The Temple Of God - The Most Significant Sikh Pilgrimage Center

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The Golden Temple, located in the city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab, is a place of great beauty and sublime peacefulness. Originally a small lake in the midst of a quiet forest, the site has been a meditation retreat for wandering mendicants and sages since deep antiquity. The Buddha is known to have spent time at this place in contemplation. Two thousand years after Buddha's time, another philosopher-saint came to live and meditate by the peaceful lake. This was Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh religion. After the passing away of Guru Nanak, his disciples continued to frequent the site; over the centuries it became the primary sacred shrine of the Sikhs. The lake was enlarged and structurally contained during the leadership of the fourth Sikh Guru (Ram Dass, 1574-1581), and during the leadership of the fifth Guru (Arjan, 1581-1606), the Hari Mandir, or Temple of God, was built. From the early 1600s to the mid 1700s the sixth through tenth Sikh Gurus were constantly involved in defending both their religion and their temple against Muslim armies. On numerous occasions the temple was destroyed by the Muslims, and each time was rebuilt more beautifully by the Sikhs. From 1767 onwards, the Sikhs became strong enough militarily to repulse invaders. Peace returned to the Hari Mandir. The Sikhs all over the world, daily wish to pay visit to Sri Amritsar and to pay obeisance at Sri Harmandir Sahib in their Ardas.
Construction Of The Temple
Guru Arjan Sahib, the Fifth Nanak, conceived the idea of creating a central place of worship for the Sikhs and he himself designed the architecture of Sri Harmandir Sahib. Earlier the planning to excavate the holy tank (Amritsar or Amrit Sarovar) was chalked out by Guru Amardas Sahib, the Third Nanak, but it was executed by Guru Ramdas Sahib under the supervision of Baba Budha ji. The land for the site was acquired by the earlier Guru Sahibs on payment or free of cost from the Zamindars (landlords) of native villages. The plan to establish a town settlement was also made. Therefore, the construction work on the Sarovar (the tank) and the town started simultaneously in 1570. The work on both projects completed in 1577 A.D. Guru Arjan Sahib got its foundation laid by a Muslim saint Hazrat Mian Mir ji of Lahore on 1st of Magh, 1645 Bikrmi Samvat (December,1588). The construction work was directly supervised by Guru Arjan Sahib himself and he was assisted by the prominent Sikh personalities like Baba Budha ji, Bhai Gurdas ji, Bhai Sahlo ji and many other devoted Sikhs. Unlike erecting the structure on the higher level (a tradition in Hindu Temple architecture), Guru Arjan Sahib got it built on the lower level and unlike Hindu Temples having only one gate for the entrance and exit, Guru Sahib got it open from four sides. Thus he created a symbol of new faith, Sikhism. Guru Sahib made it accessible to every person without any distinction of Caste, creed, sex and religion. The building work completed in 1601 A.D. on Bhadoon Sudi 1st, 1661 Bikrmi Samvat (August / September, 1604). Guru Arjan Sahib installed newly created Guru Granth Sahib, in Sri Harmandir Sahib and appointed Baba Budha ji as its first Granthi i.e. the reader of Guru Granth Sahib. After this event it attained the status of 'Ath Sath Tirath'. Now the Sikh Nation had their own Tirath, a pilgrimage centre. Sri Harmandir Sahib, is built on a 67ft. square platform in the centre of the Sarovar (tank). The temple itself is 40.5ft. square. It has a door each on the East, West, North and South. The Darshani Deori (an arch) stands at the shore end of the causeway. The door frame of the arch is about 10ft high and 8ft 6inches wide. The door panes are decorated with artistic style. It opens on to the causeway or bridge that leads to the main building of Sri Harmandir Sahib. It is 202 feet long and 21 feet wide. The bridge is connected with the 13 feet wide 'Pardakshna' (circumambulatory path). It runs round the main shrine and it leads to the 'Har ki Paure' (steps of God). On the first floor of 'Har ki Paure', there is continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib. The main structure of Sri Harmandir Sahib, functionally as well as technically is a three-storied one. The front, which faces the bridge, is decorated with repeated cusped arches and the roof of the first floor is at the height of 26 feet and 9 inches. At top of the first floor 4 feet high parapet rises on all the sides which has also four 'Mamtees' on the four corners and exactly on the top of the central hall of the main sanctuary rises the third story. It is a small square room and have three gates. A regular recitation of Guru Granth Sahib is also held there. On the top of this room stands the low fluted 'Gumbaz' (dome) having lotus petal motif in relief at the base inverted lotus at the top which supports the 'Kalash' having a beautiful 'Chhatri' at the end. Its architecture represents a unique harmony between the Muslim and the Hindu way of construction work and this is considered the best architectural specimen of the world. It is often quoted that this architecture has created an independent Sikh school of architecture in the history of art in India.
History Of Harmandir Sahib
The Sri Harmandir Sahib was invaded and destroyed many a times by the Afghan and other invaders. Each and every time the Sikhs had to sacrifice their lives in order to liberate it and restore its sanctity. After the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh ji in 1737, Massa Ranghar, the Kotwal of Amritsar took charge of Sri Harmandir Sahib in 1740 and converted it into a civil court and began to hold notch parties. This act created great resentment among the Sikhs. Two warriors, Sukha Singh and Mahtab Singh avenged the insult by a dare devil act. They entered the temple complex in guise of peasants, severed the head of Massa Ranghar with a single blow of kirpan and fled away with decapitated head on one of the their spears. After this incident the security around the Sri Harmandir Sahib was further tightened and the temple was locked. Now, it was the turn of Lakhpat Rai, a Hindu Diwan of Lahore Darbar as he vowed to finish the entire Sikh Nation. In order to avenge the death of his brother Jaspat Rai, he befouled the Sarovar and desecrated Sri Harmandir Sahib in 1746. He even banned the name 'Guru'. The Mughal forces marched against the Sikhs under the command of Diwan Lakhpat Rai and Yahiya Khan. A fierce battle was fought (the first Ghalughara in June 1746) in which nearly seven thousand Sikhs were martyred. Three thousand of them were put to death publicly at Lahore, (the site is now called Shaheedganj). After this holocaust, the Sikhs under the efficient leadership of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia retaliated back and recaptured both the city and Sri Harmandir Sahib killing Salabat Khan in March, 1748. They celebrated Vaiskhi with great enthusiasm by clearing the holy Sarovar and restoring the daily Maryada at Sri Harmandir Sahib. They also held 'Sarbat Khalsa'. The Dewali festival of 1748 was also celebrated enthusiastically. In 1757, Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India for the second time and attacked Amritsar. He demolished Sri Harmandir Sahib and filled the Sarovar (tank) with garbage. On hearing of the desecration, Baba deep Singh ji Saheed, the head of 'Misl Shaheedan', started at once to avenge the insult. A bloody encounter took place at the village Gohalwar near Amritsar. Baba Deep Singh was mortally wounded. He gripped and supported his severed head with his left hand and with the right, he went on mowing down the enemies. Thus fighting, this unique warrior

Dr. R. Kuberan,
Editorial Consultant,
CE&CR
reached the holy precincts and laid down his life for the cause of maintaining sanctity of Sri Harmandir Sahib. On 10th April 1762, Ahmed Shah Abdali again invaded Amritsar and Sri Harmandir Sahib, after the horrible carnage of the Sikhs at Kup Harira. On this occasion thousands of armed and unarmed Sikhs had gathered at the temple for a holy bath. Countless Sikhs laid down their lives in defence of their beloved shrine. Sri Harmandir Sahib was again blown up with gun powder and the holy tank was also desecrated. It is said that while the building of the shrine was being blown up, a flying brick bat struck the Shah on the nose. This wound proved fatal for him. In December 1764, Sri Harmandir Sahib was again attacked by Ahmed Shah Abdali with the sole object of destroying the entire Sikh Nation. But before his arrival the Sikhs abandoned the city and to his surprise he found only thirty Sikhs in the vicinity of Sri Harmandir Sahib, who under the command of Baba Gurbax Singh ji gave him stiff resistance, and all were martyred. Abdali, again pulled down the newly constructed structure of the Shrine and levelled the holy tank. Before the final departure from India in 1767, Ahmed Shah Abdali again attacked Amritsar but he dared not enter Sri Harmandir Sahib, and it remained under the control of the Sikhs ever afterwards. (In June, 1984 it was attacked by the Indian Army, under operation Blue Star in which several hundred innocent Sikh pilgrims were killed). After the Martydom of Bhai Mani Singh ji Sri Harmandir Sahib was collectively managed by the Sikh misls and many Bungas (Mansions) were constructed. Whenever the Sikh leaders visit Amritsar, they did not interfere in the affairs of the temple. All the general gatherings were held on Akal Takhat Sahib only in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. During the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh the administration of Sri Harmandir Sahib went under the control of the State. Maharaja took keen interest in the development and beautification of Sri Harmandir Sahib. During the British period, Sri Harmandir Sahib passed under the control of one man the 'Sarbrah' (Manager), a nominee of Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. The Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar also made a committee of so-called sikh Sardars and Raises. The Pujaries, Mahants, Ragis and other functionaries began to receive their customary share of offerings at the Temple. On the other hand immoral acts were practiced by them within the precincts of the temple with the connivance of Sarbrah. Great resentment prevailed among the Sikhs and outcome of this was Sikh Gurdwara Reform Movement. Now again the Sikhs had to sacrifice their lives for the cause of Sri Harmandir Sahib and other Shrines. The Shiromani Akali Dal became the spear head of the struggle for the reform of the places of worship. The curtain was finally rung down upon the Gurdwara Reform Movement, when the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, vested the control and management of Sri Harmandir Sahib in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a representative body of the Sikhs elected by adult franchise.
Architecture
The temple's architecture draws on both Hindu and Muslim artistic styles yet represents a unique co-evolution of the two. During the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), Hari Mandir was richly ornamented with marble sculptures, golden gilding, and large quantities of precious stones. Within the sanctuary, on a jewel-studded platform, lies the Adi Grantha, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs. This scripture is a collection of devotional poems, prayers, and hymns composed by the ten Sikh gurus and various Muslim and Hindu saints. Beginning early in the morning and lasting until long past sunset, these hymns are chanted to the exquisite accompaniment of flutes, drums, and stringed instruments. Echoing across the serene lake, this enchantingly beautiful music induces a delicate yet powerful state of trance in the pilgrims strolling leisurely around the marble concourse encircling the pool and temple. An underground spring feeds the sacred lake, and throughout the day and night pilgrims immerse themselves in the water, a symbolic cleansing of the soul rather than an actual bathing of the body. Next to the temple complex are enormous pilgrims' dormitories and dining halls where all persons, irrespective of race, religion, or gender, are lodged and fed for free.
The Sarovar
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. 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 include commemorative inscriptions of all the Sikh soldiers who died fighting in World Wars I and II. Looking deeply into the origins of this word amrit, we find that it indicates a drink of the gods, a rare and magical substance that catalyzes euphoric states of consciousness and spiritual enlightenment. With this word we have a very clear example of spirit, power, or energetic character of a particular place becoming encoded as an ancient geographical place name. The myth is not just a fairy tale. It reveals itself as a coded metaphor if we have the knowledge to read the code: The waters of Amritsar flowing into the lake of the Hari Mandir were long ago - and remain today - a bringer of peacefulness.
Artwork And Monument Sculptures
Much of the present decorative gilding and marble work dates from the early 19th century. All the gold and exquisite marble work was conducted under the patronage of Hukam Singh Chimni and Emperor Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. The Darshani Deorhi Arch stands at the beginning of the causeway to the Harmandir Sahib; it is 202 feet (62m) high and 21 feet (6m) wide. The gold plating on the Harmandir Sahib was begun by Emperor Ranjit Singh and was finished in 1830. The Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of the Punjab) was a major donor of wealth and materials for the shrine and is remembered with much affection by the Punjabi people in general and the Sikh community in particular. Maharaja Ranjit Singh also built two of the other most sacred gurdwaras in Sikhism. This was because Maharaja Ranjit Singh had a deep love for the tenth guru of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh. The other two most sacred gurdwaras in Sikhism, which he built, are Takht Sri Patna Sahib (initiation or birth place of Guru Gobind Singh) and Takht Sri Hazur Sahib, the place of Guru Gobind Singh's Sikh ascension into heaven.
Pilgrims
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 behaviour 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 Dressing appropriately:
- 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.
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. First-time visitors are advised to begin their visit at the information office and then proceed to the Central Sikh Museum near the main entrance and clock tower.
Celebrations
One of the most important festivals is Vaisakhi, which is celebrated in the second week of April (usually the 13th). Sikhs celebrate the founding of the Khalsa on this day and it is celebrated with fervour in the Harmandir Sahib. Other important Sikh religious days such as the martyrdom day of Guru Teg Bahadur, the birthday of Guru Nanak, etc., are also celebrated with religious piety. Similarly Diwali is one of the festivals which sees the Harmandir Sahib beautifully illuminated with Divas/Diyas (lamps); lights and fireworks are discharged. During these special occasions many thousands of people visit the holy shrine named Harmandir Sahib. Most Sikh people visit Amritsar and the Harmandir Sahib at least once during their lifetime, particularly and mostly during special occasions in their life such as birthdays, marriages, childbirth, etc.