Harmandir Sahib, a vision in gold

Harmandir Sahib

A Sikh temple located in the city of Amritsar of Punjab, India, the Harmandir Sahib boasts the impressively opulent alias that is the ‘golden temple’. Ostentatious however, the Golden Temple is not. Granted the Harmandir Sahib is breathtakingly magnificent in design and décor, but it truly shines in the humbling sense of spirituality the building exudes, a phenomenon that is recalled by religious and non-religious people alike. The universal appeal is symbolised by the temple’s four doors, designed to suggest an openness to people of all religions, despite being a figurative goliath of a Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) in the Sikh faith.

In this light, it is no surprise that the temple was constructed with the intention of building a place of worship for people of any religion and any walk of life; a building with a transcendent sense of spiritual wholeness that serves as a siren call for those looking to experience inner-peace, whether religious or not.

Already bearing the impressive pseudonym of the ‘Golden Temple’, the Harmandir Sahib too boasts the literal translation of the temple of God, to afford the building with such a title is not blasphemous but merely telling of the sense of enlightenment and serenity many claim during their trip. Now considered the supreme centre of Sikhism, in part due to its possession of the holiest text in Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib.

A visit to the Harmandir Sahib is simply an experience to be remembered, even if you aren’t religious. A visit is punctuated with the sense of peace and devotion upheld by the Sikh visitors (many Sikh visit the temple at least once during their lifetime) and the sense of awe that is felt throughout.

Both replenishing and rewarding, the temple is vibrant and quiet; to say the Harmandir Sahib is atmospheric is an understatement.

History

The temple was originally built in 1574, albeit this incarnation was not a gilded one. The primary version of the Harmandir Sahib was located in a sparse forest and was surrounded by a narrow but undulating man-made lake. The then Mughal Emperor Akbar famously visited the neighbouring town of Goindval, and upon becoming impressed with the way of life of the residents, deferred the ownership of the land and revenues of small villages in the surrounding villages to the guru of Goindval’s daughter, Bhani as a wedding gift. The reason this bears importance on the Harmandir Sahib is because when she became the area’s fourth Sikh Guru, she decided to enlarge the temple’s lake and built a small township around it, bringing the potential of future growth and the blessing of footfall to the area.

It was during the leadership of the next and fifth Guru that the fully fledged Gurdwara was built, and he himself laid the foundation stone to commemorate the beginning of the construction in December 1588. It was at this point some of the distinct architectural features we see in the temple today came to be. Intending to build a temple indicative of the Sikh world view, certain traits were employed. For instance, to suggest inclusivity to all, the temple was not built on high land as per the tradition for Gurdwara; in fact the Harmandir Sahib was built on a lower level than the surrounding land, with a few declining steps to invoke a humble sense of welcome. The Gurdwara was hence completed in 1604 and soon came to house the Guru Granth Sahib alongside its appointed reader. Much of the present gilding that makes the temple so famous today derives from improvements made upon the temple in the nineteenth century. The gold work can be attributed to the work force commissioned by Hukam Singh Chimni and Emperor Ranjit Singh, the Maharaja of the Sikh Empire in Punjab, both donating materials and funding an affection towards the Sikh people that undercut their desire to create a building that articulates its spiritual force with an over-whelming presence.

In this sense the temple became both a figurative and literal ‘glowing beacon’ of the Sikh faith and is iridescent in its illumination amidst the night sky, a visual spectacle that is made all the more magnificent when juxtaposed against its reflection against its surrounding lake.

Harmandir  Sahib reflection

Somehow the sheer amount of gold in the temple’s décor does not create a sense of opulence but manages to amplify a sense a grandeur in faith that is felt amongst the worshippers. A gaze at the intricate gold inlays and carving that frequent many of the interior’s nooks and crannies add to a feeling of awe without making a point about grandeur and wealth.

Atmosphere

Two main elements are apparent in the atmosphere of the golden temple, the first being devotion and the second being calmness. The devotion is not merely articulated by the numbers of worshippers who attend the temple but even in the way that the floors are kept meticulously clean by volunteers, the way in which people would even sweep the floors with such fervour stood to highlight the quiet power of their faith. Furthermore, in a compassionate act of devotion to Sikhism, and in an overwhelming feat of culinary effort, the temple provides a service called Langar.

langar

 

Langar is a key principle in the Sikh faith, which itself built on two key principles; to provide training for Sikh’s in voluntary service and to negate notions of inequality in the mouths they feed. In this sense, Langar at the biggest Sikh temple is phenomenon wherein thousands of people of absolutely any background are invited to eat the food thusly prepared. The principle of Langar was established by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji and perpetuates a sense of sharing and community that is so evidently manifest in the golden temple. If you do in fact eat Langar at the temple, you are typically served a simple but delicious lentil curry and rice dish that is very indicative of local Punjab cuisine. The duties that are so obviously taken very seriously by the Sikh people do not create a sense of chaos or strictness. Alternatively the temple is famed for the ubiquitous feeling of quiet calmness that is felt by both visitors and worshippers.

Etiquette

Although the temple is inclusive to any type of visitor, there exists a protocol one must uphold when visiting. This does not hamper a visit but just anchors one with some rules that should be respectfully upheld. For instance, a visitor must remove one’s shoes upon entry and wash their feet in the small pool of water provided. Similarly, a visitor should cover their head and refrain from drinking alcohol or eating meat whilst in the shrine. Although the etiquette to follow is not too taxing, it is advised that first time visitors begin their visit in the information office before entering the temple.

Harmandir Sahib interior

The Harmandir Sahib is undoubtedly a wonderful experience, and should undoubtedly be on the itinerary of any visit to the Punjab area of India. Even if you are not religious, you will find the architecture and artistry stunning, and the perpetual sense of calm and spirituality relaxing. Furthermore, as Sikhism was famously founded in the Punjab area of India, a visit to the temple is a certain way to engage with the heart of local culture, albeit in a moving and entertaining manner.