Do Hindus believe in Gurdwara

India: In the sanctuary of the Sikhs

"There are no Hindus, there are no Muslims, there are only creatures of God": invitation to breakfast in the temple of the Sikhs of Patna.

Refuge in a seething metropolis: The Gurdwara (gateway to the Guru) Harmandir in Patna. Photo: mauritius images

We are now sitting on plastic chairs in a dark, soot-blackened hall next to the Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, the great Sikh temple of Patna. We enjoy flatbread made from ground chickpeas for our second breakfast and try to understand a religion that is followed by no more than 24 million people in India, just two percent of the population. Worldwide, however, their male members in particular stand for one of many Indian clichés: they appear proud and self-confident, are considered belligerent or at least rebellious, have stood out for centuries as brave defenders of the country and their own identity. Outwardly, too, they shape a well-known image of India: Most Sikhs are tall, their turbans are artfully tied, their beards are mostly well-groomed.

The best of both worlds

An hour ago we were greeted by Surjith Singh, a guardian of the extensive temple complex. With a smile and an inviting wave of his hand, he asked us to enter. We were not registered, we just looked a bit cheekily into the courtyard of this temple, which we knew is one of the four most important sanctuaries of the Sikhs. Here in Patna, the historical Pataliputra, today the seething capital of the state of Bihar, Gobind Singh was born in December 1666, the last of their ten gurus. These gurus, as all spiritual teachers are called in India, built one after the other, between the 16th and the early 18th century, a mental structure in which - to put it simply - the best of two worlds, from the Hindu cosmos and Islam, Should find space. A new religion emerged, the Sikh faith.

As with Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed, there are also various legends about Nanak Dev, the first guru and founder of the Sikh religion. At the age of eleven he is said to have plunged into a river and only came back up after three days. Soon afterwards, the Sikhs tell themselves to this day, as an itinerant preacher, he tried to decipher the secrets of life - and to make everyday life easier for them. His teaching, which he first disseminated around 1500, is monotheistic: "There are no Hindus, there are no Muslims, there are only creatures of God", according to his creed.

Guru Nanak rejected the caste system of the Hindus, which still shapes and partially paralyzes India, as well as pilgrimages such as those of the Muslims to Mecca, the fasting month of Ramadan or an asceticism, as it is especially cultivated in Hinduism. However, karma and transmigration of souls are accepted. To this day, Sikhs follow the wish of their first teacher: "Let us unite all beings in the spirit of God, who is the invisible power and the light that shines in every person".

In the sacred precinct of the Sikhs of Patna, Mr. Singh, the gatekeeper, refers us to Mr. Singh, the temple guardian. He hands us colored cloths with which we cover our heads, means washing our hands and face in the so-called "basin of immortality" and then taking off our shoes. Only now does he lead us into the interior of the Gurdwara; as Sikh temples all over the world are called: Gateway to the Guru. He points to a corner close to the Holy of Holies. There, in the semi-darkness, we crouch quietly behind a pillar and watch the ceremony that takes place in front of us as if on a stage.

All light falls on the priest, and his surname is also Singh - coincidence? We are about to solve the riddle. The clergyman sits under a golden canopy on a kind of cushion throne, a dignified patriarchal figure with a long white beard. His turban brightens the scene with a strong orange; but the color has no ritual or religious meaning. Every Sikh can choose a favorite color from the rainbow for his dastar, as the turban is called. Giani Zail Singh, who was the first Sikh to be elected President of India in the late 1980s, preferred a white turban, while Manmohan Sing, Prime Minister from 2004 to 2014, always wore a blue dastar.

Taxi driver or prime minister, farmer or engineer, soldier or professor - Sikhs can be found in all professions. And the men among them are all called Singh. Of course they are not all related - or are they? “Mr. Singh”, we ask an older man who speaks English well after the ceremony, “What is your name about?” “Yes,” he says with a laugh, “it was actually the idea of ​​the early gurus, Our Masters: We should feel like one big family. All men were and are lions because that is the meaning of the ancient Sanskrit term Singh. All Sikh women are called Kaur, which can be translated as lioness, but also as princess. "

Everyone is welcome: Before entering the temple, believers and tourists must wash their hands in the "Basin of Immortality". Sikh women prepare food for the poor in the folk kitchen. The color of the turbans has no religious meaning. Photos: Bernd Schiller

In order to be recognized and respected as the true sons of the lions, the male Sikhs have to hide their hair, which remains unscorned for a lifetime, under the turban. The most important emblem of their defensive attitude is the kirpan, a dagger-like short sword that was once worn over or under the robe. Most of the followers of the ten gurus today only carry this weapon symbolically, for example as a brooch.

As we step outside into the glaring sunlight after an hour or so, still impressed by the ceremony, we notice visitors who look different from the majority: more simply dressed, sometimes looking torn, without a Dastar on their heads. There are Hindus, the poor and the homeless from the two million city of Patna. We'll see her again in a moment, in the folk kitchen that belongs to almost every Gurdwara.

There is enough for everyone who is hungry

There they are now sitting in the lotus position on the floor, in the smoke and haze, between huge pots, pans, stoves, tandoori and other ovens. Old and young women, all “princesses” from the Sikh community, chop, stir, simmer and bake. There is enough for everyone who is hungry and it tastes good. The good spirits of the industrial kitchen serve buttermilk with flatbread. Hindus, Sikhs, unbelievers, here they are all the same and welcome, many like to get a second helping of the nutritious porridge made from mustard leaves, which is dipped and soaked up with fresh bread.

For an hour and a half we observe the life and goings-on in the people's kitchen. Holy Bible visitors from the west may imagine the feeding of the five thousand in this way. Outside, meanwhile, the sun is burning, burning straight down on the temple; the old gentlemen in the inner courtyard have looked for shady places on the walls and stairs. Gurdwara Harmandir, this sacred temple of the Sikhs, which is not as famous as the one with the golden title in Amritsar, was a refuge in the metropolis on the Ganges. The traffic through which we are now tortured through dust and chaos back to the center is roaring, loud, chaotic.

Bernd Schiller