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The Sikh Dining Tradition of Langar

The Best Bargain Is the Profit of Selfless Service


Guru's Langar Kitchen

Langar Preparations

Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
Guru's Langar Kitchen

The Langar Kitchen

Photo © [S Khalsa]
Guru's Langar Kitchen

The Langar Hall

Photo © [S Khalsa]

History of Langar:

When the first Sikh guru, Nanak Dev, attained manhood, his father gave him 20 rupees and sent him on a trading expedition, impressing upon him that a good bargain makes for a good profit. On his way to buy merchandise, he met a group of sadhus living in a jungle. Nanak noticed the emaciated condition of the naked holy men and decided that the most profitable transaction he could make with his father's money would be to feed and clothe them. When he returned home empty handed, his father punished him. Insisting that true profit is to be had in selfless service, Guru Nanak established the principal of langar.

Tradition of Langar:

Where ever the gurus traveled or held court, people gathered for divine discourse. Mata Khivi, wife of Angad Dev, the second guru, made sure to provide langar, and participated in the service of distribution. Communal contributions and combined efforts of the people helped to organize the guru’s free kitchen based on the principals of the three golden rules of Sikhism:

  • Kirat karo – Earning by means of earnest, honest efforts and endeavors.
  • Vand chakko – Sharing of earnings and resources such as foodstuffs or other goods, and by serving others.
  • Naam japna – Remembering the name of God at all times whether cooking, distributing langar, or doing cleanup.

Institution of Langar:

Amar Das the third guru formalized the institution of langar, the guru’s free kitchen, uniting the Sikhs by establishing two key concepts:

  • Pangat – One family compiled of all of humanity, regardless of caste, color, or creed, sitting together cross legged in lines, forming rows without discrimination or consideration of rank or position.
  • Sangat – The ennobling influence of people, who aspire to truthful living, and congregate with like-minded company for the purpose of uttering the name of one God in the presence of the Guru Granth.

The Langar Hall:

Every gurdwara no matter how humble, or how lavishly elegant, has a langar institution. Any Sikh service, whether held indoors or out, has an area set aside for the preparation and service of langar which is either screened or detached from the place of worship. Whether prepared in an open air kitchen, a partitioned area of a home, or the facility of an elaborate gurdwara complex set up to serve thousands, langar has distinctly separate areas for:

  • Storage of provisions.
  • Storage of service utensils.
  • Preparation and cooking.
  • Service of prepared food.
  • Sitting place to dine.
  • Washing of used utensils.
  • Disposal of waste.

Example of Langar and Seva (Voluntary Service):

The guru's free kitchen profits in feeding both the body and the spirit of the soul. Seva is the Sikh word for voluntary, selfless service, done without compensation. Every day tens of thousands of people visit Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Each and every visitor is welcome to dine in the guru’s free kitchen. The food available is always completely vegetarian, no eggs, fish, or meat of any kind is served. All expenses are covered completely by voluntary contributions from the the members of the congregation.

Volunteers take responsibility for all food preparation and clean up such as:

  • Mix atta dough in machines needed every day for an estimated 50,000 - 80,000roti, a kind of flat bread.
  • Roll out the flat bread by hand and cook it on hot iron plates.
  • Cut and fry onions, spices, and vegetables.
  • Boil a variety of lentil soups.
  • Distribute food to worshipers who dine sitting side by side in rows.
  • Wash thousands of steel plates and spoons, take care of the disposal of all waste, and clean up of the kitchen and dining hall.

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