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Tuesday, 17 April 2007

New Year at the Golden Temple

The spectacles of this huge country are far too undiscovered by its inhabitants (which of course includes us). And as we set out with our unsaid resolve to at least be called well travelled Indians, we stand dumbfounded at all the surprises in store for us.

So, I travel from the tip of the country, admiring the sheer beauty of the goddess at Kanyakumari to standing awestruck in front of a thousand odd devotees, ready to spend their lives in service of a Holy book ...

"This is real India," I told myself as I stood on the steps of the
Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara, staring at the devotees, many of whom would be glad to breathe their last in the holy water which cradles the famous Golden Temple of Amritsar.

The marvel

With every step into the temple, I am transported into a world which is so unknown to me ...

The ears are treated to an array of melodious sounds coming somewhere from inside temple ... Is it
Gurbani or Shabd Kirtan, we really can't make out but whatever it is, the sounds are soul stirring.

And as we try to go nearer to the music, our eyes dance with joy - nestled comfortably in the water is the beautiful marble structure, so perfectly capped by the sheet of gold.

Peering into the water from the narrow path leading to the main structure, one would think that an artist has so beautifully carved a reflection of the structure in the water... My thoughts immediately go back to the scene in Rang De Basanti shot at this temple.

Somehow, the spectacle doesn't sink in the first time you see it ... with every glance, it becomes more real and you regret not having seen it for so many years of your existence.

And as we stand inside the temple, the every source of music, the peaceful faces of those singing and praying almost mesmerised us. The melody created by their vocal chords and the harmoniums could have even ensured the attention of an atheist.

There was the Guru Granth Sahib, seated lovingly amidst a group of priests doting on it. The second floor of the golden dome was equally fascinating as we sat at the top and tried to get a bird's eye view of the proceedings downstairs.

This is the only part of the temple where photography is not allowed while at all the other parts, clicking of a camera is one of the most heard sounds.

They say, the temple is best viewed when illuminated at night, but we were very happy with our morning visit as the sun kissed domes sparkled into our eyes. Of course, there is no dearth of photographs of the Golden Temple.

But this encounter with the holiest spot of Sikhism on earth can't be captured in a frame or described in a travelogue ...

A New Beginning

Agreed, climate wise, it was not sensible to choose this time for an Amritsar visit. But then, do we always get a chance to spend the New Year at such a revered place? Between 13 and 14 of April, it was Vaisakhi for the Punjabi's, Vishu for the Malayalis, Poila Boisakh for the Bengalis and Puthandu for the Tamilians.

Well, for a while let's forget the regionalities, it was a new year for all of us. It was almost as if something drove us to spend this time of the year at the Golden Temple ... and though we won't deny that the heat took it's toll on us, never did we regret.

The small walk from our Hotel City Heart to the temple seemed never ending as we strove through people, people and more people to reach the temple on the Vaisakhi day ... Phew it was quite an effort by the time we deposited our slippers and soaked our feet in the stream of water at the entrance of the temple.

Even as we happily cleaned off the dirt and enjoyed the cold water, we noticed a devotee filling their bottle with the very same water ... faith is paramount.

But nothing prepared us for the sight inside. Encircling around the pond were swarms of devotees ... there were the Patiala salwar kameez clad women bathing their young ones, some men taking dips, while the others were busy cleaning the floor, dirtied by the feet of fellow devotees and some just sleeping on the floor listening to the hymns as lullabies.

The temple seemed like a bride, dressed up with a thousand ornaments ... The candles lit up all around the pool just took your breath away.

The ambiance seemed to give out a huge, warm invitation and we were there, sitting on the floor staring at this golden magic. We were back again at the same place at the crack of the dawn (it was 3.15 am).

The first Vishu morning after marriage for me was spent at the Golden Temple. It was the earliest time I had ever visited any temple.

Our Vishu morning was culminated with the yummy halwa which is distributed as prasad at the temple (how I wish it was more than a prasad!) This was quite a New Year's day for me ...

Beyond the golden splendour

In school, we had read chapters on India being a secular state but I saw the real meaning of secularism in the Harmandir Sahib gurudwara. From the moment I entered the gurudwara, my eyes couldn't help wander across the different sets of people.

While somewhere I could see nuns in groups, there were the cotton sari clad Bengali women wading their way through. I could also spot the South Indian women carefully covering their heads with pattu sari as they walked through the temple premises. And of course, there were the white ladies, elegantly dressed in salwar kameez.

Heads constantly covered (it is mandatory for entry to a gurudwara), each and everyone of them could be seen bowing down in sheer respect.

And then, there were the Sikh men and women, smiling warmly and welcoming them to their terrain. They were there, running around, distributing chapatis and dal at the langar (free food at the temple) to all and sundry.

The modest attire and the devotional eyes make everyone look alike- there is no rich and poor at the Golden Temple.

Thanks to a guide of a group of foreigners, we came to know that it was Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru who said that there should not be any living guru worshipped in the temple. So it is their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, for the service of which a sikh is ready to spend their lives.

Mentally thanking the group of foreigners, I wished the non-Sikhs could have had more access to the history that makes the Golden Temple what it is.

History beckons

My husband says I don't have an eye for detail and I willingly accept that shortcoming of mine. But had it not been for his keen eye, we would have just missed the Sikh museum which is buried somewhere near the entrance of the temple.

The flight of steep steps took us back in time. We were surrounded by paintings depicting Sikhism in different stages of life ...

Here were the sikhs, their steel bodies bearing the brunt of the cruelties by people of so many different eras. The real swords preserved
from the wars still shone ...

But there was one painting which still seemed to attract everyone - showcasing the brunt of Operation Blue Star, the caption ended with the message which read "the Sikhs took their revenge."

All's well

The loss of Sujith's Adidas floaters at the end of our Golden Temple visit, which was hurriedly left at the gate, didn't quite bother us. We knew that we are leaving behind a major part of ourselves at this place ... that's what the Golden Temple is all about.

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