Amritsar and its GoldenTemple
The Sikhs' beating heart is here. The GoldenTemple is a temple that seems to sit in a pool of sacred nectar called amrit, giving the city its name. The GoldenTemple floats elegantly in the middle of this pool connected to the mainland by the bridge of gurus. Every morning the sacred book, the Guru Granth Sahib (a holy book equivalent) is brought out at 04h30 with much fanfare and care and every evening at 22h15, it is returned to its sanctuary. During the day, four specially ordained holy men recite this book in a very beautiful sing song manner and at various times, those Sikhs inside the complex will stop whatever they are doing and recite one of the five daily prayers. The music floats around the complex and adds a wonderfully peaceful and serene atmosphere to any time here.
While we are here, the Sikhs are celebrating a major festival and have come in their thousands. Outside their magnificent white marble complex is a far more fun festival atmosphere. The streets are crowded and everywhere you look there are people, people, people, hustle, bustle and bargain. But inside, there is a stark contrast in atmosphere. Cool, calm, peaceful and serene; despite the numbers of people crowded on the Bridge of Gurus waiting to see their most holy of holies; despite the thousands walking around the pond countless times and despite those just resting under the eves. Although those inside are devoted, the large broad shouldered, fierce looking turban wearing and spear wielding guards help ensure that the atmosphere is maintained!
One of the most impressive aspects of Sikhism is that it does not recognize any caste system or gender inequality, whereas the Hindus do. It is this caste system that has led to much internal inter-caste strife in India and which the Sikhs reject. Following on from this, it means that everybody is looked after while they are here. There are huge kitchens churning out megasized bowls of food to anybody and there are numerous hostels where you can spend the night. In busy times like these, the kitchens can expect to feed up to 20 000 people a day. At least!
Every job within the complex is done by volunteers. As it was pointed out to me, some of the volunteers could be millionaires doing their bit; others may be poor as church mice. Either way, their status is not recognized within the complex and both are equal in their endeavours. Nor do Sikhs accept handouts. In the 80's, there was a large army incursion in and around the GoldenTemple after Sikh separatists occupied the Temple and made several demands. The army was extremely heavy handed and destroyed much of the complex in the resultant fighting. The fall out from this was that Indira Ghandi (the Indian Prime Minister at the time) was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards and the government restored all the damage caused. However, the Sikhs tore it all down and redid it themselves! Sikhs are a very proud people and do not accept handouts from anybody! Ever! Have you ever seen a Sikh beggar?
Besides its GoldenTemple, Amritsar is also the place where one of India's seeds of revolution for pre-Independence was planted with blood and bodies. In 1919 20 000 people met in a peaceful demonstration against the legalization of the Rowlatt's Act. This act gave the British authorities the right to detain anybody accused of sedition without trial. The area in which they met to demonstrate was an enclosed space called Jalliwagnah Bagh. Fearing the start of a revolution, General Dyer led 150 soldiers and gave no warnings to the crowds to disperse below and opened fire. At the end of the carnage, 377 men, women and children were killed and 1500 people were wounded. It was this incident, added to others, that fanned the flames for independence as soon as possible.
But what is telling about modern India is that this Bagh (like a city park) is now a monument to these martyrs. But it is so badly kept and maintained. The area has a sad and unkempt feel; the grass is long and the buildings are badly maintained. The Hall of Martyrs seems to be half complete and the memorial menhir in the middle is supposed to be in a pool of water and at night, lit up by lights from beneath. But the pool is a dusty empty bowl and the lights have no ceased to work; probably because many have been ripped out. It seems that the authorities only did enough to "get them off the hook" and modern India actually doesn't care about these martyrs. Apparently before it was a memorial it was a garbage dump for the houses that back onto it. Sad really.
While the GoldenTemple and its whole complex is fantastic to see and experience, it is an oasis in a sea of grim, grotty and largely uncared for city. This is surprising considering the Sikh's reputation. Maybe they are more interested in their GoldenTemple than the city and the environment in which they live? Here the sun always set under a pall of pollution induced haze and the streets were filthy. If Dehli has a reputation, then Amritsar has been doing well to hide hers!