Chronology of Events
100,000 Indian Army troops are mobilized and deployed throughout Punjab surrounding all important Gurdwars including the Golden Temple complex.
As Bindranwale sits on the roof of the Langer hall, police snipers open fire on him. They missed and Sikh militants fired back. A seven hour skirmish during the night lasting until the morning leaves 11 dead and 25 injured. There were bullet holes in the Langer building, in the marble pavement (parkarma) surrounding the Golden Temple and in the Golden Temple itself.
Milk vendors from the villages who supply milk to the city of Amritsar are shot dead for violating the curfew orders.
In the narrow alley behind the Akal Takht paramilitary commandos try to get into the temple. Some make it to the roof but are turned back due to the heavy gunfire. Meanwhile tanks move into the square in front of the northern entrance to the Golden Temple known as the clock tower entrance.
At 10:30 pm commandos from the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment try to run down the steps under the clock tower onto the marble parkarma around the sacred pool. They face heavy gunfire, suffering casualties and are forced to retreat. A second wave of commandos manage to neutralize the machine gun posts on either side of the steps and get down to the parkarma.
The Akal Takht is heavily fortified with sandbags and brick gun emplacements in its windows and arches. From here and the surrounding buildings the militants are able to fire at any commandos who make their way in front of the Gurdwara.
Two companies of the 7th Garhwal Rifles enter the temple complex from the opposite side on the southern gate entrance and after a gun battle are able to establish a position on the roof of the Temple library. They are reinforced by two companies of the 15th Kumaons. Repeated unsuccessful attempts are made to storm the Akal Takht.
Six or more Vijayanta tanks enter the temple complex crushing the delicate marble inlays of the parkarma and plow their way towards the Akal Takht. Orders arrive and the tanks start firing their large 105mm cannons equipped with high explosive squash-head shells into the Akal Takht. These shells are designed for hard targets like armour and fortifications. When the shells his a target, their heads spread or squash on the hard surface. Their fuses are arranged to allow a short delay between the impact and the shells igniting, so that a shock-wave passes through the target and a heavy slab of armour or masonry is forced away from the inside of the target armour or fortification.
The effect on the Akal Takht, the most sacred of the five Takhts, is devastating. Over 80 shells are pumped into the sacred Gurdwara. The entire front of the Takht is destroyed and fires break out in many of the different rooms blackening the marble walls and wrecking the delicate decorations dating back to the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Marble inlays, plaster and mirror work, filigree partitions and priceless old wall paintings are all destroyed.
The gold dome of the Akal Takht is also badly damaged by artillery fire. At one stage a 3.7 inch Howell gun is mounted on the roof of a building behind the shrine and fired a number of times at the beautiful dome.
At the other end of the Temple complex on the easternmost side a battalion of the Kumaon Regiment were invading the hostel complex where many of the innocent pilgrims were in hiding as well as the temple administration staff. There was no water because the water tower had been destroyed and it was very hot.
Singh, Secretary of S.G.P.C.)
Around 1:00 am the Army entered the hostel and administrative buildings and ordered everyone out and made them sit in the courtyard of the Guru Ram Das Hostel. There were about 250 people who came out.
Among the dead were 35 women and 5 children. The survivors were made to sit in the courtyard of the Guru Ram Das Hostel until curfew was lifted the next evening. They were not given any food, water or medical aid. People drank whatever water was in puddles in the courtyard from the blown up water tank.
Kaur, mother of 3 young children)
Many of the young men in the group of innocent unarmed civilians were then shot by the soldiers.
Kaur, School Teacher)
By morning light, there is only sporadic sniper fire from the rubble of the Akal Takht. By late afternoon the army was firmly in control of the Temple complex and curfew was lifted for two hours to allow people who were still in hiding to come out.
Looking through the window-pane from the first floor of the Harmandir Sahib, I saw a tank standing on the parkarma with its lights on. I thought for a moment that it was the fire brigade come to collect water from the srowar (holy pool) to put out the fire which was raging in almost every room. A few minutes later my belief was shattered when I saw the vehicle emitting fire instead of putting it out. By 10:30 or so around 13 tanks had collected on the parkarma. They had come after crushing the staircase from the eastern wing where Guru Ram Das Serai, the Langer and the Teja Singh Samundari Hall are situated. One after another the cannon fire lit the sky. When the first shell hit the bottom of the Darshani Deorhi, creating a hole in it, I saw the room with the historic chandni (canopy) presented by Maharaja Ranjit Singh catching fire. One after another the big bombs hit the Darshani Deorhi in quick succession, and what was once a lovely building was now on fire. The Toshakhana (Treasury) was also on fire. Occasionally a bullet would hit the Harmandir Sahib. We were 27 people inside, mostly ragis (singers) and sevadars (temple servants).
In the early hours of the morning of 6th June we took the holy book down and performed the religious rites that are performed every day, like maharaj da prakash karna (unfolding the holy book) and reciting hymns from the scriptures. The two side-doors were closed and the front and back doors were open. Bullets kept hitting the wall both inside and outside, ripping off the gold surface at various places. Soon after we finished reciting prayers one of our colleagues, Ragi Avtar Singh was hit. We pulled him into a corner. Another bullet came and hit the holy Granth Sahib. We have preserved this book.
In the meanwhile the pounding of the Akal Takht was continuing. There was no let-up in the fire in other places either. We were thirsty and desperate for water. We crawled to the holy pool to get water for ourselves and for the wounded colleague.
Around 5pm they announced on loudspeakers that those hiding in the Harmandir Sahib should come out and that they would not be shot dead. While myself and Giani Mohan Singh remained inside, others walked out with the arms above their heads."
Over 300 bullet holes were counted in the Golden Temple itself.
With the lifting of the curfew innocent Sikhs thought that by coming out from hiding they would now be safe. Sadly this was not the case.
Singh Nada, Temple Public Relations Officer)
We had to step over dead bodies strewn everywhere. We were taken to the square in front of the main clock tower entrance. The minute the soldiers saw me, a male member of the group, they positioned their rifles on their shoulders with the barrels pointing at me. I think they were about to shoot me when a brigadier who recognized me intervened. We were then led by soldiers across the parkarma to the library side. A lieutenant accompanied us. Upon reaching the other side he asked me to stand against the wall and lined up a firing squad. He asked me to say my prayers. I requested to say good-bye to my wife and the two daughters. At this point the brigadier showed up again and shouted at the young officer, 'What the hell are you doing!' The officer said, 'Sir, I misunderstood your order. I thought this man was to be shot.'
Now we were made to sit on the ground. My hands were tied behind my back. We were about 70 in that lot. All of us were told to keep our heads down. A slight movement of the head resulted in a sharp rifle butt. We spent the whole night sitting there."
Outside the Temple complex the army troops were on a brutal rampage, killing and looting surrounding houses of Sikhs.
As night fell the Army troops were given the order to storm the remains of the Akal Takht and shoot on site anyone they found inside. The troops encounter little resistance and find dead bodies and the smell of death everywhere.
The day was spent in clean up operations flushing out any remaining snipers and collecting the dead bodies. Soldiers were openly walking about the temple in their shoes, drinking alcohol as well as smoking. Blood and bodies were strewn all over the broken marble of the parkarma. With putrefying corpses floating in the sacred pool of nectar and the smell of death everywhere.
The Darshani Deori the entrance gate of the Golden Temple which houses many priceless treasures was destroyed and looted. Although fighting had now died down, the central library complex was mysteriously burned down. Many priceless manuscripts, some in the Gurus own handwriting were lost forever.
The number of people who lost their lives will never be known. The Army refused to let the Red Cross enter the complex and cremated the dead before the bodies could be identified or claimed by their families. The Amritsar municipal sweepers refused to clear the dead bodies away but were eventually persuaded by offers of rum and being allowed to strip the bodies of all valuables. They piled the dead into garbage trucks and unceremoniously cremated them. Family members were not allowed by the army to claim the remains or perform any traditional funeral rites. It is clear that thousands lost their lives in the Temple complex.
Elsewhere across Punjab hundreds of Sikhs were killed in the army operation at the same time which saw 42 Gurdwaras raided at the same time as the Golden Temple, including high casualties at Moga, Mukatsar, Faridkot, Patiala, Ropar and Chowk Mehta.
Restoration work has taken 15 years to complete.The Akal Takht has been entirely rebuilt. The marble of the parkarma has been replaced in sections with new marble. Repair work on Harmandir Sahib included reguilding the temple dome and walls with new gold. The Ramgharia Bungas have been repaired and Teja Singh Samundri Hall has been left, pockmarked with bullet holes as a reminder of the tragedy.
What was one of the darkest chapters of Sikh history, reminiscent of the persecution the Sikhs faced at the hands of the Mughals has acted like a lightening rod for all Sikhs. It should not be viewed as a cause of incitement of hatred, but rather as a jolting reminder to Sikhs that they cannot take the existence of their religion for granted. As caretakers of the Sikh religion, it is up to Sikhs to actively participate and make sure that the message of the Gurus and the Sikh religion survives and grows, overcoming any and all adversities
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