After years of imagining and planning I was fortunate to be at the Golden Temple this year. It was the month of May and almost everyone warned me of the intense heat in Amritsar during this time of the year. When it is time for a brush with the divine it just happens. We cannot choose our time nor date for our birth and death, the same holds true to be at the feet of the divine.
The entire area around the Golden Temple has been ear marked as the heritage area; all the buildings painted uniformly in a shade of brick and paved pathways lined with 3 point heritage lamp posts. At night it looks beautiful, straight out of those well lit streets in Paris. Vehicles are not allowed within the Heritage area limits so one less variable to deal with in an otherwise crowded street. I stayed in Hotel Abode located on the Heritage Street just about 5 minutes away from the temple enabling multiple visits during my stay.
Around Golden Temple
My first glimpse of the Temple was in the late afternoon; a feeling of bliss washed over me as I walked down the steps under the clock tower towards the Amrit Sarovar.
I took a clockwise round of the tank walking past the area where men were taking a holy dip,the gateway to the Langar and stopped near the small enclosure near the Dukh Bhanjani Tree (the place where pain and affliction is relieved).
It was pretty crowded with devotees sitting around the Tharha Sahib looking at the Golden Temple and many others taking a dip here since it is believed to accumulate the blessings of visiting 68 holy places. There is an enclosure for women here to take a dip. I kept walking down the Parikrama Path turning around the Sarovar right upto Laachi Ber (tree under which Guru Arjan Dev rested while supervising construction of Harmandir Saheb). Darshini Deori or the entrance to the temple was right next.
Slightly deterred by the serpentine queues,I entered Akal Takht Sahib the temporal centre for Sikhs and the resting place for Granth Sahib every evening. Granth Sahib is the Holy Book for the Sikhs like the Bible, Quran and Bhagvad Gita is for the Christians, Muslims and Hindus. It is the holiest place for the Sikhs. After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, I walked outside towards Gurudwara Yaadgar Shaheedan, the beautiful, marble structure with extensive stone work minakari on the walls.
I stopped near the 500 year old tree in front of Information Office. This tree is in memory of Baba Budha Ji who was the first head priest of Harmandir Sahib. He would sit under the tree and supervise the digging of Amrit Sarovar and construction of Harmandir Sahib. He was named Boorah by Guru Nanak Dev and lived for 125 years witnessing the coronation of several Sikh Gurus
There is something surreal about this temple, there is order and method in spite of the surging crowd. Just find a place somewhere along the Amrit Sarovar and immerse yourself in the chants, watching the glittering Golden Temple. Some devotees just stretch out their mats or simply drift off to sleep on the marble The energy of the place is palpable and soothes everyone who arrives at its gate.
Inside Golden Temple
The entrance to the temple is a few steps lower which is a unique feature perhaps meant to keep our ego in check and remain level headed. After spending a few moments in prayer, I looked up at the ceiling of the temple laden with precious stones and I just could not keep my eyes off it. I headed to the terrace where I meditated for a while, completely lost in the moment. I came down to the first floor and found a window seat position to to look below into the temple. I followed a few devotees to wipe the windows and railings with my dupatta as a token of service to keep the temple spotlessly clean. It was a blessed day much beyond what I imagined. I would recommend everyone to spend time on the upper floors of the temple to experience complete bliss. The ample amount of Kadha Prasad (Flour Halwa with Ghee) received at the gate was a deliciously divine closure to my time within the temple
Golden Temple ~ Palki Sahib
The Palki Sahib is taken out twice a day to carry the revered Granth Sahib (Babaji) to and from Harmandir Sahib (Temple) to Akal Takht Sahib. Granth Sahib is treated as the Guru for the Sikhs.
- 10.00pm every night – Harmandir Sahib to Akal Takht Sahib for night’s rest
- 4.30am every morning – Akal Takht Sahib to Harmandir Sahib for day long prayer and worship
I had a narrow miss of this journey in the morning and was planning to show up the following day but Babaji had other plans for me.
I walked around the temple that evening, had langar and was overwhelmed by the sight the glowing temple. I slowly trudged towards the entrance, watched the long queue and was wondering what to do when a group of people singing bhajan, carrying flags were entering through the gates. I was completely lost in their melodious rendition when the guard called out some of us standing close by that he would allow a few people to follow this group who were were on their way to bring Babaji to Akal Takht Sahib in the Palki Sahib. It appeared like a boon from heaven, I had tears in the eyes. I dont understand Gurmukhi and the only Gurbani I know is “Ik Onkar Satnaam, Karta Purakh….” which I sang to myself and followed them with chants of “Wahe Guru”. I visited the Temple and watched the proceedings and later walked along with Palki Sahib in the exit pathway right up to Akal Takht Sahib.
Golden Temple – History through the Ages
The 4th Sikh Guru Ram Das ji started the digging of the holy tank “Amrit-Sar” and the 5th Guru Shri Anraj Dev ji initiated the construction of Harmandir Sahib. He designed it as the ultimate centre of Sikhs with entrances from all four sides signifying openness of the Sikhs. The foundation stone was laid in 1588 by Hazrat Mian Mir a great Sufi Saint of his time. The construction was completed in 1604 and Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Book of the Sikhs) was placed within Harmandir Sahib by Guru Arjan Dev. The temple was attacked by the Afghans under Ahmed Shah Abdali in early 18th century who were subsequently crushed by Sikhs. It was restored in 1766 by Jassa Singh Alhuwalia and around 1800 it was gilded with 750 kg Gold by Maharaja Ranjit Singh earning the name “Golden Temple”.
Golden Temple ~ “Langar”
Langar or Free Hot Meals are served in all Gurudwaras generally on Sundays but the one in Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) is special. It is served 24/7 to nearly 50,000 to 100,000 devotees every single day. Anyone can walk in, take a plate, spoon, bowl, glass and sit on the mats rolled out in the huge dining halls. Everyone is served as much as they want and are politely asked to deposit their plates for cleaning and make way for the others. The plates are washed and cleaned multiple times, wiped, dried and again distributed to next batch of devotees. It is clockwork in the entire langar area. While there are a few permanent employees, 90% of the people engaged in service in the kitchen or cleaning are sewadars or devotees serving other devotees.
I had the opportunity to walk around the kitchen where the flour is kneaded in automatic machines, rotis prepared on a production line like tawa and quintals of rice, lentils, milk and vegetables are used to prepare a simple delicious meal for the masses.
I noticed some people preparing rotis manually with utmost concentration. This is prepared in small quantity for the senior citizens who love the traditional taste.
I had my turn for langar relishing every morsel with love.
Golden Temple ~ Visiting Tips
- Any time of the Year. The weather is pleasant between October and March
- Temple is open through 3am to 10.30pm. The Best time to visit is in the morning around 3am.
- Head has to be covered at all times. If you dont have any kerchief or dupatta on you then Cloth to cover the head is available for free near the entrance. Shorts are not allowed while walking inside the temple
- Shoes have to be kept in the area assigned near the entrance, then hands and legs are to be washed before entering the spotless premises
- Photography is allowed except inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple
- Sikh Museum is above the Entrance Gate. Recently a 3D Show has been introduced on the Golden Temple which is at the basement right next to the Shoe Keeping Area which is a must visit.
- The Langar is open 24/7 serving meals to devotees; do have a meal at the Langar to complete the divine experience
- Stay at a hotel on the Heritage Street to visit the temple at different times of the day.