The Harmandir Sahib literally means the Temple of God. Guru Amar Das had ordered Guru Ram Das to create a nectarous tank as a place of worship for the Sikh religion. Guru Ram Das instructed all his Sikhs to join in the work, under Bhai Budha's superintendence and engaged labourers to assist them. He said that the tank of nectar should be God's home, and whoever bathed in it shall obtain all spiritual and temporal advantages.
During the progress of the work, the hut in which the Guru first sheltered himself was expanded for his residence; it is now known as the Guru's Mahal, or palace. In 1578 CE Guru Ram Das excavated a tank, which subsequently became known as Amritsar , giving its name to the city that grew around it. In due course, the Harmandir Sahib was built in the middle of this tank and became the supreme centre of Sikhism. Its sanctum came to house the Adi Granth comprising compositions of Sikh Gurus and other saints considered to have Sikh values and philosophies, e.g., Baba Farid, and Kabir. The compilation of the Adi Granth was started by the fifth guru of Sikhism, Guru Arjan. Guru Arjan conceived the idea of creating a central place of worship for the Sikhs and designed the architecture of Harmandir Sahib. Earlier the planning to excavate the holy tank was chalked out by Guru Amar Das, the Third Sikh Guru, but it was executed by Guru Ram Das under the supervision of Baba Budha. The land for the site was acquired by the earlier Guru Sahibs on payment or free of cost from the Zamindars of native villages.
The plan to establish a town settlement was also made and the construction work on the Sarovar and the town started simultaneously in 1570. The work on both projects was completed in 1577. In December 1588, Guru Arjan initiated the construction of the gurdwara and the foundation stone was laid by Hazrat Mian Mir on 28 December 1588. The gurdwara was completed in 1604. Guru Arjan installed the Guru Granth Sahib in it and appointed Baba Buddha as the first Granthi of it in August 1604. In the mid-18th century, it was attacked by the Afghans, by one of Ahmed Shah Abdali's generals, Jahan Khan, and had to be substantially rebuilt in the 1760s. However, in response, a Sikh Army was sent to hunt down the Afghan force. The forces met five miles outside Amritsar and Jahan Khan's army was destroyed.
Some of the architectural features of the Harmandir Sahib were intended to be symbolic of the Sikh world view. Instead of the normal custom of building a gurdwara on high land, it was built at a lower level than the surrounding land so that devotees would have to go down steps to enter it. In addition, instead of one entrance, Sri Harmandir Sahib has four entrances. The gurdwara is surrounded by the Sarovar, a large lake or holy tank, which consists of Amrit and is fed by the Ravi River.
There are four entrances to the gurdwara, signifying the importance of acceptance and openness. There are three holy trees , each signifying a historical event or Sikh saint. Inside the gurdwara there are many memorial plaques that commemorate past Sikh historical events, saints and martyrs, including commemorative inscriptions of all the Sikh soldiers who died fighting in World War I and World War II. Much of the present decorative gilding and marblework dates from the early 19th century. All the gold and exquisite marble work were conducted under the patronage of Hukam Singh Chimni and Emperor Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. The Darshani Deorhi Arch stands at the beginning of the causeway to the Harmandir Sahib; it is 6.2 metres high and 6 metres in width.
The gold plating on the Harmandir Sahib was begun by Ranjit Singh and was finished in 1830. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a major donor of wealth and materials for the shrine. The Harmandir Sahib complex also houses the Akal Takht , built by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind as an authority for administering justice and consideration of temporal issues. Within the complex, the Akal Takht constitutes a counterpoint with the holy shrine, in that the Harmandir Sahib is the abode of God's spiritual attribute, and the Akal Takht is the seat of God's temporal authority.
Sri Harmandir Sahib Amritsar
One of the most important festivals is Vaisakhi, which is celebrated in the second week of April (usually the 13th). Sikhs celebrate the founding of the Khalsa on this day and it is celebrated with fervour in the Harmandir Sahib. Other important Sikh religious days such as the birth of Guru Ram Das, martyrdom day of Guru Teg Bahadur, the birthday of the Sikh founder Guru Nanak, etc., are also celebrated with religious piety. Similarly Diwali is one of the festivals which sees the Harmandir Sahib beautifully illuminated with Diyas (lamps); lights and fireworks are discharged. Most Sikhs visit Amritsar and the Harmandir Sahib at least once during their lifetime, particularly and mostly during special occasions in their life such as birthdays, marriages, childbirth, etc.
On average Golden temple is open by 2 AM in the morning and is open till 1045 pM at night. Total open time might extend in summers and be shortened in winters.
A broad network of roads runs through Amritsar, connecting it well to different places. One can reach Amritsar from most of the northern states in just a day's time. Pathankot is about two and half hours drive from Amritsar. Grand Trunk Karnal Road connects Delhi to Amritsar. Regular buses are available from Delhi I.S.B.T Delhi to Amritsar. There are daily direct buses operating to Jammu, Katra, Chandigarh, and Dharamshala as well, from the city, A number of government and private buses run on regular basis to and from Amritsar. Thus, Amritsar is adequately connected by road to both the places within Punjab as well as outside the state.
Amritsar has an extensive rail network, connecting the city to all the major places of the country, like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore etc. If you are travelling from Delhi, Shatabdi Express will be the best option. The journey takes around 6 hours and the train passes via Ambala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Phagwada and Beas. Amritsar is connected with Lahore by the Samjhauta Express. The railway station in Amritsar is centrally located; of hardly 15-minutes drive from the Golden Temple. It has the facilities of ATM Centre and tourist information centre. Make sure you book your train tickets well in advance, as the trains to and from Amritsar usually run full, owing to the high tourist traffic.
Amritsar has an extremely well developed airport, named as Raja Sani international Airport. It has a chain of flights operating both within and outside the country. In fact, it is the only airport in Punjab to operate international flights. It is located hardly 11 km away from the city centre. The proximity of the airport from the city accounts for a comfortable tour to the tourists. Various domestic flights like the Indian Airlines, Air Deccan, Kingfisher, Spice Jet and others come in and go out of this airport, at regular intervals, connecting Punjab with major cities of India, like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and others. Besides, international flights like Turkmenistan Airlines, Uzbekistan Airlines, Air India and others connect Punjab with foreign countries like London, Toronto via Birmingham, Singapore, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and others. There is also another airport in Amritsar called Guru Ram Das International Airport, which operates flight from different corners of the world.
Despite its great sacred status, the Golden Temple is open to visitors, like all Sikh temples. The only restrictions are that visitors must not drink alcohol, eat meat or smoke in the shrine. And unlike many other Indian temples, visitors to the Harmandir Sahib are made to feel truly welcome and not pressured to buy anything. The information office left of the main gate gives helpful advice and information, as well as booklets on Sikhism. Most visitors to the Golden Temple, whether Sikh or not, are humbled by what is quite simply the most tangibly spiritual place in the country. Arrive with a few good hours set aside and get lost in its magical beauty.
Visitors must leave their shoes at the facility near the entrance, cover their head (bandanas are provided, or you can buy a souvenir bandana from a vendor), and wash their feet by wading through the shallow pool before entering. The most famous and sacred part of the Golden Temple complex is the Hari Mandir (Divine Temple) or Darbar Sahib (Court of the Lord), which is the beautiful golden structure at the center of a large body of water. The gold-plated building features copper cupolas and white marble walls encrusted with precious stones arranged in decorative Islamic-style floral patterns.
The structure is decorated inside and out with verses from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book). The water that surrounds the Hari Mandir is a sacred pool known as the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar). The temple is reached by following the Parikrama, which circumscribes the sacred pool in a clockwise direction. Connecting the pathway with the Hari Mandir is a marble causeway called the Guru's Bridge, which symbolizes the journey of the soul after death. The gateway to the bridge, the Darshani Deorhi, has magnificent silver doors.
The fascinating scene inside the Hari Mandir is televised throughout India for Sikh viewers. Amidst a crowd of fervent and solemn devotees, scriptures from the Holy Book are sung beneath a canopy studded with jewels. A chauri (whisk) is continually waved above the Book as lines of Sikhs pay their respects by touching their foreheads to the temple floor and walls, continuing in a clockwise direction at a relaxed pace.
Another major highlight of the Golden Temple complex is the Guru-ka-Langar, a dining hall where around 35,000 people a day are fed for free by temple volunteers. Everyone is invited to join this communal breaking of bread. All participants sit on the floor, regardless of caste, status, wealth or creed, powerfully symbolizing the central Sikh doctrine of the equality of all people. Guest quarters are also available for international Sikh visitors (for a nominal fee), and at least 400 simple rooms are provided (free of charge) to Sikh pilgrims. In the Central Sikh Museum at the main entrance, galleries display images and remembrances of Sikh gurus, warriors, and saints; it includes some graphic portraits of the torture and execution of gurus.