Sikh Pilgrimage
 
Golden Temple

Amritsar is at the epicentre of the Sikh faith, for it is home to the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines. For Sikhs it is both a place where Punjab's wealth is on full display, as well as an important pilgrimage. But it is not only Sikhs who come here. People from all faiths come to the Golden Temple, a tribute to the syncretist traditions of a faith whose holy book is a compilation of the writings of men of different faiths. Outside the sacred precincts of the Golden Temple, you can enjoy this chaotic city while you gorge on Punjabi specialities like makki ki roti, sarson da saag and gur da halwa. It won't take you long to discover that food is an obsession for the locals, and it is rumoured that more desi ghee is consumed here than anywhere else in the world.

History

When the Mughal emperor Akbar visited the third Sikh Guru, Amar Das, he was deeply impressed with the sage's wisdom and humility and insisted on gifting some land as a wedding gift to the Guru's daughter. The daughter, Bibi Bhani, was betrothed to a young man called Jetha, destined to become the fourth Guru, Ram Das (a responsibility he saw through from 1574-1581).

In 1574 AD, Guru Ram Das settled by a pool which was said to have miraculous healing powers. He further excavated it and named it Amrit-Sarovar (Pool of Nectar). In 1577, he bought the pool and another tract of land (to add to the gift of land) and secured Sikh ownership from the local Jats. As the land was strategically located on the silk route many merchants flocked to this region. Guru Ram Das encouraged them to settle and trade near and around the shrine. Many more followers soon settled near the temple and the village of Guru-ka-Chak grew. This soon developed into a small town called Ramdaspur. It was later renamed Amritsar after the holy tank or the Pool of Nectar-Immortality where the Golden Temple now stands.

Guru Ram Das' son-in-law and successor Guru Arjan Dev then built the Hari Mandir in the middle of this tank. He requested the great contemporary Muslim mystic, Mir Mohammed Muayinul Islam, popularly known as Hazrat Mian Mir of Lahore, to lay the foundation stone. The Temple was completed in 1601 and the Adi Granth was placed inside it. The pillage and plunder of this city began in 1757. In 1762 Ahmed Shah Abdali sacked the town and razed the temple to the ground. The Temple was rebuilt in 1764 with its domes plated in gold, which is when it was officially named the Golden Temple.

Amritsar played an important role in India's fight for independence against the British, with its residents providing active support to the freedom movement. Both the All India Congress Committee and the Muslim league held their sessions in Amritsar in 1919, the year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Amritsar, the city of the Golden Temple, was an important business centre. Its status was similar to a wazir, in charge of managing the king's finances. The city suffered terrible losses once again during the Partition of India in 1947 - communal riots broke out and refugees poured in from the other side of the border, while the city wept.

In the early 1980s Amritsar became centre of a violent political controversy when Sikh extremists tried to rid the state of Punjab of non-Sikhs and attempted to create an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan. They made the Golden Temple their hideout and the centre for their activities. The government retaliated with Operation Bluestar. Amritsar has survived a calamitous past and is now a thriving industrial city.

Places to Visit

The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple The best time to visit the Golden Temple is the early morning when it gleams, pale and ethereal, in the dawn. This is also the time when its reflection in the Amrit Sarovar - the Pool of Immortality - is untrammelled by the splash of bathers' feet. The Golden Temple (Swarna Mandir) was originally called Hari Mandir (Temple of God) and is now also known as Darbar Sahib (Divine Court). It is the epicentre of one of the great faiths of India. All are welcome here for this is a truly syncretist faith whose holiest book is a collection of hymns by enlightened men of different religions.

Jallianwala Bagh

Is a peaceful park with picnicking families and college kids, but move to a section of the wall which still has visible bullet marks, and you will be reminded of one of the most horrific events in colonial Indian history. When the Rowlatt Act (1919), which gave the British the power to arrest and imprison Indians without a trial if suspected of sedition, was imposed on Indians it was severely criticised and regular hartals (strikes) were organised to protest the law. Then Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O' Dwyer, arrested an Indian leader causing great unrest among the people. On April 13,1919 (also the festival of Baisakhi) around 10,000 people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh to peacefully protest the new law. General Dyer had been called to Amritsar to return the city to order. He arrived at the Bagh with 150-armed soldiers, ordered the crowd to disperse and two minutes later inhumanly commanded his troops to open fire. The square was surrounded by high walls and the soldiers had blocked the only entrance (and exit) to the compound. The firing (1650 rounds) continued for about 15 minutes and people were shot as they tried to jump the wall while others drowned after they jumped into the well to escape the relentless onslaught of bullets, most of which found their mark. About 400 people (including children) died while 1500 were left wounded. Though there was an international outcry over this horrific uncalled-for massacre neither Dyer nor O'Dwyer was ever charged with any crime. In response to this massacre, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood and Gandhi began his program of civil disobedience announcing that 'co-operation in any shape or form with this satanic government is sinful'.

In 1997 Queen Elizabeth II visited Jallianwala Bagh and though she laid a wreath on the memorial to the victims no official apology was made.

Jallianwala Bagh is a five-minute walk from the Golden Temple. The stone well has been preserved as a monument to the victims (120 bodies were recovered from the well) and the "flame of liberty," a 45 foot flame-shaped red sandstone pillar set in a pool, was built in 1961 as a memorial. The park is open from 6 am to 7 pm in summer and 7 am to 6 pm in winter. The Martyr's Gallery which features portraits of heroes involved in the incident, is open from 9 am to 5 pm in summer and 10 am to 4 pm in winter.

Durgiana Mandir

An impressive Hindu temple built in 1921 by two Amritsari philanthropists is dedicated to Goddess Durga. The complex also houses the Durga Mata Mandir, Bhairon Mandir and the Hanuman Mandir. During the Dussehra Navratras, parents follow a quaint custom (unique to Amritsar) of dressing up their male progeny as langoors (a species of monkeys), probably to honour Hanuman, the monkey god. The dome of the mandir is beautifully illuminated at night during fairs and festivals.

Gole Bagh

Is a huge park spread across 18 acres of land from the Chattiwind gate to the outskirts of Gilwali Gate. It lies near the Gobindgarh fort, which is being used by the defence forces right now and is therefore not open to visitors.

Kuka Memorial

The Kuka movement founded by Guru Ram Das (a warfare expert in Maharaja Ranjit Singh's army) played an important role in the freedom struggle. On 14th June 1871, the Kukas entered the Amritsar slaughterhouse and freed the cows after murdering the butchers. In retaliation, the British government prosecuted and awarded capital punishment to 12 innocent Hindus and Sikhs. The Kukas, on the advice of their Guru, then confessed their involvement and surrendered to the authorities. A memorial was then built to those who were executed or sent to Kaalapani Prison in the Andamans.

Mata Temple

This Hindu temple (north-west of the station) commemorates Lal Devi, a bespectacled 20th century female saint and was developed along the lines of the famous Vaishnodevi temple in Jammu. Women who wish to have children come here to pray. The temple has a series of vivid shrines and grottoes.

Jama Masjid Kherudin

The Jama Masjid Kheruddin, built in 1876, is located at the Hall Bazaar. On 9th April 1919, the bodies of 20 freedom fighters (mainly Sikhs and Hindus) shot by the British General, were brought to this Masjid for their last rites.

Samadhi of Baba Rode Shah

This is a unique and popular tomb that lies on the Amritsar-Majitha road. One of the few places in India where offerings and prasad are given in the form of IMFL (Indian-made foreign liquor) or country liquor. Nothing is diluted in any way and must be 'slammed back' neat. It is said that the Baba used to meditate at the place of the present samadhi (tomb) and he once blessed a childless couple who gave birth to a son soon after. The Baba refused to accept the money the grateful couple offered him, but asked the couple to bring a bottle of liquor and distribute it among his devotees instead. Though he passed away in 1924, the tradition is still going strong. Among the more famous devotees of Baba Rode Shah was the singer Mohammed Rafi.

Ram Bagh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh built this small palace and park in 1819. It lies in the newer, northern part of Amritsar. It used to serve as a summer residence for the philanthropic, one-eyed Maharaja (who rebuilt the Golden Temple) between 1818 and 1837 and now houses the Ranjit Singh museum, which has paintings and weapons dating back to the Mughal period.

You can tell from Darshani Deorhi (gate) on the south edge of the park that strong defences and a moat originally surrounded it. Ram Bagh also houses the Lumsden, Service and Amritsar Clubs, a children's park and zoo and is a very pleasant place to take a walk.

The museum is open - Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am to 4:45 pm, Rs 5 entrance.

Location

Amritsar is the largest (and holiest) city in the State of Punjab. An important centre for border security in north-west India, it is located close to the Indo-Pak Wagah border (29 km west).

Climate

Like most of northern India, Amritsar is chilly but pleasantly so during winter, which lasts from November to January, and is the best season to visit the city. The summers can sizzle with maximum temperatures hitting 44°°C in June. The monsoons are a welcome relief in July and last through September, while October is an enjoyable autumn month.

 
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