Harimandir Sahib – The “Golden Temple”

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The Harmandir Sahib or  Darbar Sahib, also referred to as the Golden Temple, is a prominent Sikh gurdwara located in Amritsar.

Construction of the gurdwara was begun by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru, and completed by his successor, Guru Arjan Dev. In 1604, Guru Arjan Dev completed the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism, and installed it in the Gurdwara. In 1634, Guru Hargobind left Amritsar for the Shivalik Hills and for the remainder of the seventeenth century the city and gurdwara was in the hands of forces hostile to the Sikh Gurus. During the eighteenth century, the Harmandir Sahib was the site of frequent fighting between the Sikhs on one side and either Mughal or Afghan forces on the other side and the gurdwara occasionally suffered damage. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the gurdwara with gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and English name of “Golden Temple”.

Its name literally means Temple of God. The fourth guru of Sikhism, Guru Ram Das, excavated a tank in 1577 which subsequently became known as Amritsar (meaning “Pool of the Nectar of Immortality”), giving its name to the city that grew around it. In due course, a splendid Sikh edifice, Harmandir Sahib rose in the middle of this tank and became the supreme centre of Sikhism. Its sanctum came to house the Adi Granth comprising compositions of Sikh gurus and other saints considered to have Sikh values and philosophies.

Originally built in 1574, the site of the temple was surrounded by a small lake in a thin forest. The third of the six grand Mughals, Emperor Akbar, who visited the third Sikh guru, Guru Amar Das, in the neighbouring town of Goindval, was so impressed by the way of life in the town that he gave a jagir (the land and the revenues of several villages in the vicinity) to the guru’s daughter Bhani as a gift on her marriage to Bhai Jetha, who later became the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. Guru Ram Das enlarged the lake and built a small township around it. The town was named after Guru Ram Das as Guru Ka Chak’, Chak Ram Das or Ram Das Pura.

During the leadership of the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev (1581–1606), the full-fledged Temple was built. In December 1588, the great Muslim Sufi saint of Lahore, Hazrat Mian Mir, who was a close friend of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, initiated the construction of the temple by laying the first foundation stone.

The temple was completed in 1604. Guru Arjan Dev, installed the Guru Granth Sahib in it and appointed Baba Buddha Ji as the first Granthi (reader) of it on August 1604. In the mid-18th century it was attacked by the Afghans, by one of Ahmed Shah Abdali’s generals, Jahan Khan, and had to be substantially rebuilt in the 1760s.

The temple is surrounded by a large lake, known as the Sarovar, which consists of Amrit (“holy water” or “immortal nectar”). There are four entrances to the temple, signifying the importance of acceptance and openness; ostensibly, this concept is reminiscent of the tent of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham, whose tent was open on all four sides in order to be able to welcome travelers from all directions. Inside the temple 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 temple there are many memorial plaques that commemorate past Sikh historical events, saints, martyrs and includes commemorative inscriptions of all the Sikh soldiers who died fighting in World Wars I and II.

In 1988, after Operation Black Thunder, the government acquired a narrow peripheral strip of land (including buildings) in order to use their space as a security buffer. The acquisition process involved the displacement and relocation of a large number of residences and businesses. However, the project met with a strong resistance from both moderate and militant Sikh organisations and had to be abandoned following the murder of a senior government-employed engineer connected with the project. The project was revived only in 1993 by the Deputy Commissioner Karan Bir Singh Sidhu, who was also appointed as the project director of what became popularly known as the Galliara Project. He changed the concept of the periphery from that of a security belt to that of a second parikarma and created a serene landscape that was fully consistent with the ethereal beauty of the Harmandir Sahib. This was done in quiet consultation with the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC). Present-day pilgrims can travel by foot in the Galliara; no vehicles are permitted.

In keeping with the rule observed at all Sikh temples (gurdwaras) worldwide, the Harmandir Sahib is open to all persons regardless of their religion, colour, creed, or sex.

The Darshani Deorhi Arch stands at the beginning of the causeway to the Harmandir Sahib; it is 202 feet (62 m) high and 21 feet (6 m) in width. 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.

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