The Golden Temple – Ultimate Sikh Pilgrimage
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 phenomena is located at the city of Amritsar. The temple’s exterior is gold-plated and the structure stands in the middle of a square tank. There is a causeway across the Pool of Nectar to reach the Temple. The shrine is symbolical of the doctrines of Sikhism. It also represents the magnificent strength of all the Sikhs. The amazing thing about Harmandir Sahib is that it has doorways on all four sides, meant to be open for the people of the all four castes. All over the, the Sikhs always look forward to visit to the magnificent temple and offer prayers at the Harmandir Sahib. The study of the art and architecture of the Golden Temple has, unfortunately, remained a subject of unconcern for art historians and critics. Even scholars of Indian temple architecture have bypassed it and references, whenever made, were mere courtesies. Fergusson considered the Golden Temple an example of the forms, which Hindu temple architecture assumed in the nineteenth century. According to the official list of buildings of interest, published by the Punjab Government in 1875, the design of the temple, as reconstructed by Ranjit Singh, was borrowed from the shrine of Saint Mian Mir, near Lahore. Louis Rousselet, writing in 1882, regarded it as a “handsome style of architecture”. Major Cole described it as an adaptation of Mohammadan styles, flavored with a good deal of Hindu tradition. Percy Brown considered it to be a product of the synthesis of Hindu and Muslim influences, combined with elaborations that imparted it an appearance of its own. Guru Arjan Dev thought of building a central place of worship for the Sikh community. In 1588, after finalizing the design of the Darbar Sahib, he laid down the foundation of the temple himself. His followers started living in the adjacent area and the town of Ramdaspur came up. The town of Ramdaspur later came to be known as Amritsar, deriving its name from the holy pond that beautifies the area surrounding Hari Mandir. The planning to dig the holy tank or Amrit Sarovar was made by Guru Amar Das. However, the construction of the tank took place under the supervision of Baba Budha ji. The land for the site was acquired free of cost from the zamindars (landlords) of native villages. The first Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh made Amritsar his spiritual capital. He developed the temple further including the gilding of the embossed plates, renewing of the pietra dura and the embellishment of the ceilings with the mirror and floral designs. Amritsar is an institution by itself. And the Golden Temple is the cradle of Amritsar with the city growing around it nurtured by its divine sanctity. The Golden Temple stands there in simple majesty, the gilded splendor of its paneling, dome and minarets shining in the morning light, silhouetted softly in the water and etched gently across the city escape. For the Sikh community the Harmandir Sahib Gurdwara Golden Temple is the final spiritual “vision,” journey’s end or beginning and, for every other community too, it is a shrine to be visited. Besides the Golden Temple there are several other Gurudwaras in India that are of great importance to the pilgrims. Another important pilgrimage site is Anandpur Sahib, where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru created the ‘Khalsa’ or the pure ones by baptizing them. Anandpur Sahib (in Ropar District) is one of the five Sikh takhts or thrones. Sikhs from all over India visit this holy site especially on the occasion of Holla Mohalla which coincides with the last day of Holi and marks the festival’s finale. On this day, the Gurudwara Keshgarh is filled with people and color as men in bright turbans and women in gaily-colored salwar kameezs try to live up to Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s vision of Holi. Planning a pilgrimage to any of the Gurudwaras of India? Check out the following all-inclusive tour packages and holiday offers that will make your travel trip to the Gurudwara tour comfortable and enjoyable. We provide a range of tour packages and holiday offers for the destinations with sacred Gurudwaras of India that will suit your requirements and budget. As per the nature, duration and the accommodation required during the pilgrimage at each destination of the Gurudwara the tour packages vary. Amrit Vela Amrit Vela means the pre-dawn moment. It is actually the time when the watch strikes four o’clock in the morning. The pilgrims wake up and start preparing for a serene early morning visit to the Darbar Saheb. 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 is situated the inspirational and awesome Harmandir Saheb, in the center of the Sarowar. Naturally, one is inclined to bow down to touch the cool marble with their foreheads. Then of course, one goes left to go around the entire parkarma and stop at shrines on the way, before making it finally to the Harmandir. The Parkarma Shrines & Ath Sath Tirath It is the very first shrine on the Parikrama way. Known as Dukh Bhanjani Ber, it is actually built around a jujube tree. The relevance of this spot lies in its story, which says that, a dip in the sacred pool inexplicably cured a crippled youth. Devotees believe that their visit to the temple remains incomplete without bathing at this spot. So, it has become a custom to stop and bath here for any kind of healing. Next is the stop for a raised marble platform, known as the Ath Sath Tirath. It is believed that bathing 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 war 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 very next destination for the eager devotees. The Decorated Palki and Sawari The ceremony of bringing down the Guru Granth Sahib commences half an hour prior. For the occasion, the palki, a gold and silver palanquin, are prepared for it. Attendants lay down fresh sets of silk and brocade coverings and sprinkle rose water. The head priest of the Harmandir appears with the Sri Guru Granth Sahib on a cushion on his head. And to mark the occasion and to alert the worshippers, there starts the drumbeat sound of the Nigara. The procession solemnly moves across the plaza, through the Darshani Deorhi, and along the causeway, stopping as it reaches the main door of the Harmandir. The head priest reverently lifts the Siri Guru Granth sahib out of the Palki, places it on a silk cushion on his head, and enters the holy shrine. Parkash The Head Priest carries it 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) standing. At the end of it, it is time for the entire Sangat and the sewadars to stand up for the Ardas, a prayer. Following which takes place the shabad kirtan, the song of the sacred verses. Har ki Pauri and Darshani Deorhi 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 sarowar. 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. The city of Amritsar was built around the Golden Temple and the Amrit Sarovar lake, from which it derives its name. Surrounded by a fortified wall with eighteen gates, the temple complex has its main north entrance under a Victorian clock tower known as the Darshani Deori. The entrance is up a flight of steps and down again to the temple and holy tank. The Golden Temple sits on a rectangular platform in the center of the Amrit Sarovar. It is surrounded by a white marble corridor, through which pilgrims visiting the shrine walk, circumnavigating the temple. A narrow causeway links the Harmandir, or Darbar Sahib, as the temple is also called. The entrance to the temple is through an ornate archway with intricate inlay work, inscribed with verses from the Granth Sahib. The temple building is three stories high and is crowned with a dome shaped like an inverted lotus. The lower story is in white marble, while the two upper story have gold plating. The temple has four entrances instead of the usual single entry, symbolic of the openness of Sikhism and the fact that followers of all faiths are welcome here. The walls within are decorated with carved wooden panels and elaborate inlay work in silver and gold. The Adi Granth, compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, rests on a throne beneath a jewel-encrusted canopy. Priests continuously recite verses from the holy book in 3-hour shifts. A complete reading of the text takes 48 hours. The Akal Takht, next to the Golden Temple, is the seat of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, the religious governing body of the Sikhs. The building of the Akal Takht was begun by Guru Arjan Dev and completed in 1609 by Guru Hargobind. The Adi Granth is housed in the Akal Takht and is taken out in procession every morning to be placed at the Harmandir, and is brought back to the Akal Takht at night. Shrines on the northern edge of the corridor are venerated as the 68 holy shrines of the Hindus. According to the teachings of Guru Arjan Dev, it was enough for the devout to visit these shrines and not visit all the original Hindu shrines, which are distributed across India. Many of these shrines have now been converted into a martyr’s gallery showing the gruesome history of the Sikhs. Around the Parikrama, or pathway, are four rectangular cubicles where Granthis (priests) sit and recite the Granth Sahib. Pilgrims leave offerings at the steps, and can also get the holy book recited in their names for a donation. The Jubi tree, at the northwestern corner of the complex, was planted some 450 years ago by the temple’s first head priest. The old, gnarled tree is believed to have special powers and childless women tie strips of cloth on it to be blessed with sons. Marriage deals are also fixed under the tree, though this practice is disapproved of by the temple authorities. Getting there and around As the religious capital of Punjab-and one of India’s most important cities- Amritsar is well connected by plane, train and road to the rest of the country. Amritsar’s Rajasansi Airport has air links to Delhi, Srinagar and Chandigarh; the local train station has regular trains to most major cities in the country. In addition to air and rail connections, Amritsar also has frequent bus services from cities and towns both within Punjab as well as in other states. Besides this, there’s a bus service from Lahore (35 km away), the only overland service between India and Pakistan. Within the city, rented cars, taxis, local buses, unmetered auto-rickshaws and cycle rickshaws can be used for transport. When to go The Golden Temple, and the city of Amritsar itself, are best visited in the winter. The months between November and March are pleasant (even cold), although the summer can get blisteringly hot. Accommodation and other facilities Amritsar has a number of mid-range and luxury hotels- the latter mainly along Mall Road. There are smaller guesthouses too, and a youth hostel which houses the Punjab Tourism Development Corporation office. Besides these, there is accommodation at the Golden Temple itself; the Guru Ram Das and Guru Nanak hostels on one side of the complex offer free accommodation up to three nights for visitors. All across Amritsar are restaurants and eateries galore, where apart from the local food, you can also get international cuisine, although usually not too authentic. If you’re visiting the temple, however, it’s best to go to the langar for a taste of traditional Sikh hospitality. The `Guru-ka-langar’ or community canteen is a Sikh institution, which was started by Guru Amar Das in the 16th century. The practice of eating together encouraged shedding of inhibitions and the principle of equality. The community kitchen at the Golden Temple feeds up to 10,000 people in a day, free of charges.