A major exhibition opened a few weeks ago about the famous Golden Temple of Amritsar, probably the most famous of Sikh Gurdwara’s in India, and has been widely praised, so it was about time I went along to see if the praise is merited.
Based in SOAS, within the University of London and set out on two floors, the ground floor is dedicated to historic artefacts in the shape of paintings and ancient books, along with a striking decorated figure in the middle of the display. As some who loves illustrated manuscripts, the books on display are a visual delight to look at, and small sensible descriptions help explain their age and origin.
Some of the smaller paintings have also been enlarged and turned into wall decorations, which is a damn clever way of stopping people peering at a tiny painting for ages — and stopping anyone else seeing it. Just turn around and look at the wall behind you.
Ignore the side room, leave that for later and head downstairs to the rest of the display.
A really quite stunning model of the Temple grounds dominates the centre of the room. Made out of nothing more than sheets of transparent plastic in a very simple design, as it is set on a black base the effect is quite startling. It manages to convey the complexity of the Temple and surrounds, but in a manner that is not overly fussy.
Dotted around the rest of the display are early watercolours and block-prints along with later photographs taken mainly in the 19th century, each annotated with a quote from a traveller of the past. There is very little here less than a hundred years old.
Well, apart from the side-wall decorated by children who are encouraged to draw something about the exhibition a postcard and pin it up on the wall.
You wont leave the exhibition with an understanding of Sikhism, but you will come away with an overview of the history of the Sikhs and the temple itself. It’s a good display, laid out exactly how I like displays, with lots to look at, some explanations, and no special effects.
Oh, on the way back upstairs, do pop into the side room, which contains a small display of some of the SOAS’s best artefacts. Nothing to do with the rest of the exhibition, but interesting to visit.
It’s also pleasantly novel to be in a moderately busy room where you are only one of a tiny handful of men lacking a turban.
Open: Tuesday-Saturday 10:30am-5pm; Sunday 11:30am-5pm; Late night opening on Thursday til 8pm.
Sadly photography was not permitted – photos on this blog post from their website.