Walk History

MURALS – GLIMPSES OF THE BYGONE TIMES

The word mural originated from the Latin word murus or wall. It is a piece of art that is directly painted on the wall. Murals are painted on one side of wall or can be made on ceilings or floors.

The Mural paintings or artwork dates back to the times beyond the pages of history. Or in other words we can say that there have been murals on the walls throughout the world for as long as there have been people on the earth. It is a form of valuable testimony of life from the prehistoric time to today. Infact, it is associated with modern man, who first appeared in Africa around 200,000 BC, and began migrating northwards into Europe and Asia sometime after 100,000 BC. From the cave paintings at Lascaux Grotttoes in Southern France, Bhimbetka Cave painting in India to the street art murals of today, people have been leaving signs of their own existence in many places around the world through these pieces of art.

People scratched them, carved them, etched them and painted them. According to art historians, mural painting dates back to at least 40,000 years. (Other historians credit the Minoans and the Etruscans) Some of these impressive works have been preserved, thankfully, by the very caves which they inhabit.These ancient murals typically depict the activities of a particular civilization‘s people, encapsulating a moment in time, and range from scenes of hunting, gathering, and family life, to religious and funerary scenes.


Most of the Murals are found in religious places, museums, libraries and public places. The murals which were painted outside have faded or got destroyed but those which are indoors are as fresh as new. A beautiful piece of art, murals have become a dying art.The murals of Punjab were painted over a period of roughly 300 years that is from 17 th century A.D to early 20 century as it is obvious from following data: Gurdawara Sahib Teg Bahadur opposite Bahadurgarh fort, (near Patiala) painted around 1670- 1720 A.D has beautiful murals.

Bhai Dalla’s Samadhi, Damdama Sahib Talwandi Sabo, near Bhatinda is one of the earliest specimens of wall paintings of Punjab. Bhai Dalla’s building was fully embellished with murals on the interior as well as exterior. Now the outer walls have been completely whitewashed obliterating the murals. But the murals can still be seen on the walls and the ceiling inside the samadhi. They are in a fairly good state of preservation. These murals are historically very important and are the earliest specimens of the Punjab murals. They were executed roughly between 1705 and 1740 AD. The themes painted here are derived mostly from Hindu mythology and legends. The most notable ones are those depicting Durga riding on her lion; Hanuman and an ascetic absorbed in meditation seen in the front, the gigantic figure of Ravana being attacked by monkeys and bears, Surya riding in his chariot driven by a seven-headed horse, Kartikeya riding on his Vahana, the peacock etc. A few episodes from the Krishna legend such as the Gopi Vastraharana are painted with equal skill.

Sikh themes were painted on the walls of Bhai Dalla’s samadhi alongside themes from Hindu mythology. An impressive and forceful mural shows Guru Gobind Singh astride a horse.
The historical importance of these murals also lies in the fact that they are the earliest specimens of wall painting in the Punjab and Pahari areas and also of paintings on Sikh subjects, Hindu themes with Guru Nanak and other Sikh gurus. Plants, the branches of which from a kind of arch, are painted between each figure. Below the arch, we find Guru Gobind Singh riding on his horse with attendants. In front of him, a Sikh Bhai is seen reading the holy Granth. It is a well known fact that in Amritsar and Lahore Sikh subjects came to be painted only in the latter half of the 19th century.

Another remarkable feature of these murals is that they are in Gurumukhi script. It is possible that the painting of Sikh subjects and the use of Gurumukhi script were due to the fact that Damdama was one of the earliest strongholds of Sikh religion.The colours used are the yellow ochre, Indian red, orange and green. In the four corners of the small room peacocks painted in conventional style can be seen. More than half of the murals portray Guru Nanak Dev ji and Guru Gobind Singh ji. Guru Nanak Dev ji often appears accompanied by Bhai Bala and Bhai Mardana, the former a chauri- bearer and the later a rebab player. There are also a series of murals illustrating the life of Guru Nanak based on tradition as well as on Janmasakhis. The most representative series are to be seen in the Gurdawara Sahib of Baba Atal at Amritsar.

It was during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time that Sikhs led a comparatively comfortable life and the martial race channelized their energies to the rich taste of fine arts. The change encouraged Hindus and Sikhs to construct magnificent shrines in architectural and ornamental decorations. Thus mural decoration made headway as a matter of course and thus promoted the art of mural painting in Punjab. After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839 this art got a setback. Following the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, the western style and technique of painting began to spread.

There are some murals painted which were painted on the dome of Sri Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran Sahib in 1905, at Gurdawara Sahib Bauli Sahib at Goindwal in about 1920 and some later murals in Gurdawara Sahib at Baba Bakala. These are the only lingering echoes of a bygone tradition. There were two main factors which led to the development of mural painting in Punjab. One is religious and other was that they were painted to adorn palaces, forts, havelis of big landlords. It is worthy to mention here that the Punjab kings used to sanction grants not only for construction of temples and Gurdawara Sahibs but for their maintenance as well. Religious themes dominates the murals and paintings in Punjab.

There are only few murals left in houses because most of the houses have been demolished. I came across murals painted outside the houses in Kamaloo village and Talwadi Sabo near Bhatinda. Since childhood I have been fascinated by the murals at my parents ancestral house at village Chak Attar Singh Wala District Bhatinda. The murals were made about 140 years back. They were painted during the time of my great Grandfather Rais Sardar Gurdit Singh Sidhu. My quest for writing this article was due to my ancestral Heritage asset. Mural painting was a very expensive art at that time because of scarcity of water in area as well as no means of transportation. One person used to paint and other brought the water in a mud pot. All the murals are on one wall.There are different scenes depicted in beautiful strong colours like blue, brown, mustard and white which have not faded at all. There is Guru Nanak Dev ji surrounded by Bhai Bala and Bhai Mardana sitting under tree. There is another scene in which is Guru Gobind Singh ji is sitting on a horseback with hawk held in one hand and accompanied by his five Sikhs. In another scene is Krishan ji surrounded by Gopis. Then there is Shiv ji sitting with company of Parvati. All other characters are made; those which existed in the time of Guru Sahib ji such as Nihang Singh making bhang, kite flying, wrestlers kiker Singh and Gulam doing wrestling, Dolchi, Bairagi Saint in sitting position, Bishni glotey terdi , bakri wali (goat) charning milk, elephant and loin fighting. All the scenes are outlined with double border. The murals were made by the local artist who was from neighbouring village Dhuni ka (actress Vijantimala Bali’s husband Dr Bali’s village). The Artist has beautifully explained the personalities by labelling them in punjabi alphabets.

Murals are such a beautiful piece of art which has become a dying art. Whatever is left of them needs to be preserved for future generations.

By Opinder Kaur Sekhon

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