This last week has been all about adjusting. Waking up early in the morning, trying to get over jet lag and adjusting to the slower pace of life here in Bombay. It may seem strange to say the pace of life in a city of 21 million is slow, but life seems to slow down when you are removed from the daily distractions back home. My days are filled with waking up at 7 AM, enjoying a hot cup of chai with a few tea cookies, or biscuits as they are called here. Then a morning trip to the temple with Mummy-ji around 7:30 AM. Back home for another cup of chai and a plate of aloo parathas for breakfast. Then my day is spent reading a book, studying up on some more Punjabi or lounging under the fan.
Every morning Hubby’s mother goes to the Sikh temple. His father will also go along on days when he is home. A Sikh temple is called a Gurudwara and from miles away they can be spotted from their distinct tall flag poles waving saffron colored flags. I thought it would be a fun experience to go along with Mummy-ji on her morning trips and get the chance to be out and about with her alone. Hubby’s parents are highly respected in the local Sikh community and seem to know everyone.
Mummy-ji walks to the temple and back every morning (a roughly 30-minute walk one way) but as my feet were still swollen this week from the flight, we took a tiny auto-rickshaw instead.
Upon arriving, we headed around the back of the temple to go to a community park used for morning exercising and walking. I had never seen this park on my previous visits. It was full of people jogging and speed walking, practicing yoga or sitting on a side bench catching up with friends on the latest gossip. During our walk, Mummy-ji couldn’t go more than ten or thirty seconds without running into someone she knew.
I was thrilled that I was able to understand a few conversational basics as we walked together. She told me she usually walks four laps every morning (in addition to the hour walk to the temple and back home) but that we should only walk two if my feet were hurting.
“I’m fine, my feet don’t hurt.” I said in my broken Punjabi, “let’s walk four!”.
After our walk we headed into the Gurudwara, a large white marble building with two floors. The prayer hall is on the top floor. On the ground level is the kitchen and langar hall, where food is offered for free to anyone who comes there.
We dropped our shoes off in a cubby station out front and washed our hands before going inside.
The temple is a large room divided in the center by a long carpet runner which also serves to divide the space between where the men sit and where the women sit, as they always sit separated.
Before going inside, everyone always covers their head as a sign of respect. The women use their scarves they always wear. Most of the men wear turbans so their head is already covered but for those who do not wear a turban, like Hubby, they tie a cloth around their head.
You walk straight down the carpet and wait your turn to place a monetary offering on the alter and then bow down onto your hands and knees in prostration to show respect.
After showing my respects, I head off to sit next to Mummy-ji and all her friends.
The service is about an hour long including devotional music with energetic tabla drum beats and singing that gets faster and faster until it peaks and suddenly ends.
After the music, a few verses are read from the large ornate holy book placed on the front alter adorned with rich embroidered fabrics. This book, called the Guru Granth Saahib, is the written teachings of the Sikh gurus and Hindu and Muslim spiritual people from that era.
Near the end of the reading there is a lot of call and response between the orator and all of us. Suddenly everyone is standing up, prostrating again, standing up again, then prostrating again and finally sitting down. I just look around and follow what everyone is doing, not having any clue what’s going on!
As the prayer service comes to a close everyone is given a food offering called “prashad”. On weekday mornings, when it’s only the dedicated few in the community attending the daily service, a small handful of Halwa, a Punjabi dessert very similar to heavily thickened cream of wheat with sugar and ghee is handed out to everyone.
On Sundays the whole community attends the temple and the packed prayer hall heads down to the langar hall where food is provided for everyone in the community for free. Sikh temples always offer food to everyone and no trip to the temple is seen as complete without taking some kind of food offering. It’s a community building experience and touching to see a successful business man in his fancy suit and turban, sitting side by side with a homeless man and sharing a laugh.
If you cannot finish the food at the temple, it is never wasted or thrown out. You can pick up one of these lovely “to-go” containers made from dried leaves.
Back outside, we search for our shoes and catch up with friends.
So far, we have caught a ride home from Mummy-ji’s friends everyday. Once we get back home around 8:30 or 9:00 everyone else is up and waiting for breakfast.
Enjoy other stories of our trip to India.