The Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, is the most sacred shrine in Sikhism. It was officially renamed Harmandir Sahib (meaning the temple of God) in March 2005. The golden temple must be on one’s bucket list if you plan to visit Amritsar, since it is a popular tourist attraction.
In 1574, a piece of land was gifted by the Mughal emperor Akbar, to Bibi Bhani, daughter of Third Guru Amar Das, as a wedding gift when she married the Fourth Guru Raam Das. This is where the Golden Temple was later constaructed. The building project was overseen by the fourth and fifth Sikh Gurus. The temple was completed in 1601, but renovation continued over the years from time to time.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a warrior king who large heartedly donated money and materials for the development of the shrine. In the early 19th Century, the dome of the temple was covered with 100 kilograms of gold and decorative marble, under Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule. He is still remembered with much fondness by the Sikh community for his generous donations.
The many attractions
The Golden Temple is open to people from all walks of life, irrespective of their caste, race, creed, religion or status in society. The only restrictions on the visitors are that they must not drink alcohol, eat meat or smoke in the shrine.
The most sacred part of the whole Golden Temple complex is the main temple known as the Hari Mandiror Darbar Sahib (Court of the Lord).
It is the golden structure, surrounded by a large body of water. The gold-plated building features copper cupolas and the walls are made of white marbles. Islamic style floral patterns made of precious stones decorate the walls. The structure is engraved with verses from the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib.
The large water body known as the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar)surrounds the main temple. It is from this sacred body of water that Amritsar gets its name. It is said to have healing powers, and pilgrims from across the world come to bathe in these holy waters.
The temple is approached by doing the Parikrama (a religious practice) in a clockwise direction, around the sacred pool. Connecting this area with the Hari Mandir is a marble path called the Guru’s Bridge. It is said that this pathway covers the journey of the soul after death. The main gate that opens to the Guru’s Bridge is called the ‘Darshani Deorhi’ and has awe inspiring silver doors.
The scriptures from the Holy Book (Guru Granth Sahib) are sung beneath an umbrella studded with jewels. A chauri (feathered broom) is continuously waved above the Book as devotees touch their foreheads to the temple floor and walls, paying their respects.
Another important feature of the Golden Temple complex is the Guru-ka-Langar. It is a huge dining hall where almost 35,000 people are fed without any charge by temple volunteers everyday. Everyone sits on the floor, regardless of their caste, status, race or creed, giving out a powerful message of equality among the people, a thought which is at the core of the Sikh doctrine.
Central Sikh Museum
The Central Sikh Museum, located at the main entrance, has galleries that display photos, remembrances of Sikh gurus, warriors, and saints showcasing their history in a narrative form. It also includes some graphic portraits conveying the story of torture and execution of gurus.
Every night, the Guru Granth Sahib is carried by temple volunteers along the Guru’s Bridge to the Akal Takht, the seat of the Khalsa brotherhood.
This queue of temple volunteers is called the Palki Sahib. This ceremony provides a chance to all male pilgrims and visitors to shoulder the holy book for a few seconds before passing it along, forming a human conveyer belt. The ceremony takes place at a fixed time: 11pm in summers and 9:30 pm in winters.The shrine has four entrances in all four directions which signify that people belonging to every walk of life are welcomed with no discrimination.