Amritsar: Harimandar, Ramdaspur, Darbar, or Golden?

From Precept to Value System to Historical Space

Amritsar, Ramdaspur, Harimandar, and Darbar – what are these terms referring to? Are they merely historical spaces? Do we have contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of the terms or of their development? Are there any citations in the Guru Granth Sahib?
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There is a general consensus that Guru Amardas Sahib acquired the land, Guru Ramdas Sahib started the construction, and Guru Arjan Sahib inaugurated and developed the now popularly termed “Golden Temple” complex and the city of Amritsar. That means, it is during the Guruship reign of three Sovereigns, Guru Nanaks III-V (1552-1606). There are variations on the narrative, but most cite these eighteenth and nineteenth-century texts:

  • Sohan Kavi, Gurbilas Patshahi 6, 1718
  • Kesar Singh Chibbar, Bansavlinama Dasan Patshahian Ka, 1769
  • Sarup Das Bhalla, Mahima Prakash, 1773
  • Saundha, Ustat Sri Amritsar Ji ki, 1797
  • Mahakavi, Santokh Singh, Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth, 1840
  • Giani Gian Singh, Panth Parkash, 1874
  • Giani Gian Singh, Tavarikh Guru Khalsa, 1892

Most likely Chak (township) was established between 1564 and 1572. It came to be known as Chak Guru, Guru ka Chak, Chak Guru Ramdas, or Ramdaspura. Where the Guru resided was known as Guru ke Mahal. Baba Buddha (1506-1631) was in charge of operations and finances. First digging was of a pool, later named Santokh-sar (Content-Pool). Before it was completed, digging of the second pool was started named Ramsar or Ammrit-sar (Immortal-Pool). Township development continued simultaneously. Guru ka Bazar as well as Chaunk Passian markets were established. The Guru Sahibs envisioned and led; hired laborers and volunteers performed the physical and creative labor in love.

Dr. Madanjit Kaur in The Golden Temple: Past and Present examines the evidence presented by many sources and concludes:

Whether the land was granted by Emperor Akbar or it was acquired by the Guru before the grant was actually obtained or, still, was purchased by the Guru from the zamindars of Tung at the instance of Emperor Akbar, or, alternatively, was presented by the residents of Sultanwind out of reverence for the Guru – are versions, each one of which is based on tradition, there being no contemporary or near-contemporary record or document bearing testimony to them. Whatever the source of the manner of acquisition, it is certain that the selection of the site was planned and not accidental; it was the choice of the Gurus themselves. It was clear that the land of the Harimandir was revenue-free. The land settlement records of Amritsar made by the British rulers in 1865 note ‘the land of Darbar Sahib of Guru Ram Das as revenue-free grant.’ Even the original name of the city, Chak Guru or Guru Ka Chak, bears testimony to the nature of the land as revenue-free. The conclusion, therefore, cannot escape that the Chak had, at some time, obtained exemption from the payment of land revenue from Emperor Akbar whose policy of granting waqf (religious properties) even to the people of non-Muslim faiths, is well-known.

Ammritsar (ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਸਰ)

Ammrit (popularly Amrit) is a Sanskrit word, it means immortality. In Indic traditions, Ammrit (also amrat, amai, and ami) also refers to nectar, the drink of gods. In Sikhi, it is invoked for many elements that help a mortal connect with Immortal: composition (bani), moment (vela), identity (nam), word (sabad), and so on. The initiation ceremony to enter the Khalsa order is also called the Ammrit ceremony; one aspect of the initiation is to drink “nectar” prepared by stirring Khanda (double-edged sword) in water with patase (hardened syrup sweets) while compositions (banis) are being recited.  

To better understand the context of Ammrit, let’s delve into Guru Granth Sahib’s Sabad-expanse!

In rag (melodic mode) Maru in Guru Granth Sahib (1011-12), Guru Nanak Sahib reveals:

Guru (Wisdom) is the ocean, the Ammrit-sar, from which one receives whatever fruit-fulfillment one wishes; that one abides the substance of immortal Nam (Identification) in the heart and the mind. Serving the Guru (Wisdom) always brings comfort to whoever follows the Hukam (Command).

In rag Majh in Guru Granth Sahib (113), Guru Amardas Sahib reveals:

I adore, revere, adore, the one who connects the consciousness
with the Guru’s (Wisdom) feet (humbly).
Eternal Guru (Wisdom) is the eternal Ammrit-sar,
the mind which bathes (learns) in it removes the filth. Reflect.

In rag Maru in Guru Granth Sahib (1045), Guru Amardas Sahib reveals:

That servant is perfect who dies (ego-free) with Sabad (Word),
The Eternal Guru (Wisdom) warrior speaks and voices.
Within the body is the eternal Ammrit-sar
from which the mind lovingly and naturally drinks.

In Salok Varam te Vadhik, in Guru Granth Sahib (1412), Guru Amardas Sahib reveals:

Lahore city is Ammrit-sar, the house of Praise.

Guru Sahib in the previous salok (poetic genre) couplet proclaims that even “the city of Lahore which is full of poison and havoc all the time” can become Ammritsar or a fellowship of immortality, life-giving nectar for solace if the people of this city live in the 1’s Glory.

In Sirirag in Guru Granth Sahib (40), Guru Ramdas Sahib reveals:

Eternal Guru (Wisdom), the Being-like, is the Ammrit-sar;
those who come and bathe in it (learn from it) are fortunate.
Their filth from many lives is removed when the filth-free Nam (Identification) is affirmed.
Nanak: Votaries achieve sublime state by connecting with the Eternal Guru (Wisdom).

In rag Gauri in Guru Granth Sahib (234), Guru Ramdas Sahib reveals:

O camel-like (wandering) mind, my breath (life),
you need to remove the filth, the pretense, and the doubt.
Guru (Wisdom) has filled Ammrit-sar,
join companionship to remove the filth.

Guru Sahib invokes camels (karhale); they are the ships of the desert. Camels transport material for merchants. Metaphorically, a wandering mind is like a camel.

In rag Gujri in Guru Granth Sahib (492), Guru Ramdas Sahib reveals:

Truth-speaking Eternal Guru (Wisdom) is the Ammrit-sar,
bathing in it (learning from it), the crow (vice-indulgent) becomes the swan (Nam-filled).
Nanak: those washing their filth with Guru’s (Wisdom) way,
they are blessed, so blessed, great, and greatly fortunate.

In rag Gauri in Guru Granth Sahib (250), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:

The Divine Guru is the pilgrimage and the Ammrit-sarovar, the bathing is in the Guru’s infinite knowledge.
The Divine Guru is like the Creator, banisher of all sins (crimes), the Divine Guru transforms fallen to auspicious.

In Savayye Mahle Chauthe ke in Guru Granth Sahib (1396), Bhat Kal reveals:

[Guru Ramdas Sahib is] the Ammrit-sarovar,
always full, springs of immortal-state nectar are flowing from it.
Those truth-exemplars drink (savor) and bathe (learn) their minds in it
who first did service.

So, it is very clear that Ammrit-sar or Ammrit-sarovar (sar and sarvor are word variations) literally is Immortality-Pool, contextually is Immortal-Fellowship.

Harimandar (ਹਰਿਮੰਦਰ)

Harimandar is a compound noun. Hari in Sanskrit means “to shine, to flourish, green.” In Vedic texts, Hari is Supreme Absolute. In Hinduism, Hari also refers to a popular god Vishnu. In Guru Granth Sahib, Hari is used for green, everyone, and most importantly for our context, for IkOankar. Given the etymology and Sikh context, preference is being given to 1-Light to keep it clear and precise. Mandar is derived from a Sanskrit Mandir which means “house, temple, palace, habitation, any waiting or abiding-place.” In Hinduism, it mostly refers to temples where gods or goddesses are worshipped. In Guru Granth Sahib, Mandar is used for house, temple, and most importantly, for our context, for IkOankar’s Mansion. Hence Harimandar is 1-Light’s Mansion!

To better understand the context of Harimandar, let’s again delve into Guru Granth Sahib’s Sabad-expanse!

In rag Prabhati in Guru Granth Sahib (1346), Guru Amardas Sahib reveals that with bibhas, something that illuminates and shines and is to be sung at day-break of dawn.

Prabhati, Third Embodiment, Bibhas
1Force Eternal Wisdom’s Grace
With Guru’s (Wisdom) grace you see the Harimandar within you.
Harimandar is to be searched in Sabad (Word),
take care of 1-Light’s Nam (Identification) [within you]. 1.
O my mind, the color comes with Sabad’s (Word) dye.
Eternal devotion [builds] eternal Harimandar [within],
that’s where eternal splendor reveals.1. Reflect.
This body is Harimandar, this [mystery] is revealed with the jewel of knowledge.
Self-oriented do not know the essence, [think] Harimandar cannot be within human. 2.
Harimandar [within this body] is created by the revered 1-Light,
keeps it beautiful with Hukam (Command).
As writ is written by the Source [in each body-Harimandar],
that is lived; none can be its eraser. 3.
[As one] recognizes Sabad (Word), obtains comfort,
and loves eternal Nam (Identification).
Harimandar [the human body becomes] beautiful with Sabad (Word),
the Infinite’s golden fort. 4.
This world is Harimandar, [but there is] utter darkness-ignorance without the Guru (Wisdom).
Worshiping other love, [they’re] self-oriented, blind-ignorant, and foolish. 5.
Where the account is asked for, there the body-physical or the caste-status does not go.
Those imbued with the Eternal are freed, [those in] other love are pained. 6.
The treasure of Nam (Identification) is in Harimandar,
the foolish and the ignorant do not understand it.
[Those who] recognize it with Guru’s (Wisdom) grace,
keep 1-Light enshrined in the hearts. 7.
Those who are imbued with color-love of Sabad (Word)
learn Guru’s (Wisdom) bani (utterance) from the Guru (Wisdom).
Those votaries are filth-free, vice-free, and holy
who remain in 1-Light’s Nam (Identification). 8.
Harimandar is 1-Light’s shop,
[1-Light] keeps it beautiful with the Sabad-Word.
In that [shop], the trade is of one Nam (Identification),
Guru-oriented (Wisdom-oriented) buy [it to become] beautiful. 9.
In Harimandar [human body] is iron-like mind
enticed by other love.
[The mind] becomes golden meeting (touched) Guru (Wisdom) [Paras or philosophers' stone],
its value cannot be said. 10.
In Harimandar [the human body] lives 1-Light,
that [1] is in every one incessantly.
Nanak: Deal by becoming Guru-oriented (Wisdom-oriented),
that [Nam] is the eternal trade. 11. 1.

Guru Sahib takes us through a journey of the Harimandar. It is about the Harimandar in both personal space and public space. One makes Harimandar with 1’s connection; the Guru Sahibs make Harimandar in the world to demonstrate Harimandar has open access to all. And both can become “golden,” but only with the Guru-Wisdom. Sri Harimandar Sahib also refers to the historical gurduaras (a Sikh place of learning) in Amritsar, Kiratpur, and Patna cities.  

Ramdaspur (ਰਾਮਦਾਸਪੁਰ)

Ramdaspur is a compound noun. Ram is a Sanskrit word which means “pleasing, delightful, charming, beautiful, or lovely.”  In Hinduism, Ram is also the name of Vishnu’s sixth and seventh incarnations; namely: Parush-Ram and Ram-Chandar. In Guru Granth Sahib, Ram is used for Ram-Chandar, and most importantly for our context, for IkOankar. Given the etymology and Sikh context, preference is being given to 1-Charmer to keep it clear and precise. Das is also a Sanskrit word which means “servant, slave, devotee, enemy, or barbaric.” In Hinduism, Das also refers to a slave or devotee or a particular god or goddess. In Guru Granth Sahib, Das is used for servants, slaves, enemies, and most importantly for our context, for IkOankar’s devotees.  Given the etymology and Sikh context, preference is being given to the votary to keep it clear and precise. So, Ramdas in Guru Granth Sahib refers to 1-Charmer’s votary, Guru Ramdas Sahib, Bhat Das, and a Hindu of bairagi sadhus. Pur means ville or city.

To better understand the context of Ramdas, let’s again delve into Guru Granth Sahib’s Sabad-expanse!

Phunhe is a Panjabi poetry genre where a word repeats again, phun. In this Phunhe, Harihan repeats in most of the twenty-three stanzas. Harihan was also the name of Guru Arjan Sahib’s sister-in-law. In Phunhe in Guru Granth Sahib (1361), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:

[I have] seen all places, none is like you!
1-Being, Creator built you, that’s why you are so beautiful.
O Ramdaspur (1-Charmer’s Votaries ville or fellowship),
[your] population is dense, infinite, and incomparable!
Nanak: O 1-Light, sins (crimes) leave by bathing (learning) in Ramdas pool (fellowship).

In rag Sorathi in Guru Granth Sahib (625), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals Ramdas sarovar:

Bathing (learning) in Ramdas (1-Charmer’s votaries) pool (fellowship),
all sins (crimes) committed are erased (their influence is removed).
[They] become filth-free by bathing (learning),
the perfect Guru (Wisdom) grants this gift.

In rag Bilaval in Guru Granth Sahib (817), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:

The Divine is the Protector and the Infinite; that One’s service makes one filth-free.
The great Guru (Wisdom) established 1-Charmer’s Raj (rule) in Ramdaspur. Reflect.

Is it the pool (sar or sarovar) in the city (pur) of 1-Charmer constructed by the fourth Nanak, Guru Ramdas Sahib, or is it referring to the fellowship of 1-Charmer’s votaries (Ramdas)?

To better understand who Ramdas is, let’s again delve into Guru Granth Sahib’s Sabad-expanse!

In rag Gauri in Guru Granth Sahib (274), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals who is Ramdas:

In whose mind is the residence of the Supreme Being
the identity of that one is truly Ramdas.
That one begins to see 1-Charmer in all beings;
that one finds the 1 as devoted to the votary of votaries.
The one who always knows 1-Light to be nearer than the nearest,
that votary is accepted in the Court.
Own-Self bestows grace on Own-Self’s votary;
that votary receives all insights.
[That votary is] with all, [that votary’s] being is detached;
Nanak: this is the way of the Ramdas.

In rag Sorathi in Guru Granth Sahib (612), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:

Hey, [I do] not know [how to] remember Hari (1-Light).
Hey, I utter Hari Hari (1-Light, 1-Light) Guru Guru (Wisdom, Wisdom).
Revered Hari (1-Light), I am identified as Ramdas. Reflect.
In rag Sorathi in Guru Granth Sahib (623), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:
O Truth-Exemplars, Ramdas’s (1-Charmer’s votaries’) pool (fellowship) is beautiful.
Whoever bathes (learns),
ferries across the lineage (fame for the family), and frees the being. Reflect.

Here are two references where Ramdas refers to the Hindu order of bairagi sadhus who are temple dancers.

In rag Gond in Guru Granth Sahib (867), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:

The Smritis, the Shastras, the Vedas and the Puranas (Hindu texts)
elaborate on the Supreme Being.
[So do] the Yogis, the celibates, Vishnu worshippers, and ramdas (temple dancers);
no one can measure (ascertain) the imperishable Being.

In rag Maru in Guru Granth Sahib (1002), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:

Tie anklet-bells to become ramdas (temple-dancers),
making effort for their bread.
Do fasts, rituals, and six rites to display outward garbs.
Mouths sing songs, sounds and rags (musical measure),
minds do not sing Hari Hari (1-Light, 1-Light).

Guru Ramdas Sahib, the fourth Nanak, is referenced many times in Guru Granth Sahib:

  • In rag Ramkali, Baba Sundar, 3 times
  • In rag Ramkali, Satta and Balvand, 1 time
  • In Savayye by Bhats, Bhats Kal, Nal, Gayandh, Mathura, Bal, Sal, and Harbans 45 times

Sabad-Wisdom takes us through a journey of the Ramdas, Ramdas-sar, and Ramdas-pur.  Ramdas is about becoming 1-Charmer’s votaries, and they bathe-learn in the pool-fellowship.

Darbar (ਦਰਬਾਰ)

Darbar is a Farsi (Persian) language word; it means the court of the ruler. In South Asia, it was also referred to as the council or the meeting hall of the Mir (political head). When rag Darbar from Carnatic classical music was imported in Hindustani classical music by Mian Tansen in Emperor Akbar’s darbar (1556-1605), it became known as Darbari (Kanara).

The Kingdom of Panjab (1789-1849) under Maharaja Ranjit Singh was called the Lahaur (or Lahore) Darbar. In South Asian religious traditions, Darbar is also the court or the meeting place of the Pir (spiritual head). In a few cases, the Pir’s Darbar also became a pinnacle of power center due to land holdings and cash flow, in addition to the followers.

Darbar in Guru Granth Sahib is revealed by Guru Nanaks I, II, III, IV, and V as well as Bhagats Kabir and Pharid (or Farid). In all cases, Darbar invoked the Court, implying the 1’s Court. In Ramkali ki Var in Guru Granth Sahib (964), Guru Arjan Sahib reveals:

Your (1’s) court is great, Your throne is eternal.
[You are] the Emperor above the kings, unshakable, [with royal] fly-whisk and canopy.

Among Sikhs, Darbar has been used for the Guru Granth Sahib, the Gurduara, the hall where the Guru Sahib is enthroned as well as for the Harimandar Sahib in Ammritsar. Interestingly the hall is also called the divan (or diwan) which is another Farsi word that refers to the governing body, official, or building. In addition to the aforesaid connotation adapted into Sikhi, while invoking the Guru Sahibs, the traditions of Kavi darbar and Dhadi darbar are also known to focus on poetry and ballads, respectively.

Bhai Gurdas in Pauri 47 of Var 1 clearly establishes that Guru Ramdas Sahib was already holding a darbar in the pool even if it was not fully adorned; the Guru was distributing Nam from the divan:

Now Sodhi seated as the Sovereign,
and is known as the Eternal Guru-Wisdom Ramdas.
In Ammritsar, the complete pool was dug, and the light was lit.

Dr. Madanjit Kaur in The Golden Temple: Its Past and Present contextualizes:

It appears from the history of Amritsar that the nature of relationship between the Sikhs and the Mughal state directly or indirectly, affected the status of Amritsar (the Temple land) with regard to the revenue tax from time to time. Probably, when the relations were cordial, the tax was exempted and when they became strained, the concession was withdrawn. But the subject needs a thorough investigation before reaching a definite conclusion. After the establishment of the Sikh rule, the misls renewed the muafi (exemption) which was continued by Maharaja Ranjit Singh after his conquest of Amritsar in AD 1805. The same policy was followed by the British.

In Sikhi, Darbar integrated both the “shrine” and the “state”; the Guru Sahib’s Nam and Raj notions fueled the spiritual and the political, symbolically.  

Current Scenario

Guru Sahib’s shared wisdom transcends eras and ecologies. That Sabad-borne Wisdom was fused into institution building. The “metaphysical” gave shape to “physical” where the aspiration remains to concretize a dimension or element of what’s abstract.

The precept of Ammritsar is of Immortality-Pool, it is now thriving as the pool and city in the Panjab where the Ramdas’ 1-Chamer’s votaries gather. The real question is: are the seekers drinking its life-giving elixir and learning to form the authentic fellowship?

The precept of Harimandar is of 1-Light’s Mansion, it is now the place where the world bows in reverence. The real question is: are the seekers building eternal Harimandar within via Sabad, revealing the 1-Light’s Mansion via eternal devotion?

For the seekers, Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike, the Amritsar, the Harimandar, the Ramdaspur, and the Darbar with a prefix of “Sri” and suffix “Sahib” are synonymous; they invoke unparalleled emotions. This is the Sikh Center where the Guru Granth-Panth manifests its sovereignty. This is where the right to “bathe at revered Ammritsar ji” (sri ammritsar ji de isnan) must be understood for all times immemorial: Sikhs long to bathe, learn, assemble, deliberate, any and all matters, from political to spiritual.

Beware! The state, and its supported religious zealots, forced narratives to debase Sikhi and dismantle Sikh historical spaces are always politically motivated. The Mughal Empire, the Afghan invaders, the British Raj, and the Indian state all undermined or attacked the Sikh institutions. Sikhs must also be complex-free in using the original or adapted verbiage; the people are free to choose their vocabulary in line with Sikh traditions. What matters most is the lived experiences of Sikhs. 30 million Sikhs, and many more who identify with the Guru globally, feel this is their Guru’s place where the culture of Nam embraces them.

The foundation day celebrations (13 Asar or Har Nanakshahi month; the month is mid-June to mid-July) of the city of Amritsar amid COVID-19 were a miss in 2020. The commemorative date will remain fluid for it is caught between the current nexus of “state” and “shrine” control. Still, Sikh organizations must re-look at how they commemorate “Sri Ammritsar Jiu” beyond public relations campaigns. The Sikhs must reflect on both the original ideas and original institutions to integrate state-shrine for personal and panthak (collective) development.

May we nurture the value-system as well as the sovereignty borne out of our Sri Ammritsar Sahib, our Sri Harimandar Sahib, our Ramdaspur Sahib, and our Sri Darbar Sahib!

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Senior Fellow, Research & Policy

Harinder Singh is a widely respected educator and thinker who is deeply in love with 1Force, the Oneness that radiates in all. 

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