As a British born Indian Sikh my favourite place to visit in India is the Golden Temple, in the state of Punjab. Sikhism is the ninth-largest religion in the world and promotes unity and equality of humankind. This harmonious, tranquil temple traditionally known as Sri Harimandir Sahib, is the most sacred and spiritual place for all Sikhs around the world.
People from all walks of life are welcome here to explore the mesmerising blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture that glimmers in the sunlight. It is enshrined with engraved gold panels including a beautiful dome, gilded with 750g of real gold. The temple sits in a huge tank ringed with a marble walkway that I have walked around barefoot on numerous occasions, savouring the ambience and listening to special hymns being recited day and night. The tank is full of blessed holy water that pilgrims come and bathe in. It is believed to have healing properties.
When I visit any Sikh temple, or Gurdwara, I feel connected to God and at peace. But at this heavenly place in the North of India the spiritual energy is particularly strong. Musical sounds from the tabla accompanying the hymns being recited, aromas from the kitchen, shadows dancing on the marble, sunlight twinkling on the water, and kindness of the human spirit being displayed, altogether form a harmonious spirit; connecting humanity as one with the creator.
Everyone visiting a Gurdwara must remove their shoes and cover their head as a sign of respect. Cleanliness is highly valued in the Sikh religion. As each visitor enters they walk through warm water to cleanse their feet. Many tourists visit Harimandir Sahib and it is often their first visit to any Gurdwara, and feel overwhelmed by the warm welcome, soothing vibrations and the ‘langar’ or free kitchen.
Langar was introduced by Guru Nanak, the first of 10 Sikh teachers. He proposed a common place for people of all ages, gender, faith, race and class to sit and eat together. In Sikhism, eating together in this way is expressive of the equality and oneness of all humankind. After the service, no Sikh leaves without participating in this ritual, that all visitors are encouraged to join. The Golden Temple serves up to 10,000 free meals daily. All preparation, cooking and service is carried out largely by devoted volunteers, and resourced through donations from Sikhs. A simple vegetarian meal may include chapatti, dhal (pulses), vegetables and rice pudding.
Preparing food, cooking and eating together strengthens the Sikh sense of community. It is a concept that can be universally adopted, practiced and understood. Food is an integral part of our being, and ‘breaking bread’ together helps keep families united, relationships healthy, and builds strong communities. Sharing food can break barriers between different cultures and peoples. Sikhism and Gurdwara not only demonstrates how delicious Punjabi cuisine is, but also the value, importance and respect we can and should have for food. When prepared with love and devotion, food can communicate oneness as well as being nourishing and necessary part of life.