Deconstructing a Janamsakhi Illustration:

Guru Nanak in Mecca, from the Kapany Collection, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA


  • Priyanka Panjwani



Janamsakhi, Guru Nanak, Mecca, sacred, symbolism


It is rightly said that “All art is in part about the world in which it emerged.” As part of a North Indian hagiographic manuscript written in the 19th century, the miniature painting analyzed in this essay depicts a miracle of the founder of Sikhism-Guru Nanak. This essay will deconstruct the visual elements in the watercolor painting and link it to different styles of miniature painting of that period. It will also attempt to answer a fundamental question formulated by French art historian and archaeologist Oleg Grabar– can a work of culture be meaningfully understood through the application of techniques developed outside of it? The dynamism of icons and symbols due to cross-cultural influences is evident through this investigative process.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Priyanka Panjwani

B. Arch (India), MSc. Conservation (UK), PG Dip Indian Aesthetics (India)


Ahluwalia, R (2020). Lyrical Visions from the Hills-Pahari Painting and its Masters. Indian Aesthetics PG course lecture. 25 January 2020. Jnanapravaha. Mumbai, India.

Barrett, T (2000). Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. The Ohio State University. Mayfield Publishing Company Mountain View, California, USA.

Berger, J (1972). Ways of Seeing. British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books. London, England.

Brown, K (1999). Sikh Art and Literature. Routledge. New York, USA.

Dalvi, S (2019). Sufism- Mystical Path in Islam and its Expression in Art. Indian Aesthetics PG course lecture. 21 December 2019. Jnanapravaha. Mumbai, India.

Goswamy, B.N. and Smith, C. (2006). I See No Stranger. Early Sikh Art and Devotion. Rubin Museum of Art, Mapin Publishing & The Sikh Foundation. New York, USA.

Goswamy, B.N. (2020). A Canopy of Arrows; a Mountain on Fire. An Illustrated Talk. 13 February 2020. Experimental Theatre, NCPA. Mumbai, India.

Hans, S (1987). B-40 Janamsakhi Guru Baba Nanak Paintings. Guru Nanak Dev University. Amritsar, India. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 January 2020]

Koch, E (2014). Mughal Architecture. Primus Books. New Delhi, India.

Kour, G (2019). An Analytical Narration of Sikh Influence in Miniature Paintings of Kangra- Guler Style from 18th- 19th Century in Punjab. Lovely Professional University, Punjab. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 February 2020]

McLeod, W (1980). The B40 Janam-Sakhi. Guru Nanak Dev University. Amritsar, India. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 March 2020]

McLeod, W (1991). Popular Sikh Art. Oxford University Press. Delhi, India.

Nardi, I (2006). The Theory of Citrasūtras in Indian Painting. Routledge, London, UK.

Singh, I. Account of a Muslim author who accompanied Guru Nanak from Mecca to Baghdad. By Sant Syed Prithipal Singh ne’ Mushtaq Hussain Shah (1902-1962). Sikh Missionary Society, UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 March 2020]

Singh, K (2004). Janamsakhi an Analytical Study. Amritsar, India [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 January 2020]

Singh, N-G. K (2013). Corporeal Metaphysics: Guru Nanak in Early Sikh Art. History of Religions Vol. 53, No. 1. 2013, 28–65. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago, USA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 February 2020]

Singh, N-G. K (2015). Visual Phenomenology. Seeing-in Guru Nanak at the Asian Arts Museum. Sikh Formations- Religion, Culture, Theory. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. San Francisco, USA.

Singh, N-G. K (2016). The Language of Colours: A discussion of Guru Nanak's Janamsakhi Life Stories. The Sikh Foundation and Asian Art Museum. San Francisco, USA. YouTube [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Feb 2020]

Wagoner, J (2013). Art 206: Analysis of an artwork. USA. YouTube [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Feb 2020]




How to Cite

Panjwani, P. (2023). Deconstructing a Janamsakhi Illustration:: Guru Nanak in Mecca, from the Kapany Collection, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA. Sikh Research Journal, 8(1), 127–143.