Structure of Harmandar Sahib

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Darbar Sahib

Harmandar Sahib

The Golden Temple or Sri Harmandar Sahib is the most popular of all Sikh shrines. Sikh places of worship or Sikh shrines are called Gurdwaras. The Sri Harmandar Sahib is located in Amritsar in Punjab, North India.

Over the years the city has come to be known by the name of the Holy pool in which the Harmandar Sahib stands. Located in the center of the huge "Amritsar" (the pool of nectar) the Harmandar (sanctum sanctorum) symbolizes the synthesis of nirgun and sargun (the spiritual and temporal realms of human existence) for the Sikhs.

The "Mandir" is reached by a causeway from the `swarg dwarn' or Darshini Deori (gateway). From the outside the Mandir seems to be floating on the water's surface, but the first floor is actually submerged in the sarovar and can only be seen during Kar Sewa when the pool is drained and cleaned. Above the water there are two floors and a roof Pavilion. The exterior of the first is clad in marble panels with beautiful pietra dura (also used extensively at the Taj Mahal).

The exterior of the second floor (which includes a parapet that surrounds the roof of the Temple) is covered in heavily embossed metal panels which are covered in Gold, originally donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. On the roof of the Mandir there is an airy pavilion known as the Sheesh Mahal (the Mirrored Hall) whose interior is beset with a mosaic composed of pieces of mirror of many different shapes, sizes and colors; hence the name "Sheesh Mahal".

The fluted Gumbaz (dome) with its Bangladar roof is shaped like an inverted lotus; it took 220 lbs. of Gold to cover its surface. The top of the dome has a Kalash toped by a Chhatri. Inside the temple on its main floor there is one large hall which contains the Darbar Sahib (the Court of the Lord) in which the Guru Granth Sahib passes the hours of daylight. This hall dominates the interior of the Gurdwara. The interior walls and ceilings are elaborately embellished with inlayed marble, tempera paintings and embossed metalwork.

A Plan of the Harmandar Sahib Complex, click to enlarge

The internal spaces of Harmandar Sahib are named "Sachkhand", the 'Prakash Ashthan' is the space which houses the Guru Granth Sahib during the day. One enters the causeway at its western end going through the Darshani Deori. Along the causeway there are overhead fans, as it can get quite hot during the crowded summer months. The eastern end of the causeway attaches to the the 'Pardakshna', a 13ft. wide pathway that encircles the Mandir. The shrine has doors on each of its four sides. At the rear of the Gurdwara, facing the east and the morning Sun there is a flight of steps, known as the `Har ki Pauri' (Steps of God) which descend into the sarovar. The steps were named by Guru Arjan who would often sit here, during the construction of the sarovar. Visitors to the shrine often decend these steps to sip handfuls of Amrit. Returning to the Darshani Deori one can look up and see how the Gateway's exterior was, before the decision was made to whitewash its exterior. There is an amazing panoramic photo (super high definition) that allows one to zoom in close enough to see every detail of the rear of the Darshani Deori, the Golden Temple and much of the Parikarnama. The earlier exterior finish is visible above the causeway's cover. The photo can be seen at the Gigapan.org site at >  : [1] Using the controls to the left of the photo you can zoom right in on details.

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 story.

Akal Takht Sahib

Main article: Akal Takhat

At the western most end of the complex centered on its 'axis', but skewed just a few degrees to the left, sits the impressive Akal (eternal / lit.-never ending ) Takht (Persian for Throne) Sahib, the highest religious seat of authority for the Sikhs, which stands just outside the Khazana Deori, facing the Darshani Deori, the entrance to the causeway. Within the imposing five storied structure, is the chamber where the Adi Granth, the Sikhs' most holy book, is placed during the night. The Takht also houses weapons which belonged to Sikh Gurus and many of its renowned warriors, as well as many other treasures of Sikh history.

The Akal Takhat as the sun rises

On the Southern side of the Akal Takht is the Shaheed Baba Gurbaksh Singh Ashton. Jjust to the north of the Takht is the Gurdwara Thara Sahib, built at the spot were the 9th Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur rested after the Mahants, who then had control of the Harmandar Sahib, refused to allow him to enter the Temple. The Guru, whose long seclusion at Bakala had just been ended by the rooftop shouts of Makhan Shah, had come to Amritsar and the Mandir to pay his respects. His was the last visit of a human Guru of the Sikhs to Amritsar.

Just in front of the Takht on its left are two Nishan Sahibs (flagpoles) connected with an x shaped brace of metal which invokes the memory of Miri and Piri, the two swords of Guru Hargobind, the Guru who had the Akal Takht constructed, which symbolized the temporal and the spiritual powers of the Guru and the Sikhs. The cross braces of the Nishan Sahibs have a circular plaque at their intersection which is embossed with the Ek Onkar Emblem. It is no accident that the two masts are not of the same height, as the one representing the spiritual or Heavenly realm is seen as the more important of the two.

In front of the Nishan Sahibs is an expansive multi-activity space, known as the Gunnatha, which is often used for Congregational activities. Each morning at sunrise the area fills with Sikhs and other visitors to the Temple who have come to catch a glimpse or Darshan of the Sikh Holy Bir as it is carried on its bejewelled palki to the Harmandar Sahib for the day. The scene is repeated again each night as the sun sinks in the west over the Akal Takht.

Parikarma

The Parikarma the circumnambulatory pathway which surrounds the amritsar has a raised platform towards the sarovar and a colonnaded space and series of rooms onto the other side. There are four shrines located around the Parikarma where Pilgrims, who circumnambulate the whole Parikarma before entering the Darshani Deori, pause to pay their respects. Starting from the Darshani Deori, (visitors to the Gurdwara usually enter at the Ghanta Ghat Deori (the Clocktower) the Gurdwara's main entrance), and moving in a clockwise direction the Lachi beri (small jujube tree); with Lachi sized nuts, Baba Budha ji beri, Dukh Bhanjani beri and around the next turn is the shrine of Baba Deep Singh (who died at the very spot where his shrine has been placed) defending the Harmander from an attack.

There are three pons, (enclosures) which have been placed to allow women to enter the Sarovar in privacy.

Next to the Gurdwara Dukh Bhanjani Beri, is a small platform with a shrine which signifies Ath Sath-Tirath (68 holy places). Rooms across the Parikarma from all of these holy shrines house the granthis. One of the rooms contains the SGPC office. At the far end of the sarovar the rooms abutting the Gurmathe area are the 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.

Deories (Gateways)

There are five Deories (gateways) around the complex which allow entry to the Parikarma. A set of several steps at the interior facade of the Deories thakes one down to the Parikarma, which is below the ground level outside the walls of the complex. All the Deories have rooms along their passageways. The names of the Deories are; The Ghanta Ghar Deori, the Langar Deori, the Manji Sahib Deori, Atta Mandi Deori, Sikh Reference Library Deori and the Khazana Deori. Outside each Deori there is a Joda ghar (shoe house), where one leaves their footwear before walking through a `Chhabachha' (a shallow pool) of water that 'washes' one's feet.

Bunga

The Darbar sahib was once surrounded by many Bungas
Main article: Bungas (Amritsar)

The word 'bunga' is derived from an Indian word, which means an abode, a rest house or quarters or a place or dwelling. The western word bungalow (a small house) derives from this same root.

During the reign of the Mughal Emperors the temple was blown up with gunpowder or destroyed by other means no less then seven times. But each time it was rebuilt by the Sikhs. When it was demolished the last time, and the Sardars of the 12 Misls assembled at the Akal Bunga (situated in the front of the temple) to consult about the reconstruction of the temple. It was rightly thought that it would be no use to rebuild the temple unless some of the Khalsa leaders remained in it for its protection against their enemies.

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 sarovar. Initially the idea was to provide a ready line of defense, but eventually they grew to serve as valuable institutes of learning. Originally there were 74 bungas built between 1765 and 1833 ringing the Parikarma of the Harimandir Sahib.

Ramgarhia bunga

RamgharhiaBunga.jpg
Main article: Ramgarhia bunga

The Ramgaria bunga is the largest and most famous of these bungas and is noted for its minars, originally used as watch towers. It abutts the Guru ka Langar at its rear and the upper balcony, looking out on the sarovar (pool), has the huge 'Coronation Stone' on which Mughal Emperors were 'crowned'. Actually coronation is the wrong term as a Dastar (or turban) and kalgi were used rather than a crown.

The history of the Ramgarhia Bunga (Punjabi word for quarters) is inseparable from the history of the Golden Temple because its very existence is dependent on the latter.

Langar

Main article: Kitchen that feeds 100,000 daily

The Pangat or the concept of a "community kitchen" is a very old tradition an important institution for the Sikhs. The concepts of `langar' (a free communal kitchen open to all) and 'sewa' (selfless service) demonstrate the philosophy of life as in ('truth is all important, but above all is truthful living') a philosophy which stresses that spiritual empowerment and salvation are attainable by all, regardless of caste and creed (ideas born of men) if one lives one's life in service to his fellow men/women.

It is also by design that the old tradition of Langar in [Sikhi]] encourages the serving of food (vegetarian) that allows almost anyone (save those of many cults who drink only from wells dug by members of their own religion and eat food prepared by members of their own religion) to sit among his/her 'sisters' and 'brothers' - fellow children of the same Kartar (Creator) and enjoy a meal in fellowship.

People sit on the floor together as equals and eat the same simple food at the eating hall of the Golden Temple langar./Showkat Shafi

By all measures, the free kitchen (called Langar in Punjabi ) is one of the largest free kitchens to be run anywhere in the world. The concept of langar was initiated centuries ago by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion.

At the Langar, no one goes hungry - and everybody gets a hot meal regardless of caste, creed and religion. All Sikh Gurdwaras (places of worship) have Langar, but the one at Golden Temple - Sikhs' holiest shrine - has little parallel.

Two hundred thousand Rotis - Chapattis (Indian flat bread), 1.5 tons of Daal (lentil soup) and free food served to 100,000 people every single day are what makes the free kitchen run at the Golden Temple in the western Indian city of Amritsar stand apart.

The kitchen is run by 450 staff, helped by hundreds of other volunteers. Sanjay Arora, 46, from New Delhi, comes to volunteer at the langar two days every month. “This is KAR-SEVA (do-service) for me. I feel happy after doing this service. It’s is not just free food, here you forget all the differences that separates humans from each other,” he says.

Volunteers also wash the 300,000 plates, spoons and bowls used in feeding the people. The food is vegetarian and the expenses are managed through donations from all over the world. The yearly budget of the langar runs into hundreds of millions. One has to see it to believe.

Here the huge Langar building is a three storied structure with exposed brick work. The ground and the first floor are used for the Langar, which feeds thousands of Pilgrims throughout the day. The third floor is used by the sewadars.

Gurdwara Manji Sahib

Gurdwara Manji Sahib is situated in the Guru Ka Bagh. Its name is derived from the Panjabi word Manji (a small cot). The term is also used by Sikhs in the same way as Cathedral (literally the seat or chair) of a diocese or parrish is used in the Catholic religion. Today the Gurudwara Manji Sahib has been turned into a very spacious lecture hall.

Gurdwara Baba Atal

Gurdwara Baba Atal at the end of the Lotus Tank
Main article: Gurdwara Baba Atal

This Octagonal building, located at the right rear of the Harmandar Sahib complex at the eastern end of the Sarovar Kaulsar, was erected in the memory of Atal Rai the younger son of the seventh Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind. The 9 story Gurudwara is 150 feet high; the tallest building in the city of Amritsar. The nine stories represent the nine years of Baba Atal's short life. The stories are not of the same height. The first six storeys are taller 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 many murals and frescoes which relate many scenes of Sikh history. The Guru Granth Sahib is kept in the ground floor of the building. There is also a Langar located nearby.

Mata Kaulsar

Gurdwara Mata Kaulan at the side of the Sarvor Kaulsar

The sarovar situated towards the south east of the Golden Temple is known as the Sarovar Kaulsar (Lotus Tank). The excavation of the Kaulsar was started in 1624 and completed in 1627 under the supervision of Baba Budha ji, first head granthi of the Golden Temple. Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh guru, had directed that the devotees take a dip in the Sarovar Kaulsar before the Golden Temple sarovar. This tank is another of the five holy tanks (Sarovars) in Amritsar the others are Santokhsar, Bibeksar, Ramsar and the Amritsar just mentioned.

An undated painting of the Harmandar Sahib in the past

In March 2004, the karseva of this Tank, the first to be named after a Hindu woman, was completed.

She had been adopted as a child, by a Mughal official who threatened her with death. Her adoptive father had become angered because she refused to convert to Islam. Mata Kaulan was given a small home here where she lived out her life under the protection of Guru Hargobind, after his friend Saint Hazrat Mian Mir, who had laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple, secretly brought her to Amritsar. Mata Kaulan's shrine, the Asthan Mai Kaulan is at the western end of the tanki.


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