The extent of my knowledge on Sikhism stops at the turbans. That’s pretty sad, which is why putting on a headscarf, washing my feet, and walking up the steps to Bangla Sahib, the Sikh temple in Delhi, was an experience I happily embraced. Red, beautifully woven rugs covered the marble floor completely, and we slinked towards the back, attempting to be discreet, our backpacks bumping into shoulders and blocking the views of those behind us. Within seconds, we were offered a silver bowl filled with a brown, slick, floury, sugary substance that the man scooped into our open hands. It was an offering to be consumed. It wasn’t half bad. Every once in a while, I feel unwelcome and bothersome when checking out a foreign religion, thinking they find this intrusion either disrespectful or amusing and certain that I’m breaking about twenty-nine rules of their godly law. Fortunately, the practicing Sikhs in the room didn’t seem to really care we were there. It could have been over-exposure and the fact that they get lots of tourists following their motions every day. Whatever the case, I basked in the breeze of a hundred ceiling fans and enjoyed the peace of the room that overcame the chaos of the city outside. I couldn’t understand a thing, but being among so many calm presences was satisfying.
A little volunteering of your time in the temple’s kitchen scores you a free meal of lentils, vegetables, flatbread, and other goodies from the Sikhs. And so, we enjoyed. With full bellies and soggy fingers, we then headed to the massive mosque adorning Delhi’s skyline: Jama Masjid.
It was at this religious destination that we felt we were wrong for being there. It was our bad for hanging out in the open prayer area, but the stares were ceaseless and intense. A thick line between them and us was evident. The architecture was imposing and magnificent but hard to appreciate when hawkers nearby were more interested in making us pay for various services and goods than letting us be a part of the moment. And it’s probably necessary to add the heat of the day made us ever-so sticky, which isn’t conducive to a positive attitude towards being a spectacle. But we remained there, with our borrowed coverings billowing in the subtle breeze, hoping to reap from this monument a feeling of awe. If I had any visceral knowledge of Islam at all, I’m sure it would have been a moving experience. I’m not putting Sikhism vs. Islam here, as I really love both followers, but these were two very different experiences and ones I found amusing as an onlooker.