I woke with a searing headache yesterday and was tempted to scrub my plans to visit the Sikh temple in Connaught Place, Delhi’s city center. I haven’t given Delhi the love lately so I made myself go – but not before a lazy breakfast at the American Club – the kind where you read the paper, drink several cups of coffee and hold court by talking to everyone who walks by.
With a still-throbbing head, I arrived at the temple, unsure of what I would find and how it would differ from the many Hindu temples that I’ve visited. Before moving to India, all I really knew about the Sikhs was that they wore turbans and didn’t cut their hair. (If you’ve read The English Patient or seen the movie, you might remember the Sikh character, Kip washing his hair – lying and sunning to let it dry – a long, erotic mane.)
Sikhism is a 600 year old off-shoot of Hinduism. There were a handful of founding Gurus who wrote the Sikh holy book. Briefly, the religion goes like this: Sikhs honor love and “seek” (couldn’t resist) to spread this message through good work. They strive for a balance between work, worship and charity. There is no caste system and they believe that God is in everyone and that God exists everywhere – he is not confined to church or temple or mosque. Faithful Sikhs acquiesce to the nature of God and his will by not cutting their hair. Sikh men are marked by their turbans; Sikh women have beautiful, long braids hanging down their backs. They also wear a steel bangle that symbolizes unbreakable faith and carry a knife (typically small and curved) to fight oppression.
The palpable reverence and peace on the compound was glaring in its contrast to my visits to Hindu temples. You check your shoes upon entering and walk barefoot on the marble pathways outside the building. You wash your feet and hands and mouth before entering the temple. Inside, there is a large carpeted room with an altar of sorts in the middle where a Sikh priest sits and prays. There are no idols.
While I was there, three musicians played the sitar and other traditional instruments and sang without break for over an hour. For me, the chanting was distracting at first but as I sat on the floor, cross-legged, leaning against a wall – it all seemed to come together for me. I sat and watched waves of worshipers enter and bow before the priest. Then I closed my eyes and let myself succumb to the music and the mood and before I knew it, an hour had passed. I don’t think that I’ve ever sat that long without a book or event to distract me.
And I rose to my feet with no headache!
Sikh temples also offer medical services and free food for all, regardless of need or religion. Anyone can work in the Sikh kitchen (something I plan to do on my next visit – who’s coming with me?) rolling flat bread, or mixing stew. It’s an amazing operation. I don’t know how many people the kitchen feeds daily, but easily thousands. I was there in the morning during the preparations for lunch:
Rolling and cooking chapaati (flat bread):
Brewing and stewing:
The kitchen and the dining room:
The main Sikh temple in Amritsar on the Pakistan border is allegedly more visited than the Taj Majal. (By the way, India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh is Sikh.)
This photo is for you, mom: A-Boy-Named-Penny has his coat –
I caught this beautiful moment. Lala is so tender and loving and amazing and mature and every superlative you can imagine:
Gotta love Eddie’s soccer team sponsor:
My Sumo wrestler:
I have a love-hate relationship with gingerbread houses. This year I got away with NOT making one from scratch… if you’re a purist, keep your gasp to yourself, please:
Two dear friends from China visited me this week, one now living in Stockholm and the other in Kuala Lumpur. Here we are outside the Aman Hotel: