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Golden Temple
Pilgrimage Destinations of India


Golden Temple

Destination: The Golden Temple, Amritsar

INTRODUCTION

The Golden Temple is the ultimate Sikh pilgrimage. The Harmandir Sahib, as it is traditionally known, actually means the temple of Hari or the Supreme God. Also known as the Darbar Sahib, the stupendous, architectural masterpiece is located in the city of Amritsar. The temple stands in the middle of a square tank known as the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar).

There is a causeway across the Pool of Nectar to reach the Temple. The shrine is symbolical of the doctrines of Sikhism. It also represents the magnificent strength of all the Sikhs. The amazing thing about Harmandir Sahib is that it has doorways on all four sides, meant to be open for the people of all the four castes. Every devout Sikh looks forward to visit and offer prayer at this magnificent temple

HISTORY

Guru Arjan Dev thought of building a central place of worship for the Sikh community. In 1588, after finalizing the design of the Darbar Sahib, he laid down the foundation of the temple himself. His followers started living in the adjacent area and the town of Ramdaspur came up. The town of Ramdaspur later came to be known as Amritsar, deriving its name from the holy pond that beautifies the area surrounding Hari Mandir. The planning to dig the holy tank or Amrit Sarovar was made by Guru Amar Das. However, the construction of the tank took place under the supervision of Baba Budha ji. The land for the site was acquired free of cost from the zamindars (landlords) of native villages. The first Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh made Amritsar his spiritual capital. He developed the temple further including the gilding of the embossed plates, renewing of the pietra dura and the embellishment of the ceilings with the mirror and floral designs.

WHEN TO VISIT

Normal: Throughout the year

Special Event: The Golden Temple becomes a hub of activity during the Gurpurbs when pilgrims throng the shrine in large numbers

THE PILGRIMAGE

The Journey

The Golden Temple is located in the old city, which is south of the railway station of Amritsar. From the station, one can hire a cab for the shrine. The airport is situated 12 km northwest of the town. Taxis can be hired from the airport to reach the temple. The Amritsar bus stand is located to the northeast of the Harmandir Sahib.

Rituals

Visiting the Darbar Sahib is an enthralling experience. Some characteristic rituals are required to be followed here, which are simple and peace promoting. At the Golden Temple, a day comprises of the following activities:

1.Amrit Vela
2.The Harmandir Sahib
3.Parkarma Shrines and Ath Sath Tirath
4.Decorated Palki and Sawari
5.Parkash Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji
6.Har-ki-Pauri
7.Rahras and Arti

Amrit Vela

Amrit Vela means the pre-dawn moment—the time when the clock strikes four in the morning. The pilgrims wake up and start preparing for a serene early morning visit to the Darbar Sahib. After reaching the temple entrance, one must take off their shoes at the ‘shoes counter'. The next step is to dip one's feet at a channel of running water. On the way to the temple, there are lined-up flower stalls for one to buy garlands or just fresh flowers for offering.

Harmandir Sahib

The sublime shrine is reached by descending a flight of marble stairs. The idea is to teach humility to mankind. The staircase leads to the parkarma, where the inspirational and awesome Harmandir Sahib is situated in the center of the Sarovar. Naturally, one is inclined to bow down to touch the cool marble with their foreheads. To go around the entire parkarma, one has to start from the left and stop at shrines on the way, before making it finally to the Harmandir.

The Parkarma Shrines and Ath Sath Tirath

The Dukh Bhanjani Ber is the very first shrine on the parkarma. It is actually built around a jujube tree. Legend has it that a dip in the sacred pool inexplicably cured a crippled youth. The Sikhs believe that a visit to the temple remains incomplete without bathing at this spot.

The next stop is a raised marble platform, known as the Ath Sath Tirath. It is believed that taking a bath near it fulfils one's wish of visiting the 68 holy places of India. The next corner has the shrine of Baba Deep Singh, the legendary old warrior who died at this spot. The names of Sikh martyrs who died in the wars are inscribed on marble tablets set in the floor of the parkarma or on the pillars of the verandahs. The Akal Takht and the Darshani Deorhi are the next destinations for the eager devotees.

The Decorated Palki and Sawari

Now begins the ceremony of bringing down the Guru Granth Sahib. For the occasion, a gold and silver palki (palanquin) is prepared. Attendants lay down fresh sets of silk and brocade coverings, and sprinkle rose water.

The head priest of the Harmandir appears with the Guru Granth Sahib on a cushion on his head. The event is marked by the drumbeat of the Nigara.

The procession solemnly moves across the plaza, through the Darshani Deorhi, and along the causeway, stopping as it reaches the main door of the Harmandir. The head priest reverently lifts the Guru Granth Sahib out of the palki, places it on a silk cushion on his head, and enters the holy shrine.
Parkash

Parkash is the ceremony in which the head priest carries the Guru Granth Sahib to its place of honor, which is a place below the velvet canopy, richly brocaded in silver and gold. He then sets it on velvet cushions and silks placed on a manji sahib. Then the head priest sits in front of the Holy Book and reads it aloud the Vaaq (the Lord's message) to the sangat (congregation). Now it is time for the entire sangat and the sewadars to stand up for the Ardas (prayer). The shabad kirtan, or the chanting of sacred verses, takes place after this.

Har-ki-Pauri

The Har-ki-Pauri is the place to be visited after the Ardas prayer. It is on the southern side of the inner parkarma. There is a marble staircase leading into the sarovar. Visitors stop here to sprinkle water from this sacred pool into their heads. One can drink a little bit of water for its remedial power also.

Continuing on the inner parkarma, the devotees again bow towards the Guru Granth Sahib. Then they make way back over the causeway, through the Darshani Deorhi and onto the main parkarma. At this stage, one would see the Ber Baba Buddha or the Tree Shrine. Baba Buddha was the first head priest of the Harmandir Sahib

Rahras & Arti

The evening is a time for the devotees to come and listen in deep thoughtfulness to the evening recitations. It is time for the Rahras, the Arti and the shabad kirtan. At end of the prayers, the Sri Guru Granth Saheb is reverentially and royally carried to the palki waiting outside. The palki is carried by dedicated Sikhs. The grand Darshani Deorhi is shut down for the visitors after this.

EVENTS AND FESTIVALS

The Golden Temple comes alive during the Gurpurbs. The Gurpurbs are deeply ingrained in Sikhism. They are so important that the Sikhs used to sacrifice their lives in order to organize them. The primordial Gurpurbs are the Dewali or Bandi Chhor Diwas (October/November), Vaisakhi or Khalsa Sajna Diwas (March 30) and the Sahidi Diwas that marks the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev (May/June). The birthday of Guru Nanak is celebrated on Kartik Pooranmasi day (which generally falls in November). Sikhs from all over the world congregate at Harmandir Sahib to celebrate the Guru's birthday. Another Gurpurb is the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, which is celebrated with great devotion on Poh Sudi Saptami day (December/January).

Gurpurbs are generally celebrated for three days. Before the actual date, Akhand Path is organized in the Gurdwara. The procession of Nagarkirtan is held a day before. This is led by the Panj Piyaras (five beloved ones) and the palki (palanquin) bearing the Guru Granth Sahib, both of which are followed by groups of kirtani. The passage of the Nagarkirtan is bedecked with religious posters, flags, and flowers. Kirtan Darbar and Amrit Sanchar are held in the Gurdwara hall. The langar (food) is served to the visiting devotees.

LODGING

The Golden Temple authorities provide lodging at the following sarais or rest houses:

1.Sarai Shri Guru Ram Das
2.Shri Guru Nanak Niwas
3.Shri Guru Hargobind Niwas
4.Shri Guru Arjan Niwas
5.Akal Rest House

Sarai booking has to be done seven days in advance.

HOW TO REACH

By Air

The nearest airport is the Raja Sansi Airport,12 km northwest of town. Taxis are available there, to reach the destianation Amritsar. There are flights that connect Delhi, London and New York.

By Rail

Those desirous of reaching Amritsar by trains, they can reach the place from Delhi (447 km), Calcutta (1,855 km), Mumbai (1,843 km), etc. The Samjhauta Express also connects Amritsar to Lahore in Pakistan.

By Road

All the major cities in the northern India are connected by road with Amritsar. The major destinations include Delhi (447 km), Shimla (322 km), Chandigarh (217 km), Dehradun (392 km) and Jammu (219 km).



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