Chandigarh: The Zoo and My Amrit Ceremony and Advice for the Little Sister Unit…

Good morning everyone

And for those of you who will get it – Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.  🙂

Today’s post topics are the zoo at Chandigarh (including pics – my apologies to the animal lovers out there) and my Amrit ceremony.

First the zoo.  It’s a lot larger than it looks so, if you’re going to visit this place, plan for at least 3 hours.  There are washrooms and snack/beverage areas inside along with a few little play parks to exhaust any little ones you might be bringing with you.  Why do you want to tire them out at a zoo?  Well, we’ll get to that.

First, unlike zoos in North America and Europe that I’ve been to, there are no keeper presentations at this zoo.  The animals are in cages or other enclosures… and that’s about it.  There are informative plaques.  However, often the plaques have nothing to do with the animal that is actually in the enclosure.

I’m not sure what has happened at this zoo, but there are a few issues.  If you’re going to visit, you’ll need to be prepared for those issues.

1.  The macaques.  The zoo (according to the plaques) claims several species of macaque.  In fact, they have two species of macaque, both native to India.  In the small cages, you will find the same northern Indian brown pelted macaque in every cage, no matter what the plaque says.  You can see these animals all over the place and probably in healthier condition.  So if you’re coming for the macaques – don’t.

2.  The cages are really tiny for primates of their size and activity.  Really tiny.  That goes for most of the cages.

3.  There is little to no enrichment for any of the species in the enclosures.

4.  There are signs telling people not to feed or tease the animals.  This rule is enforced by a couple of people with whistles.  Thank goodness too because the adult visitors were problematic for hissing at, trying to pet, poking and prodding at the animals.  That’s right NOT the children.  Full grown adults behaved that way.

5.  Along with the macaques, the primate area has one baboon and a lemur, both alone in their cages.  Both showing signs of stress.   The lemur was thin and paced endlessly in its cage, while the baboon clung to the edge of the cage and played with itself endlessly.  It is not fun watching stressed out animals in cages so… again don’t.

The macaque on the left was picking at its tail between bouts of pacing.  It was one of the few macaques who had much in the way of company in his cage.

6.  Most of the enclosures and cages had little to no water visible for the animals.  Not one had any food visible.

7.  We did not see a single zoo keeper anywhere.
8.  The enclosures and cages were reasonably clean so we know there are workers about taking care of them.  We wondered though why there was no water.  Even in winter, the day time temperatures in Chandigarh are fairly warm.  And … it’s water.  Kind of need some of that to survive.

9.  The animals appeared healthy enough though most were thin and appeared to exhibit some stress (like endless pacing, panting, obsessive picking at themselves) they at least appeared physically healthy (for the most part).

At least one of the macaques had a tiny baby clinging to her belly.  And a mother lion (you will see later on) had a litter of healthy, active cubs in her enclosure with her.

10.  There was a “lion safari” in the zoo.  This was a rip off while we were there.  The lioness was in a cage with her cubs, rather than out in the safari park.  This was for the safety of her “cubs” which were maybe 4 months old.  However, the only other lion was also caged, in some cage where he could not be seen.  This was also for the safety of her “cubs” because the male did not sire the cubs.  It seems to me only one of the animal groups need be separated for safety.  It also seems to me that if all we are going to see is a lion and her cubs in a cage, it is not a safari and you shouldn’t be charging extra for it.

11.  Other than hippopotamus, some cheetah, the African lions, the emu, and a sun bear, most of the animals at this zoo are indigenous to India and in fact, are indigenous to northern India…where we were.    They could easily be left in the wild… just saying.  You find most of these animals in the parks, streets and even in the alleyways and rooftops…  This zoo did not seem to have any programs that would otherwise justify it’s existence really.

I’m not trying to be critical.  Maybe the zoo in some way does raise awareness about the treatment of animals, and gives the local people some pride in their wildlife and so motivates the protection of species?  I don’t know.  It kills me though that these animals seem to be needlessly kept in these conditions without at least enough space, enough water, and enough enrichment to give them a good quality of life.

So that is enough ranting about the zoo.  They did have some positives.  Some of the enclosures seemed sufficiently large for the animal in them – for example the tiger, emu and hyena enclosures.  The animals, for the most part, also had companionship and they appeared healthy, if stressed.  There were security personnel to keep the grown ups behaving and a number of little play parks to amuse the children.  This seemed effective, as the children were not climbing all over the enclosures, teasing the animals or annoying the animals.  When they wanted to rough-house and play, they seemed to do it in the play parks.  

I would suggest to the zoo owners and the City of Chandigarh one thing though – put up better signs.  We spent more than an hour just trying to find the place.  If it wasn’t for a few reasonably friendly locals we would never have found the place.

Also, if you are wanting this place to become a tourist attraction, maybe hire a couple of zoologists who can lead you in the right direction about building a healthy zoo.  Keep local animals if you must, but keep them well.  Nothing wrong with showcasing and educating people about the local species, their habitat needs and their protection.  Just a thought, since you already have a good collection of local animals.

Before I forget, I have been trying to catch site of a peacock (India’s national bird) since I arrived in India.  No luck, no luck, no luck.  Until I arrived at the zoo.  There were a couple of peacocks in the elephant enclosure but too far away to see really.  Then…

Jackpot – in the lion safari.  Right on the road next to the jeep… Not one or two but fifteen or twenty peacocks only twenty feet from me!  Yay!  There was some happy dancing going on in that little jeep/bus thing!!  Thanks little sister for pointing them out to me so I didn’t miss them.  Who knew a peacock could be so elusive??  

Okay, on to amrit.  I took amrit about two weeks ago at the Darbar Sahib (well the Akal Takht part of the Darbar |Sahib complex).  Amrit is the Sikh initiation or baptism ceremony.  

Guru Gobind Singh Ji and the Formation of the Khalsa
The history of the Sikhs is reasonably complex but I’ll try to give a concise backgroun.  In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji sent out a hukamnama (an order) that all Sikhs should gather during the Baisakhi festival.  A very  large congregation appeared with him at Anandpur Sahib on March 30th of that year.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji came out of his tent with a sword in hand.  He told the gathered crowd that the sword was thirsty and asked for a volunteer to give his head for the Guru.  Many in the crowd wondered whether Guru Gobind Singh Ji had gone mad.  As he called again and again (three times) for a head, some even left the gathering, fearing for their lives.

Eventually Bhai Daya Singh stood and offered his head to Guruji.  He was taken into a smaller tent.  The crowd heard a noise of the sword being used.  When Guru Gobind Singh Ji came out of the tent, the sword was dripping with blood.  He called for another head.  In time, four more offered their heads to the Guru.  Bhai Dharam Ji, Bhai Himmat Ji, Bhai Muhkam Ji, and Bhai Sahib Ji.  Each was taken into the tent and each time, until the last, the crown heard the use of the sword and saw it re-emerge in the hands of Guruji, soaked in blood.

When all five had gone into the tent, they re-emerged together with Guruji, healthy and alive.  They had changed clothes, wearing blue turbans and robes, and waistbands.  Guru Gobind Singh Ji then gave a speech setting out the expectations of a Sikh and giving us our unique identities.  His wife added some sugar to water in a steel bowl, which Guru Gobind Singh Ji stirred with a steel blade while reciting bani – amrit.  He administered this to the five Beloved Ones, the Panj Payare and these five became the first five members of the Khalsa.  Guru Gobind Singh Ji then took amrit from the Panj Payare, putting himself on equal footing with the Khalsa, becoming a part of his disciples.  Then each of the 20,000 or so Sikhs who remained also took amrit and became part of the Khalsa- the army of baptized Sikhs.

The Five K’s
A Sikh who has taken amrit and has not committed any of the sins which would require rebaptism, is known as an Amritdhari Sikh.  Amritdhari Sikhs must wear 5 kakkars, or 5 K’s at all times.  These are kesh (unshorn hair), khanga (a small, wooden comb), kara (an iron or steel bracelet), kecchera (breeches), and kirpan (a blade).

You must arrive with all of these on and having freshly bathed and washed your hair for the amrit ceremony.

The Host Unit
After some debate and pondering, the host unit decided that she would also take amrit on the same day as me.  That was great but it came with some serious debate.  Right up until it was time to leave for the ceremony – she was still considering whether it was the right time for her.

See, she was really wanting to put it off.  “After my son marries.”, “after the winter.”… her excuses told me that she just was not ready for Amrit and that’s okay.  Taking amrit is a personal choice, a very personal choice and one should feel both ready and not pressured into it.

However, there are elements here who would pressure her into taking amrit.  Their thinking is that if she takes it, her son and daughter will also take it because amrit tends to run in families.  Hardly a reason to take amrit, given that it is such a personal thing.

I could tell she wanted to wait as well because she didn’t want to come to purchase her kirpan, or the kecchera or khanga that she would need.  When her daughter and I bought them, she complained that the small kirpian (she asked for a small one) was not big enough, that the khanga (which is not seen generally) is the wrong colour and the kecchera were too large (she takes a large kecchera)… all signs that she was not feeling it.  Again, I think that’s totally okay.  You should take make such a big commitment, take on such a responsibility unless you are absolutely ready to do it.

Also, the host unit wanted to be able to dye her hair still.  That’s not permitted after amrit.  Your hair is to be left in its natural state, unshorn.  Dying the hair is unnatural and it is also a symbol of ego, which Sikhs try to rid themselves of.

She was clear with me the morning of that she was not ready and that she would take amrit later.  However, a friend arrived to take me to the Akal Takht for the ceremony and she was suddenly again ready.  I say this not to be critical of her but because I worry about her.

I also say it to point out a problem I have.  It’s not a problem with only women but it seems that more often it is a woman on the other side.  The host unit is very skilled at being passive-aggressive.  My question… why do we even need to be passive aggressive with one another?  Everyone knows it happening!  It’s not attractive!  It’s not nice!  It’s just really frustrating and unnecessary.

Can anyone please help me understand this?  Especially since I tend to meet passive-aggression with non-physical aggression, and that goes over so well here…

Ceremony Starts at 11… or does it?
I was told that the ceremony would begin promptly at 11 and that if I was late, I would not be allowed to take Amrit that day  because I must be present for the whole ceremony.  Yeah… not so much with the 11 a.m. start time.  We didn’t actually get started until closer to 1 p.m.

First they had to register me.  Problem one arrived when I gave my name which has been legally changed for some time.  Problem two arrived when no one, and I mean no one, could tell me what problem one was.  So I sat there while people called higher ups and then more higher ups and finally it all simmered down and they took my name and wrote it in a ledger.

From the bits of Punjabi that I understood, I gleaned:

– They didn’t care that I don’t speak Punjabi fluently, they cared whether from that day I would follow Gurmat (God’s path)…
– There is no easy Punjabi translation of Nguyen so it becomes GiYan but you know… in Gurmukhi script rather than Anglicized.
– Would I know what to do during the ceremony and would I be able to repeat the Mool Mantar?
– Was there someone who could translate for me?  (Because they were doing a great job so far…?)

Eventually it sorted itself out in a way that only those men talking Punjabi to one another know…  They also took information about my male relatives… we’ll discuss that in a later post on Born A Sikh.  Not sure what my patrilineage has to do with anything really.

I got into the room where the baptism would be and was told to sit on the right.  Then angrily, on the left.  No, in front.  So many cooks…  so, so many cooks.

One of the Panj Payare took me aside and asked if I was being baptised for the first time.  Then another came and asked me to move again, to sit right up front.  The host unit sat behind me and in minutes, the place began to fill and there was just utter chaos after that.  People pushed and shoved (and I was pushed and shoved by the host unit)… argh.  Anyhow, focussing on what mattered – the amrit ceremony finally got under way near 1 p.m.

It was about that time that the man who was going to help me disappeared.  He told me to read about the ceremony in the Rehat Marayada and then he just left.  Never saw him again.  Probably I lost him in the huge crowd of people that I was being pushed and prodded into… but…

While we were standing listening to the prayers being said while amrit was being prepared, three kids without their parents came up front and began rough housing, kicking my purse over and generally being poorly behaved.  I peeked around for a parent but no one volunteered their association with the poorly behaved kids.

Two of the kids were being rebaptized… because obviously the first time and this time… it was sinking in.

Anyhow, I leaned over them and asked them to stop which got me evil looks from … bingo. the mother who now wanted to volunteer her association with the kids.  I did note she took no steps to correct the children but happily berated them afterward in front of a group of women instead.  Nice…

When you are rebaptized, you have to get up in front of the whole congregation and declare your sin.  The men take off their pants and show up with their breeches on, which is that much more embarassing I guess and really requires that you have your ego in check.  Good for them for doing it!

Because we were a large group, they did it in groups.  Most of the people who were there to be rebaptized (including misbehaving children and their mother) where there because they had eaten meat.  I learned later that misbehaving children and their mother do this regularly – because they like to eat chicken at weddings.  Okay then, let’s skip the baptism until you’re ready for it maybe?
Three of the poor men stood before the congregation and admitted to having sex with women they were not married to.  I applaud them their honesty.  Two women behind me talked about how they would never admit that or allow their husbands to admit it because it would be too embarrassing… kind of missing the point again, no?  Each of the three looked very embarrassed to be where they were.  Each of the three clearly also wanted to do something about it and each was being honest, which is more the point really.  Good for them for going through it.

As part of rebaptism you are also given a punishment by the Panj Payare.  In all cases, they were given some seva to do.

Once this was over, the ceremony began in full swing, with each of the Panj Payare stirring the sugar in an iron bowl with the blade and saying one of the five banis that are recited.  It took about an hour before amrit was ready.  When it was, we were each baptised with a different Panj Payare.

My guy – not gentle at all.  I had so much amrit in my hair and on my face that I was having a hard time keeping my eyelashes from sticking together.  So much sugar.  When everyone was done pushing and shoving to the front of the line (you’ll hear be groan a lot about this terrible habit), and was baptised we all drank the remaining amrit from the pot.

Again, nothing gentle about my guy, he held the pot roughly so that I had to drink about a cup or so of the amrit before he moved on to the next in line.  Then there was still more in the pot so he just pointed at six or seven of us, told us to stand and made us drink even more amrit.  That’s great, I guess but not so much when you still have an hour to go before you are done and … you have a bladder the size of a pea.

Parshad was then distributed among everyone.  They had planned on too many people, so the portions were roughly double the normal palmful that you get.  More pressure on the bladder, but I’m tough, I can make it through this right?  Right… but just barely.

When the ceremony was complete, I was very happy, very satisfied with being a new member of the Khalsa, and very urgently in need of a bathroom.  I was not going to let my first action as a member of the Khalsa be to get the carpets at the Akal Takht all wet.

Normally, the host unit is a fast walker but not this time.  She couldn’t talk slower.   Did she understand my distress (yes)… did she not understand my distress (hardly)… I don’t know but I didn’t have time for her passive-aggressiveness.   I bolted to the nearest toilets (outside of the complex) and left her somewhere near the wrong shoe house… without the token for her shoes too, which seemed to upset her when I returned.   But with my newly emptied bladder, I just was not that concerned about it.  I handed up the token and retrieved our shoes with a big old smile on my sugar-sticky face.

In all seriousness, the amrit ceremony is a solemn occasion and the fact that I’m finding things to laugh at shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the ceremony is a casual one.  I’m just telling it like it was, which is my thing.

I’m happy to be a member of the Khalsa and ever so grateful to be a Sikh, whether others took the ceremony seriously or not, whether others took a passive-aggressive approach to me that day… none of it matters.  What matters is that I did it.  I made a very personal choice and followed through with it and I am now a member of the Khalsa brotherhood.  

Advice to the Little Sister
There are already people who want the little sister unit to take amrit, now that her mother has done it.  I spoke to her about where she’s at and I think I’ll just leave these bits of advice here to remind her of our conversation from time to time, in case she forgets or doubts herself occasionally:

1.  God knows your heart.

2.  Always, always find ways to do good things and be a good person.

3.  Don’t let anyone push you into doing anything.  Whatever it is, it has to be the right thing for you because you alone are responsible for your decisions.

4.  You can be a good person and not be Amritdhari.

5.  You can be a good Sikh and not be Amritdhari.

6.  Take advice from people you trust and people who are older than you – their wisdom counts but don’t let them push you into anything either.

7.  Respect other people’s decisions too.  Some with take Amrit, some won’t, some will sin, some won’t.  It’s not up to you to judge.  Don’t worry if other want to judge you too.  It’s not up to them either.

8.  Protect your hair even if you’re not Amritdhari.  You are Sikh and that means something to you.  But don’t protect it out of pride or ego, which are useless things.

9.  Don’t be afraid to say you are not ready yet.  Only you will know when you’re ready.

10.  Thank you for sharing a meal with me while I ate my very last piece of chicken.  Who knew it would be at a Pizza Hut in the middle of Amritsar?  That was a fun night and I’m glad to have shared it with such a sweet girl.  If you are thinking of taking amrit, be sure you won’t miss those things as well.  And have one last omelet before you do it.

11.  Your big sister will always defend you from anyone who tries to push you and I’ll also defend your decision to take amrit.  There will be people on both sides… all the time.  It’s part of my job to take them on for you and with you haha

12.  If you do take amrit, make sure you buy the right size kacchera… too small or too big and you’re in for a world of discomfort.

13.  It won’t matter what colour your khanga is – it should be one that you can use to comb your hair.  You have thick hair so get a bigger khanga.

14.  Get the kirpan first.  You don’t need a big one like I have or a small one like your mom’s.  Get the one that feels right but get it first.  Then buy a gatra that will fit the kirpan.

15.  Wear a turban, don’t wear one?  It’s entirely up to you, my girl.  You’ll always be lovely to me with or without one.   People will stare more but it’s not about them.  Also, it’s not a fashion statement, don’t make it one.

16.  If you take amrit don’t become all dower and super-serious, okay?  Keep your sense of humour.  The Khalsa is serious stuff and the decision to take amrit or not is a serious one and there will be other things to be serious about along the way but generally life is not serious.  Don’t miss out on the joy of it because you’re being busy killing your sense of humour.

Okay, Back to the Zoo

These are the peacocks that I have been trying to see since I arrived in India!  Beautiful!  These are mostly juvenile males (well, all peacocks are males – peahens are the females)…  these have the long beautiful tail feathers that seem to be so prized by collectors and are found in most road side souvenir markets.  They are also found in most carvings and inlays in most of the monuments and may of the temples I’ve been to.
Beautiful birds and they didn’t care a fig that I was there.  They just went about their thing.

Apparently they will only unfold their tail feathers during the rainy season (which I take it is also mating season).

So, I’m SOL to see one with open tail feathers but that’s okay.   It was almost worth paying for the lion safari to see the peacocks and a lioness in a cage with her cubs… almost.

Until next time.  What shall we talk about then?  Huh?  How about Punjabi Death Fog and we’ll visit two gurdwaras historical because of the Shahebzadaas.  Sounds about right to me but if you all have any other ideas or suggestions, let me know.

Until then,

Peace and love,
– Preet


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