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Heritage Why Sikhs Don't Want The Golden Temple To Be Declared A World Heritage Site


Jun 1, 2004
There are a number of long term implications of applying for this status:

1. The application can only be made by the country. Therefore the Indian government will assume primary responsibility for management and protection of Sri Darbar Sahib. A future Indian government can easily side step the SGPC, or reduce its role and set up a new body to look after ‘protection of heritage’ issues. The Sikhs will not be able to do anything legally to stop this.


2. To ensure that buildings are not harmed by erosion etc, a future government committee can impose limits to the number of people who can go into Sri Darbar Sahib at any one time. This will ensure that structures are no damaged by having too many people in the complex!

3. The Government can ban any political meeting taking place within Sri Darbar Sahib by claiming that it is necessary to avoid any possible ‘violence’ taking place.

4. The government through its body can ban a Surbutt Khalsa taking place in Sri Darbar Sahib.

5. The Sovereignty of Sri Akal Takht Sahib will be lost as India’s sovereignty and right to protect as well as manage the Darbar sahib will have been conceded by the Sikhs through this application.

6. A future Indian government can install a police post within Darbar Sahib under the pretext of ‘protecting’ the heritage.

7. The focus and emphasis of Sri Darbar Sahib will change from a deeply spiritual place where people of faith and longing go to a place of cultural tourism where mass tourism will be catered for.

8. There are many misrepresentations in the Application dossier which give a misguided description of Sikhi. The document will become an international document of reference. It is important that its contents are sound and portray a true account of Sikhi.

9. The application transfers ‘religious’ decisions concerning maryada, from Sri Akal Takht Sahib to the SGPC, a body of the Government.

10. The Sikhs already seem to have lost some control. The application cannot be withdrawn by SGPC. Only the Indian government can withdraw the application.
11. A future government will introduce legislation to over ride any restrictions in Gurdwara Act in order to fulfil its international obligations as required by article 153 of the Indian constitution.

12. A future government can impose restrictions on the type and number of arms held in the Darbar sahib precinct, including the length of the kirpan when dignitaries visit.

13. A future government body can impose new rules to ensure security for important leaders visiting Sri Darbar Sahib. These can over ride any Sikh maryada.

14. In the present dossier, there is already a provision for a body consisting of two representatives of Central government, two from State (Punjab) government and four experts chosen by the government and only ONE SGPC members, to supervise management and protection of the site for heritage purpose.

15. the representatives from central and state government do not have to be Sikhs, they can even be Radhaswamis or anyone the government nominates.

16. Any future development in the complex will need the permission of this body.

17. Any decisions taken by SGPC or Sikhs that could reflect on the heritage status or have direct or indirect effect on the buildings, can be vetoed by this body. For instance if the Sikhs decide to hold a month long event to celebrate the anniversary of Sri Akal takht sahib, the body can over rule this.


Jun 1, 2004
An article to the contrary:
In June, the 39th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will meet in Bonn, Germany, to determine new additions to the list of World Heritage Sites. India already has 32 such sites, and 47 more from the country that were added to the “Tentative List” over the past two decades will be considered by the committee this year.


Of those 47, arguably the most iconic, and certainly the most visited, is Amritsar’s Sri Harmandir Sahib, the holiest site in Sikhism that is known to most non-Sikhs as the Golden Temple. The nomination and selection of World Heritage Sites is generally the subject of little controversy. But the prospect of the Golden Temple’s selection has caused great alarm among sections of the Sikh community. A change.org petition, submitted by a Sikh student in Belgium and calling on UNESCO to delete Harmandir Sahib from the tentative list, has got more than 12,000 signatures.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which administers the site, is also opposed to it being named a World Heritage Site. Diaspora Sikh organisations such as sikh24.com and Dal Khalsa UK claim that the WHS designation is a ploy for a takeover of Harmandir Sahib by the government of India. A previous application for the status, in 2005, was withdrawn one month before the session because of community opposition.

This opposition is rooted in the fear that designating Harmandir Sahib as a WHS means an inevitable loss of control. The complex is managed by the SGPC and the present jathedar of the Akal Takht Sahib, Giani Gurbachan Singh.

Fear of takeover

In practical terms, this fear is unfounded. UNESCO makes no claim of ownership or right of administration over World Heritage Sites. Being declared a World Heritage Site is above all a symbolic honour, a kind of certification – on the basis of 10 criteria – of a place’s vital significance, its “outstanding value to humanity”. It is also a commitment to preservation of that place’s essential features.

The SGPC argues, with some justice, that it is doing an excellent job of maintaining the complex and need no external help. But the WHS designation could help spur improvements to the area around the complex, as well as restricting new development there. It was with this in mind that Kiranjot Kaur – a former general secretary of the SGPC and a figure of particular hate for the opponents of UNESCO certification – had prepared the original proposal in 2005.

Nor is there any basis to the notion that this is a government of India takeover. For one thing, the tragic series of events culminating in 1984 in Operation Bluestar – which caused serious damage to the complex and to the Akal Takht Sahib in particular – illustrate the state’s lack of respect for the complex’s sanctity. World Heritage Sites are exemplars of the cultural property protected during wartime by the Geneva Convention. Operation Bluestar was not technically an act of war, but the WHS designation could, if anything, help protect against, rather than encourage, state interference. To allay the fear of a takeover, though, the government ought to make clear that the application to UNESCO involves no change to the current administrative arrangements.

Conceding sovereignty

But opposition to the move goes beyond the question of control. It also involves deeper questions of ownership. Both the change.org petition and an article on sikh24.com cite the inviolable “sovereignty” of the complex, held by the Akal Takht Sahib rather than the Indian state, and claim that the Sikhs will “concede” sovereignty to India if it is designated a World Heritage Site. But Sri Harmandir Sahib is not a state, and India is already “sovereign” in this precinct.

The presumption behind the World Heritage programme, to quote UNESCO, is that “World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located”. It is this presumption that is directly challenged by the change.org petition. Its author, Amarjit Kaur, declares that Harmandir Sahib “belongs to the Sikh community and it is not the right of anyone to take it over”. There is no concession to its place as part of the common heritage of humanity.

Is it possible for a site to retain its administrative independence and place in the lives of a particular community while being designated a World Heritage Site? There are several such sites, in India and elsewhere, that continue to be living places of worship, such as Catholic churches of Goa and the Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur. Other living sites on the tentative list include the Baha’i House of Worship – popularly known as the Lotus Temple – in Delhi and the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam.

But none of these places have quite the spiritual and, especially, political significance of Harmandir Sahib, which exerts a centripetal force upon the world’s 30 million Sikhs. Two contrasting positions on the question of the “ownership” of such a place emerge from outside India – from the examples of the Vatican and the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

Entry to non-believers

The Vatican is simultaneously a World Heritage Site and the centre of global Catholicism. The WHS designation has meant no loss of control for the Pope or any diminution in its importance to Catholics. It is open to both Catholics and non-Catholics, to worshippers as well as non-believers who wish merely to admire its artwork.

Non-Muslims are, by contrast, barred from the holy sites of Saudi Arabia – and no intrepid adventurer could hope today to emulate Richard Burton, who entered Mecca in 1853 by posing as a Pashtun. The three World Heritage Sites in Saudi Arabia have no religious significance. The guardians of Mecca and Medina deny the very concept of “heritage”, Muslim or universal. In recent decades, they have destroyed up to 95% of Mecca’s ancient and medieval buildings, including the houses of Prophet Muhammad’s first wife and of Abu Bakr, the first caliph. They have been replaced, according to the writer Ziauddin Sardar, with “a mammoth development of skyscrapers that includes luxury shopping malls and hotels”.

Leave aside the community’s opposition to the World Heritage Site designation, and the Sikh guardianship of Harmandir Sahib has much more in common with the Vatican approach. Non-Sikhs are welcome, as long as they respect the (minimal) rules. Amarjit Kaur’s insistence it “is not a tourist place but a worship place” is contradicted by the happy coexistence of tourists and worshippers at Harmandir Sahib. Architectural preservation is taken seriously.

Harmandir Sahib does not “need” to be named a World Heritage Site – it is well-preserved, and does not require a boost in profile. The fact that Delhi’s Jama Masjid has never even been nominated – it would be a shoo-in if it is – suggests that the government has a rather inconsistent approach to living places of worship. But the Sikh community has nothing to fear from UNESCO. In the face of such continued opposition, the World Heritage Committee might not select Harmandir Sahib. This would be a pity. It meets any threshold for spiritual, cultural, architectural and historical significance.

Reference: http://scroll.in/article/723097/why...n-temple-to-be-declared-a-world-heritage-site
Apr 11, 2007
This debate is nonsensical as it's already an issue that has been dealt with in the formation of the Guru Granth Sahib. Trying to put individual stakes or claims of an individual's assets of establishment onto the Guru Granth Sahib without the prior consent of individuals or in an unauthorised manner has no status as no one can claim to be the Guru Granth Sahib. Even the Gurus didn't when they were alive and no leader or anyone ever has.
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