The Golden Temple
by Preeti Verma Lal
Faith is all I carried that muggy
afternoon as I took off my shoes at the entrance, picked a token, covered my head,
washed my feet in the manmade rivulet and opened my eyes to the Golden Temple
that glistened in the sun, even its reflection in the lake, the Pool of Immortality,
had a devout air about it. Some women sat on the stairs of the lake and scrubbed
the dirt, while others stood on ladders scraping the old paint off the walls.
Nobody looked distracted, they all went about their chores as if their worlds
had shrunk to that speck of dirt or that square inch of dirty wall.I
was scrounging around for facts about the Golden Temple, this would be my first
visit to the holiest of the Sikh shrines and, like always, I wanted my armour
of details. Images of the temple resplendent in the sun flitted across my impatient
eyes; I was all keyed up, running through essentials and replacing my dungarees
with a crisp pair of patiala salwar, a long kurta and a sequined dupatta. I was
packing when my devout Sikh friend landed at the door. Piqued at my preparations
she looked stoically at me and said, "Why are you fussing over facts? Don't
fret so much. All you need to do is abandon your prejudices, your blinkers and
that little blemish in your human heart. Just carry faith, it is more than enough.
It alone will take you there."
all I carried that muggy afternoon as I took off my shoes at the entrance, picked
a token, covered my head, washed my feet in the manmade rivulet and opened my
eyes to the Golden Temple that glistened in the sun, even its reflection in the
lake, the Pool of Immortality, had a devout air about it. Some women sat on the
stairs of the lake and scrubbed the dirt, while others stood on ladders scraping
the old paint off the walls. Nobody looked distracted, they all went about their
chores as if their worlds had shrunk to that speck of dirt or that square inch
of dirty wall.
The devotion extends to the kitchen where
food is cooked for nearly 60, 000 people each day; the langar feeding more than
one lakh people every Sunday. Harjeet Singh works in the kitchen for more than
12 hours everyday, making hundreds of rotis that are rolled by women sitting not
too far away from him. In another corner, dal is being cooked in such huge cauldrons
that they could fit in some half a dozen children within their dark, deep hollow.
I try stirring the black dal that is being cooked in one of the 'degs', I can't,
the aluminum spatulas are so long and heavy that I need help.
Jathedar Harpinder Singh, the kitchen in-charge, "For the 24-hour langar,
everyday we use nearly 50 LPG cylinders to cook 3,200 kgs of wheat flour, four
quintals rice and more than two quintals of dal. It takes 175 salaried kitchen
help and some volunteers to cook this food." Food is only cooked in pure
ghee, seven kgs of this ghee is poured into every quintal of dal. For the 'prasad',
3,600 kgs of wheat flour is cooked in 330 kgs of pure ghee everyday.
walk around the periphery of the lake and take the marble causeway to reach the
Golden Temple that was built in the late 16th century by Guru Arjan Dev. I joined
the huge crowd, most men in turbans, women in salwar kurtas, children holding
tight to their elders. At the door, nobody questioned my identity, nobody wanted
to know my religion, nobody pushed. They all waited for their turn at the shrine
that houses Guru Granth Sahib, the holiest book of the Sikhs that also has the
status of the last Guru. The gilding, the marble and the inlay work was added
by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the early 19th century.
the sanctum sanctorum, devotion took different forms - a young man in Levi's T-shirt
and jeans sat cross-legged, his eyes closed, tears rolling down his cheeks, a
blind man walked around confidently while an old man looked out of the window
in amazing peace. My eyes met with an old woman's who was hunched on the floor,
she looked and put her hand on her head. I touch mine, my duppata had slipped
and my head was uncovered. I quickly cover my head; inside the Golden Temple uncovered
head amounts to sacrilege.
It was nearly 10 at night but
I sat by the lake waiting for the night palki, when the Guru Granth Sahib is taken
from the Temple to Akal Takht for the night's rest. Like me, there are thousand
others waiting and when the gold palki is brought out from the Akal Takht carried
by men on their broad shoulders, the sound of "wahe guru" pervades the
air. Men clamour to carry the palki and devouts wait for hours just to have a
look at the Guru Granth Sahib.
When the door closes, people
walk past the lake to head home. I take one last look at the Temple and as I walk
out to pick my shoes, I find Gusharan Singh arranging shoes in the racks. He offers
his services everyday and enjoys the job. "I spent my life working for Apollo
Tyres, but this is the best job I have ever had," he adds.
day in the Golden Temple does something to you. Perhaps there is something in
the loam there, you walk barefoot and forget that you ever needed shoes, the sun
stares at you harshly but you don't feel the blaze. Maybe it is the loam, maybe
it was what my friend had said - Just faith.
my return, for days I neither wore my dungarees nor my agnosticism. I let Faith
grow in the subsoil. Sedulously.
in Discover India magazine, August 2004.