Golden Temple | During Moghul Rule


Part 2

History of Golden Temple during Moghul Rule
years 1604-1764

Having installed the Ādi Granth in the Harimandir in 1604, Guru Arjan looked to the development of the shrine complex and the area around it.

The Guru had a vision of a sprawling, flourishing town in this part of the country, which had to be a pilgrim centre. To begin with, the new faith required its own Harimandir and Mecca.

With this goal in mind the Guru instructed his followers to undertake the construction of the main archway (Darshani Deorhi) to the main shrine, on the western side of the existing tank.

This addition added not only to the architectural pattern of the temple but also helped defend the Harimandir from the onslaughts of invaders.

This architectural addition had its permanent impact on future Sikh shrines. It became an integral part of almost all the religious buildings of the faith.

The Guru planned the markets, gardens and other residential places around the temple complex and soon the area developed into a growing city.

He exhorted his followers to occupy the newly constructed houses and he himself settled permanently in one of these. This gave an impetus to others and many people came and settled there. In this venture the Guru was assisted by Bhai Bahlo.

A garden called Guru ka Bagh was laid out and developed in the east of Harimandir.

To infuse the religious faith of his followers in the shrine, the Guru laid down certain guidelines to be observed by devotees.

He himself set example for the purpose by taking a bath in the holy tank, and performing circumambulation around the sanctum sanctorum and the tank every morning.

Regular recitation from the holy scriptures and singing of hymns (Kirtan) also commenced.

A community kitchen was established and all the followers were asked to have their meals there together. This act strengthened the feelings of brotherhood and equality among them.

Everybody, howsoever high or low, rich or poor, had to sit in a row on the floor along with others, and was served the same food. This was an important step in the direction of the organisation of the faith.

For all the activities sufficient funds were required. The Guru deputed some of his trusted followers to collect funds from devotees.

Baba Buddha, the most venerated among the Guru’s followers and a contemporary of so many Gurus was assigned the duty of looking after the affairs of the Harimandir:

Thus he became the first Sikh Granthi (priest) of the most sacred shrine.

Those who were entrusted with the collection of funds were called masands:

They used to visit devotees in their allotted areas and the funds so collected were to be deposited with the Guru.

This money used to be spent on construction work and the community kitchen:

The affairs of the kitchen (langar) were under the charge of Baba Prithī Chand, the elder brother, but a rival of the Guru:

So both had separate fields of operation for the newly- born institution:

while the Guru was supreme in the matters of religion and the accompanying rites, Prithī Chand managed the mundane affairs of money and its spending.

The functioning of the temple went smoothly but the work of kitchen (langar) virtually came to a standstill: No food was served to the pilgrims. Devotees’ money began to be embezzled and diverted to personal luxury and grandeur.

News of this reached the Guru through Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas:

On thorough investigations, the Guru found Baba Prithī Chand selfish and dishonest. He was relieved of this duty.

To improve the system, some more constructive steps were taken.
The Masand system was further strengthened.

Money collected from the devotees was to be remitted to the Guru annually or on Vaisakhi day. Thus there was considerable increase in the Guru’s exchequer. This money was utilised for the welfare of the devotees and for further plans and projects and their execution.

With the passage of time and manifold increase in the number of devotees, the Harimandir became the most popular and foremost pilgrimage centre in northern India. The Guru became very popular among all the people.

This attracted the attention of Emperor Jahangir who lacked the religious liberalism of his predecessor and father, Emperor Great:

It was not possible for him to tolerate the emergence of a new religion in his state. Jahangir became prejudiced against the Guru. The Chandu affair was used as a pretext to order the Guru’s arrest and execution in 1606.

Thus a new dimension of martyrdom was added for the first time to the nascent faith of Sikhism:

Guru Arjan became the founding father of a long line of martyrs who fell victim to the religious fanaticism of the rulers. The description ‘Śahīdan de Sartāj’ (The crown and glory of martyrs) suits him the most.

This incident sent a shock wave through the devotees and followers of the faith and proved a turning point in the history of the faith and the Harimandir.

It was realised that the non-violent and pacifist ideals of the faith failed to cope with the growing intolerance of the Mughal empire.

Something had to be done to avoid the infanticide of the new creed. The temple of peace and spirituality must grow a sworded arm to defend the faith and the faithful.

During the early period the devotees were asked to follow the path of peace but with the ascending of Guruship by the 6th Guru Hargobind, some martial traits were introduced in their character.

Guru Hargobind himself wore two swords of mīrī and pīrī, i.e., one symbolising the spiritual power (pīrī) and the other the temporal authority (mīrī).

He adopted the royal dress with regal paraphernalia.

He erected a high platform opposite the Darshani Deorhi, the main archway of the Harimandir to the western side of the tank of immortality, to serve as a meeting place for his followers.

On this platform the Guru used to sit in his royal position to listen to his devotees and to issue orders, i.e., Hukamnāmas. He himself started resolving the disputes of his followers.

In the evening some martial games and bouts were held and heroic Songs (ballads) were sung in the presence of the Guru and his followers.

Later on, this place came to be known as Sri Akal Takht and the Sikhs revered him as ‘the sachā pādshāh (the true king).

Under the prevailing situation the Guru asked his followers to bring horses and swords as offerings in future. With this a new branch of trade-industry was also introduced among the Sikhs.

The Guru himself practised swordsmanship and went out on expeditions. Gradually an armed band of followers rose around the Guru. The seed had been sown of the future Khalsa army.

During this period the devotees and followers were asked to visit the Harimandir in the morning and pay their obeisance. Recitations from the holy Granth continued in the temple. The Guru himself gave sermons and led the Sangat (congregation) in prayer.

In the evening the activities shifted to Sri Akal Takht, where he received visitors, accepted their gifts of horses and arms, heard the daily complaints of his Sikhs and decided their cases there and then.

In fact he started a regular Darbār (court) here in the manner of a king. This was a clear defiance of the ruling Mughal authority.

Guru Hargobind was not entirely preoccupied with militancy and warfare. Like his father and grandfather, he evinced keen interest in the development of Amritsar, which by now was quite a growing city:

An outer wall around the city was got built to defend its inhabitants against enemy attacks. He also raised a small fortress called Loh Garh (castle of steel) in 1610.

Notwithstanding the Guru’s growing political clout, the Mughal rulers at Delhi remained indifferent to his manoeuvres in the initial stages, but the local chiefs got alarmed.

Considering the magnitude of this matter, they informed Emperor Jahangir and he too was perturbed:

He ordered the arrest of the Guru who, according to a legend, was asked to pay a fine of one lākh of rupees imposed on his father. The Guru refused the directive. So he was sent to jail in Gwalior fort for over one year.

In his absence the affairs of the shrine were looked after by Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas, priests of the temple and the Akal Takht, respectively.

Guru Hargobind returned to Amritsar on Diwali day and a great rejoicing was held in the Temple complex: There was great fireworks and lighting in the Harimandir.

The Sikhs still celebrate this day to commemorate the release of the Guru.

Lakhs of people of all castes and creeds visit the temple on this occasion. This has become a regular feature in the history of the Golden Temple and the religion.

It is one of the four special occasions when a ’jalāu’ (display of costly jewellery, golden gates, etc.) is held in the Temple. On this day many decisions pertaining to the Khalsa Panth are taken and Sarbat Khalsa is also held here.

With the arrival of the Guru in Amritsar the spiritual and martial activities were resumed with great vigour and enthusiasm. The working of the Akal Takht was pushed forward. More attention was given to the religious functions and other rituals in the shrine proper.

After this the Guru was never disturbed by the Emperor. Rather he became friendly with him:

The Emperor offered to complete the construction of Sri Akal Takht, which the Guru declined, saying:

Let me and my Sikhs raise this throne of God with the labour of our own hands and with the contributions from our own resources. I wish to make it a symbol of the Sikh’s service and sacrifice and not a monument to a king’s generosity”.

As the Guru was left in peace, he devoted most of his time to organisational work:

He added some new markets and bazars to the city of Amritsar.

A garden was laid out adjoining the Guru Ka Chowk which is presently known as Akal tan da Bagh (The garden of Akalis).

The Guru employed some ballad singers who charged the atmosphere of the Harimandir with the spirit of heroism.

Actually the whole atmosphere of the complex turned into a training camp for the future Sikh Army.

This peace did not last long. The successor of Jahangir, Emperor Shahjahan, was not liberal to his non-Muslim subjects. Guru Hargobind too could not escape the fanaticism of the ruler.

He and his followers were compelled to fight a number of battles against the local chiefs in which, though the Guru was victorious, yet at the same time he realised the gravity of situation.

He therefore, shifted to the small town of Kiratpur, founded by him in the foothills of Shivalik mountains (in the present-day district of Ropar), and he breathed his last there in 1644.

After Guru Hargobind, the mantle of Guruship fell on his son, Har Rai, who became the 7th Sikh King. His sojourn at Amritsar was quite brief. During the 6 months of his stay there he could not add any important structure to the existing complex.

However the respect and reverence for the Harimandir (Golden Temple) and the Tank of Immortality grew among his followers, and increasingly large number of people came to have a holy dip there.

The 8th Guru Harkrishan could not even come to the city of Harimandir as he died, while on a visit to Delhi, of small pox, in 1656 at the tender age of 8 years.

The continuous absence of Sikh Gurus from Amritsar gave a fair chance to the masands and the priests (Mahants) to become greedy and corrupt:

They joined hands to misappropriate the Temple funds and started collecting offerings from the devotees. The entire working of the Harimandir turned into a disorganised affair.

These persons were answerable only to the Guru, who was not there.

Under the circumstances Sodhi Meharban (1558 - 1618), the son of Prithī Chand and a cousin of Guru Hargobind, appeared on the scene

and with the help of these unscrupulous and ambitious persons took over the charge of the temple and established his authority over the administration and daily working of the Darbar Sahib (Harimandir).

He was succeeded by his son Harji in 1638 who continued for over half a century. He appointed his own persons to look after the daily practices at the shrine.

During this period, Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Guru, visited the temple, but according to a version, the gates of the archway of the Harimandir were closed by the ministrants of the shrine:

So the Guru simply took a bath in the tank and bowed to the sacred shrine from a distance and went away.

But the second version relates that the Sodhi Harji welcomed the Guru.

The visit of Guru Tegh Bahadur is evident from the Gurdwara Dam Dama Sahib near Sri Akal Takht, which was constructed over the platform to commemorate the visit.

The Guru did not visit Harimandir again.
He was executed in Delhi in 1675 by orders of Emperor Aurangzeb.

Sodhi Harji died in 1696 and his descendants proved unworthy to control the temple affairs. They were a divided house and completely lost hold over the administration of the shrine.

Consequently, the masands became independent and began to assert their right over the supervision of the temple, the offerings and other income.

They became monopolists and tarnished the image of the Golden Temple with all sorts of malpractices and mismanagement.

Harimandir, the temple of God, became the personal property of a few unscrupulous priests and masands who committed all types of frauds on the gullible visitors.

This sorry state of affairs of the Harimandir irked the followers of the faith. They decided to approach the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who was camping at Anandpur Sahib.

Some Sikhs in the form of a deputation waited upon the Guru and acquainted him with the deteriorating condition of the affairs of the Harimandir.

The Guru deputed Bhai Mani Singh to immediately take over the charge of the Temple.

Bhai Gulzar Singh, Bhai Kuir Singh, Bhupat Singh, Dan Singh and Kirat Singh were asked to accompany him along with a copy of the holy Granth to be installed there.

On the arrival of Bhai Mani Singh, the pseudo-custodians of the shrine disappeared from the scene.

Bhai Mani Singh established his full control over the administration of the Temple and instituted daily kathā readings of the Holy Volume.

As a result, the number of devotees and pilgrims increased manifold. More and more people started coming into the fold of this new religion from the adjoining areas.

Guru Gobind Singh could not get an opportunity to visit the holy Shrine because he remained busy lighting many battles against the hill chiefs, who were jealous of his popularity among the people and his growing power.

He also fought a number of battles against the Mughal armies.

Bhai Mani Singh along with his sons also participated in the battle of Chamkaur fought in 1700 against the Mughals and the hill chiefs.

The Guru issued an edict (Hukamnāma) in appreciation of services rendered by Bhai Mani Singh to the Khalsa Panth. He served the Harimandir (Golden Temple) even after the demise of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708.

Guru Gobind Singh ended the line of personal Gurus and authorised the Granth as the Guru Eternal for the Sikhs. No living person however holy or revered can thereafter have the title or status of the Guru.

Guru Granth Sahib is now the continuous visible manifestation of the ten Gurus.

In the Sikh tradition and faith, the word ‘Guru’ is used only for the ten prophet—preceptors, from Guru Nānak to Guru Gobind Singh, and for the Granth only.

However, Guru Gobind Singh appointed Banda Singh Bahadur to lead the Sikhs in their mundane affairs. The era after Guru Gobind Singh was full of turmoil and tribulations for the Sikhs:

They fought many battles against the Mughals under the stewardship of Banda Singh Bahadur who achieved some resounding victories. He paid a visit to the temple in 1713 to pay his homage.

During the time of struggle against the Mughals, first by Guru Gobind Singh and then by Banda Bahadur, the celebrated shrine (Golden Temple) remained a continuous source of inspiration to the Sikh soldiers as well as the Sikh masses.

Farrukhsiyar (1685 –1719) succeeded Bahadur Shah on the throne of Delhi in 1714:

He issued orders for the extermination of the Sikhs.

Most of the Sikhs took shelter in Shivalik hills.

Banda Bahadur was captured and tortured to death in Delhi (1716) along with his companions. He had no time to add to or embellish the Temple complex.

After the death of Banda Bahadur differences arose between his followers known as Bandai Khalsa, and the original and staunch followers of the Guru, Tat Khalsa. This affected the management of the temple adversely.

Bhai Mani Singh who was in Delhi at that time was despatched by Mata Sundarī, wife of Guru Gobind Singh, to settle the dispute.

He stayed there for some days disguised as a sagacious Hindu whom no one suspected. With his able handling of the situation, the clash between the two groups was averted.

He himself took over the charge of the management and regularised the daily practices there. With the idea of attracting the Sikhs to the Darbar Sahib, Bhai Mani Singh planned to celebrate the Diwali fair (1733) in the Temple complex:

He applied for permission to hold this fair. The authorities granted permission on the condition that he would deposit Rs. 10,000 in the State exchequer.

The administration played a mischief by posting some pickets outside the city of Amritsar to frighten the pilgrims. Consequently, not many visitors turned up and the offerings were far less than expected.

So Bhai Mani Singh could not pay the agreed amount to the Government. He was arrested and taken to Lahore. He was asked either to pay the amount or embrace Islam.

The admirers of Bhai Mani Singh did raise the money but it was too late. Bhai Sahib on his refusal to embrace Islam had already been put to death or 24 June 1734.

The Temple passed into the hands of the Mughals. The sacred shrine was plundered and the tank was filled with debris and carcases of animals.

Great persecution was let loose on the Sikhs:

Most of them took refuge in the jungles, Shivalik hills and deserts of Rajputana and Bikaner. Prices were fixed on the heads of the Sikhs.

A local Muslim officer named Massa Ranghar converted the temple into a civil court and the main hall (sanctum sanctorum) where the Divine Music was heard uninterrupted was profaned by the Muslim officers holding dance parties.

This was beyond the tolerance of the followers of the Gurus. They considered it the highest insult to their religious place and a challenge to the dignity of their faith:

Two Sikhs, named, Bhai Mehtab Singh and Bhai Sukha Singh, took a vow to avenge the sacrilege of the sacred shrine even at the risk of their lives:

They started from Bikaner (Rajasthan) in the garb of peasants with bags full of coins as revenue.

They entered the temple complex, tied their horses outside the main archway (Darshni Deorhi), infiltrated into the shrine proper and appeared before Massa.

They severed his head and came out. The assistants of Massa Ranghar and other Muslim guards were too bewildered to offer any resistance. Both the desperadoes had gone out of their reach with decapitated head of the officer on one of their spears.

Now the temple was locked and more vigilant guards posted at all the entries to the shrine. It became very difficult for the Sikhs to visit their holy shrine. They could do so only at their personal risk. Thus Harimandir remained under the control of the Mughals.

In 1739 Nadir Shah of Persia invaded India.
The Mughal army and the local chiefs got engaged in warfare.

This provided some respite to the Sikhs to reappear on the scene from their hideouts. They even plundered the rear train of baggage of the Persian King on his homeward journey.

Nadir Shah warned the Lahore Governor Zakaria Khan against the Sikhs who issued fresh orders for the extermination of the followers of Sikh Panth.

Diwan Lakhpat Rai of Lahore vowed to finish the Sikhs to avenge the death of his brother Jaspat Rai. He got the Harimandir desecrated and the tank was filled with earth in 1746.

 A fierce battle was fought in which nearly 7 thousand Sikhs were killed, and many were taken prisoner and executed later. This was a great setback to the Khalsa. They were not even in a position to visit their holy Darbar Sahib for about 2 years.

It was under the efficient leadership of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia that they could liberate the shrine by killing Salabat Khan.

Thus the control of the Temple was taken over by the Khalsa again:

They cleaned the tank and the Temple. The Diwali festival of 1748 was celebrated with great enthusiasm. A Sarbat Khalsa was held. The Harimandir became the central seat of Sikh politics and prime target of the Mughals.

Mir Mannu, the Governor of Lahore, no doubt hostile to the Sikhs, sanctioned a jagir of one lakh rupees to the Sikhs, through the good offices of Diwan Kaura Mal, one-fourth of which was assigned to the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) for its maintenance and development.

Diwan Sahib also donated Rs. 11,000 to the shrine as a token of respect. The Sikhs nicknamed him as Mitha Mal (the sweet one) instead of Kaura Mal (the bitter one).

The Sikhs remained at peace for some time till the invasion of Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1751:

On his return he appointed Mir Mannu as his deputy in the Punjab.
He now let loose an unprecedented oppression on the Sikhs.

The Sikhs again had to leave the plains and take shelter in the Shivalik jungles:

The Temple of God got neglected. This was the most difficult and trying period for the Sikhs. The jagir was confiscated. It was only after the death of Mir Mannu that they could again visit the Harimandir.

Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India again in 1757. He reached Amritsar, plundered the city, and demolished the temple and other Sikh shrines. The Tank of Immortality was filled with garbage and dead bodies.

As soon as the Abdali king turned his back, the Sikhs became active:

The building of the Temple was restored and the holy tank was cleaned. It is said that Maratha leaders too came to visit the shrine.

Harimandir became a focal point of life and death for the Sikhs and on the other hand the Mughal chiefs were determined to wipe out the Sikhs and their celebrated shrine.

This was the worst time for the followers of the Khalsa Panth.

Ahmad Shah Abdali, while hurriedly going back to Kabul in the wake of a rebellion in Turkistan left his son Temur under the guardianship of Jhan Khan, in charge of the Punjab.

He attacked the restored fortress Rām Rowni (Amritsar) of Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, and razed it to the ground.

Other sacred buildings of the Sikhs were demolished and the tank of immortality was filled up. The Sikhs had to take refuge in the hills and the jungles for some time.

In 1758 the Sikhs came out of their hideouts and fought decisive battle against the pathans and routed them.

They reinstalled their sacred shrines in Amritsar and cleaned the “Tank of Nectar”.

They occupied Lahore, and issued their own coin. This was the first time the Sikhs became a sovereign power in Punjab, though for a short period.

In 1762 Ahmad Shah Abdali again attacked Amritsar and blew up the restored Sikh shrine with gunpowder, the holy tank was filled with slaughtered cows, debris, earth and garbage. The Temple and the tank were levelled.

It is said that while the building of the Temple was burning, a flying brickbat struck Abdali on his nose, an injury which later caused his death in the form of cancer in 1773.

After the departure of the Afghan invader, more than 60 thousand Sikhs assembled on the ruins of their beloved shrine and source of life.

Sardar Charat Singh, the grandfather of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, acquired possession of Amritsar in 1763 and he was then made in-charge of restoring and rebuilding of Harimandir and its holy tank.

The Sikhs could hardly find any time to complete this task.

In January 1764, the Khalsa attacked Sirhind and plundered the city:

As it was a rich city and remained an important headquarters of the Mughals, they collected handsome booty from this loot.

To share the expenditure of rebuilding the Darbar Sahib a sheet of cloth was spread on the ground for the funds in the form of donations from the Sardars.

About seven lakh rupees were collected there and then. The whole amount was deposited with some trustworthy bankers of Amritsar.

Bhai Des Raj of village Sur Singh (Amritsar) who was respected for his honesty was in charge of these funds. He was also given a seal to collect more funds for the purpose of completing the work of reconstructing of the Harimandir and the tank according to plan.

The next invasion of Ahmad Shah Abdali came in December 1764 when he attacked India with the sole object of destroying the Sikhs.

But to his surprise he found the city totally abandoned and there were only 30 Sikhs in the vicinity of the Temple who gave him full resistance but lost at last.

The Shah pulled down the rebuilt structure of the shrine and levelled the tank again. He again came to India in 1765 and 1767 but returned to his country without any success.

During this period of great oppression and turmoil, the Temple remained under the supervision and control of Udasi Saints.

From 1748 to 1764, Śrī Gopal Dās Udasi of Village Jasowal in district Ludhiana was appointed Granthi (Priest) by the Khalsa.

But he could not manage the temple satisfactorily. He neglected his duties, and depended only on some menial staff to look after the temple. He even misappropriated temple funds.

As the Udasis were not baptised Sikhs, they did not follow the established Sikh traditions and worship rituals in the holy shrine. They even removed the Granth Sahib and placed Panj Granthi in the sanctum sanctorum.

Consequently, there was resentment among the followers of the faith as a result of which the charge of the temple was taken over by the Khalsa.

The foundation of the new building of the Darbar Sahib was laid by Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia in 1764.