The melting pot of religions that could refer to India as their spiritual home is one of the things that makes the Indian sub-continent so unique. From Hindu temples to glittering mosques, India’s landscape is coloured with distinctive places of worship – some humble structures and others truly magnificent.
One temple which belongs to the latter camp is the famous Golden Temple of Amritsar. Located high in the northern state of the Punjab, this house of worship is one of the most important Sikh temples in India. Beautifully designed, the temple is made up of smooth domes, spiralling turrets and is situated in the middle of a body of water, the golden reflections softly rippling in the wind.
This impressive sight is one which is visited by thousands of pilgrims every week. But as well as being a house of prayer, the Golden Temple of Amritsar adheres to the Sikh tradition of the gurdwara and langar, offering each of its visitors the chance to enjoy a free vegetarian meal once inside the golden walls. Although this is a common practice in Sikh temples all over the world, the Golden Temple of Amritsar is notable for its size – it is one of the largest temples where people of all faiths can dine together for free.
One of the reasons behind the tradition of feeding visitors is that consuming a meal together breaks down boundaries between people. Class and status go out the window when you sit together to share a meal in the Golden Temple and people of all religions are welcome and sit side-by-side. This acceptance is central to the Sikh religion. In direct contrast to Hinduism, which has long been one of the most prevalent religions in India, Sikhism rejects the notion of the caste system, seeking to break down barriers and promote equality, peace and harmony.
In this part of India, the volunteer cooks at the Golden Temple have plenty of culinary inspiration to call on. The Punjab is a fertile land, cultivated to produce vast amounts of delicious produce. Hearty meals are the norm here – meals designed to provide those that work the fields with enough energy to keep their strength up throughout the day.
As a result, Punjabi cuisine is characterised by rich gravies, thickened with ghee and cream. Succulent meats and kebabs are also staples of the state whilst fluffy breads, built for scooping up thick sauces, make a regular appearance at mealtimes. Specialities like dal makhani and Tandoori chicken are enjoyed by fans of Indian cuisine all over the world – in fact you will spot may Punjabi favourites on the menu at your favourite local Indian restaurant.
In the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the meals served to visitors are always vegetarian as a sign of respect for all religions, including those that prohibit various types of meat in the diet.
If Amritsar and the Punjab seem a little far to travel for a hearty meal, consider a visit to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants. Here you can enjoy an authentic Indian meal in atmospheric and memorable surroundings.