Things to do and Places to Visit in Punjab
From the top of the gateway stairs, you look across a wide pool of water—known as the sarovar, or "sea"—at the golden roof of Harmandir Sahib. Go down the steps on the other side and you'll reach the white marble walkway 24 ft wide, known as the parikrama (circumambulatory path), that surrounds the pool. Each side of the pool is 510 ft long, and pilgrims normally make a complete circuit before they approach the Harmandir Sahib. Doing so gives a good sense of the scale of the place, as well as providing a series of angles from which to gaze at the Golden Temple. (You can take pictures from a distance, but put your camera away before you leave the causeway for the central sanctum.) Various points around the parikrama are considered auspicious places to bathe; the bathing steps along the east length of the walkway are said to mark a spot that equals the purifying power of Hinduism's 68 most holy tirthas (holy places). Just behind this is the entrance to a small garden that adjoins an assembly hall on the right and two large pilgrims' hostels to the rear. On the left, fewer than two tall minarets that have yet to be fully restored from the damage they suffered in the 1980s, is the Guru Ram Das Langar—named after the fourth Sikh guru, this is the temple's communal dining hall. All gurdwaras have such a langar (the name of the place as well as the free meal served here), as eating together and serving a meal to others is perhaps the most fondly practiced of all Sikh rituals. Don't hesitate to join in; meals are served daily from 11 to 3 and 7 to 11, and the food (usually a few thick chapattis and some dal) is simple and robust. In another kitchen at the southwest corner of the parikrama, pilgrims make a donation in return for a packet of halvah, made from cream of wheat, which is then taken to Harmandir Sahib and presented as an offering, with a portion given back to worshipers as prasad (which some translate as the "edible form of God's grace").
Halfway across the east side of the parikrama, the causeway out to Harmandir Sahib is on your right, and to the left is the five-story Akal Takht, topped by a gilt dome. This building, whose name means "Timeless Throne," represents Sikh temporal authority—day-to-day administration—as opposed to the spiritual authority of Harmandir Sahib. It was here that much of the heavy fire that met the Indian Army during Operation Bluestar originated; the original building was largely destroyed during the fighting, but it has now been fully restored.
To reach Harmandir Sahib you go under an archway known as the Dar-shani Deorhi ("Gateway of Vision") and cross a 204-ft long causeway, which has brass guide rails to separate arriving pilgrims from departing ones, as well as a central passageway for temple functionaries. Take the left passageway. (Note that sometimes, particularly right at dusk, pilgrims arrive in great numbers for particular ceremonies. Access to the Harmandir Sahib is controlled at such times and pilgrims can back up on the causeway, making a visit to the sanctum a lengthy under-taking.) Pilgrims typically bow down at the doorway after traversing the causeway, and then circumambulate the central temple around a small exterior parikrama. Some stop to bathe on the east side. The exterior walls are decorated in beautiful pietra dura (marble inlaid with semi-precious stones) said to have been brought by Maharaja Ranjit Singh from Mogul monuments in Lahore.
Visit Old Temples in Punjab
On the temple's ground level, the Guru Granth Sahib sits on a special throne. Attendant’s wave whisks over it constantly to keep flies away, and a granthi (lay specialist in recitation) sits reciting the text with harmonium players and other musicians off to one side. Feel free to enter the temple and listen to the recitation of the holy book, or witness the continuous recitation (akhand path) of the second and third stories; just remember to keep your head covered and refrain from taking pictures. As you go back through the Darshani Deorhi (Gateway of Vision), a temple priest or volunteer will usually be stationed under a small tree handing out servings of the halvah that previous pilgrims have offered to the temple. The ritual of receiving prasad is one that Sikhs share with Hindus. Just around the northwest corner of the parikrama stands an old jujube tree that is said to have healing powers.
The Central Sikh Museum, upstairs in the clock-tower entrance, contains graphic paintings depicting the tumultuous history of the Sikh gurus and their followers. Included are scenes from the British period and Operation Bluestar.
Outside the temple's clock-tower entrance, about 500 yards north, a small plaque and narrow gateway mark the entrance to Jallianwala Bagh. Here, on April 13, 1919, occurred one of the defining moments in India's struggle for independence. The day was Baisakhi, celebrated by Sikhs as both the first day of the New Year and the day that Guru Gobind Singh consolidated the faith under the leadership of the Khalsa ("God's own"; a fraternity of the pious) in 1699. The city was under curfew after reported attacks on some British residents, yet some 20,000 people had gathered here to protest the arrest of Indian nationalist leaders under the Rowlett Act, a British legislation that allowed for detention without trial. Seeing this crowd, British Brigadier General Reginald E. H. Dyer positioned his troops just inside the narrow en-trance to the small garden (which is surrounded on all sides by residential buildings) and ordered them to open fire. Some 1,200 people were wounded, and several hundred died. This event, which is chillingly reenacted in Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi, caused widespread outrage and contributed to the launch of Mahatma Gandhi's noncooperation movement. The British attempted to suppress news of the incident, and when an inquiry was finally held, such comments as "It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect" (Dyer) did nothing to assuage a worldwide response. Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore renounced his English knighthood, and even Winston Churchill, him-self no enemy of the empire, raised an uproar in Parliament (though a majority in the House of Lords approved of Dyer's actions). Jallianwala Bagh was subsequently purchased by Indian nationalists to prevent its being turned into a covered market, and it remains one of the most moving monuments to India's 20th-century history. Queen Eliz-abeth visited in 1997, after much negotiation over whether or not she should make a formal apology (she didn't, but she and Prince Philip removed their shoes before entering the grounds). Today the garden is planted with a few rosebushes, and the bullet holes from the British fusillade remain. The well, into which some dove in a vain attempt to save themselves, is on the north side. A modern memorial occupies the east end, and a small display to the left as you enter the garden features contemporary newspaper accounts of the incident.
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