First Golden temple of India
The Golden Tribute to Secularism - Facts and Fascination with the Golden Temple
What draws people to a temple, besides their search for spiritual retribution? Is it the architecture, the stories, the rituals or could it be the enticing gleam of gold that sets it miles apart from other temples?
The gold which we use to adorn ourselves has transcended human use and taken a place of pride as adornments on temple deities. But going a step further, in a way of trying to replicate the fantasy of Golden palaces and
structures that float through the heavens, gold has become a feature of the temple itself. Massive Golden monuments to the Gods have risen in recent times that leave one speechless and awestruck upon their sight.
We can now name many examples of such Golden temples, but the appeal of the first ever Golden temple is still fresh in everybody’s hearts. The first Golden temple of India is the Harmandar Sahib Gurudwara in Amritsar. The name is
derived from Hari Mandir, meaning the Temple of Vishnu/God. Gurudwara means the entrance to the Guru. It became so famous throughout the world that it has come to be known as The Golden Temple of Amritsar, despite there being many
other temples built with Gold. This temple is the most sacred pilgrimage site for the Sikhs of India and is a popular source of propaganda for Sikhism.
The temple was a dream contrived by the Third Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Amar Das. He entrusted the construction to his disciple Ram Das, after choosing the land on which it would be built. They created a man-made lake or reservoir, called the
Sarovar and built the temple complex around it step by step. By then Guru Ram Das had taken the reins from Amar Das. The entire area was renamed as Ramdaspur and construction of the temple complex would go on till 1604. It was in 1604 that
Guru Arjan installed the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth inside the sanctum of the temple.
The city of Amritsar gains its name from the sarovar which was built by Guru Ram das. It was named as the Amrit Sarovar and the city gradually expanded around it. The entire town soon came to be referred to as Amritsar, as opposed to the
original Ramdaspur, which was named after him.
The Mughal Invasion
The Mughal invasion in India left many places of worship in ruins and the Harmandar Sahib was no exception to the brutal effects of this violation. The Sikhs were banned from using it as a place of worship. It was converted into an entertainment
centre and possesses by the Mughals. The Sikhs managed to take control of the temple after assassinating the General who had captured it. But it was short lived, as the Mughals sent in more troops. They desecrated the sacred pool with filth and sand.
The Sikhs refused to let all this hamper their affection for the temple and continued to celebrate their festivals and cleaned it up. The Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani was so infuriated by the resilience of the Sikhs that he ordered the temple to be blown up with gun powder. Despite the destruction the Sikhs continued to gather in the ruins for festivals.
In 1764, Baba Jassa Singh initiated the efforts to rebuild the temple. He sought donations from the people of the Sikh community and the people of the surrounding villages. It was during this period that the Darshani Deorhi, the main gate of the
temple, was constructed. The construction of the sanctum, the causeway and the Amrit Sarovar continued till 1784. A canal was built from the River Ravi to feed fresh water into the pool.
The Golden MakeOver
Maharaja Ranjit Singh, became the leader of the Sikh empire in the early half of the 19th century. He was crowned as the “Mahraja of Punjab”, at the age of 21 in the year 1801. The following year, he paid a visit to Amritsar, and captured it
from the Banghi Sikh Misl that was controlling the city. He vowed to rebuild the Harmandir Sahib in Marble and Gold. By 1809 the initial work of laying the temple with marble was completed along with the copper overlay of the exterior. It was
not until 1830, that Maharaj Ranjit Singh managed to obtain and donate the Gold foil required to renovate the sanctum. Since then the massive temple complex, stands out in its blazing Golden façade that has been a sight of hope for the people
who seek a solution for their struggles there.
Sikhism has five major centres of pilgrimage called the Takths. The takth in the Golden temple, called the Takth Sri Akal Bunga is the foremost site and the chief. The name means The Throne of the Timeless God. This building which is situated
right next to the sanctum is the place from where the writs of Sikhism are established and issued. It is a cultural, religious and political centre, which was founded by Guru Hargobind, the son of Guru Arjan. It now houses the majority political
party of Punjab, the Shiromani Akali Dal.
The Sacred Ber trees
The temple complex has a lush garden that preserves three Ber trees. The Ber trees have significant backgrounds that make them worthy of preservation. The first is called the Ber Baba Buddha. Baba Buddha was the leader who helped Guru Ram Das build
the temple complex. It is believed that he issued orders and supervised the construction from the shade of this tree. The second is called the Laachi Ber, believed to be the tree, under which Guru Arjan rested, during the period the temple was being
built. The third tree is the Dukh Bhanjani Ber, which means the Remover of suffering. It earned its name after a man was cured of leprosy under this tree, after taking a dip in the holy waters of the Amrit Sarovar. A small gurudwara was built under this tree. A visit to this shrine is said to be equivalent to taking 68 pilgrimages and is a most holy and revered site for the Sikhs.
Although Sikhism is a separate religion in itself, the Golden temple is open to all people from all walks of life. There is no distinction made between man and woman, or bias based on caste, nationality and religion. All humans are one before the
eyes of God. In a land where there is a stark demarcation based on personal and communal biases, the Golden temple offers a fresh perspective on the stance of equality.
As an ode to this secularism, the temple runs a community kitchen called the Guru Ram Das Langar. It is free for all and has been serving 50,000 to 75,000 meals per day since it was opened. The food is pure vegetarian and is wholesome and filling.
The meals are taken on the floor and everyone is seated together in rows regardless of their station in life. Tea, Punjab’s favourite drink is served through the day and night right outside the Langar. In an effort to promote health consciousness, Sugar free tea is being served for diabetic people.
Even if there are a thousand golden temples that crop up in the world, none can hold a candle to the beautiful vista that the Golden temple of Amritsar offers. Its beauty lies not only in its Golden façade, but also in the inherent values and charity
that it promotes every single day. A visit to the temple is a lesson in humility and teaches us to look beyond appearances and seek the soul within our fellow beings. It is a must visit for every traveller and pilgrim as it transcends religion and
nationality to bring everyone together in a peaceful harmony of brotherhood.