TARN TĀRAN (31º-27'N, 74º-56'E), important centre of Sikh pilgrimage 24 km south of Amritsar, was founded by Gurū Arjan in 1596. Six years earlier, on 13 April 1590, he had inaugurated the conversion of a natural pond lying along the Delhi-Lahore highway into a quadrangular tank. Digging operations on full scale commenced on the last day of the dark half of the month, Bhādoṅ, falling on 19 August 1590. With the completion of digging, on Chet vadī Amāvas 1653 Bk/19 March 1596, began the construction of the main shrine, the Darbār Sāhib, and ancillary buildings. Meanwhile, a local official, Nūr ud-Dīn, ordered under imperial authority the construction of a new caravan serai along the royal highway and confiscated to this end all the bricks and the kilns in which they were burnt for the holy shrine at Tarn Tāran. He deputed his son, Amīr ud-Dīn, to have the bricks carried to the serai site where, besides the inn, a complete habitation named Nūr Dīn sprang up. This was about 6 km to the northwest of the Gurū's tank. Further development of Tarn Tāran remained suspended until 1768, when Sardār Budh Siṅgh of Faizullāpurīa misl occupied the entire parganah of Paṭṭī, uprooted the village of Nūr Dīn and the serai, and brought their bricks back to the site of this sarovar. Sardār Budh Siṅgh and Sardār Jassā Siṅgh Rāmgaṛhīā joined hands to have the building of the Darbār Sāhib constructed. Some buṅgās or dwelling houses were also built on the periphery of the holy tank. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh visited the shrine in 1802. It was here that he exchanged turbans with Sardār Fateh Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā as a token of lasting friendship. Raṇjīt Siṅgh had the steps on the two sides of the sarovar, left unfinished by Budh Siṅgh and Jassā Siṅgh, completed and its circumambulatory passage paved. The Darbār Sāhib was also reconstructed. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh and his grandson Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh, donated large quantities of gold to have the exterior plated with the metal, but the work made little progress in the troubled times that followed Raṇjīt Siṅgh's death. It was in the last quarter of the nineteenth century that part of the exterior was covered with gold leaf by Sant Shām Siṅgh, of Amritsar. Only one of the four towers planned by Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh for the four corners of the tank was erected during this time. Under Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's orders, the town of Tarn Tāran was enclosed by a wall. A few other shrines such as the Mañjī Sāhib, the Akāl Buṅgā and the Gurū kā Khūh were developed and several buṅgās added. After the annexation of the Punjab to the British dominions, the management of the shrines at Tarn Tāran, along with those at Amritsar, was entrusted to a Sarbarāh or manager appointed by the deputy commissioner of Amritsar. The role of the manager was, however, confined to general supervision, the priests being autonomous in the conduct of religious affairs. They divided the offerings among themselves and gradually appropriated most of the lands endowed to the Darbār Sāhib during Sikh rule. They neglected their religious duties and cared little for the sanctity of the holy shrines and the sarovar. The traditional monthly congregation on every amāvasyā day, the last day of the dark half of the month, was reduced to a gay carnival. Reforms introduced by the Siṅgh Sabhā, Tarn Tāran, established in 1885, were disapproved and resisted by the clergy. Efforts of the Khālsā Dīwān Mājhā and the Central Mājhā Khālsā Dīwān to cleanse the administration met with only partial success. As the Gurdwārā reform movement got under way, the control of the sacred shrines passed to a representative body of the Sikhs, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, on 27 January 1921. A leper asylum established by Gurū Arjan, but completely ignored by the clergy after the abrogation of Sikh sovereignty was taken over in 1858 by Christian missionaries.
DARBĀR SĀHIB SRĪ GURŪ ARJAN DEV JĪ is an elegant three-storeyed structure at the southeastern corner of the sarovar. Approached through a double-storeyed arched gateway, it stands in the middle of a marble-floored platform. The upper portion of the edifice is covered with glittering gold-plated sheets. The lotus dome, damaged in an earthquake (4 April 1905) and subsequently reconstructed has an ornamental gold pinnacle with an umbrella-shaped gold finial. Exquisitely executed stucco work in intricate designs inset with reflecting glass pieces decorates the interior walls and the ceiling. The Gurū Granth Sāhib is seated on a platform under an elongated dome covered with gold-plated metal sheets. This throne was an offering from Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh. A relay recital of kīrtan goes on from early morning till late in the evening.
HAR KĪ PAUṚĪ, a flight of marbled steps behind the Darbār Sāhib descending into the sacred pool, marks the spot where, according to tradition, Gurū Arjan made the first cut as the digging started in 1590. Pilgrims go down these steps to take charanāmrit or palmsful of holy water to sip.
THE SAROVAR, one of the largest of the Sikh holy tanks, is an approximate rectangle in shape. Its northern and southern sides are 289 metres and 283 metres, respectively, and eastern and western sides 230 metres and 233 metres, respectively. The sarovar was originally fed by rain water that flowed in from the surrounding lands. In 1833, Mahārājā Raghubīr Siṅgh of Jīnd had a water channel dug, connecting the tank with the Lower Kasūr Branch of the Upper Bārī Doāb Canal at Rasūlpur water-mills, 5 km to the southeast. The channel was cemented and covered in 1927-28 by Sant Gurmukh Siṅgh and Sant Sādhū Siṅgh. They also supervised kār-sevā, i.e. complete desilting of the tank through voluntary service, in 1931. The operation was repeated in 1970 under Sant Jīvān Siṅgh. Most of the buṅgās around the sarovar have now been demolished and a verandah constructed instead along the periphery. The name Tarn Tāran, since appropriated by the town itself, originally belonged to the sarovar, so called by Gurū Arjan. Literally it means, " the boat that takes one across (the ocean of existence)". (Taraṇa in Sanskrit is a raft or a boat). According to Sikh tradition, the water of the old pond was found to possess medicinal properties, especially efficacious for curing leprosy. For this reason the sarovar was known as Dūkh Nivāran, the eradicator of affliction.
AKĀL BUṄGĀ, a four-storeyed building near the Nishān Sāhib or the Sikh flagpole, was constructed in 1841 by Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh. Mahārājā Sher Siṅgh provided the finishing touches. The Gurū Granth Sāhib, after a procession around the sarovar amid chanting of hymns in the late evening, is brought here for the night's rest.
MAÑJĪ SĀHIB, a small domed shrine in the eastern part of the circumambulatory pavement, marks the spot from where Gurū Arjan used to supervise the excavation of the sarovar. A dīvān hall, a vast pavilion of reinforced concrete, has now been raised close to it.
THE TOWER, the only completed column of the four planned by Kaṅvar Nau Nihāl Siṅgh for the beautification of the sarovar at Tarn Tāran, stands at the north-eastern corner. The three-storeyed tower, 34-metres high, was erected during the Kaṅvar's lifetime. The dome on top of it was added later.
GURŪ KĀ KHŪH, a well constructed by Gurū Arjan is 200-metres to the south of Darbār Sāhib. During the digging of the tank and continuing up to the middle of the twentieth century, Gurū kā Laṅgar functioned near here. Gurū Arjan used to relax in a hut near this well, for which reason it is sometimes called Mañjī Sāhib Gurū kā Khūh. The old Mañjī Sāhib was replaced by a hall in the early 1980's. A small monument near by marks the site where the bodies of Bhāī Hazārā Siṅgh and Bhāī Hukam Siṅgh, the first two to fall martyrs in the cause of Gurdwārā reform, were cremated.