Rare images from the Panjab Digital Library collection as showcased in the Hri travelling exhibition
Archives Southasia, our initiative aimed at creating a better understanding of the writing, documenting and archiving of the history of the Subcontinent is now in its fourth year. Last year, a travelling exhibition showcasing selected pictorial, textual and audio-visual vignettes helped us promote the importance of archives & archiving. The first of four shows titled ‘Lived Stories Everyday Lives”, opened in July 2013 at Punjab Kala Bhawan in Chandigarh, in collaboration with the Panjab Digital Library. Travelling to the hinterland from the capital territory, it experienced a warm reception in Daudpur, a village in the heart of Ludhiana district.
In addition to the images from all across Southasia, a separate section, ‘Panjab Special’ offered a tiny glimpse into a vast collection of images and text representing the rich heritage of Panjab, digitized by the Panjab Digital Library (PDL). The PDL project emerged from the concerns shared by a group of individuals about the fast-disappearing or already-lost heritage of Sikhs and Panjab. After brainstorming, the project was launched with a focus on archiving endangered manuscripts and other literature to conserve the heritage, culture and language of Panjab. In 2003, PDL started with digitization of historical texts and has since digitized over eight million pages from different manuscripts, books, newspapers, magazines and photographs.
These select and rare images are made available online for the first time in this inspiring photo essay.
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Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army have been photographed at an unknown location, most likely amidst fighting. Posing by their tent, they seem to be suffering from battle fatigue. They have flowing beards in contrast to the British Army tradition of tying long beards. There is no suggestion in the frame of location or date. This image has been digitized from Dr Gurpal Singh Bhuler’s collection of army photographs from 1858 through World War I, a time in which Sikhs were sent to faraway places. As the use of turbans was progressively regimented and regularised in later years, the variety of turbans in the image suggests that the picture is from an earlier period. The collection has photographs of Sikh soldiers in Africa, East Asia and Europe.
*When this image was exhibited in the third exhibition at Kathmandu, it was discovered that the same postcard was a part of the collection at Madan Puraskar Pustakalya.
This postcard from Dr Gurpal Singh Bhuler’s collection was published during World War I by the British Government under the title, The European War. It is a part of the series ‘In the Firing Line, Series I’, and has its own assigned number, Post Card No 4331. Photogravure must have been done by the photo studio of Rapheal Tuck & Sons, the company officially engaged by the British Government for its public relations outreach. The card mentions that they were ‘Art publishers to their Majesties the King and Queen.’ Along with technical details, the card has text to explain the context of photograph, which starts with the caption reproduced in bold letters, “Sikhs advancing with the machine guns on the battlefield. “Thereafter:” In dispatches from the Front, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces refers more than once to the brave and gallant bearings of the Indian Troops in action, and in the details given the Sikhs regiments are specially commended for their fine fighting qualities.”
This postcard carries a part of Panjab’s history, as many Sikhs from the region joined the British Indian Army after the annexation of Panjab in 1849 AD. These troops went all over the world to protect the British Empire – here fighting ‘The European War’, far from the land of the five rivers.
A page from Phulwari, a Panjabi monthly literary magazine, in issue dated February 1930. Two young men, Birender Singh and Manmohan Singh (left and right) have been featured for their achievements. Birender is going to the USA to pursue higher studies in the field of electrical engineering. The heading reads vlayatdiantiyarian (‘preparing for Britain’), whereas the caption says he will be leaving for the USA in September 1930. The term vlayat is obviously being used to mean ‘foreign land’. During those days access to higher education was confined to the elite, so going abroad for higher studies was an achievement worth reporting.
Manmohan (1906-1942) is reported to have piloted a plane from Britain to India. The heading reads Naujwan Panjabi Udaru (Young Panjabi pilot) and the caption reads, ”Manmohan Singh, son of Dr. Makhan Singh, is flying back from vlayat”. Manmohan had become the first Indian pilot to fly solo from England to India. Born in Rawalpindi in September 1906, he studied civil engineering at the University of Bristol in Britain, and also completed a course in flying and aeronautical engineering on a scholarship from the Government of India. He was competing for an award of £500 announced by the Ismaili leader Aga Khan for the first Indian to fly solo between England and India within one month. Manmohan completed the solo flight on his third attempt but did not win the prize as he could not complete the flight within the stipulated period. However, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, the ruler of the princely state of Patiala, took him on as his personal pilot. Later, Manmohan became the first Indian to successfully complete a solo journey from England to South Africa in a light aircraft. During World War II he served in the British Indian Air Force in the Philippines and Indonesia and was killed during the war in West Australia.
Takhat Singh (1862-1937), respectfully called Bhai Sahib Bhai Takhat Singh, was a pioneer of women’s education in Panjab. After starting a school for boys in 1890, he founded the first school for girls in Panjab at Ferozepur in 1892, which became known as the Sikh Kanya Mahavidalya (Sikh Girls School). In doing so, Takhat Singh faced stiff resistance from conservative quarters and so-called modern institutions alike. His determination was unrelenting, however, and the girls sailed through the portals of the Sikh Girls School, paving the way for others. Initially, Takhat Singh ran the school in a Dharamshala (a community building), with a curtain separating the boys’ and girls’ sections. Takhat Singh’s wife Harnam Kaur assisted him in teaching and managing the girls school. After first spending his family assets, Takhat Singh went on a fund mobilization campaign for the school building and hostel. He visited East Asian countries and China for the purpose, and his dedication earned him the title of Zinda Shaheed (living martyr). Takhat Singh also established a rich library, which became a point of reference for the scholars of the day. The children and grandchildren of Takhat Singh and Harnam Kaur have carried forward their mission of education till today. The photograph has been digitized from the collection of Jaspal Singh.
These are sports women who were part of a government-organised sports camp in Chail, Himachal Pradesh in 1968. The photograph was taken by S B Durga, who worked in the Punjab Government’s department of public relations. The girls in the picture, who could not be identified, represent the first generation to grow up in independent India, with their attitude and clothing exuding a confidence in the future.
The woman is rowing a boat in Nainital. The photographer would have been her companion, who has left his/her cushion vacant to take the picture of the woman enjoying her vacation. The photographer captured a moment in an unknown woman’s life – a moment that was taken for private use, but is now public as part of this exhibition. This photograph is from the 1960s, digitised from S B Durga’s collection.
Here is 65-year-old Mrs Behl on the banks of the Spiti River in the district of Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, at the time part of Punjab. Her daughter Tara Behl was deputy director in the Development Department of Punjab, and had taken Mrs. Behl along on an official tour in 1966. She had seen two decades of Independent India by that time. Mrs Behl was a matriculate and could write Hindi.
This advertisement was carried by the Punjabi literary magazine Phulwari in its issue of May 1929. The advertisement has Urdu text as part of the design. It must have been issued in the public interest by a social reformist organisation, of which there were many at that time. The magazine may have endorsed the advertisement, which was why there was Punjabi text on the top of advertisement. The heading in bold text reads, “Boycott the Bottle!” The caption reads, “What does this bottle mean? This bottle carries the destruction and ruination of our country. India has 44684 liquor shops. The government is earning revenue of two million rupees from the purse of ten million people. In return, the people are under the burden of disease and poverty. Gentlemen! This bottle has destroyed our country, boycott it!”
The advertisement has used the word ‘bottle’ as synonymous with liquor. This seems to be part of a series of advertisements, as ‘Number 5’ is mentioned below the heading. The way the information is presented seems to link the notice philosophically to the freedom struggle, those being the days when the boycott of foreign goods was gaining ground.
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