Visit to a Gurdwara
GURDWARA BANGLA SAHIB, NEW DELHI, INDIA
The Sikh religion was founded in northern India in the fifteenth century. (Hinduism and Buddhism also got their start on the subcontinent. What is it about India that lends itself to seeking God?) It was a breakaway from Hinduism, started in part as a rejection of the caste system. Sikhism is little known outside of South Asia, but even there it is a minority religion. It’s followed by just 2% of India's population; “We are the salt that gives taste to food”, they’ll tell you.
Sikhs have a tradition of being fierce warriors. Back in the day, the first-born son of each Hindu family would become Sikh in service to and protection of the local community. Sort of like a military draft, I guess. Even today there are a lot of Sikhs in India’s military and police forces, and service to others is a pillar of their faith.
One evening in Delhi I went with my camera to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, one of the largest Sikh temples in the city. Gurdwaras (“gateway to the guru” – or teacher or knowledge) will often have a large pool of water next to the temple, for the faithful to wash away sins. I wanted to try taking some photos at night of reflections on the pool. It’s a dramatic setting, and that temple’s pool was known to attract large bats after sunset, some with wingspans approaching three feet. I didn’t have much success with my camera that night but no matter, it was still a worthwhile outing . . .
I was wandering about and suddenly found myself invited into a back room where there were about a half dozen Sikh men. We introduced ourselves. They explained that they were engineers, responsible for the upkeep of the ten most important gurdwaras in the Delhi area. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib was under major renovation and they were the guys making it happen. They kept the gold plating plated to temple domes and fixed what needed fixing at their centuries-old holy sites.
Soon we were seated on the floor sharing a meal of dal (lentil stew) washed down with the sweet chai that can be found on every street corner in India. We chatted as we ate and after a while the conversation turned serious. They conferred briefly amongst themselves in Punjabi and then turned to me. Their spokesman cleared his throat. Could they ask me a most-important question? I braced myself. Would I be up for it? They wanted to know about wrestling in the States. The kind they’d find on late night TV, where half-crazed costumed competitors smash chairs over each other’s heads. “Was that real?”
Wrestling is an honored sport in India with a tradition that goes back centuries. And it’s a sport in which the country is competitive at international levels. It is taken seriously. The relief in the room was palpable when I told them it was mostly acting, like Hollywood – like Bollywood. “Ah”, they replied, “film-ie”, and smiled in relief.
With that important matter settled they ushered me through a small side door to the sacred pool and left me to my photography. After first making sure I could find my way back to their office, to say farewell on my way out. I did so.
the Bangla Sahib kitchen where 10,000 hungry are fed daily