Guru Arjan Dev Ji and Langar
The system of contributing something for the common good was further extended and organized by the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. He made it absolutely compulsory for his Sikhs to abide by the institution of "Daswandh" which was introduced by Guru Ramdas. He laid it down that every Sikh should set aside at least one-tenth of his income for the national purposes. Most of the funds thus collected were used for the free kitchen. Many Sikh would bring corn and wood for the kitchen. Even persons of very high status would consider it their duty to contribute in kind or cash – and those who could afford neither would contribute labor, without remunerations – that is labor of love. Bhai Budha, the first priest of Darbar Sahib, who was an old devotee since Guru Nanak’s time and lived at Ramdas, used to send wood and provisions for the Guru’s kitchen.
Regular contributions and donations for the langar came from different sources. Sometimes contributions reached from unexpected quarters. One, Ganga Ram, a Brahman merchant and a devotee of the Guru, came from Bhathinda with corn to sell. He reached Amritsar when the holy tank of Amritsar was being constructed. He visited the Guru and remained with the sangat for some time. During his stay, when the provisions in the kitchen fell short and the Langar became empty, Ganga Ram who had yet to sell his corn gave that away, to feed his visitors and the laborers working on the holy tank. The corn he donated was sufficient enough to feed the people for five days. As the Vaisakhi fair was approaching, the Guru persuaded him to stay on and enjoy that. Large offerings were made to the Guru on that occasion, all of which he ordered to be made over to Ganga Ram. This was done to test his devotion and sincerity. Ganga Ram, however, declined to accept any remuneration. The Guru was pleased to meet such a selfless devotee, he commended and blessed him.
When Jai Khan had suffered a failure in his expedition against the Yusafzais, the Emperor Akbar ordered Birbal to proceed with reinforcement and gave him written permission to levy tax of a rupee per house of every Khatri on the way. He crossed the Beas and sent his agents to collect the tax in Amritsar. The Khatris there refused the payment and complained to the Guru. He represented to the prime Minister’s agents: "The tax is on the Khatris. We are Sikhs and look for exemption. Up to the present the government had never imposed forced labor or taxes on the Guru’s house. My kitchen is kept open by the offerings of the Sikhs and the saints. No one is refused access to it. Take as much food and corn as you require, but I have no money to give you." And the tax was exempted.
The Guru himself set an excellent example of service at all times. He and his wife, Mata Ganga Ji, served in the Langar and sat and dined with the devotees. Pilgrims from far and near came to pay their homage to the Guru. They often spread out their tired limbs to rest during the summer nights in the parkarma of Darbar Sahib. Two persons (a noble lady and a holy man) attended to their needs every night. Their tired limbs were massaged and they were fanned to sweet slumber. They served them with cool water and refreshing meals. And the pilgrims would bless the two- Divine Couple. Little did the pilgrims know that they were blessing their own-their most beloved-Guru Arjan and his wife Mata Ganga Ji.
Akbar visited the Guru and was charmed with his saintly countenance. He was so impressed by the imposing and beautiful Amritsar, the construction of which Guru Ramdas had started and Guru Arjan completed. The emperor called himself Guru’s slave and wished to make a contribution towards the upkeep of the free kitchen and other expenses. But the offer was gracefully declined by the Guru on the grounds that the kitchen and the Gurdwara ought to be supported by the common people. As the emperor insisted on doing something for the Guru, before he left Amritsar, the Guru said: "The welfare and happiness of monarchs depend on cherishing their subject and doing justice. There is at present a severe famine in the country, and it would be best if thy imperial visit were to be marked by the remission of the year’s land revenue to the poor farmers." Akbar gave orders accordingly. He also ordered a large plot of land, around the Sikh centre, to be made revenue free.
In the Sikh chronicles there is a special mention of the Raja of the Mandi’s visit to Amritsar, along with Kaliana, a devout Sikh of Guru Arjan. Kaliana, who had gone to Mandi at the instructions of the Guru had brought the Raja into the Sikh fold. The Raja with his queens, his concubines and his army contingent came to Amritsar and encamped in the suburbs. When he met the Guru and received religious instructions, the Guru invited him to stay on with him for three days. The Raja consented to that and also to taking his meals from the Guru’ kitchen. In the time of Guru Arjan crowds were converted to Sikhism in the Punjab and other states. It is said that the hill kings visited the Guru and became his followers as the Raja of Mandi had previously done. When they came to Amritsar to meet the Guru they would stay with him for days together and would dine in the Guru’s kitchen.
Lalu, Ballu and Haridas the three devotees of the Guru once asked him to tell them how they could be saved? He relied, "banish pride, worldly love and envy. bear not ill-will unto others, so shall others also not bear ill-will unto you…Walk humbly and speak civility to all. Cheerfully meet and salute with both hands the Guru’s Sikhs. When you eat, share your food with others. Live by honest labor. By observing these instructions you shall obtain all happiness."
After the meals are served in the Guru’s langar or when the Sikhs take meals elsewhere, the following stanza, composed by Guru Arjan, is so often repeated as a grace after the meals for thanksgiving to the Lord:Bear in mind the Master, By whose favor you enjoy so many kinds of dainty dishes, And apply sweet-smelling perfumes to your body; Think of Him, and your life will bloom to its fruition. Let your mind always dwell on Him, whose kindness provides you with a comfortable house to live in. Let your tongue ply day and night in praise of Him, Who enables you to live happily with your family. It is His mercy that allows you indulgences of the body and mind. He alone is worthy of all your devotion: constantly worship Him.