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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

India: Amritsar

The Sikh museum at the Golden Temple in Amritsar
The spotless Sikh museum at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

As pupils in school history classes we barely touched upon colonialism, an amazing omission given the importance of the British Empire in the continuing arrogance of the English abroad; if we did study it, it was only to mention British successes (such as the Battle of Plassey, the explorations of Captain Cook and the glory of Hong Kong) or to paint a vivid picture of the hardships forced upon us by the conquest of the developing world (such as the Black Hole of Calcutta, the Zulu wars and the exploration of North America).

A marble donation plaque from a Sikh in New York
One of the many donation plaques set into the marble walkways around the perimeter of the Golden Temple

The Development of Sikhism

A banner showing details of a donation from the Sikh community in Birmingham
A banner showing details of a donation from the Sikh community in Birmingham

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) who was, reading between the lines, a genuine hippy. He looked at Islam and Hinduism, and although he liked certain aspects of both religions, he was a serious liberal and wholeheartedly rejected the caste system of Hinduism and the intolerance and sexism of Islam. The result was his creation of a new religion, Sikhism, which blended the good parts of Hinduism and Sufism (Islam's mystical branch) into a religion of tolerance and universal appeal. Nine more gurus followed Nanak, each building on the faith and forming a loose nation of Sikhs in the Punjab area, the spiritual centre of which was the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

The Sri Akal Takhat Sahib building
Sri Akal Takhat Sahib
The Hari Mandir
The Hari Mandir, with the Sikh museum in the background

The Golden Temple

The marble walkway leading to the Hari Mandir
The covered marble walkway that leads to the Hari Mandir, from the right...

It's even harder to think of negative aspects of Sikhism when you visit the Golden Temple itself. A celebration of architecture, aesthetics, equality and piety, the Golden Temple is not only one of the most delightful temple complexes in India, with its large tank and glittering gold and white marble buildings, but it's also one of the friendliest. In most Hindu and Muslim temples there's a slight feeling of intrusion; as a non-Hindu you can't go into a Hindu temple's inner sanctum, and you might not be allowed into a mosque at all, especially if you're female, but Sikhism makes a point of its tolerance. Anyone and everyone can visit the Golden Temple regardless of colour, caste or creed, and the four entrances surrounding the complex symbolise this freedom. It lends a relaxed atmosphere to the interior; you can go anywhere, see anything and the only 'price' to pay is to take off your shoes and cover your head. Would that all religions were so tolerant.

The marble walkway leading to the Hari Mandir
...and from the left