There are some places which when you visit, you stand there struck by its beauty. You gasp and wonder— is a man capable of constructing something so beautiful? It kindles your soul, and you go into a state of trance. It grounds you. One such awe-striking place that churns such emotions in you is the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
I shamelessly admit that I wished to visit the Golden temple only after watching the ‘Ik Onkar’ song from the movie ‘Rang De Basanti.’ Further, my curiosity increased by a thousand-fold when I saw the Mega Kitchen program by Nat geo featuring the Golden Temple’s World’s Largest community kitchen.
So when I got an invitation to visit Gaj Retreat in Hoshiarpur, I immediately planned to visit the Golden Temple.
So bear with me as I write this long post. The words come straight from my heart…
Amritsar is a city with many facets.
When I got down from the bus, a sea of autos, electric rickshaws, and cycle rickshaws gheraoed me to take me to my hotel. The charm of the wide roads and posh hotels around the city trickles down before the narrow lanes leading to the temple.
Tip: Stay close to the Golden Temple so you can explore food, take heritage walks, catch sunset and sunrise at the temple. Foreigners have a dorm exclusively for them available in the temple complex.
History of the Golden Temple, Amritsar
History says that the Golden temple was initially not a Golden Temple!
Amritsar, the pool of nectar, was founded by the fourth guru called Guru Ram Das, and the fifth Guru decided to build a temple, Shri Harmandir Sahib (also known as Durbar Sahib), in the middle of the holy tank.
Sikhism promotes equality, irrespective of your caste, creed, religion, wealth, or even skin colour. Having kept this in mind, the temple is built on ground level, with doors opening on all sides as a gesture to welcome everybody in!
This Gurudwara was the first pilgrimage site built for the Sikhs so that they can worship together. The foundation was laid by a Muslim saint, and the Gurudwara was completed under the supervision of many prominent Sikh leaders. Over time, it was Maharaja Ranjit Singh who covered the temple with Gold, and hence it gets the name Golden temple.
The Gurudwara also houses the holy Guru Granth Sahib. Having read about the history of this sacred book, I feel this could be the best book to follow.
Sikhism was a religion formed by a movement where people frustrated with their faith, their older way of life, the way they were treated— joined together to make a better system. These people wrote the Holy Guru Granth Sahib together. The Holy Book has the best teachings from every other religion. Other principles worth following have also been added to the sacred book.
All this makes the Holy Book the best of the best! The Guru Granth Sahib is itself very rightfully worshipped as the eternal living Guru!
TIP: The Central Sikh Museum inside the complex has a wealth of information about the Gurudwar, the Golden temple history, about the Sikh Gurus, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikhism and much more. Never miss it on your trip.
Visit to the Harmandir Sahib:
Harmandir Sahib never sleeps! The crowd keeps pouring in all the time but the proper discipline.
I covered my head with a scarf, washed my hands and legs, and entered the temple like every other devotee. I stood by the stairs and watched the temple shining gloriously in the sunlight.
The music played inside the Gurudwara was heard all around the complex, and a scroll-like image on the screen showed the lyrics for people to follow.
Walking around the complex, I saw devotees of all kinds. Some were taking a bath in the holy tank as per the rituals. Some sat in a quiet corner and prayed. Some sat in the corridor, lost in the beauty of the temple. Some performed Seva, cleaning the water bowls and giving water to the devotees. Some were cleaning the floor. Some just kept chanting “Wahe Guru Wahe Guru”.
The queue for the darshan was long, so I decided to come back in the evening. Meanwhile, Deepak from Punjab tourism took me on a tour of the langar, the community kitchen,
World’s Largest Community Kitchen, Langar at The Golden Temple:
Langar! A concept so pure that it has sustained over centuries.
Langar was introduced by Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru. It was started to eliminate discrimination among people. Here, everyone sits together on the floor and has a simple meal, nothing fancy. From then on till today., the langar or the free meal is provided to the devotees in every Gurudwara.
Once when Emperor Akbar sought a visit to the Third Sikh Guru. He asked Akbar to first have a meal in the langar. So Akbar sat along with the commoners to have a meal.
Even today, this is what you can see in those dining halls —everyone sitting side by side, extending their hand for the Guru ki prasad; the rotis are dropped in their hand, and you are content with the meal. People pick up the plate, spoon, and bowl, quietly sit down on the mat, and the food gets served. One can eat to the heart’s content. Then you pick up your plate, move on to the washing area, where volunteers take it from you.
Every day, about a lakh devotees have their meal in the kitchen hall. The Sewadaars, the volunteers, are the show stoppers.
I walked into the dining hall that accommodated around 5000 people at a time. There is no commotion, no rush, no fighting for space, no spillage of food, no dirty linens. All spick and span. Almost at every Gurudwara that I sat for langar, the moment I finish the meal and get up, somebody or the other sitting next to me or on the way would take the plate from my hand and take it to the washing area! That is also a form of sewa!
Besides the sewadaars serving the food, there is a lot more action happening in the kitchen.
I walked back to see how the rotis are being made. The wheat was being pounded —one, a little coarse grind for the prasad and two, a fine effort for the rotis.
The fine ground atta is then taken to the kitchen, kneading, ready to be fed into the roti maker machine. The machine makes not just perfect round rotis but also fluffy ones.
The fluffy ones are then passed onto the hands of volunteers, who then generously smear ghee over the rotis. They serve nearly 1,00,000 people every day, and that, my dear friends, means more than 2,00,000 Rotis gets prepared every day.
The Sewadars shift buckets of dal and kheer from the kitchen to the dining hall in a flick of a second. It is like a rally —the buckets of kheer being passed on from one to another in such swift action that you cannot cross their path.
I managed to enter the kitchen without disrupting the process, and I just stood there watching the process in amazement. Massive vessels were sitting on top of wood fire stoves, being handled by two or three people. The simmering kheer and dal needed constant stirring.
The steam from the wok and the fire from the wood made the kitchen burning hot! Tirelessly preparing, cooking, moving it to the dining hall! Then comes another batch. Never have I felt so tiny standing in a kitchen!
So many thoughts kept running through my mind—
How can food be so tasty when made in this vast quantity?
How can it be hygiene?
How is this kitchen so clean?
How do they manage to cook so much?
How do they know they have to cook so much!!
So much was running through my mind, akin to the fire that kept burning in the stove! Not wanting to hinder the place anymore, I moved out back to the dining.
Behind the dining hall is the washing area. When I look at the sewadars, I couldn’t stop but wonder why are they so happy to do a tiresome job! Maybe that is what sewa is all about.
There were rows of people standing very close together cleaning the plates and bowls. People walked in, kept aside their bags, squeezed themselves into one of the rows, and started to wash the dishes! There were six such rows! No kidding!
It gets washed so many times before it comes out all sparkingly clean ready to be stacked up and uses again. I have spent ten years in an IT career where people pay for lunch and wash them. Never have I ever seen the food be so delicious or the plates so clean!
Tip: Try join heritage walks that focus on Amritsar Golden temple only. This way you will get to see the kitchen and participate in volunteering as well. Punjab Tourism conducts Heritage walks in Amritsar, do check with them for details.
Sri Akal Takht:
Right opposite the Sri Harmandir Sahib temple is the Sri Akhal Takht.
There is no way you can miss this Takht. Takht means a throne or seat of authority. Panj Takht means five important Takhts in Sikhism, and Akal Takht is one of them. At the Akal Takht, all the political and military strategies of Sikhs used to be discussed. It’s a place of power, while on the other hand, the Golden Temple is a place of worship, devotion, and spiritual guidance.
You can see weapons on display at night. As you enter, you can also see the room where Guru Granth Sahib rests at night. Now, as I said before, Guru Granth Sahib is considered a person. So in the night, the Guru Granth Sahib will be taken from the Harmandir Sahib and will be placed to sleep in the bed at Akal Takht.
Again in the morning, all the due rituals are done to wake up and bring back the Granth to the Golden Temple. This is known as the Palki ceremony.
Even if you have this holy book at home, you need to do sewa like this! There has to be a separate room in your home where you make Him sleep in the night and offer prayers in the morning.
Golden Temple at Night:
You cannot get enough of the Golden temple, especially if you do not catch a glimpse of the gleaming Golden Temple at night. The whole complex looked different by night, like someplace in Europe with beautiful street lamps and splendid architecture.
On entering the temple in the evening, I was once again lost in the beauty of it. It lit up like Diwali lights. The air was chill, the water was cold, and in the middle of the holy pond, there seemed some liquid gold poured in!
I don’t know whether it was the Golden temple or the reflection that looked so perfect. I decided to take darshan and get some Blessings. The queue was not long. As I entered the door, the hymns were sweetly played; I bowed down and offered my prayers. I also looked up to see the murals and the beauty of the architecture. Then I quickly came out, drank some holy water from the pond, and moved on to get the Kadah prasad.
Kadah Prasad is like the yummiest thing you get in Gurudwaras. It is made of ghee, sugar, and wheat. You can even call it wheat halwa. I also waited to see the Palki Ceremony being performed.
Tip: Standing in the queue by 8:30 pm or 9:00 pm has its advantage. The temple closes at 10 pm. The palki ceremony starts at 9:30 pm. So the queue will move fast, and people will be ushered out pretty efficiently. You don’t have to wait for hours in line. I stood for just 15 min.
Palki Ceremony at Golden Temple Amritsar:
The Palki ceremony happens twice a day.
As I said before, the Guru Granth Sahib is put to rest at the Akal Takht in the night and then is brought back in the morning. This is the Palki ceremony. The honourable Granth is placed on the palanquin and is taken to its place. You can either watch this ceremony at 4:30 am or in the night at 9:30 pm. The devotees are not allowed to enter after 10:00 pm.
Watch the ceremony here,
The commotion does not subside even after 10:00 pm.
I had langar, and the kitchen seemed to be still abuzz. Walking out in the chill air, I sat down on the marble floor by the holy tank overlooking the Golden temple.
It’s 10:30 pm, and I saw that even though the temple door is closed, there are people inside. Volunteers cleaned the sanctum vigorously like ants busily scurrying around and trying to find food for winter while picking up bits and pieces. I was amused at how they were working. They were so engrossed in cleaning the place. One would clean a spot, and another would come in and clean the same area again.
As the night fell, people retired for the day. Some rested in the open halls, some at the verandahs, some just anywhere within the temple complex, wherever they could find a place!
I glanced at the temple for one last time, all shimmering and shining, ready for the next day. I had a feeling of contentment in my heart when I walked up the stairs until I left the Golden Temple complex. It was indeed a day I will remember for an eternity.
WaheGuru ji ka Khalsa, WaheGuru ij ki Fateh..
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How To Reach Amritsar:
Amritsar has an airport – Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport.
AC/Volvo buses ply from various places like Chandigarh, Delhi, etc. Punjab is well connected with buses and good roads, so not a problem.
Trains also ply from Delhi.
There is Ola (similar to Uber) within the city but stick to autos and e-rickshaws, which are abundant and easy to get.