Sikh shrine generates heat over cooling proposal

By Jaideep Sarin, Indo-Asian News Service, Amritsar : A proposal to install air-conditioners inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple – Harmandir Sahib, the holiest of Sikh shrines – here has run into stiff opposition.

Even though a committee of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) – the mini parliament of Sikhism that manages gurdwaras (Sikh shrines) in Punjab and outside – is to take a final decision Wednesday on the installation of air-conditioners, the move is being opposed by various quarters.

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The need to install ACs was felt as the rising summer temperature in recent years is making the heat inside the building quite unbearable.

“This move was initiated as the raagis (religious hymn singers) and devout found the building very hot during peak summer months between April and September,” an SGPC member told IANS.

The hymn singers and preachers sit inside the sanctum sanctorum for three to four hours at a stretch. The shrine remains open for 24 hours.

The main opposition to the proposal is that the sanctum sanctorum, which has several doors and windows – in keeping with the openness belief of the Sikh religion – will hardly be of any use.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) has also protested the move to install ACs in the shrine.

“This will harm the heritage value of the building and also the paintings inside it. Besides, it is against religious feelings,” Intach state convener Sukhdev Singh said.

Those opposing the move point out that installing the ACs would mean getting wiring done on the existing structure and making provision for water outlets. The compressor units of the ACs would have to be installed on the outer portion of the pure gold-layered building that could lead to pollution.

The 17th century shrine – unique because of a layer of gold sheet on the entire upper floor of the structure and its dome – celebrated its 400th year in September 2004. Though popularly and commonly called Golden Temple worldwide, the shrine’s name is actually Harmandir Sahib. Sikhs refer to it as ‘Darbar Sahib’ also.

Millions of Sikhs and people from other religions, including foreigners, visit the shrine annually.

Akal Takht – the highest religious body of Sikhs – head Joginder Singh Vedanti feels that the progressive Sikh community had never opposed technology. “Installing the ACs should not be a problem, provided it does not damage the building,” he said.

Traditional Sikhs are quoting the ‘Sikh maryada’ (conventional code of religious conduct) to oppose the ACs, saying people were only looking for comfort.

SGPC members like Kiranjot Kaur and Manjit Singh Calcutta and heritage conservationist Gurmeet Rai have also expressed their reservations against the move.