7/2/92

Friday. First thing in the morning, we were awakened by the sound of running water. I went out onto the veranda to see what was happening and found that it was the sound of rain; rain streaming down vertically from the sky and pummeling the marble of the courtyard with an unremitting hiss. The sky was leaden, and the colours of the doors and balustrades of the temple complex merged into it amongst the rain.

By the time we had risen, however, the rain had passed, leaving the street in front of the hospital ankle-deep in water. Barnardos, Madeline, Linda, and I made our way around to the cafe for breakfast then we set off to explore the areas around the temple. We donned head coverings and took off our shoes while we climbed one of the towers over on the left-hand side of the outer wall of the Golden Temple. From the top, we had an excellent view of Amritsar and the temple itself, including the two brick towers which were partially destroyed during the 1984 siege of the temple by Indian army soldiers directed by Indira Gandhi. On the walls of these towers, the scars of bullets and mortar shells could still clearly be seen.

We took chai with a group of young Sikhs at the foot of the tower, much to the amusement of a toothless old lady sitting with them, then set off around to the shops by the main entrance of the temple, where I bought a Sikh dagger – a traditional weapon known as a KIRPAN – and a couple of books on the philosophy of Sikhism. Linda bought a pair of leather shoes with hand embroidery work on them, and we talked over chai with some passers-by in the shoe shop.

Business card from the Mementos of India shop.

In the early evening, I changed US$100 with a money changer in a china shop, then the four of us set off in rickshaws to find something to eat for dinner. It was a long search and we could only find a grubby little sidewalk place that served surprisingly good food. Back of the temple, we walked over to watch the “ceremony of the book” at nine PM. The pool of nectar was mirror smooth and threw back some wonderful reflections of the temple and surrounding buildings which were lit from the side and from within.

We walked out to the temple and sat down in the corner next to the musicians. The bearded old man who was singing was putting on as much soul into the music as an old black blues singer, and his voice echoed around the outer walls of the temple with an effect no electronic delay could produce.

At 9:10 there was a commotion outside, with a lot of chanting going on and a priest with two assistants came in. The priest sat behind the holy book and they began an elaborate ceremony, praying while they carefully wrapped the book in 7 white sheets. Then the priest lifted the book onto his head and walked out of the temple with it.

Outside, they placed the book on a golden byre and it was carried slowly across the causeway and showered with flower petals as it passed through the outer gates. A drum was beating as it was carried out of sight into another building, and most of the Sikhs accompanying it bowed and touched their heads to the ground. When all the ceremony had quietened down, we spent 20 minutes or so taking some long exposure photos of the Golden Temple, then retired to our chamber to sleep.

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