The Harimandir, now called the Golden Temple, is a living symbol of spiritual and historical traditions of the Sikhs. The tank and the temple have been a source of inspiration to the Sikh community ever since their foundation. It is evident from the Sikh chronicles that the Sikh Gurus had evolved traditions of founding new Sikh centres which were popularised among their followers as places of pilgrimage The foundation of Sri Harimandir Sahib is the most significant achievement of the Sikh Gurus as a centre of inspiration and action for the Sikhs. Soon after its foundation the temple became an unparalleled establishment as a place of pilgrimage. The origin of the place where Sri Harimandir stands is shrouded in mystery. Some traditions trace its origin from the pre-historic period as a place of considerable religious importance in the form of an Amrit Kund (Spring of Nectar). This version is derived from ancient Hindu legends recorded in the Puranas. The tradition (further carried back to the great Hindu epic Ramayana is supplemented by the belief that the place lost its eminence under the sway of the Buddhist movement, which had swept away some of the important Hindu places of pilgrimage. All the hagiographical literature associated with the Golden Temple shows that the site was chosen because of its religious antiquity. But before its association with the Sikh Gurus, the site of the Harimandir was a low-lying area with a small pond (at the present site of the Dukh Bhanjani Beri) surrounded by a large number of shady trees in a jungle, encircled by the villages of Sultanwind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali. But the place was on the route of caravans passing to the North-West frontier and other old trade routes. Its surroundings had a geo-graphical importance and formed a commercial link between India and Afghanistan. However, the site of the temple was lying in oblivion before it was visited by the Sikh Gurus.
Legends and miracles are connected with the origin of the Amrit Sarowar (Tank of Nectar). It is said that Guru Amar Das found at the edge of the pool the desired herb to cure the skin ailment of Guru Angad (the second Guru of the Sikhs). However, the persistent local tradition best highlighting the medicinal properties of the water of the pond is the story of Rajni, daughter of Rai Duni Chand, a Kardar (revenue collector) of Patti, and the subsequent cure of her leprous husband after taking a dip into the pond. It is said that Ram Das (at that time on a visit to a nearby area) visited the place in connection with the above episode and was so much impressed with the beauty of the site that he decided to found a place of pilgrimage here. It is also said that Bhai Jetha used to visit that place along with the Sikh Sangat from Goindwal on the occasions of San grand (the first day of the Indian month) and Amavasaya (the dark moonless night of the month) to bathe in the pond prior to his pontificate. Also, according to the historical element derived from the Sikh literature the place was searched out by Guru Ram Das during his travels in the Majha region for finding a suitable site for establishing a new Sikh centre.
The idea of establishing this place of pilgrimage was formed by Guru Amar Das. The predominant factor which motivated the Guru for the formation of this idea was the continuity of the tradition of founding new places for the Sikh congregations as followed by his predecessors. The secondary factor was the peaceful settling of his future successor Guru Ram Das. It is recorded in the Sikh chronicles that to avoid all possibilities of any clash between his descendants and his son-in-law (Ram Das), Guru Amar Das instructed Ram Das to establish a station for himself, to dig a tank and develop it into a seat of Sikh pilgrimage. The new centre was founded on an open uninhabited piece of land, about twenty-five miles distant from Goindwal, lying between the villages of Sultanwind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali,’all at that time in the Pargana of Jhabbal in the Ta ‘alluqa of Patti, which formed a part of the Suba of Lahore ruled by the Mughals. The issue of the acquisition of the land by the Sikh Gurus has been described differently by different sources of the local history of Amritsar. The various opinions that the land was granted by Emperor Akbar to Guru Amar Das (later on transferred to Guru Ram Das), or was acquired by Guru Ram Das before the grant was actually obtained, or the land was purchased by the Guru on a payment of Rs. 700 from the Zamindars of the village of Tung at the instance of Emperor Akbar, or presented by the people of the village Sultanwind out of regard and reverence for the Guru’are all versions based on popular tradition. There are no documentary evidences to support or contradict these views. But the version regarding the purchase of the land by Guru Ram Das is in keeping with the tradition of the Sikh Gurus who never took any land grants from the rulers. It seems that originally the site of Amritsar was a shamlat'(community land) lying between the village of Sultanwind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali, and later it was acquired by the Sikh Gurus either on payment or was received by them free of cost. Opinions may vary on the question of acquisition of the site, but it is certain that the selection of the site was planned and not accidental. It was the choice of the Gurus themselves, and the site of Amritsar was a revenue-free land.’Even the early name of the city, Chak Guru, bears testimony to the nature of thebasti (settlement) as detached or revenue-free. Probably, Chak Guru was granted muafi (exemption) from land revenue by the Mughal Government during the reign of Emperor Akbar, whose policy of religious toleration and waqf(religious grants) even to non-Muslim centres is a wellknown fact.’
The original plan of the new project was chalked out by Guru Amar Das and conveyed to Ram Das for execution. The latter was given guidelines for the location of the site and was instructed to found a village, to build a house for himself, to dig a tank and to develop the centre gradually into a city. Arrangements were made for money and assistance. Some intelligent, experienced, devoted and elderly Sikhs were instructed to assist Ram Das to implement the project. It is to be noted that Guru Ram Das was not new to this project of construction. He had helped Guru Amar Das to excavate the Baoli (well with stairs) at Goindwal and had a considerable experience of handling a construction project.
The project was executed by Guru Ram Das then Bhai Jetha. A large Sikh Sangat came forward for voluntary service. A number of labourers were also engaged. Hundreds of people from nearby areas came to the site. The inauguration was formally made in the traditional Indian style.
First of all a boundary line of the settlement was drawn. The foundation was laid by Guru Ram Das and the village was named Ram Das Pur/Ram Das Pura. Opinions vary on the date of the founding of Rain Das Pur. Probably the foundation of the centre was first laid in A.D. 1573 after the completion of the Boali at Goindwal, where Guru Ram Das was engaged on a responsible assignment. However, the popular view is that it was done in 1577.
The construction of the new centre was started with great enthusiasm. Some huts and houses were built Then the excavation of the tank (later named Santokhsar) started. When a portion of the project was completed, Bhai Jetha went to Goindwal to pay his homage to Guru Amar Das and report the progress of the work. This time Guru Amar Das directed Ram Das to dig another tank at the low level area near the site of the tank under construction.’ On his return to the Chak, Ram Das located the site for the second tank surrounded by a large number of Ber (Jujube) trees.
The construction of the second tank (later named Amrit Sarowar) started under the personal supervision of Ram Das. According to Giani Gian Singh the digging of the tank commenced on 7 Kartik, Samvat 1630 BK. (Friday, 6 Nov. 1573). A large number of labourers were engaged. Many Sikh devotees came to the Chak to participate in the Sewa (service) of the tank. The digging work continued for some months. Simultaneously with the construction of the tank all care was taken to develop the village Chak. Fifty-two types of caste-groups from Patti, Kasur and Kalanaur were called to settle here for ensuring regular supply of essential commodities to the settlers. A market called Guru Ka Bazaar was also established. Some wells were dug for water supply. A number of rich sarafs (bankers) and banjaras (traders) settled down in the town
The construction work of the tank and the town was going on smoothly. But Ram Das had to rush back to Goindwal at the call of the dying Guru Amar Dass while the work was in progress. The work was resumed on return of Guru Ram Das in AD. 1577. The construction of both the tank and the town was completed in the same year.
On the completion of the project the Guru called local Khatris (business community) and told them to take charge of the holy place. But they humbly pleaded their inability to perform religious duties and requested the Guru to engage some Brahmins and Fakirs (mendicants) for this job. But the Khatris sought the blessings of the Guru for kirt and barkat (blessings in their professions), which were granted.
The Guru and his disciples were thrilled at the completion of the new pilgrimage centre. Guru Ram Das composed beautiful verses in glorification of the Sarowar, making an injunction upon his followers to take bath in the holy tank and meditate here onHan Nam (the name of God).
Soon after its foundation the tank acquired a reputation for sanctity and became the headquarters of the Sikhs.
The Amrit Sarowar remained kaccha till Guru Arjan Dev ascended the Guru Gaddi (A.D. 1581). The tank was madepacca and its side stairs were bricked. The bottom of the tank still remained kaccha as before. The Sikhs showed great enthusiasm and devotion for the Sewa (construction) of the tank. Hundreds of volunteers, masons and labourers came for free service’ The construction of the tank was completed in a short time. The successfull completion of the project was attributed to heavenly bliss. Guru Arjan Dev composed a number of hymns in the glory of the sacred tank highlighting the unique virtues of the holy bath in the tank and the benefits gained therefrom.
The tank was named Amar Sarowar or Amritsar. Gradually the fame of the sacred tank led to its identity with the latter appellation and the city got its final name ‘Amritsar’. While the tank was under construction, Guru Arjan Dcv formed the idea to build a beautiful place of a permanent nature which was calculated to become a central place of worship for the Sikhs.
The plan of the Harimandir was conceived by Guru Arjan Dcv. It was decided by the Guru to build the temple in the middle of the tank. The object of Guru Arjan Dcv in planning the structure of the Harimandir in the middle of the Amrit Sarowar was to combine both spiritual and temporal aspects to represent a new synthesis of Indian though the combination of the Nirgun and Sargun concepts of the Supreme Being.
The plan was executed under the direct control and supervision of Guru Arjan Dcv assisted by Baba Budha, Bhai Gurdas and some other prominent Sikhs. Many masons were called and engaged.45 The Guru appointed his trustworthy Sikhs like Bhai Salo, Bhai Bhagtu, Bhai Paira, Bhai Bahlo and Kalyana etc., to superintend the construction work and procure building materials. The assignment of brick-making was entrusted to Bhai Bahlo who was an expert in the art of brick-making.46
According to an early Sikh tradition the foundation stone of the Harimandir was laid by Guru Arjan Dcv himself. This version is carried by the all written Sikh sources up to the late nineteenth century. The generally recorded account is that Guru Arjan Dev laid the foundation of Harimandir on 1st Magh Samvat 1645/AD. 1588. However, a later but now commonly accepted Sikh tradition is that the foundation of the temple was laid at the request of Guru Arjan Dev by a Muslim Pir Mian Mir of Lahore in Samvat 1645 BK.
The construction work of the temple commenced with great enthusiasm. A large number of Sikhs participated in the work. Some of the devoted Sikhs became legends and adorn the pages of the annals of the Sikh Panth. Solid foundation was laid on a level higher than the bottom of the tank with lime and bricks. Broad walls were built. A bridge connecting the temple with Darshani Deohri (entrance gate) was constructed over the support of Surang Dwaris. (acqueducts), mehrabs and dats (arches).
Instead of building the Harimandir on a higher level as was the custom of the traditional Hindu temple architecture, the Guru built it on a lower level than its surrounding ground so that the visitors would have to go down the steps in order to pay homage to the holy shrine. The other distinguishing feature of the structure of the Harimandir was that unlike the Hindu temples which usually have only one gate the Harimandir was made open on all the four sides; representing open entry to all, a privilege which was denied in the Hindu temples. The construction of the temple was carried in a continuous process.
While the construction work was going on, the news about the outstanding project of the unique pilgrimage under construction spread far and wide. The Sikhs began to visit Amritsar in large numbers. Devotees of the Guru contributed a share from their earnings to the construction fund. Rich people offered their wealth. The Masands (Guru’s agents) of the nearby and far-off places collected funds for the project and sent them to the Guru. No difficulty occurred during the construction work. The tank and the temple when completed offered a beautiful sight.
The construction of the temple witnessed unique volunteer services offered by the Sikhs. The selfless, honest and hard services of his disciples were duly acknowledged by the Guru. All the Sikhs participating in theSewa were rewarded with Bakshishes (honorariums).
With the construction of the Harimandir, Amritsar attained the status of a great holy place.56 The praise of the newly constructed holy place spread far and wide. The local Sikhs visited the temple daily; the Sikhs of the nearby areas did so frequently and those of distant places twice a year on the occasions of Diwali and Baisakhi.
The next remarkable development of the Harimandir was the compilation of the scripture of the Sikhs. Guru Arjan Dcv collected the genuine Bani of the first four Sikh Gurus to which he added his own compositions as well as selections from the writings of certain Hindu Bhaktas and Muslim saints. The selection of the holy writings was made on the principle of the unity of God and brotherhood of man. While Guru Arjan Dcv was busy in preparing the holy volume, it was reported to Emperor Akbar by the enemies of the Guru that the holy book of the Sikhs under preparation contained some passages running down the Muslim and the Hindu prophets. The Emperor visited the Guru at Goindwal enroute to the Deccan towards the end of A.D. 1598 and desired to see the sacred volume. Some hymns were read out to the Emperor. It is said that the Emperor not only appreciated the high quality of the scripture but also remitted 1/6th of the annual revenue of the Zamindars of the Punjab whose hardship was brought to his notice by the Guru. The prompt action of the Guru gained for him immense popularity among the Jats and Zamindars of the ilaqa.
The holy scripture was compiled under the title of Pothi Sahib. The holy volume was completed in Sawan, Samvat 1661 BK. (July 1 604). As there was no binder at Amritsar at that time, the holy scripture was sent to Lahore for binding through Bhai Bano. The Adi Granth, as it came to be known as later, was formally installed in the Harimandir on Bhadon Sudi Ikam Samvat 1661 >BK. (August 1604). Baba Budha was appointed the first Granthi (headpriest) of the temple. From that very day started the regular worship, Kirtan and other services of the shrine. Soon the Harimandir became the principal place of worship, unparalleled in beauty and glory.
In the words of Guru Arjan:
have seen all places; there in not another like thee,
For thou wert established by the Creator-Lord Himself, who Blest thee wit,h Glory.
O Ramdaspur, how thickly populated thou art, and wearest unparalleled beauty,
And whosoever batheth in thy tank, is rid of his Sins.
-Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1362 (tr.) Gopal Singh, op. cit., Vol. IV.
The Harimandir was destroyed by the Afghan invaders thrice (A.D. 1757, 1762 and 1764) and was finally built in its present structure during the period of Sikh Misls (confederacies) in AD. 1765.
After the conquest of Sirhind on January 14, 1764, the Khalsa (Sikh Commonwealth) spread a sheet and collected offerings amounting to rupees nine lakhs. The amount was deposited with the famous bankers of Amritsar, Mohan Mal, Bhag Mal Lamba, Shayam Bhabra and Kalyana Pasi. Bhai Des Raj, a Khatri of village Sur Singh, District Amritsar, known for his honesty and truthfulness, was put in charge of the finance of the project so that the building of the temple and the tank should be completed as per p1an. Bhai Des Raj was granted a seal ‘Gurz di Mohar’ by the Khalsa to collect funds. The Sikhs regarded this Mohar as a Hukumnama (despatch) from their Gurus. This time the foundation of the temple was laid by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia on 11 Baisakh Samvat 1821 >(A.D. 1 764).
The building work of the temple could not be completed as per schedule on account of the Afghan invasion in December 1764. After the departure of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the Sikhs collected together at Amritsar and undertook the reconstruction of the Harimandir. The building work of the temple was carried under the supervision of Des Raj as planned previously.
With the joint efforts of the Khalsa the construction of the Amrit Sarowar, the Harimandir, the bridge and the Darshani Deohri was completed by Samvat 1833 BK. (A.D.1776). TheParkarma (circumambulatory pathway) and the religious places around the tank were.completed by Samvat<>1841 >BK. (A.D. 1784).
The Harimandir got the name of Swaran Mandir (Golden Temple) when its upper part sheathed in richly embossed and highly gilded sheets was covered with gold all around it during the period of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh granted rupees 5 lakhs for placing golden plates on Sri Harimandir Sahib in Samvat 1860 BK. (AD. I 803). It is evident from the inscription on the gold plate engraved over the entrance gate on the north-eastern side of the central shrine that the gold service of the temple was got done by Maharaja Ranjit Singh through the supervision of Bhai Sant Singh Giani in Samvat 1887 BK. (A.D. 1 830). Bhai Sant Singh Giani appointed Mohammad Yar Khan Mistri as technical expert for the task of gold-plating. The greater part of the architectural structure of the present building of the Harimandir was constructed and decorated in the nineteenth century. The architecture of the Golden Temple represents the highest achievement of the Sikhs in art and architecture. The allied arts of decoration, naqashi and frescoes inside the temple display the skilled craftsmanship of the Indian artists of the nineteenth century. No building in the world can vie with the Golden Temple where nature and art have been treated in such a harmonious blending so beautifully.
The Golden Temple (also called Darbar Sahib) is not only a place of worship but a rallying centre of the Sikh community. It is the heritage of the Sikh people gathered in their five hundred years old history. Legends and miracles are connected with the holy tank while great martyrdoms and triumphs are associated with various spots of the temple precincts. The temple had been a symbol of the Sikh struggle for independence in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries all important Sikh movements have been led from the precincts of the Golden Temple.
The story of the Golden Temple enshrines many romantic events and numerous tragic incidents which have made deep impact on the history, thought, literature and folk-lore of the Sikh people. The holy words of Guru Arjan Dev contain the eternal echo:
‘Dithe sab thav nahi tudhjehia’.
(I have seen all places, there is not another like thee).
-Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1362.
Excerpts taken from:the book: The City of Amritsar: edited by: S. Fauja Singh
Sri Harmandir Sahib,
Pin Code 143001
Phone No: 91-183-553953