Earlier this year for my Eastern Religions class, I visited a local Sikh temple and wrote a paper about my experience. I feel like Sikhism is not well known in America, and unfortunately Sikhs are often targets of hate crimes, and stereotyped in a negative fashion that leads to misunderstandings, deaths, and terrorist attacks. Their religion is very simple, and they are very kindhearted people who have a focus on “seva” or “selflessness” which is the foundation to their beliefs of equality and peace.
I hope that anyone who reads this will take into consideration attending a service or doing some research to learn more about a different religion, culture, and to experience the same judgement free kindness that I did,
On April 17, I attended a service at a Gurudwara In Escondido, ran by the Sikh Society of San Diego. I invited one of my close friends, and we went together to the Wednesday evening service. I called beforehand and told them that I was coming and asked what to wear. The man told me to dress casually, invited me to dinner afterwards, and made sure that I knew what time to be there.
When we arrived, we saw the signs asking to remove our shoes and cover our heads, and to our left was s shoe rack. We removed our shoes and attempted to enter the building. The door was locked, so we tried the door to the right of us. Immediately when entering, I felt very warm. A woman from across the room said “cover your hair!” and started motioning to her head scarf. A man took us outside and showed us where head coverings were available for us to use. My friend and I had a discussion about Sikhism on the way here, and we knew that we had to cover our heads, but when we were actually doing it, we both giggled and felt silly. Not from a disrespectful or cultural difference view point, but we did not know how. Covering your head with a scarf sounds simple but honestly it wasn’t! I wasn’t able to cover all my hair because its long, and my friend wasn’t able to cover her bangs. The head scarfs themselves were beautiful, my friend’s head scarf was was blue and white with red accents while mine was an almost acid washed green and blue. The man said that we were fine and invited us to dinner afterwards.
When we walked in the room, it opened up horizontally. The walls were a mute yellow with pink carpets and pink accent on the walls. A beautiful chandelier hung from the center, catching the light and twinkling gracefully. There was a pathway down the middle that led to the book of scriptures and hymns, although I’m unsure whether it was the Adi Granth, Dasam Granth, or Rahit. I would imagine that it was the Adi Granth, because the entire service was hymns with two men playing instruments, drums and an accordian. The “altar” was gold and tall with a moderate amount of detail. The Guru stood, swaying a white fly whisk over the book, 8 times back and forth during certain points of the hymn. He was older, with a long white beard, and wore a deep blue turban. The men sat on the right and the women sat on the left. My friend and I were honestly surprised at the lack of people attending. We sat on our side in the back and observed. An older women came up to us and apologized for not helping us with our head scarfs and explained that we are listening to hymns. She said to just sit and wait until it was finished so we could join them in the communal meal. We sat patiently, whispering questions here and there. We kept our phones silenced throughout the service.
Everyone sat where they were comfortable and swayed or just listened, while other people came, paid respects to the Adi Granth, then left. Towards the end, everyone stood up and then bowed on the ground in unison. I believe that this part of the service was “gurdwara” or “communal prayer.” My friend and I did our best to participate at the same time. The man that helped us initially kept looking at us to make sure we were participating, and helped us through gestures when we didn’t know what to do. He guided us in standing up at the appropriate time, holding our hands in a prayer motion, and looked to make sure we bowed at the appropriate time. Eventually he stopped because we were actively engaging. Although he wasn’t radiating with kindness, his actions were kind and he was eager to help us understand and feel included.
During the hymns, I was taking in the room. It smelled faintly of curry and strongly of sweetness. I admired the color scheme, although it wasn’t a perfect match aesthetically, it matched. I looked at how everyone was dressed. Elder men wore loose pants and colored turbans, while older women wore loose pants and shirts, with a matching head scarf. Some were neon, some were ornate, and our friend’s was a darker beige. The entire outfit was the same color on the women, minus the accents. There was a little girl wearing a bright orange head scarf and casual clothes. She was respectful, although she moved around a lot. The hymns were performed a lot longer than I had anticipated. Maybe it felt drawn out because it was not in English. Afterwards, my friend and I spoke about our desires to be able to understand what the Guru was saying. We were very impressed with the skill of the drummer, and it reminded me of my boyfriend’s bongos that he plays.
I was very eager to visit the Sikh temple because my personal spiritual beliefs are very similar to those of Sikhs. We both agree that there is one God, and that we all worship the same God. I agree in consistently trying to better yourself and show kindness and nonviolence to those you encounter. Sikhism’s beliefs of equality between men and women align with my own feminist beliefs. I felt extremely safe while I was there, and I became really involved in the moment on a spiritual level. I even began to pray. I prayed for myself, the stress of school, and my health. I prayed that my friend could gain something from this experience with me, I prayed for my boyfriend and his own personal growth, and that I could be a safe place for him to continue his growth. I imagined what every city on Earth may look like, the Earth rotating and every city becoming smaller but filled with the same deep blue love, the same deep blue of the Guru’s turban. The sense of peace, comfort, and safety that I felt was very welcoming and I even thought of it as a safe space to return to in the future if I am in need of some time to pray and be at peace.
I enjoyed the hymns, despite the fact that I did not understand the language. The passion behind every syllable of the Gurus made the experience enjoyable, and I knew that they felt everything they were saying with every fiber in their bones. I enjoyed the atmosphere, the colors, the smell, the overall vibe of the room, and how friendly everyone we encountered was to us. I appreciated their kindness, and my friend and I both felt included and welcomed, which is arguably the most important factor when attending a new spiritual service of any kind.
After the service, the Guru went around the room in the circle and handed out napkins, and then handed out the communal pudding. He put the pudding directly into our palms, which we were not expecting since we received napkins. The texture was not uncomfortable or disgusting, and the taste was subtly sweet with an aftertaste of apples. Our elderly friend, named Amari, invited us to dinner. We ate lentil soup, fruit, and fresh tortillas. Everyone outside during the communal meal asked us if we needed anything, and told us to enjoy the pizza that they made as well. Out of everything that they had prepared, they were the most excited about the pizza. The food was wonderful. I looked at everyone around me, and noticed the metal bracelets, or “kara,” which represents their bondage to the truth. I was very proud to be able to recognize their practices in real time.
Once we finished our meal, we went to find Amari because I had burning questions. She was so kind and so sweet. She called us “baby” and “doll” while affectionately touching our shoulders or head. She said “Our religion is very simple. Have faith in God, be kind to humanity, and help others. That is why we Sikhs are here, to help others who maybe cannot help themselves. Everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from!” She made a comment about it is irrelevant what people believe, because we all believe in the same God. I asked, “So the Sikh God is the same as the Christian God?” “Oh yes!” I asked her about the purpose of the fly whisk, and she said it is similar to fanning a king or royalty, it is done out of respect because “we treat the scripture as if it were living.” We discussed how little people attended, and Amari agreed, saying she was surprised, but that it would be packed full Sunday. She asked if we enjoyed the food, and told us when other services were taking place, while making sure that we knew we were welcome.
All in all, my experience at the Sikh temple in Escondido was a wonderful, peaceful experience that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for serenity or who is simply curious about eastern religions. The people were immensely kind, the service peaceful, and the food was divine. I can honestly say that I see myself returning here, for solitude or meditation purposes, and I would recommend anyone else in the San Diego area do the same.
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical (holistic) health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.