Posted by: adventuressetravels | July 27, 2012

The Golden Temple of Warrior Saints

I had my first taste of Sikhism last August in Vancouver.  LJ, my couchsurfing host, told me about this amazing temple that had a kitchen that served some of the most delicious Indian food she’d ever had free every Sunday.  You didn’t have to go to a service, just come and eat as much as you wanted.  The whole thing was starting to gain popularity with the hipsters so that made it less-fun, but it was still pretty cool.

We went with a couple of her friends and she was right, the Sikhs served huge portions of deliciously-spiced food, in a lunchroom like setting.  If you were still hungry, they had servers come around and ladle out more.  Vancouver 20-somethings filled Tupperware containers for lunches for the week.  I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of Sikh food, let alone the 5th largest organized religion in the world!

When I heard that the golden temple, or Harmandir Sahib, in Amritsar, India, was an extremely important place of worship for Sikhs, I decided to make a pilgrimage of sorts.  After trying Sikh food and experiencing a sliver of Sikh culture in Vancouver, I wanted to learn more.  Sikhism originated in Punjab, India, another reason for the scrumptious food, and this province is the only place in the world that Sikhism is the most prominent religion.

Narinderjit, my host in Amritsar, was a Sikh, and enlightened me on the religion.  He was devout and had never cut his hair or shaved his beard in his life and always dressed in the traditional turban.  He didn’t drink alcohol either, which is also a sin.

Sikhs, he told me, don’t discriminate on the basis of gender, race, creed, caste, or religion.  God, he went on to explain, has no gender in Sikhism.  After traveling in India for over a month and witnessing the canker of misogyny so prevalent in the Hindu faith rampant in so many aspects of the country, this egalitarian faith was a breath of fresh air.

“There is a God, and everyone may have a different way of communicating with it.   All religions are just different roads leading to the same place,” he shrugged.   “It is impossible for humans to fully understand God.”

Like many other places in India, travelers were treated like royalty because guests were VIP.  Like all aspects of the Sikh culture, Narinderjit adhered strictly to this principal.  Not only did he welcome us in, explain all about his culture, and entertain us, he also let us wear turbans.  I don’t think I could wrap the turban material around my own head, let alone someone else’s, but he did it with ease.  Wearing one does not feel restrictive in the least.  Quite the opposite, it keeps one’s head extremely warmand is quite comfortable.

I was skeptical, the temple in Vancouver did seem to be functioning on these principals, but could something like this really function in India?  Sikhism seemed too good to be true.  Was Narinderjit just proselytizing and putting a good spin on his religion?

Research I did on the internet backed up my host’s words.  I could easily understand why this religion was growing so steadily.

When I arrived at the Golden temple I was given langar, or free food and drink before I entered the temple.  Noticing other people had covered their heads, I wrapped a scarf over mine.  I smiled when I realized that the temple provided head scarves not only for women, but also for the men.  It was nice not to be singled out and made to cover up when the men could wear what they pleased.

The gilded structure shines in the middle of a placid lake, its warm glow reflected in the waters. Sikh guards respendent in turbans, long beards, weilding spears – looking the part of Sikh Saint Soldiers. The temple was free, the shoe check gratis, and the food bountiful.  Half-starved beggars, shysters, and opportunists accost are rife in India, but somehow this shining structure is a bastion from the base poverty and inequality rampant in India.

Completely aside from the impressive social aspects of Sikhism and whether or not you are interested more about Sikhism, the Golden Temple is a stunningly ornate structure.  It is one of the most beautiful and clean places in India.  If you’re in Punjab, or anywhere close it is certainly worth a visit.

Though an ascetic life of no premarital sex, alcohol, or hair-cutting, is a little too restrictive for me, I look forward to learning more about this religion and maybe afew recipes while I’m at it…


  1. You look great in a turban.

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