My visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Amritsar lies in the north-western region of the Indian state of Punjab, about 25 km east of the Pakistan border. It is the largest and one of the most important cities in India, boasting major commercial, educational and cultural attractions. Its thriving industry is revered for its textiles, shawls and carpets and also offers an intriguing cocktail of tourist attractions, from historical monuments, places of worship, colourful bazaars and festivals.

So I had landed after a long arduous journey of trains and packed sweaty buses, but it was worth the agonising Indian commute. I wandered the walled city, idly meandering through its central streets, weaving my way through the busy traffic, street traders and general morning hustle and bustle. My eyes jumped left to right, scanning the stalls and shops lined with carpets, rugs and fabrics, piled high with farm produce and handicrafts. A sensory overload hit me in an instant, surrounding me with wonderful sights sounds and smells. The roadside eateries cooked up an irresistible veritable feast of fried fish, traditional Kulcha flatbreads and crispy puffed chickpea chola-bhaturas. It was breakfast time!

I sat in a cafe and watched the bedlam of activity,  all around me was buzzing and hyper, but as I sat I was able to find solace in the gentle heat as I pointed my nose into the sun. Instant relaxation amidst all the unpredictable organised chaos.

What had brought me to this strangely exotic place? I had come to see for myself the renowned Golden Temple. The spiritual center of the Sikh Religion and the site of the Sikhs’ principal place of worship. The temple is one of the most important Sikh shrines in India and little did I know that the visit that day would make such a profound impact on me. I remember the day so vividly as if it was yesterday.

I sipped that last of my tea and walked towards to gates. There were no giveaways from the outside, so with excited anticipation, I made my way to the grand arched entrance. Humbly I stepped across the threshold and was immediately struck by immense peace and tranquility, calm and quiet. As if stepping into another heavenly world, all the noise of the city became instantly distant. Immediately my eyes were drawn to the stunning view of The Golden Temple which sat elegantly and majestically as if floating in the centre of the ancient lake,  Amrita Saras or "pool of nectar.” (from which the name Amritsar is derived).

The city was founded in 1577 by the fourth guru of the Sikhs and the site on with the temple lies, was granted by Mughal Emperor Akbar, who implemented the excavation of the sacred pool or lake to be made. The temple was built much later by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs on an island in the centre. He also constructed the vast white marble pathway built around the periphery. During the 1800’s the upper parts of the temple was gilt in gold foil covering the copper dome.

As you walk around the white marble path or embankment, you are overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the place. So tranquil and peaceful as if nothing else exists outside the four walls. I took off my shoes to feel the coolness of the marble tiles under my feet. There was such an air of friendliness and happiness, children playing by the banks, a place of worship but also a place of family gathering and friendships. A place of ultimate meditation. It was as if you were able to breathe in and fill your lungs with calmness and with every exhale, free your body of all tension and worry. It is believed that the sacred lake has ancient powers and therapeutic properties, thought to cure many ailments, so I was intrigued to watch as people would arrive to bathe in its healing waters. 

The people we shy and inquisitive, kind and playful asking me to take photos of them. I felt an overwhelming sense of love and happiness like nowhere else I had ever been. Another astonishing place I stumbled upon at the temple were the large community kitchens, serving trays of food and water.  A tradition since 1481 the Langar kitchens have been serving 50,000 free hot vegetarian dinners a day. During holiday festival, ceremonies or celebrations this number doubles to 100,000 dishes served. The kitchens organised by volunteers both young and old, are open to people of all religions and faiths. The meals in the langar are simple yet nutritious, usually consisting of rotis bread, rice, daal lentils and kheer dessert.

However, the city has not always been a flourishing prosperous haven and has a past shrouded in controversy and a well known bloodied past. Under colonial rule in 1919, a large gathering of two thousand peaceful protestors, farmers from various villages, men, women and children gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden near the Golden Temple, to protest against British rule. Unprovoked the British colonial troops were ordered to open fire on the peaceful crowd killing 370 people. Now the monument of rememberance at Jallianwala Bagh continues to be the most evocative tribute to India’s freedom struggle and the people who lost their lives.

Jallianwala Bagh.jpg

This silk scarf design was inspired by that day in the Golden Temple, the inlay star formations of the marble tiles. I think the colours I have chosen for this are calming, peaceful yet very contemporary, drawing inspiration from the wonderful jewel-like colours of India and the bright colours of the silk chiffon sarees on the women as they elegantly glided along the temple steps. I have always loved stars so delighted that this playful print creates such a wonderful constellation. 

Debbie Millington