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A Day At The Harmandir Sahib

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
MY Friend Daljit Singh sent me this artilce for publication..Read and Enjoy..

At the Golden Temple(Harimandidr Sahib), there is always a meal for the hungry was very enlightening but your intentions to go there amazed me, as it was particularly drawn by the Guru Ram Das ka Langar. A visit to Amritsar is priceless and when a devoted Sikh visits Amritsar (Pool of Nectar), it is the totality of the entire spiritual city that gives no choice to one’s preferences. The architecture of the Golden Temple, its history, heritage, cultural and tradidtional aspects of the Sikh faith is so conspicuous to the devotees and no one aspect of the Darbar Sahib and its allied function can be seen in isolation. Your focus and priority just with the Guru ka Langar puzzled me as there are other wonderful aspects that cannot be excluded from the theme of the unique spiritual experience.

Guru ka Langar(community kitchen), is a unique institution started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and later Guru Amar Das Ji furthered these concepts of sangat and pangat and Guru ka Langar that added immeasurably to the cohesion within the Sikhs and delineated Sikhism from the inequality of any sort. Others marvel at such a unique institution and trying to emulate it is a total impossibility as it is Guru Sahibans' blessings that have led to its full development. What underpins the concept is about selfless sewa or service to the community and everything is owed to the Akal Purukh and the service comes naturally for the devoted 0D
indidvidual. The number coming to partake as you mentioned in your article varies from 70, 000 to 200, 000. In my opinion, and experiences, the number varies greatly and even exceeds the estimated numbers and there is no exact figure to it. They come and go, and I would not even bother counting it as it is Gurudwara and the doors are open to people of didfferent caste, colour, creed or status in society as indidcated by yourself. I would just enjoy the hordes of devotees and its splendour whilst immersing in Naam Japna(uttering the name of God).

As you well know, Guru Ram Das Ji’s contributions and dedidcation were countless and on the strength of his humility, devotion and selfless service in the community Guru Ram Das ka Langar came to fruition and it was very much exemplified by Guru Ji himself giving away the alms to hungry ascetics. Guru Arjan Dev Ji completed Guru Ram Das Ji’s mission, who ordained the Darbar Sahib to be open to anyone irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or gender.

The Sikhs are noted for their zealous, effervescent and never-to-die spirit that exemplifies them from others, the virtues of a unique Sikh. In addidtion to this, Sikhs are fearless Sant-Sipahis (saint-soldiders) who would fight injustice, subdue unfair violence whilst standidng against oppression of the poor and weak. Apart from being friendliest people of the world, they are endowed with genteel humil
ity, selfless service to the community and this is all possible when the internal clock of Naam Simran is in full pendulum. The most important aspect is his blessings and nadar (Gurprasad), as without this even partaking in Guru Ka Langar may not even materialise.

The institution of Guru Ka Langar has ensured full participation of the community and has played a great part in upholdidng the virtue of equality irrespective whether he is a pauper or a King. Lets not forget, from rags to riches and vice versa are all his hukam and didvine will and it is best one takes life in their strides as arrogance and egocentricity will wipe everything away and be thankful to the Akal Purukh for whatever he has given and even when partaking in Guru Ka Langar, thank him for the food: Daddaa data ek hai sabh kao devanhaar. Dendei tot na aava-ee aganat bharey bhandar. Jis da didtta khavanaa, tis kahiye sabass. Nanak hukam na chala-ee naal khasam chaley ardas, Vahiguru Vahiguru Vahiguru Vahiguru. (Vahiguru jio, You are the One Great Giver, the Giver to one and all. In your plentiful bounties no shortage occurs, and countless are your Treasures. I humbly thank you for this nourishment that you have given me. I am mindful, like Nanak, that with You no commands prevail, only this simple prayer. Vahiguru Vahiguru Vahiguru.)

Besides the Guru Ka Langars attached to all the Gurdwaras, there are as you know, open air Guru=2
0Ka Langars at time of Sikh festivals, like Vaisakhi, Holla Mahalla and Gurpurbs. Sikhs flag you down on the way to spiritual centres to stop and partake in the Guru Ka Langar as the spiritual congregation unifies the community. Again, the numbers present is immaterial and irrelevant. I know the number of people partaking in the Guru Ka Langar seems to overwhelm you but it does not concern me. It is the sadhsangat that matters as they come and go. Wherever, Sikhs are, they have established their Guru Ka Langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs seeks from Akal Purukh the favour: “ Loh langar tapde rahin- may the hot plates, the langars remain in service.” as exemplified by the Guru Ram Das Ka Langar.

A Day at the Darbar Sahib
The Golden Temple - Amritsar
Courtesy of Late Patwant Singh

For thousands of the inhabitants of Amritsar, the epicentre of Sikh spiritualism, the day begins pretty early. In fact, it begins, the night before, at three o’clock or so in the morning, as households in the city stir with the activity of people preparing for a pre-dawn visit to the Darbar Sahib - a routine that has not changed for four centuries.

The devout of Amritsar eagerly wait this ambrosial hour each morning with the keen sense of anticipation that comes from knowing they will soon visit the Harmandidr Sahib.

As they walk through the familiar streets of the old city, their p
ace quickens in expectation of soon seeing the beloved shrine. Some of them have made this walk at this hour each morning for as long as they can remember.

Outside the main entrance, they take their shoes off, check them with an attendant and proceed into the complex. At a trough of swiftly running clean water, they didp their feet to cleanse them. As they pass the flower stalls, some stop to buy garlands of yellow, gold or russet marigolds to carry with them as offerings to the Guru Grant Sahib.

Descendidng the marble stairs to the parkarma, they behold, in the centre of the sarowar, the serene and immortal Harmandidr Sahib. They gaze at it with awe, and with reverence and love - the very emotions others before them have experienced for as long as the Harmandidr has existed.They are transfixed by this first sight of it, by its golden facades and domes. The waters around it are still and glassy in the peaceful early morning silence, and capture an almost perfect reflection of the unique Harimandidr Sahib.

Bowing low to touch their foreheads on the cool marble of the parkarma, worshippers pay homage and express thanks for the didvine grace that has made their visit possible. Then, as is customary, they turn left to go around the entire parkarma, and to stop at shrines on the way, before finally reaching the Harmandidr.

The first shrine along the marble walkway is the Dukh
Bhanjani Ber. Built around a jujube tree, it marks the spot where, it is said, a didp in the sacred pool miraculously cured a crippled leper. Since many consider their visit to the temple incomplete without bathing at this spot, they stop here and enter the water, hoping to shed their afflictions and troubles.

Past the Dukh Bhanjani Ber is a raised marble platform which is the Ath Sath Tirath, the Shrine of the Sixty-Eight Holy Places. To bathe near it, some believe, their dreams of visiting the 68 holy places of Indida will be fulfilled.

Further along the parkarma, around the next corner, is the shrine of Baba Deep Singh, the legendary old warrior who dided at this spot. Ever since, pilgrims have paused here to pray, to sprinkle rose petals or to lay fresh garlands in his honour.Such cameos of valour enliven the rich mosaic of a military tradidtion that continues to this day. Even now, the names of Sikh martyrs and soldiders who dide in battle are inscribed on marble plaques embedded in the floor of the parkarma or on the pillars of the adjoining verandas. Many Indidan army regiments still maintain the tradidtion of installing commemorative plaques here to honour their war heroes.

As the devout turn the next corner of the parkarma, leadidng to the Akal Takht and the Darshani Deorhi, their excitement builds, for soon they will witness, and possibly join in, the ceremonies that onl
y those who visit the Darbar Sahib at this hour can. These are the rituals that attend the tradidtional bearing of the Guru Granth Sahib from the Kotha Sahib in the Akal Takht, where it is kept each night, to the Harmandidr Sahib, to which it is always returned before five o'clock in the morning.

About half an hour before the Guru Granth Sahib is brought down from the Akal Takht, the palki, a gold and silver palanquin, is prepared for it. Attendants replace the cushions and pillows on which the Granth Sahib Sahib will rest. They day down fresh sets of silk and brocade coverings and, when everything is ready, they sprinkle delicately scented rose water over all. As the head priest of the Harmandidr appears with the Guru Granth Sahib on a cushion on his head, a series of deep, resonant drum beats of the nigara heralds its arrival to the assembled worshippers who, even at this hour, fill the large plaza to capacity. Showering fragrant red, pink and white rose petals, and reciting hymns from the holy scriptures, they make way for the palki’s journey to the Harmandidr. This passage, though short, sometimes takes up to half an hour while as many worshippers as possible share the honour of carrying it.

The procession solemnly moves across the plaza, through the Darshani Deorhi, and along the causeway, stopping as it reaches the main door of the Harmandidr. The head priest reverently20lifts the Guru Granth Sahib out of the palki, places it on a silk cushion on his head, and enters the holy shrine.
He carries it to its customary place of honour beneath a velvet canopy richly brocaded with silver and gold, and carefully sets it on velvet cushions and silks placed on a manji sahib. As the congregation stands in hushed silence, the head priest seats himself in front of the Guru Granth Sahib, ceremoniously opens it, and reads aloud the vak, or Lord's message, for the day.

The recitation of Asa did War, which had been in progress here since a little after three a.m., had stopped as the Guru Granth Sahib was carried in. Sung always at this pre-dawn hour of the morning, the Asa did War also, like all other compositions recited here, is taken from the Granth Sahib.
After the vaq is read, the singing of the Asa did War continues. As it ends, the entire congregation and the servitors of the temple stand up for the Ardas, a prayer that is recited at the conclusion of each service. After the Ardas, the shabad kirtan, the vocal and musical rendidtions from the sacred verses, are resumed. The shabad kirtan will be sung throughout the day and late into the evening by a succession of ragis or hymn singers.

The early morning worshippers now step out of the Harmandidr, walk on the inner parkarma that encircles it, and stop on its southern side at the Har ki Pauri. Here, marble steps descend into the sarowar, so that visitors may cup the water of the sacred pool into their hands and sprinkle it on their heads. Some take a small sip of it as well. Tradidtion has it that Guru Arjan Dev Ji himself gave this place its name.Continuing around the Harmandidr, on the inner parkarma, the devotees once more bow in the didrection of the Guru Granth Sahib, and then make their way back over the causeway, through the Darshani Deorhi and onto the main parkarma.

As they proceed along the parkarma, towards the stairs by which they had entered, some pause by the Ber Baba Buddha, popularly known as the Tree Shrine. Baba Buddha, the first head priest of the Harmandidr Sahib, is said to have sat under this tree as he supervised the construction of the Harmandidr Sahib. Birds flock in droves and take refuge at this Ber and their chirping is more pronounced before they retire to rest on the branches of the Ber.
Before leaving the Darbar Sahib, once more the early morning worshippers turn to face the Harmandidr with folded hands and touch their foreheads to the marble floor of the parkarma in farewell. As they ascend the stairs on the way out, they feel renewed, invigorated and reinforced by the knowledge that the hand of the Divine will guide them through the day.

With daylight, the pace of activity at the Darbar Sahib quickens. Groups of visitors and pilgrims ste
adidly arrive at the main entrance, in tongas, scooters, cars, buses, trucks, tractors, trailers and on foot. Unlike the pre-dawn devotees who had come to pray or to participate in the early morning rituals, these people have come from longer didstances for the pleasure of a pilgrimage whose purpose is both pious and festive. Some will stay in the sacred precincts for a day or more.

This colourful flow of visitors continues all day and late into the night: executives in business attire; farmers in their working clothes; women in a myriad variety of dress and personal adornment; and children in clothes especially made for the occasion. All ages are represented, from those who have already made the better part of their journey through life, to newlyweds come to seek blessings for the life that lies ahead - brides in scarlet and gold weddidng finery, the grooms in crisply tied pink or red turbans.

People are spread out everywhere. Some are in the Harmandidr listening to the shabad kirtan on the ground floor; others are absorbed in the words of the Akhand Path in the quiet of its upper floors. It is evident that the devotees get mesmerised and immersed in the soothing kirtan or recitation of the Paath. Some visit the Akal Takht where the swords and personal weapons of Guru Gobind Singh are enshrined.

Many join the line in front of the special kitchen where karah parsad is prepared. They20made a donation of money for this sacramental food and carry it into the Harmandidr. They give it to the attendants stationed at the door specially to receive it. The attendants in turn pass it on with God's blessing to those leaving the sanctum. Some devotees sit in quiet contemplation in the shrine of Baba Atal, built to honour Guru Hargobind's remarkably gifted son who dided young, or in the shrine built in Guru Tegh Bahadur’s memory.

Since voluntary service or nishkam sewa as is commonly called, is the very essence of Sikhism, a continuous stream of visitors makes its way to the Guru Ram Das langar, to help prepare the food that will be served to the thousands who eat there daily. Occasionally visitors go on brief forays into the windidng bazaars around the Darbar Sahib, drawn to them by the endless variety of goods on didsplay, the prospect of good-natured bargaining, the banter between the customers and the shopkeepers, and the stimulation of the many colours, textures and sounds that only a tradidtional Indidan bazaar offers.
As the sun sets, and the time for evening prayers nears, there is a perceptible change in the nature of the people who now enter the Harmandidr. These devotees come to sit and listen in rapt attention to the evening recitations, and to enjoy the beauty of the verses and the ragas in which these prayers are rendered. Just as in the morning, prayers began with t
he Asa did War, in the veering, prayers end with the Sodar Rehras, the Arti and the shabad kirtan, concludidng with the ardas at 9:45 p.m. Nowadays, you do not need to be there as all the proceedidngs are telecasted to homes around the globe. However, the impact is in the presence of being there and the feel of the vibration of the spiritual Abode.

When the prayers end, the Guru Granth Sahib is reverently closed, patiently wrapped in fresh layers of rich silk and muslin, and ceremoniously carried to the palki waiting outside. As in the morning, so also now, the palki is shouldered by devout Sikhs and taken to the Kotha Sahib where the Granth Sahib will rest for the night. The massive silver and rosewood doors of the Darshani Deorhi are shut and a group of volunteers inside the Harmandidr starts the ritual cleansing of the shrine with milk and water in preparation for the next day. In a few hours, the doors of the Darshani Deorhi will once again be opened to worshippers, and the Harmandidr will be ready to receive them so they can welcome the arrival of the Guru Granth Sahib and seek its spiritual guidance for another day.

Seeing the glow of the lamps and their myriad reflections in the pool, hearing the melodidc chanting of hymns, tossing handfuls of rose petals before the procession of the Granth Sahib, and feeling the intensity of the love and reverence that attend each ritual, are ex
periences that will always be remembered.Day after day, the Harmandidr Sahib, the abididng symbol of the Sikh faith, continues to inspire and uplift those thousands who come to it. It is, in a sense, the heart of the Sikhs, for wherever beats a Sikh heart, there throbs the sentiment of undying devotion for this holiest of all Sikh shrines called the Golden Temple.

Edidted by Daljit Singh



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