By Pashchiema Bhatia
Guru Ka Langar is a tradition where people sit on the ground, at the same level (exception for people with disabilities and elderly), regardless of religion, caste, beliefs etc. and have food served to them by volunteers. The concept of langar was initiated by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji based on his dictum of earning bread by honest means and sharing it with others and donating one-tenth of one's income for a noble cause. Any time a Gurdwara (or, Gurudwara) is open; everyone is welcomed to have a hot meal. It has ensured the participation of women and children to volunteer and render service to mankind. Preparations of the meal are done by women and children help in serving the food.
In the most revered Gurdwara, The Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab , India , at least 50,000 devotees or tourists are served daily in the community kitchen and the number becomes almost double on special occasions. Even the Mughal King Akbar sat among common people and shared langar.
Women preparing roti for langar, Wikimedia commons
Bhai Desa Singh in his Rehitnama says, "A Sikh who is 'well to do' must look to the needs of his poor neighbours. Whenever he meets a traveler or a pilgrim from a foreign country, he must serve him devotedly". It is believed that when you are having Guru ka langar, you experience Chadti kalan (the feeling of being lifted up) and Sarbhat da bhala (the loving intent of desiring the best for all people). Before serving the food, a prayer (Ardas) is recited and a sacred knife (Kirpan) is passed through for blessings.
The food prepared in the Guru ka langar is mostly vegetarian (except nihangs sometimes serve meat referred as Mahaprashad on Hola Mohalla). The reason of serving vegetarian food might be to welcome people from every religion as Hindus don't eat beef and Muslims didn't eat non-halal meat therefore opening langar to both the main religious groups of India. As the congregations are mostly of Indian origin therefore the food served is based on Indian cuisine. This tradition of offering food to everyone and the practice of Seva (selfless service to others) is highly valued in Sikhism. The Seva of serving Guru ka langar has become associated with the identity of Sikhs and is popular in every part of the Globe wherever there is Gurdwara and major Sikh diaspora. At the 2004 World Parliament of Religions conference in Barcelona, Spain, Sikhs made a huge impression by serving Guru ka Langar to all the participants. It was a reflective exhibition of the assets of diversity, humility and loving service to all.
People are supposed to take off their shoes and cover their heads while sharing langar. Everyone is welcome to Gurdwaras eradicating the distinction between the rich and the poor and also curbing egoism as everyone sits together and eats the same food.
Pashchiema is an intern at NewsGram and a student of journalism and mass communication in New Delhi. Twitter: @pashchiema5