In Brief: The Golden Temple

No Comments | May 2010

The Golden Temple, also known as Harmandir Sahib and God’s Temple, is located in the northern Punjab city of Amritsar, India. It is an important place of worship and pilgrimage for members of the Sikh faith. It remains open to visitors and pilgrims alike 24 hours a day, all year round. The temple houses the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib.

History and Significance

Guru Baba Nanak (1469-1539), founder of Sikhism, used to retreat to the Amritsar area for prayers and meditation. He sought the peace and seclusion of the small forest lake here. After his demise his disciples continued to frequent the site and over time it became an important shrine. The fourth Guru, Sri Ram Das Ji, purchased the surrounding lands, and in 1577 he began work on the construction of a personal residence and a man-made lake, the Amrit Sarovar, on which the Golden Temple sits. The town flourished and in January 1588 a Muslim saint, Sain Mian Mir, laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple. The fifth master of the Sikhs, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, initiated its construction that took thirteen years.

Originally it was a mud structure. In 1803 Amritsar was included in the dominion of the Sikh king, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and under his rule the temple was redesigned and rebuilt giving it its present day look. It was made into an intricate marble structure with a gilt roof and upper storey.

Architecture

The Golden Temple is named so because of its gilt roof and upper storey. What is striking about the architecture is the way it appears to sit on a pool of water; the entire building, including its gold shimmering roof, is reflected in the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar).

An underground spring feeds this man-made lake and pilgrims immerse themselves in the pool as a symbolic cleansing of the soul. The Pool of Nectar is in turn surrounded by a number of majestic domed-roof buildings which form part of the temple complex.

The temple is a two storey square marble structure. The upper walls and the roof are covered with gold-leafed copper sheets. The roof is domed with minarets in all four corners – a Muslim influence. The four doors of the temple symbolise its openness to people from all corners of the earth: north, south, east and west.

To enter the sanctuary one has to walk through the arched Darshani Darwaza onto a walkway over the Pool of Nectar. The other end of the walkway ends at the north door of the temple.

The temple houses the Adi Granth (the first book), which is a compilation of Sikh scriptures in the Gurmukhi script (Gurmukhi is an archaic version of the Punjabi language). The Adi Granth is also known as the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. On its 1430 pages are various devotional hymns describing God’s attributes. In October 1708 Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh master, declared the text to be his successor thereby terminating the human line of Sikh Gurus and investing the text as the eleventh and final Guru. In fact, the Guru Granth Sahib is considered a ‘juristic person’ by the Supreme Court of India. Sikhs believe that it contains guidance on all moral and religious questions for all times to come.

The Guru Granth Sahib is placed on the ground floor of the temple underneath a jewel-studded canopy. The upper storey of the temple has a mirrored ceiling and mirrored walls and a square opening in the floor that looks down onto the lower level.

Outer Buildings and Activities

The Nectar Pool is surrounded by a number of edifices one of which is a community kitchen (langar). The langar is a tradition started by Guru Nanak himself and one which continues today. Food is served there free of charge, 24 hours a day to anyone who requests it. Niwas, or inns take up a significant portion of the complex. These are lodgings; some free of charge, others levy a fee for people requiring temporary accommodation. A Sikh museum and Sikh library form part of the compound.

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib is recited at a minimum of 35 different places in the complex. Each reading takes 48 hours and is carried out by a number of people in a series of shifts. At night the Guru Granth Sahib is housed in the Akal Takht (Divine Throne) that is directly opposite the main gate to the temple. The Akal Takht is also traditionally the place for assembly and from where edicts and guidance are issued.

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