Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sikh Temple

I’ve always wanted to see a Sikh Temple… just one of those things.

Sikh’s are an interesting people. They began as a warrior caste during a time when Hindu’s were being kicked about by the Moguls. The Hindu king at that time told his subjects to send him their eldest sons. They were taken into the jungle and trained as warriors. Now, in the jungle there’s a surprising shortage of hair care product so they grew theirs long and wrapped it in turbans. Today that’s still one of their five identifying characteristics*, in addition to carrying a long curved knife at all times, wearing an iron bracelet, and special long underwear (in case they’re attacked while napping or in the can) . You can recognize them today by these accoutrements as well as their common middle name “Singh“, meaning “lion” (Beats hell out of “Timmy” or “Norm“)

Held in high regard by their countrymen for valor and character (aside from occasionally dabbling with ethnic cleansing and political assassination but, hey, we've all done that; right guys?) they kicked all manner of ass in a series of wars and now hold a wide number of positions in business and politics including, currently Prime Minister. (Rahm Emmanuel really needs to carry a long curved dagger. That would bring the rest of the Dems in line real quick. If it didn‘t, he could show them his special underwear)

Sikh’s maintain temples all over India and in much of the rest of the world. Here, in addition to maintaining and revering their holy book (aka The Tenth Guru) they also run the ultimate in soup kitchens. In every Sikh temple, lunch is on for whoever wants it regardless of race, creed, caste or nationality. Volunteers from the poor to corporate CEOs work in their kitchens There are bicycles and Mercedes parked out front.

This may have been about the most fun I’ve had so far. After leaving our shoes and socks at the door (to be watched over by some corporate executive/shoe guy volunteer), we donned head covers (I got a bandana with lions printed on it and I’m never taking it off!) and walked barefoot into the temple enclosure.

Like my brother, I have a thing about kitchens and cooking utensils Can’t explain it. Just accept it.

Click to view Youtube video of kitchen operation.

The head cook took me on a tour of the operation. It was like being behind the scenes at some sort of culinary sorcerers apprentice disaster as vast mounds of food assembled themselves and gushed out in a torrent to the servers at the end. The cook proudly ran me through the operation showing each cooking station, describing the cooking process for the food being made and the incredible quantities of ghee being consumed in the process. The chapati operation in particular is fascinating.

Cooked on a massive steel griddle the size of two king-sized beds, the breads begin as pancakes of raw dough slapped onto the griddle by one volunteer and then make their way across, in nearly constant motion, being nudged along and then flipped by other volunteers. By the time they reach the far end of the griddle, they are browning and puffing up like pocket pita. At this point they’re hooked by one last worker and tossed, smoking and steaming onto a chapati mountain which will be chipped away at by other volunteers carrying them off to be served. The smell is wonderful.

Throughout the rest of the temple you can see visitors eating, washing, resting and visiting. In addition to feeding visitors they will also take in anyone that needs someplace to crash for a day or two; down on their luck travellers and such. This is their way of brightening up their Karma for the next round.

Happily devoid of priests, everything is pretty much a committee operation right down to the volunteers singing, chanting, playing instruments and fanning the Holy book (which by the way has its own room in a corner of the temple, where it’s tucked into bed at night under nice covers and probably given a little drink of water. In the winter it gets a blanket. Not a bad life for a book.)

Meeting and talking with these guys was just downright fun. Supremely confident and good-humored (and reportedly enjoying a nice drink here and there.) you get the impression that Sikh’s know they’re cool. If India is “Happy days”, the Sikh’s are Fonzie.

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