Golden Temple, Amritsar – India (19.03.16)
I first experienced the warmth and generosity of a Sikh community thirty-three years ago, as I lay holed up in the near-abandoned Shree Kutch Satsang Swaminarayan Sikh Temple in Kampala, Uganda. I had malaria, and an attempted military coup – big bangs, bullets, bazookas and all – was raging around outside. In one of my greatest hours of need, fevered, weak and in a state of near permanent anti-glare hallucination (known to anyone who has had a daily dose of 500mgs of anti-malaria chloroquine flushed through their system), I was in the benevolent hands of some of the most welcoming and humble folk I have ever had the good fortune to rely on.
When, nearly three decades later with my family, I eventually visited Amritsar’s Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib Amritsar), over 5,600 kms away from Uganda’s capital, the experience of being again in a Sikh temple aroused in me an overwhelming sense of loyalty, not to mention gratitude, to that smaller Sikh community in Kampala back in 1983.
All visitors to Amritsar’s temple receive an equally generous, friendly and all-embracing welcome as I did.
The four entrances to the Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib Amritsar) signify the welcome afforded to all, from whatever faith, race, caste, country or walk of life they may come. Visitors cannot help but embrace the temple as a symbol of human fraternity, togetherness and equality. The temple and its surrounding complex of shrines, buildings and gardens represent the heritage, identity and glory of all that is peaceful and Sikh.
On arrival at any one of the entrances you are immediately swept up in the general air of excitement. During the polite scramble to park your shoes in one of the shoe-dens and don an appropriate orange turban, an infectious feeling of bonhomie spreads among the visitors.
The anticipation of seeing one of the world’s most beautiful shrines is heightened by the sense of pilgrimage which washes over even the most hardened of non-believers. Stepping into the Chowk Ghanta Ghar doorway, I distinctly remember the impact of first gazing at the Golden Temple (Harimandir Sahib), shimmering across the calm ‘Pool of Nectar’ as if it were floating on air.
Dropping down the stone steps of the Guru Arjan Dev Niwas to the water’s level, we joined the meditative crowds, moving clockwise across the sun-stroked marble walkways and welcome shaded cloisters. The calm atmosphere and illusion of time flowing in slow motion around the main square pool, is at odds with the fabulous hubbub of the Langer Hall (Guru Ka Langaar) Community Kitchen, where an average of 75,000 devotees and visitors are fed daily – for free!
This extraordinary catering feat is all the more amazing when you consider that the number can often double during special occasions. Visitors enjoy the noise and bustle of the Langer, and the tradition of sharing, as much as teaching, the etiquette of community eating. It is seen as an important act in upholding the virtues of equality and togetherness across the greater community.
My photos and video link give you an idea of the glorious Golden Temple setting, the powerful daily routine and open-door policy to the world. It is as astonishing for its sheer size and beauty as it is for the logistical planning.
It is a privilege to spend time here and the temple itself is, for me, a symbol on a grand scale of my enormous gratitude to my Sikh hosts in Uganda.