Temples of colour;Arts;Exhibition

5th February 1999 at 00:00
Painted Banners and Embroidered Cloths. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow until May 16.

Sikh Faith and Culture. Scotland Street School Museum, Glasgow until April 25 Deedee Cuddihy visits two exhibitions celebrating Scottish Sikh culture

Ravinder Kaur Nijjar is a cracking storyteller. She is also co-ordinator of the two exhibitions being staged in Glasgow by Scotland's Sikh community to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa, the baptism of the religion's first holy disciples.

The Khalsa took place on March 30, 1699 and coincided with the spring harvest festival of Vaisakhi, still an annual celebration in the Punjab, home to an estimated 16 million Sikhs.

This is the first time that Scottish Sikhs - who number about 6,000 in Glasgow (5 per cent of the city's Asian population) - have had the opportunity to celebrate on such a large scale. Members of Scotland's six Sikh churches - four in Glasgow and one each in Edinburgh and Dundee - got together and agreed that two exhibitions, one focusing on art, the other on education, should be staged.

These will be followed by a series of events including martial arts demonstrations, poetry and song, a sound and light show and a religious gathering - with hymn singers from London where many of Britain's 500,000 Sikhs are based - at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, at which up to 3,000 people are expected.

"And to which non-Sikhs will be made very welcome," says Mrs Nijjar, who adds that the 300th anniversary celebrations have a dual purpose: to mark the Vaisakhi and the Khalsa and to introduce Sikh religion and culture to more people.

Mrs Nijjar, a teacher who moved to Glasgow from London 20 years ago and works at a primary school on the south side of the city, says: "I want people to understand our religion. I have seen pupils suffer because it wasn't understood by others why they had to wear the symbolic Kara bangle or the Kachhera shorts (two of the Sikh "5Ks"), and my sons who are both at secondary school haven't always found it easy to wear the turban, because it makes them a target for bullies who sometimes have already taken exception to the fact that they have brown skin."

The origins of Sikhism date back to around 1500, which makes it one of the newest of the world religions; one with a remarkably modern outlook and, seemingly, devoid of many of the negative aspects of earlier faiths.

For the exhibition at Kelvingrove, traditional-style religious art works were commissioned from specialists in New Delhi, and although the collection is being described as "printed banners and embroidered cloths", most of the pieces are huge photographs (some almost 10 feet tall) of well-known paintings of the Sikh gurus and of aspects of present-day Sikh religious life, all of them set in massive wooden frames with fancy velvet borders.

One notable exception is a vast framed photograph of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, which has been printed on to cloth and then lavishly embroidered with gold thread.

Much more interesting is the less formal exhibition at Scotland Street, which is aimed at primary schools but will also be enjoyed by families.

A comprehensive but not overwhelming range of colourful and attractive displays using objects, photographs and print, covers most aspects of Sikh religion and culture, including the gurus, festivals, women in Sikhism, the Golden Temple and musical instruments. There is also a chance to see the project work undertaken by Glasgow primary school children who visited their Sikh church, and to explore the geography and language of the Punjab and try your hand at the alphabet and learning basic numbers, colours and days of the week.

Also on display is a large selection of children's books and tapes in Punjabi and English, from true life accounts and information about marriage customs and so on to counting books (One Rich Rajah), colouring books and Sikh bedtime stories.

Scotland Street is running a programme of free children's activities. Calligraphy workshops on February 17 and 18, musical workshops on February 22, 23, 24 and 25, and storytelling sessions by Ravinder Kaur Nijjar on March 15 and 22. Booking, tel: 0141 287 27478. Further information: 0141 429 1202

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