Primary menu

A Sikh perspective on Art and Creativity

navleenk's picture

‘The best literature, the best art, the most creative impulse of any race, at any time of human history, as to- day always rained and rains from Heaven on man, Greatness flows to him. And the creations of that wondrous period of his inspiration become the noble classics of the human race, in all aspects of its social life. Music, dancing, poetry painting, sculpture came out from happy, freed hearts.’ Puran Singh ‘Spirit Born People’
The beauty within
The Sikh is invited by the Gurus to be reflective and find the art and beauty inside themselves. There is a strong belief that the human body is the greatest creation in which resides the temple of God. ‘The art of the Guru is creation of the Divine Personality out of the Human Substance. Human flesh that is radiant with life, vital, vitalizing nectarian, immaculate, beautiful is the only medium for the artists of aching remembrance. And the chief aim is to make the human flesh worthy enough for enclaying God in it..’
‘Once the human flesh is made immaculate by Simrins [constant meditation] Guru Gobind Singh called it Kanchan Si Kaya (flesh as immaculate as gold). It is worshipful. It is the highest and the noblest art creation.’ Puran Singh ‘Spirit Born People’
‘ “Know thyself”, is only partially right. The true artistic consciousness, or religious consciousness, blossoms in its own inner beauty when the inner self of man and the outer self of nature unite.’ Puran Singh ‘Spirit Born People’

The sacred scriptures are for every Sikh the greatest form of art today. The teachings were documented and compiled by the Sikh Gurus in perfect poetic meter and ragas. All of the teachings are set to music and all Sikh places of worship have professional musicians to sing the Shabads.
In practicing Sikh households, children grow up with chanting and the singing of songs, there are no inhibitions as music is an integral part of Sikh lifestyle. It is believed that music has the power to go beyond and reach deep within our subconscious mind.

A long history of art
The Sikh Gurus were masters of poetry and some were known to play musical instruments. The tenth Nanak regularly held darbars [sacred spaces] including poetic gatherings, bringing musicians and cultures together in praise of the divine.
Paintings and architecture were also commissioned by the Gurus and later by Ranjit Singh. The fourth Nanak laid the foundation plans for the construction of Harimandhir Sahib (the Golden Temple) whose original structure was adorned with beautiful carvings and miniature paintings depicting different spiritual themes.
Nowadays we have fewer works of classical art and architecture. People buy and sell copies and imitation figurines of the Gurus and recently there have been cheap paintings depicting the Gurus. The idea was that we should stay away from imagery and statues and reach deep within our consciousness to discover the Guru within. In the words of Professor Puran Singh, whose belief is that we have become a community in which the soul of art is dead: ‘Most of us calling ourselves literary lions are but dustbins in which gathers the dirt of the worldly wise….People who are spiritually or artistically rich in any way preserve themselves. They shudder at the idea of self-spending in worldly pursuits. They prefer death by starvation to living by deceiving people on a smaller or larger scale.’ Puran Singh ‘Spirit Born People’
During the reign of Ranjt Singh, when Europeans were both visitors and residents in the Sikh Court, artists from both cultures recorded the magnificence and beauty in the Sikh Court. From ornate fabrics and musicians to the famous gold handcrafted throne of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Kingdom was rich in all forms of art and texture.

The martial arts
It is important to highlight the martial art form which is unique to the Sikhs. This form of art is known as Gatka, or Shastar Vidya, and is a unique tradition in which skill, balance, meditation and the sword are used to create beautiful rhythmic movement with the body and mind. ‘Sikhism began as a peaceful religion, and tolerance always remained one of the fundamental tenets. However, religious persecution led to the development of a martial ethos.’ Susan Strong ‘Art of the Sikh Kingdoms’
Modern day Sikhs practise the ancient art of Kirtan (classical Gurmat Sangeet music) and Gatka ( martial arts) as part of the ancient traditions passed down the generations.

Modern Sikh artforms
Today Sikhs have become quite popular figures in the media and in modern art forms. From famous television and sport personalities to Sikh dramatists, authors, comedians and musicians. The Sikh community now holds regular film festivals as well as art and photographic exhibitions which link their spiritual practice to the visual arts.
“All art activity is silent and intense in the depths of being. The moments of its expression are like the visits of angels few and far between, but its labour at the roots is continuous.’ Puran Singh ‘Spirit Born People’