At the golden temple there are many different types of “seva” one can participate in. A seva is a work performed without any thought of reward or payment. As a person who participates in community service and thrives on the act of helping others, seva put a word to the feelings I have while doing work such as this. My favorite seva at the temple is dish washing, a choice that surprises even myself. It’s crowded, and one of the more high energy sevas in comparison to peeling garlic or chopping vegetables. Your place at one of the big washing troughs pictured above is relied upon to be quick and efficient, contributing to the overall smooth process of washing thousands of dishes a day.
I like this process for more than the benefit of always having your hands in cold water, which cools your whole body down. I not only like participating in a more fast paced task, but also get to admire all of the beautiful Indian women I work with in a line, grabbing dishes and scrubbing in harmony. But as I thought about why I liked this task more, I realized that the reverence towards the service people around me have is something I’ve never experienced before. In America, cleaning dishes is seen as a chore. In the golden temple, people clamor to get a spot at the washing bins. People kiss and bow to the metal troughs filled with water. People bow to the dishes themselves as if they are holy objects, which if viewed through a sikh’s eyes, might be true. The Sikhs believe that service brings you closer to God, a belief that is the backbone behind seva, langar, and the golden temple itself. Although I am not a religious person, this struck me as inspiring. Honoring service and food seems to create more of a connection between people and the land, people and each other, and helps foster a care for the humanity in everyone. If as large an operation as the golden temple can be built on such an idea, can’t we spread this elsewhere, where honoring each other isn’t as important as self preservation? This was just some food for thought I had while scrubbing chai bowls today.