Thumbs up for Guru Nanak!


After 4 hours of local bus (hell), and 4 hours of train with the lowest class of ticket (not hell but not far), we made it to Amritsar, the capital of Punjab and home of the Golden Temple.

amr-waiting-for-the-train.jpg Punjab was another one of those states butchered by the Partition of India in 1947. Muslims went to West Punjab in Pakistan, Sikhs went to East Punjab in India, and thousands of people died in the process. And of course, no one was really happy about the way it was divided. Reading our trusted guide book, it appeared that the area also had a long history of Sikh persecution. Even though the last massacre occurred in 1984, this did not bode well and as we arrived and found hundreds of people lying on the floor of the train station, we were starting to wonder: what are we doing here?

And then we arrived at the Golden Temple. What a gem!

Golden Temple at night The Golden Temple is Sikhism’s holiest site. What is most surprising is that while it is located at the heart of the old city – and old cities don’t get much older and grimier than this one, it has been kept in a pristine state. The walls and floor are still white and the even holy water looks pretty clean. It seems that the Sikhs had the brilliant idea to get people to wash their feet when they enter a Sikh temple.

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak. Dissatisfied with both Hindu and Muslim social and religious practices, he created a more open religion integrating the teachings of both. Guru Nanak was a rather pragmatic and principled man, and you can find his image in many places in Amritsar. One of his teachings is that all humans are equals and that there should be no gender, racial or social discrimination. This was an idea which was quite revolutionary in the 15th century, at odds with the caste system and, in a society which had little to offer to women at the time, placing women as equals to men was a courageous position to hold.

amr-strolling-pilgrims.jpg He also encouraged Sikhs to defend minorities against oppressors – probably one of the reasons why today there is a comparatively large proportion of Sikhs in the Indian Army.

I only regret that it is so hard to find much information in English or French about him. It is a shame as his story and the principles that guided his life sound most interesting.

The architecture of the Golden Temple reflects his philosophy – practical, reflecting both Hindu and Muslim traditions without resembling either. More extraordinary, for the last 500 years, it has provided free food for all – continuously and 24hours a day. The kitchen is almost entirely managed by volunteers who cook spicy dals and wash the dishes. There is also free accommodation for pilgrims. When you know that nowadays, over 30000 pilgrims visit the site every day, it is admirable.