Monday, July 7, 2014

Golden Temple - Amritsar, Panjab

The Golden Temple is the ultimate Sikh pilgrimage. The Harmandir Sahib, as it is traditionally known, actually means the temple of Hari or the Supreme God. Also known as the Darbar Sahib, the stupendous, architectural masterpiece is located in the city of Amritsar. 

The temple stands in the middle of a square tank known as the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar). Most Sikh people visit Amritsar and the Harmandir Sahib at least once during their lifetime, particularly and mostly during special occasions in their life such as birthdays, marriages, childbirth, etc.

Inside the Golden Temple

During the eighteenth century, the Harmandir Sahib was the site of frequent fighting between the Sikhs on one side and either Mughal or Afghan forces on the other side and the gurdwara occasionally suffered damage. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the gurdwara with gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and English name of "Golden Temple".

Ariel view of Golden Temple

History of Golden Temple

During the leadership of the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev (1581–1606), the full-fledged Temple was built. In December 1588, the great Muslim Sufi saint of LahoreHazrat Mian Mir, who was a close friend of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, initiated the construction of the temple by laying the first foundation stone (December 1588 AD). The temple was completed in 1604. Guru Arjan Dev, installed the Guru Granth Sahib in it and appointed Baba Buddha Ji as the first Granthi (reader) of it on August 1604. Sikh followers started living in the adjacent area and the town of Ramdaspur came up into existance. The town of Ramdaspur later came to be known as Amritsar deriving its name from the holy pond.

Decorations and Covering with Gold

Much of the present decorative gilding and marble work dates from the early 19th century. During Maharaja Ranjit Singh's reign the lower half of the temple was decorated with marble while the entire upper half was inlaid with copper covered over by gold plate : hence its new name, the Golden Temple. The gold plating on the Harmandir Sahib that begun under the King  Ranjit Singh was finished in 1830.

Rituals at Golden Temple

Visiting the Darbar Sahib is an enthralling experience. Some characteristic rituals are required to be followed here, which are simple and peace promoting. At the Golden Temple, a day comprises of the following activities:

1.Amrit Vela
2.The Harmandir Sahib
3.Parkarma Shrines and Ath Sath Tirath
4.Decorated Palki and Sawari
5.Parkash Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji
7.Rahras and Arti

Amrit Vela
Amrit Vela means the pre-dawn moment—the time when the clock strikes four in the morning. The pilgrims wake up and start preparing for a serene early morning visit to the Darbar Sahib. After reaching the temple entrance, one must take off their shoes at the ‘shoes counter'. The next step is to dip one's feet at a channel of running water. On the way to the temple, there are lined-up flower stalls for one to buy garlands or just fresh flowers for offering.

Harmandir Sahib
 The sublime shrine is reached by descending a flight of marble stairs. The idea is to teach humility to mankind. The staircase leads to the parkarma, where the inspirational and awesome Harmandir Sahib is situated in the center of the Sarovar. Naturally, one is inclined to bow down to touch the cool marble with their foreheads. To go around the entire parkarma, one has to start from the left and stop at shrines on the way, before making it finally to the Harmandir.

Darbar Sahib, Golden Temple is the holiest shrine in Sikhism. It was officially renamed Harmandir Sahib (meaning Divine Temple) in March 2005.

The Parkarma Shrines and Ath Sath Tirath
The Dukh Bhanjani Ber is the very first shrine on the parkarma. It is actually built around a jujube tree. Legend has it that a dip in the sacred pool inexplicably cured a crippled youth. The Sikhs believe that a visit to the temple remains incomplete without bathing at this spot.

The next stop is a raised marble platform, known as the Ath Sath Tirath. It is believed that taking a bath near it fulfils one's wish of visiting the 68 holy places of India. The next corner has the shrine of Baba Deep Singh, the legendary old warrior who died at this spot. The names of Sikh martyrs who died in the wars are inscribed on marble tablets set in the floor of the parkarma or on the pillars of the verandahs. The Akal Takht and the Darshani Deorhi are the next destinations for the eager devotees.

Akal Takht is the primary seat of Sikh religious authority and Hukamnamas or decrees issued by the Akal Takht are universally applicable to all Sikhs and all institutions.

Akal Takht literally means Eternal Throne. It is part of the Golden Temple complex and is situated on the other end of the causeway connected to the Harmandir Sahib. The foundation was laid by Guru Hargobind. It was here that he was ceremonially installed as Guru in 1606. The building of the Akal Takht opposite the Golden Temple has a special meaning. While the Golden Temple stands for spiritual guidance (piri) the Akal Takht symbolizes the dispensing of justice and temporal activity (miri).

Khande-Bate-Dee-Pahul or the initiation with the sword, initiated by Guru Gobind Singh, continues to be routinely performed at the Akal Takht. The Jathedar of the Akal Takhat is the highest spokesperson of the Sikh Panth and is meant to be a spiritual leader without control or influence from any outside, politically motivated sources. 

The Akal Takht was begun by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Har Gobind as a symbol for political sovereignty of Sikhs. It stood as a symbol of political and military resistance against the tyranny and cruelity of the rulers the 17th and 18th century. In the 18th century, Ahmed Shah Abdali led a series of attacks on the Akal Takht and Harmandir Sahib.

Parkash is the ceremony in which 
the head priest carries the Guru Granth Sahib to its place of honor, which is a place below the velvet canopy, richly brocaded in silver and gold. He then sets it on velvet cushions and silks placed on a manji sahib. Then the head priest sits in front of the Holy Book and reads it aloud the Vaaq (the Lord's message) to the sangat (congregation). Now it is time for the entire sangat and the sewadars to stand up for the Ardas (prayer). The shabad kirtan, or the chanting of sacred verses, takes place after this.

 The Har-ki-Pauri is the place to be visited after the Ardas prayer. It is on the southern side of the inner parkarma. There is a marble staircase leading into the sarovar. Visitors stop here to sprinkle water from this sacred pool into their heads. One can drink a little bit of water for its remedial power also.

Continuing on the inner parkarma, the devotees again bow towards the Guru Granth Sahib. Then they make way back over the causeway, through the Darshani Deorhi and onto the main parkarma. At this stage, one would see the Ber Baba Buddha or the Tree Shrine. Baba Buddha was the first head priest of the Harmandir Sahib

Rahras & Arti
The evening is a time for the devotees to come and listen in deep thoughtfulness to the evening recitations. It is time for the Rahras, the Arti and the shabad kirtan. At end of the prayers, the Sri Guru Granth Saheb is reverentially and royally carried to the palki waiting outside. The palki is carried by dedicated Sikhs. The grand Darshani Deorhi is shut down for the visitors after this.

Special Events and Festivals at Golden Temple
The Golden Temple comes alive during the Gurpurbs. The Gurpurbs are deeply ingrained in Sikhism. They are so important that the Sikhs used to sacrifice their lives in order to organize them. The primordial Gurpurbs are the Dewali or Bandi Chhor Diwas (October - November), Vaisakhi or Khalsa Sajna Diwas (March 30) and the Sahidi Diwas that marks the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev (May/June). The birthday of Guru Nanak is celebrated on Kartik Pooranmasi day (which generally falls in November). Sikhs from all over the world congregate at Harmandir Sahib to celebrate the Guru's birthday. Another Gurpurb is the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, which is celebrated with great devotion on Poh Sudi Saptami day (December/January).

Gurpurbs are generally celebrated for three days. Before the actual date, Akhand Path is organized in the Gurdwara. The procession of Nagarkirtan is held a day before. This is led by the Panj Piyaras (five beloved ones) and the palki (palanquin) bearing the Guru Granth Sahib, both of which are followed by groups of kirtani. The passage of the Nagarkirtan is bedecked with religious posters, flags, and flowers. Kirtan Darbar and Amrit Sanchar are held in the Gurdwara hall. The langar (food) is served to the visiting devotees.

Best Time to Visit the Golden Temple

The best time to visit the Golden Temple is from September to April. The remaining months are either too hot or cold but yet crowd remain their all the year round. The Golden Temple is located in the old city, which is south of the railway station of Amritsar. From the station, one can hire a cab for the shrine. The airport is situated 12 km northwest of the town. Taxis can be hired from the airport to reach the temple. The Amritsar bus stand is located to the northeast of the Harmandir Sahib. 

There are other few holy and historical places around this temple which you might want to take in whilst you are here like Jallian Wala Bagh and 16th Century Durgiana Temple.

Here you will also get a chance to see Mata Mandir similar to the Mata Vaishno Devi temple at Katra(Jammu). Ram Bagh beautiful garden is named as a tribute to Guru Ram Das, Ram Thirth place where Maharshi Valmiki gave shelter to Sita and an important Sikh tank Taren Taran suitated 25 Km south of Amritsar.
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