The Golden Temple
Punjabi's were a very different breed from other Indians. The primary religion is Sikhism. A Sikh refers to any human being who believes in one immortal being. Those who are initiated have uncut hair wrapped in a turban or kesh and wear an iron or steel bracelet called a kara. They wear cotton underpants, kachehra, and carry a sword, a kirpan, and a small wooden comb, a kanga. From what I observed, they lived joyful open lives.
While vacating the tranquility found in the Buddhist home of Dharamsala, I entered the land of the Punjabi's. En route to Amritsar, the land of the Golden Temple, a pilgrimage site for Sikhism, the weight of the familiar Indian personality and presence was lifted. I felt lightness emanating from those around me. Amidst the crowded chaos, a peacefulness was present there. I was still confronted with intense looks but instead of staring with blank fearful expressions, they returned a smile.
On my bus, a Sikh with his tall turbine chatted with 2 women amidst bouts of laughter. We made eye contact and surprisingly they shared a smile. I felt refreshed and less trapped in my body. Here I was able to be me. In other parts of India, I felt imprisoned in my body. Laughter or smiles brought on letcherous gazes. Hundreds of white eyes stared at me in public places never to crack a smile. It drained me.
I was taken to the Golden Temple in a bike rickshaw when I arrived in Amritsar. The Golden Temple was located in the center of a manmade pool with a path around it. The temple was constructed of copper and marble coated with a golden foil. Families took religious pilgrimages here to walk around the pool of water chanting and singing and praying. Inside the temple puja was offered which was a clump of sweet dough consisting of butter, sugar and flour.
There was another temple beside the main one dedicated for people to stay for free. With 100,000 daily guests to the temple, many brought sleeping bags and camped out on the temple floor. I joined in on the party and stayed in the area where all the foreigners resided.
The making of the food was another process. As a non Sikh, praying and chanting was not something I could do all day. I wandered to the front porch of the langan or community Sikh kitchen. A group of Sikhs were peeling pees. I joined in to help.
Next I ventured inside the langan where food was being made. A Sikh with a turban stood with a spoon taller than his body and stirred a pot of dahl that spanned 5 feet diameter and about 4 feet tall.
Another group of Sikhs sat on the ground rolling dough into a ball slightly smaller than a tennis ball. When finished, they threw it to the center. Another person placed a ball onto one of the many round wooden boards. With a rolling pin in hand, he or she would roll it flat into a chapati and then throw it into a pile. Another Sikh would heat the flat dough over a fire pit then flip it until the dough was cooked on both sides. The chapati was placed into a basket to be passed out at the next dining session.
Every hour, the langan opened its doors for free food. Nearly five hundred guests filed into the dining hall seating themselves in rows on the floor. A volunteer walked quickly by tossing each guest a metal plate. Another volunteer would walk through with a bucket pouring each guest’s plate with a ladle of dahl. The last volunteer passed through with a basket of chapati and threw each person a piece of bread. Every hour the process repeated and everyone was welcome. I was grateful for this blessing of free food, yet it was hard to not feel like a pig in a corral waiting for my slop.
It was a refreshing change to be in the land of the Punjabi’s. I still got many stares and requests for a photograph, but the people were smiling and joyful. It was ok to smile back here. That was a relief.