AROUND AMRITSAR

Amritsar literally translates as ‘amrit ka sar-ovar’, the lake of the holy nectar. It was founded by Guru Ram Das in 1574. Situated on the north-west edge of Punjab (the land of five rivers), it was declared a holy city by the British during their rule in 1915.

Famed for the Golden Temple, it is just like any other small city but with the zest of Punjabi’s - Punjabi music, Punjabi food & Punjabi culture.

It is a patchwork of malls, branded stores, coffee joints, restaurants adjunct to which are the narrow streets and lanes of the walled city where till today one finds the old world charm thriving. Street hawkers, rickshaws, shopkeepers, traders, local eateries, dhabas and more vibrate immensely in their characteristic style which is a must-experience when visiting Amritsar.

In the mid 19th century, Swami Shiv Dayal Sing Ji Maharaj began a spiritual movement. A startlingly simple faith, its tenets include abstaining from narcotics, having a vegetarian diet and two and a half hours of meditation daily. He articulated this spirituality as the merging of the human soul, which he described as Radha, with eternal reality, or her lord, Soami. After the Swami’s death in 1878, Jaimal Singh, one of the disciples, established an Ashram on the banks of the river Beas. The Radha Soami practice of Shabd-Yoga meditation involves recitations of God’s name and complete surrender to divinity. One may attend the daily Satsang and enjoy the spirituality and beauty of this Ashram.

Before his death in Delhi on 30th March, 1664 Guru Harkrishan uttered the words 'Baba Bakala', thereby meaning that his successor was to be found at Bakala village in Amritsar. This was the first time a Guru had not selected his successor and it created immense chaos. Every Guru began hailing themselves as the successor. It was a trader, Makhan Shah Labana, who by chance of his destiny and his faith in Guru Nanak found a sage who had been meditating at one spot for years and years. When he gave this sage two dinars, prompt came the reminder of his promise of giving 500 dinars for saving his life. Thus he recognised the 9th Guru and announced it, where today stands a beautiful Gurudwara in his memory, of Guru Tegh Bahadur, son of Guru Hargobind.

Tarn Taran which lies 24 kms from Amritsar was founded by Guru Arjan Dev in 1590. Charmed by a picturesque little village called Khara-Plasor, he decided to construct a magnificient holy tank measuring 300 square meters. The present Darbar Sahib was constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who also paved the Parikrama around the holy sarovar. The interior is decorated with intricate stucco-work and inset with glass. The Guru Granth Sahib rests under a gold-coloured canopy donated by Nau Nihal Singh, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s grandson. Though there is no scientific evidence to support this, it is believed that the waters of this gurudwara have healing properties.

Just 20 kms east of Tarn Taran lies the hamlet of Khadur Sahib, where Guru Angad, the second Guru, began to give a distinctive form to Sikhism. It stands 32 Km from Amritsar and was established by him on Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s advice. He propagated Gurmukhi, the sacred script of the Gurus and also started compiling the sayings of Guru Nanak. The main gurdwara at Khadur is called Angitha Sahib and marks the site where Guru Angad Dev was cremated. It is a white structure with a huge dome and a golden steeple. Guru Angad Dev preached against the practice of sati, advocated widow re-marriage and abolition of purdah system.

Probably the first pilgrimage site of Sikhism, Goindwal Sahib lies 10 kms southeast of Khadur Sahib. Founded by Guru Amar Das on the banks of river Beas, it is famous for its Baoli or stepped well which has 84 steps leading down to the water. The baoli was completed in 1559 which are symbolic of the belief that the soul undergoes 84,000 incarnations before finally taking a human form. Legend says that the pilgrim who bathes in the waters and recites the Japji on each of its 84 steps shall attain spiritual liberation from the 84,000 karmic life cycles. The place has a wonderful array of murals, frescoes and floral motifs related with the guru. It was in Goindwal that Guru Ka Langar became an institution.


HISTORICS IN GURDASPUR

At the time of Humayun’s accidental death in the winter of 1556 his 13 year old son was away in Punjab with his father’s trusted general, Bairam Khan. When the news arrived they were in Kalanaur, a small town in what is today Gurdaspur district. Here, in a garden, the prince was crowned Emperor of Hindustan on the 14th February. The platform or Takht -I- Akbari used for the coronation still stands on the towns outskirts as does the Akbari Masjid, built to commemorate the occasion. It is protected by Archaeological Survey of India and the Masjid is beautiful.

The only Shiva temple in India where the Shivalingam is in horizontal position. Since time immemorial, a big Shivratri fair is held every year in the Mahakaleshwar temple on Shivratri day when a large number of devotees gather here to celebrate the festival.

Situated 45 Kilometers west of Gurdaspur, Dera Baba Nanak is where Guru Nanak’s son reburied his father’s ashes next to the Ajitta’s well where he use to sit and preach. In time a Samadh was raised which came to be known as a dera or mausoleum. The two famous Gurudwaras at Dera Baba Nanak are Sri Darbar Sahib, built in 1827 and covered in gold the same year by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and Sri Chola Sahib, connected with a robe painted with Koranic verses and Arabic numerals which was gifted to the Guru by a Muslim devotee visiting from Baghdad.


Some other beautiful historic sites to see are the Jhulna Mahal - the springing wall of the 18th c., Baradari - the Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Pandava son Arjun’s Chulha and brother Sehdev’s cave.