Amritsar or Ambarsar is a city of history, holiness, culture and cuisine. Also a city of colourful turbans, exquisite phulkari, golden yellow harvest and endless Seva and Langar. From the tall poplars to the short green mustard and sunflower plants on the fields, all provide a welcoming expanse to experience the charm of the city.
On our quest of finding an accommodation in a hotel, we hired Rickshaws. Our rickshaw puller happily informed us of the accommodation facilities available in the Golden temple. He even advised us to enquire for available rooms while he kept waiting with no additional charges. This was indeed a very different scenario to me. In every tourist destination, I have experienced business minded people flocked around the tourists, in an attempt to extract more above the regular. I though this may be the ‘Seva Bhao’ (selfless service offered to mankind) in all citizens here.
We entered the holy shrine along with other devotees. There were counters serving drinking water in clean stainless steel bowls. The used bowls were removed for the cleaning and replaced with the cleaned ones. The cycle continued throughout the day. With the formalities done and paying a meagre amount as deposit we were allotted a room. It was a small room equipped with just all the basic amenities. The path was being cleaned frequently by those in charge of the process. The white buildings, the people clad in white all seemed to be symbolise purity.
The Shoe counters had people of all age offering Seva. Some receiving shoes while some cleaning and polishing them while some returning them with a warm smile and folded palms, chanting religious hymns. All religiously and dutifully performing their respective tasks. The entrance of the temple had running water to wash the feet before entering. The white marbled floor as well as the walls reflected the sun-rays making it more white in appearance.
Amritsar, the nectar tank of immortality was founded by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. The fifth guru Guru Arjan constructed the Harmandir Sahib also known as Sri Darbar Sahib (the Golden Temple) in the centre of the lake and also installed the Adi Granth (the holy Scripture of Sikhism). The Akal Takht (the throne of the timeless one) was stationed there by the sixth guru Guru Hargobind. Much later the upper floor of the gurdwara was covered with gold (thus the English name Golden Temple) by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The temple has four entrance representing the four directions and also the openness of Sikh religion towards mankind irrespective of caste, class and religion.
The Gurbani were played throughout the day while devotees gathered from all around the world to pay a visit to this holy place. The singsong tone of the Gurbani, the disciplined way of Darshan, the cleanliness, the Seva Bhao, altogether enhanced the pious feeling in every soul. There was systematic way of Prasad distribution while drinking water services were present at every corner. As we encircled round the holy pond were saw devotees cleaning the moss from the already clean pond. This is done on regular basis, keeping the water clean and healthy for the several fishes residing within the pond.
Then there was a holy Jujube tree, which was more than 500 years old. There were fencing around its trunk and the site was considered to be revered. It is the Ber Baba Budha Saheb Ji. Baba Budha Ji, the first head priest of the shrine used to sit under this Ber (or Jujube) tree and supervise the excavation of the holy lake. The other important sites within the temple premises are the Dukh Bhanjani Beri, Gurdwara At Sath Tirath, Gurdwara Manji Sahib, Karah Prasad, Har Ki Pauri, Panni Prasad and Library.
The famous Langar Hall or the community kitchen is a huge building on one side. This place serves the purpose of the preparing, cooking and serving meals to more than an average of 75000 devotees on any normal day. While the numbers double on festivals and other occasions. The Langar was started with the purpose of feeding thousand mouths and diminishing all the class barrier and propagating equality by the etiquette of sitting together in rows on the floor and eating. All the cooking, serving, washing are done by the voluntary helpers (Savadars). The selfless services provided by thousands of people is overwhelming. So did the sense of equality, peace and divinity prevailed all over the sacred place.
Wagah, the much awaited patriotic part of our journey was little different from what was expected. The auto rickshaw ride to Attari in the sweltering afternoon was clearly a wrong choice of transportation. On reaching the main entrance we joined the large crowd of enthusiasts waiting for the gates to open. We reached there an hour before the time. The entrance gate opens at 3:30 pm every day. By then the scorching heat, profuse sweating and the thrust of the zealot gathering was making me sick. I was literally feeling weak by my feet and dehydrated. While in the fair like surrounding other were enjoying. Some painting their faces with the tri-colour while others purchasing patriotic stuff. After a long wait, it seemed that the floodgates were opened. The crowd rushed in and ran through the half kilometre walkway to grab the front row of the cemented gallery.
Me feeling frail could not join the rush. We moved on slowly to get seated few rows behind the preferred. The day long fiery sun made the gallery equivalent to a hot induction cooktop. The BSF personnel were busy in the parade preparations while popular patriotic Bollywood music was played to set the mood. As the parade began, the patriotic zeal of the crowd made them disremember their civic duties. The majority of the people pushed their way to the front row to have a better view. I hardly managed to stand to get a glimpse of the much-anticipated show, through the gaps in between the human head in the front rows. There was loud cheer for the BSF Jawans and slogans of ‘Vande Mataram’, ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.
A similar scenario was on the Pakistan side too. The jawans paraded in smart uniforms and gorgeous turbans. With the setting sun, the iron gates on the border were thrown wide open. The flags of both the nations were lowered simultaneously. The Beating Retreat, as known on international level ended with the folding of flags, then retreat after a brusque handshake between the soldiers from the either side. The gates were then closed again. And thus, the spectacle of the ceremony ended.
Now the tragic history was calling us. The public garden of Jalianwala Bagh, near the Golden Temple, narrates the harrowing story of the unarmed gathering being brutally fired upon by the British soldiers. The 13th of April 1919, is marked in red letters in Indian History and its struggle for freedom. The fateful Sunday, the day of Baisakhi (Punjabi New Year) experienced the grievous deaths of more than thousands and even more wounded, including women and children. The garden now holds the legacy of the dreadful past. A memorial is built at the centre of the garden, the ‘Amar Jyoti’ keeps burning in reverence to the martyrs’ soul. While the Martyr’s well and the walls with the bullet marks are preserved for the future generation to know the history of Indian Freedom struggle. The museum also holds a rich data on the freedom struggle.
Amritsar has provided us with a roller coaster ride of emotions. At times – devotion and pious within the sanctity of the temple; touched and obliged by the selfless services; patriotic with the guards of our Nation and fellow countrymen; and sad and teary eyed on touching the pious soil of the martyrs.