There were a lot of gurdwaras that we visited on our way to Ludhiana. Including Nanaksar Thal Sahib – the host unit tells me this is the name of the gurdwara in the first set of pictures. I really have to learn more Gurmukhi…). We came at just the time when the gurdwara was virtually empty. The whole place is white with a partially gold plated dome in the front part, a larger gold plated dome at the rear part and two smaller gold-plated accent domes below it. All white that is except for the gate, which is a vivid purple with beautiful, intricate iron worked details.
Outside of the gate, vendors were just setting up. Many of the bigger gurdwaras are surrounded by markets. This day, there were only two vendors yet, both selling rock candy parshad that we could donate inside. Then through the gate and across a long, palm studded parking lot is the gurdwara itself.
I am told that it has thirteen stories all together, which seems right because the gurdwara has a multitude of split-level floors and a seemingly endless series of basements. You see ten stories above ground, there are at least three below and then the split levels.
I couldn’t believe we had the whole place practically to ourselves. It is so massive that the little sister and I lost the host unit, Gurmit, for a little while, while we were praying at a spot in the basement. On our way back up an elder found us for her and then asked us to come pray before Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in the basement again. We tried to explain that we had just come from there but it was no use. I don’t really think he could hear a word we were saying. He was so warm and inviting to us though. Such hospitality at gurdwaras everywhere. So nice.
By now readers will be getting a feel for Sikh architecture. Different gurdwaras will have different things happening in the architecture but the basics are the same. There are almost always poles with the Nishan Sahib (a flag usually emblazoned with a khanda) or a khanda (on top). These poles, wrapped in orange fabric represent miri (spiritual authority) and piri (temporal authority) – Sikh political/administrative life and God. The pole representing piri is always slightly taller than the one representing miri, as God is the highest authority, without an equal.
There are often khandas carved into or painted on to the walls as well. There are usually minarets, or large towers nearby as well, sometimes forming a part of the gurdwara building itself. A gurdwara is normally topped with one or more domes that are identifiable for their Sikh style. The domes are usually gold gilded or painted with a special paint with gold suspended in it. Many of the gurdwaras near Ludhiana also tend to be accented with light blue accents.
It was while driving to this gurdwara that I first noticed that not all Nishan Sahib flags are orange. There are blue flags, which I am told are from the Nihang sect and also green flags. The little sister tried to explain what the green Nishan Sahibs were for but was not able to completely translate for me. I’ve note seen the green Nishan Sahibs flying yet though.
Most gurdwaras will have a place where you can wash your hands and feet before entering. This one did not, or at least not that we could find. However, several outbuildings were under serious renovation/construction and I expect one of those is meant to be the shoe house (where you keep your shoes, if that wasn’t obvious) and the basins for washing.
Many gurdwaras will also have a sarovar, or sacred pool for taking holy baths and generally for reflecting and meditating. This one has a lovely sarovar at the front of the property that we almost missed because of the construction. The fish that help keep the water of the sarovar clean were not at all phased by our presence and in fact, little sister was able to touch a few while she let her fingers dangle in the water.
Gurdwaras will also have langar halls. The one at this gurdwara was being renovated and we did not take langar during our visit so I have no idea what they were using for a temporary langar hall. In langar halls, free, simple, vegetarian meals are served to anyone who arrives, without question. The only thing we ask is that you cover your head, you don’t smoke or consume other narcotics or alcohol, and you behave respectfully. Everyone is welcome to enjoy langar with the community, where we eat our meals sitting side by side on the floor. It is a great experience and I really recommend to everyone, especially non-Sikhs, that you visit a gurdwara and have langar at least once in your life.
Some gurdwaras will have a separate place for chai langar, or it may be part of the larger langar hall itself. Chai langar is a place where you can sit down (on the floor) alongside other members of the community to have tea and sometimes a bit of a snack or bread to dip in the tea. It is awesome tea. I always enjoy chai langar at Darbar Sahib before I begin or after I finish seva. It’s nice to sit with everyone after the work you’ve done and just have a moment to meditate and enjoy one another’s companionship.
Gurdwara means Door to (dwara) God (Guru) so most Gurdwaras will have multiple arched doorways. Much of the time, there will be doorways facing all four directions, indicating that persons from all parts of the world, all religions, all creeds, all ethnicities… everyone is welcome at a gurdwara. Again, there are only a few simple rules that we ask you to keep during your visit – cover your head, take your shoes off, do not bring alcohol, meat, tobacco or drugs into the gurdwara and behave respectfully. Also, take langar. It’s not a rule but it’s such a great thing to experience.
This gurdwara is the tallest building in the area, in the midst of so many acres of Punjabi farm fields. It’s just beautiful. I hope to make it back here when the renovations are more complete and I have more time, for more photographs and to take in the langar.
After arriving in Ludhiana, we visited Gurdwara Gobind Singh Ji Sahib. Another beautiful gurdwara. I’m sorry that the pic on the left is the only pic I can share. We had brought along family from Ludhiana and I got busy getting to know everyone and just enjoying their company and the gurdwara itself. It was such a lovely experience.
I also bought handkerchiefs outside this gurdwara at the market. You need handkerchiefs in India. There are very few disposable paper tissues to be had and Indian people tend not to use disposable paper. I gave up on carrying my own around and caved and bought a bunch of handkerchiefs at the market. They are now my new favourite thing… trust me. If you visit for any lengthy period, get the handkerchiefs. I bought men’s style handkerchiefs. The styles for the ladies were just a little too bright and girly for me and you know… a handkerchief just needs to be functional.
In the colony we stayed in, at Ludhiana, there were cows kept in the colony itself. Also tractors where no fields were seen. I’m not sure what the tractors were about but this cow was chowing down on discarded bits of food… amid the garbage. Yeap… same, same everywhere.
There is a huge Hindu temple in Ludhiana which looks so stunning against the skyline. Unfortunately because of our condensed visit there, I was only able to photograph it from the vehicle but I tried to get a good shot or two (tried being the optimal word there). It really is beautiful and I would like to have more time to photograph it if I visit Ludhiana again. There are two entrances on the main road level, both of which appear to be the mouth of a lion and the mouth of a tiger. I have no idea what that is about and neither did any of my travelling companions, so… sorry about that. I’ll try to find out if I get to show you more pics of this place.
After visiting the nicest families in the world (I mean that – they are SO nice), we were on the road again first thing in the morning – headed toward Chandigarh. From driving into Ludhiana the night before I could see a big gurdwara on the skyline, near one of the overpasses. I told my host unit, Gurmit, that gurdwara would be our first stop on the road. I just had to visit it and over some prayers there.
I was really glad that we did. This gurdwara, like many of the other historical gurdwaras was also under extensive renovations. It is, I am told, Dukh Niwaran Gurdwara. It had an architect’s model of what it will look like when it’s finished. It is going to be great!
Outside of the gurdwara were a series of potted plants organized in concentric circles, a nice greeting.
The bath for washing feet and hands was unfortunately before parts of the construction so everything was a bit muddy anyway. We offered our prayers in the lower level of the gurdwara and tried to avoid getting mud all over the place.
The management of this gurdwara also manage a hospital for the poor and needy. The costs are kept low by contributions of the sangat (the congregation). What great seva that is.
The sun was just beginning to rise when we left to get on the road to Chandigarh. We had brought along a nephew, Ranbeer, who is an energetic, super shy, very nice youth. As we were getting into the car outside the gurdwara, our driver turned into a sexist jerk (surprise – there are sexist jerks in India just like everywhere else on the planet). I was sitting in front of the car (that I was paying good money for) so that I could take photographs. He told me that it was improper since there was now a man to sit in front and that I should sit in back. Improper. Yeah, he said that.
|Genius is what this is.|
I looked at the 17 year old nephew unit and then at the driver and told him no and that he should keep his personal opinions to himself. I wasn’t paying extra for his opinions. That did not sit well with him and for the next two days, he continued to treat me poorly – refusing meals that were offered to him and complaining that we didn’t feed him; refusing to listen to the women in the car when we provided directions on where we were going, despite the fact that it was our agenda and our paid car; whining and telling the host unit repeatedly in Panjabi that I was so much trouble; sending us to the wrong gurdwara and wrong sarovar (which was some weird RSS thing that I’ll tell you about in another post) … all because I told him no. Poor, poor behaviour from this driver who we will never use again. He also complained at the end of the trip that I gave no tip (well … duh!) and tried to whine extra money out of the host unit after dropping us off at the wrong location. That didn’t work for him either. When we told him that I would have given him a good tip but his behaviour was really bad, he seemed shocked that we considered his behaviour bad!
On the other hand, I was so proud of little sister for telling him that and standing up for herself and for us. She is normally very shy and so, so polite. It was nice to see her stand up and tell this man that his behaviour had crossed a line and that the consequence was there would be no additional money for him. The world needs more people like her who will calmly but firmly call people on their bad behaviour.
Anyhow, enough about him. He makes no matter at all. Like the guy on the left (wearing a painted wooden bucket on his head because… I don’t know why), he’s in the past and no longer an issue. I bet the guy with the bucket would have been a lot nicer and more fun to talk to though!
What shall we talk about in the next post? I will show you pictures from the Rose Garden in Chandigarh taken by the very talented nephew unit, Ranbeer and we’ll talk about something that I’m having a hard time with – the togetherness that the host unit and so many others except here in India (well, Asia generally). I would kill for a little breathing space and alone time right now, so let’s talk about that. Maybe you all have some good tips for me.
Peace and love,