A Punjabi Palimpsest: Cultural Memory and Amnesia at the Aam Khas Bagh

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: English


The Grand Trunk Road is a significant and historical highway which runs across the north of India, connecting Afghanistan to Calcutta. Although the exact route of the road has changed, its trajectory and purpose have remained constant: the transmission of knowledge, ideas, religion, tradition and innovation. Punjab is located at a crucial intersection on the road and has seen significant settlements from a range of communities including Jains, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sufis and Sikhs. The area of The Grand Trunk Road in Punjab has been witness to a particularly dense contact of cultures which is especially evident in key clusters along the route. This project focusses on one important site along the Grand Trunk Road in a location of particular significance for Muslims and Sikhs. The Aam Khas Bagh is a Mughal Garden and Serai in Sirhind, Punjab which was constructed in the 1560s by Hafiz Sultan Muhammad Rakhna and was subsequently augmented by Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The gardens are located at a strategic point on The Grand Trunk Road, roughly equidistant between Lahore and Delhi which positioned Sirhind as a major settlement and hub for knowledge and commerce. The growing tension between the Tenth Sikh Guru and Muslims from the 1700s culminated in the execution of two of the Guru's sons in Sirhind. The town was subsequently sacked by the Sikhs with significant destruction across the settlement. Sirhind is now a twin town with Fatehgarh Sahib and is a predominantly Sikh area, with a significant proportion of the population being Pakistani Punjabi Sikhs who relocated after Partition. Despite the significant buildings and monuments ranging from the medieval period across Sirhind, there is minimum infrastructure for their protection and limited conservation, which is currently being addressed by CRCI.

Particular points include:
The lack of any legible signage at monuments of historical significance.
A lack of local knowledge about historical and cultural narratives associated with the buildings, a phenomenon being described here as cultural amnesia.

The lack of historical or contextual knowledge surrounding the monuments is largely attributable to the significant population change in the local area after Partition. The Aam Khas Bagh as the largest open space in Sirhind is a significant meeting point between the past and present as it remains a site that is frequently visited and explored. Although the site is a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India, there are very few measures to protect it from routine destruction and vandalism.

By investigating ways of recontextualising the history of the gardens through installations and interactions with key stakeholders, this project aims to research the ways in which Sikh and Muslim heritage co-exists in post-Partition Punjab in India. The expertise of the group includes the PI with experience of project management who has published a monograph on sites of contested heritage and forms of cultural erasure, a
visual anthropologist with extensive experience of fieldwork and a visual portfolio on Sirhind and an interactive and immersive designer who has developed a range of interactive devices around the themes of sustainability, as well as in the Aam Khas Bagh.


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Title Documentary film 
Description This documentary created by the project team and recruited students, attempted to document the varied cultural influences in Sirhind. It was shown at a community even in Sirhind. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact This documentary gave access to a range of perspectives on local heritage in Sirhind that focussed on the cultural and religious diversity of the area, something many viewers were not aware of. 
Title Exhibition materials 
Description We produced three large panels which had a combination of original artwork depicting the Aam Khas Bagh. One of the panels featured an interactive map of the Aam Khas Bagh that provided a voiceover explaining the history of each location within the site. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact These creative outputs were co-designed by a digital artist, an interactive designer, a humanities academic and students recruited for the project. The impact was two-fold: 1. Augmenting the skills of the participants; 2. Influencing the perception of local heritage at the Aam Khas Bagh. 
Description This project explored how to engage communities in decision-making about local heritage sites, especially in areas where there can be conflict in the histories associated with particular sites. By working on a Mughal-era serai in Sirhind, now part of the Indian section of Punjab, this project co-designed a community event with local students to raise awareness of Sirhind's complex history of religious and cultural co-existence, as well as conflict. The outcome of this was raising local awareness of the long history of dialogue and peaceful co-existence between Sikh and Muslim communities in the area. An additional outcome was influencing policy-makers about how use heritage as a catalyst for managing and developing difficult conversations about heritage and conflict.
Exploitation Route The model for the workshops could be applied to other areas/contexts where there is some tension between Sikh and Muslim perceptions of cultural conflict and tension. It would be particularly productive when used in association with build heritage or material objects.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The findings have been used to: 1. Generate new publications 2. Contribute to policy documents 3. Provide a template for future workshops run outside of the project
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Heritage policy impact
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The research from this project has made a contribution the Cultural Policy and Heritage Initiative, a cultural policy document commissioned by UNESCO and being undertaken by CRCI. The impact relates to decision-making about heritage policies and addresses how local communities can be engaged in contributing to the development and management of local heritage sites.
Title Website 
Description The website takes original digital designs and oral narratives to generate new interactive content covering heritage and the GT Road, Punjab. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The website is in its infancy but it has already made an impact on information and dissemination methods endorsed by Punjab Tourism. 
URL http://thegtroad.com/
Description CRCI 
Organisation Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative
Country India 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The PI worked with CRCI to co-design and deliver a heritage project in Punjab.
Collaborator Contribution The partner provided technical expertise, provided local contacts, contributed to overall steer/direction of the project and supported activities through staff secondments.
Impact All of the individual outcomes of this project have had a contribution from CRCI.
Start Year 2013
Description Mata Gujri College 
Organisation Mata Gujri College
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We worked with the college to recruit students for a workshop.
Collaborator Contribution The parter college provided facilities and provided staff assistance through the workshops.
Impact A community exhibition in Sirhid, Punjab on heritage.
Start Year 2013
Description Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University 
Organisation Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The PI worked with the university to recruit students and to manage the interests of the students alongside their commitment to the project.
Collaborator Contribution The partner university provided access to facilities, staff support and additional resources such as transport and printing.
Impact The outcomes included collaboration on a community exhibition on heritage and participation in associated events such as workshop presentations.
Start Year 2013
Description Community exhibition in Sirhind, Punjab 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Approximately 400-500 members of the public attended a community heritage event at the Aam Khas Bagh, Sirhind which was designed to promote an understanding of the range of religious and cultural influences in the area (Sikh and Muslim heritage was foregrounded). The event was predominantly attended by members of the local community.

Feedback from the event demonstrated that many people were unaware of the Aam Khas Bagh's history (it is a Mughal-era serai complex) and significance because of the lack of official signs/tourist information and an emphasis on Sikh sights and monument in the area. Notable feedback included a much broader awareness and appreciation of the co-existence of Sikh and Muslim communities in the area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Conference in Chandigarh, Punjab 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An international conference was organised by Punjab Tourism (government agency) to connect academics, policy-makers and experts from industry. We offered an interactive exhibition/talk to participants including representatives from the Government of Punjab and UNESCO.

We were able to present a complex portrait of heritage in Sirhind that was generated by local stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Media Interest in Sirhind heritage 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We were contacted by a range of media outlets local to Sirhind, Punjab. National press coverage was in the form of an article in the Chandigarh Tribune which was based on an interview with the project PI and a tour of the community exhibition.

The local interest in the event moved to national-level media interest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://epaper.tribuneindia.com/c/1713900
Description Punjab Research Group Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact We ran a special conference on 'Memory' in collaboration with the Punjab Research Group (UK). The purpose of the conference was to stimulate thinking about partition and memory, something relevant to the project's work on contested heritage.

The conference brought together a range of experts on Punjab, including participants from India and Pakistan. It fostered discussions for future collaborations on post-partition Punjab.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Workshops in Sirhind, Punjab 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Inclusion of 20 College and University students in Punjab in a series of workshops concentrating on site-interpretation and heritage with a special focus on creating peace between communities in conflict (Sikh and Muslim). Workshops were divided into documenting (film), oral history and interactive design. Students gained new skills and worked towards co-designing a community exhibition which concluded the workshops.

The advertised workshops generated higher than expected level of interest with over 100 applicants. This stimulated local interest in contested sites of heritage. We were able to work with carpenters and craftspeople with expertise in Mughal-era heritage sites.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013