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Golden Temple located at Amritsar is the most sacred religious center for Sikhs. Located in the Indian state of Punjab, the temple is open to people of all faiths and is also revered Hindus and Muslims. The temple gets the 'Golden' in it's name from the gold plated dome, which can be seen from a distance as you approach this iconic building.
As against the more popular name 'Golden temple', the correct name for the temple is 'Harmandir Sahib' or 'Darbar Sahib'. The conception of the temple as well as its design is credited to Guru Arjan Sahib while the foundation of the temple was laid down by a Muslim saint Hazrat Mian Mir ji of Lahore. This, however, is sometimes disputed and some scholars believe that Guru Arjan Sahib himself laid the foundation of the temple.
The tank which houses the temple was constructed before the idea of the temple was even conceived. It finished in 1577 AD while the work on the temple started only in 1588 AD (and finished in 1601 AD). The tank came to be known as Amritsar (pool of nectar) and that also gave the city its name.
Some architectural aspects of this place of worship differentiate from a Hindu temple. Hindu temples are generally constructed on a higher ground, like a mountain or a hillock; Harmandir Sahib is actually constructed on a lower ground to be more accessible. Also a Hindu temple always has one single opening for entry which leads to the sanctum sanatorium, however, in same of Harmandir sahib, it is made open from all four sides and can be accessed from any direction. It was also common for Hindu temples in the past to allow only Hindus (and sometimes only upper caste Hindus) access to the God, and Harmandir decided to break the traditions and allowed people from all spheres of life (all faiths, all castes and creeds) to come here.
The temple has seen two major reconstructions:
18th Century: It was attacked by Ahmad Shah Abdali's army and was badly destroyed. Most of the temple was rebuilt then and it also got its current form.
20th Century: Not the temple, but the temple complex was badly damaged during Operation Blue Star in 1984 when Indian army entered the temple premises on a mission to kill Bhindarwale. The incident was also the beginning of insurgency in the state and our then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, also lost her life due to this.
And the temple lives on with the grace of God and willpower of people who never gave up despite such difficulties.
The temple complex can be divided into twenty-five different significant areas, starting from the main entrance and the clock tower, to the information office. Its quite tough to visit them all and also know about their importance, so I would suggest more than one visit to the temple. You can simply wander around and enjoy the serenity and beauty of the place on your first visit, and come back again to explore the rest. Of course, you must visit the Sanctum Sanatorium on both the trips, and also the khada prasad.
You can certainly stay within the dharmashalas outside the temple complex, but these are extremely crowded and often you would not find a bed to sleep on. Alternatively, you can also stay within the city. I stayed at The Holiday Inn which is about 20 minutes drive from the temple. Its located in a quite area and offers all modern amenities, including a pool :) The breakfast spread here is good and if you not planning to eat in the old town, you must fill yourself up before heading out!
Amritsar is extremely well connected by both trains as well as air. Flights from Delhi start early in the morning at about 04.00 am and continue till afternoon. Train journeys are overnight