Golden Temple

From SikhiWiki
(Redirected from Harmandir Sahib)
Jump to navigationJump to search
Bird's eye view of Harimandir Sahib and Amritsar. Click for detailed view [1].

Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji ("The abode of God"), also known as Sri Darbar Sahib Ji, and informally referred to as the Golden Temple, is a Gurdwara located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. It is one of the most revered spiritual sites of Sikhism.

Amritsar (literally, "the tank of nectar of immortality") was founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji. The fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, designed the Harmandir Sahib to be built in the center of this tank, and upon its construction, installed the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism, inside the Harmandir Sahib. The Harmandir Sahib complex is also home to the Akal Takht (the throne of the timeless one), constituted by the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji). While the Harmandir Sahib is regarded as the abode of God's spiritual attribute, the Akal Takht is the seat of God's temporal authority.

The construction of Harmandir Sahib was intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to worship God equally. The four entrances (representing the four directions) to get into the Harmandir Sahib also symbolize the openness of the Sikhs towards all people and religions. Over 100,000 people visit the shrine daily for worship, and also partake jointly in the free community kitchen and meal (Langar) regardless of any distinctions, a tradition that is a hallmark of all Sikh Gurudwaras.

The present-day Gurdwara was renovated in 1764 by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with the help of other Sikh Misls. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the Gurdwara with 750 kg of gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and its English name.

"The Abode of God"

"Shining in the morning light, the gilded splendour of its panelling, big dome and small minarets, this temple is a fairy world palace to the devotees of the Sikh faith. Certainly, the first look brings onto the innocent eye the image of a transcendent fact. The 'loving sight' peering into heaven from the legends of the miraculous cures by the touch of the water in the pool of nectar, in which the shrine stands makes for ecstatic awareness. The vision has been received by millions of pilgrims who have come here for centuries from near and far." (quoted from a devotee)

Of great historical, spiritual, and emotional significance to the Sikhs, this Gurdwara was first conceived by Guru Amar Das, but its actual construction was begun under the supervision of Guru Ram Das his successor. The Temple had modest beginnings, a house built of sun dried mud bricks was the first building constructed by Guru Amar Das. Guru Amar Das is said to have found 'a medicinal herb growing at the edge of the pool, which cured a skin ailment of his master Guru Angad the 'second Nanak'. For many years the Amrit Sarovar remained little more than a village tank, until the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji, began to carry out the plans of his mentor, Guru Amar Das Ji, for a more permanent structure built of kiln fired brick.

"The Golden Temple"

Around the world, to non-Sikhs, the Harimander Sahib is, perhaps, better known by its English 'sobriquet' - a name given to the Temple because of the lavish gold plating that adorns the walls of its two upper floors, which include its dome, the airy Shish Mahal, where three Gurus spent many hours, and its minarettes. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the great Sikh Maharaja of the only Sikh state to never be ruled by the British during his lifetime was, besides one of the greatest generals of military history, one of the few rulers of India to serve his Kingdom and its subjects of, various religions, with an eye to the equality of all. He was also a great patron of the arts. During his lifetime, he had strived to bring all the Sikhs under the rule of one great Khalsa Kingdom. When he gained control of Amritsar, he used much of the great excess wealth that Punjab produced to rebuild many Gurdwaras associated with the days of the Gurus, as well as having many more constructed.

He was, along with his grandson, Nau Nihal Singh, very generous in his patronage of the Gurdwara at Tarn Taran, but the Harmandir Sahib held that same special place in his heart, that it holds for all Sikhs. Here, he contributed tons of gold to cover the exterior walls of the Gurdwara's two upper floor's, ornately fashioned metal panels. The beautiful dome, shaped like an inverted lotus, which sits above the curved bangaldar roof of its Shish Mahal, alone was covered in 220 lbs. of the precious metal.

(The SGPC in March 2005 has prohibited Sikhs from referring to the Sri Harmandir Sahib as the Golden Temple.)

The Tank that lends the City its Name

The city in which the temple is located is now known by the name of its Holy tank the Amritsar (pool of nectar). Amritsar is located in East Punjab at the North West border of India. It is the most sacred and the most visited of the many historic Sikh shrines spread across India, Pakistan and the world.

In 2002, the Temples gold plating was replaced with new gold plates. In 1604, the newly compiled Adi Granth was housed here for the first time.


Adi Granth

The Fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev ji sat on the floor with the rest of the congregation while the Adi Granth was placed on a high platform or Takhat.

Freedom and Equality strikes fear

When one wishes to attack or destroy an enemy, the easyest way was for the leader of one one side to challenge the leader of the other side, usually the fiercest warrior of each side, to personal combat. Such was the story of David and Goliath, recorded in the Bible. The army of the losing side was honor bound to leave the battle field. Such tactics were often used by the Sikh Gurus to win a battle with those who had decided to punish or destroy Sikhi. One of the first attacks on the Harmandar Sahib was thwarted in this way.

Being men of peace who many times later rode to the defense or aid of those who had earlier attacked them, the Sikhs way of life attracted increasing number of converts to the young religion in its early years. Of course these new Sikhs came from the long established religions of Punjab, mainly the Hindu and Muslim religions which themselves had long been engaged in a war for the minds of the people of Panjab and India. Feeling threatened the priests and rulers of each of these religions took actions to stem the tide of their 'apostates'.

The main Hall at the Golden Temple

The Sikhs Gurus and their devotees (Sikhs) spoke of, espoused and lived in freedom and equality, not just for their men, but even for their women. In an area of the world where men and especially men of religion had (still often do, i.e. the Taliban) enjoy immense priviledges: education, better food, political control and power-even slaves, the attraction of Sikhi threatened their continued easy lives. The Sikhs were definitely 'rocking the boat'.

Like the Fabled Phoenix

So after they were unable to defeat the Sikhs and their Gurus in battle, they turned their attentions to the 'Religious Head of the Sikhs', the Akal Takhat (which housed the Sikh's 11th Guru the SGGS) and Sikhisms' most holy Temple - the Harmandar Sahib.

As Aurangzeb had once thought that he could destroy Hinduism in India by converting all of the respected Kashmiri Pandits, the Jihadists, whether the later Mughals or the Persians and Afganis who folloowed them thought that if they could only destroy or defile the Harmandar Sahib, they could break the back of the Sikhs.

Over the years the Temple has suffered many attacks, been pulled down and even had its Sarovar filled in or defiled with the carcasses of slaughtered animals, but like the fabled temples of China and Japan which are torn down and rebuilt to insure their continuance (they remain as new in appearance as the day they were first built). The attackers found that the backs of the Sikhs as well as the back of the religion proved impossible to break, for the Temple was always rebuilt, each time growing stronger and more beautiful than before. Many of the attackers found that the Sikhs were capable of seeing that the perpatrators of such deeds received earthly punishment, despite their seeming safety among their guards - i.e Massa Rangarh. The names of Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Deep Singh, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Bhai Sukha Singh and Bhai Mehtab Singh will always be remembered for their actions in defense of the Temple.

The Golden Temple

In one of the last centuries most trajic events; an attack, said to be aimed mainly at the Akal Takhat, (the seat of the Governing body of the Sikhs which housed many weapons of the Gurus; swords, flagstaffs, priceless and unreplaceable hand scribed documents; as well as serving as the home of the SGGS at night) by the Indian army (June of 1984) caused severe damage to the Akal Takhat and the whole complex. A bullets or a piece of sharpnel hit and killed one Sewadar inside the temple itself). Even the SGGS being read by a Granthi was pierced by a bullet. The beautifull marble slabs that cover the Parikarma (the promenade that surrounds the Sarovar) were cut deeply, some even broken as the Indian army called in heavy tanks whose tracks cut deeply into the marble. Besides being damaged by the tanks, the blood of the attackers, the occupiers and unknown numbers of innocent pilgrims (men, women and children) flowed from the bodies that covered the walkway, staining the marble and filling the motar between each slab. Repacing the marble was a monumental task.

Plan of the Complex

Main article: Structure of Harmandar Sahib

The Temple appears to rise from the beautiful blue waters of its surrounding Sarovar. Its upper walls and Lotus Dome stretch toward the sky reflecting the rays of the Golden Sun above. The Sarovar is surrounded by a Parikarma or Causeway, which is used by the devotees to walk in a clockwise circle around the Sarovar stopping at the many spots associated with Sikh history and the Gurdwaras defenders, before crossing the causeway into the the Harmandar Sahib itself, the throne of the holy Sri Guru Granth Sahib during the day; the central hub of all Sikh religious activity.

A Plan of the Harmandar Sahib Complex, click to enlarge

During the daylight hours continuous Kirtan and Gurbani recital takes place. The Temple has 4 doors which face the four cardinal directions East, West, North and South. As Guru Arjan was aware that the other religions of the world use a specific direction for the layout of their houses of worship he had a door placed so that anyone could enter the Temple from the direction his religion dictated. A leading Sufi Sant of the Moslem religion Hazrat Mian Mir, was asked to lay the cornerstone of the Gurdwara's foundation. As it was on the first day the Gurwara was opened, all visitors to the Temple, no matter their religion, caste, nationality, or social status are welcomed to this temple.

The Guru Granth and Harmandir Sahib

Guru Granth Sahib on the first floor of Harimandir Sahib

The Guru Granth Sahib, the 11th Guru of the Sikhs, lies literally at the heart of worship in the Harmandir Sahib complex, serving as the focus of attention and devotion in the Harmandir Sahib's sanctum. Other copies of the Guru Granth Sahib are continuously recited on the first floor of the building and in the Shish Mahal Pavilion on the Gurdwara's roof. The SGGS is also recited continuously at the other shrines in the complex: Baba Deep Singh, Lachi Ber, Thara Sahib, Shahidganj and the Akal Takhat. In addition, the compositions of the Gurus and Bhagats contained in the SGGS comprise most of the Kirtan sung in the Harimandir Sahib.

The SGGS is also central to Sikh worship in the Harimandir Sahib in another sense. The pattern of worship in the Harimandir Sahib reflects both the historical memory of the presence of the fourth, fifth and sixth Gurus in the city of Amritsar and the doctrine of the SGGS as the embodiment of the human Gurus. According to the Sikh tradition, the Gurus resided at the modern site of the Gurdawara Guru Ka Mahal in the heart of the old city and came daily to the Harmandir Sahib, often passing their time in the Shish Mahal (the mirrored room atop the Temple). After the addition of the Akal Takhat, costructed by Guru Hargobind, the Guru also spent time there on a daily basis.

Harimandir Sahib c.1840 Kapany Collection

Daily Timetable

The timetable followed inside the Harmandir Sahib recreates the traditional understanding of the period of Sikh history when the Gurus resided in Amritsar. The morning Kirtan begins in the sanctum of the Harimandir Sahib in the early morning with the singing of the lengthy composition Asa di Var, which is interrupted by the arrival of a procession from the Akal Takhat of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib being carried on a palanquin on the shoulders of Sevadars (volunteers).

The Sangat (congregation), those who have begun their day early enough to be among those to be first to fill the Temple, rises as the holy Granth is placed on the Singhasan (throne) in the centre of the sanctum and attendants then read verses from the Granth in praise of the Sikh Gurus, written by the Gurus' court poets, the Bhatts. The holy Granth is then ceremoniously opened and a Hukam (command) is taken by opening the text at random and reading the first composition on the open page.

This process is intended to recreate the daily routine followed during the time of the Gurus: the arrival of the Guru Granth at the Harmandar Sahib from the Akal Takhat, the praises sung in honour of the Gurus by court poets and others, and his first discourse of the day in the shrine. The Guru Granth Sahib then remains on its throne in the sanctum until the early evening, when it is again taken in procession on a palanquin to the Akal Takhat for its traditional night-time rest.

The contours of the day as enacted in the sanctum of the Harimandir Sahib therefore reflect and recreate, on a daily basis, the nexus between the Gurus and Amritsar, embodying in praxis the historical memory of the presence of three of the human Gurus in Amritsar. For modern Sikhs, the daily routine of the Harimandir Sahib also literally reflects the Sikh doctrine of the SGGS as the physical embodiment of the ten Human Gurus.


The Sikh Gurus

Landscape before the arrival of Guru Amardas

The foundation stone of the historic building was laid by a non-Sikh. The Guru gave the task of initiating the building to a Muslim, Saint Hazrat Mian Mir Ji, of Lahore, in December 1588. Can you imagine Julius II the Pope, who asked Michaelangelo to redesign the Vatican, asking him to find a Jewish Rabi to lay its cornerstone? The Guru had been asked by the previous Guru to find the Holiest man in India to lay the stone for the Gurdwara. Guru Arjan Dev Ji, in choosing his friend, Hazrat Mian Mir Ji, to lay the stone, showed the world the true message of religion, promoting Interfaith, dialogue, and interaction.

During the 1400 hundreds, the site had a small lake, which was surrounded by a wooded area. Travellers and holy people used the site for meditation and rest. These visitors recognised it for its special sense of tranquillity and its pure and sweet water. Historical records show that Gautama Buddha stayed for some time at this ancient lake even recommending it as a place for Sadhus and Rishis to meditate.

Alhough there is no 'paper trail' to prove the claim, it is thought that the land was gifted to Guru Ram Das's daughter as a present for her wedding to Guru Arjan.

The lake was enlarged and a small community was established during the leadership of the fourth Sikh Guru (Guru Ram Das, 1574-1581). It was during the leadership of the fifth Guru (Guru Arjan, 1581-1606), that the Golden Temple was built. It was completed in 1601.

Changes made between 1573-1606

The development of the Harmandar Sahib and Amritsar have gone hand in hand; the city was formerly known as Ramdaspur, and on construction of Harimandir Sahib became known as Amritsar. Guru Ram Das ji encouraged traders and businessmen to settle in the city with the development of the Guru Ka Bazaar and the market at Chowk Passian. During the times of the fifth and sixth Gurus, plans were made and implemented to expand the city; wells and baolis were constructed to supply water to the ever growing groups of pilgrims. The garden, Guru Ka Bagh was laid out to the south-east of the Harmandir. The area surrounding the temple was developed into markets, gardens, homes and residential palaces. Guru Arjan Dev ji also lived in one of these newly constructed houses.

Guru Arjan Dev ji's martyrdom in 1606 gave a new direction to the faith and to the development of the city. Guru Hargobind added the political-temporal aspect to the spiritual aspect of Sikhism. This led to the construction of the Akal Takhat within the precinct space, a fortress named Lohgarh (lit. fort of steel) outside it, and a wall around the city to protect it from those who began to fear, envy and even attack the Sikhs.

Guru Hargobind also constructed the Chaurasi Atari adjoining the Guru Ka Bazaar and a new garden Akalian da Bagh adjacent to the Guru Ka Bagh in 1609.

The Struggle Period

Darbar Sahib as seen from Dukh Bhanjan

The seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth Gurus did not make any additions to the Harimandir or the city. During this period the masands looked after the Harimandir and are known to have mismanaged the temple. At this time the Sikhs were engaged in several battles against corrupt practices and Mughal rulers. All efforts were directed towards protecting the Harimandir from desecration.

After the passing of Guru Gobind Singh ji in 1708, the Sikhs passed through a very critical phase where they were 'legally hunted and killed, with prices having been fixed on their heads. It was during this period that the Harimandir Sahib was damaged and/or demolished five times. Each time the Sikhs took the earliest opportunity to rebuild it. It was in 1762 that Ahmad Shah blew up the building with gunpowder, but the Sikhs rallied to return to Amritsar and celebrated the festival of Diwali a few months later.

In January 1764, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia took over Sirhind and then he and other Sikh chiefs gave a call for the reconstruction of the shrine. Money raised was deposited with Des Raj of Sursingh village and he was also entrusted with the supervision of the work. The edifice then raised on an earlier original design has since remained the same with minor alterations and embellishments.

The Misl Period (1707-1801)

Development during the Misl and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Periods

During the Misl period, when the Mughal Empire declined and the power of Sikh chiefs rose, many Bungas were built, not only to defend the Harimandir but to fortify the city. These were military establishments, but they also served as educational institutions and rest houses for pilgrims. New roads, forts and Bazaars were also constructed during this period.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1801-39)

The inscription above the outer walls entrance to the Harimandir Sahib reads, after the Mool Mantar: "The Great Guru in His wisdom looked upon Maharaja Ranjit Singh as his chief servitor and Sikh, and in his benevolence, bestowed on him the privilege of serving the Temple."

The Parikarma around the Sarovar was made in 1784, Later after 1801, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh had defeated the Misl chiefs and established his headquarters in Lahore, the shrine was embellished and ornamented with gold. This process commenced in 1802 and the work included the application of inlaid marble panels onto the outer face of the building, richly embossed gilded metal sheets and a range of fresco techniques. Maharaja Ranjit Singh also constructed the Gobindgarh fort in 1805-09 along with his own summer palace and a series of gardens and canals.

The British Period (1849-1947)

The British took over the management of the Harimandir on the annexation of the Punjab (1849-1947). During their time they built several administrative buildings, railways, churches and roads within Amritsar. The clock tower was built in 1862 and with this the direction of the main entrance to the precinct of Harimandir Sahib was changed from the west to the north.


Main article: Bluestar
"1984" by Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, recalling the bloody attack on the Gurdwara


Many other Sikh centres exist in India, even other Takhats, but this Gurdwara and its Complex has become World famous, popular not only among Sikhs as a place of pilgrimage, but for its admirers of many religions.

The establishment of Sri Harimandir Sahib during the late 1500 hundreds was a most significant achievement as the Sikh Gurus saw to its establisment as a centre of excellence, inspiration and action for the faiths many followers spread around the world. The popularity and importance of this Crown Jewel of Sikh Gurdwaras has made the whole of this region a prosperous an important economic hub, as well as the preimminent centre of Sikh activity.

Many administrative and economic institutes now have bases in the city of Amritsar. By the creation of this city the Gurus created an important city which today boosts an International Airport, University, which also serves as a Regional Capital.

See Also


Component plan of Harimandir Sahib and Surrounding Area

External Links

The Golden Temple


To see an amazing photo of the Golden Temple (in which one can navigate around and zoom to close details, click here [2]. This and other amazing views of the world's architecture can be viewed at


  • Nomination of Sri Harimandir Sahib for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List Vol.1 Nomination Dossier, India 2003
  • editor and publisher: Swati Mitra (2004). Walking with the Gurus: Historical Gurdwaras of Punjab. Good Earth Publications. ISBN 8187780231.
Aerial view of Harmandar Sahib