Editor’s Note: Ronan Khalsa (15 years old) from Dummerston is spending his 10th grade year studying abroad at Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, India. MPA is a Sikh international boarding school where Ronan is studying a full curriculum along with Sikh religious values and practices. This essay describes his experience performing seva at the Golden Temple for 40 consecutive days at 3 in the morning. Seva is selfless community service and the Golden Temple is the most sacred place in Sikhism.
Seva is the most wonderful thing you can do to be closer to God and Guru. This October I have been lucky to be able to awake at 2 a.m. to the song "Rise up, Rise up" by Guru Singh playing loudly from across the hall. I slowly get out of bed, put on a chola and house turban and sleepily stagger to the buses that take everyone from Miri Piri Academy to the Golden Temple. I board the Gold and Silver house bus, sit with my friend Dharam Bir, and prepare to do the best thing I can do in Amritsar, India, this time of the morning, Seva!
Since it is 2:30, I do the normal thing on a bus speeding down the dimly lit dusty Amritsar roads: sleep. Half an hour or so later the bus arrives at Hall Gate which always causes a big raucous. There are police that will not allow the buses to pass through without proof that the drivers of the buses will park out of the way of the hectic traffic. The bus drives a little farther down the street until the drivers drop us off on a dark back street.
I wake up for the second time that morning and exit the big yellow bus. I walk to the main shoe stall in formation, pass my flip-flops to the shoe sevadar who is wide awake, unlike me. Once I have received the metal plaque that I must keep so that I can retrieve my flip-flops when I leave, I look for other MPA students and walk towards the one constant light at 3 in the morning: Harimandir Sahib.
I walk on the wet rugs until I get to the warm water that cleans the dust from my feet. My friends and I then turn the corner to see the beautifully lit Temple and sevadars doing Seva in two groups on opposite sides of the parkarma. We all walk down the slippery marble stairs onto the even more slippery parkarma. My group and I immediately bow our heads on the cool, wet marble parkarma towards the Golden Temple. The other boys and I tie our cholas around our waists tightly in preparation to enter the holy nectar pool and perform seva. In the holy pool are many sevadars including one who has been doing seva for the last nine years straight! I stand in the warm water and wait for others to hand me buckets to fill and pour onto the parkarma to clean it after a busy day. Seva continues for about 15 minutes. When I look at the parkarma afterwards, it shines just as much as the undying radiant light of the Golden Temple.
Once the actual seva ends I have 30 to 40 minutes to be at the Golden Temple. I walk with my friends to get oily parshad by the exit of the Gurdwara’s bridge; sometimes I receive a lot from a generous server, which I feel makes me even more blessed than just a little bit of parshad. We then walk happily to the warm hand washing station just off the parkarma; this water does not shock my hands and I use lots of soap to scrub the oil off my hands.
Now it is time to be refreshed with multiple bowls of sweet warm chai served everyday by the same guy with a high pitched voice that I have nicknamed "The Wahe Guru Chai Guy" since he always says "Wahe Guru Ji" when he serves chai. The last thing I do at Harimandir Sahib each morning is meditate and pray listening to the constant Raag and Kirtan. After about 10 minutes of meditation it is time to leave and return to school to sleep. I bow as I exit and walk happily to the shoe stall and exchange the plaque for my flip-flops.
I walk joyfully and fully awake to my bus and board it with a smile as I just made my day the best it could possibly be by completing Seva. Soon enough my bus arrives at the school, enters through the gate and I swiftly walk to my room and go to sleep for three hours. Only the Guru knows what I dream about but I think it is about how great my day will be since I did seva that morning!
Seva -- Selfless service is a core practice in Sikhism
Chola -- Traditional north Indian men’s dress
Golden Temple -- Holiest place for Sikhs
Gold and Silver -- We have four houses at Miri Piri Academy to keep us organized
Harimandir Sahib -- Another name for the Golden Temple
Sevadar: One who performs seva
Parkarma -- Marble floor around the holy nectar pool
Parshad -- Holy sweet dough
Raag -- Traditional music sung by men
Kirtan -- Traditional music sung my men and women
Formation -- Line to make sure everyone is present and to instill discipline
Wahe Guru -- Ecstasy of God.