Langar at Kiratpur Sahib
Guru Har Rai, the seventh Guru so often instructed his Sikhs that they should serve Langar in the name of the Guru, to attain salvation. It is recorded in the chronicles that the devout Sikhs were running regular free kitchens in their respective houses. They used to serve one and all and thus no one starved with them. The institution of Langar was introduced even to the petty villages. Sometimes big congregations were fed by the Sikhs with love, affection and devotion. If at a certain place or time single individual could not afford or manage to run the Langar for big gatherings they would pool together contributions and provisions to serve collectively in the name of the Guru.
‘Individual charity sometimes breeds egoism.’ Those who give, unconsciously get the feelings of superiority and those who receive, get a feeling of inferiority. But if the food is collected in the name of the Lord and served in the name of the Lord there is no such fear. So Sikhs didn’t know who were serving and who were being served. During the time of Guru Har Rai the institution of Langar was also transplanted outside the country.
A devout Sikh called Bhai Gonda lived with the Guru. He was a saint both in thought and deed. The Guru once said to him, “Bhai Gonda, I am very much pleased with your sincere devotion. You go to Kabul and preach the Sikh faith. Feed holy men and pilgrims with the offerings you receive and send what you save to me, for the maintenance of the common kitchen here.” Bhai Gonda cheerfully accepted the task imposed on him and went to Kabul where he built a Sikh temple and along with it the Guru’s free kitchen.
Although many rich people came to visit him, the Guru made no distinction between rich and poor, and centered his hopes only in God. His own food was very simple and like his predecessors he did not desire dainty dishes. Whatever valuable offerings were made him he used to spend on his guests. He was always surrounded by hundreds of visitors on whom he conferred delight and distributed among them not only free food but also clothes and other necessaries.
The Guru had his own land at Kiratpur, which was cultivated and the corn was used for the common kitchen. During Guru Har Rai’s stay in Kiratpur, a Sikh named Bhagtu waited on Him and said that he was a cultivator by a profession and asked for employment. The Guru engaged him to superintend the cultivation of his land. Though the food which the Guru took himself was very simple yet the food that was served to the laborers and workers in the field was rich – as evidenced from the following story: As Bhagtu was employed as an overseer of the Guru’s reapers, they once complained that he did not cause sufficient ghee to be put into their bread. At that time Bhagtu happened to see a man, called Sangatia, passing by, with the hides of ghee, and asked him to sell it. Sangatia greed; the ghee was purchased and distributed among the laborers.
Once hundreds of Sikhs came from far and near to meet the Guru on Vaisakhi festival. They made offerings according to their means. The Guru while sitting in the congregation inquired if any of his Sikhs had established Langar according to their means to share their food with others? Some of his Sikhs told him with pride that they had. The Guru asked them on what principles were they running the kitchens and whether they entertained all the Sikhs and visitors on the same terms as their own relations. One Sikh replied, “When a Sikh is kind enough to visit me at the time of distribution of food, I first satisfy him and then myself.” Another Sikh said, “I cook and distribute food with my own hands.” A third said, “I wash the feet of the Sikh and drink the water there from.” A fourth came forward and said, “whatever your orders are, O true king, they shall by obeyed. I not only serve the Sikh with food, but also wipe their shoes and place them before them as they are departing.”
The Guru interposed, “It is superfluous to say anymore. I want to know if you feed a Sikh who comes to you after the time fixed for distribution of food? When the food has been distributed and nothing is left, what do you do if a hungry Sikh then comes to your door?” they al replied, “We do not serve the food after the appointed hour ad on account of that, no doubt, sometimes some Sikhs go back disappointed.”
The Guru rejoined, “You ought to keep additional food ready; feed your guests and do not send away anyone disappointed. In such course, I recommend, there is a great merit. I shall be well pleased with those who adopt it and they shall enjoy happiness here and hereafter. The true Guru is delighted when his disciples take food. He who through laziness and pride dismisses a Sikh disappointed shall gain no advantage from his past or present acts.”