I did BSP (Bhava Spandana, an advanced program at Isha Yoga Centre near Coimbatore, India) and it was intense and deep and I think that it will only become apparent in the coming weeks how much it has affected me…I flew back up to Delhi and stayed with Iona, which was a gift – one of those instant friendships – and our Saturday night was spent dancing frenetically, completely sober and in pure ecstasy, to reggae DJs (wow, how far can you get from an ashram where you can’t show any skin? Haha) – and eating yummy street delights. On Sunday we lazed and in the evening I headed to the Ghosh house. I love them…this totally liberal progressive Bengali family…so spent a few days in their lovely home that really feels like home, catching up and regrouping before the next leg of my journey…
On Tuesday morning I headed on the Shatabdi express, considered one of India’s best trains, and went to Amritsar. Amritsar is home to the Golden Temple, considered the holiest pilgrimage site for Sikhs. In January I travelled with lovely Darlene for a bit – Canadian girl – in Kerala – and it really stuck with me that she said even though she didn’t consider herself spiritual or energetically sensitive, the Golden Temple for her was a very powerful place. I also did really want to go, because of the Sikh association with Kundalini Yoga (long topic, perhaps another day…) but anyway, there I was. My 20 hours at the Golden Temple hit me. Hard. In the best way possible.
What does religion mean in the modern context? Unfortunately, from what I see and my personal experience, it is often completely the polar opposite of what it sets out to be – speaking of generosity, love, and devotion, but there is more often than not an overtone (or undertone) of superiority, a mentality of you’re either with us or against us, and often obscene amounts of money going in and vagueness regarding where the money goes. Well, the Golden Temple threw all that out the window for me. Before I go into it, let’s put it in the correct context of contemporary India (I apologize in advance for my limited knowledge and experience of India, and if I am making offensive statements here) – what I mean to say is, India isn’t usually an easy place to be. It’s not easy to find things offered for free (this is speaking about public availability, not by any means referring to the overwhelming hospitality and generosity I have had offered to me by many individuals during my journeys here). The Golden Temple has free accommodation – yes, free – donations accepted – for visitors. I arrived and all the beds were already taken, but we were able to communicate that since I was only staying a night I would be more than happy to just put a sheet on the floor.
The place is vibrating, pulsating, with a strong energy – almost like the workings of some sort of factory or ant farm or something…constant buzzing…pilgrims come and it’s 24 hours around the clock activity as they sleep for a few short hours. The bhajans, devotional songs, are broadcast throughout the entire temple grounds…and what really gets me about the Golden Temple, and if I’m not mistaken on this hunch, Sikhs in general, is this complete acceptance of others and their paths, whatever that may mean.
And I know I won’t be surprising anyone referring to the food…but this is really where the temple hit me. Langar is a Sikh term for communal meals that are given for free to anybody – again, regardless of caste or creed – and the Golden Temple has food available 24 hours a day – 24 hours a day, yes – for free. It’s said that they serve 70,000 to 80,000 people a day. Everything in this establishment is done by volunteers, and all funding is by donation. The dining halls are huge, and people line up in rows, seated on the floor as volunteers whiz by piling things on your metal thali plate.
I was invited by some young boys to check out the kitchen facilities which was such an amazing experience. They have a chapatti machine that makes 3,000 chapattis per hour. Then they have about 50 people handmaking chapattis round the clock. An estimated 200,000 chapattis a day are consumed. The pots of curry are the size of small swimming pools…the storeroom houses thousands of kilos of pulses, rice, and spices…incredible.
So my 20 hours at the Golden Temple made me rejuvenated, awe-inspired, and ready to go on to the next adventure!