You know it’s not really morning when I post these right? I say good morning because that is typically when I start writing one of these posts. When I stop and when I publish it might be much closer to midnight but you need a greeting, and “Good morning” is as bright and chipper as any so…
Darbar Sahib (it’s proper name), or otherwise known as the Golden Temple in English or the Harimandir or Harmandir Sahib (in Hindi). Some refer to it as our holiest shrine, which is incorrect. God (and therefore holiness) is abundant and not limited to one location. It’s more correct to say that Darbar Sahib is the centre of the Sikh psyche. It’s important but so are so many other gurdwaras.
A new concourse has been opened outside of the complex itself. We’ll just get that out of the way first. It extends the “main” entry of the temple complex by some distance and will be filled with shops *shudder* at the street level and then also underground. There are no shops inside the complex (despite the clown who insisted I could purchase kacchera inside the temple complex). It’s a little commercial and not what a gurdwara is about to have so many shops abutting the complex but … everywhere in India seems to be like that. No stopping those who want to pitch to the tourists, I guess.
Outside of the temple complex you will also find vegetarian only restaurants, too many guest houses and ‘hotels’ to count (some connected with the complex and most not – do your research before using any of them), no tobacco or alcohol within sight of the temple and a crush of beggars and hawkers. It was outside of the Darbar Sahib complex, at a little stand that sells ice cream that I was hit by a little beggar/street kid, who then proceeded to harass Gurmit until she began to yell at him…
I gave two little beggars an ice cream cone and four or five more beggar children showed up. I told them “no” and “share”, which they clearly understood because the little shit who hit me told the first two in Punjabi to “hurry up and eat it” then tried to convince me that the first two refused to share. I repeated “no” so he hit me. Because that was going to convince me to buy the little beggar an ice cream cone, right? Yeah, no. A couple of rupees was all I was willing to spend. So he started harassing Gurmit, probably not realizing that she was with me. This time the little beggar pretended to be mute! He kept poking at her and pointing at his mouth. She lost it on him and good for her. If he was a little older, I would have decked him for daring to hit me but you know, he was just a kid and some adult put him in this situation somewhere so…
The temple complex itself has four main entryways. This is symbolic of being open to everyone, the entire world. Everyone (obviously with some limitations for people who would be violent or too offensive while inside) is welcome in a gurdwara, including Darbar Sahib. All we ask (besides the whole non-violence, don’t be an ass in general rule) is that you cover your head and remove your shoes.
The temple complex is centred around the Pool of Nectar (Amrit Sarovar), and the main prayer area is in roughly the centre of the sarovar. Our fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji first founded the city of Amritsar in 1574. He began digging the Amrit Sarovar. It was our fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji who laid the foundation stone for the temple and oversaw it’s completion. When the first holy scripture, the Adi Granth was compiled, he had it installed in the temple.
Baba Budha Ji, who lived from Guru Nanak’s time and would live to see 7 of the 10 Gurus, was appointed the first head priest of the temple.
There are three trees around the sarovar which are still alive, well cared for and have special meaning to us. The first is one where Guru Arjun used to sit while overseeing construction of the temple, another is where Baba Budha Ji used to sit and the third where a young Sikh bride brought her crippled husband to be bathed in the sarovar, where he recovered and become well again.
The sarovar is kept clean with the assistance of hundred of koi fish. You can see them in the pictures below. It is also kept clean with the help of many sevadars (people doing seva) who volunteer to clean up the pool as needed. The marble enclosed pool can get slippery with people taking holy dips in the sarovar, so there are reed and neoprene mats set out to make sure people don’t slip and fall.
The water is so clean that I was able to get good pictures of the koi fish even at night (look down, the pic is there somewhere 🙂 ).
There are enclosed bathing areas for the women to take holy baths in the sarovar, to protect their privacy. Yay, because even inside the temple complex I find that there are some men who are going to leer at any woman they see.
In the early 19th century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Punjab, began the gold gilding of the upper floors of the Darbar Sahib, which led to its English name – the Golden Temple.
The walkway to the temple is accessed through an entry portal or gate. The building directly in front of the gate is the Akal Takht, home to the governing “throne”. When one is in the Akal Takht, one cannot see the Darbar Sahib. So the governance is separated from the house of God in that way. When inside the Darbar Sahib, one cannot see the Akal Takht.
Between the two, visible in many of the pictures are two poles which are in front of one of the entry ways into the complex. These poles are wrapped in long sections of orange material. One, slightly shorter, represents miri (temporal authority) and the other piri (spiritual authority), as spiritual authority (God) will always take precedence over temporal authority.
Photography is limited to what you can photograph from the edges of the sarovar, though that rule is evidently regularly broken. I saw a tour guide encouraging tourists not only to stand behind the Guru Granth Sahib but to take pictures inside the Akal Takht, which was quite disruptive to the Sikhs who are actually there to pray. One stepped right over me while I was prostrate before Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Please, please if you visit, just please try to be respectful to those who are there to pray. Don’t walk your dirty feet over a human being. I don’t think that is a rule just for the Darbar Sahib Complex either. Please, in life, take the opportunity to never step over another human being who is bent over on the ground – just good manners. And, you know, if you want to respect the signs that ask you to limit your photography, that would be great too.
On the opposite end of the complex from the Akal Takht is the langar hall. To reach it, you leave the complex through the large gate, step through another pool where you will clean your feet, and walk up to the kind people who are handing out plates, spoons and bowls. Then just follow the crowd to the langar. The meal will include a lentil dhal, some roti (chapatti or flatbread), probably some kheer (a rice pudding) and water. The bowl is for drinking water. Do not hold your plate up to be served, leave it on the ground in front of you and the sevadars will ladle out the food. They will drop the flat bread into your hand and not hand them to you or place them on the plate. They have a lot of people to serve so minimizing any risk of skin to skin to food contact is best practice.
If you want to have some chai tea instead of a full langar meal, you can turn left at the spot where they are handing out plates. That is the tea area. You will be handed a steel bowl which you will take to the tanks holding the tea. Careful – the tea is hot (you kind of knew it would be, right?) Hold the bowl by the sides to avoid scalding pain and then dropping the hot tea, risking a scalding to anyone in the vicinity. Remember – learn from hard experience – hold the bowl by the rim at the edges. Then go sit on the floor next to some other people (just like at langar) and enjoy the chai. It really is very, very good chai tea.
If you want to do some seva, you can collect the tea bowls here and bring them to the nice person who is collecting the dirty bowls to be washed. Or you can turn right at the spot where they are handing out plates. There you will find the kitchen area. Huge, isn’t it? It has to be, because 100,000 people are fed here every day. Yeap, that’s right. 100,000. 1 whole lakh of people. So once you are turned to the right, look left. You will find all sorts of people there doing seva by peeling garlic and chopping/cleaning vegetables. Grab a plate and a knife and get to work, if you like. Directly ahead of you are massive pots in which the keer and dhal are cooking. They hire professionals for this job, as its a huge one and you really don’t want to get these dishes wrong or you know… end up giving anyone food poisoning from improper cooking. So have a look at the set up but leave the cooks do their job. Slightly to the right is where you can pick up the pots and ladles for serving keer and dhal to the diners. Go for it. Ask anyone you see for help if you have questions. Slightly right of the large cooking pots is the area where the flatbreads are made. Again, go for it. You can mix dough, roll dough, and cook the chapattis. It takes a bit of skill though so just ask for help. Someone will always be willing to show you. From here you pick up baskets from which the chapattis are served to the diners. This takes some knowledge of Panjabi – learn the works for one or two (ik or do) so you know how many to serve to a diner at one time and you’ve got that down. So go for it! Don’t forget to drop the chapattis onto the person’s plate or into their hands and don’t place them on a plate. You’re gold. Good job. Full right of the immense cooking vats is the dish washing area.
This is easy peasy. Seven tanks. Pick one where there is space and get to washing water is put in there. You will pick up the rest of the task quickly. One word of warning. Some older people get upset if there are women at the tanks with men. I tell them to buzz off but you might want to be a little nicer. People tend to gather round the tanks by sex anyway so do so if you want to. Word of warning. You’re going to get wet over here. There’s not way to avoid getting wet so don’t wear something that is going to be too revealing if it’s wet. This is a gurdwara, please just be mindful that we expect people to be dressed appropriately and to remain dressed appropriately.
At first I thought the pic to the left was identical to the one above it. But it is NOT. It’s like the Find the Differences puzzles from when we were kids, really. I spotted a few though I’m concerned that the fellow in the grey turban has not moved an inch between shots… hmmmm.
I spend a lot of time here. Despite the sometimes crushing number of people, it is actually a very peaceful, very spiritual place. The energy here is amazing. It’s like all that exists outside – that insanity – is gone and all there is left here is community, spirituality, peace and God. That’s it. It’s really quite amazing.
I like arriving before 5 a.m. to watch them take Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji from its resting place in the Akal Takht to the sanctum inside the Darbar Sahib. It’s a wonderful ceremony. I also like being there at 10:30 or thereabout at night to watch them take Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji back to its resting place. You’ll find it most peaceful and least populated between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. or so.
There is also a museum within the complex (two of them really), one which houses weapons from as far back as the time of the Gurus and the other which houses artwork. ||There is a library which houses important documents, though many of those documents were destroyed during Operation Bluestar in 1984.
The paintings and other pieces in the primary museum are worth having a look at. Plan to spend an hour reading the plaques and examining the paintings. Doing so, you will have learned an abundance of Sikh history. Toward the end of the museum you begin to see rooms full of portraits. In the beginning, these paintings are of prominent Sikhs and then… our shaheeds. Rooms full of paintings and photographs of men and women who have died either because they were Sikh or in defence of others, in accordance with Sikh principles, including many of those who died during Operation Bluestar.
There are other sights for prayer around the temple grounds, including a site dedicated to Baba Deep Singh, who you will hear about on the Born a Sikh blog. You will also hear about other heroes and shaheeds there as well – Bhai Taru Singh Ji, the sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, our tenth Guru, and a number of others. Check it out if you like. If for no other reason that to learn more about us, who we are and what we do. Learning about one another promotes peaceful relations and… is always rather interesting and fun.
First, I wasn’t in Amritsar for 10 days before the marriage ‘proposals’ started coming. Every auntie here wants me to marry a son of hers and take the son to Canada. It doesn’t even seem to matter whether the son is already married. That’s how hard life is here in India for most people and how ‘easy’ they think life will be for them in U.K., Canada, U.S. or Australia (these are the four that are always mentioned during these conversations). They also seem to think that a sham marriage would be the easiest method of immigration to, in my case, Canada. Oh so, so many problems with this plan.
1. I’m a Sikh and we are supposed to live truthful lives. That includes, as far as I’m concerned, to our respective governments.
2. I’m a lawyer, so… see 1
3. I’m a prosecutor, so … again see 1
4. How about we just keeping seeing 1…
I know, I know, this is not funny… but the sheer number of aunties asking me to take their son away (and in some cases the son asking), makes it just a little bit funny. What the heck? Am I supposed to go home to Canada with 15 or 18 husbands. They have a law against that at home. Several laws in fact, given that these would be sham marriages as well as polygamous ones.
So far, there has been at least 4 of these with another 4 or 5 aunties putting the “feelers” out to see if I would be open to having the ‘proposal’ conversation. So in three weeks, that is 8 or 9 ‘proposals’, many regarding married men.
Before anyone judges the boys and their mothers though, think that through please. I’m not mentioning it to mock them. I’m making fun of the situation and how awkward I’m feeling, not at all making fun of these men and their families.
Life here is very difficult for most people. They have all seen neighbours and friends go off to Canada, the U.S., the U.K. or Australia and they have heard the stories (likely a little exaggerated) about how great life is there. They’ve seen that, at the very least, the ex pats are able to send money back home, enough money to support entire families. They just want the same for their families – to be able to support them and to make a better life for everyone. They are just looking for what everyone wants as a basic thing – to take care of their families. That is not easy at all to do here for most people. Even with great education, opportunity is very limited here and the rife corruption isn’t making that any better.
These aren’t people who are dishonest as a rule, just trying hard to find solutions for themselves and their families. They don’t want an easy way out or for someone to take care of them, just a way up. They don’t have many choices and such little opportunity, that this unmarried woman from Canada who appeared here one day, it’s an opportunity you don’t pass. Their lives are so difficult that they take the risk and ask.
That’s not something to pity or something to mock, it’s something to feel for though – that another human being and so many of them feel that much desperation that they see this as a solution. How heart-breaking is that? Pretty freakin’ hard to deal with.
How do you look an auntie (or in some cases a son) in the eye and just say “Not a chance.”, knowing how much they had to get past to even broach the subject. How do you treat their situations that insensitively? At the same time, how do you have that conversation? “I’m sorry that I won’t enter in to a sham that would see your family saved from the poverty/corruption/ oppression that they are facing.”… It’s so hard. I’ve been trying to explain to them gently, the four rules I set out above (in much kinder terms I hope). I explain to them that even if I were inclined to enter into a sham, it is not that easy. The Government of Canada is aware that people do things like this and they have measures in place to control for it. I explain what the consequences would be for both sides and I try to do all of that despite a massive language barrier and while trying to be sensitive to the underlying issues.
I now also regret a joke I was making with Gurmit and little sister earlier, before the marriage ‘proposals’ started flying in. They asked me whether I liked India and I told them that I liked India so well that I am going to marry the first eligible door-to-door veggie vendor that I meet so that I can stay in India. Bad, bad joke looking back on it.
It’s only my terrible awkwardness at this whole situation that makes me find anything funny about these proposals at all.
For example, the first auntie who came, showed up with handmade ladoos (a type of sweet). She talked for a long time in what I thought was Punjabi. I kept telling her “I understand only a little.” or “I don’t understand.” as appropriate. Apparently though, I found out later, she was actually trying to speak English that whole time! It wasn’t Punjabi at all, not a word! Wow. Just wow, that’s some listening skills on my part, no?
The second proposal came after I made the joke about marrying a veggie vendor to a neighbour. The married neighbour said “I’m ready to marry you!” and started talking to me about immigrating to Canada. He is someone I would actually help to maybe get a job offer, so that he can come on a work visa and then decide whether to apply for permanent residency after the appropriate time. He’s smart, honest, he’s extended family, works hard and would make a hell of a contribution to our country. Him, I will help if I can. Despite the fact that he proposed while he was already married… because I’m almost certain he was joking about that part. Well 99% certain anyway… I hope.
The next came at a wedding, also from a married man who I suspect was also very drunk. He was a lot of fun to talk to though and his kids are just the cutest little things! I’m seriously hoping that was just drunk talk. I had to seriously bite my lip because I kept getting the urge to give him a sarcastic “yeah, yeah, let’s just get married right here… after all, it’s a wedding already right?” or “Would I be wife #3, because I could never stand being less than wife #2?” That probably would not have gone over well. I’m just guessing but I think that would have flopped big time.
I’m becoming a little reluctant to visit people’s homes if I know there’s a male in the house who might be of the age to want to emigrate from India. That’s anywhere between 20 and 60 really… Seriously, it’s that awkward to have to repeatedly have this conversation that I don’t really know how to have.
If I did get married again though, Darbar Sahib would have to play a role in that wedding. I am becoming dangerously addicted to the seva and the peace there. It’s an amazingly beautiful and very, very spiritual place.