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The Golden Temple in Amritsar is the most sacred Sikh shrine, drawing pilgrimsfrom around the world. The temple's legend goes back some four centuries when the third Sikh Guru, Amar Das asked Guru Ram Das (who succeeded him) to build a central place for the congregation of the Sikhs. Guru Arjan Dev completed the work started by Guru Ram Das in the 16th century. The gurdwara has four entrance doors, called deoris, in all four directions, symbolic of the faith that made no distinction between caste and creed. People could enter and bow in any direction they preferred.

There are many stories about how the land was acquired for the construction of the temple. Acoording to one version, the land was supposedly bought bythe Guru bought it, other versions say that it was granted by emperor Akbar.

Historical evidence suggests that Guru Arjan Dev laid the foundation in 1588. The Guru's followers settled in the neighborhood and a small town called Ramdaspur quickly came up, deriving its latter name, Amritsar, from the holy tank that encircles the Hari Mandir, or the Darbar Sahib.

The flourishing town around the temple grew in stature during Guru Arjan Dev's lifetime as the followers of Sikhism grew in number. The first Sikh Maharaja, Ranjit Singh made Amritsar his spiritual capital while Lahore was the temporal seat of his expanding kingdom. Ranjit Singh oversaw the temple's further development, gilding the embossed plates, renewing the pietra dura and embellishing the interior with floral designed and mirrored ceilings.

Harimandir SahibArchitecture
The Golden Temple is an eclectic monument that has grown as much out of people's devotion as from the guild craftsmen's skills. It is widely regarded as the most tastefully decorated shrines anywhere.

As one descends into the temple (unlike most temples, one actually descends as the structure is built below the level of the surrounding area), one is confronted by the stunningly beautiful sanctum sanctorum glimmering in the water of the holy tank that is flanked on all four sides by spotlessly clean marble walkways.

The main structure rises from the center of the sacred pool and is approached by a long causeway. The 52-meter, square shaped Hari Mandir stands on a square platform, its lower parts made of marble, and its upper portion fully covered with plates of gilded copper. In the interior, on the ground, the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book of the Sikhs) is placed under a jewel-studded canopy. On the first floor is a small pavilion called the Shish Mahal (mirror room). It is ornamented with pieces of mirrors inlaid in the ceiling and walls. Above that is a smaller pavilion. Exquisite murals adorn the walls of the pavilions, but the emphasis is on simplicity.

Situated at the other end of the causeway connected to the Harimandir Sahib is the Akal Takht. It literally means the eternal throne and this building, situated opposite the temple has a special significance. While the temple stands for the spiritual guidance, the Akal Takht symbolizes the dispensing of justice and temporal activities. During the day, the Guru Granth Sahib is kept in the temple and at night is shifted to the Akal Takht. Traditionally all Sikh warriors sought blessings here before going for war.

As it has done for several centuries, the temple mirrors many images that are dear to the devout. One sees the beautiful golden dome shimmering in the water, and the thousands of devotees praying and kneeling before the holy book, one also sees people streaming into the langar hall to partake of the common meal served to all. Forming a soothing and beautiful backdrop to these activities is the continuous kirtan (devotional) recitation that provides solace to many.

Guru Ka Langar
All Sikh temples have a langar (community kitchen) where volunteers prepare free meals for thousands of people everyday. Everyone is welcome. Part of the philosophy of Sikhism is to do seva, which means service. One of the ways a devout Sikh does seva is through community service. The idea is to share equally as desired by the Sikh Gurus. Apart from sharing, the other important aspect is that all are equal and everyone sits on the floor and eats together as equals. The food in the langar comes from donations and from the management of the Gurdwara. The tradition of the langar is intrinsic to the Sikh faith and symbolizes oneness of the humanity.

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