Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Beauty of Amritsar

Amritsar was by far my favorite place that we have visited in India since we arrived.  Srisailam was cool, too.... but the Golden Temple makes Amritsar such a special, spiritual place.  And I think Amy Suzanne might say the same.  We liked Jaipur so much that we actually went twice...but for different reasons.  In Jaipur, she found a place for show jumping long before we ever left for India...a wonderful place called Silver Spurs Equestrian Stables (ASB's testimonial is on this site...check it out!!) and we went there on our second trip to Jaipur in January...more on that later...)  But Amritsar??  A slice of heaven on earth.  Allow me to explain:

The Golden Temple is so beautiful.  The very gleam and luster of the gold on the incredibly ornate and yet elegant exterior looks like God's own throne-room - - As Christians, we sometimes talk about the "pearly gates" and the "streets of gold" in Heaven....well... that's what the Golden Temple looks like.  But the amazing part is not the grounds, it's not the temple's the atmosphere of the whole place.  It's the people.  It's the spiritual nature of the place ... and it's the Sikh religion that envelopes the's hard to put a finger on just what I felt there....

Suzanne took a lot of pictures there.  Here is the link to our Facebook albums that include Amritsar and the Wagah Border Ceremony.... Our First India Vacation (Part Three of Four) and The Last of Our Vacation Photos (Volume Four)

As you can see from Amy's photos...there is a lot of charity going on in the place.  One of the hallmarks of the Sikh religion is their dedication to works of charity.  Feeding the poor is not only a Sikh seems that it's a mandate!  I know of the ritual "free meal" of the Sikhs before I came to India... the Vermont Gurdwara is right down the street from my home parish, St. Mary of the Angels.

The Langar or free kitchen was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. "..the Light of God is in all hearts." 

For the first time in history, Guruji designed an institution in which all people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It is here that all people high or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit in the same pangat (literally "row" or "line") to share and enjoy the food together.

The Langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service for mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the pangat. 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.

Everyone is welcome to share the Langar; no one is turned away. The food is normally served twice a day, every day of the year. Each week a family or several families volunteer to provide and prepare the Langar. This is very generous, as there may be several hundred people to feed, and caterers are not allowed. All the preparation, the cooking and the washing-up is done by volunteers and or by voluntary helpers (also known as Sewadars).

Besides the Langars attached to gurdwaras, there are improvised open-air Langars at the time of festivals and gurpurbs. Specially arranged Langars on such occasions are probably the most largely attended community meals anywhere in the world. There might be a hundred thousand people partaking of food at a single meal in one such langar. Wherever Sikhs are, they have established their Langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour:

“Loh langar tapde rahin."

"May the iron pots of Langar be ever warm (in service).”  (Thanks to SikhiWiki for the info that I pirated!)

And it's not just the Langar pots (and ovens and chapati making machines - they feed so many people at the Golden Temple that not all of the chapatis and pulkhas can be made by hand!) that are warm.  It's the warmth of the people that really struck us.  Our guide could not have been more pleasant...very knowledgeable about all things Sikhi (and we discussed the deeper things of life throughout our visit...I'm sure this drove Amy Suzanne crazy...which is I'm sure why she took such awesome photos when we were in Amritsar!)  Although we got stared-at quite a bit (let's face it...look at the pics...Suzanne could not have looked any whiter and I was looking like a biker Priest from Mars...with my black clergy shirt and a bright orange "Golden Temple" bandanna on my head!) - we were made to feel as welcome as visiting royalty!

We spent the most amount of time wandering about the grounds of the Golden Temple as we did any other time on our vacation.  The place was just magnetic...a place that made you want to stay.

The most interesting part (for me) was when our guide asked if I wanted to meet a Sikh Priest (called a Granthi, I believe)...and of course we said "yes!"  We walked past some guards and up two flights of stairs to the building full of "clergy" quarters that surround the shrine and lake. We were ushered in and given tea.  The cell looked like any monk's bed.... icons on the walls (various pictures of Guru Nanak and the Golden Temple...along with pictures of all the Sikh gurus) - - and a state-of-the-art treadmill in the corner!!!

The priest who lived in this room came in and greeted us...but it became apparent that he spoke no English whatsoever.  I asked a couple of questions through our guide as our interpreter - - the priest was a tall man...the longest gray beard I had ever seen...past his waist... surrounding the greatest smile and wrinkled brown skin.  The whole time he was with us....he was getting dressed in his most traditional Sikh garb because, as it turned out, he was officiating at a wedding that afternoon.  He had on a sharp blue turban, a white kurta and white linen pants...covered over by a long  woollen sweater-vest in gray.  He attached a long ceremonial sword to his belt...and calmly put all THREE of his cell-phones into various pockets!!  One was a BlackBerry!

I had one last thing to say.  I simply had to mention the nice treadmill.  As the kindly old priest was saying his goodbyes and making his way toward the door, I knew that the time of our visit had come to a close. I said to our guide... "Tell him that I admire his dedication to God...and to physical fitness!!" - as I motioned toward the treadmill... It was just then that I realized that he did speak at least some English after all - he gave a hearty laugh and shook my hand long before the guide got around to interpreting what I had said into Punjabi!

Here ended our stay at the Golden Temple.  Stay tuned for more!!  Next up... our visit to the memorial site for the Amritsar Massacre (also known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre) and the Wagah Border Flag Lowering Ceremony) 


  1. Very interesting and your description of the temple sounds beautiful!

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