Tradition of free meal (Langar) in sikhism
It has been a while that I am going ‘Dam Dama Sahib Gurudwara’ at morning around 7:30–8:00 am. And it has become a regular scene for me to see Langar being served to people outside Gurudwara.
Everyday people wait for the langar van to arrive and distribute them there morning meal. Not even morning meal, but whole day meal. What I observed was that after eating at that moment, they also took some chapatis, rice or dal along with them in their utensils.
It is quite normal thing to see a langar sewa in India. And being born a sikh kid you are mostly aware of the service. As since child age we have been made learnt about serving community by distributing free food. It was, as per my knowledge was started by our first guru “Guru Nanak Dev Ji”.
There is even a story behind it, once Nanak’s father (Mehta Kalu) asked Baba Nanak to do some business and earn money by that. As a token of investment, Nanak’s father gave him some money. Baba found some “Sadhu’s” who had not eaten for days. He spent all his investment money to feed those sadhu’s.
That is how Sikh tradition has taught their followers to distribute free food. Every gurudwara has a tradition of keeping a Langar hall (Kitchen Hall), where people from any caste, religion, vision, or anybody even atheist is welcomed to eat. No one is ever asked these questions. You just come and eat how much you feel like. No questions or eyes are raised. And if someone distributing may ask by anyhow, then it is his own mental illness that has made him ask that. Nothing to do with religion.
Even a person who is doing the service need not to be Sikh. He/she could be anyone willing to do service can just start doing even without seeking any permission. It is the house of Nanak. No permission needed even to do service. Only need to follow certain rules like covering head with a scarf or turban in respect to religion.
Baba Nanak is not only the guru of Sikh people alone. He may be said as the guru of humanity. Always saying, “Ek noor se sab jag upjeyo, kon bhale kon mande”. Which means everyone has born from that one light, whom to say bad or good. Everyone is son/daughter of same. All are equal in all respects.
So, nothing was new about langar sewa for me as well.
Only the difference is with changing times Sikhs have started finding new places to serve. Instead of serving in gurudwara complex langar hall, it is served on road and at various remote places. Not even remote, but Khalsa Aid team led by Mr. Ravi Singh has also served at life taking dangerous places like Iraq, Syria, etc.
A Maruti white van filled with dal, roti, chawal, etc in big bowls. 4–5 men distributing the dal/chawal in buckets and roti’s in basket is a daily scene for me. Obvious, but I do not know what made me write or think about those people and meal today.
It was covid-19 times. Country is still under unlock phases. Some areas, institutions, places have opened while others are still locked. In these times when there is no work for people. Yes, no work situation does not apply on all. I have a job at these times. But for those who are uneducated may be labour work was the only way of earning for those.
I come up with two thoughts. One very disturbing that what those people might be thinking about themselves. How bad situation are they into that they are dependent on langar sewa. How unproductive their presence is? As I would have struck with those thoughts.
And the other one, how punctual and dedicated sewa doing people are, how humanitarian feeling those people have, who daily wake up early at around 5–6 may be and cook food. Then pack them and bring for the waiting people.
There is bounding of lots of human emotions there. I wish, people who are dependent now on langar due to any reason may soon be able to earn much that they themselves start organizing or donating in langar. And this circle of life may always keep helping humanity in every human. Caring is the only gift human have. Always keep this. And keep doing more and more services.