Sunday, September 18, 2011

ninety-ninth visit: Oct 2nd 2011 Sikhism

11:00am sunday
Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara

4407 McKenzie Dr, Monroeville PA 15146


On Pittsburgh Sikh Gurdwara's website:
"People of all religious backgrounds, including atheists and agnostics, are welcome at a Gurdwara [Sikh temple]."

Non-Sikh visitors are able to fully experience and take part in worship; their participation is seen as wholly valid.

A lot of people have commented to me that they know almost nothing about Sikhism. (Many Pittsburghers did not know that there was a temple in the area, either.) If you are interested, I've included a list of a few basic beliefs of Sikhism at the bottom of this post...

So, the best thing about Indian Standard Time is that you are never late to Temple. The worst thing about Indian Standard Time is that if your husband is Indian, you will always be waiting for him until you decide to join the movement. And if you don't join the movement and you arrive at the temple on time (on your own), you are gifted 45 minutes of drawing time. Win-win.

I add my shoes to the collection by the door. When entering a
Gurdwara, it is considered disrespectful if anyone, regardless of your belief, does not bow at the alter, and leave an offering of money, flowers or food. I leave a vase of flowers, 'mums from our yard. There are about ten other people in the room. Some are reading to themselves silently. I choose a spot where mothers are sitting with their children, playing with Play-Doh.

I draw.

 After 45 minutes, others are arriving. The mothers and children have left, and I realize I'm sitting on the males' side. I move to the opposite. My knees (especially my right one) are sore from sitting cross-legged on the floor. While sitting, I stretch my legs out to my left. Soon a man approaches me, asks how I am doing. Tells me very gently that I must have no way of knowing, but it is a sign of disrespect if I point my feet toward the alter, and also my body must at all times directly face the alter, where the Guru Granth Sahib (scriptures) are kept. I apologize and thank him for telling me. So much to learn, even after 98 visits.

The service consists primarily of singing, with an interlude of a sermon spoken in Gurmukhi. (Structure of this service is identical to the Krishna Consciousness (48th visit), and Hindu-Jain (79th visit) services I attended.) Two musicians are at work, to the right of the alter: a tabla player
and a harmonium-ist. One also happens to be the priest (or Gyaniji) . Hymns are sung in Gurmukhi; lyrics are projected in the form of 1) phonetic syllables, 2) Gurmukhi script and 3) English translation. One phrase that sticks with me: "You are me and I am you—what is the difference between us?"

I want to learn to play the harmonium.

At the end of the service, karah prasad is offered to each congregant. The concept is the same as prasad in a Hindu service (14th visit, 7th paragraph), but, as opposed to fruit or a rice dish, here prasad always is a warmed mixture of butter, sugar and flour. It reminds me of warmed, raw cookie dough. Which I like very much. It also reminds me of the candy that is passed to children at the end of Jewish services, so that children associate worship with sweetness.

Aside: Later, Yog (79th visit) reads this entry and emails me to say that most likely the doughy mixture offered here is known as "halva."

After service, two teens (adorably) ask if I would like to meet the priest. Introductions. I explain gatherings. He welcomes me warmly and offers me a place to sit for Langar.

What is Langar? Congregants sit in lines, side by side, shoulder to shoulder for a meal. Besides providing nourishment, this meal exists to break social boundaries. All of us eat seated on the floor at the same level, with no regard to caste, race, creed, and rank. Servers (who are also worshipers) walk up and down the lines, offering different dishes, laddling these from large pots into our individual metal thali-pans: lentils, cauliflower, rice, raita and nan. When my husband later hears about this, he is a bit jealous. With reason. Also, by definition there is never a charge for the meal, and it is always vegetarian.

I talk with the woman next to me. I feel badly, but I don't remember her name well enough to try to to spell it here. She asks how I heard of the temple. I tell her: it was featured in a video I borrowed from the Quaker Meeting House (23rd visit), called "Holy Pittsburgh." I tell her that what I remember from the video: the statement about the domes of this temple serving the same purpose as steeples on churches—to direct attention upward. "It was my husband who said that in the video," she tells me. "I'll introduce you to him."

She asks if I have ever been turned away from attending a service. (No.) She tells me about a friend of hers who happens to be Muslim. She once asked this friend if she would be able go with her to a Muslim prayer service. Her friend preferred not, giving the reason that she feared the discussion would be too intense and would make her feel uncomfortable. We talk a bit about this. And other things. Until it's time to go.
And because it's really good today, I'll end with my:

Count of worshipers wearing Steelers garb while worshiping:

1 in a Steeler jersey. Name across the back: GURU.
(Flavors of India and Steeler Country merrily co-exist.)
1 woman wearing a kameez (tunic), white with a pattern of Steeler logos

& along the edge of her duputa (scarf): more logos.

8 men cover their heads with black and yellow bandanas

(not turbans- these bandanas are worn by men who do
not have the
traditional long hair.)

3 children in bandanas, scarves, or black and yellow outfits.

13 Total
Running Total for the project: 41 (to date)

Very basic history and beliefs of Sikhism:

• originated in the Punjabi region of India in 1469, but today one finds followers in all regions of India and beyond.

• belief in one God.

• belief that all religions of the world share the same God. (As do Hindus.)
• 3 main principles: to work hard and honestly. to share with those in need. to always remember God throughout the day.
• belief in equality of all people.
• belief that all people have the right to follow their own belief without persecution or condemnation. Religious freedom is so important that Sikhs have responded in battles to defend non-Sikhs' right to the freedom of belief. They have fought on the behalf of Hindus, which has led to some confusion and the false claim that Sikhism is a division of Hinduism. It is not an off-shoot nor a branch of Hinduism. Though there are similarities, Sikhism exists as a separate religion from Hinduism.
Of course this just skims the top. I'll trust you to google further, if you are interested.

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