Guru Angad Ji and the Langar
In order to spread the message of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad further enlarged the scope of the religio-social institutions set up by his predecessor, to whom he was strongly attached and whose mission he carried forward. he extended the free kitchen by organizing it on a large scale. By doing so he provided ample opportunities to his followers for service to the people and philanthropy for the needy. he himself and his wife Mata Khivi, inspired the followers, personally helping them in the kitchen, in cooking and serving arrangements.
Guru Angad who was known as Bhai Lehna before he was installed as second Guru, lived at Kartarpur with Guru Nanak for about seven years. he had got a considerable training and experience of service in the Guru’s kitchen, while living at the feet of the Master as a devout and a humble disciple. he used to bring provisions for the Langar and help the Guru in his fields. Guru Nanak, observing his daily increasing devotion, said to him one day, "Bhai Lehna ! I must give you something; but first go home and settle your affairs, and when you return I will initiate you as a regular Sikh." Upon this Bhai Lehna went to Khadur and told his wife that he had determined to place himself at Guru Nanak’s feet.
It is recorded in the chronicles that during his short stay at home, Bhai Lehna procured a bag of salt for the Guru’s free kitchen, which he knew was needed badly. When he came to Kartarpur he made over the bag of salt to Mata Sulakhni, wife of Guru Nanak, and went straightway to the Guru who was then in his field. The Guru had collected three bundles of grass for his cows and buffaloes, whose milk was used in the kitchen. He desired to have the bundles taken home. But as the grass was wet and full of mud, those around him at that time hesitated to do the task, even his both sons. Bhai Lehna who had just arrived, made his obeisance and said, ‘Consider me as a laborer and give me this work to do’, and he carried those bundles happily on his head.
While at Kartarpur Guru Nanak found time to attend to agriculture. He sowed several fields fo corn which gave him an unfailing supply for his kitchen, from which he fed all comers, Hindus and Muslims as well. Bhai Lehna helped the Guru at his fields and in the kitchen. Thus during his stay at Kartarpur he had made great progress in virtue and spirituality. When installed as the second Guru in 1539, Guru Angad went into seclusion in Khadur for about six months. The Guru’s kitchen was also shifted to Khadur with him. Bhai Budha and other Sikhs requested him one day ‘take thy seat as Guru and receive your Sikhs publicly. Instruct us in our faith, and save us all.’ Guru Angad came forth from his seclusion. When this was announced, crowd went to see him and make him offerings. All that he received was sent to the free kitchen for the support of the pilgrims and wayfarers.
Though Guru Angad maintained an extensive home in which food was provided for persons of all denominations and creed yet he himself used to earn his livelihood by his own manual labor, by twisting van or coarse twine made of munj. At Khadur daily routine was that at about nine o’clock in the forenoon visitors of all stations sat in a line without discrimination and received the sacred food. When the elders had finished and grace had been said; the children were fed and instructions imparted to them by the Guru himself. The Sikhs who lived at Khadur served in the kitchen, throughout the year. One evening, in the hot weather, there arose a storm which brought clouds of dust and hindered the preparations of dinner. Jiva, one of the cooks in Guru’s kitchen, said he could only serve the meals if the Guru quelled the storm. The Guru chide him in the following words: ‘O Jiva, remain ever satisfied with the will of God and the true Guru. This is main article of out faith; and the Sikhs who observe it shall be loved by the Guru. If you accept the Guru’s instruction and feel satisfied in obedience of God, you shall obtain all the advantages of devotion, penance, fasting and alms, deeds and abide in bliss.’ Jiva thence fore remained ever happy and contented in obedience of God and served in the kitchen as a humble servant of the Guru and the Sangat.
There was another Sikh called Mana, who also worked in Guru’s kitchen. through good feeding he waxed fat and proud, so that at last he would not obey any of the other Sikhs or even perform his duties. He spent the principal part of his time quarrelling with his fellows. He used to say, "I am nobody’s servant. I am the Guru’s Sikh and I will serve him alone." One day the Guru told him to serve the saints, but he showed indisposition to that. It is recorded that the same Mana later on got arrested by the state authorities on the charge of a theft of gems and after a trail was hanged. ‘So true is it’ the Guru subsequently said ‘that the preserve lose both the worlds, and, if folly departeth not from the heart, man doth not obtain salvation even by living near the Guru.’
Once expatiating on the merits of philanthropy the Guru said: ‘The best devotion is the remembrance of the True Name: the best act is philanthropy; without both of these accursed would be a man’s birth. Of the various sins that man commits none is worse than selfishness. Alms gifts, penance and sacrifices are good but nothing equals philanthropy.’ This the Guru truly practiced, while spreading the True Name of God in the form of the holy words and distributing everything to the needy. In Tikke di Var (the Coronation Ode) or Ramkali ki Var (which is incorporated in the Sikh Scriptures, Sri Guru Granth Sahib) composed by the rebeck players Balwand and Satta, there is an interesting reference of this fact. They say:‘The kitchen of the Guru’s word was opened; in his earnings there was no deficiency. He liberally spent the master’s gifts, himself ate and gave alms.’
Every offering to the Guru was sent to the kitchen, whence the poor, indigent, the traveler and the stranger were fed. many disciples of the Guru were taking keen interest in the Guru’s free kitchen. The rich and philanthropy would donate or bring provisions, others cooked to served the meals and some would clean the utensils in the kitchen. The Guru’s wife Mata Khivi Ji was always ready to serve the Sikhs who came to meet their lord. She used to look after all the details. So much so that the kitchen was named after her as ‘Mata Khivi ji ka Langar.’ There is a special mention of her service in the composition of Balwand and Satta:‘Saith Balwand, Khivi was a noble person, who afforded very effectual shade to the disciples. She distributed the Guru’s wealth in the kitchen – rice boiled in milk and ghee that tasted like ambrosia. The faces of the guru’s Sikhs were bright; those of the perverse grew pale. The disciples who toil are accepted in company with their Master. Mother Khivi’s spouse is he who supported the earth.’
Mata Khivi took a leading part in the supervision of the langar. She would take interest in cooking and serving food to the Sikhs who assembled at Khadur Sahib for congregational prayers and to hear the Guru’s message and singing of hymns. Irrespective of caste or reed, all would sit together to eat from the Guru’s Langar. Guru Angad paid the special attention to health and well-being of his followers. He set up wrestling arenas and centers for physical exercises. He introduced different games and sports among his Sikhs. They were building up their bodies and promoting physical culture. Not only regular visitors and devotees but also the wrestlers and sportsmen took meals in the common kitchen.
While commenting on the Guru’s Langar, Dr. Narang says: ‘Guru Angad adopted this institution to popularize Guru Nanak’s mission and keep up the enthusiasm of his followers….it gave a new direction to the charities of the Guru’s followers. Of alms-houses supported by Sikh individuals, there was, and has always been plenty; but, the langar of the Guru was probably the first to be supported by the combined contribution of a community; and it taught the Sikhs the first lesson of contributing money towards a common fund….Charity being the root of the religion and charities of the Sikhs following into the fund of the Guru, their religious sentiments could not move in any other direction, so that the duty of supporting the Langar not only concentrated the attention of the Sikhs upon their Guru, but being the object of common patronage and support, it served as a strong bond of union among the new neighborhood…This institution proved a powerful weapon to break the crust of caste, as all Sikhs, rich and poor, Brahmins and Sudras, dined together without any distinction.’