Sri Harmandir Sahib (lit. “the abode of God”), also known as Golden Temple and the Darbar Sahib, is the holiest Gurdwara and the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. It is located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India.
The temple is built around a man-made pool (sarovar) that was completed by Guru Ram Das jiin 1577. Guru Arjan dev ji – the fifth Guru of Sikhism, requested Sai Mian Mir – a Muslim Pir of Lahore to lay its foundation stone in 1589. In 1604, Guru Arjan dev ji placed a copy of the Adi Granth in Harmandir Sahib, calling the site Ath Sath Tirath (lit. “shrine of 68 pilgrimages”). The temple was repeatedly rebuilt by the Sikhs after it became a target of persecution and was destroyed several times by the Muslim armies from Afghanistan and the Mughal Empire. The army led by Ahmad Shah Abdali, for example, demolished it in 1757 and again in 1762, then filled the pool with garbage. Maharaja Ranjit Singh after founding the Sikh Empire, rebuilt it in marble and copper in 1809, overlaid the sanctum with gold foil in 1830. This has led to the name the Golden Temple.
The temple is spiritually the most significant shrine in Sikhism. It became a center of the Singh Sabha Movement between 1883 and 1920s. In the early 1980s, the temple became a center of conflict between the Indian government led by Indira Gandhi, some Sikh groups and a militant movement led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale seeking to create a new nation named Khalistan. In 1984, Gandhi sent in the Indian Army as part of Operation Blue Star, leading to deaths of over 1,000 militants, soldiers and civilians, as well as causing much damage to the temple and the destruction of Akal Takht. The temple complex was rebuilt again after the 1984 damage.
The Harmandir Sahib is an open house of worship for all men and women, from all walks of life and faith. It has a square plan with four entrances, has a circumambulation path around the pool. The temple is a collection of buildings around the sanctum and the pool. One of these is Akal Takht, the chief center of religious authority of Sikhism. Additional buildings include a clock tower, the offices of Gurdwara Committee, a Museum and a langar – a free Sikh community run kitchen that serves a simple vegetarian meal to all visitors without discrimination. Over 100,000 people visit the holy shrine daily for worship. The temple complex has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its application is pending on the tentative list of UNESCO.