Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Golden Temple

Only one word can describe my experience at the Golden Temple: Overwhelming.

The Golden Temple, also known as Harmandir Sahib, is the holiest place of worship for Sikhs, and is the main attraction in Amritsar. As I spent a night in Amritsar, I had the chance to visit this amazing site in the evening and in the early morning. Visiting the temple at both times of the day allows you to see it beautifully lit up in the evening, and eat in the kitchen and have a more detailed visit of all the facilities in the morning. So, make sure you allocate enough time to fully enjoy this place.

All men and women must cover their heads, regardless of their religion, and wash their hands and feet before entering the main entrance, Darshani Deori, which is a Victorian style white building. Those who do not have shawls can always purchase head bandanas at the entrance for 10 Rupees. You can return these at the end of your visit, but if you choose to keep them, you can do that too.

My heart skipped a beat as I entered the holy site. After walking down the stairs in Darshani Deori, I could see the Golden Temple glowing in the middle of the giant pool of water, Amrit Sarovar, which gave clear reflections of the temple. The place was so serene, especially with the full moon in the background. Some people were praying and gently touching the holy water. The chanting taking place in the temple could be clearly heard and I listened to the soothing harmonium music accompanying it. There was no hustle and bustle anywhere. Just people offering their prayers quietly, walking around Amrit Sarovar, and admiring the Golden Temple's beauty. Just being there made me feel so special. I also quietly offered prayers and touched the holy water for blessings.

I took my time to walk around, until I reached the entrance of Harmandir Sahib. The place is so well organized; red carpets are laid, and entrance and exits are neatly separated. I was skeptical as to whether I could enter the temple itself, as a non-Sikh, but the guards humbly advised that anyone could go in. The chanting and harmonium music got louder. A strange feeling started to take over me. I don't know how else to describe it other than to say that it is similar to when one sees Lord Venkatajalapathi in Tirupathi. This is a very powerful feeling. Once inside the temple, I saw a number of devotees who had gathered around the holy Sikh book, the Guru Granth Sahib, and were being led by a priest in the chanting. I just observed and quietly walked around the shrine and said my own prayers. I was probably there for a maximum of 8 minutes, but these minutes left such a lasting impression on me. It was one of the best experiences in my life.

I left the Golden Temple and returned the following morning. This time, I got to see the guesthouses (people can stay for free) from the outside, and also visited the large kitchen, dining and washing areas. The utensils for cooking are just humungous, as you can see in the photo! Sikh men and women were working hard, making roti, dhaal, spinach curry and sweets for the thousands of visitors. All of them were smiling and happily chatting away while cooking. It was such a great sight. I got so excited when they invited me to eat in the dining area.

I was escorted into the dining area where rows and rows of eversilver plates were set out on the floor. I took my spot and was immediately served some roti, dhaal, spinach curry and some water. The servings were quite large, but you shouldn't waste food, so I had to force myself to eat everything, as I had had a full breakfast at my hotel just an hour before. The spinach curry was really spicy, so I tried to gobble it down as fast as I could. Despite all of this, I felt so blessed to eat at the Golden Temple, and treasure this memory with my heart. I then got to see the locals busy cleaning the plates and utensils one after another. All this, again, with smiling faces. I learnt that all Sikhs are expected to volunteer for a week at the temple. Young kids and older folks were also singing religious hymns outside the temple, and I found it so nice to see so much involvement by all generations.

You can enjoy the video montage of my visit to the Golden Temple:

As I left the Golden Temple to proceed to Mata Lal Devi temple, I reflected on my experience there. Seeing the temple itself, was no doubt, a great experience in itself. What touched me most, however, was the warmth and love I got from the Sikh people. There are no limitations as to who can enter, eat or sleep there. The Sikh people welcome everyone with open hearts and minds. No entrance fee is required, no one bothers you to give them money. In fact, if you do give money, they refuse to accept it. Those who do wish to donate, though, can do so by putting money in the donation boxes in the site. I was amazed at the hospitality and kind heartedness of the people, who treated me as though I was one of their own. They were eager to know who I was, and once they heard my name, they kept trying to convince me that I must be a Punjabi girl! It was so amusing, but I loved every minute with them. Needless to say, I felt so much at home here, and am itching to visit the Golden Temple again.


DVD said...

Nice memories !!! One of the best experiences I have ever had !!! Have to go back there 1 day... said...

Vivid description. Coming from heart. And timely tips for us too. We are also planning to visit Golden Temple twice in Feb 2010 - once in the evening and then again in the early morning hours. We will make sure we go empty stomach to enjoy the simple and divine prasad they offer at the temple. I wish the whole world is full of people like what you have described of Sikh people.

banoo said...

visiting the temples are really meaningful and I agree that experience is so blissful to share with anyone. I am awaiting very eagerly to go to Amritsar and the days are fast approaching!!!
Bhattoos was the one who made to see the video of Michael Palley's travel experience in Chandigargh. I saw and read his book also wherein the kitchen/food services/preperation were explained. That moment I prayed God that one day I should go to this holy place with Bhattoos.
VGood ammulu....I really enjoy reading your blog...keep it up!

Appa said...

very good video. your commentary and interview at the background are very good. nice to see
dvd eating chapatti. nice bhangra music too.

Edouard Saint said...

Au delà de l'aspect voyage et dépaysement, pas mal les petits effets de montage vidéo.

Punjabi said...

Very interesting insight into your journey, Thanks for sharing!


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