Having visited many cenotaphs and monuments across Canada and also the War Museum at Ottawa in memory of Canadians who served around the world in the cause of peace and freedom, I was always baffled that my motherland India has only a handful of them. Surely the Indians have a colourful military history, spanning over many centuries, covering the entire globe. The Indian soldiers made up the majority numbers in World War I & II, but there is only the India Gate built in memory of these valiant soldiers who did the ultimate sacrifice in World War I and their names are etched on it. There is no museum anywhere in India to celebrate the sacrifices of the soldiers and to document the military history of the land.
On 22 March 2017, I had the opportunity to visit the newly opened Punjab State War Heroes’ Memorial & Museum during my trip to the holy city of Amritsar. It surely stands out as the very first such monument of India. It celebrates the history of Punjab, the ten Gurus, the Sikh Kingdom, Indians in both World Wars and all the post independent military actions.
The museum is at it nascent stage, but surely takes the visitor through the ages. The area has been aesthetically done up with its surroundings and the imposing high ‘Sword’ – it could well be the tallest such structure in the world, standing high at about 45 meters. I was surely impressed by a line from the smart young tour guides who all said a catch line “The sword is weapon with its sharp edge facing towards Pakistan, depicting not war, but peace and prosperity”. This spirit is what is being celebrated here – “Not war, but peace and prosperity.”
The guns, tanks, fighter aircraft, a model of India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant and also two captured Pakistani tanks as war trophies; all add colour and decor to the seven acre monument. The base of the sword with its four roaring lions and the various military equipment are all surely a delight for the ‘selfie’ mavericks.
The first gallery in the museum housed the history of the ten Guru of Sikhism and their contribution in spreading the message of love and peace. The history of the Holy Book ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ from the first compilation of the Adi Granth to its current compiled version and the contributors of the Holy Book is very well brought out here. It was surely a great learning for me.
The second hall depicted the military history of Punjab, mainly from the time of Maharaja Ranjith Singh. The other galleries were dedicated to the wars fought by India post independence. The display and layout is very impressive, especially the use of modern technology projection system to bring to life the real-near war scenario of the time depicted. Obviously, being at a nascent stage with a hurried inauguration has left a few gaps and I am sure that the team working on the museum will do the needful to bring better authenticity to the displays. Surely, in its present state it can stand in line with the many war museums I have visited in North America and Europe. It not only depicts the military history of Punjab, but is also ensures that it celebrates the Indian military history and bestows it the due place and recognition. In future, I am sure that it will emerge as a centre for research and excellence in India and for the entire world.
The 7D Theatre running a show with the latest technology to tingle patriotism through all our senses, depicting India’s military history is the icing on the cake. Having experienced a similar show at the Niagara, depicting the history of the Falls, I am sure this too will stun any visitor. There is a bit of fine tuning required to exploit the 7D system to its hilt.
What needs to be done now? Here are certain suggestions:-
The display rooms, especially post independent wars, could well be covered with camouflage nets to give the visitor a war ambience. The walkways may be redesigned to depict communication trenches as seen in the Runn of Kutch, Rajasthan deserts, plains of Punjab, hills of J&K, the Eastern states, high altitudes and Siachen Glacier. The base can be of glass and below it can be the soil of the area being depicted. Playing of war music and songs of the relevant times will surely add to the ambience.
A gallery may be added to depict the life of our soldiers in Siachen Glacier and the high altitudes.
The museum could also arrange with the formations in Punjab to hold static equipment displays as well as a few manoeuvres, especially on weekends and holidays when the footfall would be at its peak. The area behind the museum can be well employed for this, especially for the tracked vehicles. This will surely go a long way in civil-military liaison and bringing our armed forces closer to the people.
Creation of an amphitheatre, keeping in mind the future plans for a light & sound show will reap rich dividends. The theatre could also stage re-enactments and plays of various aspects being displayed in the galleries. The same is being done in many locations in North America employing volunteer and professional artists with pyro-techniques during high footfall times and days. The schools and colleges can be encouraged to stage their shows too. The professional and amateur artists in and around the museum area can be contracted to come out with their versions. This will surely boost their cultural talents and at the same time provide them with employment.
There is a need to collect and display war/ military artefacts and displaying them at appropriate places. This may include medals, uniforms, Field Service Marching Order, First Field Dressings, shell dressings, boxes and bags, enamel plates and mugs, water bottles, flasks, crockery and cutlery – the list is endless. It would also be worthwhile to collect war/ field literature in terms of letters, journals, diaries, note books etc used by the soldiers. For the collection of these artefacts, there got to be a media campaign through newspapers, radio and TV. It would be worthwhile to rope in the students too by the Education department sending circulars through schools and colleges. Once collected, these priceless artefacts must be restored, preserved, catalogued and displayed. This will surely be of immense help to future research scholars and will go a long way in preserving our military heritage.
Even though at its nascent stage, the landscaping of the area needs to be taken up on a war footing. The horticulture department needs to step in with their expertise. Water conservation with drip irrigation and such methods may be employed. It would be prudent to create a nursery and a small green-house to ensure that the annual and seasonal plants would bloom in the area all through the year. Surely a must for such a monument.
The sore point in many such Indian institutions is the sanitation and hygiene. The washrooms need a thorough ‘working out.’ The janitorial staff got to clean it regularly on hourly basis the least and may be more frequently during rainy season and high footfall times. Provision of clean and cold drinking water where the visitor is expected to spend at least one hour is mandatory.
With the dedication of the team behind the monument, one is sure that in the very near future this monument will be a world beater. It will surely be a torchbearer for other states and the centre to follow. This will stand out as a classical monument to remember the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served our great nation and the contributions of the daughters and sons of a great land Punjab.