It stands there in simple majesty, the gilded splendour of its dome and panellings shining in the sunlight, silhouetted softly in the water of the surrounding ‘pool of nectar’ (holy tank).
All around the pool, along the marbled pavement that fringes the temple complex’s vast amphitheatre like a mosaic border, walk the devotees in clockwise fashion. Resonating across the shrine, forming a continuous, soothing background soundtrack is the nonstop recitation of the ‘kirtan’ (religious hymns).
For me, it’s a surreal experience. Sure, there’s a huge world out there and I’ve seen it, but this is like coming back home. I’m humbled and awed at the same time. Not just because of the shrine’s sheer splendour and the rich burden of history so gracefully carried, but also because of its serenity. The mood is tranquil. The atmosphere electric!
The most exalted of all Sikh Gurdwaras (shrines), the Golden Temple in Amritsar is the ultimate Sikh pilgrimage centre, and a ‘must visit’ shrine for everyone.
In 1574, the Fourth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Ram Das Sahib Ji sanctified the ‘Pool of Nectar’ and settled down here. Shortly thereafter, the Guru bought the pool and its surrounding land and excavated the tank to construct a shrine at its centre. In 1588, the temple’s foundation stone was ceremoniously laid by the Muslim sufi divine, Hazrat Mian Mir of Lahore, at the request of the Fifth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Sahib Ji. A small town called Ramdaspur quickly emerged, deriving its later name, Amritsar, from the holy pool. In time the town grew in stature.
So much for the history …
The Golden Temple has found its rightful place among the most exalted of shrines in the world, with its architecture, art and décor inviting praise from all quarters. For the purist, it’s a collection of architectural symbols whose beauty is greatly enhanced by its simplicity. For the pilgrim, it is simplicity as manifest in religion.
I descend into the amphitheatre and find myself facing the sanctum sanctorum, whose reflection in the water of the holy tank creates a beautiful, artistic impression. This first view of the Golden Temple is something that stays with you.
I join the other devotees in a clock-wise walk across the square amphitheatre splayed out around the tank. I pass Dukhbanjan Beri (an ancient tree marking a very holy spot) where devotees are taking a dip, and arrive at the main shrine’s gateway.
Ten minutes. That’s all that I’ve been here, but I’m already in a ‘groove’. I can sense the mood, feel the rhythm.
The main structure’s 150 metres square, rises from the centre of the sacred pool, and is approached by a 60 metre-long causeway. The 52 metre square Hari Mandir stands on a 20 metre square platform, its lower part marble, upper portion embellished with gilded copper plates. I enter the sanctum sanctorum, and am in front of the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book of the Sikhs) reverently placed under a jewel-studded canopy. It is in front of the Guru Granth Sahib that devotees bow and touch their foreheads to the ground.
I’m now on the first floor pavilion of the sanctum sanctorum, known as the Shish Mahal (Mirror Room) and bow before the Guru Granth Sahib. The interior is ornate, with intricate inlays on the ceiling and walls. But it’s the scene below that’s enrapturing, and among the most powerful and beautiful I’ve ever seen. Before the Guru Granth Sahib is a floral pattern hewn together with several strings of flowers. To the left sit the hymn singers. To the right, pershad is being sanctified and then distributed.
Time means nothing as I experience all this. I now leave the sanctum sanctorum to see the complex’s other notable landmarks. I stop first at the Akal Takht, a massive marble structure with a stunning façade, that is the night resting place for the holy book, and also a podium for important religious matters. I stop at the two giant ‘nishan sahibs’ (flagpoles) that stand as silent, magnificent sentinels just by the side of the Akal Takht, and am back at the main entrance to the shrine.
But I’m not leaving. Not just yet.
To be continued…
Visit Shanti Travel’s website for an exquisite journey to the Golden Temple and the Indian Himalayas http://www.shantitravel.com/en/indian-himalayas/himachal-trekking/from-the-golden-temple-to-himalayan-hills/