Amritsar is one of the most ancient and fascinating cities in India. It is situated in the northern state of Punjab and is home to the famous Golden Temple. Amritsar plays an important role in the Sikh culture and history, being the holiest city of the religion that boasts 27 million followers worldwide, and the Golden Temple is arguably one of the country's most spectacular sites.
What Is The Golden Temple?
The Golden Temple, known as Sri Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib, is an open place of worship for Sikhs - Sikhism being a religion that follows a single god. There are four gates on each side of the square-plan temple grounds that symbolizes the Golden Temple being open to people from all walks of life, regardless of race, religion or creed.
Golden Temple History
Amritsar means the 'pool of the nectar of immortality' and the name comes from the word Sarovar which relates to the tank around the Golden Temple that was excavated in 1577. The city of Amritsar subsequently was built around the pool.
Guru Arjan Sahib, the fifth guru of Sikhs, initiated construction and conceived the idea of creating a central place of worship for Sikhs and designed the architecture of Sri Harmandir Sahib. The land that became Amritsar on which the Golden Temple sits on was chosen by Guru Amar Das, the third guru. He appointed his disciple Ram Das to search for land to build a new town on, with the man made pool being its central point. Guru Ram Das succeeded Guru Amar Das, becoming the fourth Guru and founded Amritsar which was then known as Ramdaspur. He was Guru Arjan's father. He completed the pool under the supervision of Baba Buddha, a venerated figure in Sikhism. Guru Ram Das then appointed his youngest son to succeed him - Guru Arjan, the fifth guru, who further expanded Ramdaspur and was the one that designed the Golden Temple.
Golden Temple Construction
The temple began construction in 1581, with the first version taking eight years to complete. The temple has seen much renovation since, caused by multiple attacks since its first build. It was first covered in gold in 1830, two centuries after its initial construction, by Maharaja Ranjit Singh with 162kg of gold in seven to nine layers, coining its name the Golden Temple. From 1995-1999, it was covered in a further 500kg of gold in twenty four layers by skilled artists.
Exploring The Golden Temple
SANCTUM - At the centre of the temple grounds is the gold sanctum in which the sacred scriptures of the Sikh religion (The Guru Granth Sahib) are kept. They are read throughout the day with other religious hymns that can be heard over the speakers across and around the temple and the city, which are also broadcasted over television and radio around the world. Worshippers and visitors alike wait in long lines to go inside here to seek blessings. On a normal day, it can take up to two hours to reach the sanctum, and more on holidays and weekends.
SAROVAR - Surrounding the sanctum is the man made pool or the Sarovar. It is believed that the sacred water has healing powers and therefore, there are bathing areas separated for male and females where you can take a holy dip.
PARIKRAMA - The periphery surrounding the Sarovar is called the Parikrama and is an ideal place to soak in the atmosphere of the Golden Temple. Many people sit around here reciting and listening to prayers. There are many informative and commemorative plaques around the outer walkway, detailing the temple's history which are worth finding and reading.
COMMUNITY KITCHEN - Since 1481, Harmandir Sahib has been serving vegetarian meals to every visitor that comes to its langar hall - a community kitchen where 50,000 people are fed every day, no matter who they are or where they've come from, ensuring no man goes hungry. Everybody is given a metal tray, cup and cutlery and sit side by side on mats on the ground, heedless of status, where the food is served to you. The food is free of charge but many locals and pilgrims participate in sewa - volunteering. This can be serving food, cleaning dishes, or helping with the cooking. 90% of the staff is made up of volunteers performing sewa, along with 300 permanent sewadars who ensure the food is cooked and delivered on time. The immense logistical achievement of preparing, cooking and serving visitors is something to really admire!
What To Wear To The Golden Temple
As this is a holy place of worship, it is important to dress appropriately. Although there is no dress code, there are guidelines that should be followed.
Everybody entering the grounds must cover their head. You can cover your head with your own scarf or bandana, otherwise borrow or buy one from just outside the temple. Do not wear a hat as a replacement.
Shoulders and legs should be covered. You can wear a long dress or pants with a long top.
Shoes are taken off before entering. There are designated shoe drop-off services free of charge. They will give you a token which you must hold onto to collect your shoes once you exit.
You should remove socks. The temple has multiple foot-washing facilities in the form of pools where you will wash your feet upon entering and exiting the temple.
Depending on what season you visit in, dress according to the temperature. It can get very crowded and hot, so cottons are recommended.
Luggage must be left in the storage room at the entrance of the temple, and is free of charge. Handbags and smaller backpacks are fine to take in.
What Time Should I Visit The Golden Temple?
The Golden Temple is open 24 hours a day. The temple is always busy, with weekends seeing more traffic. Depending on your religious fervour, you can visit the temple at any time of the day. Devout Sikhs visit early morning during Amrit Vela (time of Amrit) between 12 midnight - 6am before the dawning of the morning at which they meditate. The Palki Sahib ceremony is a daily ritual that takes place twice a day where the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) is taken from the Golden Temple to the Sri Akal Takht, right opposite the Golden Temple and vice versa. The Guru Granth Sahib is put to rest every night at 9.30pm and every morning the holy book is brought from Akal Takht to the Golden Temple for worship at 4.30am. When it is brought in the morning, worshippers adorn the holy book with flowers and await the recital of the first hymn of the day, known as the hukamnama, which happens at 6.30am daily, and is chosen at random. This time is busy, yet beautifully peaceful. Throughout the day, the recitals continue in an organized manner, and worshippers and visitors are served Karah Prashad, which is a holy offering that you eat made of flour, butter and sugar. Arriving before dusk will allow you to see the Golden Temple in daylight and stay until night to see the temple shimmer and reflect off the pool, making it a treat for the eyes and soul alike.
General Guide To Visiting The Golden Temple
To visit the Golden Temple with the upmost respect, there are some general rules that should be followed.
Smoking and drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited on the temple grounds and around the Golden Temple.
No meat should be consumed or brought inside the Golden Temple. The langar (meal) is strictly vegetarian and all restaurants around the Golden Temple are vegetarian
When accepting Karah Prashad, the holy offering, accept it with two hands with the right palm on top.
Mobile phones should be switched off before entering the sanctum.
Anyone can take a dip (no swimming) in the sarovar (pool of nectar) but the use of soap and shampoo is not allowed. There is a room for wet clothes and washrooms in which you can use soap and shampoo after.
Most people will offer a cash donation when seeking blessings or paying respect. This can be done in any of the deposit boxes around the periphery or inside the sanctum. You can also make an offering to the community kitchen. If you do this, a receipt will be given to you in return acknowledging your donation. There is no set amount. Some people donate a euro while others make larger donations. This money goes back into the running of the temple.
You must walk clockwise around the pool and Golden Temple.
There are free english booklets about the temple available near the shoe drop-off which are a great guide to the Sikh religion and temple.
When walking in and out of the temple grounds, you will step into a water bath to clean your feet.
Photography is allowed only from the Parikrama - the outer walkway. You are strictly prohibited from taking photos on a camera or cellphone inside the Golden Temple or the walkway leading into the sanctum. You can take photos in the communal areas. It is important to be respectful as this is a place of worship so refrain from taking photos of people bathing in the holy water or eating the blessed food. There are also signs that say TikTok is prohibited - a much loved phenomenon in India! Avoid flying drones over the temple.