Magnificent Murals

Magnificent Murals
Inderjeet drives down the passages of time to take you to a heritage property where each wall tells a story.

A drive down a narrow road from Ferozepore takes you to the mandi town of Guru Har Sahai. This is a bustling town, most of the houses are new, the road is narrow, and there are many shops. As you wind your way through traffic, you see some old gates and eventually, you come to a private property owned by Haresh Singh Sodhi. Away from the entrance dominated by a new house, you find a heritage building called Pothimala.

Haresh Singh Sodhi, the owner of the estate, is a descendent of Prithi Chand, the elder son of Guru Ram Das. Pothimala has some of the finest murals that are to be seen in the area, though it is in need of better care.

The reason why the family of Prithi Chandís descendents moved to the area, now known as Guru Har Sahai, is not clear. One account says that Sodhi Kaul, a descendant of Prithi Chand, met Guru Gobind Singh at village Dhillwan, in Lakhi jungle and gave him white clothes to replace the blue ones the Guru had been wearing earlier.

However, oral history of the area places the arrival of the family in 1725-40. There was turmoil in the region, and it is said that the Brars in the Moga area and Muslims to the west had been engaged in hostilities for long. They finally decided to invite the Sodhi family to live between the two to bring about peace.

Jiwan Mal, the then head of the family moved in. The new habitation was named after the son of Jiwan Mal and called Kot Har Sahai. When Har Sahai came to the Gaddi, by common usage the name got changed to Guru Har Sahai and has remained so since then. This was a family with a lot of land. Much later, after the British took over the area, the then British Deputy Commissioner, Ferozpur, wrote that after imposing a deduction of 25 per cent, the land left to the family was 50,000 acres.

The family gained prominence because it had some important relics including a pothi containing some of the bani of Guru Nanak Dev ji, a mala (rosary) used by him and the Padam, belonging to him, that finds mention in the janamsakhis, or religious parables, were given to the succeeding Gurus. These eventually came to Meherban, son of Prithi Chand. In time, these holy relics found a permanent place at the Pothimala in Guru Har Sahai.

The Pothimala building got its embellishments during the time of Gulab Singh. The entrance lobby and the main rooms on the first floor housing the relics and also the Guru Granth Sahib, have exquisitely decorated roofs done by Kashmiri artisians in the khatambandi style, in which no nails are used. The roof is embellished with coloured glass pieces and small carved, coloured bits of wood.

The common thread of tradition is evident from the fact that the walls of the main room of relics were full of frescoes of Hindu mythology and Sikh themes. The frescos are tempera or dry frescos. It is obvious that the illustrations were done by professional artists.

One of the panels has a likeness of the Sandhawalia Sardars, who were great patrons of arts. They were not related to the family, but it seems that the artists must have worked for them at some time, and paid a tribute to them in this fashion. An interesting aspect of the murals is that they seem to be enlargements of miniatures, rather than their having been conceived independently. So the form is that of miniatures, the size that of murals.

Nakashi work is also to be found in abundance, since this was the abode of important relics of the founder of Sikhism, and the family had means to make sure that the place where these were to be kept was the most lavishly decorated one. Till a few decades ago there used to be a big mela at Guru Har Sahai every Baisakhi in which thousands of people would come for darshan of the pothi and other holy artefacts.

Traditionally, the relics never left the Pothimala, it was after independence that circumstances changed to an extent that the head of the family, Jaswant Singh, started taking them to Faridabad, where many of the followers from across the border had made a gurdwara. It was in 1971, during one such journey, that the pothi and the mala were stolen when Jaswant Singh, was travelling from Faridabad to Guru Har Sahai by train. They have never been found.

Now the building and some other relics are all that are left with the family. The Pothimala building needs attention of those who can help to preserve this unique heritage. It is a magnificent building, which had such a rich past. However, it faces an uncertain future.

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