• amritsar golden temple

Amritsar Golden Temple: Sikh’s Clever “f you” to the Caste System?

The Golden Temple in Amritsar is a stunning sight, one you’ve probably seen on at least one documentary, CNN program, or while scrolling through Pinterest.

It’s full name is Harmandir Sahib Golden Temple and inside are important spiritual texts for Sikhism, called the Guru Granth Sahib.

Over 100,000 people visit this temple each day!

amritsar golden temple

Of all the temples I’ve seen (a lot!), this is by far the most interesting one I’ve been to, or will probably ever go to.

I’ve read it’s covered with 750 kilos of PURE GOLD.

The Sikh Temple is a peaceful place that anyone can enjoy no matter their race, religion, or sex. But then again Punjabi’s wouldn’t care as the laid-back group of people famously say with a grin, “food is our religion.”

Who are the Sikhs? They are military WARRIORS and “saint-soldiers” and they dress the part. Big, strong men carry golden spears with a turban placed on their head, exuding strength and bravery. I mean, obviously they don’t all dress like this all the time- but it’s still cool.

amritsar golden temple

History lesson: During the partition of India in 1947 thousands were killed. They see themselves as a minority group in India, and they always have their guard up because they have been attacked in the past…. by their own people (Indians), as late as the 80’s at the temple itself (Operation Blue Star). Because of that, there are sometimes Hindu-Sikh conflicts in the Punjab region.

Literally, as I’m writing, assuring you all how Sikhs are like religious perfect superheroes, the BBC reports there are clashes between Sikh’s and Sikh’s at the Golden Temple on the 30 year anniversary of the attacks against them… over who gets to speak first on the microphone. They pulled out their swords, had a true sword fight, and 3 were sent to the hospital. Ok, so they aren’t perfect…

This temple is just a few kilometers from the Wagah border to Pakistan, the ONLY place you can cross the entire border. This Punjabi region has a volatile past and although no active problems in this particular area- it’s well known both sides (Indian and Pakistani) have threatened nuclear attacks at each other.

amritsar golden temple

I was told by a few Indian men I met throughout my trip that Sikh’s did this as a f*&# you to the Indian Caste system, which was really where the start of their entire religion came from.

How does that make sense? Well, they told me.

In the strong Hindu caste system, someone from a high caste would NEVER sit down with someone lower than them and eat dinner (traditionally, although these days is not always true). Here at the temple, everyone gets a free, delicious, filling meal…. And they will sit on the floor next to whoever else comes in. Doesn’t matter if they are poor or rich, male or female, or if they are even religious at all. Pretty incredible.

There are 100,000 people FED each day! Food is served 24/7.

amritsar golden temple

amritsar golden temple

They’ve been feeding people for over 400 years.

It’s all done by volunteers. People to peel garlic, cook, make bread, serve, wash dishes, mop floors, and help pass out new dishes. It’s done so quickly at perfectly, you don’t need to think. They will usher you in, splash the lentil soup down, and before you know it, it’s time to go. The line moves quickly, so you should eat quickly too.

You must watch this video to see how fast-paced it all is! I didn’t do any editing, so bear with me, it’s about 30 seconds long.

The temple will even let travelers sleep there for free (although I don’t recommend that). This is for foreign travelers only as a convenience.

Although a place that welcomes tourists, keep in mind it is a spiritual place. You’ll feel that when you see people crawling on their knees, kissing the ground, and taking a dip in the holy water. Stay respectful.

The water around the temple is called the holy water or “immortal nectar”. There are many places with holy water in India like the Ganges, and the lake at Pushkar. Indians make pilgrimages to them. Sikhism to me is one of the most interesting religions I’ve encountered and yet one people don’t seem to know much about.

Now for the nitty-gritty of Amritsar Golden Temple:

The line is LONG. Be patient.

Women can not get in the water.

Entrance is free.

Do NOT dangle your legs in the water, and you must sit cross-legged.

Best to use the toilet before you get to the temple. They were interesting. You are barefoot, remember…

Cover your head & dress conservatively (no boobs, shoulders, legs).

Ask people before you take photos.

NO smoking.

Don’t forget to look down at the koi fish!

Take off your shoes and walk through the shallow water to clean your feet as you walk in.

amritsar golden temple

Know that the city of Amritsar is a little chaotic but the crowd will help lead you to the temple. There may be some pushing, but this is India, so duh. You’ll be fine!

Combine this day with your trip to Wagah border. Do the temple first in the early morning. By to the border by 5 pm.

Getting there & away:

We came from McLeod Ganj and placed signs looking for people to car-share with us. Trains and buses both will take you here as well as always in India, at a very reasonable price. I know on a map it looks a little out of the way but it was a day trip (a LONG LONG one) from Mcleod Ganj and was worth all that car time. If coming from Rajasthan to the mountains, make a detour on your way up. You can add this into the “Golden Triangle tour” after Jaipur.

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About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Hippie in Heels, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

32 Comments

  1. Greg | Travel Blue Book June 24, 2014 at 5:39 am - Reply

    What an awe inspiring place. I know very little about this temple, so thank you for sharing! I can’t believe that they feed so many people each day. Amazing.

    • Rachel Jones June 25, 2014 at 12:18 am - Reply

      It is so amazing, I loved watching the volunteers- they work SO quickly!

  2. John June 24, 2014 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    If i do not travel anywhere but to this temple in India, I will say I am well traveled, totally amazing, totally

  3. Ashley June 24, 2014 at 9:59 am - Reply

    Crazy that 100,000 people are fed everyday! Looks like such a beautiful temple.

  4. Renuka June 24, 2014 at 10:00 am - Reply

    I have been to this amazing site once and it was an incredible experience. Thanks for bringing back the memories. :) I remember I was scolded by a Sikh woman for not wearing the dupatta(scarf) properly.

    • Rachel Jones June 25, 2014 at 12:19 am - Reply

      haah oh no!! It sucks to be scolded… no one would do that in America, but here I sometimes get scolded to by women lol

  5. JD June 24, 2014 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Very nice article. But I must point that like other religions Sikhism has also got distorted from its origins. It was against caste system (thought it started not in reaction to that but to fight off Mughal invaders and most Hindu families with two sons ‘made’ their one son a warrior/protector that eventually became a different religion). Also, like Islam has different sects, Sikhism also has different sects like Udasis, Sahajdharis, Keshdharis- divided further into Nirmalas and Nirankaris, Namdharis, Kukas etc, and it has same caste-like problems when it comes to marriage, jobs, etc. Since late 1970s the conflict within Sikhism that turned into political and then religious terrorism really has brought criminal elements into Sikhism too (just like any other religion). I LOVE the Harmandar Sahab/Golden Temple, but don’t like how they have now placed photos of the terrorist Bhindrawale right next to the 10 Gurus. Many Sikhs talk favorably of Bhindrawale just like Bin Laden! Some of the rhetoric in gurdwaras even outside India is frightening. When people mix religious and politics, it gets distorted. Here’s the most recent example http://ibnlive.in.com/news/sword-fight-breaks-out-between-golden-temple-task-force-workers-several-injured/477100-3-241.html Sikhs have to clean up religion themselves unless it goes the Islam way and contaminates the future generations as well.

    • Rachel Jones June 25, 2014 at 12:21 am - Reply

      Thank you for your comment, I can see it’s very complicated! The link you’ve put, I had also shared in the post :) except to the BBC telling of what happened.

  6. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling June 24, 2014 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    I love the idea of people from all walks of life sitting down and eating together!

  7. Empty Rucksack June 25, 2014 at 1:32 am - Reply

    Another nicely written post, we need to learn lots of things from it :)
    Its great to see people trying to live up to the ideology of one of the most recent religions in india. And I have seen people doing it with much enthusiasm.
    One thing u missed out was that the foundation stone for the golden temple was laid by a Muslim fakir to symbolise religious equality that this new religion was marking. In the current times it is difficult w
    For this to be practised especially after what happened in 1947.

    P.S. My earlier comment was much longer and had more praise for your writing :-P

    • Rachel Jones June 26, 2014 at 1:53 am - Reply

      that’s so interesting about the foundation stone! thanks for letting me know :) This comment had enough praise, or else it’ll go to my head lol

  8. Elora June 26, 2014 at 7:16 am - Reply

    That was very cool. I’m always intrigued by other cultures and religions–being able to visit an old temple would be incredible. Although I keep wondering just how much an adventure a trip to the bathroom would be….

    • Rachel Jones June 27, 2014 at 1:11 am - Reply

      it was a gross adventure lol, one I don’t wish to take again!!

  9. Stef July 1, 2014 at 2:49 am - Reply

    This is really a fast-paced place but I love the idea of everyone eating together no matter what caste they are in.

  10. Jot July 3, 2014 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Its a nice article.I appreciate your work. I want to share with you that There is no caste system in sikhs,the names given to different people such as sehajdhari is not a caste, it is name for those poeple who are slowly coming in sikh religion, some people feel proud to call themselves as ramgarhia after the great soldier jassa singh ramgarhia and so on. Regarding the terrorism, it should be called as government terrorism. To know more you may read the book “Gallant defender” by AR Darshi(nonsikh)(retired joint secretary punjab govt)
    And by a big rival of bhindrawala” Operation blue star” by Kuldeep barar(leu. general)
    Bhindrawala was not a terrorist.He never killed common people just like laden. He was against casteism superstitions and the people pretending to be God. He helped the girls a lot irrespective of their religion. At that time if there used to be any type torture on girls for dowry by inlaws or kidnapping, rape or female feoticide , he and his men used to give unexplainable hard punishments to the criminals. At last about clash at golden temple, in investigation the fact came out is that the people who were responsible for the clash were non sikhs in disguise of the sikhs. The environment of Punjab at this time is just calm to see but behind the mirror a big planning is going on to prove sikhs as terrorists.
    Golden temple is really a nice place.I visit here very often. It was blown by govt in 1984 in a well planned operation on the eve of Guru Arjun’s gurupurab.

    • Rachel Jones July 5, 2014 at 9:34 am - Reply

      Hi, thanks for your comment. The title actually is saying that it’s an eff you to the hindu caste system.. as in the sikhs don’t have a caste system!

  11. Stephen January 15, 2015 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    I didn’t make it up this far, but stumbled across a Sikh temple in Delhi that was a really nice place: http://instagram.com/p/xMqS8LCU_W/ Can’t say it occurred to me to make a barefoot bathroom visit, though which is probably for the best!

  12. Harbans Lal Badhan March 20, 2015 at 11:07 am - Reply

    “The Untouchables (Dalits) of India want economic, social, political, religious and educational equality in society, not in the eyes of God”
    (Harbans Lal Badhan)

  13. Nick April 24, 2015 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    The Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Sitting around the water on a balmy October afternoon listening to beautiful kirtan (hymns) being sung live can be a surreal experience. One small point I wanted to point out is that ladies are allowed to take a dip in the sarowar (water tank) albeit in a covered enclosure.

    Great blog, hope to see you inThilassa sometime. Cheers.

  14. Rachel April 29, 2015 at 8:58 am - Reply

    Hi there, just wanted to point out that women ARE in fact allowed to have a dip in the water. There is a zone reserved for women :)

    • Rachel Jones April 29, 2015 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      thanks!

    • HARBANS LAL BADHAN August 17, 2015 at 1:32 pm - Reply

      “Dr. Ambedkar is the heart and the brain of the untouchables (Dalits) of India.”
      (Harbans Lal Badhan)

  15. Simi October 17, 2015 at 6:32 am - Reply

    Nice article, but I feel the need to tell you that women ARE allowed to go in the water! Because it would be uncomfortable to bathe in the water in front of everyone in the Gurudwara, there’s a spot reserved for them.

  16. Harbans Lal Badhan October 17, 2015 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    “The whole world knows that the Indian Caste system is more dangerous and harmful than chemical weapons.”
    (Harbans Lal Badhan)

  17. Jess October 27, 2015 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Where did you stay in Amritsar?

    Im looking for a hostel to meet other people, or maybe a hotel if there arent any good options.

    Cheers
    Jess

    • Rachel Jones October 28, 2015 at 11:19 am - Reply

      I didn’t stay there Jess, I just took a day trip!

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