Akal Takhat means the Throne of the Immortal and is the highest political institution of the Sikhs. Akal means “The Timeless One” – another term for God. Takhat means “throne” in Persian.
The Sri Akal Takhat is an impressive building that sits directly in front of the causeway leading to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India. The Sri Akal Takhat was founded by Sri Guru Hargobind Ji on June 15, 1606 (now celebrated on 2 July) and was established as the place from which the spiritual and temporal concerns of the Sikh community could be acted upon.
It stood as a symbol of political bulwark against the Mughal Emperors in the 17th and 18th century. Various attacks on the Sri Akal Takhat and Sri Harimandir Sahib have been led in past by Ahmed Shah Abdali and Massa Rangar in the 18th century.
On June 4, 1984, the Indian Army did more than just damage to the outer facade of the Sri Akal Takhat. They destroyed the sanctity of the Sri Akal Takhat with tanks and reduced it to rubble, while attempting to take out Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his men in a controversial military operation known as Operation Bluestar.
The Akal Takhat is the most supreme of all the Takhats. There are four other Takhats established by the panth (community) during the last century:
Often, Amritsar is considered a Takhat.
The Jathedar of the Akal Takhat is the highest spokesperson of the Sikh Panth and is meant to be a spiritual leader, without control or influence from any outside, politically motivated sources.
Two years after the Adi Granth was installed in the Harimandir Sahib, its compiler, Guru Arjan Dev ji was arrested and tortured to death by order of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. It is said that the success of Guru Arjan Dev ji in transforming Sikhism into a new age faith earned him many enemies. It gave Sikhism it’s first martyr and transformed the Sikh character and the Sikh ethos from purely spiritual to also martial, for the defense of the masses.
This tragic turning point left a deep impression on the Sikh psyche in the form of a sharp and sudden awareness of the concept of martyrdom. Out of it grew the community’s tradition of taking an implacable stand against injustice and the vagaries of tyrannical rulers. A new and lasting dimension was now added to the Sikh sense of mission and purpose.
Before his death, anticipating that the end was near, Guru Arjan Dev ji in a parting message to his son asked him to, “Sit fully armed on His throne and maintain an army.” And Guru Hargobind did just that.
Guru Hargobind acceded to the Guruship in 1606, after his father’s tragic end. Although he was just eleven years old at the time, Guru Hargobind is believed to have immediately begun the process of establishing an independent and strong Sikh panth. At the ceremony of ascension, the Guru declared his intentions: on his turban, he would wear the ruler’s Aigrette; instead of the ascetics seli, he would wear a sword-belt with two swords symbolizing Miri and Piri, temporal and spiritual authority.
Adopting traditional marks of sovereignty, Guru Hargobind asked his Sikhs to donate not cash, but horses and arms. He raised a troop of 52 bodyguards, which formed the nucleus of his army. Five hundred youths came to him for enlistment from the Manjha (the country between the Ravi and Bias), the Doab (between the Bias and Satluj) and the Malwa countries (comprises the portion of the Punjab formed by Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Faridkot, Firzopur and Ludhiana). Guru Hargobind is also credited with developing Gatka, the martial arts of the Sikhs.
In 1663, Guru Hargobind ji laid the foundation of the Takhat Akal Bunga. The original structure of Akal Takhat was built by Guru Hargobind ji, Bhai Gurdas ji and Baba Buddha ji, with their own hands. No other person or artist was employed to build the platform. Guru ji remarked that the seat of guru would serve the panth for eternity.
Guru ji raised the height of the platform to twelve feet, defying the royal edict of Jehangir that no other person except the Emperor himself can sit on a raised platform of more than three feet. Guru Hargobind would regularly sit on the raised platform, Takhat, with all marks of royalty and dispense justice for all disputes of Sikhs.
The Akal Takhat was built a fraction lower than the Harimandir Sahib, implying the order of importance, that the search for spiritual grace was always to lead.
The Guru started the day with worship in the Harimandir; he would then go on a hunt in the late morning and grant audience from the Akal Takhat in the afternoon; in the evening he would return to the shrine for prayers and hymns, and at night he and his followers would return to the Akal Takht to listen to martial songs of heroic deeds.
It is from the Akal Takhat that Hukamnamas (edics or writs) are announced to provide guidance or clarification on any point of Sikh doctrine or practice. It may lay under penance, persons charged with violation of religious discipline or with activity prejudicial to Sikh interests or solidarity. It may place on record, its appreciation of outstanding services rendered or sacrifices made by individuals espousing the cause of Sikhism or of the Sikhs. Importantly, no individual is above the Akal Takhat.