Golden Temple of Amritsar – place to go in India
The Harmandir Sahib (or Hari Mandir) in Amritsar, Punjab, is the holiest shrine in Sikhism. Previously (and still more commonly) known as the Golden Temple, it was officially renamed Harmandir Sahib in March 2005. The temple (or gurdwara) is a major pilgrimage destination for Sikhs from all over the world, as well as an increasingly popular tourist attraction.
Unlike many historical sacred sites, the Golden Temple of Amritsar is still fully alive with religious fervor and sacredness, and visitors are welcomed to join in the experience. Although the building itself has great historical and architectural interest, it is the Golden Temple’s great spiritual meaning for Sikh believers (and others) that is most memorable to visitors. In a country that is exceptionally rich with vibrant devotion, Frommer’s rates the Golden Temple “the most tangibly spiritual place in the country.”
History of the Golden Temple of Amritsar
Construction of the Golden Temple began in 1574 on land donated by the Mughal emperor Akbar. The building project was overseen by the fourth and fifth Sikh Gurus. The temple was completed in 1601, but restoration and embellishment continued over the years. The temple had to be substantially rebuilt after it was sacked in the 1760s.
In the early 19th century, 100 kg of gold were applied to the inverted lotus-shaped dome and decorative marble was added. All this gold and marble work took place under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The legendary warrior king was a major donor of money and materials for the shrine and is remembered with much affection by the Sikh community and Punjabi people.
In June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an attackon armed Sikh militants holed up in the Golden Temple. Over 500 people were killed in the ensuing firefight, and Sikhs around the world were outraged at the desecration of their holiest site. Four months after the attack, Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards, leading to a massacre followed in which thousands of Sikhs lost their lives.
The Sikh community refused to allow the central government to repair the damage to the temple, instead undertaking the work themselves. Although most of the damaged been repaired, the incident has not been forgotten. Many people in Amritsar are still anxious to explain the Sikh side of the story to visitors.
What to See at the Golden Temple of Amritsar
Despite its great sacred status, the Golden Temple is open to visitors, like all Sikh temples. The only restrictions are that visitors must not drink alcohol, eat meat or smoke in the shrine. And unlike many other Indian temples, visitors to the Harmandir Sahib are made to feel truly welcome and not pressured to buy anything. The information office left of the main gate gives helpful advice and information, as well as booklets on Sikhism.
Most visitors to the Golden Temple, whether Sikh or not, are humbled by what is quite simply the most tangibly spiritual place in the country. Arrive with a few good hours set aside and get lost in its magical beauty. Visitors must leave their shoes at the facility near the entrance, cover their head (bandanas are provided, or you can buy a souvenir bandana from a vendor), and wash their feet by wading through the shallow pool before entering.
The most famous and sacred part of the Golden Temple complex is the Hari Mandir (Divine Temple) or Darbar Sahib (Court of the Lord), which is the beautiful golden structure at the center of a large body of water. The gold-plated building features copper cupolas and white marble walls encrusted with precious stones arranged in decorative Islamic-style floral patterns. The structure is decorated inside and out with verses from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book).
The water that surrounds the Hari Mandir is a sacred pool known as the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar). The temple is reached by following the Parikrama, which circumscribes the sacred pool in a clockwise direction. Connecting the pathway with the Hari Mandir is a marble causeway called the Guru’s Bridge, which symbolizes the journey of the soul after death. The gateway to the bridge, the Darshani Deorhi, has magnificent silver doors.
The fascinating scene inside the Hari Mandir is televised throughout India for Sikh viewers. Amidst a crowd of fervent and solemn devotees, scriptures from the Holy Book are sung beneath a canopy studded with jewels. A chauri (whisk) is continually waved above the Book as lines of Sikhs pay their respects by touching their foreheads to the temple floor and walls, continuing in a clockwise direction at a relaxed pace.
Another major highlight of the Golden Temple complex is the Guru-ka-Langar, a dining hall where around 35,000 people a day are fed for free by temple volunteers. Everyone is invited to join this communal breaking of bread. All participants sit on the floor, regardless of caste, status, wealth or creed, powerfully symbolizing the central Sikh doctrine of the equality of all people.
Guest quarters are also available for international Sikh visitors (for a nominal fee), and at least 400 simple rooms are provided (free of charge) to Sikh pilgrims.
In the Central Sikh Museum at the main entrance, galleries display images and remembrances of Sikh gurus, warriors, and saints; it includes some graphic portraits of the torture and execution of gurus.
Festivals and Events
Every night, the Granth Sahib is carried in procession along this bridge to its “bed” in the Akal Takht, the seat of the Sikh parliament (built 1609). Called the Palki Sahib, this nightly ceremony provides a chance for all male pilgrims and visitors to actively participate in the veneration of the Holy Book. Lines form in front of and behind the heavy palanquin and each man shoulders the burden for a few seconds before passing it along, forming a human conveyer belt that allows everyone to participate and everyone to rest. The ceremony usually takes place at 11pm in summer at 9:30pm in winter.