GURU KA LANGAR (lit., 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 ahnshouse\’, \’an asylum for the poor and the destitute\’, \’a public kitchen kept by a great man for his followers and dependants, holy persons and the needy. \’Some scholars trace the word langar to Sanskrit analgra (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 centres in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even today some dargahs, or shrines commemorating Sufi saints, run langars, like Khwaja Mulnud Din Chishti\’s at Ajmer.

In Sikhism, the institution of langar owes its origin to the founder, Guru Nanak himself. Community kitchens came into existence with the sangats or holy fellowships of disciples which sprang up at many places in his time. Sikhs sat in pangat (lit., a row) without distinctions of caste or status, to share a common meal prepared in the langar. Besides the kitchen where the food was cooked, langar stood for the victuals as well as for the hall where these were eaten.

The disciples brought the offerings and contributed the labour of their hands to prepare and serve the food.Guru Nanak and his successors attached a great deal of importance to langar and it became, in their hands, a potent means of social reform. The former gave it the central place in the dharamsala he established at Kartarpur at the end of his preaching tours. He worked on his farm to provide for himself and for his family and to contribute his share to the common langar.

He had such of his disciples as could afford to set up dharamsalas and langars. Among them were Sajjan Thag, then lost to godly ways, and a wealthy nobleman, Malik Bhago, both of whom had converted to his message.Bhumia, formerly a dacoit, was asked by Guru Nanak to turn his kitchen into a langar in the name of God. A condition was laid upon Raja Shivnabh of Sahgladip (Sri Lanka) that he open a langar before he could see him (Guru Nanak).

The Raja, it is said, happily complied. Guru Angad, Nanak II, further extended the scope of the institution. He helped with cooking and serving in the langar. His wife, Mata Khivi, looked after the pilgrims and visitors with the utmost attention.

Such was her dedication to work in the langar that it came to be known after her name as Mata Khivi ji ka Langar. The bard Balvand pays homage to her in his verses, in the Guru Granth Sahib.To quote the stanza: Blest, sayeth Balvand, is Khivi [the Guru\’s wife], Comforting by far is her presence to the disciple, Amply she distributes food in the Guru\’s langar. The fare includes khir, rice cooked in milk and ghee, Which has the taste of ambrosia itself.

(GG, 967) The Var by Satta and Balvand also applauds Guru Amar Das\’s ang wwhcrein “ghee and flour abounded.” In spite of rich variety of food served in his langar, Guru Amar Das ate a simple meal earned by the labour of his own hands. “What was received from the disciples was consumed the same day and nothing was saved for tomorrow.”Contributing towards the Guru ka Langar became an established custom for the Sikhs.

Partaking of food in Guru ka Langar was made a condition for disciples and visitors before they could meet the Guru. Guru Amar Das\’s injunction was: “pahile pangat pachhe sangat” first comes eating together, then meeting together.” Langar vis gave practical expression to the notion of equality . Emperor Akbar, who once visited Guru Amar Das at Goindval, had to sat out of the common kitchen like any other pilgrim.

As the Mahima Prakash records, the Emperor refused to step on the silks spread out for him by his servants when going to call on the Guru. He turned aside the lining with his own hands and walked to the Guru\’s presence barefoot.Bhai Jetha, who came into spiritual succession as Guru Ram Das, served food in Guru Amar Das\’s langar, brought firewood from the forest and drew water from the well. By such deeds of devoted service, he gained enlightenment and became worthy of the confidence of Guru Amar Das.

Langar served to train the disciples in seva and to overcome class distinctions. The institution of langar had become an integral part of the Sikh movement by now and, with the increase in its numbers, it gained further popularity and strength. With the development under Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan of Amritsar as the central seat of the Sikh faith, the capacity of the local Guru ka Langar increased manifold.Sikhs came from far off places to see their Guru and to lend a hand with the construction work.

They were all served food in Guru ka Langar. Guru Hargobind and Guru Tegh Bahadur travelled extensively in north and northeast India. This led to the establishment of many new sangats. Each sangat meant an additional langar. In the reign of Guru Gobind Singh, the institution of langar acquired further significance.

At Anandpur, the new seat of Sikhism, a number of langars were in existence, each under the supervision of a devoted and pious Sikh. Food was available in these langars day and night. Once Guru Gobind Singh, disguised as an ordinary pilgrim, made a surprise check of the langars at Anandpur.He discovered that Bhai Nand Lal\’s langar was the best maintained.

He complimented him and asked others to emulate his standards of dedication and service. One of Guru Gobind Singh\’s commandments was that a Sikh visiting another Sikh\’s door must be served food, without hesitation or delay. Another of his sayings ran: “Ghana da munh guru In golak hai to feed a hungry mouth is to feed the Guru.” This spirit of common sharing and of mutual cooperation and service was the underlying principle of the Sikh tradition of langar.

“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 his Dasam Granth 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.” The langar continued to perform its distinctive role in days of the direst persecution.

Bands of Sikhs wandering in deserts and jungles would cook whatever they could get, and sit in a pangat to share it equally. Later, when the Sikhs came into power, the institution of langar was further consolidated because of increased number of gurdwaras running the langar, and assignment of jagirs to gurdwaras for this purpose.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. In smaller gurdwaras cooked food received from different households may comprise the langar. In any case, no pilgrim or visitor will miss food at meal time in a gurdwara. Sharing a common meal sitting in a pangat is for a Sikh an act of piety.

So 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. The institution of Guru ka Langar has served the community in many ways.

It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service of mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals and the children join in serving food to the pangat. Langar teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community.Again, langar has played a great part in upholding the virtue of equality of all human beings.Besides the langars attached to gurdwaras, there are improvised open air langars at the time of festivals and gurpurbs.

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 liave established their langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour: “Loh langar tapde rahin may the hot plates, the langars, remain ever in service.”

References :

1. Bhalla, Sarup Das, Mahimd Prakash. Patiala, 1971
2. Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909
3. Teja Singh, Growth a/Responsibility in Sikhism. Bombay, 1948
4. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970
5. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990
6. Prakash Singh, The Sikh Gurus and the Temple of Bread. Amritsar, 1972
7. Cole, W. Owen, and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. New Delhi, 1978