Most sacred shrine of the Sikh faith, Harmandir Sahib (The Abode of God or The Golden Temple), offers a singular experience of faith, community and culture in India.
Sikhism professes the equality of all people and rejects discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste or gender. The faith emerged during the 15th century in the Punjab region that today spans India and Pakistan. Its founder, Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, strongly rejected the Hindu caste system, polytheism and all forms of asceticism. He preached devotion to a single God, the brotherhood of man and commitment to community service. Ten gurus followed Guru Nanak and their collective teachings are enshrined in the Sikh holy book Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which is housed inside the Golden Temple (also known as Harimandir Sahib) and treated as a living guru.
No photography is allowed inside the Golden Temple but it's a fascinating scene where scriptures from the holy book are sung and music is played to an audience of people sitting on the floor. Peaceful, welcoming vibes abound.
A distinct feature of all Sikh temples and the living embodiment of their faith is the langar, a volunteer-run kitchen that serves free vegetarian meals to all. The langar at the Golden Temple is the largest volunteer kitchen in the world, serving approximately 80,000 people a day and a million or more on holidays. It's open 24-hours a day, everyone sits on the floor to eat, and anyone can pitch in and help, and they do. Its every Sikh's duty. Surrounding the dining hall are huge areas where people peel and chop vegetables, make chapatis, cook lentils in huge cauldrons, and collect and wash dishes. Hindus, women, and people with physical disabilities regularly volunteer at the langar.
Most of the images shown here were made during Bandi Chhorh Diwas, a Sikh holiday celebrated on the same day as Diwali, a significant Hindu holiday. Over a million people visit the temple at that time, including thousands of Hindu pilgrims on their return journey (by foot) from the Amarnath cave in the Himalayas, which takes place a few months earlier. People are allowed to sleep at the Golden Temple inside the dormitories and outside around the temple complex. The mood is both festive and devout, which I hope these images convey.