Amritsar : Land of God
Amritsar, the most sacred city of the Sikhs, is an important tourist attraction of Punjab. The word Amritsar means the Pool of Nectar. The city of Amritsar is named after the sacred pool in the Golden Temple, one of the holiest Sikh shrines. Amritsar is situated only about 29 km from Wagah, on the India-Pakistan border. The overland travelers have to go through Amritsar to Pakistan as it was the only land crossing open between India and Pakistan. It has an unmistakable frontier town atmosphere. The best season to visit Amritsar is from October to March. The foreign tourists require a permit, if they intend to stay in Punjab for longer period or are traveling through Amritsar to the border and want an overnight stay. Hindi, Punjabi and English are the main languages which are spoken here.
Amritsar was a traditional junction of trade routes and the Yarkandis, Turkomens, Kashmiris, Tibetans and Iranians that were found here indicate its connections with the Old Silk Road and the trade routes of Central Asia. The original site for the city of Amritsar was granted by the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556 –1605) but the Sikh Guru, Ram Das insisted on paying its value to the local Jats who owned it, thereby eliminating the possibility of future disputes on ownership. Ram Das then invited local merchants to live and trade in the immediate vicinity and the town became Amritsar. In 1761, the Afghan Ahmad Shah Durrani sacked the town and destroyed the temple. The temple was rebuilt in 1764 and during the reign of Ranjit Singh was roofed over with gilded copper plates, thereby giving rise to the name 'The Golden Temple'.
Baisakhi is the main festival which is celebrated all over all Amristar. It is a religious festival in which people bath in rivers and worship at temples. To the Sikh community, Baisakhi is of special significance as on this day, in 1689, the Khalsa was founded by Guru Gobind Singh, converting the Sikhs into a martial community. In Amritsar, the farmers celebrate the festival with great enthusiasm. It is an occasion for great celebration, with dances and rejoicing. The birth anniversaries of the ten gurus are observed as holy days and those of Guru Nanak in November and Guru Gobind Singh in December are celebrated as festivals. The celebrations include the recitation of the Guru’s verses and processions carrying the Granth Sahib. A four day festival and fair is held at Ram Tirath on the full moon night of November. It is here that the Maharishi Valmiki lived for a long time and wrote Ramayana. Love and Kush were born to Sita in this Ashram.
The Golden Temple
The Golden Temple, the most important and holy Sikh shrine, is located in the old part of the town of Amritsar. The Golden Temple is also known as Hari Mandir (Temple of the Lord). The temple is surrounded by a pool, which gives the city its name ‘Amritsar’, the pool of nectar. The glittering golden domes of the temple are reflected in the pool, and a marble pathway leads to the temple. The temple domes are covered with 400 kilograms of gold. The gold was donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. This holy shrine is the spiritual nerve Golden Temple, Amritsar centre of the Sikh faith and every Sikh tries to make a visit here and bath in the holy water. The site has been sacred to the Sikhs since the time of the fourth guru, Ram Das. In 1577, he heard that a cripple had been miraculously cured while bathing in the pool here. This pool was later enlarged and named Amrit Sovar, the pool of the Nectar of immortality. Guru Arjun Das enlarged the tank further and built the original temple at its centre in 1601. After building the temple, Arjun Das compiled a collection of hymns of the great medieval saints and this became the Adi Granth (Holy book). It was installed in the temple as the focus of devotion and teaching. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last guru revised the book and also refused to name a successor saying that the book itself would be the Sikh guru. It thus came to be known as the Granth Sahib. The Golden Temple suffered twice at the hands of the Afghan Ahmad Shah Durrani, who invaded northern India in 1747. After his departure, the Sikhs reconquered the Punjab and restored the temple and tank, under their greatest secular leader, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In 1830, he donated 100 kgs (220 lbs) of gold which was applied to the copper sheets on the roof and in the exterior of the building. The temple has three floors. The ground floor with its fine silver doors contains the Holy Book which has been placed on a platform under a jewel encrusted canopy. Professional singers and musicians perform verses from the book and sing the hymns continuously. On the first floor is a balcony on which three respected Sikhs are always performing the Akhand Path (Unbroken Reading). In order to preserve unity and maintain continuity, there must always be someone who practice devotions. In the top floor, the gurus used to sit and perform the Akhand Path. Throughout the day, pilgrims place their offerings of flowers or money around the book. The marble walls are decorated with mirrorwork, gold leaf and designs of birds, animals and flowers in semiprecious stones in the Mughal style. The rest of the temple is covered with gilt copper inscribed with quotations from the Granth. Inside the temple compound, there is a tree shrine, along the pathway. This gnarled jubi tree is 450 years old and is reputed to be the favourite resting place of the first chief priest of the temple, Baba Gujhaji. Although he was chief priest, he would still do voluntary and building work. Now, the women tie strings to branches hoping to be blessed with a son by the primeval fertility spirits that choose such places as their home. It is also a favourite spot to arrange and sanctify marriages, despite the protests of the temple authorities. Inside the shrine, there are also the flagstaffs, the shrine of Guru Gobind Singh and the Akhal Takht. Further round on the eastern side are the Sixty Eight Holy Places which comprises a number of shrines and booths. This place takes its name from the 68 Hindu pilgrimage spots. When the tank was built Arjun Singh told his followers that rather than visiting all the Hindu places, they should just bathe here. The merit that they would acquire would be equivalent to visiting all 68 places. There is also a dining hall, kitchen, assembly hall and dharamshala in the premises.