In Search of Sikh Gold
by Avner Ofer
|Turbans everywhere. Traditional white, blue, black, orange and a variety of other colors decorated the bus station. I arrived at Amritsar in India, the holiest place for the Sikhs, a place where every man wears this traditional head cover. |
A gold temple located in the midst of a sacred blue pool lures Sikh pilgrims and tourists to this major city in the Punjab region. The Hari Mandir, Golden Temple, is the Sikh religion's holiest site. The golden exterior of the temple glitters in the Punjab sun as the pool reflects the temple's forbidden image in the holy water.
From the bus station I made my way through the busy streets toward the old town. There, the Sikhs built a guesthouse with free lodging for pilgrims. Unfortunately, all the rooms were occupied, so I compromised for a small guesthouse nearby.
|In the morning, I followed other pilgrims into the Golden Temple. The shimmering gold complex was mesmerizing in the morning light. For a few minutes I stood at the entrance absorbing the dancing gold rays and the energy the place emitted.|
|Leaving my shoes behind and putting on a hat, as custom and law dictates, I entered the complex. The Punjabi prayers were recited throughout the day by four privileged priests located at the four corners of the temple. Echoes of the prayers filled the pool area. Worshipers bathed in the temple's holy water hoping to cure their ailments. They sat around the sacred pool on tiles decorated with designs. They prayed, bathed and socialized, then many crossed a causeway known as Gurus' Bridge into the temple for more prayers and offerings.|
|Although I read about the Sikh religion and some of their history, I decided to take advantage of the free guide service provided at the visitor center. My guide was an elderly Sikh, wearing a traditional white turban, perfectly matching his long white beard and curled mustache. We walked around the complex for over an hour. My friendly guide described his religion, his people's history, their way of life and their beliefs. It was an intriguing insight into a religion new to me. |
Sikhism was created as a fusion between two religions. The Punjab region was ruled by Islamic leaders and is now adjacent to Pakistan. Thus, the Islamic influences integrated with the beliefs of Hinduism to form Sikhism. It was founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century in an attempt to combine the best aspects of the two religions.
|I parted from my guide and made my way to the sacred bridge. The Golden Temple beckons the visitor with two stories of marble and gold. The lower section is decorated with inlaid motifs of flowers and animals, while the upper golden section incorporates traditional Islamic domes with Hindu type arches.|
|Inside the temple pilgrims gave food offerings to attendants, who later distributed it to the pilgrims as they left. I was in the temple for a while, mostly marveling at the architecture and the artistic craftsmanship of the detailed designs. The power and intensity of the structure was amazing, especially while I was admiring the great devotion of the worshippers.|
|At noon, the big watch tower came to life to announce lunch. In the Sikh religion, it is a duty to provide for the pilgrims and those in need. Thus, as the clock rang out twelve times, hundreds of people gathered at the community kitchen for free food. The meal consisted of chapatis (flat bread) and dal (lentils). I took a plate and joined the crowds.|
I spent a few more hours lingering about, soaking up the atmosphere and getting acquainted with some locals and pilgrims. I then slipped out through the gates of the calm, tranquil and spiritual temple into a busy street, a common scene in India.
|Although the situation in the region has been volatile for many years, I did not witness any problems. There are occasional shootings and raids by Sikh extremists who are fighting for an independent nation to be named Khalistan. The area has seen much bloodshed over the years, but during my visit I found the Sikhs to be very hospitable, friendly, and inviting people, not exhibiting any signs of the ongoing struggle.|
|Throughout my travels I visited many sights that were either beautiful, aesthetic, inspiring or interesting, but only a few of them possessed and radiated an intense energy. The Golden temple is one of those places that has a presence. It is brought to life by the worshipers who dive into its sanctuary and the blue water it guards. It radiates devotion and pride with every offering it receives and it displays humility as it feeds the hungry.|
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