The Golden Temple - Amritsar
Known as the Harmandir Sahib, it is the most important shrine of the Sikh religion. Located in the city of Amritsar in Punjab, India it is a place of great beauty and spirituality. The Harmandir Sahib consists of many structures and is informally referred to as The Golden Temple. The Harmandir Sahib is known to the Sikh's as the adobe of god. Situated within the structure is the Akal Takht which is known as the throne of gods highest temporal authority. The temple is structurally built below ground level to signify one must be humble and go down to reach god. The Golden Temple is made from white marble and as the name suggests, embellished in pure gold. The temple houses the Guru Granth Sahib the Sikh sacred holy book.
The Golden Temple was built as a place of worship for all men and women of any spiritual belief equally. The openness of the Sikh religion towards all is represented by the four entrance ways. The temple itself stands in the centre of a manmade lake called the Amrit Sarovar. Bathing in the sarovar is believed to have healing powers. Even on the coldest day you will find Sikhs bathing in the holy waters. Koi Carp gracefully swim throughout the sarovar. They were introduced into the sarovar to keep the water clean. Surrounding the sarovar is a marbled plaza layed with a green mat for crowds to walk on. Large intricately designed marble walls enclose the whole structure similar to a fort. Scattered throughout, are shrines dedicated to different Guru's, there are 10 Guru's in the Sikh faith.
Koi Carp swimming in the sarovar
Before entering The Golden Temple visitors must remove their shoes and place them in allocated lockers. Visitors then wash their feet in a stream of water as they enter through the arches. Women must cover their head with their dupatta and men are to wear a handkerchief. Appropriate attire must be worn ensuring to cover the body and not wear any attire that is revealing.
Within the temple, on an ornate platform, is the sacred scripture of the Sikh's - The Guru Granth Sahib. Each morning before 5am is the Palki Ritual which is the placing of the Sikh Holy Book from the Akal Takht, where it is stored overnight, to the Harmandir Sahib, where it is displayed during the day. It is rested on a cushion and carried on an ornate gold and silver palanquin decorated with silk and brocade coverings to the Harmandir Sahib. The procession will travel across the plaza through the crowds of worshippers throwing rose petals, whilst hymns are being recited. Upon arrival at the temple the head priest will then place the cushion with the Holy Book rested on it, on his head and carry it into the Harmandir Sahib. Prior to arrival devotees will purify and cleanse the temple in preparation. Rugs are layed and a small ornate cot is placed for the Holy Book to rest upon.
The Golden Temple
The head priest carries the Holy Book to its customary place of honour beneath a velvet canopy within the centre of the temples interior. It is heavily embellished with golden tassels hung from the canopy. Ornate golden balconies situated above overlook the Guru Granth Sahib. The walls are also gold, carved with intricate designs stretching up to an even more ornate ceiling from which the most elegant embellished chandilier hangs. Visitors are not allowed to take photographs inside the temple to preserve it's delicate nature. Crowds fill the space as the processions of Parkash take place. The crowd of devotees stand in hushed silence, the head priest seats himself in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, ceremoniously opens it, and reads aloud the vaaq, or Lord's message, for the day. Ardas, the Sikh Prayer is recited at the conclusion of the service. Karah Prashad, holy offerings, is distributed to worshippers as they exit The Harmandir Sahib. Karah Prashad is essentially a sugar dough made from equal portions of wheat, butter and sugar. This signifies the equality of all. Upon accepting the Karah Prashad it is then eaten which is symbolic of knowledge for the mind when one accepts truth itself as the teacher. The worshippers will now walk to the sarovar where they ceremoniously cup the holy water into their hands and trickle it over their heads.
During the day The Harmandir Sahib is bustling with crowds of visitors with many having travelled long distances. Many will stay for a few days at the temple in pilgrimage. The Harmandir Sahib has one of the largest soup kitchens which serves vegetarian meals so that all may eat as equal no matter their faith. Any traveller can seek respite at a Sikh Temple, receiving free meals and accommodation. Although this is not openly known to many tourists travelling across India.
The Golden Temple
As the sun sets it is time for the recitation of the evening prayers. The temple is illuminated from the glowing lamps, it's reflection sparkling on the sarovar creating a magical atmosphere for the nights processions. The evening comes to a conclusion before 10pm and the Guru Granth Sahib is again carried on the palanquin from the Harmandir Sahib back to where it is stored within the Akal Takt.
There is much to take in when you visit The Golden Temple for the first time whether you be a worshipper of faith or simply in admiration of it's beauty. Amritsar itself also has many sights to see and I highly recommend any traveller to make a stop over.