Tangibly the most spiritual place in India, Golden Temple, also known as Sri Harmindar Sahib, is the holiest shrine in Sikhism which is alive with religious fervour and sacredness. It is a place that can only be experienced and not described. Serving as a symbol of brotherhood and equality, Golden Temple is visited by people from all over the globe who come here to seek spiritual solace and religious fulfilment. Although the Golden Temple itself is of great historical and architectural interest, it is the view of the resplendent shrine, glistening in the centre of the tank, bringing an infinite calmness that is most memorable to a visitor.
The Guru Granth Sahib is placed inside the temple premises every morning and returned to the Akal Takhat (timeless throne), which is the temporal seat of the Khalsa brotherhood, every night. This ceremony is called the Palki Sahib providing a chance to the male visitors to participate in the veneration of this holy book. The Guru Granth Sahib is carried in a heavy palanquin. The male visitors form a line in the front and back of the palanquin, shouldering the burden for a few seconds before passing it on. This allows every person a chance to participate and rest.
The ceremony takes place at 5:00 AM and 9:40 PM in winters and 4:00 AM and 10:30 PM in winters.
The land for the Golden Temple was donated by the Mughal emperor Akbar on which construction began in 1574. The foundation was overseen by the fourth and fifth Sikh Guru, and the construction was completed in 1601. It has been restored and embellished continuously over the years. In the 19th century, the inverted lotus-shaped dome was inlaid with 100 kgs of gold and decorative marble. This took place under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was a legendary warrior king fondly remembered by the Sikh community.
In 1984, the then Prime Minister of India, ordered an attack on the armed Sikh militants hiding inside the Golden Temple premises. In the fight that ensued, over 500 people were killed, and Sikhs all over the world were enraged by this sacrilege of their holy site. The Sikh community did not allow the central government to undertake the repair of the damage caused to the temple, undertaking the work themselves. The temple has been substantially built since then, but the incident remains fresh in the memory of the locals.
The Golden Temple is a mesmerising blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, floating at the end of a long causeway. It has an elegant marble lower level embellished with animal and flower motifs in pietra dura work, which is also seen on the Taj Mahal. Above this is the shimmering second level, circumscribed in intricately carved gold panels, topped by a 750 kg gold gilded dome. The gleaming inner sanctum sees the priests and the musicians continuously chanting the Guru Granth Sahib, piling on to the already intense religious atmosphere. After paying obeisance, pilgrims generally retreat to the second floor, which has the intricately painted gallery.
One of the most important festivals celebrated at the Golden Temple is Vaisakhi in the second week of April (mostly the 13th April). This festival is celebrated to commemorate the founding of the Khalsa. The other festivals observed with great religious piety are the birthday of Sikh founder Guru Nanak, the birth anniversary of Guru Ram Das, martyrdom day of Guru Teg Bahadur, etc. The Harmandir Sahib is brightly illuminated with lights and diyas on Diwali along with the fireworks display. The temple is visited by most Sikhs at least once during their lifetime.
If you decide to visit this enigmatic masterpiece, don't forget to offer and taste the mouth-watering Prasad. The temple also has the largest kitchen in the world offering free langar food to people of all religions and faiths.
Guru-Ka-Langar is an enormous dining room located at the southeast end of the temple complex where an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 pilgrims a day come to eat after praying at the Golden Temple. The food is free of charge, but the pilgrims often make donations and offer help with the staggering pile of dishes to be washed. It is a humbling projection of the Sikh doctrine of hospitality, catering to everyone from paupers to millionaires. The food served here is vegetarian to ensure that all people can eat together here, as equals. This is often touted as the World's Largest Free Kitchen.
The Golden Temple can be reached by local transport such as auto and cycle rickshaws which are the cheapest and most convenient mode of transportation. It also has car rental companies from where you can hire a car and reach the temple. The Golden Temple Trust also arranges free bus services from the Amritsar Railway Station.
1. Remove your shoes and socks before entering the temple compound (there is sandal stand at the entrance). Wash your feet in the shallow foot baths located nearby.
2. Dress appropriately. The body must be fully covered, and you need to cover your head which is a sign of respect in the gurudwara. Scarves can be borrowed free of charge or bought from the hawkers who sell souvenir scarves for INR 10. However, it is prudent to carry a scarf with you.
3. Tobacco and alcohol are strictly prohibited.
4. If you wish to sit beside the tank, sit cross-legged and do not dip your feet in the water.
5. Photography is permitted near the walkway surrounding the tank but not inside the Golden Temple itself.
6. While listening to Gurbani, sit on the ground in the Darbar Sahib as a sign of deference.
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I have visited the Golden Temple several times now, and each visit is as refreshing as the last. It is at a walking distance from the Jallianwala Bagh, so both places can be covered together. The most important thing to keep in mind is that everybody is expected to keep their heads covered (with handkerchiefs or dupattas) at all times inside the premises of the gurudwara. The most cherished virtue in the gurudwara is the quality of "seva", which ranges from volunteering in the kitchen, washing utensils to sweeping. I have never partaken in this activity, but would someday like to do so. Visitors can eat the food served during "langar", which is free of charge. I once visited the Temple at 3 a.m. for the "prakash" ritual, when the Guru Granth Sahib is brought out in a decorated carriage to the sanctum. It was a rejuvenating experience.
One of the most beautiful attractions in the world, Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara or The Golden Temple is amazing both to watch and experience. Do eat and contribute with efforts at the Langar (meal room). Cover your head with a scarf/handkerchief/turban before you enter temple premises.