“You will like the Sikh temple we’re about to visit,” our guide, Manu, explained after our intense first hours in New Delhi, India. “Gurudwara Bangla Sahib has a great vibe to it.”
We perked up. Our teacher tour needed a good vibe after the hectic sights of India we’d gulped in all day. “Just one thing,” Manu cautioned. “You must remove your shoes for the remainder of the visit.”
We yanked off our shoes and splooshed through the purifying pool at the temple’s entrance. Chilly!
“Tell us more about the Sikh religion,” we asked Manu as our toes slapped the cool marble. “All we know is that Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, and that it originated here.”
“The Sikh religion began in the 15th century– over 500 years ago!– in the Punjab state of India,” explained Manu as we placed our shoes into indoor, guarded cubbies. “It was founded by Guru Nanak Dev, and Sikhs rejected the caste system of Hindus. They believe that there is one God, and that all people are equal: men… women… different races and religions… everyone.” I smiled in happiness.
We tied bright orange cloths around our hair (how nice of the temple to provide them for guests!) and entered the dim inner sanctum of the temple.
“Sikh temples are called Gurdwaras,” Manu explained, “meaning, “Doorway to God.” See that book at the center of this room? That is a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the holy text of Sikhs, containing the teachings of their ten Gurus. This book is worshipped as the last living Guru, after the last human Guru of Sikhs passed away in 1708.” As a teacher, I was thrilled to learn of a religion that worships a book!
We emerged from the inner temple (in which no photos were allowed– sorry!) to the beautiful outer pool and arch-filled walkway. “At a Sikh temple,” Manu instructed, “you must always walk in a clockwise fashion, not anti-clockwise.” We obliged, and peeked sternly into the green waters to check if the fat orange carp were swimming the correct way. Most were.
“See that tall orange flagpole next to the main temple?” Manu asked. “That is the Nishan Sahib, which is present in nearly every Sikh Gurdwara. This symbol helps people locate the temple. Just as this pole helps identify a Sikh place of worship, there are “The 5 Ks” or five signs that identify a Sikh person. These are: Long, uncut hair (wrapped by men in a turban), a wooden comb, an iron bracelet, specific undergarments, and a small dagger. You may also know a Sikh because the men have the last name Singh.”
Manu was so right about the “vibe” of the temple. As we walked around the water, we saw people of all backgrounds mixing with devout Sikhs. How refreshing to see a religion as welcoming of all types, and so serious about equality for all! But there was an even more astounding fact to come.
“See those people over there on the ground peeling vegetables?” Manu asked. “Every day in Sikh temples, volunteers and workers cook free vegetarian meals for anyone who wants to eat, regardless of their background. Because equality is so important in the Sikh religion, everyone who comes in eats at the same level in the dining hall. You may see a rich businessman eating beside a homeless person. In fact, many street children in India use Sikh temples to keep from starving.”
I looked up at the ornate ivory colored building with awe. What a generous religion to do that! And little did we know, but we were about to be fed, too. “As you exit the temple,” Manu explained, a man will scoop a sweet porridge with butter into your hand. You don’t have to take it, but if you do, please eat it or give it to me instead of throwing it out. Be polite.”
We approached the porridge-serving man at the exit. My brother tried to be sanitary and get it plopped into a napkin in one hand, but the man glared at him. “Take it with both hands, no napkin!” hissed Manu. David obeyed, and soon we were all munching the sweet, oat-y paste. Quite delicious, actually!
As we strode into the building to retrieve our shoes and take the bright orange cloths from our hair, we felt refreshed. Indeed, it wasn’t just the temple… the whole Sikh religion has a good vibe!