Langar and Guru Hargobind Ji
The sixth Guru, blended the religious and the temporal powers. He kept a regular army at Amritsar. It was during his time that the Langar was also introduced into his troops. After the morning prayer and worship at the Golden Temple, ‘all repaired to breakfast which was distributed indiscriminately to the Guru’s troops and followers as they sat in row for purpose’. Meals, twice a day, were also served to all. Besides at Amritsar, the sixth Guru established regular kitchens at many other places also. At Hargobindpur and Kiratpur he started two big Langars. Since he kept a regular army with him wherever he went, so he also kept a moving kitchen with his troops; while he had regular armies stationed at some places where the soldiers were to be served meals from the Guru’s kitchen. At Kiratpur, for example, there were three hundred horse-men and sixty artillery men; who were daily entertained from Guru’s Langar.
When the Guru’s army was engaged in any campaign, the usual routine in the morning was to serve the sacred food ( Karah Parshad) to the soldiers. After partaking of it the troops received a substantial meal and similarly a complete meal in the evening. However, this attracted large number of men to the Guru’s troops and people actually began to wonder how Guru could maintain such a large army. The Guru, while quoting Arjan, once replied to such people:"God putteth their food even before the insects which he created in rocks and stones; He provideth everyone with his daily food; Why, o man art thou worried."
‘The Guru by quoting such passages and by his own exuberant optimism and force of character removed the men’s fear.’ In a short time, hordes gathered around him, who were served with two meals a day and a new uniform every half year. The Guru had in his troops not only the Sikhs but also quite a few Patthan Muslims. They also took meals from the Guru’s kitchen. A batch of Patthans from the Village of Wada Mia, equipped with swords and shields, offered themselves for services in the guru’s army. With them came one handsome strong youth Painda Khan. The Guru inquired if he would accept service, to which Ismail Khan, his uncle. replied," Sir, we keep not shops or till land; military service is what we aspire to do. If thou desire to employ him in that capacity thou mayest do so." The Guru gave Painda Khan ten rupees as enlistment money, supplied him with food from his kitchen twice a day and retained him on his own personal staff.
A company of the Sikhs came from the West to behold the Guru on the eve of the marriage ceremony of his daughter. As they were hungry weary, the Guru desired to serve them meals. The Sikhs who were then in the kitchen told that dinner had already been served, the fires were extinguished, the cooks had all dispersed. If a second dinner was to be prepared and served it would be very late to go to sleep. The Guru then thought of a room full of sweets prepared for the marriage of his daughter, and wished that they should be distributed to his visitors. The Guru’s wife Mata Damodri, who possessed the key of that room, was afraid that if the sweets were served to the Sikh Sangat it would be difficult to serve the bridegroom’s party when they arrive. But the Guru said," My Sikhs are dearer to me than life," and bade the sweets to be served to them saying further, "from the days of Guru Nanak down to my father, it has ever been the practice with us to entertain the Sikhs, who come as visitors……."
Just at that time another Sikh arrived with five mounds of sweets as a contribution to the marriage feast. The Guru distributed the sweets among his visitors, who had come from the west. When one Sikh served another, the Guru valued that more than service to himself, as he said on one occasion: "Knowing him to be my Sikh he hath honored him. I am pleased to see such love and service." On the eve of his departure for Delhi in 1612 the Guru assigned the secular duties of the Darbar Sahib to Bhai Budha and its spiritual duties to Bhai Gurdas. While parting with his Sikhs, he gave them the following instructions: "The Hari Mandir is specially devoted to God’s service, therefore it should ever be respected….Sikhs, holy men, guests, strangers, the poor and the friendless should ever receive hospitality from the Hari Mandir.."
During his visit to Kashmir, when Guru Hargobind went to Sri Nagar to meet Sewa Das and his mother, who had prepared a dress for the Guru with devotion and love, crowds of Kashmiris – both Hindu and Muhammadans – came to meet him. The Guru stayed there for a few days and satisfied the spiritual necessities of the visitors by preaching to them the cardinal virtues and their temporal necessities by feeding them from his ever open kitchen. Nearby one lived Kattu Shah, converted Mohammadan and a faithful Sikh, who had once visited the Guru at Amritsar. At his home the Guru had passed a night while on his way to Sri Nagar. When the Guru was staying at Sri Nagar, a company of some Sikhs was coming from a distant village with offerings of the honey for the Guru. On the way they stayed with Kattu Shah, who asked them to let him have some of the honey. They refused to do that. When the Sikhs reached the Guru the honey was found rotten and full of worms. The Guru said, "this is the result of having denied it to my Sikh in whom resides the spirit of the Guru." He ordered the visitors to return to Kattu Shah and satisfy him first.
Even some aristocrat and rich people offered voluntary labor in the Guru’s kitchen. They felt pleasure in rendering all type of service and feeding the poor. There was one Jhanda, a very rich man. He was very attentive to his devotions. One day the Guru asked his Sikh to fetch firewood for the kitchen, from the forest. Next day Jhanda was seen, coming to the kitchen, with a bundle of firewood. The Guru remonstrated with him for having undertaken such a menial job. He replied that the Guru had given an order to his Sikhs to fetch firewood, and as he considered himself a Sikh, he decided to obey the orders.
The Guru was always very happy to see his Sikhs making offering or spending them in the name of God. Once a deputation from Kashmir waited on the Guru, and requested him to send Bhai Garhia, to Kashmir as a preacher. Bhai Garhia was a liberal and humble man and was always engaged in meditating or singing hymns or serving the people. Guru Hargobind sent him to Kashmir. Whatever offerings Bhai Garhia received, while in Kashmir, he spent in the Guru’s name. At the time of his departure he gave a very big feast in honor of his spiritual Master, which was shared by hundreds of Sikhs who came from far and near. Bhai Garhia had collected thousands of rupees as tithe from the devout Sikhs. But before he left for Amritsar a famine broke out in that area and hard times came upon the poor. Bhai Garhia spent all the money in distributing provisions among the poor and the needy, saving only one rupee and a quarter as a token of the collection he had made. Reaching back home, he offered the amount at the feet of the Guru and prayed: “Excuse me, O Lord! For all the amount which I had collected I have spent away on feeding the poor and the famine striken people.” The Guru smiled and said, “I am pleased on what you have done. The tithe you collected reached me direct when you were feeding the needy.” The Guru then gave him back the amount he had saved as offerings and blessed him with these words: “Go back to your village and start a Langar; and I bless you. You will never be short of money.”
The principles of ‘sharing the bread with others’ was also taken into the prison by Guru Hargobind when he was arrested and imprisoned in the fort of Gwalior, by the Mughal Government. He took hardly any food and distributed his rations among the needy prisoners. The Sikh who accompanied him represented, “You eat nothing while we fill our bellies twice a day. We curse ourselves that you remain hungry while we eat to repletion. Kindly tell us why do you eat so little.” The Guru replied, “If you bring me food obtained by honest labor, I will eat it.” His Sikhs went next morning to a brazier’s shop and there hammered copper all day long. With their earnings they purchased food for the Guru, which he ate and remarked; “It was ambrosia- Amrit- for me.”
Once during hot weather, Guru Hargobind went rushing to a forest near village of Tuklani to meet his devout Sikhs, Sadhu and his son Roop Chand, who were hewing wood and had hung a leather bottle full of water on a tree, and were praying, “O true Guru, come and first drink this cool and clean water from the leather bottle and then will we satisfy our thirst.” The Guru asked for water and after drinking that he was very much pleased and told the father and the son that Sikh religion should ever remain in their family. “Keep your kitchen ever open to the travelers and the strangers. People will reverence you and great shall be your glory,” said the Guru.
A young boy who was son of a devout Sikh Gurmukh lost his parents. He was obliged to sell away his belonging bit by bit to maintain himself. At last he found himself without anything except one solitary kauri but no one would give him food for it. His stomach was collapsing with hunger and he began to weep and wail. While he was crying a group of Sikhs singing hymns passed by. One of them asked him, why he was thus standing all forlorn? His story having been heard he was urged to join the party and proceed to Amritsar, to seek the Guru’s protection. They told him that he would obtain not only maintenance from the Guru’s kitchen but also spiritual advantage by visiting the Guru for did not Guru Arjan say:My brethren, eat food to satiety, And meditate on the ambrosial name in your hearts. (Bilawal Mahla V)
The boy accordingly joined the Sikhs. It so happened that on one occasion the young orphan was so absorbed in his devotions that he forgot to proceed with his party and a Patthan trooper impressed him to carry his luggage. He was lamenting his faith when he accidentally met a Masand. After greeting he placed his kauri before him, and begged him to offer it to Guru and supplicate him to grant an interview to him who was in great distress. In the Guru’s court it was the custom of the Masands to bring the offerings of the Sikhs and hand over them to an officer called Ardasia, who used to cal out the donor’s name and the nature of the offering and present it to the Guru. When it came to the presentation of the orphan boy’s kauri, the Guru said, “He hath sent his kauri with the faith and hath received much more than a thousand fold from God. He is now on his way hither.” The Masand who brought the kauri wondered how the Patthan could have parted with his impressed carrier.
The young orphan arrived and narrated the whole story how the Patthan fell into a well and died. While offering a horse, some arms, gold coins and rich clothing of the Patthan to the Guru he addressed him thus: “O true King, al these things are thine. It is thou who had freed me from the tyranny. Kindly give me shelter.” The Guru replied, “Thou hast with faith offered a kauri in return of which God hath granted thee a treasure.” The Guru then told the youth to trade with the property of the Patthan with honest dealings, give a tithe of is profit to the Sikh cause and continue his religious duties as before. Bhai Gurdas said:The Guru shall bestow al wealth on him who offereth even one kauri with faith, devotion and love. The true Guru is an ocean of compassion, unfathomable is the knowledge is his greatness; I bow; I bow, I ever bow to the Guru, whose glory is indescribable.
There is a special mention of one Bhai Langaha in the Sikh chronicles, who was in charge of the Dharamsal in Lahore, which was constructed by Guru Ramdas and completed by Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Once he came to the sixth Guru and made the following representation: “My Lord, they father and grandfather constructed a Dharamsal and other sacred buildings in Lahore. Religious services are duly performed there, and traveling strangers are received and treated with hospitality. The Qazi of Lahore is now jealous of they fame. When he findeth opportunity he maketh complaints to the emperor and wisheth that our sacred buildings should be dismantled. They friend Wazir Khan however impedeth the Qazi’s designs?” The Guru replied, “The Dharamsals is God’s place. The fool who wisheth its end shall be quickly uprooted. The Guru’s Dharamsal shall be ever permanent; God had rendered its foundation immovable. Relying on Him continue to dispense the Guru’s hospitality.”
It has been recorded in the Sikh chronicles that once the Mughal emperor Jahangir met the Guru. They had exchange of thoughts on different aspects of religion. Macauliffe has narrated a very long conversation between the Guru and Jahangir. The emperor was much interested in the Guru’s general exposition of his doctrines, and he desired to hear his ideas on the duties and attributes of a monarch. The Guru said, “A good monarch is ever philanthropic. He can never endure to see a man in misery without making great efforts with his mind, body and wealth to remove al his sufferings. If he sees a man hungry or in need of a house to dwell in he supplieth his necessities. He provideth poor persons with work-to repair a fallen well or bridge to level an uneven road, or to plant trees on the roadside.” When Guru Hargobind’s son Baba Atal Rai died his dead body was going to be cremated, the Sikhs suggested that the body should be taken near some inhabited place and not cremated in the infrequent spot. The Guru replied, “The city of Amritsar shall increase in population, and this shall be the center of it. In the Guru’s city this shall be as the Anapurna.”
Now a nine-story building, which is the highest tower in the city of Amritsar, stands in the memory of Baba Atal; and there is a common saying on everyone’s lips, who visit this Gurdwara: "Baba Atal Pakki Pakkai Ghal" which means ‘Baba Atal sends ready-made food. It is a custom that people offer prepare food which is distributed to the poor and the needy there and then. Mushan Fani, a Muslim historian, states that (during the time of Guru Hargobind) anyone with the Guru’s name on his lips might enter the house of a Sikh and receive welcome and hospitality.