We sat mesmerised by the golden lights reflecting in the holy waters of Sri Harmandir Sahib as the hypnotic rhythm of the Sikh mantra joined us with the infinite potential of the universe. Our journey had brought us to the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the most revered site in the Sikh religion; a place of pilgrimage, worship and splendour.
As luck would have it, we arrived on the day the Guru Nanak Gurpurab festival, our day and night at the temple were spent celebrating the founder of Sikhism with thousands of locals and pilgrims from across India. The Golden Temple in Amritsar really has to be seen to be believed; one thousand tonnes of gold cover the copper clad structure to create a most striking impression; the suns light reflected brightly off the golden walls in to the calmly rippling water.
The temple complex is a large stone building painted white with a clock towers on three sides and a maze of other buildings at the west side arranged in deference to the grand gateway that leads to the inner sanctum of the Golden Temple. The queue to visit this place is long; the waiting time is north of three hours; holidays and weekends naturally being the most popular times to visit.
During our walk around the complex we made a friend, Ranjit Singh, a handsome young Sikh lad of 18 years, gave us firm handshakes and sound advice. We asked about the possibility staying the night at the temple and happily he showed us through to the Sri Nagar REF on the east wing where the accommodation is found. The tall, turbaned, one armed guard gave us the OK and we made a plan to return later with our bags.
It is customary for pilgrims to take a dip in the holy water. A quick splash of the face or a full submersion. I stripped to my shorts and stepped in, dunking three times in the style of the locals young and old. The water was at once refreshing and cleansing, a ritual that can be enjoyed by anyone in the heat of a three o’clock Indian sun.
Dry and dressed, we then stepped in to the Langar Hall for a spot of lunch. In gurdawara temples tasty vegetarian food is given freely to those attending whether of faith or not. This act of charity on the scale here at the Golden Temple is a thing of great selflessness.
Hundreds of men, women and teenage children work tirelessly to peel vegetables, boil rice, prepare curries, hand out steel platters, bowls and cutlery, serve cooked food from steel buckets, hand out chapatti, pour water, mop floors, collect and clean platters, bowls and cutlery.
This is done on a 20 minute rotation, 12 hours a day. Experienced here at the Golden Temple it was an efficient, practical and satisfying process to behold. Thousands of people are fed daily – as many as 120,000 according to local volunteers. The net effect of this benevolence is felt throughout the community; peace and harmony proliferate in every soul. It is a kindness of full and lasting benefit.
That night, with the full moon high above, I sat to mediate in the ‘foreigners only’ dormitory, and I felt connected to the divine source in a very powerful way. The sensations were intense, resonating deeply with the strong vibrations of this very holy place.