Sri Harimandar Sahib: The
Body Visible of the Invisible Supreme
Sri Harimandar Sahib:
Adrish Nirakar Shakti da Drish Swarup
THE Golden Temple is indeed a tangible expression of the living spiritual tradition of Sikh faith. Art and architecture often combine to give us magnificent edifices, but when celestial music is added, the experience is sublimely soul stirring, so much so that this epi-centre of Sikh faith attracts over hundreds of thousands of visitors daily.
The authors of these two books—one in English and the other its Punjabi translation—endeavour to capture the experience and bring to the readers. This is obviously a labour of love and they have succeeded to a remarkable extent.
The books are aided significantly by the photographs taken by Rajbir Singh, chief photographer of the Archaeological Survey of India, as well as period illustrations selected by Dr Daljit, who is curator-in-charge of the Department of Painting, National Museum. The detailed captions are especially useful in placing the visuals that illustrate every page of these volumes in the proper context.
Amrit Sarovar, in the centre of which Harimandar Sahib is located, is the focus of the first part of the book, where the authors trace the history of the Golden Temple, more or less treading the well-known paths of traditional information. They, however, also raise the possibility of the sarovar being originally a part of a riverbed, even, perhaps the lost river Saraswati. The account of how water was brought to the sarovar is also interesting.
The authors rightly assert that the structure of Harimandar Sahib has more or less remained as it was centuries ago, in spite of ravages of time, and attacks of marauders. The Darshani Deorhi was added to the complex as a security measure and the walls were covered with paintings and inlay work.
The gilding of Harimandar Sahib, which gave it the English name, the Golden Temple, was done during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and many Sikhs contributed to it. The commonly held notion that attributes it to the Maharaja alone is incorrect.
The present clock tower was constructed by the British in 1862, after demolishing the Shukarchakia (not Sukracharia) Bunga. One wishes that the authors had dwelt more on the bungas that ringed the Harimandar Sahib complex. They were great centres of learning as well as citadels of the sardars of various misls. The arabesque and the floral and geometric designs that adorn various walls and pillars of the temple are indeed works of art, but it is the traditions, rituals, practices and celebrations that make Harimandar Sahib the unique centre of Sikhism.
The spiritual experience is one of the recitation of shabad kirtan, the message of the bani, as, embellished with divine musical notes, it spreads out from the sanctum sanctorum over the water of Amrit Sarovar.
On the temporal plane, the Akal Takht is the seat of miri, the authority and power. This is the building that suffered the most in the June 1984 assault, and it has been rebuilt since.
The book rightly devotes attention to the institution of kar-sewa, the voluntary manual service of a gurdwara, considered an honour by the devotees. Participating in any kar-sewa is an uplifting experience, and there is a picture of the 1973 kar-sewa in which this reviewer also took part. Similarly, the institution of langar has also been highlighted.
The book has a glossary and a bibliography, but it lacks an index. Printer’s devils do make their appearance, especially in the Punjabi version. However, both these editions are lavishly produced, well-designed coffee-table books, with a price to match.
The Punjabi version has been translated by the author’s mother. It reads well and is somewhat more devotional in its tone and tenor. It is interesting that the bibliography of the Punjabi book is also in English, including the names of some books like Bhai Kahan Singh’s Mahan Kosh. There is no doubt that these books will find a place on many a table-top, where they will both inform the readers through their text, as well as superb photographs and illustrations.