Gurdwara Rori Sahib outside Lahore is dilapidated, the floor where once Guru Granth Sahib was recited dug up, in the hope of finding treasure
The story of Gurdwara Rori Sahib is the story of numerous gurdwaras across Pakistan, abandoned at Partition, eventually to be taken over by someone or left to their own fate. But even in these crumbling structures the architectural splendor is hard to miss. While frescos, usually of floral and geometrical patterns, adorn almost all gurdwaras, some are covered with intricate drawings.
In a small town called Mandi Mangat, around 250 km from Lahore, the remains of Gurdwara Bhai Bannu are testimony to this artistic tradition. The gurdwara, now locked but occasionally used as his “dera” by a local grandee, is covered with elaborate frescoes, not just of flora and fauna and Sikh Gurus but even Hindu deities – Krishna playing his flute, surrounded by the damsels. Similar drawings adorn the tomb of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore.
Today, depictions of Hindu gods would be unacceptable at many Sikh gurdwaras around the world. The paintings in Pakistan’s old gurdwaras hark back to when Sikhism was a more fluid religion, before it witnessed a hardening of religious identity during the colonial period, not unlike Islam and Hinduism.
While gurdwaras that are withering away are scattered all over Pakistan, there are some Sikh shrines the government has renovated over the past few years. They have been cleaned and painted. But what has happened in the name of renovation is that historical frescoes have been whitewashed. Floral patterns and paintings of the Gurus that had survived Partition and decades of neglect have vanished under the brush of renovation. This has been the case at Nankana Sahib, Eimanabad, Chuhrkhana and even Kartarpur Sahib.