By all measures, Langar ,as the free kitchen is called in Punjabi ,is one of the largest free kitchens to be run anywhere in the world. This concept was initiated centuries ago by Guru Nanak the founder of Sikh religion.
Everybody gets a hot meal regardless of caste, creed and religion. All Sikh Gurdwaras, places of worship, have Langar, but the one at the Golden Temple has no parallel.
On any given day almost 1 lac people are served food. Much of the work here is done by volunteers who peel, chop, cook, and serve the thousands of devotees and tourists who come to the temple. I see groups of women cleaning and chopping brinjals for the day’s meals. Elsewhere, volunteers use long rods to stir bubbling vats of dal. The air is thick with the pungent aroma of onions, garlic, and spices. Volunteers sanguinely brave the rising steam from the vegetables and dal.
Back in the langar hall, I sit to eat with strangers. In keeping with the tenets of Sikhism, all barriers of religion, caste, and social status are obliterated as diners share a meal as equals, sitting on the floor in a line (pangat). With a call of “Jo bole so nihal ,sat sri akal”, we begin eating.
Energetic young volunteers rush back and forth ladling dal and vegetables into each plate. The rotis, however, are not served on your plate. Rather, you raise your hands and accept them with humility and piety.
As the pangat starts to leave, more sevadars rush in to carry the plates to the cleaning area. Another team of volunteers begins washing them. Still others mop the floors, keeping the kitchen and the langar halls spotless.
Outside the langar, I stop by for hot milk served in a kullad (clay cooked cup).
As I sip this sweet milk I cannot but marvel at the extraordinary feat the temple achieves every day, upholding the ideals of community service so cherished by Sikhism, emphasising the importance of seva, or service, as a route to negating the ego and finding peace. Looking at the contented faces of the sevadars, that certainly seemed true.