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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar

In 1564, Guru Ram Das ( Bhai Jetha ) purchased land from the local zimidars and a large sarovar was constructed at its centre. A new town was established called Guru Da Chakk or Chakk Ramdas. In 1574, following the death of Guru Amar Das Ji, Bhai Jetha became the forth Sikh Guru, known as Guru Ram Das Ji. He shifted the spiritual centre of Sikhism from Giondwal Sahib to Guru Da Chakk known as Ramdaspur, later called Amritsar. Guru Ram Das Ji, upon his death in 1581, was succeeded by his son Guru Arjan Dev Ji . He began construction of Shri Harmandir Sahib in the centre of the sacred tank and he invited Sufi Saint Hazrat Sain Mian Mir Ji from Lahore to lay the foundation of the shrine. Guru Garanth Sahib was placed in 1604, with Baba Buddha, a respected and learned Sikh, as its first Granthi.

In 1606, Guru Arjan Dev Ji was executed by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, on charge of supporting the failed revolt of the Emperor’s eldest son, Prince Khusrau. Guru Arjan Dev was succeeded by his 11 year old son, Guru Hargobind Ji ( 1595-1644 ) and to ensure that the Sikhs did not revolt against Mughal authority, Hargobind was imprisoned at Gvalior Fort in 1609 where he remained in captivity for two years from the age of 14 to 16. Following his release, he returned to Amritsar and built the Akal Takht, to represent the highest seat of earthly authority of Sikhs. But during the reign of Shah Jahan ( 1628-1658 ) Sikh- Mughal relations deteriorated again, resulting in the battle of Amritsar (1634 ). Though the Sikhs won, the heavy losses they suffered forced them to retreat to a more secure location, Kiratpur. Guru Hargobind would never return to Amritsar.

Harmandir Sahib came under the control of Baba Prithi Chand and he had created his own unorthodox sect of Sikhism, known as the Miharvans, and controlled Harmandir Sahib for several decades up to 1699. After Prithi Chand's death in 1618, his descendants feuded over control of the shrine and by 1696, administration of Harmandir Sahib began to fall apart. In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji sent Sikh scholar Bhai Mani Singh to take control of the shrine as the custodian and normalcy restored to it. Following the death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, the situation in Amritsar deteriorated. In 1737, the shrine custodian Bhai Mani Singh was executed by Mughal Emperor of Lahore, for failing to pay a tribute of 5000 rupees in exchange for permission to celebrate Diwali. A ruthless persecution of the Sikhs followed. In 1746, the Mughal Diwan Lakhpat Rai filled the holy sarovar with sand. In 1749, even taking a dip in its water was prohibited by the new Mughal controller of Amritsar, Salamat Khan. During these years of political chaos, the shrine came under the control of the Udasi Sect ( 1737-1921 ) under Bhai Gopal Das. This was a syncretic Hindu-Sikh sect of ascetics or Sadhus, founded by Shri Chand, son of Guru Nanak Dev. Mahants of Udasi Sect would control the shrine until 1921.

The collapse of the central Mughal authority in Punjab lead to the invasion of Afghanistan ruler Ahmed Shah Abdali. His invasion in 1757 led to the shrine being attacked and damaged. But in the following years, Baba Jassa Singh Ahluwalia recaptured Amritsar and cleaned the shrine. In 1762, Abdali returned to Amritsar and destroyed the shrine with gunpowder, and the structure was blown. For two years, the shrine technically did not exist. In 1764, Baba Jassa Singh Ahluwalia rebuilt the shrine and completed it in 1766, and the floor around the sarovar was completed in 1784. Late Udāsīn Mahant Gopal Das was given retirement and the mainstream Sikh leader Bhai Chanchal Singh was made the new custodian. In 1782, Ranjit Singh captured Amritsar from the Bhangin Misl and took control of the shrine. He formed the committee of Udasi Mahant to look after it and put the committee in charge of administrating the new city that had grown up around it. In 1805, the gold sheets were laid on the exterior of the shrine. By 1834, the entire exterior of the sanctum was covered in gold, while interiors were embellished with silver work, marble work and traditional paintings.

After the fall of the Sikh Empire in the second Anglo-Sikh war in 1849, the British Empire annexed Punjab and they demolished Bunga Sarkar ( barracks ) in the prikarma constructed by Ranjit Singh and constructed the red-brick Gothic Clock Tower in its place. The shrine again came under the control of Udasi Mahants. In 1920s, a group of Sikhs launched Gurdwara Reform and finally took control of Shri Harimandar Sahib. In 1943, bowling to the Sikh demands to extend the parikarma around the shrine, the British administration demolished the Clock Tower and all the historical Burgas except Ramgarhia Bunga. Today, the Harmandir Sahib has come a long way from the trauma of its past, and despite its history of dark and painful times, continues to welcome pilgrims from around the world, and act as a beacon of faith, kindness and humanity.

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