Consider our body as a temple and our heart as a place where God or the Guru resides. If we open up our hearts like the gates of the Golden Temple, if we don’t fight with each other in the name of religion, if we treat every individual equally then the God inside us will be happy. When the God inside us becomes happy, we will become happy and when we will become happy then the temple will look all the more beautiful. ~Raj Kiran Atagaraha
How does a place become holy enough to warrant a magnificent, man-made structure, a palace designed for God, intricately crafted by artisans eventually drawing flocks of devotees from across the globe for centuries?
I believe certain physical locations on Earth are naturally holy. When these are sensed by human or animal sentient beings, structures venerating the local understanding of God are built upon the location. If India were a Christian country, the Golden Temple would be a Church. If it were an Islamic locale, a Mosque. Had Wolf discovered the hallowed ground, a den would have been dug into Earth to draw upon Creators aura. Holy structures grow from hallowed ground rather than buildings being built and the ground becoming hallowed. Egg before chicken.
Our plan for this trip was to visit numerous hallowed grounds sprinkled across Northern India. We already spent two days marveling at the ancient temples near Aurangabad, temples handcrafted out of solid rock by Jains, Hindus, and Buddhists. Our plans included pilgrimages to Bodh Gaya where epiphany lighting struck Siddhārtha Gautama releasing the Buddha into the world, Varanasi founded by the Hindu God Lord Shiva 3500 years ago, followed by Khajuraho a set of exquisite Jain and Hindu temples, with roots reaching to 950 AD, decorated with a profusion of intricately detailed sculptures many depicting the gods in erotic poses. Next on our list was the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
We flew to Amritsar from Pune via New Delhi. The stop in Delhi allowed us to stay on the plane while most passengers deplaned and a new group boarded. The entire trip from takeoff to landing lasted 4 hours It was to be our last, on time, domestic flight in India.
At Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport in Amritsar, we landed in what appeared to be a heavy fog. It was thick smog, smog so dense the sky seemed to be an impenetrable solid gray mass. There was no blue sky. There were no clouds. Just dense gray haze. The driver we arranged for prior to the trip, a practice I find the easiest to make the airport to hotel transitions in India, took us to the hotel.
Getting Inside the Temple
The hotel staff recommended visiting the temple at night when it was lit up. We chose the best of both options going in the early afternoon to see it in daylight and staying past sunset to see it illuminated at night. The pollution had not abated in the hours between landing and visiting the Golden Temple. At 3:00 pm (15:00), we entered the temple complex, the sun still high overhead. It, the sun, was the color of a ripe mango hanging in a leaden sky. It was a color I expected at sunrise with the sun hovering over the horizon, not in the middle of the day.
Temple custom requires shoe/sock removal and head covering for all. Kiosks just outside the temple are provided for shoe check-in where a small token is exchanged for the shoes. The shops in the area sell head coverings. I found bandanas in white and saffron. I chose the saffron. It cost 20 rupees about 30 US cents.
Near the entrance are small, marble pools of ankle deep water for ritual foot washing. No wash. No entry. Tall Sikh guards, intimidating tall Sikh guards holding swords make sure everyone steps into the pools.
Inside the Temple
We walked barefoot throughout the temple, walked barefoot in the footsteps, countless millions of footsteps of Sikh pilgrims at their holy of holies, walked barefoot on the pristine, white marble circumambulatory (walkway). We quickly barefoot walked up the causeway taking place in line awaiting entry to the Sanctum centered in the pool of nectar before throngs of visitors made the wait intolerable.
The Sanctum (no cameras allowed) is gilded, was packed with people inside and out. Readers, there are no priests in the Sikh universe, sat on the ground, behind ropes chanting from a massive rendition of Guru Granth Sahib, their holy book. The reader waves a Chauri, a whisk fan made from yak hair, over the pages while the book is being read. We were allowed maybe 10 minutes inside the primary room. Once outside in the cooler air, we visited the upper story which was partially open to the sky and allowed us to look around at those not yet in the Sanctum.
On the ground level on a landing outside the Sanctum, the devotees were dipping their hand in the nectar pool and drinking the water. I scooped it up in cupped hands and let the Nectar trickle through my fingers to rejoin the pool. We then sat outside the temple, on carpets, and listened to the incantations from the Reader. I closed my eyes and let the recitations wash over me. Without realizing it, I fell into a state of meditation. I soon felt tears running down my cheeks and knew, at that moment, we were on holy ground.
We have a propensity to linger while visiting places on our travels. The Golden Temple is small enough that it can be seen in fairly short time, large enough for there to be spaces where one can sit and let the mind drift taking in all that happens. We spent a few hours walking, lingering, walking and lingering some more. Some observations:
There is a large screen listing scripture verses. They were generic enough that they would have been home in most any religious setting.
The Sikh men and women carry a kirpan, a ritual sword or knife. Most were six to nine inches and hung off the belt. Others were long swords. Sikhs are the only ones allowed to carry a knife into government buildings and banks.
The Sikh men tend to be tall, many over six feet tall. The requisite turban, beneath which is kept their uncut hair, makes them look even taller.
The kitchen at the Golden Temple feeds up to 100,000 people a day, every day, for Free. The food smelled good but we chose to not eat. It was early in our trip and we didn’t want to ingest anything our bellies might reject.
Sitting in the temple, one is required to sit cross-legged. I was sitting near the Pool of Nectar with my legs outstretched. My knees are not fond of being held at acute angles. An older gentleman came up to us and let me know I needed to sit properly. I conformed until the pain grew too intense at which time we got up to wander some more.
Never Fly Air India