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
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
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.