Harmandir Sahib is the heart of the Sikh nation. Like a lotus flower, it springs forth from the Amrit Sarovar, a palace of the Guru’s Divine words. Built by Guru Arjan Sahib, Harmandir Sahib was designed by the Guru to be the first Gurduara of the Sikh Panth. Before it, Sikh centres of gathering were known as Dharmsalas. Guru Arjan Sahib built Harmandir Sahib with the express purpose of housing the Granth Sahib he and Bhai Gurdas were compiling and crafting.
Harmandir Sahib is located in the city that Guru Ramdas Sahib and Bibi Bhanni designed and built. It was a burgeoning metropolis where all were welcome to pursue their dreams. In the heart of this city Guru Ramdas Sahib dug the Amrit Sarovar. Of the five Sarovars in the city, this became the most prominent and soon the city itself was named after it. Guru Arjan Sahib then built Harmandir Sahib within it. From the beginning the Sangat understood that the building was a special one. They asked Guru ji if it would be a large and imposing structure. Guru ji smiled and advised the Sangat that the tree with the most fruit hung lowest. Harmandir Sahib would not be an extravagant building, it would be a reflection of the Sikh spirit of humility. This sense of humility can be seen even in the fact that Harmandir Sahib and the Amrit Sarovar are lower than the surrounding city. You must walk down from the sidewalks and roads of Amritsar to enter Harmandir Sahib.
Just like the Amrit Sarovar, the seva of Harmandir Sahib was open to all. Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike took part in it it’s construction. Just like the Granth ji he was building Harmandir Sahib for, Guru Arjan Sahib wanted his structure to be open to all. To symbolize this feeling of openness the Guru’s close friend, the famous Sufi Saint of Lahore, Sain Mian Mir, was asked to lay the foundation stone of Harmandir Sahib.
Just as he had been responsible for the building of Baoli Sahib at Goindval, and the Amrit Sarovar itself, Baba Buddha ji was in charge of the construction of the building. On September 1st of 1604, Harmandir Sahib was inaugurated with the first Prakash of the Adi Granth Sahib ji. This was not a palace for Guru Sahib himself, and Guru Arjan Sahib never sat on a throne in Harmandir Sahib. It was the Palace of Hari, the word for Vahiguru in Sikhi that connatates The Divine Life Giving Spirit. Only the Granth Sahib was seated on the throne, and all focus was on the reading and singing of Gurbani.
Today, Guru Granth Sahib ji is brought ceremoniously from Akal Takht Sahib ever morning before dawn, taking the same path Guru Arjan Sahib ji and Baba Buddha ji brought the original Granth Sahib from the Kotha Sahib everyday. Guru Granth Sahib ji’s prakash seva is then done, and throughout the day kirtan is sung until the evening when after Sukhasan seva Guru Granth Sahib ji is taken back to Akal Takht.
On the second floor of Harmandir Sahib is an open area where the Sangat can look down on the main Divan. Behind there is where a very large Sarup of Guru Granth Sahib is historically kept, and an Akhand Path is continuously done. This Sarup of Guru ji was damaged by bullets in the Indian army’s genocidal attack in 1984.
The top story of Harmandir Sahib contains a small room known as Shish Mahal. It is where Guru Arjan Sahib and Guru Hargobind Sahib would sit for their morning meditations before the Prakash of Granth Sahib ji.
Harmandir Sahib has been the centre of the Sikh Panth for centuries, and therefore it has often been the target of the tyrannical regimes that have tried to destroy our nation. In 1762, angry that the Sikh guerilla fighters were constantly freeing the slaves he was taking back to Afghanistan and freeing the territory he was subjugating, the Afghan emperor, Ahmed Shah Durrani packed Harmandir Sahib with gunpowder and destroyed it. Refusing to succumb, the Khalsa Panth, under the leadership of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, rebuilt Harmandir Sahib to the same specifications of the original building. Though the building is not the original, the foundation of Harmandir Sahib, the part that is usually unseen under the sarovar, is the very same one designed and built by Guru Arjan Sahib.
With the rise of a sovereign Sikh Empire, Sardar Ranjit Singh Sukkarchakia, wished to show his appreciation to the Guru and decided to cover Harmandir Sahib in gold. Ironically, this went against the spirit of Guru Arjan Sahib’s first vision, but it has now become its most famous attribute.
Regardless of what the future bring, Harmandir Sahib will be the central focus of the Sikh nation. Our central axle, around which Panth revolves. The Mughals desecrated it, the Afghanis blew it up, the British colonized it and the Indian government brutally invaded it, but Harmandir Sahib can never be destroyed. It is the physical representation of the Guru’s word, the house of Guru Granth Sahib ji and the temple of Gurbani.
- Written by Santbir Singh