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Golden Sojourn
23 November 2018 IST
Golden Sojourn

Amritsar is one place I always love to go back to, to refresh childhood memories of my visits to the Golden Temple with my grandparents. Driving through the outer, more modern streets of the city towards the more congested streets of the old town, Saragarhi Niwas came into view. It is one of the six sarais maintained by the temple authorities, providing lodging for pilgrims.


I am here on the auspicious day of Baisakhi, the festival that heralds the beginning of the rabi harvesting season. On this day in 1699, the 10th Guru Gobind Singh laid the foundation of the Khalsa Panth; the tradition of the gurus was discontinued and the Guru Granth Sahib was declared as the eternal guide of the Sikhs.
The Heritage Street leading to the temple is a traffic-free zone. A huge screen on the wall of the building across the road, transmits throughout the day, the proceedings inside the temple. The melodious rendering of the Gurbani and kirtans via loudspeakers positioned atop tall poles, give a festive tone to the atmosphere.
I walk down the street, awestruck by the sheer aliveness and diversity of people. I sit on one of the wooden benches on the main street to take in this sea of humanity passing by. Groups of young children, colourful pieces of cloth covering their heads, brides in their finery with arms full of traditional red and gold bangles, groups of tourists led by a flag-bearing guide, families and groups of single youngsters, this street has it all. Religion alone, has nothing to do with this, I soon realise.
I shuffle to make place for an elderly couple, easily in their eighties, and we strike a conversation. Hailing from the nearby town of Batala, they have been coming to the temple on Baisakhi day for over 60 years. Both are wearing the traditional white dress with a navy blue turban and a belt with a kirpan, a sheathed knife, at the end of it. They quiz me about my life and insist on sharing theirs with me. In a matter of minutes, we are comfortably chatting like old friends.
Kake di Kulfi is a famous landmark of Heritage Street. It attracts a huge crowd, as the old man who serves delicious sticks of kulfi from an earthen pot covered with wet red cloth, regales those who care to listen with tales never to be found in books. I too try one.
At the end of the street, the outer minarets of the temple stand majestically, bearing a strong Mughal influence. But what catches my attention is the Kali Mandir to the right, the deity resplendent in colourful brocade, blending in beautifully. Two religions coexist seamlessly.
Finally, I arrive at the imposing entrance of Shri Harmandir Sahib, the religious seat of the Sikhs, upholding brotherhood and equality. Pilgrims and tourists from all walks of life, and from all over the world, throng its courtyard. Entrances on all four sides of the temple signify openness; all are welcome, immaterial of caste, colour or race.
The sun shines on the golden dome of the temple, as it appears to float in the centre of the Amrit Sarovar, waters of which claim to have healing properties. It is customary to take a dip in the pool before going inside the temple that houses the Guru Granth Sahib, the religious scripture of the Sikhs. It is said that Guru Nanak used to meditate at this site, but it was not till the time of the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev that the temple was built.
The lower level of the main temple is pristine white marble with exquisite hand-painted mosaics of flowers and animal motifs, reflecting Mughal influence. The second level is covered with delicately engraved gold panels and the top dome is gilded with 750 kg of gold, the sheer grandness of which leaves me spellbound.
In the glimmering inner chamber, the energy is palpable; the continuous soulful rendering of verses from the Guru Granth Sahib and the kirtans have a soothing effect on my soul. I barely get a few minutes inside the sanctum sanctorum before being gently nudged to move forward, to allow other pilgrims behind me to enter. I come away with the karah prasad — consisting of four ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, pure ghee and faith — distributed by sevadars, volunteers.
My next stop within the complex is the langar, a place from where nobody returns hungry. Seva or service is one of the cherished principles of Sikhism. Eager to experience it, I enter a large open hall that is full of people, sitting in groups, ages ranging from 5 to 90 years, peeling and chopping vegetables.
It appears chaotic but there is a semblance of order in the chaos. I too reach out to peel and cut bottle gourd, with the soulful kirtans in the background and chants of Wahe Guru — perfect harmony among perfect strangers. The kitchen is mostly automated, but then it feeds lakhs of people everyday, and twice that number today, being Baisakhi.
It is infinitely humbling to think that this langar has been feeding people for the last 450 years without missing a day, manifesting the immense spirit of the faith. The dining hall is a great leveller: rows and rows of people eat together, and it does not matter whether you are a prince or a pauper; all are treated equally. Food is served and eaten with thankfulness and a sense of privilege. The menu is simple — chapatis, black urad dal, potato curry, rice and wheat halwa — and is served with devotion by volunteers to the chants of Wahe Guru.
The Golden Temple is a sight to behold at night. In the backdrop of the inky darkness, the subtle lighting of the minarets and monuments compound the beauty of this jewel.


The Sikh principles of service, humility and equality are alive all around me. The spirit of the people and the legacy of Sri Harmandir Sahib cannot be captured and described completely; it has to be experienced. I came to Amritsar with no plan or expectations, but am going away with a profound spiritual experience. Making my way back to Saragarhi Niwas, I can’t help stopping at Kake di Kulfi one last time.
Battle Of Saragarhi
The Saragarhi Niwas in Amritsar is named after the battle of Saragarhi, which was fought between 10,000 Afghan tribesmen and just 21 soldiers of the 4th Battalion of British India’s Sikh Regiment on September 12, 1897.These men chose to defend their army post, instead of surrendering. The UK parliament posthumously awarded them the Indian Order of Merit. Saragarhi Divas is commemorated every year on September 12 in honour of the brave men.
Sikh Museum
Established in 1958, the Central Sikh Museum is housed within the Golden Temple complex, and exhibits paintings of Sikh gurus, saints, Sikh warriors and other prominent Sikh personalities who have contributed to the enhancement of Sikhism. The museum’s rich collection includes the kangha, wooden comb used by Guru Gobind Singh, and rare musical instruments associated with noted Gurbani exponents like Baba Sham Singh and Bhai Samund Singh.


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Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST
Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST
Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST
Shibu Chandran
2 hours ago

Serving political interests in another person's illness is the lowest form of human value. A 70+ y old lady has cancer.

November 28, 2016 05:00 IST

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