Tuesday, February 16, 2010

May the Iron Pots of Langar Be Ever Warm

During my recent travels to India, I had the honor of spending some time at a Sikh temple where I also visited their community kitchen, called the langer. There I learned that Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. A key distinctive feature of Sikhism is a non-anthropomorphic concept of God, to the extent that one can interpret God as the Universe itself. There are over 23 million Sikhs across the world, most living in Punjab, India and, until India's partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now Pakistani Punjab. Nanak, the founder of the religion preached that a Sikh should balance work, worship, and charity, and should defend the rights of all creatures, and in particular, fellow human beings. From my observations it appears that Sikhs are very hard working people.

The Sikh temple I visited in Delhi practices a 500-year-old tradition of serving free food from the community kitchen, called the langar. Volunteers from the congregation (called Sangat) pay for and cook food. This food is served to all people regardless of caste, religion, gender, age etc. completely free of charge with all sitting in the same row to share and enjoy the food together.
On the day of our visit, a large crowd had assembled for the meal and upon inquiry, I was taken back to the kitchens where I learned about these traditions and how the food was made. As this meal was the 'first seating', so to speak, my Sikh hosts had installed modern food manufacturing equipment to handle the volume (see image below), while also assembling a group of volunteers to prepare the meal by hand as it had been done traditionally. 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, a key teaching of Sikhism.

Besides the langars attached to individual temples, there are improvised open-air langars at the time of festivals. Specially arranged langars on such occasions are probably the most largely attended community meals anywhere in the world. There might be a hundred thousand people partaking of food at a single meal in one such langar. Wherever Sikhs are, they have established their langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs say “Loh langar tapde rahin" which translates to "May the iron pots of langar be ever warm.”

The langar is always vegetarian so as to be available to all people of all faiths, and traditionally is made up of simple, nourishing food. Strict rules of hygiene and cleanliness are important when preparing the meal. On the day of my visit the meal consisted of flat bread and soup, which was greatly appreciated by the large crowd. While the food was simple, it was very tasty and filling and I was pleased to be able to participate in this culinary tradition. By the time we departed, a new group had assembled outside of the langer awaiting the next seating. Follow this link to learn more about the langer tradition.

1 comment:

  1. This is truly amazing. Another very interesting story I would like to share wih you is the Community kitchen in Tirupathi, India. The greastest piligremage for the Hindus. Here you will find that about 20,000-30,000 people are fed each day -free of cost. Contributions come from devotees. Next visit dont miss.