About Golden Temple
Amritsar’s Golden Temple is the most significant shrine in Sikhism, and has also been the site of various important political demonstrations over the course of the 20th century.
History of the Golden Temple
The Golden Temple is in fact a small part of a much bigger gurdwara complex, known as the Harmandir Sahib. Guru Ram Das acquired the land for the gurdwara in the 16th century. His successor, Guru Arjan began construction, building it lower than the rest of the city in a gesture of humility. The compound was also designed to open on all signs to mirror the fact that it is open to all. After the site’s inauguration in 1589, the pool was filled with water. The completion of the Golden Temple was a major milestone for Sikhism as it provided a central rallying point for the Sikh community, as well as an important pilgrimage destination.
Guru Arjan was arrested by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir shortly after this, and after refusing to convert to Islam, was tortured and executed in 1606. The Golden Temple fell into the hands of the enemy until the 18th century, when it was liberated by Guru Gobind Singh.
The Golden Temple remains an important focal point and symbol of Sikh culture. Throughout the 18th century, Sikhs defied persecution by continuing to gather at the Golden Temple, and continually restored it when external rulers desecrated it. I 1809, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had the temple sanctum covered with golden foil, giving it its name today.
In more recent times, the temple was destroyed as part of Operation Blue Star in 1984, which aimed to capture militant Sikhs hidden inside the temple. It turned into something of a massacre, with Sikh temples across India attacked. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who ordered the attack, was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in the same year as an act of revenge. The government later paid for the rebuilding of the temple, but the incident unsurprisingly remains a source of tension.
The Golden Temple today
The temple welcomes over 100,000 visitors a day, many of them devotees. It’s often heaving, unsurprisingly, so don’t expect to get more than a few minutes in the sanctum itself. Nonetheless, it’s impressive – the sheer amount of gold, the blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture, the detailed flower and animal motifs and the never-ending chant from the Guru Grant Sahib add to the atmosphere of awe.
The whole compound takes several hours to explore: look out for the Sikh Museum near the entrance for further context on the role of Sikhs in India and Operation Blue Star, and for
Ramgarhia Bunga, a protective fortress with a slab of stone inside previously used for Mughal coronations which Sikh forces stole from Delhi.
Getting to the Golden Temple
The Golden Temple is just south of central Amritsar, in the Atta Mandi district. It’s a 20 minute walk from the main train station, Amritsar Junction, or a 5-10 minute autorickshaw journey.