The Harmandir Sahib (or Hari Mandir) in Amritsar, Punjab, is the holiest shrine in Sikhism. Previously (and still more commonly) known as the Golden Temple, it was officially renamed Harmandir Sahib in March 2005. The temple (or gurdwara) is a major pilgrimage destination for Sikhs from all over the world, as well as an increasingly popular tourist attraction.
Unlike many historical sacred sites, the Golden Temple of Amritsar is still fully alive with religious fervor and sacredness, and visitors are welcomed to join in the experience. Although the building itself has great historical and architectural interest, it is the Golden Temple’s great spiritual meaning for Sikh believers (and others) that is most memorable to visitors. In a country that is exceptionally rich with vibrant devotion, Frommer’s rates the Golden Temple “the most tangibly spiritual place in the country.”
Construction of the Golden Temple began in 1574 on land donated by the Mughal emperor Akbar. The building project was overseen by the fourth and fifth Sikh Gurus. The temple was completed in 1601, but restoration and embellishment continued over the years. The temple had to be substantially rebuilt after it was sacked in the 1760s.
In the early 19th century, 100 kg of gold were applied to the inverted lotus-shaped dome and decorative marble was added. All this gold and marble work took place under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The legendary warrior king was a major donor of money and materials for the shrine and is remembered with much affection by the Sikh community and Punjabi people.
In June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an attack on armed Sikh militants holed up in the Golden Temple. Over 500 people were killed in the ensuing firefight, and Sikhs around the world were outraged at the desecration of their holiest site. Four months after the attack, Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards, leading to a massacre followed in which thousands of Sikhs lost their lives.
The Sikh community refused to allow the central government to repair the damage to the temple, instead undertaking the work themselves. Although most of the damaged been repaired, the incident has not been forgotten. Many people in Amritsar are still anxious to explain the Sikh side of the story to visitors.
Source: sacred destinations