The Sri Lakshmi Narayani Sripuram (The Golden Temple)

 

A picture of the Golden Temple taken from the guide book
 
The Golden Temple really is a marvel for the eyes. Anyone who has visited the Palace of Versailles will tell you that you do become overwhelmed with the amount of ornate gold; the Golden Temple is a similar experience. It is simply too much to take in all the ornate work in gold that the temple is covered with. Carvings of elephants, birds, swans, pheasants adorn the sides, columns, roof and ceiling of this temple. It is truly remarkable and breathtaking – jaw dropping in fact. Jaw dropping also is the amount of gold used – 1.5 tonnes in total. (1.5 metric tonnes of gold is currently valued at around £41m.)

 

The Golden Temple and grounds – a picture taken from the guide book
 
The building of the temple started in 1999 and was completed in 2007. It is situated in 100 acre green landscaped gardens in the middle of a star shaped covered path which you have to walk around to get to the temple itself. The path is surrounded by sign ages boards in English or Hindi each giving a ‘message’ of ‘truth and righteousness’.

It is “tipped” to be the world’s largest golden temple and is one of the most visited shrines in the world. It averages 20,000 visitors a day, 40,000 during school holidays and 70,000 during festivals. Thankfully we visited on a normal day and weren’t too overwhelmed. That was after the intial surge of people surrounding us as soon as we arrived. We only saw one other white person (a lovely Australian lady) the whole time we were there. 

Entering the complex

After being accosted by an elderly lady speaking loudly to us in Hindi we just stopped mid track and waited (experience has taught us to just stop) –  seconds later another visitor approached us and spoke to us in English. He wanted a picture with us and his family as they had never seen a white person before (which is also quite a common occurrence outside the city). As he spoke excellent English I asked what the lady was shouting at us for. He explained that Rez needed to cover his legs (he was wearing long shorts) to enter the temple and she was trying to sell us a cloth to cover his legs for 100 INR. The kind man paid for it for us after he took several photos. We ventured inside only to be greeted immediately  by several people jesticulating about Rez’s camera. An official guide came over and rescued us. He introduced us to an English speaking guide who explained that there could be no electronics whatsoever in the temple – no cameras, phones, iPads – nothing. We also had to leave our shoes. Now we had just sent our driver on a break for lunch so we couldn’t put the equipment in the car. With some reluctance we deposited several thousand pounds worth of equipment with the deposit cage (60 INR for everything to be looked after). To be fair, it was secure, everything was sealed and tagged but we were so relieved when we got everything back at the end of the visit. There was no way any electronics were getting into the complex – two security gates and airport style bag and body scanners ensured nothing got through.

Entry was 504 INR each (9 is a significant number here) and children have free entry. Now the 504 entry was for a special ticket to actually get to sit in the temple (and pray if that was your religion) a cheaper 250 INR ticket could be bought to look inside the temple but not actually go in. The guide grouped us together with a JapaneseThe Golden Temple really is a marvel for the eyes. Anyone who has visited the Palace of Versailles will tell you that you do become overwhelmed with the amount of ornate gold; the Golden Temple is a similar experience. It is simply too much to take in all the ornate work in gold that the temple is covered with. Carvings of elephants, birds, swans, pheasants adorn the sides, columns, roof and ceiling of this temple. It is truly remarkable and breathtaking – jaw dropping in fact. Jaw dropping also is the amount of gold used – 1.5 tonnes in total. (1.5 metric tonnes of gold is currently valued at around £41m.)

 

images of the Golden Temple taken from the guide book
 
The Golden Temple

As we approached the temple itself we were split into separate lines – a line closer to the temple for those who had paid the extra and an outside line for those with the cheaper tickets. A mesh fence separated us. As we walked around the moat of the temple people were praying holding coins on their heads and then tossing them in the moat. The guide explained that these prayers would become roots of things to grow in the water. Zahra refused the offer to do the same, despite being quite eagerly pressed to do so; I was so pleased she stood firm in her own faith without any prompting from me. There were also bells on the ceiling to ring as we walked around the moat of the temple.

When we entered the temple itself we had to go through floor to ceiling cages (for want of a better description) underneath the temple gain ensuring the split of visitors – it was a bit surreal. When we emerged there were two queues. The one on the left moved progressively. People looked in the temple at the God and quickly said a prayer and moved on. They then walked passed a priest who was holding a golden cone, who quickly placed it on their heads, said something and they walked on. I later found out that this gold cone represented the god’s feet and it was a blessing to have the one’s head touched by god’s feet. The priest was giving a blessing. 
We were in the right hand side queue. This was the queue to enter and sit in the temple, which we did after a short wait. We were surrounded by Hindu worshippers who were praying fervently looking at the statue of their god. The appeared to be some sort of ceremony being performed but no one explained what was happening so Rez, Zahra and I sat quietly admiring the architecture, detail and vast amounts of gold used for this temple. It was truly a magnificent piece of work which could be appreciated.

After the ceremony had finished we exited the temple (avoiding the ‘blessing’) and waited for our Japanese tourist and his friend to finish their specific prayer offering to the god. Whilst we were waiting one of the young priests cakes and chatted to Zahra encouraging her to use Hindi. Lots of people walking passed wanted to touch Zahra’s face (a common term of endearment to children here)- she manged to avoid most but got her chin pulled and cheek pinched a couple of times. She was not happy as people are not gentle. 

 

contents of the gift bag given to those who entered the temple
 
Gift bag

The guide eventually returned with the other tourists and gave us a bag each containing a coconut sweet from the god, bindi, a wrist string to remind us of our visit (and prayers if you prayed), a couple of pictures of the god and the priest who’s vision this was and a guide book. 

My thoughts on the experience

We were led out along the long path back to the entrance to gather our belongings. We had walked 2km and it had taken 2 hours to visit. It is a truly stunning piece of architecture in serene surroundings but my overwhelming thought, as a Christian, the whole time I was there was of the golden calf in Exodus 32. Aaron built The Israelites an idol in the form of a golden calf whilst Moses was spending 40 nights on Mount Sinai in the presence of God. Those Israelites who did not repent were killed – idol worship being a sin. The comparison here was direct – people worshipping an idol in a golden temple. It ran through my mind over and over. It was saddening to the soul.

illicit photograph taken along the star walk
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