Gilded gold temple inspires more than awe Spiritual centre of Sikh faith is one of the world’s most stunning religious sites Gilded gold temple inspires more than awe - thestar.com AMRITSAR, India—Cold from the marble floor seeps up through a thin carpet, chilling our bare feet. Men in turbans drape garlands over a golden litter, or palanquin, and chant — the same line over and over, not quite in sync. It is 4:30 a.m. A bass drum sounds. Swarms of people coalesce and, out of the shadows, a priest emerges with an oversized book on his head. Devotees press closely, tossing rose petals, and when the priest lays the book on the palanquin’s brocade pillows, the crowd proceeds ceremonially toward a floodlit temple in the distance. I am visiting the Golden Temple of Amritsar. More properly, I am visiting the Harmandir Sahib — spiritual centre of the Sikh faith and one of the world’s most stunning religious sites. A temple of gilded gold rises from the centre of a large reflecting pool, in turn rimmed by a marble promenade and an assembly of ornate 16th-century shrines and watchtowers. The refreshing waters, the polished marble, the extravagant spaciousness at the centre of an otherwise congested and chaotic Indian city — all stir additional feelings of serenity and goodwill. The site is open to all, at no charge. A mass kitchen serves free meals of chapati and dhal. Throughout the complex, sacred music from the temple orchestra can be heard live from small speakers. “Even visitors without a religious bone in their bodies cannot fail to be moved,” says the Rough Guide to India. I arrived particularly early. Most guidebooks say to come when the first morning light illuminates the golden domes. Instead, I took a tip from Benjamin Walsh, a keen Indophile and co-manager of Toronto’s Nicholas Hoare bookstore, who recommended being there by 4:30. Every night, before the main temple is washed with milk and water, priests remove the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, to a secondary temple. And every morning, they return it with a dramatic procession popular among the faithful. An easy taxi ride brought me to the north gate, where I checked my shoes and socks, donned an orange head scarf borrowed from the hotel, and after washing my feet stepped through a grand archway. And there — on the water — shone the temple. Customarily, worshippers bear left and circumambulate the reflecting pool clockwise. But I didn’t know that. Instead I turned right, heading for a knot of people near the causeway gates, where devotees were readying the palanquin. . Quickly, our numbers grew to more than 300. When the carriers picked up the litter, we followed them onto the causeway. When a priest recited the vaaq, the message of the Lord, we stood in silence. Then the line moved forward again and I arrived inside. I saw chandeliers, flowers, gold-leaf ceilings, embedded jewels in the floor, worshippers crowding around. Unexpectedly, the room seemed small and overwhelming. A turbaned priest sat under a bejewelled canopy reading from the Adi Granth. As the line shuffled ahead, I fixed on the small orchestra to one side. Then the line moved again, returning me outside. For the rest of the morning, I wandered in the buoyant atmosphere. Violence here seemed unimaginable, yet in 1984 Sikh separatists staged an armed occupation of the Akal Takht, the temple holding the holy book at night. The siege led to the Indian government’s notoriously inept attack, Operation Blue Star, in which hundreds of people died, including pilgrims. As I left the complex, I spotted a music store across the street, a loudspeaker relaying the music from the temple. The singer was Bhai Sarbji Singh Ji, said the shopkeeper. To preserve something tangible from the day, I bought one of his CDs.