KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The Golden Temple in Amritsar has been on my travel radar for as long as I've known anything about India. It was as special to finally visit this serene place as it was to see the Egyptian Pyramids in 1972 and Angkor Wat in Cambodia at the beginning of this trip.
In order to understand the significance of this holy temple, it is necessary to understand a little about "The Gentle Guru", Guru Nanak. I am getting a little pressed for time so I will provide some links to other websites where you can read more about the background and history of the famous places we visited in the Punjab. More Information About Guru Nanak.
The Lonely Planet notes " Born in 1469 near Lahore, Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was unimpressed with both Muslim and Hindu religious practices. Unlike many Hindu holy men, he believed in family life and the value of hard work - he married, had two sons and worked as a farmer when not traveling around, preaching and singing self-composed hymns with his Muslim musician friend, Mardana. The saintly mystic believed in equality centuries before it became fashionable and campaigned against the caste system, the worship of idols, fasting and diet restrictions. He appointed his most talented disciple to be his successor, not one of his sons. Guru Nanak died in 1539 but his hymns are still sung every day in every Sikh temple and his picture hangs in millions of homes, from humble farm cottages to the Prime Minister of India's residence."
We first visited the Golden Temple about 9:00 pm. There were hundreds of worshipers in the large spotless temple complex, but there was absolute silence. People moved in a clock-wise direction around the Amrit Sarovar, the Pool of Nectar. In the middle of the pool, appearing almost to float on the water, was the two-storey marble temple, Hari Mandir Sahib. The golden dome is said to be covered in 750 kg of pure gold. the shape of the dome is an inverted lotus flower, a symbol of Sikhism's goal of living a pure life. There is a causeway leading to the temple and devotees stand in quiet patient lines to take their turn having their offering prasad (cooked, sweet, buttery wheatlets) blessed.
Inside the inner sanctum, four priests chant continuously from the Sikh holy book. The original copy of the Guru Granth Sahib is kept under a pink shroud during the day. There are simple ceremonies each morning and evening when the holy book is returned to the Akal Takhat at night.
We were all very much moved by the peaceful atmosphere at the Golden Temple. No one ever asked anyone for money, however donations were accepted graciously. Many male devotees stripped to their underwear and took a quiet dip in the tank. One small baby boy wasn't so thrilled with the cold water and howled his resentment for all to hear. I was surprised to see dozens of men sleeping on the cool marble along the walkways. I knew that worshipers could eat at the temple for free and now I learned that they could find safety and a place to sleep as well. I understand that there are rooms for people to stay, but these sleeping men were probably just resting after many hours of work in the blistering heat.
The serenity of the Golden Temple stayed with me as we had a light meal in a restaurant and returned to our hotel nearby. Ajay and Neeta had made arrangements to stay at the Officer's Mess on the Amritsar Cantonment. I was not surprised to see the lovely suite ready for them, but was delighted to see that his name "Col. Ajay Kapoor" was already written on a signboard in black vinyl letters. There are some very real perks to making a career in the Indian Army, and this was just one of them.
I slept very well at the newly-opened City Heart Hotel, but woke early just after 5:00 am. I had thought about seeing the Golden Temple at dawn, but never believed that I would be able to get up in time. I whispered to Anil that I was thinking of going off to the temple, and when he didn't offer to come along, I left him to sleep.
Editor's Note: Aaahhhh! Alone, at last.
The street was just beginning to come alive, but I knew I was safe to go on my own. There were hundreds of other people flowing into the complex and I knew the routine. First, remove your shoes and leave them with the volunteers at the shoe-check-ins. Walk to the main entrance and wash your feet in the small, clean pools of water in front of the stairs. For some reason, one of the uniformed guards asked me to present the token I was given for my shoes. He smiled and waved me on when I pulled it from my pocket.
It was still twilight as I entered the complex, but it was wonderful to see everything in a different light. I joined the crowds walking around the pool and stopped to take pictures as the sun began to rise. I decided to join the others on the causeway and enter the temple once again because I had been blown-away by the decorative walls and ceilings and I wanted to study them more closely. Most of the people inside the temple and outside on the upper balcony were holding small books and following along as the priests read aloud. Suddenly everyone sat down, everyone. I wasn't sure what to do as I could not follow along, so I stood to one side respectfully, and no one seemed offended. After a time, I decided to head back out to the outer walkway and was surprised to see that even the people waiting in the queues to enter the temple were seated cross-legged on the ground. This added an extra sense of peace and tranquility to the morning. It's almost impossible to describe.
I took some more photographs (one is not allowed to photograph the interior of the Mari Mandir Sahib), and then reluctantly pulled myself away to head back to the hotel and my sleeping husband. He was awake, but also happy that I hadn't insisted that he leave the comfortable bed so early in the morning. He said knew he would enjoy the pictures I had taken, that was enough for him.
I know, somehow, I will be back again, not sure when, to see this wonderful temple. Perhaps he will be able to see the dawn shining on the golden dome then.
I am not sure if you are aware, but recent history has not always been kind to this lovely shrine. Rather than describe what happened here in 1984, I will provide you with a link again. The decision that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took to invade the Golden Temple and root out suspected terrorists there ended up costing her life at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards. The Attack On the Golden Temple
I am not a great student of political science or history but I know there are strong feelings on the part of all Indians, Hindu and Sikhs, regarding these events. I don't want to appear to support one side or the other when it comes to expressing feelings about tragedies like these. Being a pacifist, I can only state that all this loss of life saddens me.