One of the highlights of Amritsar, which is missed by most mango tourists is the Sikh museum. It is situated on the first floor of the front wing of the Golden Temple complex (just as you enter from the main entrance) and provides fascinating insight into the history and lives of the Sikhs. The English on the labeling is bad, some pictures don’t have English labels at all (not even Hindi; only Gurmukhi stuff) and the museum is mostly made up of paintings rather than artefacts, but it is definitely a must-see.
The most fascinating thing about the history of the Sikhs as depicted in this museum is the gore. As you enter the first hall of the museum (it is basically a series of halls laid end-to-end) and turn left (actually you are supposed to turn right and see the thing anti-clockwise but the signage is so bad I turned left) you see a painting of a guy being sawed. Yes, you read that right, a guy is being sawed. Into half. Laterally. The painting shows two guys with a huge saw sawing this guy from head downwards (at the moment the painting has “captured” the guy has been sawed until his chest) while Guru Tegh Bahadur looks on.
Move on to the next painting and it shows you a guy being boiled alive, again with Guru Tegh Bahadur presiding. Apparently the guy’s death wish was that he looks at the Guru while he is being boiled to death. Again fascinating indeed. Then later, there is this guy (one of the Gurus only I think) who is placed on a hot tawa and burnt to death.
Amit, Aadisht and Gaspode will be especially pleased to see the next part of the museum which shows the mutilation of babies. The story goes that while all the Sikh men of a cerrtain town were away the Mughals attack the town. There are only women and children remaining. They take the kids one by one, cut them up into pieces and string their organs together in the form of garlands and put it around their mothers’ necks. Unmitigated gore wonly.
One can say that the underlying theme of the museum, and maybe of Sikh history, is gore, violence, bloodbath, sacrifice, valour, whatever you call it. There are several paintings (most of these paintings are recent, btw) which depict battlefields and the common theme there is the severed heads and limbs that are lying on the ground. Then there is a series of paintings with Mughal soldiers holding up heads of Sikh men in order to claim their reward.
The last couple of halls of the museum are filled with portraits of recent Sikh leaders and I didn’t really bother to check the details there. At least I can confirm that there wasn’t any gore there. Overall it took me about 45 minutes to cover the museum (of course I read the story beside each and every painting – wherever English text was available) so I might have taken more time than a lot of other visitors. And got absolute strength level fundaes on Sikh history.
I strongly urge you to visit this museum the next time you are in Amritsar. I would advise you to visit this before you visit the langar, else you have a good chance of throwing up – there is so much gore in there. Also, if you are the weak hearted type who cries on the sight of blood, skip the museum altogether.