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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 (such as those at the Chhauni of Akali Phula Singh) serve meat (called mahaprasad) on special occasions.
Langar, as an institution, was first started by Baba Farid, a Muslim of the Chishti Sufi order. The institution of the langar was already popular in the 12th and 13th century among Sufis of the Indian subcontinent. The practice grew and is documented in the Jawahir al-Faridi compiled in 1623 CE. It was later, both the institution and term, adopted by Sikhs. The langar concept was an innovative charity and symbol of equality adopted by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak around 1500 CE. According to Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, a professor of Sikh Studies, community kitchens were already operating in Punjab when Guru Nanak founded Sikhism, and these were run by Muslim Sufi orders and by Hindu Gorakhnath orders.
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.
It was the third Guru, Amar Das, who established langar as a prominent institution, and required people to dine together irrespective of their caste and social rank. He encouraged the practice of langar and made all those who visited him attend laṅgar before they could speak to him. He was originally a Vaishnavite (and thus vegetarian), and is said to have accompanied Guru Angad to a langar that served meat. When Guru Angad saw that Amar Das was nervous and sat aloof, he ordered the server to give Amar Das only cereals. Most Sikh langars serve vegetarian food though the nihangs of Anandpur Sahib do serve meat on special occasions.
Langars are regularly held all over the world to feed the homeless. Major Indian Gurdwaras operate langars where thousands of visitors join in for a simple vegetarian meal everyday.
Notes and references
- 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.
- "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.
- Kathleen Seidel, Serving Love, Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook", September 2000. Accessed 15 January 2010.
- Satish C. Bhatnagar, My Hindu Faith and Periscope, Volume 1, p. 245
- A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, p. 1130
- Epilogue, Vol 4, Issue 1, p. 45
- Baba Sheikh Farid: His Life and Teaching, p. 7
- 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.
- R. Nivas, Transactions, Volume 4, " The word langar, and this institution has been borrowed, so to speak, from the Sufis. The khanqas of the Chisti and other Sufi saints had a langar open to the poor and the rich, though the Hindus mostly kept away from them. To make the Brahmin sit with the pariah and do away with untouch- ability, and to make the Hindus and Muslims eat from the same kitchen and destroy all social", Indian Institute of Advanced Study, p. 190
- Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh (2011). Sikhism: An Introduction. I.B.Tauris. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-0-85773-549-2.
- Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair (2013). Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-4411-1708-3.
- 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.
- Eleanor Nesbitt (28 April 2016). Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-106277-3.
- 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.
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