What better tribute to equality than gold?
Many know that golden is my favorite color. I was fortunate to accompany family on a trip to the glorious Golden Temple of Amritsar, better known as Harmandir Sahib (which literally translates to Temple of God). It is regarded as the most sacred place for worship, and is open to every person on earth. A gesture of equality which I have found unmatched.
Which is why, as a match of my inherent values of equality and my addictive love for gold, the destination was one that had my calling on it. A must visit location on special days like birthdays, weddings, or the brightest day of them all, Diwali. With a glossary of Indian sweets and desserts as a predecessor for Indian celebrations, I enjoyed the peace and sanctity of this beautiful visit.
The construction of the Golden Temple is intended for a place of peace and worship for people of any gender and any walk of life to come as they please. This theme of equality prevails the entire temple and its foundational premises. The four entrances in the North, East, West and South signify that people from all over Earth are welcome to enter, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
I uncovered some intriguing facts about it in a retrospective research about its architecture, courtesy of my own architectural background. It started by one of the Sikh Gurus excavating a tank, which became known as Amritsar, also the city’s name, meaning Pool of Nectar of Immortality, in 1578. It is believed that the water holds healing properties, but more so it heals the eyes with luscious reflective views of opulence.
The temple was built within this pool of water. Possibly one of its architectural feats is the Amrit Sarovar that surrounds the prime temple with a golden bridge leading to it.
The foundation was actually laid by Muslim saint Mian Mir in 1588, thus signifying unity even back in the times. The temple was completed in 1604, and after some warring differences, had to be rebuilt and reconstructed over the times. The main rebuilding was done in 1764, while a Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from attack by covering its upper floors in real gold, giving it its English name and opulent appearance. The focal point of the temple has been its real gold plating on marble, which covers most of the outside portion.
Instead of the tradition of building such places on higher land, this was intentionally built on lower land so one had to walk down to visit. I realized that these stairs are meant to go down rather than up, deliberately designed to bring a sense of humbleness to the ambiance, and eradicate any arrogance in the minds of visitors.
The inside is gilded in mirrors that glisten like stars on a golden blanket of sky. Like a traditional Sikh temple it hosts the centre space of prayer, with balconies for onlookers to maintain sanctity and gape at floral and architectural wonders from.
A long crystal chandelier adorns the centre, with light dancing off the mirrors despite the calm stillness.
As the langar (food service) was crowded, I took a quick peak before heading to a nearby street style eatery, mostly because I heart street food in India.The Harimandir Sahib has one of the largest free kitchens in the world, and serves an average of over 100,000 people daily. However, I was impressed that all diners, irrespective of race and background or wealth, had to sit on the floor to eat, symbolizing the Sikh doctrine of equality of all people.
The city of Amritsar is a disparate contrast to the cleanliness and opulence of the Golden Temple. Nonetheless, it is brimming with culture and Punjabi heritage. Streets are filled with gold and silver jewelry, mostly of Sikh symbols and trinkets. And of course, food.
There are several street food joints and dhabas, readily available to serve fresh food starting in a pot of butter. I gleefully salivated the notion of eating authentic Indian food, reminiscent of an old Dubai food tour by a comrade, and a disparate contrast from the Michelins serving the very same.
The naans were glistening in oil, the daals simmering with steam and layered with butter that swam on surfaces, plates and tongues alike. The best part was the paneer in a tangy tomato sauce, with pickled onions and peppers alongside it. With a penchant for this cottage cheese, its no surprise that I licked the silver bowl clean.
Dessert was a clay pot of phirni, a rice and milk based dessert. Thicker than kheer and thinner than halwa, it was glazed with almonds and swimming with pistachios (and some green food coloring). Laced with edible silver, it was a petite portion size which I relished.
There are several neighborhood gems to see in Amritsar, like other temples and the famous Jalianwalah Baagh, which is a garden tarnished by a mass murder of locals in British colonial times. Exploring these was a trip back in history owing to their preservation, albeit lacking in the impact of a horrifying incident.
Feeling golden, tranquil and peaceful, we left the Golden Temple on our rickshaws.
In the festival of light, let the light of equality shine bright.