DESTINATION
HISTORY OF AMRITSAR

Situated in northwest India, Amritsar partially shares the northwest borderlands between India and Pakistan at Wagah, a half hour drive from town. It is about 30-odd miles east of Lahore, the ancient capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab in undivided India.

Amritsar was established in 1577 as a small settlement (on a piece of land granted by the Mughal Emperor Akbar) by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of Sikhism. The growing settlement came to be known as Ramdaspur. His youngest son, Arjun Dev (the 5th Sikh guru) established a temple in the middle of the sarovar (tank) created by his father when establishing the settlement.

In time the greatly expanded township took on the name of its focal point the celebrated gurudwara in the amrit sarovar - and thus became Amritsar. In 1604, Guru Arjun Dev's compilation of the Granth Sahib was installed in the revered Harmandir Sahib. For the Sikh community the Granth Sahib is not just a book of scriptures, it is a living teacher, or the Guru, as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh who declined to name his spiritual successor.

The Sikhs suffered a great deal at the hands of the Mughal emperors. Guru Arjun Singh was put to death in Lahore leaving Hargobind, his 11-year-old son the mantle of the guru. In time a militant element entered Sikhism under the leadership of Hargobind. The Akal Takht, which lies opposite the Harmandir Sahib, was built with funds contributed by his followers. It became the temporal head of Sikhism as matters of administration and military strategies were discussed here.

 

Amritsar's great gurudwara has been the site of many attacks and acts of desecration throughout its history. Stability came with the patronage of the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, called the Lion of the Punjab, who wrested the city from the Afghans in 1802. In 1980s, with the deteriorating law and order situation in the Punjab, orders were given by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's administration to flush out militants hiding in the gurudwara complex. In the process the Akal Takht was badly damaged during Operation Blue Star. It has since been rebuilt anew.

 

The city that became the spiritual cornerstone of the Sikh religion also enjoys a more earthly heritage. Its crowded and well-stocked wholesale markets reveal how it rose to become a major industrial and commercial hub along one of the most important trade routes in north India. Much of the credit for this goes to Ranjit Singh.


Sightseeing of Amritsar
The Golden Temple
The Darbar Sahib accepts the homage of all and this is represented by the four entrances to the temple. The Akhand Path, an unbroken reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, is held on the first floor of Darbar Sahib. On the top floor is the Sheesh Mahal, an impressive hall covered by mirrors.

The temple itself is topped by a golden dome contributed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who had the shrine rebuilt. It came to be called the Golden Temple after this. Located in the heart of the atmospheric old quarter it can be easily reached via the shopping area of Hall Bazaar. Devotees wash their hands and feet, and cover their heads while entering the temple complex via Darshini Darwaza. They then do the 'parikrama' or the round of the smaller homage sites surrounding of the temple. The parikrama is a wide marbled passageway that encircles the sarovar.


Along the parikrama there are 68 revered points where devotees pay obeisance. They symbolise the 68 orthodox pilgrimage sites of Hinduism. Devotees move in a clockwise direction around the parikrama. Some of the primary stops are the Dukh Bhanjani Ber Tree where people take a holy dip in the sarovar. The langar hall lies behind it; the free community kitchen was started by Guru Amar Das who made it an integral part of the gurudwaras. The langar symbolises the breaking of all social barriers by making everyone eat together regardless of caste and creed.

 

The 450-year old Jubbi Tree marks the place from where the first high priest of the temple, Baba Buddhaja supervised the construction of the temple. Another homage area is the ber tree to which the two Sikh warriors Sukha Singh and Mehtab Singh tied their horses while slaying Massa Rangar for desecrating the inner sanctum in 1740. Further along you will come to the place marking the martyrdom of Baba Deep Singh who fought to the death against the Afghan soldiers responsible for attacking the temple.

The lofty structure of Gurudwara Baba Atal Rai located behind Darbar Sahib was built as a memorial to Guru Hargobind's son Atal Rai. The Central Sikh Museum here showcases paintings depicting Sikh history and its struggles against the Mughals and British oppressors. It also has several weapons on display. You can watch the staging of the Gataka (Sikh martial ritual) conducted on the roof of the Guru Ka Langar between 8.30 am and 11 pm.

Akal Takht
The temple is linked to the Akal Takht by a causeway across the pool. The Akal Takht is the temporal centre of the Sikh faith. This is also where the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which plays a vital role in Sikh politics, meets. One of the most moving spiritual rituals in the world is the ceremonial transfer of the Guru Granth Sahib from the temple for its nightly sojourn here. At dawn the next day it is returned under a golden canopy in its palki to Harmandir Sahib, amongst prayers and hymns. The Akal Takht was rebuilt after it was damaged during Operation Blue Star.
Jallianwala Bagh
This is the spot of the black incident where 379 people were ruthlessly killed and about 1,200 injured by General Dywer's troops. The Martyrs' Gallery is a poignant reminder of this heinous crime during the British Raj. The entry to this old garden complex is a narrow passage with a single exit and entry point.
Durgiana Temple
Set within a serene sarovar the 16th century temple's gilded visage reminds you of the Darbar Sahib. It is dedicated to the Goddess Durga. Within the complex devotees stop by at the Sheetla Mata Temple, Lakshmi Narayan Mandir and the Hanuman Mandir.
Gurudwara Ramsar Sahib
The Granth Sahib was compiled in the precincts of this venerable shrine, located on Ramsar Road. Maharaja Ranjit Singh commissioned the construction of the Bibeksar Sahib close by in 1833.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Musuem
This sprawling palace with its extensive grounds has been converted into a museum. On display is a wide range of memorabilia of Ranjit Singh's time, including some fine paintings and prints of the Raj era
Excursions:
Wagah Border (29 km)
West of Amritsar, the borderlands of India and Pakistan are marked by cultivated fields. Only the barbed wire fence breaks this pastoral scene reminding you of the political significance of this place. At Wagah you can recharge your patriotic feelings with rousing hurrahs for India during the elaborate ceremonial change of guard held on both sides of the border, at sunset everyday.
Tarn Taran (21 km)
The Gurudwara Taran Taran is a memorial to Guru Ram Das. It was built in 1768. The holy waters of the sarovar were believed to have miraculous healing powers, and even cured lepers.
Hari-ka-patan (30km)
Set upon the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej rivers, this is a Ramsar Wetland site and popular for picnics and bird watching. You can see a wide variety of migratory birds here in winter.
Amrit-Sarovar

Amrit-Sarovar - the Pool of Nectar of Immortality - and so it is for millions of Sikhs. This city takes its name from Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Harmandir Sahib, also called the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib.


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