Monday, August 22, 2016

Amritsar in August: Morning chanting at the Durgiana Temple

This 16th century Hindu temple in Amritsar has been rebuilt in the style of the Golden Temple. It's much more peaceful and serene than the Golden Temple, especially early in the morning when I visited.

The Durgiana Mandir is dedicated to Goddess Durga, one of the many Hindu Goddesses. Bhajans (devotional songs) are sung here just after the temple opens and just before it closes.

The main temple is comprised of the Durga mandir that is set amidst a tank of holy water. Around the tank there is a walking path called the ‘parikrama’. This temple is also famous for smaller temples of Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu, Hanuman and Goddess Sita.

Amritsar in August: On the trail of Duleep Singh

I wanted to find out more about Duleep Singh and the Koh-i-noor diamond while I was in the Punjab (this fascination comes from the fact he used to live at Elveden, close to my mother). To do this, I needed to know more about his father, Ranjit Singh, and how he came to possess the Koh-i-noor diamond. Where better to start than the Ranjit Singh Panorama in Ram Bagh, which was full of dioramas about the life of "The Lion of the Punjab".  First, however, I spent some time walking around the Ram Bagh gardens looking out for Ranjit Singh's summer palace.

Ranjit Singh, father of Duleep, was the founder of the Sikh Empire in the 19th century. As a teenager he fought several wars to expel the Afghans, and was proclaimed as the "Maharaja of Punjab" at age 21. He rebuilt the Golden Temple and gilded it with gold.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh's palace is now in a state of disrepair. The inscription above the door says Summer Residence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Ranjit Singh was given the Koh-I-Noor diamond by Shah Shuja after he provided asylum to his wife and freed him from capture in Kashmir. The diorama below shows Shah Shuja giving the uncut diamond to Ranjit Singh in a velvet casket.

Ranjit Singh was popularly known as Sher-i-Punjab, meaning "Lion of Punjab". His son, Duleep Singh, was the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, which he inherited from his father when he was only 5 years old. A few years later, the British declared war on the Sikhs, and he was deposed and was exiled to England - along with the Koh-i-noor diamond.  This was then "gifted" to Queen Victoria, as one of the spoils of war.

The Koh-i-noor diamond really is "the jewel in the crown". After Queen Victoria died it was set into several other crowns, most recently the crown of the Queen Mother. There is a replica of this crown in the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum. Since Independence in 1947, the Indian government has several times asked for the diamond to be returned to India. In 2013, on a visit to India, David Cameron was heard to remark "They're not having that back".

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Amritsar in August: The Golden Temple

The following day we got up really early and left the hotel at around 5am to go to the Golden Temple.  We'd been told that mornings were best and that it got pretty crowded after that.  Consequently we arrived at the temple when it was still pitch black!

Sri Harmandir Sahib (the abode of God) is the holiest gurdwara of Sikhism. It was founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. The Harmandir Sahib was intended as a place of worship for men and women from all religions. As a gesture of this non-sectarian universalness of Sikhism, the Sufi saint, Sai Mian Mir was invited to lay the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib.

In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the gurdwara with gold, after which it became referred to by the British as the Golden Temple.

Ranjit SIngh's son, Duleep Singh, was of course the young boy who "gave" the Koh-i-noor diamond to Queen Victoria.

Over 100,000 people visit the shrine daily for worship, and are able to get a free meal from the community kitchen.

The storming of the Golden Temple in 1984 by Indira Gandhi's troops, and desicration of the holy shrine, led to her assassination 6 months later by her Sikh bodyguards.

This is a really beautiful place, and somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time.  I'm happy I finally got there.

Amritsar in August: The Wagah Border Ceremony

On Independence weekend I went to Amritsar.  On the first afternoon there I went to Wagah - about midway between Amritsar and Lahore. This used to be the only road crossing between India and Pakistan until recently.  The Wagah border ceremony happens at the gate, two hours before sunset each day. The flag ceremony (Beating the Retreat) is conducted by the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers.

So here is the Wagah border between India and Pakistan. The Pakistani gates are bigger and more dominating, but there are fewer people on the other side.  Here you can see the gates are open.

The Indian Border Security Force getting ready for the closing ceremony and on the Pakistani side of the border the Pakistan Rangers are also getting ready.

Lowering the flags simultaneously. Really quite touching.