Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Amristar's Golden Temple

Harimandir Sahib - the Golden Temple - is the center of the Sikh Religion, a five hundred year old religion that melds various Indian religions, most prominently Hinduism and Islam. This won't be a treatise on either the history of the temple or the religion, but I encourage my gentle readers to browse Wikipedia on the subject.

A Sikh policy is keeping the gates on all four sides of the temple open, and welcoming visitors of all religions, as long as they maintain basic rules of ettiquite like not smoking, dressing modestly, and so on. Not much of a crimp on my lifestlye, the big difference was I weared a hat, a long-sleaved shirt, and stored my shoes at their locker. Inside the compound, but outside the temple, everybody is dressed up for the occasion, there's streamers overhead.

They also had free meals and free dormitory-style beds on the compound, my sister said that would be too tiring, and she'd be the only woman there. Anyway, I'll cut to the chase:

There. Damn. Beautiful! Right in the middle of a reflecting pool, it's entirely transcendant. The white building was replicated on all four sides. There was a crowded bustle, but still it seemed peaceful and religious, just the way you would want the central shrine of your religion to be. Here's a video, I think it speaks for itself.

Notice how most visitors go around clockwise, like it was a Buddhist stupa! The lady balancing the huge bundle on her head is also pretty cool.

The water of the pool is considered holy, I was encouraged to drink it but turned down the offer. In one spot can be seen people bathing in the water. To me this seems a stark contrast to the modest-clothing policy.

Visitors are allowed inside the Golden Temple. From this angle can also be seen a nearby spire that hasn't yet been whitewashed, I assume this is still a repair left after an Indian military operation against Sikh separatists gutted the place, about twenty five years ago. Anyway I was about not to even bother going in, the line is incredibly crowded and not moving at all fast:

But in a really weird situation, a guy who might have been some kind of tour guide grabbed me and a bunch of foreigners, and led us inside through the exit. It was a very weird situation, I wasn't sure if he was legitimate or he was hoping for us to give him tips. Anyway the center of this holiest temple had people reading from books, and others singing the music that can be hear outside. Very unexpected, dramatically low-key, wow! I also enjoyed the contrast between people's obvious reverence and their natural tendency to push through the tight crowded spaces.

Cameras aren't allowed inside the center, but are perhaps allowed from the rooftop and balconies. The strange guide said it was OK, but then another person who didn't seem strange said it wasn't. I certainly saw others taking photos, and you could see these musicians singing on TV, so obviously it isn't the strongest kapu. However I don't want to further violate some religious code, and the pictures I did take weren't the most exciting, so I won't post them here.

I came again in the evening, for posterity's sake I'll include another picture of the Golden Temple:

People were lined up alongside the outsides of the Golden Temple, some with candles or small lights:

And the temple was lit up beautifully.

There were fireworks that night, but I grew tired of waiting and was feeling the onset of a few day's sickness, where I just felt tired and feverish and sore. I ended up watching the fireworks from my TV, just a few blocks away!

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