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Day Two In Amritsar

KAREN-EMMA WHITE

 

 

 

It’s difficult to put into words how one feels when one first sees the Golden Temple.

My day was slightly different to others who were there on a spiritual journey. It started with a meeting with officials in the information centre, in an attempt to gain permission to take photos within the Sikh Museum and to discuss how The Ancient House Museum -  the one I'm associated with back home -- and The Sikh Museum might engage in some kind of partnership.

It’s quite difficult when you are very used to having your own voice in a workplace to sit back and let others talk on your behalf. Not only was there a language barrier in play due to my lack of Punjabi, but additionally any permission granted was going to be the result of prolonged negotiation by several people, all with very distinct connections to the organisation.

Lobbying on my behalf today was Mr Sukhdev Singh Sandhanwalia, Dr Manmohan Singh, the former Secretary of the SGPC, and Bhupinder Peter Singh Bance.

Eventually we were successful in gaining permission for access to The Sikh Museum and a meeting with the President of the SGPC later in the day.

Our first stop, after an initial look around the parkarma was Mr Iqbal Singh’s office, the curator of the museum. Our first discussion centred on the wall of silver poles once used to hold up a canopy above the causeway between the Darshani Deorhi and the Sanctum-Sanctorum and how further tarnishing could be prevented on these poles.

The poles have a wooden core and are individually marked. They would definitely benefit from carefully cleaning and some plastizote between the pole and brackets.

The Sikh Museum has a large collection of paintings and a variety of objects, including works on paper and weapons, all in very good condition. In contrast to museums in the United Kingdom, there were plenty of signs asking visitors not to talk or touch.

Most exciting was the discovery of two artists in residence, each working on paintings commissioned by the SGPC.

The sight of several fairly stiff ‘Britishers’ (I’ve been labelled as one of these since Monday’s heritage walk!) attempting to sit cross legged on the floor to eat must have been quite amusing for some of our fellow diners. Having watched this on TV more thanonce, I could barely believe I was sitting there.

I’ve spent the past eight years talking to children about visiting a gurdwara and of course included an image of the Golden Temple as the ultimate destination. To be here now, taking part, just feels incredible!

Currently, a new building is under construction which will eventually triple the size of the Langar Hall.

To complete my experience, I had a go at doing seva by washing dishes in the Langar Hall. To my credit, I was only told off twice and had a friendly slap on the hand once! Total items washed – 2.
 
Best stick to the day job …          

After Langar, it was time for our fabled meeting with the President of the SGPC.

Nothing could prepare me for what was coming.

After a considerable wait in one room, once the President arrived with a huge security entourage, we were fast tracked to another waiting room and offered tea. Eventually we were gestured into a crowded room and told where to sit or stand. The President arrived in the midst of advisers, security and petitioners. I was introduced to the President along with Peter Singh, and people began to lobby on our behalf, firstly for the opportunity to take limited photography in the Sanctum-Sanctorum, and also for an additional visit to a restricted area.

Our first request was refused – the second is pending until next week.

Unfortunately, we had a thunderstorm whilst we were inside the Teja Singh Samundari Hall, but it didn’t dampen our spirits as we finally approached the Sanctum-Sanctorum.

Although we were not allowed to take photos inside, we were able to fast track the long queues and go straight in after getting our Karrah Parshad.

Words cannot describe the beauty of the Harmandar Sahib - ‘House of God‘. It simply shimmers from every surface.

It’s very crowded as visitors approach the Guru Granth Sahib, all desperate to pay their respects and spend some time listening to the kirtan. The staircases are lined in beautiful marble, with hand painted floral motifs on the ceilings, some of which are being renovated from the original drawings, using traditional stone pigments.

I left feeling relieved that I would been able to return during my stay in Amritsar. For a first day inside here, it’s been amazing but simply too much to take in during one visit.

On our way out, Peter Singh and I had the opportunity to meet the politician Jagmeet Singh, a former Indian MP. I was delighted to hear how highly he thought of British Museums and that partnerships between Punjabi museums with those in Britain could lead to real positive changes.

Did I mention that I’m officially a ‘Page-3’ girl?! I made it to page 3 of the Hindustan Times last Sunday.


February 25, 2015
 

Conversation about this article

1: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 25, 2015, 11:10 AM.

Just to make it official: I only read page 3 of the Hindustan Times! Welcome to my enigmatic and Oh-so-splendid home town (for 23 years!) And Congratulations, Karen, on having such an enjoyable visit to Amritsar.

2: Ari Singh (Sofia, Bulgaria), February 25, 2015, 1:53 PM.

There is no doubt that the Golden Temple is the most beautiful place of worship in the world. Getting permissions and the time it takes for them, shows how backward the organization is. Karen, have a nice stay in Punjab.

3: Gobinder Singh (USA), February 25, 2015, 10:39 PM.

If you haven't yet, the best place to enjoy kirtan and beautiful artwork is upstairs, in the main hall. It's simply mesmerizing. As my home town where I spent my childhood, I am always afraid that the city is changing too rapidly and losing its cultural heritage without any planning. Take a walk in some of the narrow markets behind Darbar Sahib and you will still see ancient buildings and houses which are rapidly being converted into marble showrooms and storefronts. When I visited Lucerne (Switzerland), I was amazed at how beautifully they were able to incorporate tourism and shopping and still preserve their heritage buildings. The 'Katras' (markets) named after Sikh Sardars (Chiefs) and streets like Mai Sewan Bazaar have been there from the earliest times of the city.

4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), February 26, 2015, 6:26 AM.

Once you get a taste for the kirtan here you are hooked!

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