Originally, leaders of the Sikhs were the so-called gurus – ten in succession. In principle, the sacred book of Sikhism, Adi Granth, is the last, eternal guru. All Sikh temples have a copy of these sacred scripts, from which passages are recited daily.
In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji introduced the rule of the five kakkers, which all Sikh men must follow: kesha (hair and beard are never to be cut), kangha (always bring a comb), kachha (wear shorts), kara (wear a metal ring around your wrist), and kirtipan (always be armed with a sword or a knife to defend yourself and your family). In this way, members of the Brotherhood are able to recognize each other at any time.
Orthodox Sikhs also observe four other fundamental rules: They are not allowed to smoke, or drink alcohol, they may only eat ’pure’ food (no meat, fish, or eggs), and marriage must take place within the Sikh Brotherhood. In cities, however, many Sikhs do not observe these rules, especially among those who have emigrated to the West.
Despite the fact that followers of Sikhism only number around 20 million, Sikhs are a distinct ethnic group in today’s India, known as skilled traders and technicians. They are also often employed as autorickshaw or bus drivers.
The temple in Amrit Sarovar was destroyed several times by invading Afghan Muslims, but was rebuilt each time. In 1758, Baba Deep Singh fought heroically against the Afghans. According to legend, his head was cut off six kilometres from the temple – but his body continued fighting. Eventually, when he reached the temple, he fell to the ground, dead. Around the pond, a settlement named Amritsar was founded, which, over the years, became a large city.
Above the entrance, the triangular, orange Sikh banner, Nishan Sahib, is fluttering. The temple is guarded by stern, but friendly Sikhs, who wear a blue, black, or saffron-coloured turban, and proud Nihang (’Crocodile’) Sikhs, armed with long spears. Nihangs are followers of the militant guru Gobind Singh. They wear long, blue robes and pointed turbans, to which a Sikh emblem is attached.
An eight-metre wide walkway, Parikrama, has been constructed around the pond, consisting of polished marble slabs, adorned with beautiful patterns. Pilgrims bathe in the sacred pond, in which hundreds of large carps live, occasionally emerging to gulp a mouthful of air. These carps assist in keeping the water clean.
In the centre of the pond is the sanctum sanctorum, Hari Mandir, a temple in three stories. As in all Sikh temples, the roof is onion- or lotus-shaped, the roof and parts of the marble walls covered in pure gold plates, all together weighing more than 100 kilos. This gold-covering has given rise to the popular name, ‘The Golden Temple’. The gold was donated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh – the person who united Punjab. Those parts of the walls, which are not covered by gold plates, are beautifully adorned with inlaid precious stones. A 62-metre long marble bridge, leading from the edge of the pond to the temple, is densely packed with pilgrims, each bringing an offering, prasad, comprising ghee (clarified butter), flour, and sugar.
On the lower floor of the temple, priests are singing and playing music from dawn to dusk, and often in the evening as well. On the second floor, the sacred book, Adi Grant, is kept during daylight hours, and priests continually recite from its c. 3,500 hymns. Pilgrims place offerings of money or flowers near the sacred script. In the evening, Adi Grant is carried to a building with golden domes, Akhal Takht, erected in 1609 as the religious parliament of the Sikhs.
A temple for Baba Deep Singh – the warrior who continued fighting against the Afghans without his head – is found at the southern end of the Parikrama. Inside this temple is a painting of him, standing with his head in his hands.
Several sacred jujube trees (Ziziphus mauritiana), said to possess healing powers, are found on the temple premises. Near the main entrance is one such tree, about 475 years old, to which women, who wish to give birth to a son, attach bits of cloth as an offering.
On two occasions, full-scale massacres on Sikhs have taken place in Punjab. A short distance from Hari Mandir, on 13th of April, 1919, c. 20,000 people were demonstrating peacefully against a new law, which permitted British forces, without any cause, to arrest and imprison Indians. Without being provoked, General Dyer and his 150 troops suddenly opened fire. Many demonstrators were shot in the back, when they tried to escape. According to official numbers, 337 men, 46 boys, and a baby were killed, and more than 1,500 wounded. In Europe, numerous governments fumed against the British. The act, however, only enforced the Indian Freedom Movement, and many people followed Mahatma Gandhi’s call for civil disobedience.
In the 1970s, many Sikhs, under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, wished to pass the so-called Anandpur Resolution, the aim of which was to create an independent Sikh state, Khalistan. In 1982, Bhindranwale and c. 200 of his militant followers moved to a guest house in Hari Mandir, and by 1983, a large number of rebels had taken shelter inside the temple precincts. According to the Indian newspaper The Statesman, a number of light machine guns and semi-automatic rifles were brought into the compound.
On June 1, 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched the so-called Operation Blue Star, ordering troops, armed with tanks and other artillery, to storm Hari Mandir to eliminate Bhindranwale and his militant followers. Eventually, the army took control of the temple, but about 200 soldiers and 2,000 others, among these many pilgrims, were killed during a five-day long battle. On June 6, the Indian government declared that the temple had been ‘liberated’. This action, however, was soon revenged. In October 1984, Indira Gandhi was murdered by two of her own Sikh guards. This lead to widespread anti-Sikh riots, in which more than 8,000 Sikhs were killed.
In 1987, Sikh separatists again occupied Hari Mandir. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched Operation Black Thunder, but this time Indian authorities managed to persuade the rebels to surrender without confrontations.
In Hari Mandir, a flight of stairs leads up to the Central Sikh Museum, which displays paintings of the 1919-massacre, and macabre photos, depicting people killed during other Sikh rebellions. Many of the temple buildings were heavily damaged by bombings during Operation Blue Star, among these the two Ramgarhia Minarets. They were restored in 1997.