The Golden Temple is quite possibly the best sight in North India. But the Golden Temple is more than a sight. It’s an experience. From the moment one walks through the shallow water (to wash your feet) into the inner compound, one can tell that there is something holy about the place. It’s an incredibly moving experience to see the devoutness and solemnity with which the Sikhs bow down and pray. It is surprisingly quiet given the hundreds of people inside the compound at any given time, the Golden Temple is a place, that one doesn’t simply feel in awe to look at–one feels in awe to be there.
The Golden Temple, just after sun rise.
The shimmering Golden Temple, by the night.
The Golden Temple is a holy place of the followers of Sikhism. The fifth-largest organized religion in the world, Sikhism is monotheistic and emphasizes values of faith and justice. The Golden Temple is “considered holy by Sikhs because the eternal guru of Sikhism, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is always present inside it and its construction was mainly intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to come and worship God equally”
We arrived at the perfect time of day; it was about 5:30PM. As we stayed for over two hours, we were able to see the Golden Temple by daylight, sunset, and night, beautiful in a different way at each time. First, we took our time walking around the perimeter of the inner complex. We then noticed that there was a huge line of people waiting to get into the temple itself. We creeped along with the masses until finally, we were able to enter the temple.
If it had been quiet outside, it was silent inside. Everything about the interior was lavishly decorated. A Sikh holy man was in the center of the room, reading aloud sacred scriptures from a giant, ancient book, unhurriedly and with unbroken concentration. People milled about with prayer books; people sat reading prayers; there were people everywhere.
It was opulent–otherworldly–awe-inspiring. And that was just the first floor. The second floor held similar wonders, and the third was an open rooftop. Photography wasn’t allowed anywhere inside the temple, and for once it was a rule that I actually felt like respecting. As you leave the temple, each person is given a small handful of the sweet(prasad) from the communal offering.
After seeing the temple, we went to have langar. This was the part I was most incredulous about. Supposedly, any one, at any time, can come to the Golden Temple and have langar, a free meal. One enters the hall where the food is served under a Sikh scripture that says: “The lord himself is the farm, himself he grows and grinds. Himself he cooks, himself he places it on a platter and himself he eats, too. Himself he is the water, himself the toothpick, himself he offers a handful of water.
Himself he calls the men to eat, himself he bids them off. Yea he to whom the lord is merciful, he makes them walk in his will.”
Under that arch with the scripture are volunteers handing out plates. After those who come to eat are ushered into the hall and seated on the floor in rows, volunteers come down the lines of people ladling out food. When we were there, the meal was prasada or roti (chapatti) and dal (lentils), and a rice-based dessert. Volunteers come around multiple times with seconds and thirds; there is enough for anyone to have their fill.
After finishing, we handed our plates to the volunteers in charge of washing them by the hundreds. On our way out, we passed by the volunteers who were chopping carrots for the next meal. Total, there were a few hundred volunteers working to make that meal and the next meal possible. Anyone can volunteer, at any time, just as anyone can come and eat at any time.
It’s hard to do justice to the Golden Temple in writing; it was an incredible experience of community, of giving and taking, together. Perhaps photos make the aforementioned descriptions more relevant. It was heavenly being inside the Golden Temple, it is definitely one of the most peaceful and tranquilizing places I have been too. If you ever stop by at Amritsar, a visit to the Golden Temple is a must.
The last moments at the Golden Temple.