AKĀL TAKHT is the primary seat of Sikh religious authority and central altar for Sikh political assembly. Through hukamnāmās, edicts or writs, it may issue decretals providing guidance or clarification on any point of Sikh doctrine or practice referred to it, may lay under penance personages charged with violation of religious discipline or with activity prejudicial to Sikh interests or solidarity and may place on record its appreciation of outstanding services rendered or sacrifices made by individuals espousing the case of Sikhism or of the Sikhs. The edifice stands in the Darbār Sāhib precincts in Amritsar facing Harimandar, now famous as the Golden Temple. The word akāl, a negative of kāl (time), is the equivalent of timeless, beyond time, everlasting, and takht, in Persian, that of royal throne or chair of state. Akāl Takht would thus mean "timeless or everlasting throne" or "throne of the Timeless One, i. e. God. " In the Sikh system, God is postulated as Formless (Niraṅkār), yet to proclaim His sovereignty over His creation, He is sometimes referred to as sultān, pātsāh, sāchā sāh, or the True King ; His seat is referred to as sachchā takht, the True Throne, sitting on which He dispenses sachchā niāo, true justice (GG, 84, 1087). It also became common for Sikhs, at least by the time of Gurū Arjan (1563-1606), to refer to the Gurū as sachchā patshāh and to his gaddī or spiritual seat as takht and the congregation he led as darbār or court. Panegyrizing the Gurūs, the bards Balvaṇḍ, Nalya and Mathurā, in their verses included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, use the word takht in this very sense. Formally to proclaim Sikh faith's common concern for the spiritual and the worldly, synthesis of mīrī and pīrī, Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644), son and successor of Gurū Arjan, adopted royal style. For the ceremonies of succession, he had a platform constructed opposite the Harimandar, naming it Akāl Takht. According to Gurbilās Chhevīṅ Pātshāhī, a detailed versified and, going by the year of composition recorded in the text/colophon, the oldest account of Gurū Hargobind's life, the structure was raised on Hāṛ vadī 5, 1663 Bk/15 June 1606. The Gurū laid the cornerstone and Bhāī Buḍḍhā and Bhāī Gurdās completed the construction, no third person being allowed to lend a helping hand. Gurū Hargobind used the takht for the accession ceremonies which, according to the source quoted, took place on 26 Hāṛ sudī 10, 1663 Bk/24 June 1606. From here he conducted the secular affairs of the community. From here he is said to have issued the first hukamnāmā (q. v. ) to far-flung saṅgats or Sikh centres announcing the creation of Akāl Takht and asking them to include in their offerings thenceforth gifts of weapons and horses. Bhāī Gurdās was named officiant in charge of the Akāl Takht. A building subsequently raised over the Takht was called Akāl Buṅgā (house) so that the Takht is now officially known as Takht Srī Akāl Buṅgā although its popular name Akāl Takht is more in common use.
The Sikhs recognize four other holy places as takhts, namely Takht Srī Kesgaṛh Sāhib, Anandpur; Takht Srī Harimandar Sāhib, Paṭnā Takht Sachkhaṇḍ Hazūr Sāhib, Abchalnagar, Nāndeḍ and Takht Srī Damdamā Sāhib, Talvaṇḍī Sābo. All four are connected with the life of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708). All five Takhts are equally venerated, but the Akāl Takht at Amritsar enjoys a special status. Historically, this is the oldest of the takhts and along with Harimandar, across the yard, constitutes the capital of Sikhism. Meetings of the Sarbatt Khālsā or general assembly representative of the entire Panth are traditionally summoned at Akāl Takht and it is only there that cases connected with serious religious offences committed by prominent Sikhs are heard and decided. Hukamnāmās or decrees issued by the Akāl Takht are universally applicable to all Sikhs and all institutions.
After Gurū Hargobind's migration to Kīratpur early in 1635, the shrines at Amritsar, including the Akāl Takht, fell into the hands of the descendants of Prithī Chand, elder brother of Gurū Arjan, his grandson, Harijī (d. 1696), remaining in charge for over fifty-five years. Soon after the creation of the Khālsā in March 1699, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh sent Bhāī Manī Siṅgh to Amritsar to assume control of the Harimandar and the Akāl Takht and manage these on behalf of the Khālsā Panth. During the troublous period following the martyrdom of Bandā Siṅgh in 1716, the sacred sarovar, or holy tank, at Amritsar, the Harimandar and the Akāl Takht continued to be a source of inspiration and spiritual rejuvenation for the Sikhs. Whenever circumstances permitted, and usually on Baisākhī and Dīvālī, their scattered bands defying all hazards converged upon Akāl Takht to hold Sarbatt Khālsā assemblies and discuss matters of policy and strategy. For instance, through a gurmatā (Gurū's counsel) the sarbatt khālsā at the Akāl Takht resolved on 14 October 1745 to reorganize their scattered fighting force into 25, jathās or bands of about 100 warriors each. By another gurmatā on Baisākhī, 29 March 1748, the sarbatt khālsā meeting, again, at Akāl Takht, formed the Dal khālsā or the army of the Khālsā consisting of 11 misls or divisions. On Dīvālī, 7 November 1760, the sarbatt khālsā resolved to attack and occupy Lahore (till then Sikhs had not occupied any territory, their only possession being the small fortress of Rām Rauṇī or Rāmgaṛh they had built at Amritsar in 1746). Akāl Takht was again the venue of the sarbatt khālsā on Baisākhī day, 10 April 1763, when by a gurmatā it was decided to go out to the help of a Brāhmaṇ who had brought the complaint that his wife had been forcibly abducted by the Afghān chief of Kasūr.
Even after the Punjab had been parcelled out into several Sikh independencies or misls , Amritsar remained the common capital where all sardārs or chiefs had built their buṅgās and stationed their vakils or agents. But as the need for a common strategy and action decreased and rivalries among the misl chiefs raised their head, sarbatt khālsā and correspondingly the Akāl Takht lost their political pre-eminence. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh felt little need for sarbatt khālsā assemblies after 1805 when it was summoned to consider the question whether or not the fugitive Marāṭhā prince Jasvant Rāo Holkar be assisted against the British. The religious authority of the Akāl Takht, however, remained intact and the State never challenged it in any manner. There are in fact instances of the State showing subservience as in the case of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh himself responding to the summons from the Akāl Takht and accepting for a moral misdemeanour penalty imposed by its custodian, Akālī Phūlā Siṅgh who had fought as a loyal soldier in several of the Mahārājā's military campaigns. In spite of its supremacy in the matter of enforcing religious discipline, Akāl Takht discharges no divine dispensation. It remits no sins, nor does it invoke God's wrath upon anyone.
On several occasions during the eighteenth century, Akāl Takht shared with the Harimandar desecration and destruction at the hands of Mughal satraps and Afghān invaders. Ahmad Shāh Durrānī, 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, Nihaṅg Gurbakhsh Siṅgh stationed there to serve and protect the Akāl Takht, came out to dare the invading horde and fell fighting to the last man. Ahmad Shāh had the Akāl Buṅgā completely demolished. Sikhs, however, continued to hold the sarbatt khālsā in front of the ruins and decided at one such gathering on Baisākhī, 10 April 1765, to rebuild the Akāl Buṅgā as well as the Harimandar. Funds for this purpose had already been set apart from the pillage of Sirhind in January 1764. The work was entrusted to Bhāī Des Rāj, who was also furnished with Gurū kī Mohar or the Gurū's seal to enable him to raise more funds. The construction of the ground floor of the Akāl Buṅgā was completed by 1774. The rest of the five-storeyed domed edifice was completed during the reign of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh. The gilded dome atop the building was built by Harī Siṅgh Nalvā 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 floor 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 façade of the third floor, a large hall with galleries on the sides, had cusped 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. The Gurū Granth Sāhib was seated on the first floor, where the jathedār of the Akāl Takht also took his seat. The second floor was used for important meetings and also for amrit prachār, administration of the initiation of the Khālsā. The hall on the third floor was used especially for the meetings of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee until a separate office block, called Tejā Siṅgh Samundāri Hall, was constructed for the purpose during the 1930's.
The beautiful and sacred edifice was destroyed in the army action, called Operation Blue Star, in early June 1984. The Government of India got the building reconstructed in order to assuage the injured feelings of the Sikhs, but this was not acceptable to them. The reconstructed building was demolished in early 1986 to be replaced by one raised through kār sevā, voluntary free service of the Panth and by money accruing from voluntary donations.
After the death of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh with whom ceased the line of living Gurūs, hukamnāmās were issued in the name of the Khālsā Panth from the different takhts, especially Akāl Takht at Amritsar. Any Sikh transgressing the religious code could be summoned, asked to explain his conduct and punished. Disobedience amounted to social ostracism of an individual or the group concerned. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, 19th century ruler of the Punjab, was summoned by Akālī Phūlā Siṅgh, the then jathedār of Akāl Takht, for violating established norms of Sikh behaviour and laid under expiation. Among instances from recent history a striking one is that of Tejā Siṅgh of Bhasauṛ who was censured for the liberties he was taking with the Sikh canon. A hukamnāmā issued from the Akāl Takht on 26 Sāvaṇ 1985 Bk/9 August 1928 read:
The Pañch Khālsā Dīwān (Pañch Khaṇḍ), Bhasauṛ, has published books called Gurmukhī courses in which the bāṇī of Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib has been garbled and its order changed.
Changes have been made in gurmantra, the ardās and the ceremonies for administering amrit. These are anti-Sikh proceedings. Hence Bābū Tejā Siṅgh and Bībī Nirañjan Kaur [his wife] are hereby excommunicated from the Panth. Other members of the Pañch Khālsā Dīwān are debarred from having ardās offered on their behalf at Srī Akāl Takht Sāhib or at any other Gurdwārā. No Sikh should purchase Gurmukhī courses published by the Pañch Khālsā Dīwān, nor keep them in his possession. The Pañch Khālsā Dīwān or whoever else has copies of these should send them to Srī Akāl Takht Sāhib.
An example of an individual penalized for disobeying the Akāl Takht edict was that of Bhāī Santā Siṅgh, the Nihaṅg, who for the charge brought against him was excommunicated from the Panth (Hukamnāmā, 8 Sāvan 515 Nānak Shāhī/22 July 1984). Hukamnāmās 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 ardās, the daily prayer of supplication, as a particular historical situation might demand. On 26 Jeṭh 1984 Bk/8 June 1927, the Akāl Takht eulogized in a hukamnāmā Bhāī Sāhib Sardār Khaṛak Siṅgh for his qualities of determination and steadfastness and for his sacrifices in the cause of the Panth; likewise, on 30 Bhādoṅ 1988 Bk/15 September 1931, Bhāī Sāhib Raṇdhīr Siṅgh was honoured for his outstanding services to the Panth. On 20 Asūj 1970 Bk/4 October 1913, Takht Sachkhaṇḍ Srī Hazūr Sāhib promulgated a hukamnāmā fixing the length of kirpān or sword a Sikh will carry slung from across his shoulder at a minimum of one foot. On 12 Māgh 483 Nānak Shāhī/25 January 1952, Akāl Takht enjoined upon the "entire Khālsā and all Gurdwārā ministers'' to add these lines to the ardās:
O Timeless Lord, the Benevolent One, ever the succourer of Thy Panth, we pray grant the Khālsājī the privilege of unhindered access to and control and maintenance of Srī Nankāṇā Sāhib 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.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)