The Harmandir Sahib, also referred to as the Golden Temple, is a prominent Sikh gurudwara located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. Construction of the gurudwara was begun by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru, and completed by his successor, Guru Arjan Dev. In 1604, Guru Arjan Dev completed the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism, and installed it in the gurudwara. In 1634, Guru Hargobind left Amritsar for the Shivalik Hills and for the remainder of the seventeenth century the city and gurudwara was in the hands of forces hostile to the Sikh Gurus. During the eighteenth century, the Harmandir Sahib was the site of frequent fighting between the Sikhs on one side and either Mughal or Afghan forces on the other side and the gurudwara occasionally suffered damage. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the gurduwara with gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and English name of “Golden Temple”.
Harmandir Sahib is considered holy by not only Sikhs but also followers of every faith. The most holy text of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, is always present inside the gurudwara when it is open. Its construction was mainly intended to build a place of worship for men and women, from all walks of life and religions.
The present day Golden Temple was rebuilt in 1764 by Maharaja Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718–1783) with the help of other Sikh chieftains. Between 1802–1830 Ranjit Singh did the sewa of adding gold plating and marble to the gurudwara, while the interior was decorated with fresco work and gemstones.
Harmandir Sahib literally means Temple of God. The fourth guru of Sikhism, Guru Ram Das, excavated a tank in 1577 CE which subsequently became known as Amritsar (meaning “Pool of the Nectar of Immortality”), giving its name to the city that grew around it. In due course, a splendid Sikh edifice, Harmandir Sahib (meaning “the abode of God”), rose in the middle of this tank and became the supreme centre of Sikhism. Its sanctum came to house the Adi Granth comprising compositions of Sikh gurus and other saints considered to have Sikh values and philosophies, e.g., Baba Farid, and Kabir. The compilation of the Adi Granth was started by the fifth guru of Sikhism, Guru Arjan Dev.
Originally built in 1574, the site of the gurudwara was surrounded by a small lake in a thin forest. The third of the six grand Mughals, Emperor Akbar, who visited the third Sikh guru, Guru Amar Das, in the neighbouring town of Goindval, was so impressed by the way of life in the town that he gave a jagir (the land and the revenues of several villages in the vicinity) to the guru’s daughter Bhani as a gift on her marriage to Bhai Jetha, who later became the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. Guru Ram Das enlarged the lake and built a small township around it. The town was named after Guru Ram Das as Guru Ka Chak’, Chak Ram Das or Ram Das Pura.
During the leadership of the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev (1581–1606), the full-fledged gurudwara was built. In December 1588, Guru Arjan initiated the construction of the gurudwara. He invited Muslim saint Mian Mir of Lahore in December 1588 to lay the first foundation stone. (December 1588 CE).
Some of the architectural features of the Harmandir Sahib were intended to be symbolic of the Sikh worldview. Instead of the normal custom of building a gurudwara on high land, it was built at a lower level than the surrounding land so that devotees would have to go down steps to enter it. In addition, instead of one entrance, the Harmandir Sahib has four entrances.
The gurudwara was completed in 1604. Guru Arjan Dev, installed the Guru Granth Sahib in it and appointed Baba Buddha Ji as the first Granthi (reader) of it on August 1604. In the mid-18th century it was attacked by the Afghans, by one of Ahmed Shah Abdali’s generals, Jahan Khan, and had to be substantially rebuilt in the 1760s. However, in response a Sikh Army was sent to hunt down the Afghan force. They were under orders to show no mercy and historical evidence suggests the Sikh Army was decisively victorious in the ensuing battle. Both forces met each other five miles outside Amritsar; Jahan Khan’s army was destroyed.
The gurdwara is surrounded by a large lake or temple tank, known as the Sarovar, which consists of Amrit (“holy water” or “immortal nectar”). There are four entrances to the gurdwara, signifying the importance of acceptance and openness. Inside the gurdwara complex there are many shrines to past Sikh gurus, saints and martyrs (see map). There are three holy trees (bers), each signifying a historical event or Sikh saint. Inside the gurdwara there are many memorial plaques that commemorate past Sikh historical events, saints, martyrs and includes commemorative inscriptions of all the Sikh soldiers who died fighting in World Wars I and II.
In keeping with the rule observed at all Sikh gurdwaras worldwide, the Harmandir Sahib is open to all persons regardless of their religion, colour, creed, or sex. The only restrictions on the Harmandir Sahib’s visitors concern their behavior when entering and while visiting:
Maintaining the purity of the sacred space and of one’s body while in it:
Upon entering the premises, removing one’s shoes (leaving them off for the duration of one’s visit) and washing one’s feet in the small pool of water provided;
Not drinking alcohol, eating meat, or smoking cigarettes or other drugs while in the shrine
Wearing a head covering (a sign of respect) (the gurdwara provides head scarves for visitors who have not brought a suitable covering);
Not wearing shoes (see above).
How to act:
One must also sit on the ground while in the Darbar Sahib as a sign of deference to both the Guru Granth Sahib and God.
The POWER OF VOLUNTEERISM : And all the work in the temple is done by volunteers – kar sevaks.
One of the fundamental practice of sikhism is to feed every pilgrim who steps into the gurudwara precincts, at Langar. I shall take you through the Langar area of the Golden Temple which is also operated by Kar Sevaks.
Around the Golden Temple
Golden Temple is about five hundred kilometers from Delhi and it takes about ten hours to drive. You have all kinds of trains and buses running and you should be able to book in advance, or even get a seat on the bus if you arrive at the bus station any time.
If you are going to visit any Gurudwara
a. Kindly dress yourself very modestly
b. You need to make sure that your head is covered
c. Be silent and make sure you add to the tranquility of the place
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