Structured Heritage Education at Spring Dale Senior School dates back to the year 1999-2000. At that time the school had just started its association with SPICMACAY. We had taken up the co-ordination of SPICMACAY activities in Punjab with late Ms. Manveen Sandhu installed as the state-co-coordinator. We were getting exposed and sensitized towards varied forms of our culture and heritage. Classical music, dance, theatre, literature and various art forms in their manifestation in paintings, photography, sculpture, pottery, calligraphy and folk arts and crafts which SPICMACAY brought to schools and colleges offered very exciting possibilities for holistic education. During that time when we traveled to various institutions to start chapters of SPICMACAY, the interaction provided us valuable insights into integrating education with culture and heritage. The broad picture of experiential education and value based integration of arts with mainstream education was taking shape in our minds.
Around that time we came to know that some conservation project was on at Kishankot- a small village near Sri Hargobindpur about 40 kilometers from Amritsar. A Krishna temple in the middle of the village was undergoing conservation work. A team of conservation artists and restorers was working on the temple and a few young students from Delhi were camping in the village for their research work. It was a great opportunity to expose children to all these learning avenues. The very idea of a Hindu temple being conserved in a village which was inhabited predominantly by Sikh community had great educational value. Few Hindu families who used to live in that village were forced to move out during the time of terrorism in the nineteen eighties for fear of their lives. But the Sikh community not only preserved the temple but also kept the tradition of lighting the diya in the absence of its caretakers. Besides this symbol as a celebration of brotherhood and communal harmony, the village offered various other educational opportunities which we wanted to tap. Logistics were worked out and the students were taken in school vans to Kishankot every Saturday. Divided in small groups they had different aspects to study as they visited there week after week along with their teachers.
Enthused by this experience we continued to organize a diverse range of heritage education programs for students regularly. Most elaborate among these were ‘Grassroots in the Desert’ a ten day camp of an entire class of students and teachers in village Hamira in Distt. Jaisalmer, Rajasthan to give the students from ‘the land of prosperity’ an experience of ‘the land of scarcity’ and ‘Rediscovering my Holy City’ a heritage survey of the city of Amritsar exploring living, natural and architectural heritage of Amritsar. In the mean time the school developed its Centre for Creative and Performing Arts aiming to integrate cultural and heritage education with the mainstream education. Through the traditional arts and crafts learnt from original artisans and trained teachers the children explore nuances of Pottery, Tie and Dye, Sculpture, Calligraphy, Paper Craft and many other art forms. In performing arts too Punjabi Dhol, Sikh martial art Gatka and different styles of Punjabi folk music and dances are part of the children’s learning repertory in the school. So heritage education instead of being a standalone idea is weaved in the everyday experience of students at Spring Dale Senior School.
C.B.S.E. circular dated Jan 2010 on Heritage Education came as a motivation. We felt encouraged that all efforts which we had been putting together all those years were in the right direction. The guidelines given in the circular provided us the framework to further structure and consolidate our heritage program. So the heritage week and heritage day celebration, heritage walks, heritage quiz, the oath taking- everything made sense and fell in place. Reiteration of the same in the CBSE circular of Jan, 2011 and particularly the idea of Adopt a Heritage Scheme, provided the backup strength since we were already in the process of finalizing an agreement with Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board to be given the responsibility of maintenance, care and promotion of Pul Kanjri- a recently restored and conserved monument belonging to the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh on the Indo-Pak border.
An MOU was signed and we were officially handed over the custody of this beautiful monument. It consists of a well designed square shaped stepped pond on the eastern side of which stands a temple. There is no deity inside but people of the village tell us that it was a Shiva temple. It still has beautiful wall paintings depicting Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The paintings depict Lord Vishnu in various avtars besides scenes of Lord Rama, Krishna, Durga and other mythological Gods on its upper walls and ceiling. Outside walls of the temple also have some weather beaten remains of paintings difficult to identify. On the opposite side is an enclosed zanana bath. On the Northern side is a big ramp leading up to the bottom of the pond. The Southern side is the entrance to the monument which also has two underground water channels meant to supply water to the pond.
School has appointed a chowkidar cum caretaker at the site. He is available there all through the day. He opens the gate in the morning and locks it at night. He attends to the visitors and acts as a guide. In his free time he keeps an eye on the unwanted vegetation growth and cleanliness. During their initial visits some plantation was done by students to beautify the site. He acts as a gardener for taking care of the flower beds and plants. Since he belongs to a nearby village he is available all seven days. If some visitors come on odd hours he gets the information and appears within no time to show them around.
There are various plans to make educational use of the monument. For the first year though its one visit per class- 6th grade onwards to have a feel of it and its surroundings. Surroundings too have huge possibilities. Its unpolluted settings among lush fields, the border fence, a war memorial belonging to 1971 action and the nearby villages offer a plethora of subjects for the visiting students. They will get a real experience of what a historical monument is like, how it suggests information about the era to which it belonged, what is conservation, why we need to protect our historical monuments etc. Besides, there is scope for more detailed and research based projects on wall paintings, architectural design, historical perspective, folklore connections, relevance to the villagers and so on. But the ideal outcome would be the germination of thoughts in the minds of students on abstract ideals of life like universality of time, transient nature of possessions, manmade borders and other inspirational thoughts which they carry with them throughout their lives.
Association with Pul Kanjri was an outcome of late Ms. Manveen’s research on Maharaja Ranjit Singh. She endeavored to compile a book for children highlighting greatness of the Maharaja. But the exhaustive research she undertook and her growing passion for the persona of the Maharaja turned it into a comprehensive coffee table book titled Maharaja Ranjit Singh – Personalitas Extraordinaire. During that time she toured Lahore and met Faqir Saif-ud-din a decendent of Faqir Aziz-ud-din the official chronicler of the Maharaja. At Faqir Khana she got access to a treasure trove belonging to that era in the form of historical documents, paintings and rare antiques which provided her with much needed visual authenticity. She also met many historians and experts on the subject and visited places of importance belonging to that era. During her research she got fascinated with the character of a nautch girl of that time and one of the favorite concubines of the Maharaja. She wanted to resurrect this historical character whom Maharaja Ranjit Singh had given the title- Moran which means female peacock in Punjabi. In the process she collected a lot of material on Moran which she felt was itself sufficient to write a separate book. But after discussions she converted it into a costume drama titled Moran Sarkar.
It was during this time when Ms. Manveen came to know that there was a little known monument in ruins right on the Indo Pak border dedicated to Moran, known as Pul Kanjri. It was like a discovery. She was thrilled with it. The remains of the monument in the shape of a pond and a temple had been in private possession. The land was subsequently bought by the tourism department, govt. of Punjab. With a grant from Ministry of Tourism Govt. of India the conservation work was handed over to the Archeological Survey of India. But before she could see the realization of her dream projects, tragedy struck claiming her life along with her illustrious husband Dr. Shivinder Singh Sandhu in a car accident on their way back from their favorite heritage site- village Hamira in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
For almost two years we were not aware what was happening at Pul Kanjri. However just as time was healing the wounds of their sudden departure, painstaking and detailed conservation work was going on in slow pace by expert workers appointed by contractors hired by ASI. The monument was now ready in its original glory standing aloof away from public eye right next to the border fence among lush green fields. Towards the end of 2010 when the monument was nearing completion, the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board was looking for an agency to hand over the monument for upkeep. At that time the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar knowing Spring Dale Educational Society’s interest and commitment for cultural and social causes offered the school to take up responsibility of maintenance promotion of the site. It was like a dream come true for us. Soon I had a meeting with Principal Secretary Tourism, Govt. of Punjab and we agreed in principle on the terms and conditions. It was followed by an MOU which was signed in January 2011 and the site of Pul Kanjri was handed over to us exactly two years after the demise of Ms. Manveen and Dr. Shivinder.
The site acquires its name from its association with an interesting episode in the story the Maharaja and his love for Moran. This place was used as night halt for the Maharaja and his entourage during their travel from Lahore to Amritsar and vice versa. Situated on the bank of a canal channel which supplied water to Shalimar Gardens in Lahore this place is mid way between Amritsar and Lahore. The Maharaja stayed in a Baradari close to the sarovar and the temple on the other side of the channel. The village to which Moran belonged is a few kilometers away. It is said that during his halts Moran would come to meet the Maharaja from her village and she had to cross the channel to reach the Baradari. Once she is supposed to have lost her silver footwear while crossing it and complained to the Maharaja about it who got a wooden bridge constructed over the water channel. People started calling the place Pul Kanjri which literally means bridge belonging to the nautch girl. A woman, who was denied the honour of being recognized as Maharaja’s wife in spite of being his favourite, was made immortal by a bridge which is no more.