Friday, February 1, 2013

India 16; Amritsar; Golden People

Harmandir Sahib aka the Golden Temple was built by a Sikh gurus in 1585 AD (completed in 1604) and is considered holy by Sikhs. The original holy book of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, is always present inside the Gurdwara. Its construction was mainly intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and religions to come and worship God equally. There are 4 entrances that symbolize the importance of acceptance and openness of the Sikhs towards all people and religions. The Gurdwara is surrounded by a large lake which consists of Amrit ("holy water"); many people bathe in it. Inside the Gurdwara there are many memorial plaques that commemorate past Sikh historical events, saints, martyrs and includes commemorative inscriptions of all the Sikh soldiers who died fighting in World Wars I and II.

The golden temple was absolutely gorgeous. During the day the sun lit up everything golden and at night it glowed like a lone star. The temple was nothing compared to the light that shined from the hearts of the people. Within the first five minutes of walking around the temple an elderly couple came up to my friend and I, talked to us about how God lives inside of us (so refreshing to hear after visiting so many temples), and then told us that they loved us. Their words really struck me. They didn't say love in a casual way like some do when they are saying goodbye on the phone, they meant it; love radiated from them and it was contagious. Besides my home churches, I have never felt so welcome at a place of worship. People would come up to me left and right to take pictures, shake my hand and to tell me that they were glad I was there; I was a celebrity on the red carpet. I wish church made people who practice a different religion feel as welcome.

Next to the temple is the free kitchen (langar) that offers unlimited food, clean water and tea to all people 24/7. This is ambitions in any country, but especially India. Guruji designed this institution to be a place which all people (man, woman, rich or poor) would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It was nearly the same meal every day: daal, curry, rice pudding, rice, water, tea, and chapatti and it was darn delicious. Langar also teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of sameness of all human beings; providing a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary. It feeds about 100,000 visitors every day....just a normal day. Once you collect your plate and bowl, you make your way to one of the dining areas, about the size of 2 high school gyms, and sit at the next available spot on a floor mat. At professional speed, volunteers make their rounds slopping daal, curry, rice, and rice pudding on your plate and divvying out frisbees of chapatti bread. As long as you are seated you are offered seconds thirds and even fourths. When you are satisfied, you take your dishes outside to volunteers and then have the option of finishing off your meal off with some hot chai. Volunteers alone sustain the temple by doing anything from chopping onions, supervising the chapatti machines, and doing dishes to cleaning the bathrooms. I spend my last day washing dishes with other women in the kitchen. Those women got to work, let me tell you. Every bowl, plate, cup and spoon was like candy that dropped from a piƱata. We all fought for them because it is viewed as am honor to contribute. The volunteers did not have the attitude of doing chores, but service.

If you thought feeding thousands of people a day was enough then you are also houses them. Volunteers and donations make sure everyone has a place to sleep and a full stomach (there is no pressure to make a donation, it's only if you are able to). Heck, I even slept there. Foreigners have a separate area with beds and lockers and are only asked to give donations. The communal set up of the sleeping arrangements also displays the values of Sikhs by helping complete strangers bond.

Devotion. That is the word that comes to mind when I think about my time at Harmandir Sahib. It wasn't hard to see that these people truly lived out their faith. It wasn't for show or because they were guilted into it, it was God moving through them, making them the true gold in Amritsar.

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