Before entering the complex we decided to take help of their wheel chair counter that promptly delivered us one against deposit of one passport ( or any photo ID for that matter). This we had to do to give some relief to Anjana since she had both her knee joints replaced a year ago and there is a lot of walking involved in the huge complex. Then we had to collect scarfs which are available at the entrance to use as head wraps (a must to enter any Gurdwara).
Then we had to wash our feet which is done automatically by running water while entering the temple complex. Some volunteer appeared from nowhere with a water hose to wash the wheels of the chair which Anjana was already occupying myself being the wheel chair boy. The volunteer led us to an elevator which brought us to the main level of the Temple complex, left us free to explore as we please and then return following the same way using the elevator to avoid crowd.
Since then we were on our own exploring the whole complex for two hours. Long ago I was in this sacred compound once. I am sure Roshan, a Punjabi Hindu(not Sikh) was there many many times. But for Anjana it was more exciting to be there for the first time ever.
Now back to history again for a little while. Amardas, the third Sikh Guru wanted a place to be choosen which will serve as the religious, cultural, business and residential center for their community which will be open for everyone, belonging to every faith since they considered God, the creator to be one.
He choose present day Amritsar to be that place. In 1577 the sacred Amrit sarovar (tank of nectar) was started to be put in place. The city Amritsar finally derived its name from this Amrit sarovar. But in the beginning the place was named Ramdaspur after the fourth Sikh Guru when the place started growing.
The main structure Harmandir Sahib is regarded as the abode of God ( Mandir: abode, Hat/Hari: God). It's groundbreaking was done in 1581 and prayers started there in 1589. But the fifth Sikh supremo Guru Arjan invited the Sufi Saint Said Moan Mohammad Pir from Lahore to inaugurate the temple. His act was to establish brotherhood with the Muslims and show regard to their religion.
Guru Arjan placed the Aadi Granth (the teachings of all the Gurus so far)in the Harmandir Sahib in 1604.From then on it has become the highest religious place of Sikhism. During the golden era of Sikh supremacy in Punjab and adjacent parts of India, Maharaja Ranjit Singh arranged to cover the canopy of Harmandir Sahib with gold and hence the name Golden Temple.
This gold foil was placed in 1830. Apart from this gold plating has been put on various structures and beautifying panels, doors, etc at different times by different authorities. Nizam of Hyderabad also had contributions to this religious complex.
This fine example of a mixture of sanctity, religious importance, pristine atmosphere, fine architecture and pride of the Sikhs from all over the world did not have a smooth history. It was attacked and destroyed again and again by intruders like Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan and other attackers. But the Sikhs always fought back to re-establish it.
After the 9th Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur was killed by Emperor Aurangzebs army for his independent nature and refusal to convert to Islam, his son Guru Govind floated the idea of Khalsa to fight against cruelty and oppression. He decided to use surname Singh (Lion) for every male Sikh and decided to turn them into a martial nation. He urged them to rise against any oppression and all cruelty to establish justice and peace. He further declared that there will be no further Guru after him, the tenth.
Because the nomination of a Guru brought in some altercation between the Sikhs in the past, he took this wise decision so that it does not bring any division between the Sikhs. Instead, the teachings of all Sikh Gurus compiled as a Granth will be the Guru for ever and all Sikhs will abide by this Guru Granth Sahib.
We were making a Parikrama (circumbulation or going around) of the huge nectar tank and marveling at the beauty of the Harmandir Sahib and other beautiful constructions like the clock tower, Museum, watch tower or Bungas and of course the Akal Takht,the center of Sikh power.
While pushing the wheelchair slowly around we observed many devotees taking a holy dip in the tank to purify themselves before having a darshan. We crossed the Dukhbhanjan Per, a tree on the bank of the pool to which you come and pray for staving off your sorrows. It is said that someone with leprosy came here, prayed, had a holy dip and was cured.
Finally we completed the clockwise Parikrama, as per the laid down custom and came to the entrance of the beautifully decorated bridge that leads to the Harmandir Sahib which is at the center of the nectar tank. We saw the huge queue at the entrance which you need to endure to have a look at the Guru Granth Sahib which is placed in the Abode of God.
There is an Akhand Paath (recitation without any interval) of the holy book in the premise of the Harmandir Sahib. The Holy Scripture is brought here early morning everyday ceremoniously on an elaborately decorated palanquin by volunteers armed in the Sikh traditional way. The procedure is called PRAKASH. It is taken back to the second floor of Akal Takht in a similar way and placed in a decorated bed for rest. This is called Sukhasan.
We decided that our schedule will not allow us those 3/4 hours of waiting for the darshan. So we showed our due respect from outside the Sanctum Sanctorum and went to the Prashad counter. It was a tasty Suki halwa and so tasty that we went for a second helping.
The temple complex boasts of the biggest of regular free food offer (Langar) in the world. It serves 100000 meals a day to anyone visiting the temple irrespective of religion, caste or creed. I would like to mention here that the Golden Temple or for that matter any Gurdwara does not have any paid employee.
Security, food Langar cooking/serving/cleaning of utensils, shoe rack keepers, cleaners, and maintenance people are all Kar sevaks or volunteers. To give you an example, in Dera Baba Nanak Gurdwara we had lunch in the Langar and when I was walking towards the water taps to clean my steel plate, it was almost snatched by an aristocratic looking lady for cleaning.
I had a little talk with her later and found that she was a Brigadier's wife. This time we were full with double dose of Prashad and decided to skip the lunch Langar. While proceeding towards the exit we crossed a religious congregation outside Akal Takht building where we found many devotees listening attentively to the religious lecture.
Any story about Golden Temple will not be complete if you don't mention about operation Blue Star. I have mentioned earlier about Khalsa ideology floated by the last living Sikh Guru Govind Singh. From the late 70s of last century a Sikh clergyman Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who was the chief of Akhand Kirtans Jatha formed a group of militant supporters who thought of reviving the Khalsa idea.
They decided that they were not treated fairly by India and they have to stand firm against Central Government's oppression. The hidden agenda was to establish an independent Khalistan. They were supported by Pakistan but not openly.
Indian Government claims having innumerable proofs of Pakistani financial, moral and arms support to the Khalistanis. They also claim to have proof of the leading figures of the movement's many visits to Pakistan for support, advice, briefing and negotiations. They were also having financial support from Sikh NRI diasporas, of course, not all.
By 1980 Bhindranwale gained so much prominence and his militancy grew so much that he started planning and executing murder of anyone who opposed his ideas. He was booked for murder of the chief of Nirankari Dal, another faction of Sikhs who did not subscribe to his ideas.
He took refuge in the Golden Temple to dodge the murder charges against him. The incumbent Chief Minister of Punjab belonging to Shiromoni Akali Dal Longowal could not rise to the occasion to solve the problem. Bhindranwale and his comrades were too militant to come to any negotiations and build up an armory inside the Temple. He had some retired army officers and men together with militant youth and students who were not bent upon coming to terms with the Government.
Rather they were getting ready to fight for their cause. Different intelligence agencies were aware of the situation and advised Indian Premier Mrs. Indira Gandhi that armed intervention was the only solution to this problem. Mrs Gandhi turned down this solution several times. She did not want any military interference in any religious place. She understood the popular sentiment.
Several negotiation attempts were taken up but all those failed one after another. Bhindranwale was growing stronger day by day and his armory inside the temple was growing. He turned down the requests of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, the highest religious body of the Sikhs, that looked after all Sikh religious places. Finally Mrs. Gandhi gave a nod to Operation Blue Star to intervene militarily to free Golden Temple from militants.
It was in mid1984, Lt Gen Brar the Commander of the operations was himself a Sikh. All the Sikhs in the operation group were given an option to remain out of this operation without any prejudice. None opted out. On 3rd June 1984 the Army fired first shots at the den of the militant Sikhs.
Bhindranwale and his comrades were stronger than they were thought to be. They put up a tough fight.After three days the Temple Complex was cleared. Bhindranwale and his closest comrades Shabeg Singh(retd Maj Gen of Indian Army) and Amrik Singh(Militant youth leader) were found dead with about 1000 others.
Many of them were pilgrims held hostage and used as human shields by the militants. Damages were there to the complex structures which were repaired by the Indian Government, most of which were reworked by Sikh community.
As revenge to this Operation Blue Star Mrs. Gandhi lost her life a few months later by the bullets of her Sikh body guards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. That cowardice act and what happened in Delhi and elsewhere in India is another tragic part of history and is beyond the scope of this article.
I will recommend all my readers to pay a visit to this historical and important religious place. It has been nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We hope the nomination will be approved soon. (Concluded)
Reference: Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Publications.
The writer is a heritage hunter and loves travelling.
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