The marble floors of Darbar Sri Harimandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) are washed every morning at 3 a.m.
The Miri Piri Academy (MPA) bus picks Guru Darshan and me up on GT Road just before that, and along with the 50 or so students who have opted to do seva for the 40 days, we sit and wobble (these Indian roads you know!) all the way to the Darbar Sahib.
Even at day 27 the effect of my morning glimpse of the Darbar Sahib has not worn off. There it sits, so perfectly, in the middle of the sarovar (nectar tank). It makes me think of Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, where upon seeing Pemberley for the first time, she remarked, "I've never seen a house so happily situated."
On some days it is hidden in the mist and barely visible, the lights are off and it really does look so, so small. And yet upon seeing it I feel as though someone is wrapping a warm shawl around my shoulders and placing their hand over my head to bless me. My heart fills up, I melt.
The question of bowing does not even arise. It is not done consciously, because here there is no mind. My mind gets left behind, it does not make it down those steps leading towards the parkarma. Here there is another hand guiding my head to touch the marble. A hand of ancient wisdom that has journeyed through the ages, a hand that holds all my past lives in its palm. You have spent countless life forms longing for this chance, it says to me. Bow.
Tau May Aiyaa, Sharni Aiyaa, Bharosay Aiyaa, Kirpa Aiyaa.
To You I have come, in Your sanctuary I have come, with faith in You I have come, for Your grace I have come.
It never seizes to amaze me how many people come at this hour to wash the marble. It does not seem unnatural to them, to rise at what we would call 'the middle of the night', to give up the warmth of their beds in return for the cold water of the sarovar.
And what is so special about this marble?
Countless have bowed before me. Countless bow with me. Countless will bow after me, after I leave Amritsar, after I leave this world.
They come with their hopes, their prayers, their pleas, their thanks, their confessions, their salutations. They ask for success, for love, for compassion, for kindness, for mercy, for a blessing. They ask that they not be forgotten in the vast sea of Creation.
This marble has heard more prayers than I can ever imagine. It seems silent, still, solid. Yet it is not. It is not silent: all day long it listens to the voices of souls coming its way and whispers comfort into their ears. It is not still: it is moved, time and time again, by the sorrow, gratitude, regret, and praise these voices offer. It is not solid: the tears of joy and pain that have fallen onto its surface have seeped into it and made it gentle.
To let my forehead touch this blessed marble is not only to let my own soul speak to the Guru, but also to listen to what these souls have said, and to hear what the Guru has said to them.With that in mind, how can I remain unmoved?
Seva here works as a crescendo. We move slowly, symbolically, towards the Dukh Bhanjani Beri, the Tree that Dispels Pain. Our fate we cannot change, but as we go along, washing that marble, touching that marble, we are rewriting our destiny. Our slate is being cleared, our karma is being cleansed with every step we take.
We end at the location that Guru Ram Das sat at during the construction of the sarovar, where the sangat gathered and sang the name of the One. I like to step back and try to see what he saw, to understand his vision for this place. Can he have known how this image would become woven into the hearts and minds of thousands, that this place will have an unreal and unexplainable pull on so many? For that is the word to describe it – unexplainable. I cannot tell you why it affects me the way it does. It just does. The connection is so deep that I have not dived that far inside myself to discover the cause of this feeling.
After seva I walk along the parkarma, towards the spot where Baba Deep Singh laid down his head after it was separated from his body 5 miles away, while fighting the armies of Ahmed Shah Abdali, who had attacked Amritsar. There is a photo of Baba Deep Singh; he is standing as tall as ever, a bloodied sword in one hand, his head on the other. Throughout the trips I made to Amritsar over the years, I only saw it as a spot with a historical significance, nothing more.
Tsk tsk, Hari Kiren, you have so much to learn.
We were at breakfast one day, with our dear friend Sada Anand, and she told us that just recently she'd had an epiphany about the significance of that spot. History aside, this message is spiritual.
Here Baba Deep Singh reminds us: Beta, leave your head behind. It has no place on this journey. Proceed with your heart. That is the part that listens to your soul's longing.
I proceed towards the Darbar Sahib. I walk on the physical, and spiritual, bridge that leads me to my Guru. I walk with a gait in my step and a content smile on my face. With every step, I am overwhelmed by the presence of God in me, and the 'I' disappears. The realisation that I am a Being of Light is never as strong as it is at this moment.
As it is still early, parkash has not been done, so I pay my respects to the throne and the sangat gathered there, and head upstairs.
Upstairs. Amritsar is a rainbow and here lies the pot of gold, the handwritten copy of the Guru Granth Sahib. And this is the moment. Bow, Surrender, Tuhi, Only You.
My forehead, the ground, His touch, a blessing.
I leave the Darbar Sahib with some parshaad – this is my Guru insisting that I leave His home with a sweet taste in my mouth to remember the sweetness of my visit.
I sit on the parkarma to meditate and listen to Asa di Vaar. It does not matter if my eyes are open or closed, I can still hold the same picture within myself. Its reflection dances around with the morning light, carrying little golden rays to the ends of the sarovar. I like to think that this is the light of Guru Nanak, being carried to all the four corners of the world, through race, caste, gender and creed.
And then the tap on my shoulder. The signal that it's time to go.
On the way out we read the hukam for the day. All morning I have been talking. I have been saying this, asking that, thinking this, feeling that. This is the moment for me to be silent and to let Him speak to me. And because he takes the time, everyday, to talk to me, I know that I am loved.
Before we leave, there is time for one more bow.
One more chance to say: once again, thank you for this chance.
The next 22 ½ hours whiz past. Then I get to come back and bow again.
And I know what it means to be home.