Sikhs today actually make up a larger proportion of Canada’s population (2.1%) than they do of India’s (1.7%), but the community’s spiritual home is in northwest India in the area known as the Punjab. There one finds the magnificent Golden Temple, the central place of worship for Sikhs worldwide. I want to take you on a visit of sorts to the Golden Temple to give you a sense of this spectacular building but also to explore what it teaches about the community that built it and reveres it.


The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

The Golden Temple at dawn. | Photo credit: Brian Carwana


Visiting the Golden Temple

The Golden Temple is located in Amritsar India. Before India’s independence, Amritsar was only about 16% Sikh but the partition of India led to massive migrations of people and Sikhs fleeing Pakistan came to Amritsar and the surrounding areas, so the city today is majority Sikh. As you wander through the town, you can often hear the Sikh scriptures being chanted.

When you arrive at the Golden Temple, the first thing you do is to remove your shoes and cover your head. Both actions are signs of respect. With bare feet and head covered, you then walk through a small stream of water that washes your feet. Cumulatively, these actions are to leave you cleansed and humbled and indicate you are entering sacred space.

The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

All four entrances to the temple area lead worshippers through a small stream to wash their feet. | Photo credit: Brian Carwana


Then, you enter the Temple area. It is truly magnificent. The temple is made of marble and copper and covered in gold leaf. It sits in a manmade pool that reflects the golden building and the beauty sitting amidst the still water creates a sense of peace and serenity. People sit on the edge of the water, sometimes with loved ones, someone in quiet contemplation as they listen to the scripture being chanted.

Some enter the pool and bathe in it. There is also a covered area where women can choose to bathe in privacy.

The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

Photo credit: Brian Carwana


The temple has doors on all four sides to indicate that all are welcome. Many religious buildings are on elevated land but this intentionally is not to emphasize humility before God. There is a single causeway to the temple itself to indicate the oneness of God. Getting into the temple requires patience. In the morning, the lineup was several hours long. I returned later in the day and, after waiting for two hours, was able to enter. The interior was beautiful, with gold, red cloths, and lots of red rose petals. The central attraction was the Sikh holy scripture that was being chanted. Devotees bowed and made donations. Just outside the structure, there was a place where you could drink some of the water from the pool which many did.

The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

The interior shone with brilliant gold and red colours achieved via walls, fabric and flowers. | Photo credit:


Every Sikh “gurdwara” or temple offers free food to all who enter and the Golden Temple is no exception. This meal, called langar, has dual meanings. It is partly an example of “seva” or service. Seva is central to the Sikh identity and so all who come are fed. Indeed, in some gurdwaras, while you are there, some devotees may go around and clean the shoes left on the shelves as an act of service. At one outside gathering of Sikhs that I joined in Amritsar, two men were repairing shoes. My old runners that were falling apart were put back together with glue. They would not accept a donation. I was very grateful.

The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

Worshippers touch the base of the nishan sahib, the orange flag erected on a large pole to indicate to those far and near that food can be found here. | Photo credit: Brian Carwana


A second meaning of the meal is that of equality. India has a caste system, and that hierarchical system is often felt through food – who you eat with, who can sit with you, etc. So, at Sikh gurdwaras, all eat together while seated on the floor (to emphasize shared humility). Caste also privileges men but, at the gurdwara, every position and role is open to men and women. Men and women cook, serve and clean. At the Golden Temple, they provide a mind-boggling 100,000 meals each day.

The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

Every Sikh gurdwara is both a place of worship and a place of food production or service as volunteers prepare food, serve it to you, and clean up afterwards. | Photo credit: Brian Carwana


When I left the Golden Temple, I was just 20 feet outside it when I saw a small Hindu temple. Some Hindus were there but some Sikhs too, many of whom I assume had just left the Golden Temple. This kind of easy participation in multiple religious traditions has a long history in India.

The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

This Hindu temple was just meters from the entrance to the Golden Temple. Some Hindus and Sikhs showed devotion here. | Photo credit: Brian Carwana


Many religious communities emphasize service but the Sikhs have almost perfected it. During early Covid days when there was some panic, the Sikhs fed truck drivers and rented porta potties when restaurants were denying them entry. They continued to provide meals to shut-ins and to overworked medical staff for months.

If you ever get a chance to visit a Sikh gurdwara, I highly encourage you to take advantage of it. You will need to remove your shoes and you can either bring a head covering or wear one they provide. And if by chance, you ever get to Amritsar, the Golden Temple awaits. I think it is one of the most beautiful and serene places you can visit.


The Sikhs' Golden Temple, India

Photo credit: Brian Carwana

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    1. Michaelyn Shelley-David April 19, 2024 at 1:33 am - Reply

      Thank you for these wonderful travel notes and pictures. I always enjoy your blogs and your lectures. And, of course, the Encounter week is special beyond description. Thank you for all you do.

    2. Barbara Palmer April 20, 2024 at 1:31 pm - Reply

      I appreciate your first-hand observations. It helps me understand the faith of a Sikh friend.
      It looks like you had a very full and meaningful trip.

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