There is an old story still narrated in the villages of Punjab, that there was once a water pond which turned black crows into white swans after they bathed in it. A poor man suffering from leprosy saw this, and turned into a completely healed handsome man after taking a dip in that pond. Some old villagers connect this interesting story with the “Dukh Bhanjani Beri”, from where the sarovar (the holy water pond) of Sri Harimandir Sahib, Amritsar, was dug up. There is a point at the sarovar of the famous Sikh Golden Temple, where people come to take a dip to get relieved from pain and diseases. No historical evidence exists to support this story, but the faith and belief of the disciples is stronger than any folklore. However, there are more stories associated with it, as different sects and communities narrate them in different manner.
Bhai Jetha, a simple hawker who used to sell food items outside the court of the third Sikh Guru, was one day called inside by the Guru, who offered him his daughter’s hand in marriage. Bhai Jetha accepted the proposal as his Guru’s command, and ended up a disciple of Guru Amar Das Ji. He dedicated himself to the community, and the Guru was so happy with his service that he not only rechristened him “Ram Das”, he also offered the holy seat of Sikhism to him. Bhai Jetha thus became the fourth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Ram Das Ji, and worked unceasingly for the welfare of his disciples. He built a ‘Sarovar’ (Holy Pond) in middle of a forest, which soon came to be regarded as the holiest of holy waters by the Sikh Community. When Mughal Emperor Akbar the great visited the third Sikh Guru Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, he was so impressed by his lifestyle and teachings that offered Jagir to him. This was a common practice among the rulers of India to offer land to nobles whenever they were happy with them. Following the tradition, Jagir was offered to the Sikh Guru which included the area around the Sarovar he built, and the revenues generated from there by the emperor. Guru Ram Das Ji then took it upon himself to enlarge the holy pond, and with time people started settling around it. The small township became popular by the name “Guru ka Chak” or “Chak Ramdas” or “Ramdaspura”.
Guru Ram Das Ji’s son Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth guru of Sikhs, decided to build a place of worship in the middle of this holy pond. So the water was first drained out and a foundation stone was laid. Popular belief has it that Baba Sain Mir Mohammed Sahib (also known as Sain Mian Mir), the famous sufi mystic of the Qadri order from Lahore, came to lay the foundation stone, symbolizing harmony among religions. Sain Mian Mir always had good and cordial relations with the Sikh Gurus, and finds multiple mentions in Sikh history. Popularly, Sain Mian Mir is known as the spiritual mentor to Prince Dara Shikoh, son of Emperor Shah Jahan, who was later assassinated at his own brother Aurangzeb’s behest during a fight for succession to the throne. Sain Mian Mir was invited by the 5th Guru for the foundation laying ceremony, and was then requested to lay the first brick for this temple, which till day epitomises communal harmony.
This incident of the foundation being laid by Sain Mir was first narrated by Maulvi Ghulam Muhaiyuddin, who changed his name to Butay Shah when he was hired by the British to write Sikh History. He wrote a book in Persian called “Tawarikh-i-Punjab”, which got mired in myriad controversies and faced strong criticism opposition from the Sikh community even before it was completed in 1848 AD.
A Famous Sikh scholar of 19th century, Bhai Rattan Singh Bhangoo, then approached Captain Murray, the british officer who had commissioned the work, and attempted to convince him that Butay Shah would not do justice to Sikh History, given the religious schisms that separated Islam and Sikhism. Bhai Rattan Singh then penned his own version of Sikh History entitled “Pracheen Panth Prakash” and gave it to Murray. The officer accepted it, but also took the work of Maulvi Butay Shah. Later it comes to light that all govt. records are perforce based on information put forth by Butay Shah in his book. Sohan Lal Suri in his book “Umda-Tu-Tawarikh” (1885), also mentions Sain Mian Mir as the one who laid the foundation stone of Harimandir Sahib. On the other hand, many Sikh scholars aver that it was Guru Arjan Dev Ji himself who laid the foundation stone.
Kavi Santokh Singh concurs with this in his “Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth” (early 1800), while many other renowned historians of modern times who have been digging into this aspect of Sikh history in their researches also all mention the Sikh Guru. The controversy becomes more intriguing as Giani Gian Singh, one of the most authentic writers of Sikh History, writes in “Sri Gur Panth Prakash” that Sain Mian Mir laid the foundation stone. But he does so in the third edition, and not in the first two editions of this famous encyclopaedia of Sikhism.
Another popular version that comes from folklore has it that after the foundation stone was laid, a mason accidently displaced the brick. When Guru Arjan saw this, he prophesized that the foundation will be laid again in the near future. This prophecy was seen as fulfilled when in mid-18th century, as Jahan Khan, one of Abdali’s generals from Afghanistan, attacked the city and destroyed this temple, which was then rebuilt from foundation up in 1764 by Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, exactly 160 years after its first opening in 1604 by Guru Arjan Dev Ji. A Few years later, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab covered the upper storeys of the temple with Gold, which exists till date. With time, as the gold wears off, sheets are replaced and the older metal sheets are secured in a warehouse.
The Harimandir Sahib, aka Golden Temple, aka Sri Durbar Sahib changed the way temples were built. Instead of building it on a higher mound with a main entrance, it was built in the lower area and with four entrances, so it can be opened to all directions and to all religions. More buildings came up around it and each of them has its own religious significance. While learned historians keep debating on the myriad folklore associated with this Sikh Temple, the fact remains that every day more than 100,000 disciples visit this holy shrine, and many more watch the ceremonies live on various channels that broadcast the temple proceedings daily.