Religious places aren’t my thing. I remember a vacation when I was barely 10, and all I remember is visiting a lot of temples during that trip. Safe to say that was a turning point with for me. I think I steered clear of temples for decades after that. When I was asked by a friend to accompany them on a long weekend trip to the Golden Temple, I agreed to join only because of the prospect of a road trip through Punjab countryside. I didn’t know that Golden Temple would mesmerize me and lure me to plan another visit.
It was a short and quick trip on October 2, 2015, and being a national holiday, I was expecting throes of people engulfing the holy place. After all, aren’t crowds a part of being in India and that too when coupled with religion! Thinking that at nighttime the crowds may be lesser, I went to the gurudwara at 1:30 am. What greeted me were devotees sleeping outside the main entrance. I was amazed at the ease with which individual and families were sleeping even when the beginning of winter could be felt.
Many had their overnight bags with them and it was clear that they were halting for shut-eye either after a long journey or before commencing here on.
The scene inside wasn’t much different. Somehow though this did not look like a railway station. There was peace and calm and hushed tones. Even if you were talking normally somehow the sound appeared muted. Amidst devotees preparing for the holy dip, there were many who were napping or just resting with their families on the marble walkway surrounding the Amrit Sarovar.
The view of the Golden Temple itself was spellbinding. The temple sparkled and floated on the dark waters of the Amrit Sarovar. If one did not view the walkway leading up to the shrine, then it almost appeared like a fairy tale palace with prince and princesses and grand balls.
It is indeed very difficult to draw your eyes away from the temple to look at anything else. This time, owing to the long line waiting to get inside the inner sanctum for a darshan, I myself could not get in, although I did try to wait my turn, but ran out of patience (or devotion perhaps).
While walking around the temple complex and looking at other shrines dotting the complex, I came across the hall where langar was about to be served. The magnitude of the free kitchen and the scale of preparation left me flabbergasted.
The langar food is simple. What I was served was an early morning snack of chapati, pickle, dal, halwa and water.
When people say that langar food is the best they have eaten, I used to believe that they are exaggerating. This was my first langar. I wasn’t prepared for the truly delicious food. In its simplicity, lay its taste. The Sikhs believe in feeding anyone coming to their door irrespective of caste, creed or status. And they make sure that it is not a watery fare that is fed but something that is delicious as well as filling.
People of all ages participate in the langar preparation and distribution. While an old gentleman, well in his nineties, handed my plate to me, the water was being served by a lad no more than nine or ten. And even at that hour, the entire hall was buzzing with energy.
The cleanliness of the entire complex will put even the best-kept homes to shame if they saw so much of comings and goings. There are streams of water flowing at every entrance where one can dip their feet while passing through. Constant mopping and cleaning were a part of the volunteers work duties. There were no water puddles, mud patches, dirty footprints; the white marble remained spotless around the clock. In fact, when I inspected my feet after exiting the temple, expecting to see them black, I was shocked to see them cleaner than at home perhaps!
By 7 am, I was back at the temple wondering if I will have access this time into the inner sanctum. This trip, it wasn’t meant to be. It was a lovely peaceful morning though, with the Gurbani playing in the background. The Golden temple is really so much more than a place of worship for Sikhism. It is a spiritual haven for those seeking higher truth and the temple is a way to get closer to that. I felt I could just sit there all day and listen to the recitals. This time though, I bid adieu to Golden Temple, with a promise of return.