Sri Harmandir Sahib (Gurmukhi: ਹਰਿਮੰਦਰ ਸਾਹਿਬ) also Darbar Sahib (Gurmukhi: ਦਰਬਾਰ ਸਾਹਿਬ) and incorrectly referred to as the "Golden Temple" is a prominent Sikh Gurdwara located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India.

It was built by the fifth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji, in the 16th Century. In 1604, Guru Arjan Sahib Ji completed the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhi, and installed it in the Gurdwara.

There are four doors to get into the Harmandir Sahib, which symbolize the openness of the Sikhs towards all people and religions. The present day Gurdwara was rebuilt in 1764 by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with the help of other Sikh Misls.

In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and donated the gold which covered the upper floors of the Gurdwara, which gives it its distinctive appearance and its english name.

The Sri Harmandir Sahib is considered holy by Sikhs. The holiest text of Sikhism, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is always present inside the Gurdwara.

Its construction was mainly intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to come and worship God equally.

Over one hundred thousand people visit the gurdwara daily for worship. This important Sikh Gurdwara attracts more visitors than the Taj Mahal.

The city also houses the Akal Takht, the highest seat of earthly authority of the Khalsa, and the committee responsible for the upkeep of Gurdwaras.

The Harmandir Sahib literally means 'a place of worship for all'.

The fourth guru of Sikhism, Guru Ram Das, excavated a tank in 1577 CE which subsequently became known as Amritsar (meaning "Pool of the Nectar of Immortality"), giving its name to the city that grew around it.

In due course, Sri Harmandir Sahib rose in the middle of this tank and became the supreme centre of Sikhism.

Its sanctum came to house the Adi Granth comprising compositions of Sikh Gurus and other saints considered to have Sikh values and philosophies. The compilation of the Adi Granth was started here by the fifth guru of Sikhism, Guru Arjan.

Construction of the Harmandir Sahib

Originally built in 1574, the site of the Gurdwara was surrounded by a small lake in a thin forest.

Mughal Emperor Akbar, who visited the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das, in the neighbouring town of Goindval, was so impressed by the way of life in the town that he gave a jagir (the land and the revenues of several villages in the vicinity) to the Guru's daughter Bhani as a gift on her marriage to Bhai Jetha, who later became the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji.

Guru Ram Das enlarged the lake and built a small township around it. The town was named after Guru Ram Das as 'Guru Ka Chak', 'Chak Ram Das' and 'Ram Das Pur'.

During the leadership of the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan (1581–1606), the full-fledged Gurdwara was built. In January 1589, Guru Arjan initiated the construction of the Gurdwara. The foundation stone was laid by none other than Guru Arjan Sahib himself in January 1589. It is a common misconception that the foundation stone was laid by the Sufi saint Mian Mir of Lahore.

Some of the architectural features of the Harmandir Sahib were intended to be symbolic of the Sikh worldview. Instead of the normal custom of building a Gurdwara on high land, it was built at a lower level than the surrounding land so that Sikhs would have to go down steps to enter it.

In addition, instead of one entrance, Sri Harmandir Sahib has four entrances. Hindu temples are sometimes closed on three sides and opened only towards the east or the rising sun. Muslims would pray towards the west or to the Kaaba. The great Gurdwara at Amritsar was to be open on all sides. This meant that Sikh worship was open to all, and was not concerned with sun-worship or the Kaaba.

The Gurdwara was completed in 1604. Guru Arjan, installed the Guru Granth Sahib in it and appointed Baba Buddha as the first Granthi (reader) of it on August 1604. In the mid-18th century it was attacked by the Afghans, by one of Ahmed Shah Abdali's generals, Jahan Khan, and had to be substantially rebuilt in the 1760s. However, in response a Sikh Army was sent to hunt down the Afghan force. Both forces met each other five miles outside Amritsar; Jahan Khan's army was destroyed.

The Sri Harmandir Sahib Complex and areas in its vicinity

The Gurdwara is surrounded by a large lake or holy tank, known as the Sarovar, which consists of Amrit ("holy water" or "immortal nectar"). There are four entrances to the Gurdwara, signifying the importance of acceptance and openness.

Inside the Gurdwara complex there are many areas and memorial plaques that commemorate past Sikh historical events, saints, martyrs and includes commemorative inscriptions of all the Sikh soldiers who died fighting in World Wars I and II. There are three holy trees (bers), each signifying a historical event or Sikh saint.

In keeping with the rule observed at all Sikh Gurdwaras worldwide, the Harmandir Sahib is open to all persons regardless of their religion, colour, creed, or sex. The only restrictions on the Harmandir Sahib's visitors concern their behavior when entering and while visiting:

Maintaining the purity of the sacred space and of one's body while in it:
Upon entering the premises, removing one's shoes (leaving them off for the duration of one's visit) and washing one's feet in the small pool of water provided;
Not drinking alcohol, eating meat, or smoking cigarettes or other drugs while in the Gurdwara.

Dressing appropriately: Wearing a head covering (a sign of respect) (the Gurdwara provides head scarves for visitors who have not brought a suitable covering);
Not wearing shoes (see above).

How to act: One must also sit on the ground while in the Darbar Sahib as a sign of deference to both the Guru Granth Sahib and God.

First-time visitors are advised to begin their visit at the information office and then proceed to the Central Sikh Museum near the main entrance and clock tower.

The Foundation Stone of the Sri Harmandir Sahib

Contary to popular belief, Mian Mir did not lay the foundation-stone of the Harmandir Sahib.

Taken from "Sri Harmandir Sahib Sunehri Itihaas" published by Dharam Parchaar Committee SGPC

Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji and Baba Budha Ji consulted with the leading Sikhs of the time and set a day for setting the foundation stone of Sri Harmandir Sahib. A great congregation took place on 1st Magh, 1654 Bk. (1589 AD) the Sarovar had been drained in preparation and the divaan took place in the sarovar itself. Sri Guru Ji explained the meaning of Harmandir and the importance. After distributing karah parshaad and invoking the first four Satgurus, Baba Budha Ji asked Guru Arjan Sahib Ji to place the first brick.

Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji with his hands then placed the first brick:

ਇਮਿ ਅਰਦਾਸ ਕਰੀ ਬ੍ਰਿਧ ਜਬੈ। ਸ੍ਰੀ ਅਰਜਨ ਕਰ ਪੰਕਜ ਤਬੈ॥੧੩॥ ਗਹੀ ਈਟ ਤਿਹ ਕਰੀ ਟਿਕਾਵਨ। ਮੰਦਰ ਅਿਵਚਲ ਨੀਵ ਰਖਾਵਨ। (Gurpartap Suraj Ras 2, Ansu 53).

It is clear that Gurpartap Suraj Granth says that Sri Guru Arjan laid the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib with his own hands.

Why the Confusion?

The first Sikh historian to write otherwise was Giani Gian Singh. In the third Lahore edition of Sri Gur Panth Parkash, he writes that Mian Mir placed the brick. What is odd is that Giani Ji in the first edition of Panth Parkash (published in Delhi, 1936 Bk.) and in the second edition (published in Amritsar, 1946 Bk) does not say who placed the first brick. Only in the third Lahore edition does he say that Mian Mir placed the first brick but does not say where he has learned this from nor does he give any reference.

From the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib to the writing of Panth Parkash, 300 years had passed. None of the writers of Gurbilas Patshahi 6, Gurbilas Patshahi 10, Mehma Parkash (1776), Bansavalinama, Gurkirat Parkash (1812), Suraj Granth nor Pracheen Panth Parkash by Rattan Singh Bhangu had indicated that Mian Mir was involved in laying the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib.

Further, none of the Muslim writers who have written biographies of Mian Mir have written that he laid the foundation. This is odd because they would have been very proud to note such a fact. It seems clear that the story of Mian Mir laying the foundation is imaginary.

Butay Shah: Beginning the Myth

Principal Satbir Singh has written that the first person to write about Mian Mir having laid the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib was Butay Shah (real name Ghulam Muhaiyuddin) in his book "Tavarikh-i-Punjab." Butay Shah was a Muslim Maulvi. He writes, "Shah Mian Mir came to Amritsar at the invitation of Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji and with his holy hands, placed four bricks in the four directions and one in the middle."

A hand-written copy of this work says that it was written in 1848 AD. The British were in control of Punjab at that time. No Sikh or non-Sikh writer had written about Mian Mir before this time. How did Butay Shah find his information? He has not given any source. The method he outlines of how the foundation was laid is also unusual and has not been seen or read anywhere before.

Bhai Rattan Singh Bhangoo writes about Butay Shah in Pracheen Panth Parkash. Rattan Singh had found out that the British had hired Shah to write the Khalsa's history in Persian. He protested that a Maulvi would not do justice to Sikh history because there had always been tension/ conflict between Hindus and Sikhs and the Moslems and they spoke against each other.

Giani Gian Singh also writes about the above incident. He writes how Rattan Singh and Cpt. Murray discussed the issue and Rattan Singh told him that Sikh history written by a Maulvi would be of harm to the Sikhs and he did not write the truth. He told Murray that each person could write about his own religion for which he was knowledgeable but he could not write about another's religion properly especially in the case where there was conflict between the respective religions. He said clearly to Murray after seeing the history written by Butay Shah, "he will write history in a way that will harm the Singhs." And also "how will he write the truth? He will write what is the opposite." (Sri Guru Panth Parkash Poorbaardh Bisram dooa)"

After this, Rattan Singh wrote Panth Parkash and gave it to Cpt. Murray. Murray kept both Panth Parkash and Tavarikh-i-Punjab with him. Rattan Singh did not however write in Panth Parkash who placed the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib.

Clearly from what Rattan Singh told Cpt. Murray, he saw that Maulvi Butay Shah was writing Sikh history in a twisted and inaccurate way.

Which Account is Authentic?

Accepting Butay Shah's statement that Mian Mir placed the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib, Sohan Lal Suri in his book Umda-Tu-Tavarikh (1885 AD) repeated the same thing. In the same way, the Amritsar Municipal Corporation in their record for 1849 to 1885 seem to have relied on Butay Shah and recorded Mian Mir as having placed the foundation.

Before all these, Kavi Santokh Singh wrote in Gurpartap Sooraj Granth (1900BK) that Guru Arjan had placed the foundation. Bhai Santokh Singh had received his training at Sri Amritsar Sahib from Bhai Sant Singh. Bhai Sant Singh used to do Katha every day at Sri Darbar Sahib. Before him, his brother Giani Gurdas Singh and their father, Bhai Surat Singh used to do this seva at Sri Harmandir Sahib.

Bhai Surat Singh's ustad was Bhai Gurbaksh Singh, who had received his training in Gurmat and Sikh history from Bhai Mani Singh Ji himself. Bhai Mani Singh Ji had been in the Guru's service since the time of Sri Guru Har Rai Sahib. Bhai Sahib's grand father, Bhai Baloo Ji was a Sikh of Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib and was shahid in the Battle of Amritsar in 1691 Bk.

Bhai Mani Singh Ji must have known from his grandfather and father about the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib and certainly must have been told by the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth Guru of the same.

Bhai Mani Singh passed on his knowledge to Bhai Gurbaksh Singh, who then passed the knowledge to Bhai Surat Singh who educated his two sons, Bhai Gurdas Singh and Bhai Sant Singh. It was from Bhai Sant Singh that Kavi Santokh Singh learned of the foundation of Sri Harmandir Sahib. It is clear that Kavi Santokh Singh's knowledge is more reliable than that of Butay Shah.

Butay Shah and Sohan Lal Suri do not have even a distant relationship with Sri Harimandir Sahib nor did their ancestors have any link. It is clear that these writers have not relied on anything besides their own imaginations. In fact, Butay Shah and Sohan Lal Suri's accounts do not match between themselves. Butay Shah writes that four bricks were placed in the four directions and one in the middle. He then writes that Mian Mir was invited to Amritsar by Guru Arjan Sahib Ji. Sohan Lal writes however that Guru Ji himself went to Lahore and invited Mian Mir to place the foundation of Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar.

There is no further mention of whether Mian Mir came to Amritsar and whether he placed one or five foundation bricks. In a court of law, where the statements of the witnesses don't match, they are not given any credence. Therefore the writings of Butay Shah and Sohan Lal cannot be accepted, especially since they have both been written after Gurpartap Suraj Granth.

Harmandir Sahib Art

Artwork and Monument Sculptures

Much of the present decorative gilding and marblework dates from the early 19th century. All the gold and exquisite marble work were conducted under the patronage of Hukam Singh Chimni and Emperor Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. The Darshani Deorhi Arch stands at the beginning of the causeway to the Harmandir Sahib; it is 202 feet (62 m) high and 21 feet (6 m) in width.

The gold plating on the Sri Harmandir Sahib was begun by Ranjit Singh and was finished in 1830. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a major donor of wealth and materials for the Gurdwara and is remembered with much affection by the Punjabi people in general and the Sikh community in particular. 

Celebrations at the Harmandir Sahib

One of the most important festivals is Vaisakhi, which is celebrated in the second week of April (usually the 13th). Sikhs celebrate the founding of the Khalsa on this day and it is celebrated with fervour in the Harmandir Sahib.

Other important Sikh religious days such as the martyrdom day of Sri Guru Teg Bahadur, the birthday of Guru Nanak, etc., are also celebrated with religious piety. Similarly Bandi Chhor Divas is one of the festivals which sees the Sri Harmandir Sahib beautifully illuminated with Divas (lamps); lights and fireworks are discharged.

Most Sikhs visit Amritsar and the Sri Harmandir Sahib at least once during their lifetime (although it is not compulsory), particularly and mostly during special occasions in their life such as birthdays, marriages, childbirth, etc.


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