From the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Bangla Sahib in Delhi to all small gurudwaras in the country, langar is a prominent feature that has been prevalent since the olden times. Langar is the term used in the Sikh religion for the common kitchen/canteen where food is served in a Gurdwara to all the visitors, without distinction of faith, religion or background, for free. At the langar, mostly only vegetarian food is served, to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals.
Here is the history and a few interesting facts about langar that you may not know.
#1 Started By Guru Nanak Dev Ji
The Langar or free kitchen was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji in around 1481. It is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. The main objective behind langar food was to eliminate extreme poverty in the world and to bring about the birth of caring communities.
#2 Spreading that Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication
Guru Nanak designed a system where all people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple langar food. The tradition of langar is not just about conveying the ideology of equality among humans but also expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind.
#3 Guru ka Langar
The institution of Guru ka Langar has ensured the participation of women and children in service for the community. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the people. Each week one or more families volunteer to provide and prepare the langar. This is very generous, as there may be several hundred people to feed, and caterers are not allowed. One of the unbelievable facts about langar is that all the preparation, the cooking and the washing-up is also done by voluntary helpers, known as Sewadars.
#4 Preaching Oneness and Discipline
Langar also teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of sameness of all human beings; providing a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary. People from all classes of society are welcome at the Gurudwara. Langar food is normally served twice a day, on every day of the year. Recent reports say some of the largest Sikh community dining halls in Delhi prepare between 50,000 and 70,000 meals per day. At Golden temple nearly 100,000 people dine everyday and the kitchen works almost 20 hours daily.
#5 Golden Rules of Langar
First of the rules at Langar is that it serves simple vegetarian meals. The exception to vegetarian langar is when Nihangs (in India) serve meat on the occasion of Holla Mohalla, and call it Mahaprasad. There are also variations on langar, for example at Hazur Sahib, where meat is included.
Secondly, it is prepared by devotees who recite Gurbani while preparing the langar.
Another fact to be kept in mind is that it is served only after performing Ardas.
Also, the primary motive behind langar should never be forgotten for the food prepared must be distributed without any prejudice or discrimination.
Lastly, all the langar food served must be fresh, clean and hygienically prepared.