Shoes. Walls and walls of dusty, well-worn shoes.
Cleanliness is a demonstration of respect. Before we Fulbright TGC teachers entered the Sikh Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi, we were asked to take off our shoes before washing our hands in a sink, then walking through a shallow bath for our feet. This shows respect for both the gurudwara and the holy scripture, Guru Granth while allowing nerve endings in the feet to receive as much energy as possible.
What we didn’t know was what was going to happen to our shoes.
When we were ready to leave, we discovered that there was an entire ministry of cleaning the shoes of everyone who comes to the gurudwara.
Cleanliness apparently really is close to godliness.
Hindus believe that taking a bath (“snanam”) is the most important ritual of the day because water nourishes and sustains the spirit as well as the body. Water is one of the highest elements because it purifies and uplifts. The Akshardham Hindu Temple celebrates water through the incredible Sahaj Anand Water Show, which celebrates a story from the Kena Upanishad.
We heard the beautiful call to prayer as we walked through the alleyway of Khan Market in Delhi. Muslims believe that The Quran contains the literal word of God. The Quran itself says that only those who are clean and pure may touch the sacred text, so no one is allowed to open it until they have made their ablutions by washing their hands and, if they have not done so in the last 24 hours, taking a bath. When we were ready to leave and retrieve our shoes, we discovered that there was an entire ministry devoted to cleaning the dusty shoes of all who come to the gurudwara.
It was the rows and rows of shoes that got me. Foot-cleaning is a powerful symbol in my own faith (Catholicism) as well, and it brought me pure joy to see some of the threads that tie the people and faiths of the world together. We believe in showing respect. We believe in being humble. We believe in serving others.