Journey Two / Chapter 9

The Golden Temple of Amrtisar

August 2016

Harmandir Sahib, Sri Darbar Sahib or simply the Golden Temple is the holiest Gurdwara of Sikhism, located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. Over 100,000 people visit daily this Sikh's holiest temple shrine daily for worship and free meal in the community kitchen.

Unlike many historical sacred sites, the Golden Temple of Amritsar is still fully alive with religious fervor and sacredness, and visitors are welcomed to join in the experience. Although the building itself has great historical and architectural interest, it is the Golden Temple's great spiritual meaning for Sikh believers (and others) that is most memorable to visitors. Floating at the end of a long causeway, the Golden Temple itself is a mesmerising blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, with an elegant marble lower level adorned with flower and animal motifs. Above this rises a shimmering second level, encased in intricately engraved gold panels, and topped by a dome gilded with 750kg of gold. In the gleaming inner sanctum (photography prohibited), priests and musicians keep up a continuous chant from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), adding to the already intense atmosphere. After paying their respects, pilgrims retreat to the intricately painted gallery on the second level to contemplate.

The legendary Golden Temple is actually just a small part of this huge Gurdwara complex, known to Sikhs as Harmandir Sahib (or Darbar Sahib). More shrines and monuments are dotted around the edge of the compound. But of the most interest is perhaps the community kitchen - the Langar. The largest free kitchen in the world can serve free food for up to 100,000 - 300,000 people every day and thousands of volunteers are employed daily to operate it. Importantly, it serves free food to any visitors - regardless of their religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender, or social status - as according to Sikh religion everybody should be treated as equals. This was a revolutionary concept in the caste-ordered society of 16th century India where Sikhism began. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness, and oneness of all humankind. Every Sikh Gurdwara (shrine) serve Langar for everyone.

The Golden Temple is a Sikh temple. Sikhism is one of the youngest major religions in the world and it was established in 16th century. While it is centred and originated in the Punjab region of India (of which Amritsar is the capital), the Sikh followers currently account to around 30 million with large diaspora around the world. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator, unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice for the benefit and prosperity of all, and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder's life.