Amritsar’s Golden Temple might be the most serene place I visited in India.
At least, that’s how I felt on my fourth day in the country. The Golden Temple is the holiest point of worship for Sikhs, a religion from Punjab. After covering my long hair and washing my feet, I entered the temple complex. The view took my breath away.
Before me was a giant square pool, its surface reflecting the white buildings surrounding it. People walked around the outside, dressed in every colour imaginable. A causeway extended into the pool, green, pink and orange turbans bobbling along it. At the end was the Golden Temple. Although covered in 750 kg of gold, it seemed to be floating on the water.
This was one of those rare “wow” moments, where a sight lives up to expectations. I sat on the white marble floor, crossed my legs and watched the scene around me. Soothing music rang out, while families and friends circled clockwise around the pool, their conversation a muffled hum.
Devotees were bathing in the holy water, the mens’ ceremonial daggers tied to their turbans. People drank from the pool, while tall guards leaned on their spears and watched. The scene could not have been more picturesque. It was everything I’d dreamed about before coming to India.
Eventually, people started approaching me and saying hello, shaking my hand and asking to take my photo. The requests got more complex, and I had to explain why I couldn’t help anyone study for their upcoming English exam. One guy was particularly miffed that I’d refused to let him come and live with me in New Zealand.
This tied into the welcoming nature of Sikhism, at least according to my Wikipedia-level knowledge. I walked by the community kitchen, where free vegetarian food was served for everyone to eat, regardless of their faith, gender or wealth. Sikhs are expected to live a good life in this world, to get closer to God. Helping others in the community is a way to eliminate their own ego and pride.
I was therefore surprised to learn that the Golden Temple had also been the scene of extreme violence. In 1984, it was attacked by tanks and artillery of the Indian Army, who sought to kill the armed militants sheltering inside. Civilians died and the Golden Temple was badly mauled. Six months later, the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge. Can you picture similar events happening at the Vatican?
I returned for sunset, finding it hard to believe that death had once rained down here. The shimmering water was painted orange while the sky transitioned to purple. The Golden Temple was now illuminated, a shining beacon in the darkness. Even for an atheist like myself, I couldn’t ignore the mystical feeling that lingered in the air.
The next day I visited the crazy Wagah Border closing ceremony, which you can read about here