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Mohrakashi and the Naqqashes of Harmandir Sahib

Sachkhand, Sri Harmandir Sahib (also called Sri Darbar Sahib) was blown up thrice, between 1757 to 1764, by Ahmed Shah Abdali. In 1764, Maharaja Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718–83) and Misl Sikh chieftains took the initiative to rebuild Darbar Sahib that stands till date. In 1810, Maharaja Ranjit Singh on conquering Chiniot town (in 1764 Bhangi misl/ territories, now a province in the state of Punjab in Pakistan), was informed by one of his commanders about decorated wall paintings called mohrakashi (fresco) inside the havelis of the region. Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), as an act of deep faith in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, took up the task of beautification through naqqashi at Darbar Sahib. Muslim artists from Chiniot town were invited to embellish the walls of Sri Harmandir Sahib. Maharaja Ranjit Singh entrusted the entire work of the decoration of the temple to Bhai Sant Singh and to Giani. Naqqash, was a term for a chitrakar, decorator or illuminator. They were also employed to undertake illumination of Arabic and Persian manuscripts, and sometimes they embellished specimens of calligraphy. Since the initial naqqashes for Darbar Sahib were from the Muslim and Vaishnav faiths, we find evidence of inspiration and influences from Vaishnav and Muslim creative vocabulary. Baba Kehar Singh was an eminent mohrakashi artist and evolved the renowned Sikh school of art. Floral decoration excelled under Rudh Singh, Amir Singh, Ganesh Singh, Gian Singh, Kapur Singh, Puran Singh, Aroor Singh and Bhai Gian Singh Naqqash. The latter is the last mural painter. After the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the task of completing the work was given to local artisans and naqqashes. Most of the naqqashes in Darbar Sahib remained unknown. We have been able to identify one undersigned as naqqash at Darbar Sahib i.e. Atma Singh Naqqash in 1960. Mohrakashi was never really recognised as an institutional art or was recognised for its unique visual language. From time to time artists, painters, conservators have engaged themselves in upholding the art form. The recent restoration of mohrakashi art has been done by Gurpreet Singh Mankoo assisted by many budding artists. This module introduces mohrakashi, explaining its process and delves into the legacy of Bhai Gian Singh Naqqash.