The golden temple of the Sikhs of Amritsar!
I had as many expectations as I was curious to see the golden temple of the Sikhs, in Amritsar, the capital of Punjab. Did you know that there are an artificial lake and a temple in the center? I’d seen a few photos of that but didn’t know anything about the rest. So whether you are going to go, or if you want to know it, or remember it, here is a summary of everything I found.
A society unto itself. A thought, a religion, a strongly bound identity Who are the Sikhs?
Sikhs are gentlemen who always wear a perfectly tied turban. Some of the young people, with a scarf that collects their hair.
Tremendously attractive men . Sikhs put me, I will not deny it 🙂
It will be because of the elegance of her outfit, because of her perfectly drawn, almond-shaped eyes. Deep looking eyes, dark as wells.
It will be because of his features that I find them noble. Do you remember the Sikh from the movie The English Patient ? (the same actor who later worked on the series Lost: Naveen Andrews). Well that.
But let’s go back to the question, that I am confused … who are the Sikhs?
Guru Nanak and his mission
Sikhs are the followers of a religion whose prophet is the guru Nanak.
This species of Jesus Christ was a guy who began to preach after traveling half the world … of his known world at that time. Between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries he arrived in Mecca. He also went to the Himalayas looking for sadhus (those types of very long dreadlocks that are all over India and Nepal), and to Sri Lanka.
The trips were made with two friends from his hometown, a Muslim and a Hindu. This is a significant fact because at that time these two great religions were fighting. Well, later too.
One of the little books that they give away in the golden temple of the Sikhs says that the popular belief is that Nanak was a great fakir, like many others. “From time to time he would appear in India to enrich its sacred literature, and rekindle the love of God in the minds of its people.” He ends by saying that this is not proven …
Guru Nanak collected and analyzed beliefs wherever he went. When he returned to his place of origin, he already had his own vision of how things have to be , as well as followers who asked him to guide them.
The Sikh religion is based on three simple pillars
There is only one God.
You have to pray three times a day.
You have to work for the community.
Furthermore, in the attire of the Sikhs (men) there must always be five things :
- Wear long hair (neatly covered with the turban).
- A wooden comb to collect your hair.
- A metal bracelet on the wrist.
- Always wear cotton underwear.
- And a little dagger called a kirpan.
To all this we can add that every Sikh worth his salt will travel at least once in his life to the Golden Temple of the Sikhs in Amritsar, as this is their spiritual center. You can go for your marriage or when you have children, or for any other special event, or to simply make a pilgrimage.
Among the elements of his attire, removing his turban in public is a great affront. It is like staying in balls. So much so, that I have read in a press article that the Sikhs have long since won the battle of not having to put on a motorcycle helmet to drive. And not just in India, but also in the UK . They achieved the same for Sikh women, because they must wear a headscarf and nothing else on their heads. The problem is that the scarf does not cushion falls at all, so they end their lives more easily in traffic accidents, which are not few.
The teachings of Nanak
As in other religions, there is a book that brings together the teachings of Nanak, and he did not write it. They were gathered and expanded by Ten Sikh Gurus or Sikhs in one book, the Guru-grant-sajib . This is the holy book worshiped in every Sikh temple. In Amritsar’s every night he lies down to the book, as if it were a person. I don’t know if it will be done in other Sikh temples.
The content of the book is recited as in litanies. They are like commandments, or little poems with content. Through a public address system, the litanies leave the heart of the temple and spread throughout the large courtyard that surrounds it. At night it is magical. They reminded me so much of the Muslims’ calls to prayer.
Other times you meet a group of singers stationed in the rooms around them. The latter make music and sing, but it should not be confused with when they pray. In fact, in this case it reminds me more of flamenco 🙂
What I like the most about Sikh teachings is all the ideas they convey about equality, brotherhood between peoples and social classes, generosity and industriousness, among many other positive values.
What I do not understand is why they do not apply it to the vision of the family, which apparently is very macho. A pity, with what I like the Sikhs … (joke). And I don’t understand it especially when Guru Nanak declared that woman was born equal in the eyes of God. Anyway, we also know this song from other religions, right?
Sikhs say they have always been discriminated against.
Many fled Pakistan to India for this reason – the Punjab stretches between India and Pakistan. However, in India they have also suffered. Arrests, torture, rapes, humiliations … I suppose that in the end everything is a power struggle , and in this struggle small but strong groups are usually fought with more force. Now I will say it later, but the Sikhs are also good merchants and tend to handle pasta.
Perhaps it all culminated when in 1980 a Sikh independence revolt (there are also nationalists) unilaterally proclaimed the state of Khalistan .
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the army and it came to bombard the Golden Temple because the leaders of the revolt took refuge there. There were more than 500 deaths.
On the other hand, in the Western world they are often confused with Muslims because of the turban, and they denounce that they suffer the same discrimination or Islamophobic reactions when there is an attack.
However, his situation has improved a lot (without apologizing for anything I have said so far).
Visiting the Golden Temple of the Sikhs
You see more “wealthy” people. The culture of commerce and work spreads, and indeed many Sikhs handle money, a lot of money.
Entering the Golden Temple of the Sikh
We approach the temple and everything is under construction, in the summer of 2016.
When these works are finished, the streets around the Golden Temple will be pedestrianized, wide and perhaps cleaner.
We get closer, and I can already feel the nerves in my stomach, apart from the horrible heat, which I will soon forget when I find the vision I long for.
Around me are many Sikhs, all in their turbans, all handsome. We end up in a large square. It is the main entrance to the Golden Temple of the Sikhs. Everything is white marble. The brightly colored turbans contrast with the setting. And everything is huge.
In the arcades on one side is the place where you should leave your shoes, as it is forbidden to enter the temple with them. We must cover our heads while we are in the temple . They and them. Even the children.
Then we go to the main entrance. You cross a small channel with water that cleans your bare feet and you are already inside. Going down some stairs … there it is. The lake with the Golden Temple of the Sikhs. The image that I had in my head.
It’s getting dark, and it’s already lit up. The vision is like a thousand and one nights. It looks like a palace more than a temple. The music plays and you breathe peace, tranquility. Suddenly you have teleported to another world that has little to do with India, apparently.
It is a place with magic, there is no doubt. Even the scaffolding in the temple doesn’t bother me.
The Golden Temple of the Sikhs, at night
I remember people sitting on the ground by the water, or standing in front of the temple. They in their saris and they in their turbans, shining with color. Always from the front, never from the back. If you are careless, one of those handsome guards will remind you.
Access to the temple itself is full despite the time. Everyone wants to go to see the most sacred point, and everyone is welcome. The entrance is open to everyone. Local tourists who are Hindu or Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Zoroastrian, or atheist, although the latter is not widely understood in India.
You cannot take photos inside the golden temple, but around it. But… who else and who least does it furtively.
On the other hand, you have to be careful because there are pickpockets who take advantage of the crowd, even if there are security cameras. And believe me, I know it in good ink.
Already in the rest of the huge complex that surrounds the temple, there are many other things to do, see, breathe and feel.
Templetes, places where you can come to eat a sweet or drink water (all free), corridors, small squares …
FROM A CERTAIN HOUR, THE GOLDEN TEMPLE OF THE SIKHS BEGINS A DANCE OF COLORS
A latest model light set, which together with the huge plasma screens emitting messages, baffles a bit. I suppose we are in the 21st century, and that Sikhs are generous with their largest pilgrimage center .
Everyone takes photos and selfies. Newly-married couples, groups of military personnel on leave, families… foreigners are just another little attraction.
Others take their ritual bath by submerging themselves three times in the water. Or they fill small plastic cans with water from the lake, to which they surely attribute positive health properties. Like the water of Lourdes.
Everything moves at a calm, calm rhythm, without stress and without loud voices. It is like a dream, and it is difficult to get out of it, because there always seems to be something to see.
Many, in fact, stay there. There are some rooms for foreigners, and you can always lie on the marble floor in any corner with the rest of the parishioners.
And your gaze always, always, goes to that square covered in gold that shines in the night as if it were a jewel.
golden temple of the Sikhs illuminated with pink hues at night
The Golden Temple by day
During the day I pay more attention to the six-foot-tall guys coming and going with huge spears. They are the guardians of the temple , which is clear they have passed a demanding casting of height and bearing. Solemn, serious, they do not hesitate to smile discreetly and even pose for your camera. Most of them are very handsome. Sorry I’m getting heavy on this ha ha ha.
With the sun and the hours gone by, I begin to understand the place a little more.
Here they give you an organization lesson like you won’t see in your life. A perfect large-scale system made up of volunteers. Therein lies the grace of the matter. Large-scale organization can be found elsewhere, but with temporary staff? With people who work for just a few hours, a day, or a week?
All the Sikhs who go there put their shoulders close so that the machinery does not stop, and because it is one of the three sacred precepts of their religion: work for the community.
The man who distributes water, or sweets, or the one who keeps the shoes. All (or almost all) are volunteers.
And the greatest exponent of volunteer-based organization is the temple dining room
A kind of food factory. Amazing. Tireless, constant and tireless rhythm, but above all precise. The figures are a bit dizzy. Here, more than 35,000 people are given free meals a day, according to what they told me there. Looking at the stacks of trays, cutlery and glasses, you believe it.
Volunteers work hard to peel onions, chop vegetables, distribute trays and cutlery to each shift of diners, collect dirty dishes and wash them. Non-stop.
So don’t leave the Golden Temple of the Sikhs without eating there
We queue, which moves fast, until we reach a large room where the people from the previous shift are already getting up to leave. We enter. How many will we be, 500 people? and we sat on the floor, in long lines marked by mats.
We wait for the person in charge to fill your plate.
The menu includes beans, lentils, bread, a kind of rice pudding, and water (which I don’t drink just in case). If you want to repeat, you can, because “the cube guy” will happen again offering more. Everything is rich, well seasoned and done. It’s a lot to say about a meal prepared for thousands of people, don’t you think?
Nobody hurries you. Everyone eats at their own pace and understands that they have to let the next shift pass. We get up as soon as we finish, with our already dirty belongings that we will leave below so that they can complete another cycle. It is fascinating. I think efficiency (and education) rub off and here’s a great living example of it.
I said it before. Foreigners, who are not many but not so few, also generate attraction.
At the exit of the dining room, several people stopped me to take a portrait with the camera. I remember this man, very serious, both when asking me, posing and saying goodbye. I show it to him and he bows in respect and appreciation. The grateful one is me, and I am sorry not to be able to give you a copy right there, although it would have meant generating a tumult, surely, because others would have come to ask for the same.
When I say goodbye to this place, later and after a last quiet walk, I can’t help but do it with regret. I look, for the last time, towards that dream that I finally fulfilled, and I tell myself that I will never forget it.
Amritsar has more places to see , but it is true that the Golden Temple of the Sikhs is the most imposing, and it lasts a long time.
I leave you two minutes of video so you can get a better idea of how Guru Nanak’s teachings sound, and gossip about the dining room 😉