Thursday, 1 October 2015

2015 - September - at the Golden Temple

September 2015

The Golden Temple at Amritsar is an iconic structure, both as the centre of the Sikh faith and through watching Michael Palin's Himalaya.  It was just round the corner from our hotel and so we kept going back at different times of day - taking our shoes off and leaving them with efficient volunteers, taking a head cover from a basket outside, then into the main area with the central Harmandir Sahib sitting at the end of a covered causeway in the middle of the artificial lake.  

Wonderful, calm, but also full of families enjoying themselves, talking, taking pictures,  praying and bathing.  Stayed while the sun went down, just sitting and taking it in.  Difficult to imagine the surrounding buildings were all restored after the Indian army stormed the complex with tanks when it was held by Sikh separatists in 1984, with huge casualties on both sides, although the Indian army were under strict instructions not to hit the actual golden temple in the middle.

Meals are free, and so one morning we turned up for breakfast at the Temple.  Just followed the crowd, picking up a steel plate, bowl and utensils, and lined up on the floor in rows.  

Along come the buckets of dal, rice, and chapatis, and the food is slopped out.  Then this extraordinary machine is wheeled along by a finely-bearded man, dispensing water into bowls from a control like a bicycle brake.

We finished quickly as we did not want to be the only ones left after everyone had got up, and then thought we would help with the washing up.  We lined up at the 'first rinse' section, ladies one side (Kate is just visible in the picture above), gents the other, sloshing the plates and passing them rapidly to 'second rinse'.  Wonderful noisy efficient chaos, ending with thousands of clean plates lined up. Apparently they serve 30,000 meals a day, all free.

Just to end, I can't resist putting in some pictures of the fine tiling after a downpour of warm rain in the evening. Like optical illusions.

The Temple is intended to be open to people of all religions, and non-Sikhs were treated with great respect. When the sacred text was carried to its resting place at night, the heavy 'throne' is supported by mobs of volunteers who all want to help carry it -  we met a friendly Sikh from Burton who was almost overwhelmed with the joy of getting to help, and enthusiastically explained everything to us.  It felt a real privilege to be there.