The Harmandir Sahib (The abode of God), informally known as the Golden Temple is the holy scripture of Sikhism and it is located in the city of Amritsar, in the state of Punjab. It was mainly built as a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to come and worship God equally.
The temple is surrounded by a large lake or gurdwara tank, known as the Sarovar, which consists of Amrit (“holy water” or “immortal nectar”). The Buddha is known to have spent time at this place in contemplation. Two thousand years after Buddha’s time, another philosopher-saint came to live and meditate by the peaceful lake. This was Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh religion. After the passing away of Guru Nanak, his disciples continued to frequent the site; over the centuries it became the primary sacred shrine of the Sikhs.
Sikhism can be considered one of the more universal religions. It is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world, with over 25 million Sikhs and one of the most steadily growing. Sikhs can be easily recognized by the Five Ks: a distinctively wrapped turban; uncut hair (Kesh), beard and mustache; an iron/steel bracelet (kara); a Kirpan, a small sword in a gatra strap; Kashera, a type of special shorts that are all white; and a Kanga, comb under turban.
All the Sikh temple worldwide keep the rule to welcome all the persons regardless of their religion, colour, creed, or sex. But there are some restrictions that every visitor must respect, such as: upon entering the premises, removing one’s shoes (leaving them off for the duration of one’s visit) and washing one’s feet in the small pool of water provided; not drinking alcohol, eating meat, or smoking cigarettes or other drugs while in the shrine; wearing a head covering, a sign of respect (the temple provides head scarves for visitors who have not brought a suitable covering).
Although Amritsar was too far from my base, Kolkata, I went twice there, so I was lucky to feel Golden Temple’s sacredness which really touched my heart. Sacred melodies can be heard, especially in the evening, making the atmosphere amazing! Actually the view is more spectacular at night, when the pilgrimage point is beautifully lighted. Then the full glory of the temple is revealed and it feels like you belong there even if you are not part of this religion or don’t understand it.
I will never forget how totally complete we were feeling lying down at the cold marble facing the stars hearing these peaceful chants. It was moments like this that make me wish I could freeze frame time and stay there for ever. But it was until a guard came and told us after a while that we were showing disrespect by putting our feet towards the temple and then we had to sit straight up again!
Another thing that was unexpectedly nice was the friendliness and hospitality of the Sikh people who not only invite but in fact encourage others to come and visit, enjoy a meal and even spend the night at the temple and everything for free! Though donations are appreciated and recommended. There are special rooms put aside for foreigners and a large communal meal dished up regularly unlike the literally hundreds of pilgrims sleeping outside on the ground.
To be honest that stunning temple captivated me more than Taj Mahal! Maybe because of the whole atmosphere with the peaceful music and the Sikh people making the scenery magical and breathtaking at first sight, evoking the feeling of entering the setting of a real-life fairy tale. Undoubtedly, visiting Golden Temple is one of the top things to do in India!
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