Thousands of feet walk the narrow, colourful lanes of Amritsar leading to the Golden Temple wanting solace. Even amid the hustle-bustle of huge crowds of pilgrims, everyone manages to find a peaceful place for themselves. One could say, the serenity experienced here emanates from Golden Temple’s eventful history.
At a time when Bharatvarsha (undivided India) was embroiled in casteism and religious inequalities, a strong need arose for a common spiritual platform surpassing bitter boundaries; for humanity to prevail over treachery and disdain caused by religious rivalries. Encircled by Amrit Sarovar (pond of water), the Golden Temple originally known as Sri Harmandir Sahib (the temple of God), became a uniting point for the Muslim and Hindu communities. It is believed that the city even derives its name from this pond, the meaning of which is rooted in an ancient mythological belief of the early Vedic period. Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus, took the initiative to bridge the gap between Hinduism and Islam through the spiritual ground of Sikhism. In 1589, the Guru requested his contemporary Muslim savant Mian Mir to lay the first foundation stone of the temple.
The word amrit refers to the nectar obtained from soma plant that Hindus of the Vedic age are said to have consumed to attain immortality. Located in the heart of the Indus Valley civilisation in north-west India, the Sarovar is believed to allude to the great bath of Mohenjo-Daro where the ancient Hindus performed their religious rituals.
Years later, Mughals from Central Asia began military invasions in this region, leading to rivalry amongst their Hindu counterparts. The Hindus considered Mughals ‘foreigners’ who had grabbed their land. Time was ripe to create a space where one could find peace free from religious obligations. The Golden Temple served this purpose–it allowed every individual to come and surrender oneself to God.
In order to indicate that the temple transcends religious barriers, it has four doors that open in different directions. The staircase connecting these doors to the sanctum sanctorum of the temple descends downwards. It is said that while going down these steps, one must shed off one’s pride as a sign of humility. A dip in the pond surrounding the temple is believed to cleanse the soul rather than the body.
To assume that the Golden Temple is the holy place of the Sikhs, would amount to diluting the premise on which it was built. The popularity of this pilgrimage goes beyond religion, status or caste. Multitudes of pilgrims from all faiths and communities visiting the temple every day are a fitting testament to this. Originating in the belief all are equal in the eyes of God, the langar served in the temple further shines a light on the value of unity and equality.
Unfortunately, the 1984 religious violence in the temple had engulfed the beliefs of many. The Sikh temple that had once united the Muslims and the Hindus on its ground was in a dire need of being the uniting ground for the Sikhs and the Hindus. Eventually, as the temple got renovated brick by brick, several wounded hearts began to heal. With every fresh touch of paint adding to the glow of walls, harsh memories were erased.
The present proudly declares that the faith with which the first stone was laid, has survived divisiveness and bitterness. The spiritual essence of the holy water around the temple has stayed alive. And the Golden Temple continues to shine bright, standing upright, embracing people from all walks of life.