Guru Ka Langar
Article for Sikhs and the general public
Guru Ka Langar - Free Kitchen for All
Background/Introduction The Langar or free kitchen was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, color, creed, age, gender or social status. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind.
Origin of the word 'Langar' Guru ka Langar (literally, langar or refectory of the Guru) is a community kitchen run in the name of the Guru. It is usually attached to a Gurdwara. Langar, a Persian word, means an asylum for the poor and the destitute. Some scholars also trace the word langar to Sanskrit word analgrh (cooking place). In Persian, the specific term langar has been in use in an identical sense. In addition to the word itself, the institution of langar is also traceable in the Persian tradition. Langars were a common feature of the Sufi centers in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Importance of Langar to the Sikh Religion Bhai Desa Singh in his Rehitnama says, "A Sikh who is well to do must look to the needs of a poor neighbor. Whenever he meets a traveler or a pilgrim from a foreign place, he must serve him devotedly.”
Maharaja Ranjit Singh made grants of jagirs to gurdwaras for the maintenance of langars. Similar endowments were created by other Sikh rulers as well. Today, practically every gurdwara has a langar supported by the community in general. Sharing a common meal sitting in a pangat is for a Sikh an act of piety as is his participation in cooking or serving food in the langar and in cleaning the used dishes. The Sikh ideal of charity is essentially social in conception. A Sikh is under a religious obligation to contribute one-tenth of his earning for the welfare of the community. He must also contribute the service of his hands whenever he can, that rendered in a langar being the most meritorious.
“Keep the langar ever open” are reported to have been the last words of Guru Gobind Singh spoken to Bhai Santokh Singh before he passed away at Nanded. One of the lines in Dasam Granth Sahib reads: “Deg tegh jag me dou chalai—may langar (charity) and sword (instrument of securing justice) together prevail in the world.” The first Sikh coin minted in the eighteenth century carried the Persian maxim: “Deg tegh fateh—may langar and sword be ever triumphant.”
Rules concerning the tradition of Langar:
- Simple and vegetarian
- Prepared by devotees who recite Gurbani while preparing the langar
- Served after performing Ardas
- Distributed in Pangat without any prejudice or discrimination
- Fresh, clean and hygienically prepared
The Protocols Undoubtedly, langar is an important part of the ceremonies at any Gurdwara Sahib. But despite it having such importance, the tradition is often hurt or neglected. When preparing or serving langar, the basic rules are seldom followed, leading to disrespect.
Firstly, all volunteers must ensure they wash their hands properly. Any kind of jewelry or other artifacts leading to dirty hands (such as flour in rings) should be removed or properly cleansed. Talking should be limited and preferably, when preparing the food for the Langar, the mouth and nose should be covered by a piece of cloth. Also during the preparation, due regard should be made to purity, hygiene and cleanliness. One should try to recite Gurbani during preparations or serving of langar.
When serving the Langar, the servers must observe strict rules of cleanliness and hygiene. Servers should not touch the serving utensils to the plates of those they serve. When serving foods by hand, such as chapatis or fruit, the servers’ hands should not touch the hand or plate of those they are serving. Those serving should wait until all others have been completely served before they sit down to eat themselves. It is advisable not to leave any leftovers. Langar should be eaten in congregational pangat, on the floor.
All Sikhs should ensure that they follow the edict of Akal Takhat Sahib, the highest temporal authority in the Sikh religion that bars eating or serving langar on tables and chairs. Some Gurdwaras in the West have violated this code of conduct, but as humble followers of our Gurus, we should ensure that we are not indulging in blasphemous acts. Eating langar while sitting on chairs refutes the whole idea of ‘pangat’ which promotes equality. All Sikhs are to remain lower than Guru Granth Sahib Ji. This is why all are to sit on the floor while sitting in the Darbar Sahib. The same protocol should be followed while sitting in the langar hall for obvious reasons. Anyone violating the langar hukamnama of Akal Takhat Sahib is going against the basic principles of the Sikh religion. For more information visit: http://www.panthkhalsa.org/panth/LangarHukamNama.php
Since Sikhs believe that it is wrong to eat meat, fish or eggs, non-vegetarian foods are neither served nor brought onto the Gurdwara premises. Alcoholic and narcotic substances are stringently against the Sikh diet, hence these, with any meat products, are strictly not allowed on Gurdwara premises.
For more information on Langar, Recipes and Products that may or may not be appropriate for Sikh diets, check out our community maintained site, http://www.EatBibek.com
Source: Khalsa Press published pamphlets