I consider myself very lucky that I have been able to go to the Golden Temple not once but thrice so far, each in different stages of my life. The Golden Temple, as Amritsar’s Gurudwara Harmandir Sahib is popularly known, is the holiest of Gurudwaras of the Sikhs.
I came out feeling very blessed and at peace with life after every visit and had some lovely food too each time.
My first visit to the Golden Temple was in the late 1990s. I was a budding young market research executive then. After a day of manic fieldwork, observing how folks added 2T oil while fueling their scooters at petrol pumps across Amritsar, I took a rickshaw and headed to see the Golden Temple.
It was dark by the time I reached. I was politely requested by volunteers to cover my head before entering the temple, which I did with my handkerchief. I left my shoes at the shoe counter. The collection process was very orderly. Just before I walked in, I saw that there was an artificial stream to wash one’s feet before entering. I dipped my feet gingerly into the pool of water and then stepped out and walked on, suddenly very refreshed. I felt the weariness of the day being washed way. It was as if I had come home.
I reached the gate and took in the grandness of the temple located across the artificial lake. It looked serene, basking the glow of the lights that had come on. What struck me was how clean, calm and orderly everything was inside. I sat down on the steps by the holy lake. Though I am not a Sikh, I felt safe, secure and special. I cherished my time there.
Savouring Langar ka Khana
I got up after about half an hour to head to my hotel. I passed by a hall on the way out where I saw people eating. I would later learn that it was the langar, a term used interchangeably for the community kitchen in Gurudwaras and the food served there. Langar ka khana is considered holy and that’s where people head to eat upon each visit or on Guru Nanak Jayanti says Hardeep Chadh of the Khane Khas restaurant in Mumbai. Every Sunday morning, he goes to the local Gurudwara in Mumbai’s Khar at 6.30 am to help cook the food.
I didn’t stop to have dinner at the langar. I had tons of work to catch up on that night and planned to do it over dinner at the hotel. However, a kind Sikh gentleman pointed to a corner and gestured warmly for me to go there. I followed his lead and came across a counter where they were offering prasad. I went and had a bit of the warm nourishing halwa-like sweet, which I would later get to know to be the kada prasad. I felt very happy as I left.
The Palki Sahib Procession
I returned to the Golden Temple after a decade and a half, once again at the start of a new career. Not as an aspiring market researcher this time, but as an aspiring food writer.
I was part of a group of bloggers from different fields who had been brought to Amritsar for a promotional trip. We were scheduled to go to the Golden Temple at 5:30 in the morning. I grumbled the loudest as I hate an early start. “It will be worth it,” assured the folks from Punjab Tourism with a smile. We were scheduled to see the Palki Sahib ceremony in which the Holy Book is brought out of its enclosure in the morning.
We reached the Golden Temple at the crack of dawn when the sun hadn’t risen yet. We sat by the lake and saw the sun coming up. All my rants about having to wake up early disappeared as I took on the magnificent sight of the Golden Temple being slowly bathed by the rays of the rising sun. It was an unforgettable experience. We then saw the Palki Sahib procession of devotees bringing out the holy book and fanning it with majestic fans. Their walk was nearly rhythmic and had me in its spell.
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Kada Prasad and Langar
On the way out I bought some kada prasad and then gave it at a counter where it is collected. This is then distributed to all who have come to the temple. I had some kada prasad standing by the holy lake with the sun yet to come out in its full glory.
I took in the ghee laden, sugary, flour-based kada prasad and felt fully charged up to start the new journey I had embarked on.
Proud Amritsar boy and celebrity chef Vikas Khanna took us to his favourite food joints in Amritsar during the trip. He referred to the langar at the Golden Temple as the ‘kitchen that feeds the whole of Amritsar’. Metaphorically speaking of course. He was alluding to the central role that the Golden Temple played in Amritsar, which is also referred to as the Temple City.
And then I was back again at the Golden Temple six months later. This time it was winter. I was in Amritsar covering a dhaba trail across Punjab. The food tasted even better in the biting cold when you craved the comfort of good food.
This time we went to Golden Temple around lunch time. The moment I stepped in to the Golden Temple complex, I realised how fortunate I was to return, once again, to the shrine which devotees across the world thirst to visit even once in their lives. I appreciated how fortunate I was in life to get a chance to follow my dreams and that I should cherish this and not squander it.
The Langar Kitchen
Our trip this time was focused around the langar kitchen. At the Golden Temple it is kept open 24 by 7, feeding all who have come to its gates, irrespective of caste, creed or class and free of costs. The food is provided by and cooked by volunteers.
We saw people of all ages and gender sitting at the courtyard chopping vegetables and peeling peas and skinning potatoes. There were others stirring the food bubbling in massive cauldrons. And still others, washing the used dishes.
We then saw a room where people were mixing the dough for the rotis, which were then made in an assembly line-like set up and doused with ghee before being sent out to the langar. People in our group, including chef Kunal Kapur who was leading us on the trail, joined those mixing the atta. Everyone is welcomed to help and contribute in any manner that they can, we were told.
We then went to the massive dining hall and sat on the floor where we served a soulful meal of roti, dal and kheer. The food is wholesome and nourishing. My advice is to start with small portions so that you don’t waste the food. Seconds are given readily.
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Having read the history of the Sikhs in school, having heard my mom’s stories of her days teaching in a Sikh-run college in Delhi before she got married and left the country, and having had the fortune of meeting many wonderful Sikh friends across the world, it was but fitting I realised that I went to the Golden Temple to express my gratitude.
I would strongly recommend that you go to your local Gurdwara for a visit. You will come back well fed and very blessed.
About the Author:
Kalyan loves to eat and he loves to talk about all that he eats. His wife urged him to start writing about it, otherwise she would have to hear it all. He blogs as 'finelychopped' and is the editor at large for the India Food Network.
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