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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 and sometimes vegan. People sit and eat together, and the kitchen is maintained and serviced by Sikh community volunteers.
The word langar has origins in the Punjabi 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.
The langar concept was an innovative charity and symbol of equality introduced by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak around 1500 CE. The roots of such community kitchen institutions 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.
A related concept emerged from the practices of Fariduddin Ganjshakar, a Sufi saint living in the 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. 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. However, Guru Nanak developed it as a part of the institutional framework that helped evolve the community free of any prejudices.
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 among 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 simple and equal 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, and 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 class. He encouraged the practice of langar, and made all those who visited him attend langar before they could speak to him.
Langar is a practice which promotes the idea of equality and people sit together on the floor with no discrimination of class, race or income and everyone sits as equals to have Langar which is a vegetarian meal served by the volunteers and anyone can volunteer in Langar no matter if he is a Sikh or not.
Langars are held in gurdwaras all over the world, most of which attract homeless population according to news reports. The volunteers feed them without any discrimination, along with the other devotees who gather. Almost all Indian and overseas gurdwaras operate langars where local communities, sometimes consisting of hundreds or thousands of visitors, join together for a simple vegetarian meal.
Notes and references
- Pashaura Singh, Louis E. Fenech, 2014, The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies[dead link]
- 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.
- "Langar definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary". www.collinsdictionary.com.
- "Definition of langar". Dictionary.com.
- Duncan Forbes (1861). A Smaller Hindustani and English Dictionary. Crosby Lockwood & Son. p. 266.
- Monier Williams (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and philologically arranged. Clarendon Press. p. 865.
- Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh (2011). Sikhism: An Introduction. I.B.Tauris. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-0-85773-549-2.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Singh, Prithi Pal (2006). "3 Guru Amar Das". The History of Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Lotus Press. p. 38. ISBN 81-8382-075-1.
- "Why homeless Britons are turning to the Sikh community for food". 22 February 2015. Retrieved 2 April 2018 – via www.bbc.com.
- Paterson, Kirsteen (July 14, 2016). "Scotland: Sikh charity feeds those most in need". The National. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
- Shamsher Kainth (March 8, 2017). "Sikh volunteers take hot food to homeless in Melbourne". SBS Punjabi. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
- Harold Coward; Raymond Brady Williams; John R. Hinnells (2000). The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States. SUNY Press. pp. 196–198. ISBN 978-0-7914-4509-9.
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