Golden Temple

Story Highlights

  • 1. Akal Takht and Teja Singh Samundri Hall
  • 2. Clock Tower
  • 3. Ber trees
  • 4. Sikh history museums
  • 5. Guru Ram Das Langar
  • 6. Daily ceremonies

The Harmandir Sahib, also known as Darbar Sahib (Punjabi pronunciation: [dəɾbaːɾ saːh(ɪ)b]; “Abode of God”, “Exalted Holy Court”), is a Gurdwara located in the city of AmritsarPunjab, India. It is the preeminent pilgrimage site of Sikhism. It is usually called the Golden Temple in English, because it is plated with gold.

The Gurdwara sahib is built around a man-made pool (Sarovar) that was completed by Guru Ram Das in 1577. Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of Sikhism, requested Sai Mian Mir – a Muslim Pir of Lahore, to lay its foundation stone in 1589. In 1604, Guru Arjan placed a copy of the Adi Granth in Harmandir Sahib, calling the site Ath Sath Tirath (lit. “shrine of 68 pilgrimages”The Gurdwara was repeatedly rebuilt by the Sikhs after it became a target of persecution and was destroyed several times by the Muslim armies from Afghanistan and the Mughal Empire. The army led by Ahmad Shah Abdali, for example, demolished it in 1757 and again in 1762, then filled the pool with garbage. The construction work of the present day Harmandir Sahib took place in 1764 under the leadership of Sultan-e-Quam Sardar Jassa Singh 1718-1783 and other leading Sikh Misl Sardars and Jagirdars under Kaar Seva, large Sikh congregations assembled at Amritsar to help rebuild Darbar Sahib. Harmandir Sahib was finally completed in 1776.[9] Maharaja Ranjit Singh visited Darbar Sahib in 1802 after seizing Amritsar from Sardar Gurdit Singh Dhillon and his mother Mai Sukkha of Bhangi Sikh Misl. Maharaja laid it in marble and copper between 1820-1831, and overlaid the sanctum with gold foil by 1830. This has led to the name Golden Temple.

The Gurdwara is spiritually the most significant shrine in the Sikh Religion. In the early 1980s, the temple became a center of conflict between the Indian government led by Indira Gandhi, some Sikh groups, and a militant movement led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwaleseeking to create a new nation named Khalistan. In 1984, Gandhi sent in the Indian Army as part of Operation Blue Star, leading to the deaths of over 1,000 militants, soldiers, and civilians, as well as causing much damage to the Gurdwara and the destruction of Akal Takht. The Gurdwara complex was rebuilt again after the 1984 damage.[4][13]

The Harmandir Sahib is an open boat of worship for all men and women, from all walks of life and faith.[2] It has a square plan with four entrances and has a circumambulation path around the pool. The temple is a collection of buildings around the sanctum and the pool.One of these is Akal Takht, the chief center of religious authority of Sikhism.[4] Additional buildings include a clock tower, the offices of Gurdwara Committee, a Museum and a langar – a free Sikh community-run kitchen that serves a simple vegetarian meal to all visitors without discrimination.[4] Over 100,000 people visit the holy shrine daily for worship.[14] The Gurdwara complex has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its application is pending on the tentative list of UNESCO.[15]

Akal Takht and Teja Singh Samundri Hall

In front of the sanctum and the causeway is the Akal Takht building. It is the chief Takht, a center of authority in Sikhism. It is also the headquarters of the main political party of the Indian state of Punjab, Shiromani Akali Dal (Supreme Akali Party).[4] The Akal Takht issues edicts or writs (hukam) on matters related to Sikhism and the solidarity of the Sikh community. Its name Akal Takht means “throne of the Timeless (God)”. The institution was established by Guru Hargobind after the martyrdom of his father Guru Arjan, as a place to conduct ceremonial, spiritual and secular affairs, issuing binding writs on Sikh Gurdwaras far from his own location. A building was later constructed over the Takht founded by Guru Hargobind, and this came to be known as Akal Bunga. The Akal Takht is also known as Takht Sri Akal Bunga. The Sikh tradition has five Takhts, all of which are major pilgrimage sites in Sikhism. These are in Anandpur, Patna, Nanded, Talwandi Sabo and Amritsar. The Akal Takht in the Golden Temple complex is the primary seat and chief.[49][50]

The Teja Singh Samundri Hall is the office of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (Supreme Committee of Temple Management). It is located in a building near the Langar-kitchen and Assembly Hall. This office coordinates and oversees the operations of major Sikh temples.[4][51]

Clock Tower

The clock on Atta Mandi Deori

An 1860s photo of the Golden Temple with the Gothic clock tower under construction during the colonial British era. This clock tower was demolished later.[52]

The Clock Tower did not exist in the original version of the temple. In its location was a building, now called the “lost palace”. The officials of the British India wanted to demolish the building after the Second Anglo-Sikh war and once they had annexed the Sikh Empire. The Sikhs opposed the demolition, but this opposition was ignored. In its place, the clock tower was added. The clock tower was designed by John Gordon in a Gothic cathedral style with red bricks. The clock tower construction started in 1862 and was completed in 1874. The tower was demolished by the Sikh community about 70 years later. In its place, a new entrance was constructed with a design more harmonious with the Temple. This entrance on the north side has a clock, houses a museum on its upper floor, and it continues to be called ghanta ghar deori.[52][53]

Ber trees

The Golden Temple complex originally was open and had numerous trees around the pool. It is now a walled, two storey courtyard with four entrances, that preserve three Ber trees (jujube). One of them is to the right of the main ghanta ghar deori entrance with the clock, and it is called the Ber Baba Buddha. It is believed in the Sikh tradition to be the tree where Baba Buddha sat to supervise the construction of the pool and first temple.[31][32]

A second tree is called Laachi Ber, believed to the one under which Guru Arjan rested while the temple was being built.[32] The third one is called Dukh Bhanjani Ber, located on the other side of the sanctum, across the pool. It is believed in the Sikh tradition that this tree was the location where a Sikh was cured of his leprosy after taking a dip in the pool, giving the tree the epithet of “suffering remover”.[16][54] There is a small Gurdwara underneath the tree.[32] The Ath Sath Tirath, or the spot equivalent to 68 pilgrimages, is in the shade underneath the Dukh Bhanjani Ber tree. Sikh devotees, states Charles Townsend, believe that bathing in the pool near this spot delivers the same fruits as a visit to 68 pilgrimage places in India.[32]

Sikh history museums

Interior of Darbar Sahib with gold encrusted ceiling and walls

The main ghanta ghar deori north entrance has a Sikh history museum on the first floor, according to the Sikh tradition. The display shows various paintings, of gurus and martyrs, many narrating the persecution of Sikhs over their history, as well as historical items such as swords, kartar, comb, chakkars.[55] A new underground museum near the clock tower, but outside the temple courtyard also shows Sikh history.[56][57]According to Louis E. Fenech, the display does not present the parallel traditions of Sikhism and is partly ahistorical such as a headless body continuing to fight, but a significant artwork and reflects the general trend in Sikhism of presenting their history to be one of persecution, martyrdoms and bravery in wars.[58]

The main entrance to the Gurdwara has many memorial plaques that commemorate past Sikh historical events, saints and martyrs, contributions of Ranjit Singh, as well as commemorative inscriptions of all the Sikh soldiers who died fighting in the two World Wars and the various Indo-Pakistan wars.[59]

Guru Ram Das Langar

Harmandir Sahib complex has a Langar, a community-run free kitchen and dining hall. It is attached to the east side of the courtyard near the Dukh Bhanjani Ber, outside of the entrance. Food is served here to all visitors who want it, regardless of faith, gender or economic background. Vegetarian food is served and all people eat together as equals. Everyone sits on the floor in rows, which is called pangat. The meal is served by volunteers as part of their kar seva ethos.[32] A simple meal is served round the clock. Tea is also served separately near the entrance of the Langar hall, 24 hours a day. From around 2015, langar of sugar-free tea has been started for people suffering from Diabetes.[60]

Daily ceremonies

There are several rituals performed everyday in the Golden Temple as per the historic Sikh tradition. These rituals treat the scripture as a living person, a Guru out of respect. The rituals include:[61][62]
  • Closing ritual called sukhasan (sukh means “comfort or rest”, asan means “position”). At night, after a series of devotional kirtans and three part ardās, the Guru Granth Sahib is closed, carried on the head, placed into and then carried in a flower decorated, pillow-bed palki (palanquin), with chanting. Its bedroom is in the Akal Takht, on the first floor. Once it arrives there, the scripture is tucked into a bed.[61][62]
  • Opening ritual called prakash which means “light”. About dawn everyday, the Guru Granth Sahib is taken out its bedroom, carried on the head, placed and carried in a flower-decorated palki with chanting and bugle sounding across the causeway. It is brought to the sanctum. Then after ritual singing of a series of Var Asa kirtans and ardas, a random page is opened. This is the mukhwak of the day, it is read out loud, and then written out for the pilgrims to read over that day.[61][62]

24 hours free food: Golden temple is known for providing free food to thousands of people everyday without any cost. Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh Guru, institutionalized the concept of Langar inspired by the teachings of Guru Nanak. He taught that all are equal in the eyes of God. He asked all those wishing to see him, regardless of caste, to first sit together and eat a humble vegetarian meal. This was a revolutionary concept in 16th Century India(Punjab), a country bound by the caste system for many hundreds of years. Every day, thousands of people enjoy blessings of gurus by eating langar(free meal).[63]

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