, however, added in the early 19th century. Maharaja Ranjit Singh oversaw the addition of gold and marble work including the gold plating. As the original gold plates gradually lost sheen, they were replaced in 1999. Ever since, it has become a regular feature to clean the gold plates on a yearly basis. The rising pollution in the burgeoning city was termed responsible for the discoloration of the gold sheets but blame was also apportioned on the way the whole exercise was conducted by non-experts through karsewa, a Sikh concept of voluntary contribution of physical labour or service for construction or maintenance tasks.
Initially, the clean-up work in the Golden Temple was done by the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, a UK-based religious group. But it was later entrusted to Baba Kashmir Singh Bhuriwale, a move which was resented by heritage lovers. Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, former SGPC general secretary advocated that the work should be handled by experts. "The karsewa babas," she said, "do not have the experience and professional expertise needed for the highly skilled work, it was felt."
Bowing to the sentiments, the SGPC called in a private firm with an expertise in restoration of heritage buildings and is all set to restart the restoration work under expert monitoring. The inner sanctum sanctorum has precious artwork on its walls that needs particularly sensitive handling. A comprehensive study was undertaken, and the team of experts after studying the damage caused to the paintings and the gold-work, has prepared a report.