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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Sikhs in huge pool clean ceremony
By Asit Jolly
BBC correspondent in Chandigarh

Golden Temple in Amritsar
The waters of the temple have been made crystal clear
More than one millions Sikhs have taken part so far in the cleaning of the sacred pool around the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikh officials say.

Custodians at the temple - Sikhism's holiest shrine - say that the devotees removed thousands of tons of silt.

They have cleaned the walls and floor of the pool in the temple complex where the water is contained.

The religious service (Kar Sewa) to clean the pool began on Thursday, 30 years since the last exercise.

Experience of a lifetime

Sikhs have travelled from all over the world to take part in the clean-up operation, regarded as a once in a lifetime experience.

The devout came from as far away as Canada, Britain and the US.

Sikhs in Amritsar
Devotees have come from all over the world

Sikh politicians have also come in large numbers, perhaps in the hope of earning God's blessing.

Together they formed a virtual "sea of humanity" that seemed to overflow from the Golden Temple complex.

Men, women and children carried away thousands of tons of what they believe is sacred silt from the pool floor.

Many said they would keep the silt in their homes as a blessing from God.

Others, like farmer Jagtar Singh, said they would sprinkle portions of the silt on their farmlands.

So great was the enthusiasm that devotees completed in a single day what the shrine management believed would be a job that would take a week.

For the faithful, this religious service is as important as the pilgrimage to Mecca is for Muslims.

Jaswinder Singh, who is a member of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee or SGPC - the powerful committee of Sikhs that controls the affairs of all major shrines and religious institutions - said the present Kar Sewa has assumed added significance.

He said there may not be another opportunity for the next 100 years.

Mr Singh said this was because two US-based Sikhs recently donated more than $1m to install a modern water-filtration system that would in future eliminate any deposition of silt on the floor of the sacred temple pool.

Even though most of the work for the present exercise has already been completed, enthusiastic devotees still hope to lend a hand and be counted among the "doubly blessed."

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