Amritsar (280 kilometers from Delhi) is the nearly 450-year-old center of the Sikh religion and is to Sikhs what Mecca in to Muslims and Jerusalem is to Christians. Its name means “Lake of Immortality,” a reference to a pool of nectar said to have been built by Guru Ram Das (1534-1581), the forth Sikh guru, who founded the city on land given him by the Mughal emperor Akbar and got the city going when he arranged for men of 52 different trades to establish a market.
A bustling city with an indomitable spirit, Amritsar holds the holiest Sikh shrine — the Golden Temple. Covered in 400 kilograms of gold and surrounded by a serene sarovar (pond) and is home to one of the biggest community kitchens (langar) in the country that serves about 20,000 people a day. Though visitors often head straight to the temple and see little else that doesn’t there is more to Amritsar. Also worth a look are the bullet-ridden walls of Jallianwala Bagh, other Sikh sites, numerous Indo-British style buildings and the energetic scene of the Wagah Border, where India and Pakistan meet.
Getting There: By Air: Sri Guru Ram Dassjee International Airport is located 11 kilometers away from Amritsar and is well- connected by domestic and international flights. By Road: It is easy to drive down to Amritsar from the neighbouring states. The bus services are also on time and comfortable. The bus service to Lahore, the only overland connection between India and Pakistan, starts from Amritsar. By Train: All major cities of India are well-connected with Amritsar via direct trains. Amritsar Junction is one of the major railheads of the city.
History of Amritsar
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: No city in the Indian Punjab has witnessed more history or is home to more historic sites than Amritsar. Its name combines the Sanskrit words for the sacred nectar of life (amrita) and for lake (sarovar), a reference to the pool within the precincts of the Golden Temple of the Sikhs that is believed to wash away sins. But at first glance, there's nothing celestial about it. The narrow streets are clamorous, dusty, claustrophobic. Home to more than a million people, Amritsar has long since spilled beyond the walls that once defined its borders, and even in the city's oldest sections, most buildings are drab, run-down and recent. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
“Always outnumbered, even in their Punjabi stronghold, the Sikhs have frequently found themselves under attack. They've never failed to fight back, against the Mughals who tried to exterminate them in the 17th century, the Afghans who razed the Golden Temple three times between 1748 and 1768 and the British who by 1849 had destroyed the sprawling 19th-century empire carved out by their ablest chieftain, Ranjit Singh. Later, Sikhs served out of all proportion to their numbers in the armed forces of independent India.”
Amritsar gets its name from the holy tank called Amrit Sarovar, meaning pool of nectar, which surrounds the Golden Temple. According to legend the fourth guru of the Sikh faith, Guru Ram Das, founded the city around 1574. It is said, Guru Amardas, the third Sikh guru, bought a piece of land, amid thick forests, to build a tank. But he died before it could be built. Folklore says Guru Ram Das invited 52 traders from nearby places to settle.
They built 32 shops, which still exist in Amritsar, and are popularly known as Batisi Hatta. The construction for Amrit Sarovar was completed by his successor Guru Arjan Dev. Interestingly, Amritsar also finds a mention in the Hindu epic, Ramayana, as the place where Lord Rama and Goddess Sita's twin sons, Luv and Kush, were born. Amritsar was further developed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, founder and king (1801–39) of the kingdom of Punjab
Attack on the Golden Temple
During the 1980s, bitter, sometimes bloody conflict between the Indian government and elements of the Sikh community led to a terrorism-infused, quasi civil war. The leader of the Sikh separatist movement was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a charismatic preacher who wore a blue turban tied in the old tradition way, had powerful hands, a droopy left eyelid and crooked yellowish teeth. Bhindranwale first made a name for himself when he led a procession and one of his followers cut off the arm of Hindu shopkeeper. Problems between Sikhs and the Indian government escalated in the small village of Dheru in 1981 when two Bhindranwale followers, who were also fugitives, were cornered by authorities and escaped after shooting two policemen dead. Later Bhindranwale was arrested after a gun battle for his involvement with the murder of the police. That same day three Sikhs on motorcycles shot into a crowd of Hindu's, killing four.
After Bhindranwale was released for lack of evidence he holed himself up in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhdom's holiest site, with perhaps a thousand supporters armed with AK-47s, mortars and rockets. While he was in the temple one of his militants was killed by a woman. Bhindranwale boasted the death would be avenged in less than 24 hours. Soon after the body of the woman was found with her breasts and genitals burned and her arms and legs crushed. An accomplice of hers was found sliced in seven different pieces. [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]
In May 1984 Indian army infantrymen attacked the Golden Temple when more than a thousand of pilgrims and militants were inside. Indian soldiers and Sikh militants exchanged mortar and machine gun fire. Seven Indian tanks shelled the temple’s three story tower where Bhindranwale was thought to be hiding out. When the fighting stopped the Golden Temple was in ruins. Between five hundred and two thousands civilians, Sikh militants and Indian soldiers were killed and many of the Sikh's holiest scriptures, some handwritten by the ten Gurus themselves, had been reduced to ashes. Bhindranwale was found dead with one eye open and one eye closed.
The conflict between Sikhs and the Indian government left thousands of Punjabis dead. mostly in the late 1980s. After the raid on the Golden Temple, violence escalated. Sikh separatists blew up crowded trains and school buses, stage terrorist attacks and attacked Punjabi Hindus. They received some funding from Sikhs living abroad. The Indian leader Indira Gandhi tried to divide the Sikh separatists by supporting one militant faction in a political battle with another.
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: In June of 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a military assault against armed militants holed up within the Golden Temple complex. It killed several hundred Sikhs, many of them innocent pilgrims, and left the sacred structure badly damaged. Just five months later, two of Mrs. Gandhi's own Sikh bodyguards avenged that assault by assassinating her as she walked through her garden in New Delhi. Hindu mobs, egged on by politicians belonging to the late prime minister's Congress Party, then avenged that killing by butchering some 3,000 Sikhs in the streets of Delhi. More than a decade of sporadic violence followed before relative peace returned to the Punjabi countryside. But resentments remain: calendars featuring romanticized depictions of Sikhs killed during the conflict are for sale in every bazaar, and as we drove away from the temple, a cycle rickshaw crossed in front of us with flattering portraits of Mrs. Gandhi's assassins stenciled on its back.” [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
Development in Amritsar
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “There are rumors that an American-based hotelier plans to turn the fort into a luxury hotel for overseas Punjabis interested in revisiting the shrines of their faith without more than minimal contact with the real India. If he succeeds, she fears ordinary citizens will be kept out of this precious relic of their history. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
“"Freezing buildings in time may not work here the way it does in the West," says Gurmeet Rai, a Sikh and a conservation architect. "There are too many pressures for change. But turning everything into tourist hotels won't work either. Our historic buildings need to mean something to the people who live around them. We need to involve them in our work, to make them understand its importance." To achieve those ends she hopes to undertake an overall management plan that would both provide for world-class preservation and supply visitors with the interpretive materials they need to understand monuments like this.
“That understanding has largely been missing in Punjab. In recent years, for example, Sikh congregations have been "improving" historic structures by bulldozing them and then constructing ever-more-lavish substitutes on the sites. "Somewhere along the line the original, unpretentious Sikh architecture has begun to be perceived as something to be ashamed of," Gurmeet says. "Our gurus were simple, down-to-earth men of the soil, and their buildings reflect the simplicity and harmony Sikhism is all about."”
Amritsar Food And Cuisine
Amritsar is a good place to sample Punjabi and India foods such as butter-drenched paranthas (Indian flatbread), creamy lassi (a drink made of yoghurt), dahi-balla and aloo-tikki (deep-fried savouries). Indulging on delicacies on the streets of Amritsar is one of the best ways to enjoy its treasures. While there are many noted hotels and eateries offering a world-class as well as a traditional menu, one can find a fine selection of spicy and rich flavors in the various food stalls lining the markets.
Amritsar's old markets are filled with stores selling spices, papad (thin and crisp disc-shaped food) and varians, which are small nuggets of lentils. To prepare varian, lentils are ground into a paste, mixed with spices and then dried in the sun. Sarson da saag is such dish that is made using mustard leaves, along with spinach, green chillies and spices. A generous dollop of butter adds richness to the dish that is best served with makke di roti (Indian bread made using corn flour). Shahi Paneer is delicious dish originated from the Mughlai cuisine. The word 'shahi' means into royal. The delicious curry of shahi paneer is made with soft chunks of paneer (cottage cheese) that are cooked in a gravy made using tomatoes, cream and spices. It is best served with naan or tandoori roti (Indian breads) or basmati rice.
Freshwater fish called singhara or sole is used to make this delicious spicy and fried fish dish. The fish is tender and succulent on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. A perfect snack for cold winter evenings, it is served with mint-and-coriander chutney. In colloquial language, the dish is known as Amritsari Machhi. In earlier times, the poor, who were settled near the rivers, would cook fish extensively as it was easily available. Soon fish-based dishes found their way into the Mughal kitchens, where various innovations were added using masalas and cooking techniques.
Bhuna Gosht is richly flavored traditional mutton curry made with a host of spices and yoghurt. The gosht is cooked for a long time to ensure the flavors are well infused into the meat. The word 'bhuna' in Asian cooking means cooking the curry until it is reduced and becomes thick. This way it gets more easily coated to the meat, which appears brown in color. Served with jeera (cumin) rice, bhuna ghost makes a great option for lunch or dinner.
Butter Chicken, also known as murgh makhani, is a delectable staple of most non-vegetarians in the country. It is made using puréed tomatoes, spices and dried fenugreek leaves. Dollops of butter and fresh cream, along with a pinch of sugar, give the chicken a deep and balanced flavor. The curry is best enjoyed with butter or garlic naan (traditional Indian breads). It is said that the dish finds its origins at the Moti Mahal, Darya Ganj, in Delhi. The story goes that in the 1950s, the place was already popular among tandoori chicken lovers. The cooks at the restaurant were in a habit of recycling the left-over chicken juices by adding butter and tomato to them. Once, this sauce was tossed with pieces of tandoori chicken by accident. Thus, was born the decadent butter chicken that sets mouths drooling all over the world. It is creamy with thick, red tomato gravy and tastes slightly sweet. The dish almost melts in the mouth as the juice percolates into the chicken pieces making them juicy and tender.
Sights in Amritsar
The Golden Temple is the main attraction in Armritsar. Also worth checking out are the central Sikh Museum, other Sikh temples and the Jalianwala Bagh. Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Most of the monuments we'd seen testified to Punjab's bloody past: battlefield markers; crumbling village walls built to bar marauders; gurdwaras that honor Sikhs martyred in battle against the Mughals; and Jallianwalla Bagh, the Amritsar park now filled with flowers and shouting schoolchildren, where, in 1919, a British commander ordered his men to fire upon unarmed civilians — killing at least 379 and galvanizing the independence movement.” [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
Sarai Amanat Khan was built by the Mughals as a caravan sarai (resting place) on the Grand Trunk Road, in a small village southwest of Amritsar. One of the many sarais put up by them, it was built with a purpose to be a rest-stop on the way to Lahore from Agra. This sarai has been named after Amanat Khan, who was the calligrapher of the Taj Mahal. It is said to be the dwelling and then the resting place of Khan, who is credited with inscribing verses from the Koran on the Taj Mahal. The gate leading to the sarai is a beautiful structure that draws influences from the Mughal style of architecture. Its blue-glazed tile work is particularly remarkable. Two other gateways, Lahori Darwaza and Dilli Darwaza, lie on either side of a large open courtyard that has a mosque and a makeshift stable.
Ram Bagh Palace was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sher-e-Punjab, named it in honour of Guru Ram Das Ji. The red stone work was executed by workmen brought from Delhi. The Maharaja used it as residence during his visit to Amritsar. This is a protected monument under Punjab ancient and Historical Building Site Act, 1964. The protection of the monument is taken up under Western Circuit as Natural Site.
Central Sikh Museum exhibits paintings of saints, Sikh gurus, warriors and other important Sikh leaders. One can also find a rich collection of ancient manuscripts, arms and coins here. Along with a well-stocked library, the museum houses paintings by Sikh artists, musical instruments, pencil sketches and guns. Relics from Guru Gobind Singh's personal collection are also housed, which include a wooden comb (kangha), bow and arrows, iron chakras (circles) worn on the turban by a warrior and an iron jacket made of wires (sanjoe).
Partition Museum (at Town Hall) is one of the important reserves of Indian history. It houses a vast collection of artefacts donated by those who survived the partition of India and Pakistan. These artefacts are the things that people carried when they migrated to their designated part of the border. The museum was inaugurated on August 25, 2017, with the aim to act as a repository of the archives, documents, stories and history of the partition. Documentation of the struggles of artists, lyricists and poets during the partition has also been preserved in the museum through their paintings and poetry. To make history more eloquent, audio-visual stations, which show interviews of survivors, have been set up across all 14 galleries.
Jallian Wala Bagh
Jallianwala Bagh is the site of one of the biggest tragedies that occurred under British rule of India. On April 13, 1919, in this seven-acre park, at least 400 Indians were indiscriminately shot dead, and another 1,000 were injured, at the hands of British soldiers lead by General O’Dyer. Some Indian sources say 2,000 Indian were killed. This incident is known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre or the Amritsar massacre. The event occurred during the Punjabi harvest festival of Baisakhi, Between 15,000 to 20,000 people had gathered to celebrate.
In addition to this, people also gathered to hold a peaceful demonstration against the repressive Rowlatt Act that provided for stricter control of the press, arrests without warrant and indefinite detention without trial. The British got wind of it and surrounded the park armed with rifles. Then, on General O’Dyer’s orders, shots were fired indiscriminately over men, women and children.
The wall near the end of the park still holds the marks of around 36 bullets. After the shooting, several dead bodies had to be taken out of the well which people jumped into to avoid being shot. A memorial is built here to commemorate the Indians who were killed or wounded. The story of this appalling massacre is told in the Martyr’s Gallery at the site. The incident was instrumental in changing the course of the Indian freedom struggle. It fuelled anger among people, leading to the Non-cooperation Movement of 1920-22. After the incident, Mahatma Gandhi declared, “The impossible men of India shall rise and liberate their motherland.” Upon returning his knighthood to the British, Nobel-laureate, Rabindranath Tagoresaid: “This disproportionate severity of punishment inflicted upon the unfortunate people and method of carrying it out is without parallel in the history of civilised government.”
Gobindgarh Fort occupies 43 acres and was built in the 17th century. For a long time the world-famous Kohinoor diamond was kept inside this fort. The fort was originally built as a mud fortress called Bhagian da Qila by a local chieftain, Gujar Singh Bhangi. The chieftain belonged to a clan called Misls, who ruled the area at that time. The fort was under him for almost 49 years after which Amritsar was ruled by Gurdit S Bhangi, a descendant of Gujjar Singh. According to legend a trader, Arur Mal, was asked by the royal family to pay tribute to the Bhangi township. Refusing to do so, he went to a rival town and conspired with Shaikh Kamaluddin and Maharaja Ranjit Singh to invade the fort. Ranjit Singh attacked the city through the Ahluwalia gate and took over the fort.
Since the fort holds great historical prominence, the Government of Punjab has declared it as a historical monument. There are several other constructions within the fort, including Toshakhana and Khas Mahal, along with bastions, moats, wells and havelis built during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Sikh empire. There are several remnants of the British rule as well, including the Durbar Hall and the Anglo Sikh Bungalow. One will also find a bell, which was made in Sheffield, the UK.
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “We rounded a traffic circle marked by a battered Patton tank captured from Pakistan by a Sikh regiment and pulled up at a little guard post. Two watchmen peered curiously into the car window...We were about to enter Gobindgarh, a 43-acre, 18th-century Sikh fortress with four mountainous bastions and a broad moat choked with trees. Ranjit Singh stored some of his vast treasure within its walls. The British Army occupied it. So did the army of free India, which in 2006 turned it over to Punjab. It is not yet open to the general public, but in the middle of the old parade ground craftsmen are mixing traditional lime mortar in a circular pit. Under the CRCI's direction they are shoring up the mammoth brick tower in which Ranjit Singh lived when visiting the holy city.” [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
Temples and Religious Institutions in Amritsar
Gurudwara Sri Tarn Taran Sahib is believed to be among the oldest Sikh religious facility in the region. Established by the 5th Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, it is also said to have the largest sarovar (pond) among all the gurdwaras in Punjab. Guru Arjan Dev laid the foundation of this beautiful gurdwara in 1590. Another noteworthy feature of the gurudwara is that it is the only gurudwara that is the replica of the Golden Temple. The gurudwara sees a huge crowd on amavasya (no moon) night as a multitude of pilgrims gathers here. One will also find an ancient tank along with many temples. Every year in November, starting on the full-moon night, there is a four-day fair held that invites visitors from around the region.
Durgiana Temple (near the Golden Temple) is a traditional Hindu temple dedicated to Goddess Durga built in the 16th century. A well-known repository of Hindu scriptures, it draws a number of scholars and Hindu sages along with devotees who come here to worship Hindu deities, Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Narayan. The temple is also known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple.
The architecture of the temple resembles the style of the Golden Temple. It has canopies and a central dome and much like the famous gurdwara, it rises from the midst of a tank of holy water. It was rebuilt in the third decade of the 20th century by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, a great reformer and political leader of resurgent India. This temple, with its peaceful precincts, has beautifully engraved silver doors and is hence also known as the Silver Temple.
Golden Temple is the Sikh religion’s holiest shrine, a symbol of Sikhism and the religion’s most important pilgrimage center. Built to house the Guru Granth Sahib, it was completed in 1601 under Guru Arjan, the Fifth Sikh Guru, who declared it as the noblest of all places. The temple earned its name in 1803 when by Maharajah Ranjit Singh covered the upper part of the walls with sheets of gilded copper. Over the years the temple been the site of numerous conflicts and has been rebuilt many tomes. Afghans seized it and desecrated twice, in the 1750s and 1760s. The temples was damaged in fighting between Sikh separatist in the Indian government in the 1980s and was closed for a period of time. It is now open and completely restored. Non-Sikhs are welcome and greeted warmly.
The Golden Temple is known to Sikhs as the Harimandir (“House of God”), Darbar Sahib (“Royal Court”) or Sri Harmandir Sahib. It is located in the middle of a pond and connected to the shore by a 60-foot-long marble causeway. The pool is known as” amritsar” (the pool of the nectar of immortality), also the source of the city’s name, and is said to have transformed lepers into heathy men and turned crows into doves. Periodically thousands of Sikh devotees gather to clean silt from the pond. Pilgrims also gather around a 450-year-old tree, under which the temples’s first priest sat.
The Golden Temple is sheathed with gold. It glows in the sunlight, especially in the late afternoon. The domes are covered with gold leaf and the interior is decorated with delicate floral patterns and inlaid with semi-precious stones. Daily worship lasts from 4:00am to midnight and consist mainly of the chanting of hymns which can often be heard emanating from the temple.Steve McCurry wrote in National Geographic Traveler: “the atmosphere is contemplative yet festive. Music and chanting of devotional hymns always fill the temple; outside, people sit and chat with friends or take ceremonial baths. There’s a real sense of community, a feeling that this is the Sikhs’ place, a place where they belong.
One must cover one’s head and remove his/her footwear before entering the Golden Temple, as a mark of respect. As one listens to the beautiful notes of gurbani (spiritual songs), the serene spirituality of the temple soothes the soul. One can also partake of the free meal that is offered here to around 20,000 people every day at the Guru Ka Langar (community meal), regardless of caste, creed or gender. The entire process is managed by volunteers and is one of the most humbling experiences you can have.
The Golden Temple (Sri Harimandir Sahib) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The word `Sikh' itself is derived from the Sanskrit word `sishya' (of which the vernacular form is sikhya) meaning disciple/¬devoted follower. The same principle of universal participation is extended to planning and execution of the complex. In the center of the amrit-sass (pool of nectar) is the Harimandir (sanctum sanctorum), which is connected by the causeway to the `swarg dwarn' (Darshini Deori). Its location in the center of the pool symbolizes the synthesis of nirgun and sargun the spiritual and temporal realms of human existence. [Source: Ministry of Environment of Forests, Government of India]
Architecture of the Golden Temple
The architecture of the Golden Temple is spectacular. The base of the structure is a 6.2 square meter (67 feet square foot) marble slab. The temple is a two-storeyed structure with its top half covered in almost 400 kilograms of pure gold leaf, which is what earned it its English moniker.. The rest of the temple complex is built in white marble, inlaid with precious and semi-precious colorful stones. To create motifs, the pietra dura technique has been used. As is true with Sikh architecture the arches are decorated with floral engravings and verses from religious hymns.
At the main entrance is a gateway called the “Darshani Deoorbi”. Over this is a treasury with four sets of doors, jeweled canopies and golden spades that were used to dig the pool. Behind it are two watchtowers and an area where langer is taken. The main entrance boasts an imposing clock tower, which also has a Central Sikh Museum. From here, one can sight spectacular views of the shrine and its elegant silhouette in the Amrit Sarovar. A second entry is through the silver doors of the gorgeously embellished Darshani Deori, which leads onto the causeway that links the sanctum sanctorum with the Parikrama, the marbled surface surrounding the sarovar. In the northwest corner of the complex is the Jubi tree, which is believed to possess special powers. It is said to have been planted 450 years ago by the Golden Temple’s first high priest, Baba Buddha.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The exterior elevation of the shrine is a three storied composition over which are the low fluted dome in a gilt metal. The lowermost floor is submerged in the sarovar. One large hall forms the interior of the edifice, the ceiling of which are elaborately embellished. The internal spaces of Harimandir Sahib are named as "Sachkhand" The 'Prakash Asfhan' is the space, which houses the Guru Granth Sahib. The entire building including the external facade is richly decorated with floral design either inlayed in marble, painted in tempera or embossed in metal. [Source: Ministry of Environment of Forests, Government of India]
“The shrine is open from ail four sides and has a passage all around it. Towards the eastern side are the flights of steps, known as `har- ki pauri' descending into the sarovar structure appended to the main shrine. The staircase adjoining the `har-ki-pauri' leads to the first floor of the shrine. There is a small square pavilion surrounded by a low fluted golden dome in this storey. The interior of the pavilion is set with pieces of mirrors of different sizes and colors and hence is known as Shish Mahal.
“On the same axis of the temple and the causeway is the Akal Takht Sahib, the highest seat of authority in the religious hierarchy of the Sikhs, which stands facing the principle entrance. This is a five storied structure. Within the edifice is the chamber in which the Adi Granth -the holy book is placed- during night. It also houses the weapons belonging to Sikh Gurus and renowned warriors. The edifice though lies on the principle axis of the Harimandir, but is skewed and is oriented towards the east. On the northern side of the Akal Takht Sahib is the Shaheed Baba Gurbaksh Singh Ashton, Thara Sahib associated with Guru Tegh Bahadur and the two Nishan Sahib. In front of the edifice are two Nishan Sahibs (these are two poles with a flag, connected to each other) symbolizing Mid- Piri, the temporal and the spiritual powers. In front of this is the open multi activity space, also known as Gunnatha space, used for congregation activities.”
Parts of the Golden Temple
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: 2) Deories (Gateways): There are five Deories (gateways) in the Parikarma, which lead into the core-precinct. Deories (gateways) are all at a higher level than the core-precinct. To the interior side of these entrances have a descending flight of steps up to the level of the Parikarma. All these Deories have rooms within. The names of the Deories are; The Ghanta Ghar Deori, the Langar Deori, the Manji Sahib Deori, Atta Mandi Deoril Sikh Reference Library Deori and the Khazana Deori. Outside all these Deories are the Joda ghar (shoe house), where one leaves the footwear and then walk to `Chhabachha' wash their feet. [Source: Ministry of Environment of Forests, Government of India]
“3. Bunga: The word 'bunga' is derived from a Persian word, which means an abode, a rest house or a place of dwelling. During the Misl period- in the 18r" century, after the Sikhs had succeeded in establishing their military strength as the Dal Khalsa and emerged as a political power they consolidated their position in the Punjab with Amritsar as node. While undertaking the reconstruction of the temple (desecrated for the third time in 1762 by Ahmed Shah Abdali) the prominent Sikh chieftains built Bungas around the Parikarma of the Amrit saran. Though initially the idea was to provide a ready line of defense, but eventually it also served as a valuable institute of learning. Originally there were 74 bungers built between 1765 and 1833 around the Parikarma of the Harimandir Sahib. Adi Granth -the holy book- is placed there during night. It also houses the weapons belonging to Sikh Gurus and renowned warriors. The edifice though lies on the principle axis of the Harimandir, but is skewed and is oriented towards the east. On the northern side of the Akal Takht Sahib is the Shaheed Baba Gurbaksh Singh Ashtan, Thara Sahib associated with Guru Tegh Bahadur and the two Nishan Sahib. In front of the edifice are two Nishan Sahibs (these are two poles with a flag, connected to each other) symbolizing Mid- Pirl, the temporal and the spiritual powers. In front of this is the open multi activity space, also known as Gurmatha space, used for congregation activities.
“4) Langar: The Vangat' or the community kitchen is a very important institution for the Sikhs. The concepts of `langat' and 'sewn' demonstrate practically the philosophy of life as in 'truth is all important but alcove all is truth full living'. The philosophy stresses that spiritual empowerment and salvation is for all irrespective of caste and creed if one can live ones life on the principles. The Langar building in the complex is a three storied structure with exposed brick work. The ground and the first being used for the Langar and the third floor being used by the sewadars.
“This is an Octagonal shaped nine storied building, erected in the memory of Atal Rai, the younger son of Guru Hargobind, the seventh Sikh Guru. Baba Atal Gurudwara is 150 feet high and is the tallest building in the city of Amritsar. Nine stories represent the age (nine years) of Baba Atal. All the stories are not of the same height. First six stories are higher than the remaining three. The four doors of the ground floor are decorated with elegantly embossed designs on Brass and silver sheets. The interior walls and ceiling of the ground floor are covered with a number of murals and contains fresco in series. Guru Granth Sahib is kept in the Mata Kaulsar. The water tank situated towards the south west of the Golden Temple is known as Kaulsar (Lotus Tank) and the shrine as Gurudwara Asthan Mai Kaulan.
“5) Gurudwara Manji Sahib is situated in the Guru Ka Bagh turned now into a very spacious lecture hall. 6) Gurudwara Baba Atal: This is an Octogonal shaped nine storeyed building, and was erected in the memory of Atal Rai, the younger son of Guru Hargobind, the seventh Sikh Guru. Baba Atal Gurudwara is 150 feet high and is the tallest building in the city of Amristar. Nine storeys represent the age (nine years) of Baba Atal. All the storeys are not of the same height. First six storeys are higher than the remaining three. The four doors of the ground floor are decorated with elegantly embossed designs on Brss and silver sheets. The interior walls and ceiling of the ground floor are covered with a number of murals and contains fresco in series. Guru Granth Sahib is kept in the ground floor of the building. 7) Mata Kaulsar: The water tank situated towards the south west of the Golden Temple is known as Kaulsar (Lotus Tank) and the shrine as Gurudwana Asthan Mai Kaulan.”
Important Places in the Golden Temple
During the day, the holy book of the Sikhs – the Granth Sahib – is kept inside the temple. At night, it is taken to the Akal Takth or Eternal Throne, that houses ancient weaponry earlier used by Sikh warriors. There are other famous temples surrounding Sri Harmandir Sahib, including the Durgiana Temple as well as a beautiful garden and the tower of Baba Atal. It is said that sage Valmiki wrote the epic Ramayana in this sacred place.
Akal Takht is one of the five seats of the Sikh religious authority. The word 'akal' translates into timeless one and 'takht' means throne. Thus, Akal Takht literally means the throne of the immortal. It was built by the sixth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Hargobind Ji, who laid the foundation stone in 1605. The takht was a symbol against the tyranny of the rulers and represented justice in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is the highest seat of the Khalsa, which is a military and civil authority of the Sikhs. The weaponry that was used by Sikh warriors in those times is also housed here. The takht is situated within the Golden Temple complex. The building faces the Darshini Deorhi, which then leads to the temple.
The Akhal Takht houses the Guru Granth Sahib — the most sacred Sikh text — at night and was built the sixth Sikh Guru Guru Hargobind and rebuilt in 1984 after it seriously damaged following clashes between Sikhs and the Indian government. It used to house the relics and weapons of the last five Gurus. Now it is used as a conference center and has been the site of important political and religious discussions. In the main temple, the Harimandir, Guru Grangth Sahib installed every morning at 5:00am. It has four entrances symbolizing that it is open to everyone. The guards wear huge turbans flowing garments and have long beards and are armed with long swords and spears. There are often hundreds of pilgrims in line, waiting to pay respect to the Sikhs’ holy book.
Baba Atal Rai Tower is situated to the south of the Golden Temple. At a height of 40 meters, it is a nine-storeyed tower and one of the tallest buildings in Amritsar. According to legend Atal Rai, the son of the sixth Guru Hargobind, revived a dead friend, Mohan. Guru Hargobind rebuked the nine-year-old child for displaying his spiritual powers. In order to compensate for breaking the law, Atal Rai took samadhi. Each floor of this octagonal tower represents a year of Atal’s life. Initially, the structure was built as a tower, but eventually, it was transformed into a gurudwara. The first floor of the tower houses a number of miniature works depicting scenes from Guru Nanak's life. One can also get a sweeping and panoramic view of the city of Amritsar from the top of the tower.
Golden Temple Interpretation Center is an intriguing multimedia museum that tells important stories from Sikhism through four 15-minute videos that are first projected on an inverted pyramid and then a 180-degree cinema. After this, they are screened over a 3D scale model of the Golden Temple and then on a projector in a shrine-like room. The videos also do interesting storytellings on the significance of the Golden Temple. The center lies outside the clock-tower entrance to the Golden Temple, underneath a marble square.
Pool and Walkway of the Golden Temple
The glistening temple is surrounded by Amrit Sarovar (pool of nectar), whose waters are said to have healing powers. One can also watch colorful fish swim in the lake’s clear blue waters as devotees take a dip in it. The temple has been designed keeping in mind the basic tenets of Sikhism that advocate universal brotherhood and all-inclusive ethos. Thus, it is accessible from all directions. A walkway lined with white marble buildings housing museums and offices surrounds the pond. Both the walkway and the causeway are often filled with pilgrims, which are often families that spend a couple of days around the temple.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Parikarma (circumarnbulatory path): There is a Parikarma all around the amrit- saras. The Parikarma has a raised platform towards the sarovar and a colonnaded space and series of rooms onto the other side. There are four shrines, which define the inner periphery of the Parikarma and stand as a symbolic sign within the core-precinct. Pilgrims, while taking a Parikarma pause by these points and pay respect. They are (starting from Darshani Dow! and moving in clockwise direction) Lachi ber, Baba Budha ji ber and Dukh Bhenjini ber and the holy shrine of Baba Deep Singh.[Source: Ministry of Environment of Forests, Government of India]
There are three pons- enclosures made as bathing space for women. Along the same principle axis of the Harimandir-Akal Takht Sahib is Dukh Bhanjini ber, which is towards the Har ki pauri Dukh bhanjini beri also has a small platform adjacent to it, with a small shrine on the platform, which signifies Ath Safh Teerth (68 holy places). Rooms opposite to all these holy shrines house the granthis. The other rooms served the Harimandir Sahib in some way or the other. One of the rooms contains the SGPC office. The rooms' abutting the Gurmathe space is kerha prasad room (where the Prasad or the sacred sweet is prepared and served). Ghhabils drinking water facility is provided in all the four corners of the outer Parikarma.
Pilgrims at the Golden Temple
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Sikh men are identifiable by the turbans and beards their faith requires the orthodox to wear, but their distinctive theology and remarkable history remain little known beyond India's borders. Their most sacred shrine embodies both. We joined a stream of chattering pilgrims and, with covered heads and bare feet, stepped through the main gateway — and into another world. The cacophony of the city fell away. The waters of the broad sacred pool mirrored a brilliant sky. The sun gleamed on the white marble cloister that surrounds the pool and burned so brightly on the temple built on the island in its center that it seemed almost aflame. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
“The pilgrims around us fell silent. Some shut their eyes and folded their hands. Others fell to their knees and touched their foreheads to the ground. The complex is built at a level lower than the surrounding streets so that poor and high-born worshipers alike are forced to humble themselves by climbing down into it. Gateways on all four sides are meant to welcome people of all castes and creeds. Volunteers cook and serve thousands of free meals for pilgrims each day and insist that those who eat them do so side by side. "There are no foes nor strangers," says Sikh scripture, "for we are all fellow beings."
“No one gawks here. No one demands money. Everyone seems content simply to be present in this holiest of places. The pilgrims make their slow, reverent clockwise way around the marble platform that edges the pool, past an old man with a white beard reaching nearly to his waist who gently lifts his infant grandson in and out of the sacred waters; a young mother on her knees patiently teaching her little girl the proper way to prostrate herself; a cleanshaven American Sikh, his head covered with a stars-and-stripes handkerchief, praying alongside his brand-new bride, her wrists hidden by bright red bridal bangles.
“The goal of every visitor is to follow the causeway that leads out to the gilded sanctum sanctorum and pay respects to the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book that is the sole object of Sikh veneration and was first installed there in 1604. Nanak, the first of the Sikh gurus (or "great teachers") whose thoughts are contained within its pages, was a 15th-century mystic with a simple message: "There is but One God. He is all that is." In the search for salvation, the only thing that matters is meditation on his name. "There is no Hindu," he said, "there is no Mussulman."
“Whether or not Nanak ever meant to found a religion, Sikhs believe he did. And this place, where his teachings and those of four of his nine successors were brought together by the fifth guru, has special meaning for them. "It is, quite simply, the core of their...being," the Sikh historian Patwant Singh has written. "It represents so many things they are immensely proud of: the vision of their gurus who gave it form and wrote the scriptures on the banks of the sacred waters; the courage of their forebears who died defending it; and the devotion with which others laid their abundant wealth before it in gratitude for the inspiration it has provided...over the centuries."”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020