Friday, April 14, 2006

What Not To Do At A Sikh Temple

So, here I am, after almost 5 months, back in Amritsar, where my Indian imbroglio started. But this time I've stayed more than just a day, for several reasons. Firstly to see the Sikh new year celebrations today, and secondly I need to kill a few days anyway for the mountains passes in Pakistan to open up, and the Golden Temple is the cheapest place to stay (free accommodation and food!). My second visit amongst the Sikhs has perhaps made an even more favourable impression than the first one as I can now compare them to the rest of India. The communal spirit and organisation is quite unique: pilgrims volunteer to peel potatoes, make chapatis, wash dishes, hand out food and water, clean the floors and carpets, basically everything that's needed in the day to day running of the temple. And outsiders are more than welcome to take part and witness in their traditions and rituals. All this without even asking for anything in return. The langar, or communal dining hall, particularly embodies this spirit. Throughout the day, from early in the morning well into the night (I walked past it at 6am and after midnight and it was open both times), food is prepared and served to both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. The continuous noise of clanging plates being stacked up, handed out and washed is like the soundtrack to some never-ending cosmic battle.

The new year celebrations have been a bit of a letdown though. I was expecting wild partying in the streets and bhangra beats to bring the house down. Instead, for me, the casual observer, at least, the only difference was an increase in the number of pilgrims circumambulating the shrine and some fireworks in the evening (although it is highly possible that there was wild partying and nobody told me about it). But that didn't bother me too much (though I was looking forawrd to trying out my bhangra dance moves i.e. screwing in a lightbulb and turning a doorknob that I had been taught by my students at school) as it is a very relaxing place to just sit and people-watch. I especially like the devout Sikhs with their bright blue outfits and various offensive weapons.

On my final night I did commit a bit of a faux pas. I had noticed my bunk neighbour had had a haircut and so I commented on it, at which point he informed me that, although he had gone to the barbers (so that he could get his moustache styled) he also had a pair of clippers. And since I had already planned to get my hair cut in Pakistan I asked if I could borrow them and save myself a bit of money. So I got another fellow inmate (Rosanna from Eastern Shores) to do the honours. She had barely started (see pic below) when the Sikh guard came in and started gesticulating at us to stop immediately. Then it dawned on me that this might not have been a clever move, as devout Sikhs are forbidden from cutting their hair, ever. And here I was right by their holiest of holies. But in the end he was very kind and accommodating and let me finish off, as long as it was well away from anywhere he, or other Sikhs, could see. So, next time you happen to be in a Sikh temple and feel like a short-back-and-sides, just resist and wait until you're somewhere else.

1 comment:

Yann said...

Wow !!!

I would like exactly the same haircut! I just had a look on the picture before I read your comment and I was really wondering what it was...the smoke resulted from a explosion, some kinds of new painting art...
What about your beard ?

That will be a good souvenir! If possible, take more of amazing pictures such this one and post them.