I don’t think I am overstating it when I say that Ann, Julia, and I were in awe of the Golden Temple. It is a peaceful place with such a spirit of community about it. None of us really knew too much about the Sikh faith and we walked away absolutely in love with its ideals.
The fact that they have such a commitment to reach out to those in need is amazing. Our guide told us that, beyond each gurudwara having a kitchen to feed those who are hungry, the Golden Temple also sponsors between 200 and 300 young women each year for their weddings. They select girls who cannot afford dowries and the temple sponsors them. (And, yes, it would be great to get rid of the whole dowry system but it is a reality and every year hundreds of girls can get married who might not have without the temple’s help.)
Another lovely aspect of Sikhism is that they do not believe in the caste system – every one is equal. Someone told me once that every Sikh has Singh in their name and that Singh means lion. I was also told it means brother, signifying that they are all connected to each other. This concept was in practice at the Golden Temple. So many people come to volunteer their time and they all seemed pretty happy about it. (By the by, supposedly the women all have Kaur in their name which means princess. I could totally get used to that. Just call me Princess A Reason To Write.)
The Sikhs have some lovely cornerstone ideas for their faith. According to Wikipedia, there are 10 beliefs in Sikhism. They are:
1. Believe in one God.
2. Treat everyone equally.
3. Live by the 3 main tenets –
Practice constant meditation and prayer.
Make an honest income and do it honorably.
Share earnings and selflessly serve others.
4. Avoid the 5 sins of ego
Pride, Lust, Greed, Anger, and Attachment
5. Get baptized.
6. Keep the code of honor by abiding the gurus teachings.
7. Wear the 5 symbols of faith:
uncut hair, wooden comb, dagger, proper undergarments, silver bracelet.
8. Follow the 4 commandments:
Do not dishonor the creator’s intention by cutting the hair.
Do not harm the body with tobacco or other intoxicants.
Do not eat sacrificial meat.
Do not commit adultery.
9. Recite prayers daily
10. Take part in fellowship
Worship together and sing God’s praise.
Cook and eat together.
Serve each other.
Sometimes things just don’t make sense until you hear and see them first hand. I never really understood the whole growing the hair thing, honestly. But now I totally get it. If God meant for hair to grow – let it grow. It seems very symbolic of really turning things over to God. I am not going to stop shaving my legs but I totally get it!
And this is it – the Golden Temple. It is beautiful. The founder of Sikhism was Guru Nanak whose father wanted to raise him according to strict Hindu beliefs. However, Guru Nanak rejected the idea of the caste system and preached that all humans were equal. He believed that life was given as an opportunity to get closer to God and that all humans were afforded that same opportunity.
Sikhism is said the be the youngest of the world’s religions. It is only 500 years old. But the Sikhs have reportedly already grown into the world’s fifth largest religious group. The word Sikh means disciple. Guru comes from two words – Gu meaning darkness and Ru meaning light. So a guru helps fellow believers turn darkness into light. It is estimated that there are about 26 million Sikhs in the world.
Guru Nanak was the first Guru and 9 others followed behind him. The last human Guru was Gobind Singh and he named the holy scriptures as the 11th and final guru – the Adi Granth which then became known as the Guru Granth Sahib. There are over 50 places throughout the temple where passages from the holy book are continuously being read. We were told that priests can wait up to 20 years to have their turn at reading scripture at this Temple. We were also told that women can be priests and are able to take part in the readings. Equality reigns.
The temple is an active place of worship and people of all faiths are welcome there. We saw Muslims, Hindus, and even Christians in reverent prayer throughout the temple. We even bowed our own heads in silent meditation when we sat a top the Golden Temple and listened to the prayers. The atmosphere was remarkably reflective and we felt so much a part of the worship ceremony. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of any part inside the actual Golden Temple but it probably really is better if you just imagine a light breeze blowing thru a picture perfect sky, us on our knees with eyes closed with hands in our laps, our hearts beating slowly, prayers humming in the air, and everyone quiet together except for the very young child playing with the donations box. Normal Rockwell would have painted it for sure.
At first I felt a little uncomfortable taking the spot of someone who practiced Sikhism on the floor in front of the priest reading the scripture. But our guide reassured us over and over that people of all beliefs are welcome at the temple not only as visitors but as active participants. And I must say I felt very comfortable there.
I also noticed that many of the worshipers would touch the base of the doorway as they entered the Golden Temple complex and any of the smaller areas inside. So I did that too. I am not sure what it represents but it seemed very respectful and reverent. And people also fell to their knees when they entered the temple. You could tell some of them just could not believe they were actually finally there.
The day was truly magical. Our hearts opened to a faith we were not familiar with and stereotypes of brutes came crashing down. Beneath the warrior persona lives men who are compassionate about humanity and dedicated to their faith.
And, if you go to the Golden Temple during the day, make sure you go back at night. You will not regret it.