The Golden Temple of Amritsar
While not originally in my travel plans, Amritsar was a last minute addition on my way to Delhi before I would leave India for Europe. I’m really glad I took the efforts to get to this city, because both the Golden Temple and the Wagah Border Crossing, remain two of the more memorable experiences of my trip.
Amritsar, located in the state of Punjab is home to the holiest temple to the Sikh religion. This impressive structure is gilded in gold and is open 24 hours of the day. Sikhism is a religion that I was very unfamiliar with prior to visiting Amritsar, and I’m glad I had the chance to do so, as I find it to be very interesting.
When one thinks of the stereotypical Indian, a man with a turban might come to mind. Wearing a turban is an attribute of the Sikh faith. Similar to the Biblical story of Samson, Sikhs believe the hair to be a holy part of the body and that it must not be cut. When out in public, they wrap it in brightly colored turban to hold it all in place. Of course in today’s modern age, it is no longer required, and individuals may choose to wear their hair in more Western and shorter styles. It is required that a Sikh man carry a dagger with him at all times, often discreetly tucked into his pants. Sikh men also wear a silver bracelet on their right wrist. This is a symbol for them to remind not to partake in acts of violence. If a Sikh man were to become angry and raise his fist, he would be reminded of his bracelet and his vow to not fight. Sikhs have to be some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. It’s in their nature to make sure others’ needs are adequately met, even those of strangers such as myself. On several long train rides I was graciously offered food by several Sikh families.
The Golden Temple complex is open 24 hours a day, like I mentioned above. Everyone is allowed to enter free of charge, although no footwear is allowed, and one’s head must be covered at all times. Of course the Sikhs also provide headscarves and bandanas for guests who do not their own. Accommodation is also available for foreigners free of charge. While I did not get to see the dormitories, I’m sure they are more than adequate.
Meals are also served to anybody who so desires, and the food is rich and hearty. Chapatti, rice, lentils, and vegetables, are a few of the many types of food they serve. Food preparation and cleanup is done solely on a volunteer basis and people spend hours cooking chapatti, peeling onions, washing dishes, etc all in the name of helping one’s fellow man. I ate lunch here and enjoyed the community spirit of sitting on the floor in the dining area alongside a variety of people from all walks of life. This is especially unique to India, as it directly contradicts the caste system that was prevalent in India’s past and still has some undertones in today’s society. Sikhs preach that everyone is equal and nobody is given special privilege.
When we arrived to the Golden Temple complex at around 10pm at night, there were still hundreds of people there. The line to get into the temple stretched as far as we could see. Since I was a bit tired out from the trip to the India-Pakistan border to see the famous Wagah Border Crossing show, I elected to return in the morning and enter the temple. Of course the following morning, there was still a long line, but I ended up gaining entrance after about a half hour’s wait, a modest price to pay to enter the holiest site for the Sikh religion. While the Golden Temple is gold (duh), the rest of the complex is a pristine white. This provides an excellent contrast to the temple, especially with the blue sky, as I was able to witness the following morning.
The inside of the temple was remarkably small. Unfortunately, it was forbidden to take picture inside. Not wanting to be disrespectful of the religion, I dutifully complied. Men and women were seated in a cross-legged fashion on either side of the temple, their eyes closed solemnly in prayer. A few men were playing instruments and singing. I realized that this was the music that was playing over the entire loudspeakers. People tossed 10 rupee notes into the middle of the temple, as a guard collected them and stuffed them in a donation box using his dagger to fit all of the donations in. The walls of the temple were just as ornate as the outsides and I spent several moments admiring all of the nooks and crannies. Finally, it was time to step out to allow others the opportunity to gaze around the magnificent wonder or offer their prayers.
I highly recommend stopping in Amritsar to see this wondrous site and experience the gracious hospitality of the Sikh people!