And no, I’m not talking about the supposed heaven said to be present above the skies in a different realm. This article is about a heaven present on our very own earth. Yes, you read it right, heaven on earth. There are indeed some places present on our own planet whose divinity and grandeur are in every way comparable to the supposed heaven that has been mentioned in almost all religious philosophies.
Fact #1 Harmandir Sahib – Abode of the Lord
One such place is present in the northern plains of India, in the magnificent state of Punjab in a city named Amritsar. The place is known as the Harmandir Sahib literally meaning Abode of the Lord. It is the holiest of all Sikh shrines in India. It is also called as Darbar Sahib but is more popular all around the world by the name of Golden Temple due to its distinctive gold embellished walls which give it the famous extravagant looks. Anyone who has had the privilege of visiting this place would understand why it is being compared to heaven itself. One step inside this shrine and you would be transported to another world, a world of spirituality and inner peace. The serenity and calmness of the place let you dwell deep into your inner self and discover yourself all over again. The feeling is literally surreal. The sublime peacefulness of the shrine leaves one spellbound. The recitation of hymns from the Holy Guru Granth Sahib Ji carries on nonstop inside the Gurudwara premises. People from all walks of faith visit the shrine on a daily basis and feel blessed by immersing themselves in the holy nectar of Lord’s name and praise.
Fact #2 Golden Temple is Open For All
The shrine is unique in the sense that it has four doors to enter which were made as a symbol to the world that this shrine is open to people of all the four major religions of the world. Its a place that serves as a spiritual guiding light, not only for the Sikhs but the entire human race. Going back in history, the holy city of Amritsar was founded by the fourth Sikh Guru Shri Guru Ramdas Ji in the early 15th century. It was at that time called Ramdaspur or Chak Ramdas. He also excavated a pool of water said to contain miraculous healing properties. It was after this mystical pool or Sarovar as it is called in the native tongue, the city was rechristened as Amritsar meaning the land of holy nectar.
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Fact #3 Foundation Stone
The work started by the 4th Guru Sahib was carried on by his successor Shri Guru Arjun Dev Ji. He was the one who envisaged the creation of a holy place of worship in the newly founded city right in the middle of the Amrit Sarovar. The foundation stone of the shrine was laid somewhere around December 1588 and its work got completed in 1601 under the direct supervision of guru sahib. Thereafter, he got the newly compiled Guru Granth Sahib Ji installed in the shrine and made a devout Sikh Baba Buddha Ji as the first Granthi – Main reciter. In the year 1606, the sixth Guru Shri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji laid the foundation stone of the Akal Takht – the seat of spiritual authority inside the complex as a symbol of defiance against the tyrannical Mughal government of that time. Akal Takht subsequently became the political headquarter of the Sikh community and all important decisions regarding the affairs of the community were taken there. So the shrine of Harmandir Sahib became the highest seat of spiritual and temporal power of the Sikhs. It was attacked and vandalized many times by the enemies of the community but each time it was rebuilt with even more magnificence
Although the entire construction of the Harmandir Sahib was done under the direct patronage and supervision of Shri Guru Arjun Dev Ji, yet he did not lay the foundation stone himself. He chose a Muslim saint Sain Miyan Meer to lay the foundation of what was to become the greatest Sikh shrines of all times. This is another testament to the fact that the great Guru believed deeply in secular ethos and wanted the shrine to be welcoming to all. No such example is found in the history of any other religion
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Fact #4 Architecture
Another interesting fact to note is that contrary to the normal practice of making religious shrines on a higher level compared to ground, Guru Sahib got it built on a lower level. So, one has to come down the stairs to enter the shrine. This was a metaphorical sign to leave one’s ego behind and introspect deeply with profound humility towards the almighty lord.
Fact #5 Layout
The Sanctum Sanctorum is built on a 67 square feet platform in the centre of the holy Sarovar. The structure itself is around 40.5 square feet. As mentioned before it has four doors on all four sides to convey its openness to people from all religions. The darshan Deori is present at the shore end of the causeway. The door frame of the Deorhi is about 10feet in height. It opens to the causeway about 202 feet long and 21 feet wide leading to the main building of the Darbar Sahib. The bridge is connected with the 13 feet wide Pardakshna (Circumambulatory Path). The whole layout presents a grand and mystical look to the shrine.
Fact #6 Gold Embellishment
It is also very interesting to note that the Golden Temple was not always golden. In fact, the gold embellishment work was done much later in the 18th century by the donations and patronage of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh who was the then ruler of undivided Punjab. The marble and gold work was initiated by him as a token of respect and gratitude towards the holy shrine. An estimated 100 kg of gold was used to embellish the top half of the shrine with gold sheets thus giving it the unique extravagant look by which it is known today.
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Fact #7 Devotees
It is estimated that on an average 100,000 people visit the shrine on a daily basis. This number doubles on important functions such as Gurpurab or Baisakhi. This makes Harmandir Sahib amongst the top visited shrines in the world which is thronged by pilgrims belonging to different religions, castes and creeds.
Fact #8 Langar Service at Golden Temple
The community kitchen or Langar as it is popularly called is an age-old practice started by the founder of Sikhism Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji wherein he welcomed people from all castes, creeds, religions, social status to come and partake simple meals sitting together on the ground. It was aimed at renouncing distinctions between people of different religious and social status. The Langar service at Golden Temple serves around 50000 people on weekdays and close to 100000 people on weekends. This is no small feat in itself. In fact, it is a herculean task but the devotion and selfless service of sewadars make it possible. About 60 quintal wheat, 18 quintal daal and 14 quintal rice are daily processed and consumed in the Langar. It is thus the biggest kitchen in the world. Every day over 100 gas cylinders are needed to fuel the kitchen. At one time close to 5000 people are served in the two langar halls. The whole system right from arranging the raw materials to cooking and then serving is highly organized and efficient. It is astonishing to note that around 90% of the staff is made up of volunteers who can help out for as long as they want and then leave.
Fact #9 Daily Practice
Every morning the holy Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is brought from the Akal Takht Sahib in a gold palanquin along with the shower of flowers and is taken to the sanctum sanctorum by means of hundreds of devotees giving a shoulder to the palanquin for a few seconds on either side of the connecting bridge. After the evening prayers, it is again returned to the Akal Takht Sahib in a similar manner and the Sanctum hall is washed with milk.
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Fact #10 Attacks and Fate of Attackers
The Harmandir Sahib has been the target of various attacks from time to time causing it to be repaired and rebuilt a number of times. Majority of these attacks were perpetrated in the 18th century by Afghan invaders who believed that the shrine was the source of the power of Sikhs and by destroying it they could destroy the Sikhs. Needless to say, they were themselves destroyed whereas the Sikh community endured every hardship with their never say die attitude and emerged victorious eventually. The major invaders were Massa Rangarh, Yahia Khan, Jahan Khan and Ahmed Shah Abdali. The latest assault on the shrine happened in 1984 when the Indian Army was ordered by the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi to attack the shrine with tanks and helicopter gunships in order to flush out pro Khalistan activists. A large number of innocent devotees were killed in the attack and severe damage was caused to the entire complex thereby spreading outrage in the entire community.
However, an interesting fact to note is that none of the persons responsible for perpetrating the attacks on Shri Harmandir Sahib could live on for more than 5 months. In fact, everyone died within 153 days of the attack. This strengthens the belief that anybody who dares to target the abode of the Lord shall not be spared by the lord. Here is a brief chronology of the above-mentioned events –
Attack 1 – Massa Ranghar attacked Golden Temple on 7th Aug 1740 and died on 2nd January 1741
Attack 2 – Yahia Khan attacked Golden Temple on 13th November 1746 and died on 13th April 1747
Attack 3 – Jahan Khan attacked Golden Temple on 18th Jan. 1757 and died on 9th June 1757
Attack 4 – Ahmed Shah Abdali attacked Golden Temple on 5th Feb 1762 and died on 8th July 1762
Attack 5 – Indira Gandhi attacked Golden Temple on 1st June 1984 and died on31st Oct 1984
Some More Amazing and Interesting Facts about Golden Temple
- Before the Golden Temple was built, the first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, used to meditate at the site.
- 35% of the pilgrims that visit Golden Temple are from faiths other than Sikh.
- The name of Maharaja Ranjit Singh has been inscribed on the entrance, who donated gold to the Golden Temple
- Golden Temple, Langar Sewa served 1 Lakh J&K flood victims in sept 2014 by providing food.
- Golden Temple was ranked 6th when BBC’s popular holiday programme asked its viewers to rank the place to see before dying. Taj Mahal was ranked 1oth.
- Taj Mahal attracted 3 million visitors in the year 2013. Golden Temple is visited by 3 million pilgrims in a month.
- With hand painted mosaics and patterns, the Golden temple is one of the most significant symbols of Mughal and Indian architectural genius.
- The Central Sikh Museum is located inside the Golden Temple and was opened in 1958. The Museum houses a rich and varied collection of old arms, coins and ancient manuscripts