THE GOLDEN TEMPLE
A living monument of spiritual and historical traditions of the Sikhs, the harimandir, popularly called the Golden Temple, has been a source of inspiration to the Sikh community ever since it was founded. Sikhism arose as a reformatory movement in the sixteenth century in the wake of the Bhakti Cult. The traditional visits to tirathas, places of Hindu pilgrimage, had lost much of their relevance in the contemporary situation and could not cope with the exigencies and demands of the time. The Sikh Gurus felt a dire need to reject Hindu customs, and to introduce healthy and progressive practices with a view to give Sikhism a distinct identity. Accordingly, they followed a policy of founding new Sikh centres of pilgrimage for their followers. The founding of Sri Harimandir at Amritsar was a landmark in this respect. The temple, in due course, became an unparalleled place of pilgrimage, sung by Sikh bards from time to time.
Origin of the Place
Legends and miracles connected with the origin of the Amrit Sarowar (Tankof Nectar), state that Amar Das, later on the third Sikh Master, found by the side of the pool a herb to cure the skin disease of Gurn Angad (the second Guru of the Sikhs). The pertinent local tradition highlighting the magical powers of the water of the pond, however, is the story of Rajni the daughter of Rai Duni Chand, a 'kardar' (revenue collector) of Patti. It is narrated that her leprous husband got cured of his disease after having taken a dip into the pond. Ram Das, later on the fourth Sikh Guru (below),
who was at that time somewhere near the place, heard of the episode and was so much impressed with the beauty of the site that he decided to turn it into a place of pilgrimage. Accordingly, he would visit that place in company of a batch of Sikh sangat from Goindwal on the first day of each Indian solar month with a view to have a dip in the pond. This was before he assumed pontificacy. According to another version, the place was discovered by him during one of the itineraries undertaken by him in this region to find out a suitable site for establishing a new Sikh centre. He found the desired site in the jungle to the west of the Sultanwind village. While reconnoitring the place, Ram Das declared to the sangat accompanying him that they were at a place which promised to be a big centre of pilgrimage, and which, he envisaged, would harbour a society at once liberated and emancipated. He hoped that the sun of dharma (righteousness) would rise from that centre. Thereafter he sent for the people of the nearby villages and ordered them to dig a tank. Of these versions, Guru Ram Das's visit to the site seems to be the only plausible account. Early life history of Guru Ram Das tells us that he often moved about the place in connection with his business from Basarke (District Amritsar) to the adjoining areas and back. He, no doubt, discovered the site during one of his such visits.
Acquisition of the Land
As planned the new Sikh centre came up on the land lying between the villages of Sultanwind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali. All of them, that time, formed part of the Jhabal pargana. The acquisition of land by the Sikh Gurus has been described differently by different writers of Sikh History. According to an old Sikh tradition, the land was presented by Emperor Akbar to Guru Amar Das as a token of his gratitude for having blessed him with the conquest of the Fort of Chittor. This Gift was made when the Emperor visited Goindwal on his way to Lahore. At first the Guru refused to accept the grant. Occupied as he was in saintly pursuits, he showed his inability to involve in mundane affairs. But the Emperor was keen to make the gift. He requested the Guru to accept the land for the benefit of the sangat. The Emperor gave the Guru even option to select the site. The Guru accepted his offer.
Emperor Akbar enjoying the free kitchen (langar) with the sangat of Guru Amar Das
Thereupon 'Emperor Akbar, granted him a patta conceding the grant of jagir comprising a number of villages in the pargana of Jhabal. This was to be treated as Guru's personal jagir and was to be directly under his control. It is further narrated that Guru Amar Das convened the sangat, sent for Ram Das and transferred the land to him, The people of the concerned villages, who had come to Goindwal with offerings and to congratulate the Guru, on receiving the land grant endorsed the Guru's decision. The Guru honoured them by presenting them with turbans. Ram Das was introduced to them as their future Guru. The responsibility for collecting and managing the land revenue was entrusted to Baba Budha.The account mentions neither dates on which the land was gifted nor gives the day when the meeting was called. Later Sikh accounts are, however, dubious of the above version. They assert that Guru Amar Das refused to accept the land grant. On this Emperor Akbar offered to gift the villages to the Guru's daughter (Bibi Bhani), which was readily agreed to. The possibility of the land grant having been made by Emperor Akbar (who cherished great respect for saints) to the Sikh Guru, cannot be ruled out. There is, however, no document to support or reject the tradition positively.
According to a later Sikh tradition, the land on the site was given to Guru Ram Das by a zamindar of village Sultanwind.
The Sikh' version of the grant of the site for Sri Harimandir by Emperor Akbar to the' Sikh Guru, as we have seen, cannot be supported by any historical evidence. Yet it finds a mention in the Amritsar District Gazetteer. There is, however, one variation. Whereas the Sikh sources name Guru Amar Das as the recipient of the land grant, the Gazetteer makes the offer straight to Guru Rim Das by Emperor Akbar in l577. Still, at another place, we have in the same Gazetteer : "In 1577 he (Ram Das) obtained a grant of site together with 500 bighas of land from Emperor Akbar, on payment of Rs. 700,'- to the zamindars of Tung, who owned the land." The revised edition of the Gazetteer (1947) modifies the earlier statement by recording 'that the fourth Guru, Ra m Das, who in 1517 obtained the land in the neighbourhood., permanently occupied the site'. In the same edition we have, yet in another statement. '.... Ram Das, the fourth Guru who obtained from the Emperor Akbar the grant of a piece of land where now stands the city of Amritsar."
The first version recorded in the Gazetteer regarding the purchase of the land by Guru Ram Das on paying Rs. 700/- is in keeping with the tradition 6f the Sikh Gurus who never took any land gratis from any ruler at any time. But the difficulty in accepting the historicity of the information recorded in the Amritsar District Gazetteer is that there is no documentary evidence to show that the Temple was founded on the land granted by Emperor Akbar. Even Abul Fazl, the court histo-rian of Emperor Akbar, is silent on the point. Besides, a comparative study of the statements in -various editions of the Gazetteer, shows that the information contained in them is self-contradictory. The Gazetteer records not one but various versions at different places. The obvious inference is that the site for the tank and the Temple was acquired first and thereafter the grant of the land was obtained from Emperor Akbar. Another explanation worthy of some credence, is that the. site formed a shamlat (common land) between the villages of Sultanwind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali. The Guru acquired it first, and later on payment was made to the zamindars and, very likely, a deed endorsing the transaction from the State was also procured. Whether the land was granted by Emperor Akbar or it was acquired by the Guru before the grant was actually obtained or, still, was purchased by the Guru from the zamindars of Tung at the instance of Emperor Akbar, or, alternatively, was presented by the residents of Sultanwind out of reverence for the Guru-are versions, each one of which is based on tradition, there being no contemporary or near-contemporary record or document bearing testimony to them. Whatever the source of the manner of acquisition, it is certain that the selection of the site was planned and not accidental; it was the choice of the Gurus themselves. It was clear that the land of the Harimandir was revenue-free. The land settlement records of Amritsar made by the British rulers in 1865 note 'the land of Darbar Sahib of Guru Ram Das as revenue-free grant.' Even the original name of the city, Chak Guru or Guru Ka Chak, bears testimony to the nature of the land as revenue-free.The conclusion, there-fore, cannot escape that the Chak had, at some time, obtained exemption from the payment of land revenue from Emperor Akbar whose policy of granting waqf (religious properties) even to the people of non-Muslim faiths, is well-known.
Baba Buddha Ji
Execution of the Plan
Guru Ram Das (1534-1581 AD) laid the foundation stone of Amritsar
The Guru and his disciples were overjoyed to see the tank come up, Guru Ram Das composed beautiful verses to glorify the occasion enjoining upon his followers to bathe in the holy tank and meditate thereon on Hari Naam (the Name of God). The Guru allured his Sikhs that whosoever followed his injunction his sins would be washed away and he would be blessed spiritually. In the course time this centre built up such a reputation that Sarup Das. Bhalla was moved to sing:
'Here is a town where no person other than a bhakta dwells; no one resorts to guile and deceit; the place resounds with echoes of soul stirring kirtan and it abounds in thrills of meditation; beside. it provides the ecstasy of the sight of a heart-soothing saintly figure'.
Soon after the town got a footing, it became a centre of
Guru Ram Das' missionary activities and the headquarters of the Sikhs.
Pucca Construction of the Tank
The Sarowar continued to he kuc'ca till Guru Arjan Dev ascended gurgaddi (AD 1581). At his behest the tank was made pucca and stairs on all the four sides were lined with bricks. The bottom of tank, however, remained kucca. The Guru sent hukamnanas (epistles) to his masands (agents) in various parts of the country asking then offer their services for constructing the tank. The masands came along with the Sangat of their respective parganas and stayed at the site for number of days. Sikhs of all shades showed a great enthusiasm for work. Hundreds of volunteers, masons and labourers came forward and offered free service. Provisions for Guru Ka langar (free kitchen) poured in from all sides, day in and day out. The construction of tank was soon complete The successful completion of the project was attributed to heavenly blessings. Guru Arian commemorated the occasion with the following hymn
"God Himself hath came to fulfil the task of the
Planning of the Temple
While the tank was under construction, Guru Arjan conceived the idea of building a temple in the midst of the holy tank. The Guru consulted Baba Buddha on the point who apparently approved of the idea.The plan was soon finalised where after it gained increasing importance every day.
Stories regarding the preparation of the design of the, Harimandir are met in Sikh chronicles. The purport of these stories is that Guru Arjan himself designed the Temple. The object of Guru Arjan in planning the structure of the Harimandir in the midst of the Amrit Sarowar was to combine spiritual and temporal aspects and to represent a new synthesis of the lndian thought. Prominent Sikhs and devotees of the Guru were delighted to know the plan.
Execution of the Temple Project
The plan was executed under the direct control and supervision of Guru Arjan, assisted by Baba Buddha, Bhai Gurdas and other prominent Sikhs available on the site. Many masons were hired for the purpose. The Guru appointed some of his trustworthy lieutenants, such as Bhai Salo, Bhai Bhagtu, Bhai Piara, Bhai Bahlo, and Kalyana, to superintend the construction work and procure the building-material. Brick-laying was entrusted to Bhai Bahlo who was expert in this art.
During the construction of Harimandir Sahib, Guru Arjan Dev spotted bright red bricks and inquired that how these had been produced. He was told that Bhai Bahilo had carried all the rubbish of the town on his head to the kiln to prepare the bricks in such a perfect manner. Guru Arjan Sahib sent for Bhai Behlo and uttered, "Bhai Behilo, the first and the foremost."
FOUNDATION OF THE TEMPLE
According to the earliest Sikh tradition, Guru Arjan laid himself the foundation stone of the Harimandir himself. A mason, so goes the story, accidentally displaced the brick (foundation stone). On seeing this, the Guru prophesied that the foundation would be laid again in the near future. This version of Bhai Santokh Singh is carried by almost all subsequent Sikh sources right up to the twentieth century. Giani Gian Singh has thought it fit to add to the Version the fact that the foundation of the temple was laid by Guru Arjan on Kartik' Sudi 5, 1645 BK (AD 1588). The renowned English Scho1ar, 'M.A. Macauliffe who sought help from Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha for collecting data for his book, The Sikh Religion, records that Guru Arjan laid the foundation of the Harimandir on 1st Magh. 1645 BK (AD 1589). The same date is to be found in the Mahankosh of Kahan Singh Nabha. Two modern Sikh historians, Teja Singh Ganda Singh, accept this version. The later Sikh tradition, however, persists in believing that the foundation of the Temple was laid by the Muslim Saint, Mir Mohammad (AD 1550-1635) popularly known as Hazrat MiA Mir of Lahore, on a request from Guru Arjan, the year being the same. The first recorded reference to this version is to be met in The Punjab Notes and Queries. It records that 'The foundation-stone of the Harimandir was laid by Mian Mir, between whom and Guru Ram Das there existed a strong friendship." The contributor of the entry, E. Nicholl, (Secretary, Municipal Committee, Amritsar) does not cite any authority; he merely states the fact. Likewise, he attributes the story relating to the mason's accidentally displacing the brick and the prophecy regarding the relaying of the foundation by Mian Mir. It is a pity that this fact is not supported by any of the earlier Sikh sources, nor by Persian chroniclers including biographers of Saint Mian Mir. This tradition, however, got a strong footing in the twentieth century Sikh literature and was adopted by both Indian and European scholars writing on the subject. Soon, this version gained currency. Even the Report issued by the Darbar Sahib Authority followed this version.
(The 'Mian Mir' version was the fabrication of one writer, Buttey Shah, who was commissioned by the British, during 1850's to write 'Sikh History', and then most of the later writers followed suit. Being a Muslim, Buttey Shah wrote that the foundation stone was laid by Mian Mir - in order to glorify the Muslim Saint and inferior the status of the Sikh Gurus. There was no need for the Guru to ask Mian Mir to lay the foundation stone. Nothing was going to be achieved by this gesture. Abdali destroyed the temple thrice - if the foundation was actually laid by Mian Mir - would he dared do that? For a detailed description on the 'Foundation' read Bhai Kirpal Singh's 'Harmandir Sahib'. Bhai Sahib was the head granthi of the Golden Temple for over 26 years and he wrote this after a considerable research.
In an article written by Major H.H.Cole in "Golden Temple at Amritsar, Punjab", he writes,".....It is stated in the official list of buildings of interest published by the Punjab Government in 1875 that the DESIGN of the temple repaired by Ranjit Singh was BORROWED from the shrine of the Muhammadan Saint MIAN MIR, near Lahore (1635 AD) (article in Wall paintings of Punjab & Haryana by K.S.Kang)
It is quite a possibility that the later writers took the above as an indication to the foundation stone being laid by Mian Mir. (Kanwal) )
The construction work at the Temple went on with great enthusiasm. A large number of Sikhs participated in the work. They took seva at the site as part of their daily work. This they rendered with utmost devotion. They worked hard day and night. Some of the very devoted Sikhs passed into legends and, today proudly adorn pages of Sikh history.
The construction work at the Temple went on incessantly with no break or hindrance. Even as its construction was in the offing, the news of a unique pilgrimage centre being set up by the Guru spread far and wide. The Sikhs began to visit Amritsar in large numbers. The devotees contributed their mite from their earnings towards the construction without any break. Collection of funds was also made from the neighbouring hill states. Rich people sent in large donations. As an instance, Santokh Singh, author of Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth gives the names of two chaudris, Lal Dhillon and Langha, both of Patti. Both the chaudris not only offered hard cash but provided labour also and took part in the seva themselves. The masands of the nearby and far-off places also collected large sums for the purpose. All the Sikhs engaged in collecting funds for the work worked honestly. No hindrance occurred during the time the construction was going on. The tank and the Temple, when completed presented a beautiful sight. Guru Arjan composed the following hymn to commemorate the occasion and highlighted the unique virtues of the holy bath in the tank and the blessings accruing from it:
"The Creator Lord Himself, became my support
The construction of the Temple witnessed scenes of unique voluntary services offered by the Sikhs. Their selfless, sincere and hard labour was duly acknowledged by the Guru. All the Sikhs participating in the seva were adequately rewarded with money or blessings (bakhshish).
Simultaneously with the construction of the Temple, plans
were made to expand and develop the town. New markets were opened and
trade was encouraged. In due courses, people from different walks of life,
as also from different cast groups, settled there. They were encouraged
to make it their permanent home. This saw the city grow in population
in no time. The inhabitants and traders of Lahore, however, could not
reconcile with the rapid growth of the town. They ridiculed the planning
of a city around a big tank in a low-lying area, and feared the loss of
property and their ware during the rainy seasons. Their foreboding alarmed
the business community at Amritsar. They approached the Guru and expressed
their fears and discussed the matter with him. The Guru assured them that
there was no danger to their life or property. On the contrary he prophesied
a bright future for them and the town. We have in the Holy Scripture a
hymn by Guru Arjan, embodying his vision of the town:
With the coming up of the Harimandir, Amritsar attained the status of a great holy place. Its praise spread far and wide. The local Sikhs visited the temple daily; the Sikhs of the nearby areas also visited it twice a year i.e. on Diwali and Baisakhi.
The next remarkable development connected with the Harimandir was the compilation of the sacred writings of the Sikhs. While the Guru was on tour planning Sikh centres in the near by areas or inspecting their working it was reported to him that his elder brother Prithi Chand was distorting the Guru's bani and attributing some of the Guru's compositions to himself to gain popularity amongst the Sikhs. Guru Arjan Dev took a serious view of this lapse on the part of Prithi Chand. He immediately abandoned his tour and returned to Amritsar. He resolved to collect the authentic bani of his predeces-sors and prepare an anthology of the sacred writings for use by the Sikhs. He collected genuine bani of the first four Sikh Gurus. To their bani he added his own compositions and also selections from the writings of some Hindu bhaklas and a few Muslim saints. The criterion laid down for the inclusion of hymns in the Sikh scripture was the Unity of God and the brotherhood of man. The Guru dictated the hymns selected finally for the purpose to Bhai Gurdas. This went on by the side of Ramsar, a quiet and beautiful place, away from the hustle and bustle of the town. When Guru Arjan was busy compiling the holy Granth, it was reported to Emperor Akbar by a faction against the Guru (the Prithi Chand's group) that the book of the Sikhs, under preparation, contained verses derogatory to the Muslim Prophet and the Hindu gods. The Emperor paid a visit to the Guru at Goindwal on his way to the Deccan. This was towards the end of AD 1598. He asked the Guru to show him the sacred scripture. He selected a few hymns at random, which were read out to him. He was pleased to hear them. The Emperor appreciated the quality of the hymns and in recognition of this he remitted the annual revenue of the zamindars of the pargana, who were hard pressed by a considerable fall in the price of the grain that had occurred due to the departure of the royal camp from Lahore to the Deccan. This concession from the Emperor gained for the Guru immense popularity amongst the jats and the zamindars of the area. The peasants flocked to the Guru in ever increasing numbers. The influx of the visitors not only contributed to the fame of the Guru but also strengthened his establishment and increased his income. The Holy Scripture compiled by the Guru won the title of the Adi-Granth. As there was no binder at Amritsar at that time, the manuscript was sent to Lahore for binding per Bhai Banno. The Adi Granth was formally installed at the Harimandir on Bhadon sudi ekam, samat 1661 bk (August 1604). Baba Budhha was appointed the first Granthi (head priest) of the temple. From that day onwards-regular worship, kirtan and other religious services began to be held at the shrine. Soon, the Harimandir acquired the pride of place amongst Sikh Shrines. It became a spot of unparalleled beauty and glory. Guru Arjan commemorated the achievement thus:
"I have seen all places; but there is none other like
The Afghan invaders pulled down the Harimandir thrice, each time to be rebuilt with renewed energy. The last construction came up during the Sikh Misals, AD 1765 when its foundation was laid by Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. This was on 11 Baisakh Samvat 1821 (AD 1764). The construction, however, could not be completed as per schedule on account of the Afghan invasion in December 1764. After the departure of Ahmed Shah, the Sikhs assembled at Amritsar and resumed the construction work. It was carried out under the supervision of Des Raj as per plan through the joint efforts of the Khalsa. The reconstruction of the sarover, the Temple, the bridge and the Darshani Darwaza came up by 1833 Bik. (AD 1776), whereas the construction of the parkarma (the circumambulatory path) and of small shrines around the tank was completed by 1841 Bik. (AD 1784) only.
The Harimandir got name of Swaran Mandir (Golden Temple) when its upper part was covered with gold plated copper sheets during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Most of the architectural design of the present building of the Harimandir was, however, completed and decorated in the nineteenth century.
Presently the copper sheeting with gold plating was removed and replaced by real gold sheeting. This exceptional work was undertaken by NISHKAAM SEWAK JATHA of Birmingham, England. This Jatha are the followers of Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji of Kericho (Kenya), who was a very devout Sikh saint. It is because of his spiritual powers, which are flowing in his followers, that the Jatha has been able to achieve these impossible tasks. The Jatha is doing a lot with some other neglected Gurwaras also.
Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji, under whose divine auspices, the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha was formed, who is responsible for decorating the Golden Temple with actual gold plates instead of the gold on copper plates previously donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Some paintings and photos of the Harimandir and the surroundings:
A painting of the Golden Temple by Schoefft done around 1840's, showing the Maharaja listening to either the Adi Granth or the Dasam Granth.
An ancient sketch of the Temple
View of the Darbar Sahib from the Darshani Darwaza
A devotee in one of the windows
Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, who laid the foundation stone of the temple after it was destroyed by Abdali
Maharaj Jassa Singh Ramagarhia built the Ramgarhia Bunga for the safety of the temple and whose descendents became the custodians of the temple
The great Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was a very devoted Sikh and donated quite a few valuables to the temple
Scenes of Kaar Sewa
A devotee admiring the view atop one of the bungas
THE GOLDEN TEMPLE AS NEVER SEEN BEFORE [ You tube video - a must see ]
Watching this Video showing "GOLDEN-TEMPLE"
Happy 542nd Birthday!
This week millions of Sikhs and their friends around the world are celebrating Gurpurab, but few outside India know the significance of this day or its history.
It's the 542nd birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith and one of the greatest symbols of pluralism and tolerance in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi may epitomize India in the West, but he is just one of the many towering figures of history that have shaped the land, its culture and its religions. Poets such as Tagore and Iqbal immortalized India in verse while emperors like Asoka and Akbar ruled over dazzling domains that stunned the visitor.
Among the great philosophers and thinkers that India gifted to the world are two men who tower above the rest- Buddha and Guru Nanak, the founders of Buddhism and Sikhism. While Buddha is well known in the West as a result of his creed and followers, Guru Nanak, whose birthday we celebrate today is yet to be discovered.
[Courtesy: The Huffington Post. Edited for sikhchic.com]
November 11, 2011