The Golden Temple


The Golden Temple

Amritsar (Lit. The Tank of Nectar) is, first and foremost, the city of the Golden Temple (Swarna Mandir) or Darbar Sahib (the Court Divine).

Actually known as Harmandir (the Temple of God), it is the ardent desire of every devout Sikh to pay at least one visit to the Golden Temple and offer obeisance.

Long time ago, the present city of Amritsar was a dense forest with a pool in it.
Several villages were dispersed in the forest.

According to traditions, Lord Buddha is believed to have stopped here for a while and to have said,

"The spot is the best for the Bhikshus (Buddhist monks) to attain their Nirvana (Salvation) and is far superior in that respect to other places so far visited;

But it must have time for its celebrity."

The place acquired some prominence in the earlier days of Buddhism.

But it did not last long and in the days of Guru Nānak Amritsar was again a dense, deserted forest owned by the several adjoining villages.

Guru Nānak lived here for a time in 1532. He was charmed by the secluded spot "too far from the maddening crowd's ignoble strife".

The pool was enlarged and converted into a regular tank by Guru Rām Dās (1574-1581), the 4th Guru. He named it Amrit-Sarovar (The Pool of Nectar). The City that grew around the tank also came to be known as Amritsar.

Bhai Jetha, the future Guru Rām Dās (1574-1581), the fourth Master, was sent here by the third master Guru Amar Dās (1552-74) to found a common centre for commerce and worship.

Guru Rām Dās laid the foundation of a village. It has grown largest city of the post partition Punjab. The village was formerly called Guru Ka Chakk.

It is popularly believed that the village was built on a site bought for 700 rupees.

The excavation of Amrit-Sarowar was begun by Guru Rām Dās in 1574. After the death of Guru Amar Das, next year the work was abandoned. It was resumed two years later in 1576.

The small village founded by Guru Rām Dās had by this time grown into a township. It came to be known as Chakk Rām Dās or Ramdaspur.  

The excavation of the tank was completed in 15 77.

Guru Arjan (1563 –1606) built the Harmandir temple in the centre of this tank (Amrit Sarovar). The temple was at first known as Hari Mandir (Lord’s Temple).

The foundation of the Mandir was laid in December 1588, by the Muslim Sufi saint Mian Mir, a friend and admirer of Guru Arjan, who lived in Lahore.

The Mandir was completed in 1604 and the Ādi Grantha was installed therein in August of 1604. Baba Budha, who earlier was supervising the construction works, was appointed the first "Granthi", i.e. the reader of the Holy Scripture (Ādi Grantha).

The Hari Mandir has a difficult history and changed hands a number of times:

The Sikhs were turned out of their temple and temple itself was destroyed and desecrated again and again by the Mughal rulers.

Again and again did the Sikhs recovered it and avenged the sacrilege at a tremendous sacrifice.

There are many stories of bravery and heroism demonstrated by the Sikhs for the recovery of the temple.

The Mughal Governor of Lahore drove the Sikhs out of the temple about the middle of the 18th century. Troops were posted to keep them away from Amritsar and Harmandir.

A Sikh could have a bath in the sacred water of the tank and drink it only at the risk of his life. A police post and a civil court were established in the temple in 1740.

The Mughal commandant Massa Ranghar used the holy Sanctum as a dancing hall. The temple precincts were used as stables.

Two valiant Sikhs Mehtab Singh and Sukha Singh came all the way from Bikaner to punish the Ranghar:

Disguised as cultivators; they got into the temple precincts on the plea of paying the land revenue. While Mehtab Singh entered the temple, Sukha Singh stood guard outside.

Mehtab Singh killed Massa Ranghar and escaped with his companion before the official guard had recovered from the shock.

The murder of Massa Ranghar was followed by a severe persecution of the Sikhs and they were compelled to go into hiding. The temple was locked. Sentries were posted at the entrance with strict orders not to let any stranger in.

The Sikhs however took advantage of the confusion and anarchy which followed Nadir Shah's invasion of India (1739):

Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718 – 1783), one of the important Sikh leaders of the time, openly declared that the Dal Khalsa i.e. the Sikh Commonwealth would be the new rulers of the land.

But Ahmad Shah Abdali's invasion of India (1747) ushered in a new era of persecution for the Sikhs. Abdali was determined to wipe out the Sikhs out of existence and to pull down the Golden Temple.

The Temple was occupied and desecrated in 1757 in the famous year of the Battle of Plassey, which made the English-the de-facto Masters of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa.

The Sikhs, however, united under two of their leaders-both named Jassa Singh and occupied Lahore and Amritsar in 1758.

On hearing about the desecration of the Golden Temple, a body of Sikhs under the leadership of Baba Deep Singh (1682–1757), a noted Sikh theologian and martyr, started at once to avenge the insult:

A bloody encounter took place about 8 miles away from Amritsar. Yet the avengers went on cutting their way through the Muslim hordes.

When about 4 miles from the City, Baba Deep Singh was mortally wounded, he staggered and was about to fall, a comrade-in-arms reminded him of his vow to reach the sacred precincts, he at once recovered himself:

With his left hand he gripped and supported his almost chopped off head and with the right, he went on moving the enemies.

Thus fighting, this unique warrior reached the holy precincts. His vow fulfilled, he let drop his head and went to the eternal abode of martyrs.

Near the spot stands the memorial later erected in memory of him and his great deed. It is called Gurdwara Shaheed Bunga Baba Deep Singh.

The Abdali, however, invaded India in 1762 and inflicted a deadly blow on the Sikhs in the battle of Kup Rahira in District Ludhiana. This event is still remembered as "Ghallughara".

The victor raided Amritsar on his way back to Kabul:

The Golden Temple was blown up with gunpowder by him and the holy tank was also desecrated. Countless Sikhs laid down their lives in the defence of their shrine.

After the final departure of Ahmed Shah Abdali from India in 1767, the Sikhs re-conquered the Punjab and re-occupied the Golden Temple.

The Temple was re-constructed subsequently. The holy tank was cleared of the debris. Both have remained in their possession ever since without interruption.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), the Lion of the Punjab, beautified the Temple with gold work, gilding the upper half with golden sheets and the tower half with Indian marble, mosaics with semi-precious stones.

The temple was managed in his days by a Council of the Sikhs of which the Maharaja was the head. The council functioned till the end of the Punjab as a sovereign State.

The Golden Temple passed under the control of one man, the 'Sarbrah' (Manager), during the British period. The 'Sarbrah', a nominee of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar mismanaged the affairs of the temple.

Immoralities were practised within the Temple precincts. Practices, repugnant to the tenets of Sikhism were openly indulged in. The Sikhs resented the objectionable practices.

The resentment grew and grew till at last it took shape in the Sikh Gurdwara Reform Movement of the early 1920-s:

The Shiromani Akali Dal became the spearhead of the struggle for the reform of the places of worship. The struggle was directed against the control of the Sikh shrines by the 'Mahants' and against foreign imperialism.

The Dal made great sacrifices for the cause. Their activities awakened the Punjab and the Punjabis. The members of the Dal took vow of Swadeshi and non-violence:

Satyagraha was the weapon used by them. Public opinion in the Punjab was behind them. Nationalist India looked on the struggle with admiration.

The curtain was finally drawn with the launching of the Gurdwara Reform Movement when the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, vested the control and management of the Golden Temple in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a representative body of the Sikhs, elected by adult franchise.

The Golden Temple, a two storied marble structure, is built on a 67 ft. square platform in the centre of the sacred tank, Amrit Sār,

the central dome of the temple and the upper half of the walls were covered with Gold-leafed copper sheets by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Hence the name Golden Temple also came into being.

The temple under the blue sky dazzling in the sunlight presents a splendid look to eyes.

The temple itself is 40.5 ft. square. It has a door each on the East, West, North and South.

The four doors of the Golden Temple are symbolic. They manifest that the temple is open to all; the people can come here irrespective of religion, caste, creed or sex.

20. 9"x7 9.6" marble causeway on the western shore of the tank leads to the western portal of the temple.

A fine arch called the 'Darshni Darwaza' stands at the shore-end of the causeway. The door-frame of the arch is about 10 ft. in height and 8 ft. 6 inches in breadth. The door panes are decorated with artistic ivory work.

A 38 feet wide promenade called the "Parikarma" (Path of circumambulation) runs around the tank.

On a platform under a gorgeous canopy studded with jewels on the ground floor of the Golden Temple lies the Ādi Grantha (The Sikh Scriptures):

It is carried in a golden palanquin from the Akal Takht (the Divine Throne) in the Temple precincts to the Golden Temple at 5 a.m. in the morning in winter and at 4 a.m. in summer.

The Ādi Grantha is carried back to the Akal Takht in the same palanquin at 9 p.m. in winter and at 10 p.m. in summer.

Hymns from the Holy Book are sung without a break throughout the day in the temple. The Rāgīs (the musicians) are paid employees of the Temple Committee.

There is no formal or ritualistic worship. All visitors are welcomed. They place offering in the shape of money and flowers before the Holy Book. There is no compulsion, no coercion.

Information Guides are provided by the temple authorities to show the visitors round, free of charge.

A 13 ft. 6 inches wide 'Pradakshina' (procession path) encircles the holy of holies, Steps on the East of the 'Pradakshina' lead to the waters of the sacred tank. The Steps are called Har-ki-Pauri (Steps of God).

The walls of the ground floor of the Golden Temple are laid with marble slabs inlaid with arabesques of conventional flower sprays, in semi-precious stones of various colours.

The walls of the upper storey, the cornices, the roof columns, cupolas, in a word, almost every inch available space with the exception of the floor, are a glittering mass of gilded copper.

The eastern loggia of the temple is covered with gilded copper plates presented by Rani Sada Kaur, mother-in-law of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

The remaining three sides were similarly beautified by the Maharaja himself.

The decoration work in gold goes to the credit of the Maharaja, his son Kharak Singh and grandson Nau-Nihal Singh.

The floor of the upper storey of the Golden Temple is 40 ft. each way. It is paved with marble the interior of the walls is ornamented with floral designs.

There is a small "Shish Mahal" (Hall of Mirrors) on the upper storey:

It was originally the pavilion where the Gurus used to sit. Beautified by Ranjit Singh, it is now used for Akhand Path (Non-stop recitation of the Ādi Grantha from cover to cover).

Hymns are inscribed on its walls in letters of gold. On the third storey stands the gorgeous gold dome. Smaller domes decorate the parapet.

The architecture of the Golden Temple represents a happy blending of the Hindu and Muslim artistic traditions. It is however more than a mere combination of the two. It marks the beginning of a new school of temple architecture in India.

The golden work of the temple is being changed and fresh gold plates have been installed through the offering of Communities from England.