By Gianna Liccio, a member of the SkillCorps India February 2018 team
On Friday, we went to The Golden Temple after a day of exploring Amritsar and shopping. Unfortunately, we never made it to the Holi celebration in the city. I was bummed but, grateful that I got to experience it at the school the day before!
The Golden temple is a site of worship for those who identify as Sikhs. Sikhism, however, is a religion that was particularly created to pioneer the welcoming of all religions to worship together in one, beautiful space. Since wikipedia always seems to find a way to say it better than me ..
“The construction of (The Golden Temple) was intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to worship God equally.”
If you want to learn about Sikhism, there are plenty of resource online but, here is an overall synopsis for those of you who are just interested in skimming the surface:
– Sikhism originated near the end of the 15th century in India with the intention of rejecting religious monopoly. At this time, India was made up of two major religions: Hinduism, and Islam. These groups we very segregated and did not leave much room for those outside of their religious circles.
– Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, sought to unite these two religious groups and, further, invite those who did not identify as Muslim or Hindu to worship just the same, in a supportive, communal space. Thus, Sikhism combines the traditions and beliefs of both religions as well as incorporates its own, unique approach to worship.
– The word Sikh means “learner” or “disciple”.
– There are 10 (and arguably 11) gurus or “masters” of sikhism, and they are the authors of the Sikh scripture. On our trip, we learned that they rejected being labeled as prophets, and wanted to be thought of as one with all members of not only the sikh religion, but all religions who wished to embrace collaborative worship.
The Golden Temple has a large kitchen stocked with both volunteers and machinery that quickly produce enough food to feed all members of the surrounding community, 24/7. Since the Sikh religion is based on the idea of living a blissful life and becoming one with your community, the temple actively supports its members in establishing strength when it comes to their fundamental needs. Our tour guide, in particular, stated that “If one wants to live a blissful life, he can not be hungry, therefore, the Sikh community works to eliminate hunger among it’s people”.
The food is distributed to the community in a large, empty dining hall, where everyone sits on the floor, lined up in single file, creating aisles for the volunteers to serve the food. Participants on either side of the “aisles” face each other to make this process more efficient. In fact, it moves so fast that, it’s almost impossible to turn any food down before it’s already on your plate – and it is unacceptable to waste food in the temple (understandably).
Because it is volunteer based, the kitchen is open to anyone, so we got to go in and help out with some of the work! They pretty much seem to serve butter naan, lentils, and rice pudding on a regular basis. After helping out, we went into the dining hall and sat with the community to eat dinner. It was truly an amazing experience.
Unfortunately, since it was Holi that day, the temple itself was far too crowded for us to actually go in. There were truly, so many people there. We did, however, get to dip our hands into the sacred pool, which is associated with miraculous stories of healing. We also got to meditate on the prayer floor above the pool, looking directly at the temple as it reflected off of the water.
Some take aways:
– The Sikh religion is wonderfully intriguing and, while I had already been slightly interested in what i’d known of it before coming, I am much more motivated to learn more about its history and its practice.
– I was humbled at the opportunity to be pushed out of my comfort zone…a few times. While, overall, it was a wonderful experience, the sheer amount of people there was getting to me a bit; especially considering the environment that we were sharing. You cannot wear shoes in the surrounding area of the temple (which is somewhat dirty) and, the food we were eating was not made in the cleanliest fashion either, based on what I’d seen. Finally, you are eating next to dozens of people, many of whom are homeless. While the concept is beautiful and admirable, if I am being honest, I had to let go of my trepidation toward some situations. Looking back, I feel grateful that I was put in a position to think more openly and communally.