“How many Gods do Sikhs believe in?” My very curious Christian friend Joe asked with all sincerity on my proposal of a visit to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib en route to Connaught Place.
Religion being a difficult subject for me, I carefully phrased my answer, “Sikhs believe there is only one God.”
“I thought Hindus and Sikhs are the same and have many Gods,” Joe stated.
“Sikh religion originated from Hinduism but it is different on this and some other aspects,” I managed a reply.
“Why is a Sikh temple called a Gurudwara?” Joe continued.
“The literal meaning of Gurudwara is the residence of the Guru and Guru means a spiritual guide that leads the way from darkness to light,” I attempted a complete answer.
On reaching the Gurudwara, Joe was not sure if he should accompany me inside or just wait for me in the car, “Am I allowed to come in? I mean I am not a Sikh and I am not a member either.”
I reassured him,” Everyone is allowed in Gurudwara.”
“Why are they polishing shoes inside?” Joe asked another question as soon as he deposited the shoes in the locker room.
“It is a token of respect for the attendees.”
“Who are these people polishing shoes and do I need to pay them?” Joe asked
“They are people like you and me who chose to dedicate time. And no, you don’t have to pay.”
“Some of them look very wealthy to me”, noticing the attire of some people inside the locker room, Joe observed.
After covering the head, washing the hands and feet, we entered Gurudwara and followed a large crowd eager to pay respect to Guru Granth Sahib.
“Where are the idols?” Joe whispered realizing chanting of Gurbani by narrators and the concentration of listeners.
“Sikhs don’t worship idols or pictures,” I informed him.
“So what is here?”Joe raised his head towards the Guru Granth Sahib.
“Sikhs consider Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book, to be the eleventh guru or the leader providing direction for day to day living as well as the spiritual guidelines.”
“When was this Granth written?”
“It was complied by ten Sikh Gurus from 1469 to 1708 AD. It is pretty much during the time of Mogul kingdom in India.”
“So the Sikh religion started during Mogul kingdom in India?”Joe continued asking questions.
“Yes that is correct. Initially Sikhism followed non violence principles, but at the time of Aurungzeb, the Gurus and their followers (Sikhs) took arms to fight against the forced conversion of Hindus to Islam. “
At ‘Langar’ (Dining) hall, Joe asked another question, “Is this the place to feed the poor?”
“It is the place to feed the body and soul of the congregation. Attendees have to sit side by side regardless of the caste, rank, financial or social status. Over here Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or his driver Mohan Chand, Reliance CEO Anil Ambani or our peon Anil, they all sit side by side signifying equality and casteless setup.”
Joe continued, “What is the significance of this Gurudwara?”
“In 1664, the eighth Guru, Guru Harkrishan stayed here on what used to be the mansion (called Bangla in local language) of Raja Jai Singh. Guru Harkrishan helped sufferers of Small Pox and Cholera by providing fresh water from the well of this mansion. Fresh water, being very important, helped cure many victims. The well is preserved and enclosed in the glass walls and it is believed this water has healing powers and therefore also called ‘Amrit’. While helping Cholera and Small Pox victims, Guru Harkrishan died on March 30, 1664. Later in 1783, a Sikh general, Sardar Bhagel Singh converted it to Gurudwara. “
“Do you believe in the healing powers of the ‘Amrit’?” Joe asked a very difficult question now.
“Millions of people have faith in it and I have faith in them.”
It is been few years since this conversation. Joe is still a practicing Christian but he tells me, “I don’t consider Gurudwara Bangla Sahib to be mere tourist place. When I go to Connaught Place, I make a point to visit Bangla Sahib and have a different perspective.”