02 Jul Amritsar: Immersion and Engagement in the Harmandir Sahib
Posted at 19:40h in South AsiaWritten by Leah Kirkland and Siobhan Takala, 2014 India: Gender and Religion Amritsar welcomed us with familiar heat and sunshine as we made our way to the Golden Temple. Despite the exhaustion from another overnight bus ride there was a buzz of anticipation and excitement among the group upon getting our first glimpse of the famous religious temple and community space. The Harmandir Sahib, or Darbar Sahib, or simply the Golden Temple is a Sikh temple whose construction started in 1570 and took 34 years to complete. The temple itself is marble coated in gold and is constructed in the centre of a large square pool or tank, surrounded on all four sides by further marble temple buildings. Before you enter the temple complex area one must cover their head (men and women alike) and also walk barefooted through a small stream of water. These are all signs of respect and are a mandatory condition for all who are participating in the temple space. A lot of us did not know much about Sikhism and why this space has such significance as being a community space. Upon arriving, our Program Leaders first challenged us to immerse ourselves in the community by talking to as many people as we could about Sikhism and what different religious and cultural symbols and rituals mean. A few of us were quite unsure how to approach strangers and found the possibility of engaging with a language barrier quite daunting. However, we quickly realized how to make use of conversations we’d had around cultural literacy, and connect to people from all walks of life – even with a language barrier. Many of us started volunteering within the temple space, helping to clean the bowls used to distribute free clean water by polishing the metal bowls with ash. We also tried improve understanding of the religion and space by visiting museum within the complex and asking fellow community members about Sikhism and their traditions.