Visiting Golden Temple in Amritsar is one of the top items on any traveller’s itinerary while on a tour of India. The most sacred shrine of the Sikhs all over the world, the Golden Temple or Swarn Mandir gets its name from the pure gold coating on its upper floors and domes. Who gave the temple its gilded appearance? What makes the shrine so special? Here are 10 facts you need to know before visiting Golden Temple in Amritsar.
1. Golden Temple is an informal name given to the shrine as recently as in the 19th century. Its real name is Harmandir Sahib, or ‘The Temple of God’, a term signifying the Sikh belief in the oneness of God. The Gurudwara is also known as Darbar Sahib, literally meaning ‘The Court of the Lord’. There are four entrances to the shrine from all four cardinal directions, signifying the openness of Sikhism to people from all walks of life and religions. Visiting Golden Temple thus serves as a great lesson in egalitarianism and tolerance.
2. The Gurudwara stands in the middle of Amrit Sarovar, literally the “Pool of the Nectar of Immortality”. This artificial lake was dug out in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru. A settlement simultaneously developed around the reservoir and the subsequent city was christened ‘Amritsar’ after the name of the lake. The temple was constructed at the centre of the lake under the supervision of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru. Pilgrims and tourists alike make it a point to take a dip in the holy waters of the Amrit Sarovar while visiting Golden Temple.
3. An interesting fact few are aware of is that the foundation stone of the temple was laid, not by a Sikh, but by a Muslim Sufi saint called Hazrat Mian Mir in 1588. The saint is also believed to have had a significant role in the completion of the Adi Granth, a holy scripture of the Sikhs. The structure of the Gurudwara is inspired from a religious shrine near Lahore (Pakistan) dedicated to Hazrat Mian Mir.
4. A unique feature of the Gurudwara lies in its being built at a slightly lower level from the surrounding land, which is quite contrary to the Hindu practice of building temples on an elevated platform. This distinctive structural feature was intended to signify the Sikh worldview of humility and subservience to God.
5. The Gurudwara was initially built without any gold plating. It was a rather simple structure, devoid of any extravagant ornamental features. The domes at the top were built forging perfect harmony between Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture.
6. It was in 1830 that the Gurudwara underwent a major transformation under Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. He had the building’s facade inlayed with marble panels and also had the upper two floors and the domes plated with gold. The distinctive appearance of the Golden Temple and its modern name are thus attributed to the Maharaja’s reign in the nineteenth century.
7. The Central Sikh Museum on the first floor is an absolute must-visit for any traveller visiting Golden Temple. Established in 1958, is a repository of rare artefacts, coins, arms and manuscripts reflecting the great history of the Golden Temple. Its walls are adorned by murals, paintings and other works of art depicting the Sikh Gurus and other renowned Sikh saints, leaders and warriors who’ve made important contributions to the progress of Sikhism.
8. The central religious scripture of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib is considered the 11th and final Sikh Guru. It is a compilation of the hymns and religious writings of Sikh gurus as well as some other renowned saints of both Hindu and Muslim faiths. The text was originally compiled in the period between 1469 and 1708 and was installed in Gurudwara Harmandir Sahib for the first time by Guru Arjan Dev in 1604. Today the holy book is kept atop an elevated platform under a bejewelled canopy in the inner sanctum of the Golden Temple. It is the heart of worship at the temple and is recited continuously at several places inside the complex.
9. The Golden Temple has a long and turbulent history of being attacked by armies over the centuries. In the 18th century the temple was desecrated and demolished repeatedly by Mughal and Afghan rulers. Later, in 1984, the Indian Army invaded the Golden Temple as part of Operation Blue Star and the temple walls and several holy texts were destroyed under the onslaught of heavy crossfire. But every time it was brought down, the temple rose from the ashes like a phoenix and regained its lost glory.
10. Historical records show that during his journey in search of the true meaning of life, Lord Buddha arrived at the spot where the Golden Temple stands today and stayed there for quite some time. The landscape in those times consisted of just an ancient lake surrounded by dense woods. The Buddha is said to have recommended the banks of the lake as an ideal meditation spot for saints and sadhus.
It is commonly said that the travellers visiting Golden Temple invariably feel a sense of tranquillity and contentment surge through them. By promoting interfaith trust and interaction, the temple spreads the message of peace and tolerance in the world. For that, as well as its glorious past, the Golden Temple is a truly inspiring and fulfilling tourist destination for travellers in India.