Entrance of the Golden Temple of Amritsar, October 1859

Entrance of the Golden Temple of Amritsar, October 1859


Albumen silver print by Felice Beato, Amritsar

A3 (297mm x 420mm)
170 gsm illustration printing paper (specially chosen for its excellent anti-aging and anti-yellowing properties)
This print is a faithful reproduction of the original
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About the Print

On traversing the causeway over the sacred tank, visitors to the Golden Temple (Harimandir Sahib) would have been confronted by its lavishly decorated façade, as seen here in one of a series taken by the pioneering photographer, Felice Beato (1832–1909). The lower storey was encased in a panelling of slabs of white marble inlaid with cornelian, mother-of-pearl, serpentine, lapis-lazuli and other stones resembling in technique the pietra dura work on the Taj Mahal. The designs were less Italian in character than those of Agra, being recognisable by their suave and flowing lines that marked Sikh ornamentation in general, the great difference being the introduction of living forms such as fish, birds and animals. Human figures were also occasionally incorporated — take for example the two elderly devotees seated crossed-legged, just about visible near the centres of the largest panels either side of the doorway, whose beards were cleverly given a naturalistic air by being formed from pieces of veined agate.

The shrine’s upper storey, including its domes, was sheathed in plates of richly embossed and heavily gilded beaten work in copper. The patterns on the copper plates were mainly of foliage in relief but there were some that carried inscriptions in Gurmukhi script above the various doorways of the shrine. There were four such entrances, one on each side to signify the openness of the shrine, and indeed the Sikh faith, to all regardless of their background. The western-oriented doorway captured here was regarded as the main entrance. Above it the inscription records the first portion of Guru Nanak’s most famous poetic composition, the ‘Japji’, followed by the benefactions of Maharaja Ranjit Singh on completion of a momentous project to beautify the shrine, which began in 1803 and concluded in 1830.

Image credit: © Toor Collection

Print series: Empire of the Sikhs

Published in: In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures from the Toor Collection of Sikh Art by Davinder Toor with an introduction by William Dalrymple