To the Amritsar Golden Temple for a Free Lunch

After the boisterous India-Pakistan border-crossing ceremony described in the previous post (Border-Crossing), I could finally experience some peace and quiet in nearby Amritsar, a city in the state of Punjab, Northern India.  Amritsar, which literally means “Pool of Holy Nectar”, is the home of Harmandir Sahib, commonly known as the Golden Temple and the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. Despite a large number of visitors, the Golden Temple is an extraordinarily peaceful, and serene place to visit. The most sacred part of the temple is a gleaming golden pavilion where the holy book of Sikhism is kept. A pool of turquoise water (which symbolizes the holy nectar) surrounds the pavilion and pilgrims wishing to worship can reach it thru a long golden pathway.

Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the 15th century apparently because he believed in equality and was unimpressed with both Muslim and Hindu religious practices. Sikhs, who now number about 25 million in the world (most of whom live in the Punjab province), believe in one God. The principal tenet of this religion is that human beings are considered equal regardless of their religion, sex, or race. Men who are practicing Sikhs have a quite distinctive appearance as they typically wear turbans. (It is quite impressive to see how expertly and quickly the Sikhs make a turban out of a long piece of cloth every morning.) Men decide at what point they want to become official members of the adult religious community (similar to a confirmation or bar mitzvah). When they do, they are required to adopt five practices at all times (which are referred to as the 5 Ks since the name of each practice begins with the letter K in the Punjabi language). They never cut their hair or trim their beards (thus the turban to protect it); they use a comb to keep their hair and beard neat; they carry a dagger (or a sword) symbolizing power and dignity; they wear a silver bracelet as a symbol of fearlessness and use special cotton undergarments conveying modesty. One often can see all the components of the ritual aside from the comb (hidden in the turban) when Sikh’s pilgrims worship at the Golden Temple and bathe in the pool of holy nectar with their daggers attached to their turbans so that they won’t get wet. (Some Sikh women adopt similar practices, but they are not required.)

These Sikh rituals are the most visible features of their religion, but much more importantly Sikhism stresses taking good actions. They believe that the way to a good life is “to keep God in heart and mind at all times, live honestly and work hard, treat everyone equally and be generous to the less fortunate.” As such, in each one of their gurdwaras (the Punjabi word meaning House of God), there is an immense kitchen that serves free meals. Of course, the Golden Temple is no exception. In its humongous kitchen, an army of volunteers cuts vegetables, makes chapattis in a gigantic machine, cooks, serves free meals, and cleans the dishes.  Anyone can volunteer to help, and it is estimated that 40,000 meals a day are served there. My economist husband should worry, as this is a violation of the rule that there is no such thing as a free lunch!

And as a Sikh greeting you would say,

Sat Sri Akal,




14 Responses

  1. Again, another inspiring collection of photos and an educational piece of writing! As usual, I learn much from your words and images, France. Thank you!

    1. Thank you very much Kathy. Always nice hearing from you.The Golden Temple is a pretty unique place. And I am sure you would have been cooking away in their kitchen. Kind regards, France

  2. Wonderful. Beautiful. I am passing your blog onto my very good friend Kamala, who is Sikh. She and her family will love this! Thank you! Hope you are doing better?

    1. Thank you Michele. I hope your friend likes it. The Golden Temple is a pretty special place.

  3. Great use of light. I really like the way you have captured the events taking place around the temple it’s a compelling set of images and makes me want to travel there myself.

    1. Thank you Dave. Hope you get to go one day. I am sure you would enjoy it. And watching them get ready for a meal is just amazing. But you can see the meal preparation in any gudwaras. There are two very large and beautiful ones in Delhi. Kind regards, France

  4. Such exquisite photographs! I an in awe of how you capture the light.
    I know it won’t suddenly make me a better photographer, but I long for better equipment. One day . . . . .
    I think I like this religion very much, on the assumption that the women really are treated equally, a huge problem in India (and around the world) generally.

    1. Thank you Alison. Capturing the light is mostly about being there at the right time, so not really equipment but a lot of luck.
      Indeed a religion that treats everybody equally, and particularly women, has a lot of appeal. Of course one hopes people live by these tenets. I spoke to a few women who were visiting the temple and they seem to suggest that it was the case. Let’s hope so!

      1. Ahhhh so I can’t blame my equipment 🙂

        I have captured some good shots during the ‘golden hour’ esp early morning. And when people compliment me on a particular photograph I often reply that it’s luck, and I know that it is. Luck plays a big part (being in the right place at the right time), but so does expertise and knowledge. I will continue to practice and experiment. And be inspired by photographers like you. Thank you.

        1. Of course you can blame your equipment. I do it all the time. But as you pointed out, being at the right place at the right time is what has allowed me to capture that beautiful light. But you are also right that one has to know to look for it 🙂

  5. Once again, thanks for sharing. Hope you keep recovering quickly, so there is no interruption in this steady stream of amazing photos and information from around the world – familiar places, places on my list to go to, and places I only dream of seeing. Great job again.

    1. Thank You Sara. I assume this one is on your list of places to go. If not, it should probably be, I am sure you would like it. Kind regards, France

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