Sri Akal Takht Sahib literally means 'Eternal Throne'.
The Akal Takht is part of the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. Its foundation was laid by Guru Hargobind Sahib on 15th June 1606 (now celebrated on 2nd July).
The Akal Takht is situated opposite Sri Harmandir Sahib and is the oldest of the Five Takhts.
The building of the Akal Takht opposite Sri Harmandir Sahib has a special meaning. While Sri Harmandir Sahib stands for spiritual guidance the Akal Takht symbolizes the dispensing of justice and temporal activity.
During the day, the Guru Granth Sahib is kept in Sri Harmandir Sahib, while at night it is kept in Sri Akal Takht Sahib.
The Akal Takht is the most supreme of all the Takhts. The four other takhts established by the panth (community) are:
Takht Sri Damdama Sahib, Talwandi Sabo
Takht Sri Hazur Sahib, Nanded
Takht Sri Harmandir Sahib, Patna
Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, Anandpur
The Jathedar of the Akal Takht is the highest spokesperson of the Sikh Panth and is meant to be a spiritual leader without control or influence from any outside, politically motivated sources.
Two years after the Adi Granth was installed in Sri Harmandir Sahib, Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji who compiled it, was arrested and tortured to death by order of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Jahangir mentions in his biography his opposition to the faith of Guru Arjan Sahib Ji and his desire to convert him to Islam.
Jahangir stated that he was given an opportunity when Guru Arjan Sahib Ji harboured his rebel son Khusro. But, although some historians see the harbouring of Khusro as a political act, nothing in Guru Arjan's life supports this view.
It is said that the success of Guru Arjan in transforming Sikhism into a new age faith earned him many enemies. They were at pains to bring harm to Guru ji and had even made an unsuccessful attempt to harm him by complaining to Akbar.
Guru Arjan's concerns were spiritual, not political, and the murder of this man of profound learning was a senseless act. It gave Sikhism it's first martyr and transformed the Sikh character and the Sikh ethos from purely spiritual to the martial for the defence of the masses.
This tragic turning point left a deep impression on the Sikh psyche in the form of a sharp and sudden awareness of the concept of martyrdom. Out of it grew the community's tradition of taking an implacable stand against injustice and the vagaries of tyrannical rulers. A new and lasting dimension was now added to the Sikh sense of mission and purpose.
Before his death, anticipating that the end was near, Guru Arjan Sahib Ji in a parting message to his son asked him to, 'sit fully armed on his throne and maintain an army.' And Guru Hargobind did just that.
Guru Hargobind acceded to the Guruship in 1606, after his father's tragic end. Although he was just eleven years old at the time, Guru Hargobind is believed to have immediately begun the process of establishing an independent and strong Sikh panth.
At the ceremony of ascension, the Guru declared his intentions: on his turban, he would wear the ruler's aigrette; instead of the ascetics seli, he would wear a sword-belt with two swords symbolizing Miri and Piri, temporal and spiritual authority.
Adopting traditional marks of sovereignty, Guru Hargobind asked his Sikhs to donate not cash but horses and arms. He raised a troop of 52 bodyguards, which formed the nucleus of his army. 500 youths came to him for enlistment from the Manjha (the country between the Ravi and Bias), the Doab (between the Bias and Satluj) and the Malwa countries (comprises the portion of the Punjab formed by Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot, Firzopur and Ludhiana). Guru Hargobind is also credited with developing the martial arts of the Sikhs.
Guru Hargobind's architectural projects, not surprisingly, reflect his agenda and his personality. On Monday, the fifth day of the light half of Har, Sambat 1663, Guru Hargobind ji laid the foundation of the Takht Akal Bunga.
Akal Takht foundations exposed during repair in 1980's.
The Akal Takht was built on a site where there was only a high mound of earth across a wide open space. It was a place where Hargobind played as a child.
The original structure of Akal Takht was a simple platform. It was built by Guru Hargobind ji, Bhai Gurdas ji and Baba Buddha ji, with their own hands. No other person or artist was employed to build the platform. Guru Ji remarked that the seat of guru would serve the panth for eternity. Guru ji raised the height of the platform to 3.5 metres (11 ft) high, defying the royal edict of Jahangir that no other person except the Emperor himself can sit on a raised platform of more than three feet.
Guru Hargobind would regularly sit on the raised platform, Takht, with all marks of royalty and dispence justice for all disputes of Sikhs. Guru Hargobind would sit in court to receive petitions and administer justice. He was surrounded by insignia of royalty such as the parasol and the flywhisk. Later, there was an open-air semi-circular structure built on marble pillars and a gilded interior section.
The original Akal Takht was built a fraction lower than the Harmandir Sahib, implying the order of importance, that the search for spiritual grace was always to lead. A similar balancing of assertion and submission was built into Guru Hargobind's daily routine, which alternatively highlighted the Gurdwara, with its spiritual function and self-effacing architectural symbolism, and the throne platform, with its assertion of sovereignty and temporal authority.
The Guru started the day with worship in Sri Harmandir Sahib; then he would grant audience from the Akal Takht in the afternoon; in the evening he would return to Sri Harmandir Sahib for prayers and kirtan, and at night he and other Sikhs would return to the Akal Takht to listen to dhadi varan of heroic deeds.
On several occasions during the eighteenth century, Akal Takht shared with the Harimandar desecration and destruction at the hands of Mughal satraps and Afghan invaders. Ahmad Shah Durrani, who had razed the Harimandar in 1762, again attacked Amritsar in December 1764. On this occasion a small band of 30 Sikhs under their leader, Nihang Gurbakhsh Singh stationed there to serve and protect the Akal Takht, came out to dare the invading horde and fell fighting to the last man.
Ahmad Shah had the Akal Bunga completely demolished. Sikhs, however, continued to hold the Sarbat Khalsa in front of the ruins and decided at one such gathering on Vaisakhi, 10 April 1765, to rebuild the Akal Bunga as well as the Harmandir.
Funds for this purpose had already been set apart from the pillage of Sirhind in January 1764. The work was entrusted to Bhai Des Raj, who was also furnished with Guru ki Mohar or the Guru's seal to enable him to raise more funds.
The construction of the ground floor of the Akal Bunga was completed by 1774. The rest of the five - storeyed domed edifice was completed during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is said the first floor of the Akal Takht was completed on the instructions of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. The second floor was completed on the instructions of Maharaja Ranjit Singh at a cost two lac and ninety-five thousand rupees (a huge amount of money at the time). The gilded dome atop the building was built by Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa at his own expense.
The facade of the first four storeys including the basement (originally ground floor but rendered partly below ground level because of the raising of the level of the circumambulatory terrace in front) had a semi-circular orientation.
The ground door was a large hall With an attached pillared marble portico. The facades of the next two floors had projected eaves supported on decorative brackets. The facade of the third floor, a large hall with galleries on the sides, had cupped arched openings, nine in number.
The exterior of the fourth floor, covering the central hall of the lower floor, was decorated with projected ornamental eaves and a domed kiosk at each corner.
(Click on images to view the Sri Akal Takht Sahib before the hindu army of India destroyed it in the Sikh genocide of 1984)
The Guru Granth Sahib was seated on the first floor, where the jathedar of the Akal Takht also took his seat. The second floor was used for important meetings and also for amrit prachar, administration of the initiation of the Khalsa.
The hall on the third floor was used especially for the meetings of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee until a separate office block, called Teja Singh Samundari Hall, was constructed for the purpose during the 1930's.
Today's Akal Takht is now a large 5-storey modern structure with inlaid marble and a gold-leafed dome, that does not convey the design of Guru Hargobind's simple Takht or plinth. However, recent restoration work has uncovered a layer of lime plaster, with painted decoration, that may have been part of the original Takht. That plinth was far higher than the plinth of the Harmandir; yet the absence of a superstructure kept the original Akal Takht at a level lower than the Gurdwara.
The elaboration of the structure on marble pillars, as a semi-circular platform with an open view to the courtyard, reminiscent of an air-house, grew from the use to which the Darbar hall was put. The gilding of the ceiling with ornamentations like those in the interior of the Harmandir a the wall paintings apparently belong to a later period, as there are panels showing Europeans.
The total effect of the Akal Takht and the open courtyard, in front of the Darshani Deori and the view of the Amritsar beyond, is of a unique and noble structure remenisant of the of the piazza Saint Marco in Venice where the Doge's Palace faces the Grand Canal.
The modern building is a five storey structure with marble inlay and a gold-leafed dome. Three of the stories were added by Ranjit Singh in the 1700s. Contemporary restoration work found a layer of paint decorated lime plaster that might have been part of the original structure but later than the time of Harminder.
Akal Takht Sahib and Harmandir Sahib; Miri and Piri
As the supreme authority in all Sikh matters, it is from the Akal Takht that Hukamnamas (edics or writs) are announced to provide guidance or clarification on any point of Sikh doctrine or practice.
It may lay under penance persons charged with violation of religious discipline or with activity prejudicial to Sikh interests or solidarity. It may place on record its appreciation of outstanding services rendered or sacrifices made by individuals espousing the cause of Sikhism or of the Sikhs. Importantly, no individual is above the Akal Takht.
There are in fact instances of the State showing subservience as in the case of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Maharaja responding to summons from the Akal Takht and accepted punishment for a moral misdemeanor.
The penalty for his misdemeanours (a number of lashes on his back) was imposed by its custodian, Akali Phula Singh, who had fought as a loyal soldier in several of the Maharaja's military campaigns. However, upon seeing the Maharaja's good faith, the penalty was changed to a heavy fine.
In spite of its supremacy in the matter of enforcing religious discipline, Akal Takht discharges no divine dispensation. It remits no sins, nor does it invoke God's wrath upon anyone. An example of an individual penalized for disobeying the Akal Takht edict was that of Bhai Santa Singh, the Nihang, who for the charge brought against him was excommunicated from the Panth (Hukamnama, 8 Savan 515 Nanak Shahl/22 July 1984).
Hukamnamas have also been issued to settle points of religious and political disputation; also for commending the services to the Panth of individuals and for adding passages to Sikh ardas, the daily prayer of supplication, as a particular historical situation might demand.
On 26 Jeth 1984 sk/8 June 1927, the Akal Takht eulogized in a hukamnama Bhai Sahib Sardar Kharak Singh for his qualities of determination and steadfastness and for his sacrifices in the cause of the Panth; likewise, on 30 Bhadon 1988 sk/15 September 1931, Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh was honoured for his outstanding services to the Panth.
On 20 Asuj 1970 sk/4 October 1913, Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib promulgated a hukamnama fixing the length of kirpan or sword a Sikh will carry slung from across his shoulder at a minimum of one foot.
On 12 Magh 483 Nanak Shahi/25 January 1952, Akal Takht enjoined upon the entire Khalsa and all Gurdwara ministers "to add these lines to the ardas: 'O Timeless Lord, the Benevolent One, ever the succourer of Thy Panth, we pray grant the Khalsa ji the privilege of unhindered access to and control and maintenance of Sri Nankana Sahib and other holy shrines and sites from which the Panth has been parted' [after the partition of the Punjab in 1947]."
Such writs promulgated under the seal of a Takht carry sanction for the entire Sikh people.
Sri Akal Takht Sahib 1984 aftermath repairs.
In June 1984 the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple, even bringing its main battle tanks onto the Parikarma. Untold numbers of Sikhs, innocent pilgrims and visitors to Harmandir Sahib were killed.
The Akal Takht, the supreme seat of authority for the Sikhs bore the brunt of the attack suffering severe damage. Many Sikh artifacts were deliberately burned in the destruction.
The Indian government began to rebuild the Akal Takht. Sikhs called the new structure the Sarkari Takht (the word 'sarkar' in Punjabi means 'government') to indicate it had been built by the government and was not Akal (sacred).
The Sikh home minister, Buta Singh, was excommunicated for his role in building the new Takht. He was accepted back into the community after a period of penitence (cleaning the devotees's utensils and shoes at the Golden Temple).
In 1986, the Sikh nation called the 'Sarbat Khalsa' (Sikh commonwealth) in which it declared Khalistan as the homeland of the Sikhs and also moved to rebuild Sri Akal Takht Sahib that had been repaired by the Indian Government. Funds provided by the Sikh nation were used for its re-building.
(Click on images to view the Sri Akal Takht Sahib after the hindu army of India destroyed it in the Sikh genocide of 1984)
Like the Martrydom of Guru Arjan, which had lead Guru Hargobind to erect the Takht, the severe damage to the Takht served to awaken a sleeping spiritual nation.
May the anniversary of the attack on the Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht always serve to remind us of those who died in order to uphold and protect the Sikh Panth (Faith).
Sri Sahibs (swords) of Guru Hargobind Sahib that represented Miri and Piri
Sri Sahib (sword) of Guru Gobind Singh Ji
Sri Sahib (sword) of Baba Buddha Ji
Sri Sahib (sword) of Bhai Jaetha Ji
Sri Sahib Baba Karam Singh Ji Shaheed
Sri Sahib Bhai Uday Singh Ji, who was with Guru Gobind Singh Ji
Sri Sahib Bhai Bidhi Chand Ji
Dudhara Khanda (double-edged sword) of Baba Gurbakash Singh Ji Shaheed
Dudhara Khanda (double-edged sword) of Baba Deep Singh Ji
Dudhara Khanda of Baba Nodh Singh Ji Shaheed
Khadag Bhai Vachitar Singh Ji which weighed 10 Saer
Guru Hargobind Sahib's 'Guraj' weighing 16 saer. It was given to Dharamvir Jassa Singh by Mata Sundri
A sword like weapon belonging to Guru Hargobind Sahib
Guru Hargobind Sahib's Katar
Baba Ajit Singh's Katar
Baba Jujhar Singh's Katar
Guru Hargobind Sahib's kirpan
Guru Hargobind's Paeshkabaj
Baba Deep Singh's Paeshkabaj
A sword like weapon of Baba Deep Singh Ji Shaheed
Pistol of Baba Deep Singh Ji Shaheed
Two arrows of Guru Gobind Singh each containing one Tola of gold
Medium sized Khanda of Baba Deep Singh Ji
Two kirpans of Baba Deep Singh Ji
Two small Khandas of Baba Deep Singh Ji
Chakar Of Baba Deep Singh Ji
Small Chakar of Baba Deep Singh Ji
Baba Deep Singh Ji's chakar for head decoration
(Click on images to view some of the Shastar in Sri Akal Takht Sahib)
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