File photo: The Golden Temple Amritsar, India (Sri Harimandir Sahib) Photograph:( WION )
The whole place is really magical. I am touched deeply and feel something profound; I feel at peace. A kind of patience and lack of worry and a feeling of belonging.
"So, here I am, a young-ish South African woman, living and working in India. As I write this, I have already had so many wonderful, crazy, terrifying, amazing adventures and experiences in this beautiful, soulful, heartbreaking country that's magic has made me love it and hate it sometimes a hundred times in a single day. I want to share some of the moments that have made me cry, cry with laughter, scream, hyperventilate, seriously worry, question my own sanity, love, and live, live to the fullest, where I have felt alive and living like nowhere else. This is India.
The Golden Temple
All I want is answers Universe, so I'm going to travel to one of the most spiritual places on earth to get them!
Unfortunately, as I have discovered, that is not always the way the world works, unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, because as I have also discovered, sometimes the most incredibly beautiful moments that really touch the deepest depths of your heart and soul are the moments in between, the ones you didn't plan, or the ones that accidently happen to you while you are on your way to the plans you have made. And this is how I happened upon a village in the middle of India, the last village before you reach Pakistan, where I met a child of about 9, who did me a kindness that was so unexpected and more generous than some millionaires would do for a strange stranger, that really made me know who I want to be, and how I want to be. This little boy is someone I think of often.
I make my way to the golden temple at around 10am after a long, very early morning journey. I arrive at a lovely hotel, big, impersonal and anonymous, which is nice when one isn't even sure if one knows oneself. Asking those questions about who you are. Which after all is part of the reason for this journey, the answer to those questions, the quest of self-discovery.
Walking through the archway that leads to the magnificent sight that is the Golden Temple. This place is magical. A beautiful architectural marvel that is a blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture. I feel a flutter through my heart, and that small seed of faith that was planted when I made my intentions clear, seems to have begun to sprout.
The next sight I notice is... the crowd. Literally, millions of people have come to this temple through the years, for their spiritual fulfilment, enlightenment, devotion, faith and belief . But I am convinced that most of them are here on this morning. So, my first reaction is, I'm not standing in that queue". So, I sit down on the edge of the water of the Amrit Sarovar, where there are devout men submerging themselves rhythmically in the water and praying. This is considered sacred by the devotees. Before offering prayers in the inner sanctum, they bathe in the holy water of the Sarovar. The Sikhs believe that spiritual possessions can be gained by taking a dip in the holy water of the sacred pool and legends say a dip in the Amrit Sarovar can cure ailments and disorders. I watch without staring, not keeping my eyes on any one worshipper, but the rhythm of the jump jump dip, jump jump dip is calming and the effect on me in the blazing sun with my feet dipped in the edge of the water washes a wave of emotion over me. I start crying, a sort of release of the pent-up frustrations of all the recent challenges. And after a while, I slowly stand up and walk toward the back of the endless queue to walk through the Golden Temple to say a prayer.
Standing in this line with all these bodies all packed so closely along the bridge that leads to the architectural marvel, it is boiling hot, there are fans every few meters that offer a slight relief momentarily when they face your way, but in the sticky uncomfortable mass of bodies there is a feeling of togetherness. We are all people, just trying to explore our faith and maybe find a purpose or a reason or some meaning.
There are the most beautiful acts of service performed here, every person who works at the Golden Temple is a volunteer. And the entire place is run on donations. The langar sewa is the largest free kitchen in the world and serves fifty thousand meals on a daily basis, all provided through donations. There are cups of water distributed through the crowd. A woman faints from heat exhaustion and she is carried ahead to an area of shade and people make way and give her water and fan her to help cool her. Such a feeling of care and solidarity to your fellow human.
After being in line for almost two hours I finally reached the entrance, it really is beautiful and an incredibly holy place, there are prayers being offered and rituals practiced in the center, priests chant from the holy Guru Granth Sahib, while we all walk around and through the temple. Some make signs on their hearts and heads and bow in prayer; others kiss their hands and touch them to the walls and columns. The foundation stone of the Golden Temple was laid by a Sufi saint called Mian Mir and the sacred gurudwara is open to devotees of all faiths, irrespective of religion, caste or creed. The four entrances to the temple symbolize this.
I make my way through this holy sight and say a quiet prayer and as I exit there is a man with what I assume is holy water and everyone puts their hands in and drinks a little, they are then handed some sweet Kara Parshad, I learn this name later. At the time, I don't know what it is, and it is literally being handed to me out of a huge bowl by a man dishing out handfuls straight from his hand. I am in India and have been warned about the water and the cleanliness and hygiene of food, and to be careful where to eat and what to eat. But after my beautiful experience I feel brave, and with another prayer that I will be okay, "Oh well, I think, in for a penny, in for a pound" and dip my hands into the water and take a sip and then accept the sweet offering from the kind old man. Sweet prasad is delicious, it's all I can do not to pull an Oliver Twist and ask for more.
I wander around the temple for a while longer, watching the volunteers going about their duties and the devout praying and finding solace, some of the women minding children who play quietly. The whole place is really magical. I am touched deeply and feel something profound; I feel at peace. A kind of patience and lack of worry and a feeling of belonging.
I leave feeling like I have just had my India moment, almost like my own version of Eat, Pray, Love.
I decide to find myself some lunch and then make my way to the border for the beating retreat ceremony. This I have been told is "Really worthwhile"....".