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Entering God's darbar: Inside the Golden Temple

Last updated on: April 17, 2013 18:08 IST

Heaven can wait

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A journey to the Sri Harmandir Sahib, also called the Golden Temple, in Amritsar can evoke purity and peace in even the faithless, writes Vaihayasi Pande Daniel

We trod softly, bare-foot, heads covered, in the rosy dawn light, with hundreds of others, up the cool white marble steps. When we crested the top of the stairs, we had our first memorable view of the lovely 16th century Sri Harmandir Sahib.

It took my breath away.

"Heaven can wait," I murmured to myself, awe-struck, as we gazed in wonder at the fairytale-pretty shrine, shimmering like a golden swan among a flock of shining white ones, in the midst of the serene lake, the Amrit Sarovar.

Yes, your first sight of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, the holiest Sikh shrine, is a wondrous vision you will file away among life's  incredible memories, in the manner that poet William Wordsworth stashed dream images in his mind's eye.

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Image: A first view of the Sri Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com
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A place of purity

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There is a certain peace and purity the temple instantly evokes in even the faithless.

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Image: Meditation at dawn
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com
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The egalitarian world of the pilgrim

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Bathed in the dewy morning sunshine and the melodies of rousing kirtans, the Harmandir Sahib, the attached Akal Takht, the Amrit Sarovar, its surrounding clock and watch towers, are together a vast, self-contained world radiating serenity and other-worldliness.

But when you descend to the patterned black and white marble pathways that circumnavigate the tranquil Sarovar -- the temple has four entrances, north, south, east, west, that signify its openness -- you are in the humble egalitarian world of the pilgrim.

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Image: A little tyke has her first dip in the Amrit Sarovar. Her father captures the occasion on his cell phone
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com

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Living on a prayer

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Be they from modest backgrounds or from privileged backgrounds, before god all worshippers are one people -- meek and classless – stripping down to the bare essentials to take a dip in the pool of nectar, under the shadow of gleaming domes coated with more than 600 kg gold...

Or searching for peace in prayer...

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Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com
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A gracious gift of prasad

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Or putting out their hand, respectfully, for some ghee-sugar-wheat Kada Prasad.


Image: Volunteers hand out prasad
Photographs: Nadisha Daniel/rediff.com

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Bonhomie and religion

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There is a certain warm, open and all-encompassing bonhomie and ambience around the picture-perfect lake, where ducks and ornamental fish swim, making allowances for the bobbing pilgrims.

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Image: Many take a dip near one of the three holy Ber trees in the complex
Photographs: Nadisha Daniel/rediff.com
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A living monument

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The Golden Temple, built in an assorted mix of styles (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh), is a living and evolving canvas of fine art, architectural design, religion and culture.

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Image: Much of the gilding of the Harmandir Sahib was done during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the 19th century
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com

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80,000 visitors a day!

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Accessible to all, and one of the world's most visited sacred places, the numbers that flood into the Golden Temple every day are hard to reckon. Very broad estimates, from various data sources, suggest that between 80,000 and a lakh visit the gorgeous shrine every day. And upwards of 40,000 eat free daily at the langar -- the temple's communal table, probably the largest in the world -- run by 1,000 volunteers that serves up a simple but hearty meal of dal, rice, roti, sabzi and a sweet.

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Image: A Punjabi family relaxes in front of the Harmandir Sahib
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com

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Journey of a lifetime

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The shrine attracts hordes of visitors in spring and early summer. Holi, and especially Baisakhi which fell on the last weekend, are special occasions to visit this shrine. Baisakhi marks the establishment of the order of the Khalsa. On holidays like Baisakhi, Holi and Guru Nanak's birthday, the numbers double and triple.

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Image: Crowds peacefully queue up, with very little jostling, early morning to enter the Harmandir Sahib where the the holy Guru Granth Sahib is placed
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com

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The ultimate pilgrimage

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It is every Sikh's dream to, at least once in their life, make that journey to the Harmandir Sahib.

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Image: At the temple, for the first time perhaps, you will see Sikhs of all orders -- Nihal Sikhs, Akal Sikhs, Amritdhari Sikhs, Kesdhari Sikhs, Sahajdhari Sikhs...
Photographs: Nadisha Daniel/rediff.com

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They arrive from all over...

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The temple opens as early as 3 am on some days and, by dawn, the devout are pouring in.

As stunningly beautiful as the shrine is, viewing the throng of pilgrims and visitors that descend on this place of worship is even more interesting – it is an eclectic mix of Punjabi villagers...

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Image: Special moments in front of the Golden Temple
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com
Tags: Punjabi

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The Harmandir Sahib visitor

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Like this gent, who has obviously made a long and exhausting journey from his village to be at the shrine.

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Image: A snooze before/after darshan...
Photographs: Nadisha Daniel/rediff.com

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One of India's most visited holy sites

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As well as Brit Sikhs, like the London Southall folks...

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Image: A group of NRIs pose together
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com

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His first visit to Amritsar

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Well-heeled Sikhs and Punjabis, be they NRIs or from India's metros...

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Image: An NRI Punjabi girl visits the shrine with her parents and husband
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/rediff.com

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A shrine for all

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Tourists, both foreign and Indian.

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Image: A group of Bengali tourists take in their first sight of the Golden Temple
Photographs: Nadisha Daniel/rediff.com
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One of life's moments

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To sit quietly on the cool, clean marble tiles, at the water's edge, with the magnificent Harmandir Sahib in sight, watching the surging parade of humanity, reflecting on one's being, is a matchless moment worth remembering, and why the Golden Temple requires many repeat visits.

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Image: Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth of the ten Sikh gurus: 'I have seen many places, but none like thee'
Photographs: Nadisha Daniel/rediff.com

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