Thursday, July 1, 2010

Home Sikh Home. Amritsar.

The GoldenTemple located in Amritsar.

Ever since I went to India in 2007, I've had a love affair with the countrhy and I've vowed to return as often as I can until I feel like I've seen what I want from this incredible country.

In planning this trip, I had deliberately wanted to set aside a few days in Delhi so I could see more of the city. I'm planning on spending some time visiting sights I did not get around to seeing last time. I've also signed up to take a couple of cooking classes - very excited about that!  That left me with two days left to do something and after mulling over whether or not I wanted to spend them in Delhi, I opted instead to do a side trip.


Initially, I had thought of going to Varanasi but Indian friends and colleagues who have been there tell me it's a very *intense* place - very religious, very poor, very crowded....not exactly a place to unwind and relax. I take their advice seriously so I'm going to tackle Varanasi on another visit.

So for this trip I've settled on Amritsar, the capital of Punjab and more, importantly, home to the Sikhs who ae the religion of Sikhism.

Throughout the history of India, religion has been an important part of the country's culture and religious diversity and tolerance are firmly established in both law and custom.  In fact, the constitution of India declares the nation to be a secular republic that must uphold the right of citizens to freely worship and propagate any religion or faith (with activities subject to reasonable restrictions for the sake of morality, law and order, etc.).

India is the birth place of four of the world's major religious traditions; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. 

What's interesting about Sikhism is that its fundamental tenet centers around a non-anthropomorphic concept of God - the universe is God.  I'm used to God existing in some human form so it took a while to wrap my brain about how their religion works.

Sikhism was founded in 15th century Punjab and is based on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev.  Following Nanak Dev, there were nine successive human Sikh Gurus.  Each guru added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting in the creation of the Sikh religion.  Gobind Singh was the final guru in human form. It was he who  decreed that the Gurū Granth Sāhib would be the final and perpetual guru of the Sikhs and thus, Gurū Granth Sāhib is the sacred text of the Sikhs.

The are over 26 million Sikhs living across the world but most call the Indian state of Punjab home and Amritsar is its capital.  Amritsar is to the Sikhs as Mecca is to Muslims.  Every good Sikh is expected to make a pilgrimage to Amritsar at least once in their lifetime.

At the heart of Amritsar sits the Harimandir Sahib which is commonly referred to as the Golden Temple.  This magnificent temple is the sacred gurdwara or shrine for the Sikhs.

Of course, I cannot go to Amritsar and not go to the Golden Temple. 

The Golden Temple gets its name because is constructed of white marble overlaid with gold leaf.  The temple stands in the center of reflective pool of water known as *The Pool of Nectar*.  The pool is fed by the Ganges River and pilgrims bathe and perform ablution in its sacred waters which are known for its healing properties.

Every day, visitors to the Golden Temple gather to worship, listen to hymns, and to hear the scripture of the Gurū Granth Sāhib read.

The temple has four entrances, one on each side, which are a symbolic welcome to all persons regardless of caste, class, color, or creed.

A bridge extends from the temple to the Akal Takhat which houses the the sacred Gurū Granth Sāhib.

And for the hungry pilgrim or perhaps just a greedy, non-Sikh visitor from the United States, the temple serves langar.

Langar is a free sanctified meal which is prepared and served daily at the temple. It is available, free of charge, to the anyone who visits the temple.  Upkeep of the temple is done by volunteers and costs are covered through donations.  I will make a donation in exchange for my meal.  It's the least I can do for the memory of what I think will be a visit to a very special place.

A Punjabi colleague of mine has told me that, aside from the Golden Temple, there are several other gurdwaras as well as non-religious sites that are worth visiting. As I continue to research and plan this trip, I will most certainly take his suggestions into consideration. After all, what better guide than a local!