Genral Information - Amritsar
Amritsar, literally Pool of Nectar, derives its name from Amrit Sarovar, the holy tank that surrounds the fabulous Golden Temple. First time visitors to Amritsar could be forgiven for the imression that Amritsar is like any other small town in northern India. In one sense, it is - with bustling markets, haphazard traffic, unyielding cattle, crowds and congestion typical of small town India. But Amritsar stands head and shoulders above any other city, its status elevated and sanctified by the presence of the venerable Golden Temple. History :
Located in the heart of Amritsar, the temple complex is surrounded by a maze of narrow lanes, or katras, that house one of the busiest markets in India. But the Golden Temple is a serene presence, radiating a calm that makes people bow their heads in reverence. The gurudwara, as Sikh temples are called, is the holiest of Sikh shrines. It is not just Sikhs who travel to the Golden Temple to pay homage, the sacred shrine is equally revered by Hindus and people of other faiths who, too, make the pilgrimage to offers prayers at Harmandir Sahib.
There's more to Amritsar than that - amongst other sights is Jallianwala Bagh, site of the gruesome massacre of unarmed Indians by British troops. A major tourist attraction these days is the Indo-Pakistan border crossing at Wagah, just a short distance from Amritsar, with its elaborate change-of-guards drill with a lot of strutting and intimidatory showing off by both sides.
If you are 'doing' north India, Amritsar is a city you should not miss. It's easy to travel there from Delhi by road and by rail. It is easy to navigate through the city; few guides bother you as tourism is not the most important commercial activity here. Ask them in Amritsar, and they will tell you that if for nothing else you must travel here for the roadside chhola-bhaturas.
The seeds of the city were laid in 1577 when the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das heard of a pool in the area that had healing powers. He instructed his son and successor Guru Arjan Dev to construct a temple at the site, which would be the focus of the Sikh religion. Guru Arjan Dev laid the foundations of the city of Ramdaspur in 1588 and the temple complex was completed in 1601. The Mughal emperor Akbar is said to have donated the land around the temple after paying off the local Jat farmers. Arjan Dev, who had compiled the Adi Granth or holy text of the Sikhs, placed it in the temple precincts, which came to be known as the Harmandir (Temple of God). Habitat :
The guru then invited traders to settle around the temple complex. The Khatris and Aroras established their businesses and the town grew around its central nucleus. In the late 18th century, the town was plundered by Ahmad Shah Durrani, to be rebuilt by the first Sikh ruler of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Maharaja also donated a 100 kilos of gold for the temple, which was added on to the surface as plating, and gave the temple its name.
Over the centuries Amritsar has witnessed a bloody struggle for survival. The city was constantly faced with threats from both Muslim and Hindu rulers, and had to be fortified by Guru Hargobind. The Guru is said to have accepted only offerings of weapons from his disciples, which were used for defence of the temple town. When Salim, the younger son of Akbar took over, Arjan Dev was asked to convert to Islam as penance for his favours. The Guru refused, and was tortured and killed by Salim, who had then become the ruler, Emperor Jahangir.
During India's freedom struggle, Amritsar became the scene of one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the British. Protests and demonstrations were being organised by people against the Rowlatt Act that allowed the British to imprison anybody without explanation. To suppress these protests, the Governor of the Punjab Province O'Dwyer imposed a ban on public assemblies. In defiance of this order, a group of men, women and children gathered in a rectangular piece of land, called Jallianwala Bagh, to mark the anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa panth (order of the Khalsa). General Dyer, who was charged to enforce law and order in the region, marched up to the ground with his troops and blocked the narrow entrance. He then opened fire on the gathering without any warning, killing and wounding thousands.
Even today, the walls of the Jallianwala Bagh bear the bullet holes where people were mercilessly butchered. Some people even tried to escape the firing by jumping into a well in the complex, but drowned and died. The British tried to suppress this incident, but it created a furore in the entire nation. As a result, Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for Civil disobedience, which escalated to a mass movement and forced the British out of India.
In the post-Independence period, the town once again saw a spate of bloody warfare, now between the Indian administration and Sikh militant groups. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant Sikh leader gave a call for separate nationhood, which spread like wildfire throughout the state. In June 1984, hounded by the army and police, a heavily armed Bhindranwale and his followers holed up in the Golden Temple complex. When troops tried to enter the complex, many were mowed down by bullets. The army, in a state of panic, rolled tanks into the complex and fired on the Akal Takht, the seat of Sikh religious authority.
Bhindranwale was killed, and so were thousands of his men and soldiers. Though the temple was rebuilt and is now back to its original glory, the scars in the minds of the Sikh people remained. As a result of this operation, the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who had ordered the army action, was assassinated by her own bodyguards. In retaliation, many Sikhs were butchered by Hindus. Again in 1987, the succeeding Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ordered yet another campaign called Operation Black Thunder to cleanse the complex of militants. This time however, the action was more restrained, and damage kept to a minimum. Subsequently, elections were held and the people of Punjab voted in the religious Akali Dal. Normalcy returned to the state, with Amritsar regaining its status as one of the most important destinations for the Sikh community.
Amritsar lies in the state of Punjab, just 29 kms away from the border of Pakistan. The Golden Temple stands in the centre of the city and the Jallianwala Bagh is right next to it. Narrow alleys and local bazaars surround the area around the Temple. There is an army cantonment on the northwestern side of the city.
Place To See :
Amritsar was built around the
Golden Temple and the Amrit Sarovar lake,
from which it derives its name. The temple
complex is surrounded by a fortified wall with
eighteen gates. The main north entrance is under
a Victorian clock tower. Known as the Darshani
Deori, the entrance is up a flight of steps and
down again to the temple and holy tank. How Get There :
Golden Temple sits on a
rectangular platform in the centre of
the Amrit Sarovar. It is surrounded by a
white marble corridor, which is
encircled by pilgrims visiting the
shrine. A narrow causeway links the
Harmandir, or Darbar Sahib, the temple.
The entrance to the temple is through an
ornate archway with intricate inlay
work. Verses from the Granth Sahib are
inscribed on the doorway.
The temple building is three
storeys high. The lower storey is in white
marble, while the two upper storeys have gold
plating. The building is crowned with a dome
shaped like an inverted lotus. With the first
light of dawn, the reflection of the temple in
the tank gives an ethereal atmosphere to the
complex. As the sun shifts, the temple presents
myriad views, each magnificent and captivating.
The temple building has four entrances instead
of the usual single entry. This is symbolic of
the openness of Sikhism and indicates that
followers of all faiths are allowed inside. The
walls within are decorated with carved wooden
panels and elaborate inlay work in silver and
gold. The Adi Granth, compiled by Guru
Arjan Dev, rests on a throne beneath a
jewel-encrusted canopy. Priests conduct
continuous recitation of verses from the holy
book in 3-hour shifts. A complete reading of the
text stakes 48 hours.
Akal Takht, next to the Golden
Temple, is the seat of the Shiromani
Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, the
religious governing body of the Sikhs.
The building of the Akal Takht was begun
by Guru Arjan Dev and completed in 1609
by Guru Hargobind. The Adi Granth is
housed in the ground floor of the Akal
Takht and is taken out in procession
every morning to be placed at the
Harmandir Sahib. Again at night, it is
brought back to the Akal Takht.
If you miss the
early morning or evening processions, the
palanquin that bears the Adi Granth can be seen
in the treasury room on the first floor of the
Akal Takht. The palanquin is set with precious
stones and has silver poles and a gold canopy.
Shrines on the northern edge of
the corridor are venerated as the 68 holy
shrines of the Hindus. According to the
teachings of Guru Arjan Dev, it was enough for
the devout to visit these shrines and not visit
all the original Hindu shrines which are spread
all over the country. Many of these shrines have
now been converted into a martyr's gallery
showing the gruesome history of the Sikhs.
Around the Parikrama, or pathway, are
four rectangular cubicles where Granthis
(priests) sit and recite the Granth Sahib.
Pilgrims leave offerings at the steps, and can
also get the holy book recited in their names
for a donation. At the eastern end are two brick
watchtowers called the Ramgarhia Minars, which
were damaged during Operation Blue Star in 1984.
The Guru-ka-langar or community canteen
is a Sikh institution, which was started by Guru
Amar Das in the 16th century. The
practice of eating together encouraged shedding
of inhibitions and the principle of equality.
The community kitchen feeds up to 10,000 people
in a day, free of charges.
The Jubi tree, at the
northwestern corner of the complex was planted
some 450 year ago by the temple's first head
priest. The old, gnarled tree is believed to
have special powers and childless women tie
strips of cloth on it to be blessed with sons.
Marriage deals are also fixed under the tree,
though this practice is disapproved by the
temple authorities. Two flagstaffs joined in the
middle with the emblem of Guru Hargobind
symbolise the dual aspects of Sikhism – religion
and politics. Two swords of the emblem are
enclosed in a circle with the inscription Ek
Omkar (God is one). The Guru Ram Das and Guru
Nanak hostels on one side of the complex offer
free accommodation up to three nights for
The old city, with the Golden Temple and
surrounding bazaars along narrow alleys, is
encircled by a ring road. Even today, the
markets have an ambience of ancient times, when
traders bought and sold goods right across from
central Asia up to the farthest corners of
India. Little light reaches down to the
congested streets, which are best negotiated on
foot. There are rows upon rows of shops on each
street selling specifics goods. Guru Bazaar
specialises in gold jewellery shops, while the
Bazaar Kesarian is for steel and brass utensils.
The smells of Katra Kathian announce its wares
before you reach the shops selling papads,
warian (crispies made from pulses)
murabbas (Indian jams), pickles and
ampapad (dried mango candies). The Mishri
Bazaar is the place to buy dry fruits, while
Katra Mohan Singh offers a colourful
kaleidoscope of bridal glass bangles.
Away from the
bustling markets, is a spot that marks grim
memories of India's struggle for independence.
The Jallianwala Bagh, about 400
metres north of the Golden Temple, is a small
stretch of plain ground now converted into a
13th April, 1919 British troops led by
General Dyer fired upon a group of
assembled people, including women and
children. The grounds are surrounded by
high building walls on all sides, except
a narrow access lane. A memorial plaque
at the entrance recounts the history of
the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Inside, a
martyrs' memorial stands on the eastern
end, while the well and bullet-ridden
walls remain testimonials to the bloody
Around the old city there are
other important Gurudwaras (Sikh temples), like
the Gurudwara Baba Atal Sahib, associated
with the Sikh Gurus. Other shrines include the
Hindu Durgiana Temple, a 16th
century shrine dedicated to the divine couple
Lakshmi and Narayan. To the northeast of the
railway station is the Ram Bagh Gardens,
with a museum housed in the palace built by
Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The entrance to the
garden is topped in red sandstone and inside is
an interesting bathing tank constructed by a
By air Accomodation :
The Rajasansi airport, about 11 kms. from town, is connected by domestic flights to Delhi, Srinagar and Chandigarh. You can get to town by a pre-booked rented car, taxis or auto-rickshaws.
Amritsar is connected by direct trains to major Indian cities like Delhi, Jammu, Mumbai, Nagpur, Calcutta and Puri. The bi-weekly train to Pakistan, Samjhauta Express, has recently been discontinued by the Indian government due to escalation of cross-boder hostilities.
You can drive into Amritsar from neighbouring states. Bus services also connect Amritsar with most north Indian towns, including Chandigarh (235 Kms), Delhi (450 Kms), Shimla, Kulu, Manali, Dharamshala and Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh, Dehradun and Rishikesh in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu. There is also a bus service to Lahore, 35 kms away, which is the only overland connection between India and Pakistan.
Amritsar has several expensive and mid-range hotels. One can also stay in the Golden Temple Complex. The upmarket hotels are along the Mall Road and offer facilities like swimming pools and gyms.
Amritsar is best known for its woollen blankets and sweaters. Carpets and dry fruits are also worth checking out. Katra Jaimal Singh near the Telephone exchange in the old city is good for shopping. If you are a little more adventurous, you could stroll further down the alleys and by-lanes of the Bazaar area to discover some interesting knick-knacks.
Ram Tirath Fair is celebrated at Ram Tirath, located at a distance of 11 kilometers to the west of Amritsar. The fair is celebrated about a fortnight after Diwali. Pilgrims visit the Temple to plunge in the sacred tank of the Temple in the early hours of the Puranmashi (full moon night). After the plunge the pilgrims take a circumambulation of the tank along with incantations. Women light lamps of pure ghee (deshi ghee) or mustard oil (sarson ka tel) made from kneaded flour and put them in tank by placing them on leaf plates. It is believed that this ceremony absolves one's sins and is known as tulla toarna (meaning floating of tullas). Throughout the ceremony devotional songs and hymns are recited.
Diwali is celebrated with great pomp and show at the Golden Temple. It is celebrated even after three days of Diwali. It is believed that during the reign of Jahangir, after his release from Gwalior fort Guru Ram Das reached Amritsar on Diwali. People greeted him by illuminating lamps.
Basant Panchami at Chheharta Sahib is celebrated on the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Magh or Maghi (end of January or beginning of February). The celebrations commence early in the morning and end the next day afternoon. Whole night kirtan darbar (chanting of hymns, poems belonging to Sikh literature) is held. On the eve of Basant Panchami kites are flown and kite-flying competitions are held.
Baisakhi / Vaisakhi was an occasion when all the Sikhs used to assemble at Amritsar and discuss their political and religious problems. Today this festival is celebrated with lot of excitement and zeal. Generally this is celebrated on 13th April every year.
Gurupurbs are celebrated throughout the world. These are celebrated on the occasion of the birthdays and martyrdoms of Gurus. In Amritsar, Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Ram Das Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Sahib are celebrated with great religious fervor and devotion.