Technology as ICH Transmitter: Indian Heritage Centre’s Sikh Exhibition

A visitor trying out the interactive game to learn bhangra steps at Indian Heritage Centre, Singapore. Photograph courtesy of Indian Heritage Centre

Singapore’s Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) recently launched its second community co-curated exhibition entitled Sikhs in Singapore—A Story Untold. The exhibition focuses on the history, heritage, and culture of the Sikh community in Singapore and features not only artefacts and artwork but also showcases the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of the community.

One of the key innovations of the exhibition involves the use of technology to create an interactive game that facilitates the transmission of basic movements associated with the traditional Punjabi dance of bhangra and the traditional Sikh martial art of gatka. Originating from the Majha region of Punjab and traditionally danced to the beat of a dhol (double-headed drum), bhangra is an energetic, athletic dance style, with steps incorporating leaps, kicks, and squats.

Gatka is a style of stick fighting using a long wooden stick called gatka. This martial art form also uses a variety of weapons, including swords, punch daggers, quoits and flails. Gatka was originally taught to Sikh soldiers as part of their training, but it is now mainly practiced as a sport and performance art. Both ICH elements are practiced in Singapore and performed at festivals.

The interactive game is a touch-free, motion-based game that allows visitors to select between bhangra or gatka, and then to learn the basic moves of either ICH element by following the moves of the dancer or the martial artist respectively. Comprising three levels of complexity, the game then measures how accurate each player’s moves are and assigns a score to each player.

A video station showcasing the food heritage of the Sikh community alongside artifacts related to the community’s culinary traditions. Photograph courtesy of Indian Heritage Centre

IHC developed the interactive game to engage visitors and allow them to gain a better sense of the movements, speed and skills of the practitioners of the two ICH elements from the Sikh community. The hands-free game is also part of IHC’s efforts to leverage on technology to address COVID-19 concerns involving hands-on and touch-based interactives.

For the exhibition, IHC further documented a total of six ICH elements practised by the Sikh community digitally and presented them in the form of video stations that are placed at strategic points throughout the exhibition. These ICH elements can be broadly categorized as culinary heritage, traditional crafts, music, and oral traditions as well as rituals.

To complement its digital ICH showcases, the exhibition also features more than 40 ICH related artifacts and artworks. Amongst the ICH related artifacts displayed are embroidered textiles, hand-fans called pakkhi, drawstrings for pants called nalle, objects used in the daily ritual associated with worship at Sikh temples, traditional utensils used in Punjabi kitchens etc.

Through the exhibition, IHC hopes to safeguard and showcase the diverse and vibrant ICH of the Sikh community in Singapore and to promote greater cross-cultural understanding and appreciation of the community’s traditions and practices.

IHC’s Sikhs in Singapore—A Story Untold will run from March to the end of September 2021. For more information about the exhibition, please click on the following link: https://www.indianheritage.gov.sg/en/whats-on/exhibitions/detail/sikhs-in-singapore-a-story-untold.