Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tav Prasad - this life, and all it holds, is by thy grace.

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I had been yearning to go to Amritsar ever since Ruhi was born. I have an unexplained emotional connect with the Harmandir Sahib, the sight, the smell, the sound..just the touch of the cold marble stirs my emotions like little else. But thats not surprising since I have noticed people from all kinds of backgrounds mesmerized by the unique experience of the Golden Temple.

My sister in law was returning to her Rajasthan home from Himachal and wanted to make a touristy stop at a Amritsar. I was delighted when she asked me to escort them and took the morning train along with a very excited Ruhi. At the Amritsar Railway Station we got on to a cycle rickshaw with Ruhi perched on it like a tiny bird and on an uphill flyover I knew by cue that I needed to get off as the Rickshawallah pulled the Rickshaw up the road. Ruhi tried to look brave as she balanced herself delicately on her latest adventure ride ! Many years ago on our annual school vacations Dad would take us to the Golden Temple on a Tanga. I looked around desperately but there were none now, and that is such a pity. I remember sitting in the front and shrieking at the touch of the pony's bouncing tail...and the sights and smells of the dusty, crowded city of Amritsar.

The main road leading to the Jalian wallah Bagh was blocked by the traffic cops and we got dropped off with instructions to walk down the road and turn right to reach Darbar Sahib. I slung the air bag on one shoulder and lifted Ruhi in the other arm but it was too crowded and difficult to get along so we took another Rickshaw which took us to what was the 'Sarai' area - a long road adjacent to the golden Temple lined with little white palaces - each called a Niwas . I had been told to go to Arjun Niwas and call up some gentleman who would organise a room for us. On the way was one of the alleys leading to the Sarovar and I couldn't bear to look towards my right as I dragged Ruhi and our bag to Hargobind Niwas where our room was allotted. I did not want to spoil my treat to feast on the most amazing sight in the world. I wanted to be at my own pace as I opened my eyes to the Golden Temple.

The room was basic and there were simple rules like no smoking or drinking, and to keep your head covered at all times. Little Ruhi had carefully wrapped the pink dupatta around her tiny head and was thrilled by the windows in the room. I quickly washed and dressed her before my sister in law, her husband and daughter arrived in a taxi from Mandi. In my mind I could not thank them enough for this trip...

We first went to the Langar Hall - a massive 3 floor building with huge community kitchens on the ground floor where devotees perform seva all day long. The sound of the steel thaalis being collected and cleaned resounds in that area from early in the morning to late at night. The langar is a day long affair and it works with clocklike precision. Someone cleans the halls as people get up to leave and someone serves the plates and spoons a drinking bowl. The 'prasadas' (Rotis) are cooked non stop and we got to eat them with Daal and rice Kheer. Considering that Lakhs of people visit the shrine daily and eat here, the floors and kitchens are spotlessly clean and there is no one barking orders - each one of the sevadars is busy doing their role like in a trance, a prayer on every lips. The Prasadas were hard and I was so proud of my fussy little daughter who put in all her effort to finish every morsel on her plate.

By the time we finished, the sun was preparing to retreat and my guests wanted to visit the Wagah check post ( indo-pak border) at Attari village to watch the daily ceremony of closing the gates between the arch rivals. We had heard so much about the dramatic ceremony and we decided to come back to the Gurudwara after the Retreat. There were hundreds of people at Wagah - tourists from every part of the country. Atleast 5 times the people we saw on the Pakistan side of the gate. There was mad shouting and hooting. Like always it upset Ruhi a great deal to see her mother get publicly excited ! I was shouting 'Vande Mataram' ; 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' with abandon and this embarrassed Ruhi a lot. She gets similarly embarrassed when I dance. It puzzles me, why she has such victorian ideas about public behavior at 5 years ! Specially since her life revolves around me, I would assume that must be a lesson in boisterousness !

She sulked and howled and said she hated the Retreat and that she wanted to go back to the Golden Temple.

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We came back and there it was - like a Jewel in the darkness. One almost gasps as suddenly you spot a magnificent glow in the middle of the dark murky water. May I be the Murky water....I read somewhere today. I showed them the Gurudwara as they marveled at the cleanliness, peace and the awesome discipline...despite thousands of people. The Shabads echo in every corner of the compound...long after you have left Harmandir that echo of the singing follows you around. We ate another quick langar and I rushed them inside again to participate in the 'sukhasan' which is the closing prayer ceremony. We were told that we had missed it unfortunately and that it was as amazing again to participate in the 'prakash' ( opening prayer ceremony) the next morning at 5 AM.

I could not sleep that night. After a couple of hours tossing in the bed I heard the Shabads resume and I got up and went out. it was 3 AM. There were scores of people in the compound - even little children. everyone was busy washing the premises. There were sevadars standing in a row along the sarovar handing over buckets of water to others who took the buckets and poured them on the parikarma floor. Sevadars with brooms, mops and wipers were washing every square inch of the marble. I took a bucket of water and thought I was going to drop it since I didnt imagine how heavy it was. On the second instance I almost slipped on the floor along the bucket. The third time around I got it right and for almost an hour till the whole floor was washed we carried on the seva. Then I sat for some time in my wet clothes on the Parikarma waiting for 'prakash' and listening to the hyms. When it became really chilly I went to sit inside in the warm environs of the golden house. I took the Hindi Sukhmani Sahib Gutka and read till I could not contain my mind from wandering.....I felt full of peace and quietude. There were no more questions in my mind. After many years I felt strong again.


roop :) said...

love your blog!!

Mai said...

I just got an acute case of homesickness. I haven't been there since 1984 and my last sight of Harimandir Sahib is clouded by memories of the stench of burnt buildings and gunpowder and blood and bodies in the sun.

Ilong to see it as you describe, as I remember it from childhood. I can smell and taste the langar and feel the presence of pure GOODNESS that I have found there and nowhere else on earth...