Friday, March 13, 2009

Journey to the Golden Temple of the Sikhs :: Amritsar, Punjab

I decided kind of spur of the moment to travel the seven hours to Amritsar last Saturday. The see one of the holiest shrines on Earth on one of the most auspicious days to be there. The Golden Temple, like Mecca for the Sikhs of the world, on the day celebrating the anniversary of their first of ten gurus, Guru Nanak. Mission accomplished! Even though i turned down a dangerous motorcycle ride with Sivadas, I did not escape quite escape danger on this transit. You see...I had to do a bus ride which i've so far avoided this whole 6 weeks in India. The buses are uncomfortable, stinky, & known for some of the most terrifying & fearless drivers in history. On the way there we passed an accident involving an SUV trapped under a raging river where surely the people died. I decided to catch the safe & reliable train the 2nd half of this journey, but on the way home I did not have that extra security & luxury, braving the bus the entire way. On that trip home I did see the aftermath of an extremely bad accident involving a bus & diesel truck head on collision. Scary! think it's all the crazy passing & driving too fast that causes these accidents? I will never understand why our age is in such a rush. Our ancestors enjoyed the luxury of walking & horse carriages. Couldn't we not just slow down our new automotives a wee bit & enjoy safety, comfort, & added security for a change?

2 young Sikh boys bathing in sacred water surrounding Golden Temple. Notice sword in hair that is one of 5 fashions of Sikhs.
2 young Sikh boys bathing in sacred water surrounding Golden Temple. Notice sword in hair that is one of 5 fashions of Sikhs.
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Why put our lives in jeopardy so frequently? Do the busdrivers really believe that their sticker or statue of their chosen god or guru on the bus mantle will save them? I hope their prayers are answered, but hope even more that they will

A golden time at The Golden Temple!

just learn to SLOW DOWN. As for actually being in Amritsar at the Golden was worth the horrendous transit there & back for one beautiful full moon day & night! After watching some tv in my medium range ($12...i splurged!) hotel the first night, I got up Sunday for sunrise at the temple. I was happy & surprised to meet up with Sivadas & new traveller friend Carmen who had arrived earlier than expected & randomly found me in the crowds. yay! Always nice to have companions, especially in this situation where we can share the experience of being constantly bombarded by curious Sikhs asking us the same questions : "Where are you from? From what country? What is your name?" We felt honored at first to receive so much attention. Like we were famous movie stars or celebraties or something! Not just shy youth, but older bearded Sikh gentlemen & their entire families would approach us & have their moment with these white skinned mysterious tourists who were visiting their holy site. The thing about Sikhs I quickly learned is that they are very generous, warm, & inviting. They actually offer free room & meals to all pilgrims who come to the temple. We took them up for a few meals. I've been reading a book "The Sikhs" to finally satisfy my quest for more knowledge about these people. I have learned that their religion is a newer one, beginning in the late 1400's divinely inspired by the first of their 10 gurus, Guru Nanak. He was an exceptional divine man who from birth was noticed to be very divine & deeply philosophical. He is quoted saying "Religion lies not in empty words. He who regards all men as equal is religious". "Sikhism went beyond the older established religions of India in its liberal & sensitive concern for the individual. In exalting the concept of caring for every human being irrespective of caste or creed, it replaced dogma and doctrine by a basic belief in truth. It elevated truth to the level of Divine Being. Sikhism emerged not as a synthesis of established religions but as an alternative to them." (pg 29 of The Sikhs) Also in that book I learned that not only did Sikh defy the Hindus caste system & defy their worshop of idols, but they took equality of women seriously (way before the feminist movement). They disapproved with women wearing veils, allowed widows to remarry, & even allowed women to become preachers. Sikhism believes God is all-pervasive, in nature & all beings equally. Another extrordinary virtue is that Sikhism tolerates other religions & does not say that theirs is the one true path & only one true god (as Muslims & other religions). Of course...for all this defying older religions..they were attacked. They were seiged by Hindus believing in the caste system, Mughals (Muslims) that were threatened by these "infidels & their infidelity" of not believing in their Allah (even know...truth is they are one of the same God & both religions & many others believing in monotheism can only all be right. One God is ONE GOD for crying out loud!). Sikhs were brutally attacked by the British empire before they left & even as recently as 1984 by Indira Gandhi who brutally sent the Indian Army into the Golden Temple killing hundreds of seperatist Sikhs in an outcry that got her killed the same year by her Sikh bodygaurd. I must say that Sikhs have become known as warriors, but originally they were a very peaceful community of truth seekers but through the above attacks had to become warriours to protect themselves from extinction.

A beautiful Sikh family.  One of hundreds of people who approached us foreigners to greet us in their curiosity!
A beautiful Sikh family. One of hundreds of people who approached us foreigners to greet us in their curiosity!
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My one day went by quick circumnavigating the complex, talking with people, & taking tv breaks in our hotel room. The temple itself is actually very humble in size, being that Sikhs believe that the real truth of their religions comes from their gurus & is immortalized in their Garanth Sahib bible, & therefore do not need to build massive ornamental temples to convince others of the greatness of their faith (unlike our western counterparts in the Christian & Catholic empires of the 16th & 17th century eras). Bigger isn't always better!

They even rolled out the red carpet for OUR entrance to the Golden Temple!  (joking...)
They even rolled out the red carpet for OUR entrance to the Golden Temple! (joking...)
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Don't worry...i havn't converted to be a Sikh & am not coming home with a turban & big beard (although some westerners have become Sikh, especially in the Kundalini Yoga movement which was founded by a Sikh), but I now respect & understand Sikhism & why it is so popular & how it provides a great balance within India & the worlds other religions. I am also thankful for visiting, although briefly, the lands of Punjab, where Bhangra music originated from. It is a region very rich in culture indeed!

1 comment:

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