October and November are busy months on the South Asian calendar. Religion and culture become mixed as Diwali, Eid, and Gurpurab celebrations occur globally, allowing family and friends to share in each other's happiness and offer best wishes. On these occasions, the desire for religious pilgrimmages can intensify, and those who are spiritually inclined may embark on such a trip, knowing that crowds and lineups at these places of worship may make the notion of a solitary visit for reflection and contemplation a lost dream.
The photo above was not taken during a trip for a specific pilgrimmage. Rather, I was visiting India for two weeks, and in Amritsar for a three-day visit with my dad's side. My adventurous plans had effectively been kaiboshed by the terrorist attacks in November 2008. Terrorism aside, a visit to the Golden Temple can never be taken off my Indian agenda. Given that there was nothing special marked on the calendar, I had been naively hoping for a quietly spiritual visit.
There are many entrances into the marble complex of the Golden Temple, but only one walkway across the sarovar into the temple itself. While patiently waiting in line on the walkway, I became aware of whispers and sideways glances, interrupting the soothing hum of the hymns. A certain politician's name was being whispered and then we saw him stride past the waiting lineup, with a few clearly non-Indian visitors cautiously following in his wake.
Immediately I became irritated that these people were able to cut in front of all the rest who were baking in the increasingly stronger midday sun for their turn to enter the temple. Foreign-born NRI that I am, I also began to voice my displeasure in loudly whispered Punjabi and English, while my uncle tried to shush me. But seriously, why did my prayers have to be put on hold while some politicians breezed through on a photo-op in a sacred and spiritual place?
(One could argue that where my prayers are said is not as important as the fact that they are said, but I digress. I was pissed at that moment, and not just because I was sweating and tanning more than I cared to. A funny coincidence of life though, I now have reason to believe those visitors were Canadian dignitaries after a conversation I had with a certain Federal Minister as he commented on my photo exhibition during the 2009 SWFF at the ROM.)
After the political delegates had departed, I had my chance to enter the temple, along with the rest who had been waiting with me. Because of the delay, I reached the inner step just as the noon-time Ardas began, requiring me to stay inside until it was over - a blessed event because I was actually able to sit and savour being inside the temple. (Yes, I know, it all worked out to my advantage, but I couldn't have known that 15 minutes earlier, right?)
Still, is it fair for visitors at a holy shrine to have to wait for political photo ops before being able to say their prayers and pay their respects? Can you imagine the chaos that would have ensued if President Obama (and the Secret Service) had proceeded with a visit to the Golden Temple, as reported in the media? I think I prefer press releases for conveying best wishes. I leave it with you.
Wishing you all a Happy Gurpurab on the anniversary of Guru Nanak's birth.