ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Beautifying Amritsar: Development or Disneyfication?

The revamped road leading to the Golden Temple is a hotchpotch of kitsch—revealing our monument-centric, ahistorical and elitist approach to architecture.

On 25 October, Punjab’s deputy chief minister inaugurated his pet project, the ostensible beautification of a 500-metre road in Amritsar from the Town Hall to Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple. Costing ₹250 crore and executed at a feverish pace of eight months, the project was touted as one of a kind in the country, one that has given a facelift to more than 170 buildings in the lane. A closer look reveals an altogether different picture. The media and Opposition questioned the project’s intent and timing, coming as it did a few months before the state assembly election. Indeed, civic architecture and monuments seem to have become part of our political rhetoric.

More fundamentally, however, there is a misplaced notion of what heritage is. If we walk down this Disneyfied stretch, from the Town Hall to the Golden Temple, the quotidian,traditional, centuries-old bazaar has been replaced by new façades that, ironically, seek to create an illusion of antiquity. These are a hotchpotch of cosmetic elevations resembling Lucknowi havelis, Rajasthani palaces, Mughal jalis, Doric columns and English Renaissance elevations. These façades carrying non-local references are a surgical alienation of the street: on the one hand, they construct an imagined history recalling politically powerful regions or periods, and on the other, lead to a simultaneous erasure of a living social history. Does any part of this staged façade evoke an Amritsari past more than the informal sector, which has been an intrinsic part of urban memory but has now faded behind the screens? What constitutes history and what defines the public?

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Updated On : 21st Apr, 2017

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