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The view from the east of the Golden Temple, or Harmandir, in the city of Amritsar.
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Sikhism's holiest place of worship is the Golden Temple, or Harmandir, in the city of Amritsar. Located in the state of Punjab, the city, established to be a place of pilgrimage, derives its name from the sacred tank, or pool, called the Amrita Saras (pool of nectar), where the temple was built. Guru Ram Das, the fourth of the ten Sikh Gurus (spiritual guides), oversaw the construction of the tank and the settlement that grew around it, which was completed in 1577.
His successor, Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, erected a modest temple on an island in the center of the tank along with the causeway used to reach it and installed the Sikh holy book, the "Adi Granth," in the shrine in 1604. The Adi Granth is displayed in the Golden Temple each day, and then transported back to the Akal Takht each evening.
The temple was destroyed several times by Afghan invaders, but reconstructed in the 1760s. Its present appearance is due in large part to the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab in the early part of the 19th century, who financed the gilding and other enhancements. Since then, the building has come to be familiarly known as the Golden Temple.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith that originated in India during the 15th century. Today, it has roughly 20 million adherents worldwide, the majority of whom live in the Punjab, in northwest India. It was founded by Guru Nanak, the first in a line of ten gurus (spiritual leaders) who developed and promulgated the faith. In Punjabi, the word "Sikh" means "disciple" and the faithful are those who follow the writings and teachings of the Ten Gurus, which are set down in the holy book, the "Adi Granth."
Sikhism synthesizes elements of both Islam and Hinduism into a distinct religious tradition. Like Islam, it emphasizes belief in only one God and similar to Hinduism, teaches that the karmic cycle of rebirths cannot be overcome unless you achieve oneness with God. For Sikhs, everyone is equal before God and a good life is achieved by remembering God at all times, being part of a community, serving others, living honestly, and rejecting blind rituals and superstitions.
In the late 17th century the tenth guru, Gobind Singh, established a military brotherhood within Sikhism called the Khalsa (fraternity of the pure). Although not all Sikhs belong to the Khalsa, many obey its edict of wearing the five symbols of faith, the Five Ks: uncut hair (kesh), a wooden comb (kanga), a steel bracelet (kara), cotton undergarments (kachera), and a sword (kirpan). The turban worn by Sikh men is the most visible manifestation of their adherence to these principles.
"Golden Temple" is the name of Amritsar's hallowed Sikh shrine and the religious complex where it's located. The shimmering two-story temple sits atop a square platform in the center of a man-made tank, called the Amrita Saras (pool of nectar). The lower story's marble walls are decorated with inlaid flower and animal motifs, while the upper story's inner and outer walls and roof are sheathed in gold leaf. The roof includes four small kiosks at each corner and is crowned by a central dome shaped like an inverted lotus. The temple's gilding was completely replaced in 1999, but high pollution levels are continuing to erode the gilt.
The temple is reached by passing through an archway on the complex's western side, the Darshani Deori, and crossing a nearly 200 foot walkway called the Guru's Bridge. The shrine has four entry points, which are placed at the same level on each side and signify the faith's openness to people of all religions. The inner sanctum holds the Sikh holy book, the "Adi Granth," which contains 6,000 hymns and was compiled by Guru Arjan. The book is stored in the adjacent Akal Takht overnight and brought to the shrine early each morning; its hymns are recited continually throughout the day.
Traveling to places of religious import, whether temples, shrines, or cities, is a familiar part of every major faith in India. Found throughout the country, these sacred locations draw pilgrims because they are thought to bestow special blessings or spiritual knowledge. Pilgrimage has been a long-standing tradition within Hinduism. Many of the sites that Hindus visit are temples devoted to the life of a particular deity. Other destinations are found near rivers, the most sacred of which is the Ganges, where the faithful go to perform religious rites and bathe in the waters in order to be absolved of sins.
In Buddhism and Jainism, pilgrimage sites are connected to the life of the religion’s founders and the leaders and holy persons who followed and contributed to the faith's dissemination. Buddhist shrines developed around relics of the Buddha's body and important events in his life. Bodhgaya, in Bihar, where the Buddha achieved enlightenment, and Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh, are among the most famous centers of pilgrimage.
For Jains, places where the faith's teachers (tirthankaras) achieved enlightenment, as well as locations that are home to famous temples or sculptures, are among the sites that draw pilgrims. The tombs of Sufi saints of the Chishti order, who thrived in India during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries CE, are the focus of Muslim pilgrimage in India and Pakistan. The shrine of one saint, Moinuddin Chishti, in Ajmer, Rajasthan, is especially venerated and attracts thousands of pilgrims during the Urs, the annual festival to mark the anniversary of his death. Even Hindus are known to worship there.
Although pilgrimage is not a part of Sikhism, devotees do journey to its foremost place of worship, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, as well as locations associated with the lives of its ten gurus (spiritual leaders).
The main seat of Sikhism's religious authority, the Akal Takht (throne of the Timeless One) is located directly opposite the Golden Temple. The original structure, completed in 1609, was built by the sixth guru, Hargobind. The present-day structure, topped by a gilded dome, rises five stories and is inlaid with marble. The Akal Takht is also where the original "Adi Granth," the Sikh holy book, is stored each evening; it is transported to the Golden Temple every morning on a sumptuous palanquin. The building sustained heavy damage when the Indian Army raided the Golden Temple complex in June, 1984 during an uprising of a militant Sikh group pushing for independence for the Sikh Punjab.
The oldest and most important of the five Takhts, or seats of authority, it is from here that issues confronting the faith or community (panth) are discussed and resolved; standards of social conduct and personal behavior are formulated; justice is meted out for those charged with violations of religious discipline; and the hukamnamas (edicts or writs), which are binding for all Sikhs, are issued. Guru Hargobind is believed to have issued the first hukamnana announcing the creation of the Akal Takht.
- How do Sikhs show the importance of the Sikh holy book, the "Adi Granth"?
- What traits does Sikhism draw from Hinduism? Islam?
- Compare the basic tenets of Sikhism and Akbar’s universal religion. Can you make a connection between the two?