The spiritual center of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple was built between 1589 and 1601, and is a superb synthesis of Islamic and Hindu styles of architecture. In keeping with the syncretic tradition of those times, its foundation stone was laid by a Muslim saint, Mian Mir. The temple was virtually destroyed in 1761 by an Afghan invader, Ahmed Shah Abdali, but was rebuilt some years later. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruler of Punjab, covered the dome in gold and embellished its interiors with lavish decoration during his reign.
The Holiest Shrine
The Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple complex is actually a city within a city, with a maze of lanes protected by 18 fortified gates. The main entrance is through the northern gateway, the Darshani Darwaza, which also houses the Central Sikh Museum and its collections of paintings, manuscripts, and weapons. From here, steps lead down to the Parikrama (marble pathway) encircling the Amrit Sarovar (“Pool of Nectar”), after which Amritsar is named, and Hari Mandir (“Temple of God”), the golden-domed main shrine. Several holy sites line the Parikrama, including the Dukh Bhanjani Ber, a tree shrine said to have healing powers and the Athsath Tirath, representing 68 pilgrim shrines. The Parikrama continues to the Akal Takht. The complex includes the Guru ka Langar — a free kitchen symbolizing the caste-free, egalitarian society the Sikh gurus sought to create.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh
One of North India’s most remarkable rulers, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1790-1839) established Punjab’s first Sikh kingdom by persuading rival chieftains to unite. A military genius, his strong army kept both the British forces and Afghan invaders at bay by making Punjab a prosperous center of trade and industry. A devout Sikh, the one-eyed Ranjit Singh was an enlightened ruler who liked to say, “God intended me to look at all religions with one eye.”
With their characteristic turbans and full beards, the Sikhs are easy to identify. Sikhism is a reformist faith, founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak. It believes in a formless God. It is also called the Gurmat, or the “Guru’s Doctrine,” and Sikh temples are known as gurdwaras, literally, “doors to the guru.” Nanak, the first of a series of ten gurus, chose his most devout disciple as his successor. The tenth and last guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), reorganized the community as a military order, the Khalsa, to combat religious persecution by the Mughals. He gave the Sikhs their distinctive identity and the Khalsa’s five symbols — kesh (long hair), kachha (underwear), kirpan (small sword), kangha (comb), and kara (bracelet)—that all Sikhs are obligated to wear.
This is made of white marble.
Guru Granth Sahib
Covered by a jeweled canopy, the Holy Book lies in the Durbar Sahib (“Court of the Lord “) .
The marble walls have pietra dura inlay and decorative plasterwork bearing animal and flower motifs covered in gold leaf.
The holiest site for Sikhs, this three-storied temple, decorated with superb pietra dura, is where the Holy Book is kept during the day.
Shaped like an inverted lotus, the dome is covered in 220 lbs (100 kg) of gold donated by Ranjit Singh in 1830.
This gateway provides the first glimpse of the temple’s inner sanctum. It has two splendid silver doors and sacred verses carved on its walls.
The 200-ft (60-m) long marble causeway is flanked by nine gilded lamps on each side, and leads to the temple across the Amrit Sarovar.
The pool where Sikhs are baptized was built in 1577 by Ram Das, the 4th guru.
The seat of the supreme governing body of the Sikhs, this houses the gurus’ swords and flagstaffs, as well as the Holy Book at night.
The Hall of Mirrors, on the top floor of the Hari Mandir, has a curved bangaldar roof, and its floors are swept with a special broom made of peacock feathers.
The festival of Guru Parab celebrates Guru Nanak’s birthday on a full Moon night in late October-early November (date varies). It is particularly spectacular at the Golden Temple, which is illuminated by thousands of lamps.
589-1601: The Golden Temple is constructed,, under the care of the Sikhs’ 4th guru, Arjan Dev.
1760s: Muslim Afghans attack the Golden Temple and raze it to the ground on several occasions.
1776: The Khalsa (Sikh Commonwealth) rebuild the Golden Temple.
1830: Maharaja Ranjit Singh adorns the temple’s dome with gold.
1984: The temple is damaged during Operation Blue Star, undertaken by the army to flush out extremists.
2003: The Punjab government funds an extensive project to beautify the area around the Golden Temple.