Golden Temple : Sikhism’s Holiest site

‘‘The world is a drama, staged in a dream,” so said Guru Nanakdev Ji.
Here we were at celebrated Golden Temple complex of Amritsar, witnessing a timeless drama of human emotions. Surrounded by a sea of people, my thoughts took me back to lines of an almost forgotten poem of Tagore in which he prayed for a destination where all creeds, castes, religions and colours meet and assimilate. Without a doubt, this is the place. We were there in fading sunlight. As the sun sets, the temple is bathed in beautiful yellow and blue lights, its reflection glowing in the holy pond water. A magical mix of sounds, smells and colours was around us and soon we were a part of it.

A view of ‘Darbar Sahib’ from the Clock Tower gate. Early morning view at 5:00 am
Sri Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib

But for me the most dominant feature was ‘Guru ka Langar’, a symbol of true humanity. Langars (community kitchens) are a common feature of every Gurudwara, but here scale is truly enormous and non-stop. It runs round the clock and feed 100,000 plus persons every day. Here one can see the fallacy of self-motivated, self-gratifying, self-centered agendas of religious leaders. ‘Guru ka Langar’ is a true symbol of divine love and reflects its profound power. Everyone is welcome, ignoring all prejudices of caste, creed, color, class, sex or race. One can see a reflection of human brotherhood in rows of people sitting cross-legged and served by a never ending chain of volunteers. It was actually “work is love made visible,’’ as said by Kahlil Gibran.
The Golden Temple represents the distinct identity, glory and heritage of the Sikhs. It is impossible to write about its historical legacy of and the encompassing inner and outer beauty. One has to be a humble visitor to experience the peaceful environs of the hypnotizing beauty of this shining shrine and its equally bright reflection in shimmering water of Amrit Sarovar (pool of nectar or holy pond).
Descend the marble stairs to the Parikarma (walkway around the holy pond). The first sight of the immortal Harmandir Sahib is enthralling. The gold covered sanctum shines in bright sunlight with its reflection in Amrit Sarovar. A captivating sight indeed. One stands transfixed with awe, and with reverence and amazement. With a sea of people around, many bowing low to touch their foreheads to the marble of the Parikarma, one feels purified. A sense of positive energy encircles. Then there is the long queue of devotees to get inside the sanctum sanctorum. Queue inches forward with a silent discipline, slowly but steadily. The inside is incredibly beautiful. One has only his memory to store the beauty, as photography is not permitted.

Golden reflections in holy water. An early morning view.
A happy dip in the Amrit Sarover at Sunset
Devotees enter the causeway to Sri Harmandir Sahib from here. No photography is allowed after this point.

It is believed that the first Sikh Guru Guru Nanakdev Ji used to meditate at the site. Some of later Gurus too stayed around here and it was natural that the place was considered suitable to build the holiest shrine of Sikhism.
The digging of Amrit Sarovar started in 1577 AD under the supervision of 4th Sikh guru Guru Ramdass Ji. As per Gazetteer records, the land was purchased from residents of Tung village. Rs 700 was paid for the land and  the money was collected through donations. Another popular story states that Badshah Akbar had donated the land. Construction of Sri Harmandir Sahib started on 15 December 1588 during the time of 5th Sikh guru Guru Arjandev Ji. It is believed that the temple was designed by Guru Arjandev Ji himself. The foundation stone was laid by Sufi Sant Hazrat Mian Mir of Lahore on 1st of Magh, 1645 Bikrmi Samvat (December, 1588). Construction completed on Bhadoon Sudi 1st, 1661 Bikrmi Samvat (August/September,1604).
The architecture of the Golden Temple is a huge departure of prevailing style of Hindu temple tradition. Hindu temples are built on higher level, but Guru Arjandev Ji designed it to built on the lower level. Hindu Temples usually have only one gate, but Golden temple is open from four sides, accessible to every person from every direction, without any distinction.
Sri Harmandir Sahib (also known as Sri Darbar Sahib) or sanctum, is built on a 67ft. square platform in the centre of the holy pond. The temple itself is a 40.5ft. square and has doors each on the East, West, North and South. The temple is connected to the main Parikarma with a 21 feet wide and 202 feet long causeway or bridge. The causeway opens to an arch known as Darshani Deori. The sanctum is topped with a golden dome designed as an inverted lotus. The top of the inverted lotus supports a beautiful ‘Chhatri’. The temple is decorated with hand painted mosaics and patterns of different religious symbols, symbolizing a harmonious amalgamation of all faiths.
The architecture represents a unique blend of harmony between the Islamic and the Hindu styles. Almost all Gurudwaras everywhere, replicates this style in some way. This can be safely identified as Sikh School of architecture.
There are three ancient ‘ber’ (Indian plum or Indian jujube) trees in the Golden Temple Complex, known as Dukhbhanjani Beri, Ber Baba Budha Sahib and Gurudwara Lachi Ber. First two are around 400 years old. A concerted effort has been made in past decade for resurrection and preservation of these sacred trees.

The Akal Takht Sahib or ‘Akal Bunga’—throne of the timeless one—partly covered by Darshani Deori. The Nishan Sahib (flagstaffs) too are visible.
View of the Darshani Deori and the causeway at Sunset

The temple was attacked repeatedly and destroyed several times. But it was rebuilt again and again. The temple was captured by Mughals in 1737. The shrine was converted into an entertainment center. Holy pool was destroyed. But Sikhs defeated the Mughal forces and reclaimed the temple in 1740. Ahmad Shah Abdali demolished it in 1757 and again in 1762. He filled the holy pool with garbage. In 1809 Maharaja Ranjit Singh rebuilt the temple with marble and copper. Later the sanctum was overlaid with gold foil in 1830. The temple complex was damaged extensively during Operation Blue Star in 1984, but was rebuilt with empathy and love. Today, it stands as a symbol of comradeship and equality.
After the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh the Sikh empire deteriorated rapidly. Internal divisions, rivalry and political mismanagement weakened it. The empire was finally dissolved when the East India Company won the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849 at the Battle of Gujarat.Company annexed the Punjab on 2nd April 1849 and occupied Amritsar. This was the period when many European painters and photographers visited Amritsar. The iconic images of Golden Temple by British photographer Felice Beato (1832-1907) and wonderful paintings of William Carpenter (1818–1899) , William Simpson (1823-1899) are testimony of the historic grandeur of it.

Gurudwara Lachhi Ber: The ancient Jujube tree where Guru Arjan Dev Ji used to sit supervising the construction of Sri Harmandir Sahib
A three-story peripheral building towards Atta Mandi gate
Sri Harmandir Sahib or ‘Darbar Sahib. Long line of devotees on the causeway to the sanctum. No chaos., everyone know their turn will come.
The much decorated upper portion of the Darshani Deori

‘Adi Granth’ the original version of ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ was compiled by the 5th Sikh guru, Guru Sri Arjandev Ji. It contained the teachings of Sikh Gurus. It also contained the hymns and teachings of saints like Kabir, Ravidas, Ramananda, Sheikh Farid, Namdev and Bhagat Bhikan. Hymns of poet Jayadeva too are included. Later pious words of other Sikh Gurus were also incorporated. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, added only one salok in collection and also incorporated all 115 hymns of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. This final rendition came to be known as ‘Guru Granth Sahib’. Guru Gobind Singhji declared that now on ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ must be treated as his successor. The final version of ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ was first installed at Sri Harmandir Sahib.

A corner of the large kitchen hall. Everyone working here is a ‘karsevak’ (volunteer). You too can join in to help.
A row of huge cooking vessels
Karsevaks washing the used utensils.
Awaiting food. Rows of eager devotees.

After Guru Gobind Singhji’s demise in 1708, Baba Deep Singh and Bhai Mani Singh prepared copies of the holy scripture for distribution. These are now considered priceless.
Guru Arjandev Ji placed a copy of the ‘Adi Granth’ (earlier version of ‘Guru Granth Sahib’) at temple site in 1604 AD and the place is now known as ‘Ath-Sath Tirath’. The holy book was later shifted to the sanctum sanctorum of the completed temple.
Every morning between 4:00 to 5:00 ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ is brought down from its resting place in the Akal Takht in a gold and silver palanquin (palki) decorated with fresh flowers, with drum beats and showering of rose petals, and placed inside the Sri Harmandir Sahib. The holy book departs every night between 9:30 to 10:30 from Sri Harmandir Sahib again in a procession in its palanquin for its nightly rest. (Exact time changes as per Sikh calendar)
The temple complex is a wonderful place to be in, sublime, open twenty-four hours every day and for everyone. One can walk around or sit quietly and meditate or simply lie in a corner. One can spend a night under the stars, take a bath in holy pond and have food in langar. Everyone is anonymous, name, caste, colour or riches don’t matter. Just keep hands folded, have a silent player for all on your lips and soak in the serenity of enormous complex.
Leaving the Golden temple, I prayed for peace for me, family, friends and everyone. Let love and brotherhood be with us.

God is the Master, God is Truth,
His name spelleth love divine,
His creatures ever cry: ‘O give, O give’,
He the bounteous doth never decline.…
What then in offering shall we bring
That we may see His court above! (Guru Nanakdev Ji: Ang 2 of ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ as translated by Khushwant Singh)

A layout map of Golden Temple complex, Amritsar
The causeway (entrance) to the Golden Temple, Amritsar, 1870 (Source:
Maharaja Ranjit Singh listening to the Guru Granth Sahib being recited near the Golden Temple, Amritsar. Oil on canvas painted by August Schoefft. Source: Princess Bamba Collection at Lahore Fort Museum, Pakistan
The Golden Temple (Photographer John Murray). Source: The New Medium: Photography in India 1855-1930, British Journal of Photography
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