The city of Amritsar is in the Punjab in northwest India, very close to the Pakistan border. It is an affluent state and the majority of people are Sikh. Unlike some Indian cities, there are few animals crowding the streets and there are proper outdoor toilets. There are also many travel agencies.
Pilgrims from all over the world come here because of the Golden Temple, which is the spiritual and cultural center for the Sikh religion. The temple bears the name “the Temple of God” (Harimandir). Sikhism was to be a meeting ground between Hinduism and Islam and this temple, and its attached structures, was to be the centre of a world culture and world religion.
I was totally struck by the size of it. By the whiteness, the sparking gold, the perfection. I simply didn’t expect this. The shrine is open to all people regardless of religion and even though I seemed to be the only non-Sikh it didn’t seem to matter.
It is very well organized, starting with lockers where everyone leaves their shoes. I was surprised that there is no obvious security. No checking of bags for bombs and that sort of thing.
There are communal taps outside the area where you leave your shoes. This is where you wash your hands.
Everyone washes their feet before they enter the temple complex. There are guards at the entrance with what look like large ceremonial spears to make sure you do this. There are also baths for cleansing your feet inside the temple such as this one.
This is the view as you enter the complex. There are carpet ‘runners’ on the marble walkway (Parkama) that surrounds the sacred pool for the floors can be cold in winter and I’m told they are shockingly hot in summer. There are carpet areas where pilgrims can just sit for a while. The pace is unhurried for many have come a long way to see what is considered to be their homeland.
Everyone must cover their head and they will provide you with a scarf if you need one. The many British accents I heard was a reminder that pilgrims come from many places.
Some pilgrims bathe in the holy waters.
There is a community kitchen where volunteers serve meals to pilgrims all day and night.
Some pilgrims choose to sleep there. It is a peaceful complex and there are lovely gardens on the grounds too.
I understand the architecture is a blend of Hindu and Muslim styles. It certainly is very impressive.
The holy book of the Sikhs – the Guru Granth Sahib – is brought to the Golden Temple at 4 am and removed at 9:30 pm. These are both important occasions that many visitors attend. I joined the line to view the holy book and these musicians entertained us as we waited.
Over the years there have been demands for an independent Sikh homeland. In 1984 Sikh militants who were occupying the Golden Temple were forcibly removed by Indian army troops in a battle know as Operation Blue Star. The result was many deaths and considerable damage to the temple. Four months later, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by two of her Sikh bodyguards. During the anti-Sikh riots that followed more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed.
The partition of British India into India and Pakistan in 1966 divided the Punjab into two regions, the Muslim one on the Pakistani side and the Sikh and Hindu one on the Indian side. There was a mass exodus of those who found themselves ‘on the wrong side’ as communal riots broke out and atrocities were committed.
Every evening, just before sunset, the Indian and Pakistani military meet at the Attari/Wagah border to close the gate in a dramatic fashion. It is a daily sign that tensions still exist between the two countries. The audience was large on the Indian side but the crowd was overly controlled by the soldiers. I think they had a much better time on the Pakistani side.
Not far from the Golden Temple there is a park that commemorates the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where in 1919 Indian civilians were fired upon by British soldiers without warning. The sign that stands there says: “This place is saturated with the blood of thousands of Indian patriots who were martyred in a non-violent struggle to free India from British domination. General Dyer of the British army opened fire here on unarmed people. Jallianwala Bagh is thus an everlasting symbol of non-violent and peaceful struggle for freedom of Indian people and the tyranny of the British.”
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2013