Langar (Punjabi: ਲੰਗਰ) (kitchen) is the term used in Sikhism for the community kitchen in a Gurdwara where a free meal is served to all the visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. The free meal is always vegetarian. People sit on the floor, eat together, and the kitchen is maintained and serviced by Sikh community volunteers.
At the langar, all people eat a vegetarian meal as equals. The exception to vegetarian langar is when Nihang Sikhs serve meat in some Gurdwaras, on the occasion of Holla Mohalla, and call it Mahaprasad.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word langar has origins in the Hindi language. The Indian origin theory links langar to langal (लङ्गल), a Sanskrit word for "plough, anchor" connoting a place to rest and linked to food or an almshouse. This root implies that the langar concept was an innovative charity and symbol of equality introduced by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak around 1500 CE. A related concept emerged from the practices of Fariduddin Ganjshakar, a Sufi saint living in Punjab region during the 13th century, who would redistribute sweets his visitors would bring to his khalifas and common devotees. This concept developed, over time, into langar-khana near his shrine, a practice documented in Jawahir al-Faridi compiled in 1623 CE.
The institution of community kitchen and volunteer run charitable feeding is very old in the Indian traditions. The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim I Ching (7th-century CE) wrote about monasteries with such volunteer run kitchens. Similarly, Hindu temples of the Gupta Empire era had attached kitchen and almshouse called Dharma-shala or Dharma-sattra to feed the travelers and poor for free, or whatever donation they may leave. These community kitchens and rest houses are evidenced in epigraphical evidence, and in some cases referred to as Satram (for example, Annasya Satram), Choultry or Chathram in parts of India.
In Sikhism, the practice of the langar, or free kitchen, is believed to have been started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. It was designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. The second Guru of Sikhism, Guru Angad is remembered in Sikh tradition for systematizing the institution of langar in all Sikh temple premises, where visitors from near and far, could get a free simple meal in a communal seating. He also set rules and training method for volunteers (sevadars) who operated the kitchen, placing emphasis on treating it as a place of rest and refuge, being always polite and hospitable to all visitors. Guru Amar Das also encouraged the practice of langar and made all those who visited him attend laṅgar before they could speak to him.
It is unclear whether the langar in the time of Guru Nanak were vegetarian or non-vegetarian, since texts from that era are silent about the menu served. Some scholars state that Guru Amar Das, who joined Sikhism from the Vaishnavism Hindu tradition and was a disciple of Guru Nanak before he was named the second Guru, introduced the vegetarianism at langars.
The institution of Guru ka langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of Sikhs in a task of service for mankind. Even Sikh children help in serving food to the people to promote fellowship. Langar also teaches the etiquette of eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of equality of all human beings, and provides a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary. People from all classes of society are welcome at the Gurudwara.
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 the Golden Temple nearly 100,000 people dine every day, and the kitchen works almost 20 hours daily. 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. All the preparation, cooking and washing-up is also done by voluntary helpers, known as Sewadars.
Besides the langars' attachment to gurdwaras, there are improvised open-air langars during festivals and gurpurbs. These langars are among the best attended community meals anywhere in the world; upwards of 100,000 people may attend a given meal during these langars. Wherever Sikhs are, they have established the langars for everyone. In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour: “Loh langar tapde rahin—may the hot plates of the langars remain ever in service.”
Notes and referencesEdit
- William Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi (1995), The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Sussex Academic Press, ISBN 978-1898723134, page 148
- Mark McWilliams (2014). Food & Material Culture: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2013. Oxford Symposium. p. 265. ISBN 978-1-909248-40-3.
- UNITED SIKHS
- "The most special occasion of the Chhauni is the festival of Diwali which is celebrated for ten days. This is the only Sikh shrine at Amritsar where Maha Prasad (meat) is served on special occasions in Langar." The Sikh review, Volume 35, Issue 409 - Volume 36, Issue 420, Sikh Cultural Centre, 1988.
- langar, Oxford Dictionaries
- Duncan Forbes (187?). A Smaller Hindustani and English Dictionary. Crosby Lockwood & Son. p. 266. Check date values in:
- Monier Williams (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and philologically arranged. Clarendon Press. p. 865.
- Barbara D Metcalf (1984). Moral Conduct and Authority: The Place of Adab in South Asian Islam. University of California Press. pp. 336–339. ISBN 978-0-520-04660-3.
- William M. Johnston (2013). Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Routledge. pp. 953–954. ISBN 978-1-136-78716-4.
- Nancy Auer Falk; Rita M. Gross (1980). Unspoken worlds: women's religious lives in non-western cultures. Harper & Row. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-0-06-063492-6.
- Manabendu Banerjee (1989). Historical and Social Interpretations of the Gupta Inscriptions. Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar. pp. 83–84.
- Vasudeva Upadhyay (1964). The Socio-religious Condition of North India, 700-1200 A. D.: Based on Archaeological Sources. Munshi Manoharlal. p. 306.
- [a] Prabhavati C. Reddy (2014). Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-317-80631-8.;
[b] Sanctuaries of times past The Hindu (June 27, 2010)
- Singh, A.K. (2002). "A Śaiva Monastic Complex of the Kalacuris at Chunari in Central India". South Asian Studies. Taylor & Francis. 18 (1): 47–52. doi:10.1080/02666030.2002.9628606.
- Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair (2013). Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 35–37. ISBN 978-1-4411-0231-7.
- Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 319. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
- Duggal, Kartar Singh (1988). Philosophy and Faith of Sikhism. Himalayan Institute Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-89389-109-1.
- Singh, Prithi Pal (2006). "3 Guru Amar Das". The History of Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Lotus Press. p. 38. ISBN 81-8382-075-1.
- A History of the Sikh People by Dr. Gopal Singh, World Sikh University Press, Delhi ISBN 978-81-7023-139-4. "However, it is strange that nowadays in the Community-Kitchen attached to the Sikh temples, and called the Guru's Kitchen (or, Guru-ka-langar) meat-dishes are not served at all. May be, it is on account of its being, perhaps, expensive, or not easy to keep for long. Or, perhaps the Vaishnava tradition is too strong to be shaken off."
- S.R. Bakshi, Rashmi Pathak,, ed. (2007). "12". Punjab Through the Ages. 4 (1st ed.). New Delhi: Sarup and Sons. p. 241. ISBN 81-7625-738-9.
- Vera, Barry. "Old Delhi". Feast: India. Season 1. Episode 3. 2005.