Author: Guru Baba Nanak
Publisher: Guru Nanak Dev University
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8177700111
Published with the permission of India Office Library, London, this album of 57 paintings is a supreme example of the Sikh aesthetics in painting. This work also has a detailed discussion on the Sikh doctrines, and is a unique achievement of Sikh art
The India Office Library has a manuscript, accession number B-40. The ‘Janamasakhi’ has been called after the number. It is the oldest extant manuscript of the Panjabi language. The year of its writing is 1733 A.D. luckily the ‘Janamsakhi’ manuscript has 57 paintings. They constitute a unique achievement of Sikh art. Sikh paintings are called Sikh because they were created for the Sikh patrons. B-40 paintings are doubly Sikh. They were not only painted by a Sikh for the Sikhs but also embody the basic doctrines of Sikhism. No other group of paintings has been found to fulfill an ideological function so far.
Some of the eminent scholars have examined, translated and edited the ‘B-40 Janamsakhi’ without paying enough attention to the extraordinary merit of its paintings. In fact the artistic worth of the paintings is at par with the literary merit of the ‘Janamsakhi’. There were two reasons which made their neglect obligatory. A formal, aesthetic understanding of the
‘janamsakhi’ genre was yet to be arrived at. The scholars had no inkling of the Sikh aesthetics, created and technically perfected by Guru Nanak to be strictly adhered to by the Gurus and the orthodox Sikh writers of ‘Janamsakhi’ and ‘Gurbilas’ literature. That is why these paintings were supposed to be poor specimens of one school of art or the other. Nothing could be farther from truth.
There are five cardinal points of Sikh aesthetics. A number of things are naturally beautiful. But natural beauty is not enough. Man can suffer a loss of sense of beauty because of spiritual heedlessness. The B-40 paintings eminently uphold the Sikh aesthetics to re-inforce the janamsakhi intentions. The purpose and function of the Janamsakhi is to establish the spiritual sovereignty of Guru Nanak according to scripture and tradition.