Amritsar: Spiritual Idyll

I love India and one of the places that is on my “must visit” list is Amritsar. I want to combine a visit to Amritsar with the Taj Mahal and the Golden Triangle as well as the famous Hill Station of Shimla.

Amritsar is the religious and cultural capital of the Punjab. As a centre of Sikhism, the religious importance of Amritsar means that the city is given to continual celebration and has a perennial festal mood. This earthly vitality is reflected in continual generosity and hospitality to visitors – one of the cornerstones of Punjabi culture.

Much of the city leads centrifugally to the Golden Temple – the holiest shrine of Sikhism. The gilded domes and spires of the temple complement its waterside location – all stunningly reflected in the phlegmatic ripples of the adjacent river.

Music is central to the Sikh faith and the refrains of Kirtan (devotional music with an intoned mantra) can be heard on the celestial evening air. Bhangra music also has its origins in Amritsar, originally a folk dance every bit as symbolic as Andalusian flamenco.

Of course, this idyll was rudely interrupted by the arrival of overzealous British colonialists. There is memorial in Amritsar commemorating the 2000 Indians who were shot indiscriminately by the British under the command of General Michael O’Dyer in 1919 while participating in a peaceful public meeting, one of the major incidents in the subcontinent’s freedom struggle.

The vestiges of India’s colonial past are not all reminders of brutality – Amritsar’s array of wonderful gardens are a testament to the white and Mughal bourgeoisie who planned the gated green spaces with military precision. The Ram Bagh and Ram Tirath gardens are the finest examples of a very peculiar British-Punjab topiary.

Despite its status as the centre of Sikhism, Amritsar is an extraordinarily heterodox city. Mata Mandir and Durgiana are two of the Hindu temples dedicated to deities – Laxmi and Narayan.

Amritsar’s propitious location makes it an ideal place for visits to rural Punjab and a gateway to neighbouring Pakistan.

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