Art & Architecture

The study of the art and architecture of the Golden Temple has, unfortunately, remained a subject of unconcern for art historians and critics. Even scholars of Indian temple architecture have bypassed it and references, whenever made, were mere courtesies. Fergusson considered the Golden Temple an example of the forms, which Hindu temple architecture assumed in the nineteenth century. According to the official list of buildings of interest, published by the Punjab Government in 1875, the design of the temple, as reconstructed by Ranjit Singh, was borrowed from the shrine of Saint Mian Mir, near Lahore. Louis Rousselet, writing in 1882, regarded it as a “handsome style of architecture”. Major Cole described it as an adaptation of Mohammadan styles, flavoured with a good deal of Hindu tradition. Percy Brown considered it to be a product of the synthesis of Hindu and Muslim influences, combined with elaborations that imparted it an appearance of its own. In the opinion of Hermann Goetz, Kangra transformation of Oudh architecture was taken over by the Sikhs and evolved into that wonderful, though occasionally gaudy, Indian ‘rococo’ art often seen in the gurudwaras of Punjab.The study of the art and architecture of the Golden Temple has, unfortunately, remained a subject of unconcern for art historians and Evecritics

The scholars of Indian temple architecture have bypassed it and references, whenever made, were mere courtesies. Fergusson considered the Golden Temple an example of the forms, which Hindu temple architecture assumed in the nineteenth century. According to the official list of buildings of interest, published by the Punjab Government in 1875, the design of the temple, as reconstructed by Ranjit Singh, was borrowed from the shrine of Saint Mian Mir, near Lahore. Louis Rousselet, writing in 1882, regarded it as a “handsome style of architecture”. Major Cole described it as an adaptation of Mohammadan styles, flavoured with a good deal of Hindu tradition. Percy Brown considered it to be a product of the synthesis of Hindu and Muslim influences, combined with elaborations that imparted it an appearance of its own. In the opinion of Hermann Goetz, Kangra transformation of Oudh architecture was taken over by the Sikhs and evolved into that wonderful, though occasionally gaudy, Indian ‘rococo’ art often seen in the gurudwaras of Punjab. The architectural prototype of the Golden Temple came into being as an idea combining the dharamshala and the tank envisaged by Guru Arjan, the son and successor of Guru Ram Das. Instead of building the temple on a high plinth in the Hindu style, Guru Arjan had it built in a depression so that worshippers had to go down the steps in order to enter it. Also it had four entrances, symbolic of the new faith, which made no distinction between the four Hindu castes. Although there is no written record or contemporary sketch giving the concept of the prototype, it appears to have been, more or less, similar to the present structure dating from 1764, with the greater part of its decoration added in the early years of the nineteenth century. H. H. Cole has ascribed the year 1764 in his monograph on the temple, published in 1884. However, in Tawarikh Sri Amritsar, published in 1889, Giani Gian Singh states that the tank, the Hari Mandir, the causeway and Darshani Deorhi were completed in 1776.

The main structure rises from the centre of the sacred pool, 150 metres square, approached by a causeway about 60 metres long. An archway on the western side of the pool opens on to the causeway, bordered with balustrades of fretted marble, and, at close intervals, there are standard lamps, their great lanterns set upon marble columns. The 52-metre square-based Hari Mandir, to which the causeway leads, stands on a 20-metre square platform. Its lower parts are of white marble, but the upper parts are covered with plates of gilded copper. In the interior, on the ground floor, is the Guru Granth Sahib, placed under a gorgeous canopy, studded with jewels. On the second storey is a pavilion known as Shish Mahal or Mirror Room, so designed as to have a square opening in the centre to view from there the ground floor, with the further provision of a narrow circumambulatory around the square opening.

The interior of the Shish Mahal is ornamented with small pieces of mirror, of various sizes and shapes, skilfully inlaid in the ceiling, and walls richly embellished with designs, mostly floral in character.

Further above the Shish Mahal is again a small square pavilion, considerably small both at its base as well as in its elevation, surmounted by a low fluted golden dome, lined at its base with a number of smaller domes. The walls of the two lower storeys, forming parapets, terminate with several rounded pinnacles. There are four chhatris or kiosks at the corners. The combination of several dozens of large, medium and miniature domes of gilded copper create a unique and dazzling effect, enhanced by the reflection in the water below.

The typical art and architectural features of the Golden Temple can be summed up as :

(1) multiplicity of chhatris which ornament the parapets, angles at every prominence or projection
(2) the invariable use of fluted domes covered with gilded copper
(3) balconised windows thrown out on carved brackets or bay-windows with shallow elliptical cornices.

Read about the History of Sri Harmandir Sahib, Jalau, Maryada and Contribution of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji.