When I walked towards the Golden Temple - Amritsar, in the small, narrow, half lit alley, I could see dozens of Sikhs with guns in their hands. Some were sitting drinking Chai, and some were talking to each other. As we walked in, we passed through the curious, inquisitive looks towards us. The atmosphere was tense, For us for sure.
As we entered the Golden Temple complex. It was everything that I had imagined of. Once I was inside I simply kept looking at the magnificent temple in the centre of the spectacular lake. Here too, there were hundreds of Sikhs with guns. Many were simply pilgrims. Many dressed in Cobalt Blue were the Nihang - the warrior clan. They were carrying spears and swords. On our left was the famous Langar - Ahead of us was Akal Takht. Then entire complex was surrounded by different beautiful blazing white coloured buildings.
Next day in the morning we met dynamic leader Jarnailsingh Bhindranwale on the terrace of Langar. Present were hundreds of his followers. Each and every one with a gun. Once in a while someone would shoot a bullet in the air and with loud flutter the pigeons would soar up in the skies. Later on we met Sant Longowal in one of his large chambers. Unlike Jarnailsingh Bhindranwale, who was an aggressive orator, Sant Longowal was a quiet person.
It was April of the year 1984. Times were disturbing. It was the peak of unrest in Punjab. News of killings and such would be heard every day. And we were there right in the heart centre of everyting - At the Golden Temple. No one knew that in another 2 odd months there would a week long war, and everything would change. No one sees the future really! For my first time visit to the Holi place, I must say it was exciting! I was awestruck - Jaw dropped !
It was exactly after 37 years now, I was standing there - in the same alley that leads to Suvarna Mandir - The Golden Temple. I couldn't just recognise it!! There is a complete metamorphosis happened there. The entire façade is changed now. It looks incredible. I assumed the same shops would be there - may be some have changed. Once again - Once again, I was awestruck - Jaw dropped !
I walked towards the Golden Temple. On the right there is an ancient Shani Dev Temple - from CE 1761. In the entire beige coloured façade, that one blue building stands out. As you go ahead there is a large plaza where you leave your footwear. The people inside receiving the footwear are doing it as a service. No one is paid.
Inside most of the buildings surrounding the lake are new. Actually in the '84 war, these buildings were damaged. Government re-built them. The Sikhs tore down the government built buildings, and built their own with their own money.
There were many pilgrims. Hundreds of them. Some must have come from far away. Many families were clicking the mandatory pictures against the Golden Temple. I too found a guy trying to take his selfie. Asked him if I could click, and then asked him to click mine. There was some procession going around too. They were singing some songs / prayers. I think it was a Jatha from outstation, I can't be sure though.
Inside the Temple area the Gurbani is heard in soft volumes. The maestros that sing it in the main temple, are called Ragi. These Ragi are masters of music and it's quite prestigious to become a Ragi. I simply kept listening to the magical verses in those magical voices. The entire atmosphere was mesmerising. 37 years ago, I too had sung Gurbani and played Tabla in several Gurudwaras of Panjab. I wasn't playing flute then! [ Nor was I playing Tabla or was singing any good, But simply no one told me I was horrible and that I shouldn't ! ]
I went there once in the evening, and again in the morning. I had food in that incredible Langar, Just walked around, Sat down and Prayed, Played Flute and Just kept looking at the beautiful fish in the lake for quite some time. Honestly, I didn't want to leave. No Nonsense place this is. No security, No frisking, no rubbish of Don’t click pictures and any such restrictions. Everyone keeps the respect of the place, it's not needed to hammer it on the minds of pilgrims. I once again had fallen in love with the place, like same way I did 37 years ago.
Incidentally, when I mentioned that I have met Bhindranwale and Sant Longowal, several people actually took selfies with me! That definitely left me thinking!