The early morning air in Amritsar is balmy in mid-September. Our car raced through utterly empty streets. We were running late. Rickshaw peddlers covered in shawls slept on their chariots. Lonely incandescent bulbs uncovered stray dogs sifting trash heaps. The ghosts of a city.
My mind wandered. “Am I worthy of this?” Did I deserve the gift of playing kirtan in the Harimandir? Even if I am just the guy who plays the tanpura. Then I thought of the past. I thought of dusty photographs of the Harimandir. Sadhu’s meditating on the parkarma, Buddhists in pilgrimage reaching their Punjabi destination, the fact that Muslim Rababis played in the Harimandirdaily. A cloud of dispassion hung over my turban. Now what is this place? Run by people who lack the vision of the Guru they bow to.
We arrived with ten minutes to spare for our trek to the Harimandir. It was Sunday 2:20 am, September 16th, which marked two important days; sangrand and massya-the first day of the solar Nanakshahi month of Assu and the beginning of the new moon respectively. The temple complex was as packed as I had ever seen it. Our jetha made its way through the sweltering fray of bodies. As people recognized us as a jetha on its way to play kirtan, paths began to form allowing us to slide through.
We reached the bridge with a final push, our feet on cool marble. We shared greetings with various sevaks who were finishing the preparation of the darbar after ishnaan seva. Again, my mind was drawn to negativity; here we were, singing the praise of the unity of all things in the temple after a group of only men finished cleaning(women are prohibited from participating in ishnaan seva or in the singing of kirtan in the Harimandir). As the saloks of Guru Ram Das reached our ears, customarily chanted aloud by the sevaks after ishnaan, my mind began to cool. I tried to let go of my thoughts and simply exist. Turns out I didn’t need to work too hard at it.
We sat down to play at 2:30am, just in time. Jugat Guru’s rich voice carried the rest of us. The community entered moments after we began. We were surrounded by love. People sang, shook their heads in disbelief of the beauty of the poems they’d undoubtedly heard before as though they were brand new revelations. My head literally felt cool. All of my concerns seemed to have drifted off. My biggest concerns were singing loud enough and deftly shifting position to avoid my legs falling asleep. Otherwise I simply sat in peace and sang.
It was over before we knew it. We stood, bowed, collected our instruments, and left. We were all silent until we reached the car. Though some of us had played inside dozens of times and others just once, we all seemed to have had similar experiences; our minds were just plain clear as we sat and sang.
We returned home to Miri Piri Academy and after talking to my family back in the US, I drifted off into sleep. In a moment somewhere between a dream and waking life, I saw an image of the Golden Temple as a massive, glowing, gilded, pumping heart. A vein pumped people in to be restored with Love as they circulated its chambers and an artery pumped people out to bring that love to the rest of the Body.