Thursday, September 29, 2016
Gateway to Sikhism

Langar at Ramdaspur

    When Bhai Jetha, later the fourth Guru, arrived in Goindwal, to meet Guru Amardas he was told by the later: "If you have come abandoning all worldly desires you wil obtain true sovereignty. Busy yourself with service. It is thus that God's court is obtained." Bhai Jetha was delighted and at once applied himself to the service both of the Guru and the Sangat. he cooked in the kitchen, brought firewood from the forest, and drew water for the congregation. He shampooed his master and, when he had no other job, he assisted in the excavation of the Baoli. He became known as what, in fact, he really was, "Ram Das" i.e. "God's Slave", or God's Servant. Bhai Jetha used to earn his bread by hawking boiled lentils. Although he had limited income even then he used to give away one-fourth of his earnings in charity.

    Guru Amardas married his younger daughter to Bhai Jetha. After her marriage, like her husband, she continued to attend on her father. She worked in the kitchen day and night. Bhai Jetha and his wife, possessing the spirit of obedience, continued to serve around the clock. When he was installed as fourth Guru and named as Guru Ramdas, he shifted his headquarters from Goindwal to the colony of Ramdaspur: the holy colony which he himself had founded and which later on developed into a very big city and the centre of the Sikh faith, and is now known as Amritsar. The Guru's langar went also with him to Ramdaspur. But Langars at Kartarpur, Khadur, and Goindwal were also kept running. They were managed by different devout Sikhs, whereas the langar at Ramdaspur was under the direct supervision of the Guru himself. 

    On the account of general popularity which the Guru gained, people flocked to see and hear him and there was a regular flow of devotees to the new colony of Ramdaspur. When the excavation of the tank at Ramdaspur was going on, the hut in which the Guru first sheltered himself (later known as Guru ka Mehal) also housed the Guru's kitchen. It was from there that meals were served to all. Later on as the number of visitors and the devotees increased the langar at Ramdaspur was expanded. Money was necessary to maintain the Guru's kitchen and pay the labor engaged in excavation of the holy tank. No doubt the population in the colony of Ramdaspur was increasing but the offerings for the langar were still scanty. Accordingly Bhai Budha and other foremost Sikhs, one day waited on the Guru and represented that further funds were necessary for the langar. The Guru after reflection, decided to send his devotees to different parts of the country for the dual purpose of spreading the Sikh religion and collecting offerings of the faithful.

    For this purpose Guru Ramdas recognized the Manji-system which was introduced by his predecessor, Guru Amardas, and named his missionaries as Masands. he issued a directive to the Sikhs to contribute Daswandh (one tenth of the income) in cash or kind, for religious and charitable purposes. Guru's followers started offering Daswandh either directly to the Guru, when they would visit him or through the Masands. Obviously these Masands were not only a link between the Guru and the Sikhs but also acted as deputies for religio-social works. As such large amount of donations and offerings started pouring in for the Guru's langar and also for the development of Ramdaspur. Through these Masands the Guru's control over th Sikh sangat, who were scattered all over Punjab and in other parts of the country, ensured not only running of the common kitchen at a large scale, specially on Vaisakhi and Diwali festivals when the Sikhs collected in thousands at Amritsar, but also the solidarity of the Sikh community. The Masands visited the Guru at least twice a year on the occasion of said festivals to deposit their collections and to get instructions for the preaching work in their respective areas. 

    When a regular kitchen was organized at Ramdaspur its arrangements in the beginning were under supervision of the Guru's elder son Prithi Chand assisted by Bhai Budha JI and others. Arjan, the youngest son of Guru Ramdas and his successor, was sent to Lahore to attend a marriage ceremony and was directed by his father to tarry some time in Lahore and not return until he had received a written message. While there, whatever offerings Arjan should receive were to be consigned to his langar and Arjan kept running a kitchen in Lahore for the time he stayed there. Guru Ramdas's special orders were: "To be always ready to do service to the wayfarers." It became frequent to see Sikh fanning and serving water and meals to the weary travelers. That Guru Ramdas would so often stress the need of feeding the poor and helping the needy is evident from many stories from his life. 

    One day, the Guru went to visit his kitchen. There he saw some of his Sikhs at work. Among them there was a simple man called Handal, who was ever on the alert to perform submissive service. He was kneading flour at that time, and was delighted to see the Guru, and prepared to prostrate himself before him. As the wet flour was sticking to his hands, he put them behind his back, so that they may not be seen, and then threw himself at the Guru's feet. The Guru was gratified on seeing his true and humble devotion. "O Handal, your love is pleasing to my soul, you have ever remained absorbed in devotion and service and now you have prostrated yourself in a  new manner. Your service is accepted. What you desire that I'll give you." The Guru blessed him, gave him a robe of honor and granted him deliverance. 

    Once seven Sikhs named Dharam Das, Dugar Das, Dipa, Jetha, Sansari, Bula and Tirath asked the Guru to tell them how they could be saved. He replied: "Abandon pride, adopt humility, slander not, eschew vice, serve out of your own resources the Sikhs who visit you. Cheerfully give them the food and clothing..." Guru Ramdas said that men of virtue eat the bread of their labor, only the false and the deceitful live by begging:

    "The food of those who remember God is profitable, Only they who remember Him not, stretch out their hands to beg."

The following hymns composed by Guru Ramdas are usually sung after Sikh entertainments and service of meals in the Langar:

    "God himself is the soil, Himself the tiller; It is he who causeth the corn to sprout and be ground; it is He who cokketh it; He who putteth the food into the dishes and serveth it; and He who sitteth down to eat it."
 
    "He is the finger-water; He giveth the tooth-pick; He holdeth the water to wash the mouth. It is He who ever seateth the saints at His banquet; and He who dischargeth them. To whom he is merciful He causeth him to obey His order."

 

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