The Sikh Institutions : Langar and Pangat
The langar or free mess for all attached to Sikh temples is a unique institution. It aimed at removing the distinctions of caste and creed far back five hundred years ago. Since then it has endured through all the ups and downs in Sikh history. It is as popular today as it was in the time of Guru Nanak who established it. It has developed among the Sikhs the spirit of discipline and service and the will to give away something in the cause of religion and humanity. It created and maintained feelings of brotherhood and equality between man and man.
In langar all sat in a line without any distinction to eat food cooked and served by persons of any caste. They were called a pangat. The langar gives us a glimpse of real Sikhism both in theory and practice.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion, had prescribed a certain way of life for his followers:
Kirt karna; wand chhakna te Nam japna
[Earn living by labour, share it with others, and repeat the name of Almighty.]
In Var Sarang he further emphasized:
Ghali khae kichu hathon dehi, Nanak rahu pachhanih se1
(Save, eat and give away something; Nanak! such a person finds the path.]
Thus giving away a part of one’s earnings in the service of humanity became a well-established practice in the lifetime of Guru Nanak him-self. All the visitors who called upon the Guru to pay homage and listen to his hymns brought something in kind as an offering. When people came individually or in twos and threes, the Guru distributed the offerings among the poor, the needy and those present. When congregations became larger and more regular, the Guru established a Lan gar or a free mess for all for the consumption of the presents which were generally in the form of raw foodstuff. In the kitchen and mess men and women worked and ate together without any consideration of caste or social status. Langar became a symbol of equality and brotherhood.
Earning one’s bread, saving something and giving away a part in charity was to be rewarded in life after death. In Var Asa he said:
Nanak agal so milai,
je khate, ghaie, de.
He defined a truly religious person thus:
Gali jog na hol
Ek dristi kari samsar janai
Jogi kahiye sol
[Religion does not consist in words, one who looks on all person~ as equal is religious.]
This was secularism and socialism, pure and simple. Guru Nanak attached great importance to langar. Wherever he stayed during his wanderings he tried to open a langar. The people who gathered to listen to him were called sangat, and those who dined in the langar were known as Pangat. Sangat and Pangat formed necessary accompaniment of each other and were inseparable. The place where the Guru put up was named dharamsal, Bhai Gurdas says:
Jithe Baba pair dhare puja’ aan thapan soa,
Ghar ghar andar dharamsal hove kirtan sada visoa.1
[Wherever the Baba put his feet, it became a place of worship.
Every home and house became a dharamsa! where holy hymns were sung perpetually.]
Guru Nanak insisted upon his disciples to share their meals with others, visitors, strangers, friends and foes alike. Every Sikh was expected to contribute liberally for the maintenance of Guru ka Langar. This could be done by making an offering in cash, kind and personal labour in cleaning, cooking and serving meals.
The last years of Guru Nanak’s life were spent at Kartarpur on the western bank of the river Ravi now in Pakistan. His house served as a dharamsal, a place of worship as w~l as a free mess.
Nanak’s example was followed par excellence by all his successors. Guru Angad opened Guru-ka-langar at Khadur where he had established his headquarters. His wife Mata Khivi looked after its arrangements and personally served in the preparation and distribution of food. She always served a sweet dish of rice-milk (khir), the coveted food of Panjab is. The Guru’s two minstrels, Satta and Balwand, have thus praised her:
Baiwand Kitivi nek jan jis bahuti chhaon patiali,
Langar daulat wandiai ras amrit khir ghiali.2
[Says Balwand, Khivi was a noble person who offered great help and. distributed in the langar riches like ambrosial preparation of sugar-cane juice, rice and milk all boiled together as well as ghee or clarified butter.]
1Gurdas, Var I, Pauri 27.
2parkash Singb, The Sikh Gurus and the Temple of Bread, 42, fn.
Guru Amar Das shifted his seat from Khadur to Goindwal on the river Beas. He converted the langar into a regular institution by making it a rule that every visitor should dine in the Langar before seeing him. Even Emperor Akbar was requested to follow this practice and he cheerfully did so. The Guru added another sweet dish of pudding or karah prasad which in course of time became their consecrated dish. Satta and Balwand say:
Nit rasol ten ai ghio maida khan1
[Every day in your kitchen was served pudding made of clarified butter, refined flour and sugar].
Guru Amar Das earned his bread by carrying on petty trade in salt and oil which could only bring him simple and course food. Bhai Budha suggested that the same food as eaten by the Guru should be served in the langar. The Guru objected to it saying that the flavour and nourishment of the food eaten by his Sikhs was also inwardly enjoyed by him. Thereupon Bhai Jetha, later Guru Ram Das, composed the following hymn:
Mata parit kare put khai
Mina parit’ bhai jal nai,
Satgur parit Guru Sikh mukh pai. 2
[As a mother loves to see her son eating, As a fish loves water, So the true Guru loves to see his disciples eating.]
With the succession of Guru Ram Das Amritsar became the headquarters of the fourth, the fifth and the sixth Gurus. The Guru-ka-langar also went there. One day Guru Ram Das paid a visit to the langar. A Sikh named Handal was kneading flour in a huge pan. On seeing the Guru he rushed to prostrate himself before him. As his hands were covered with wet flour, he put them on his back, and fell flat at the Guru’s feet. The Guru was pleased with his devotion and blessed him.3
The langar was maintained by Guru Arjan and Guru Hargobind with equal zeal and zest. During the latter’s lifetime his son, Atal, was in charge of the langar. He supplied food from Guru-ka-langar to the Sikhs in the battlefield. His service and devotion led to a proverb which says:
Pakki Pakai ghal
[Baba Atal, supply cooked meals.]
When Guru Hargobind settled at Kiratpur, Langar continued to exist there. Mohsin Fani, who lived at Kiratpur during the last phase of Guru’s life, mentions an incident. One of the Guru’s disciples was Jhanda, a rich man. One day the Guru asked his Sikhs to fetch fuel wood from the jungle for Guru-ka-langar. Jhanda used to wait on the Guru daily. On this occasion he remained absent for two days. The Guru sent men to inquire about him. He was not found at home. A search was made in the neighbourhood. He was seen coming from a jungle with a bundle of firewood on his back. Hargobind remonstrated with hirn for having undertaken such a menial job. He replied that the Guru had asked his Sikhs to fetch wood. He was a Sikli and therefore went to the jungi’e. As he was not accustomed to break wood, it took him time to collect it.
The seventh Guru, Har Rai, preserved the tradition at Nahan where he lived for twelve long years. It was maintained during the time of Guru Har Krishan. As Guru Tegh Bahadur remained mostly on the move, a mobile langar followed him.
Guru Gobind Singh not only maintained his own langar, but insisted on others to do so. One day in disguise he called at the langars of his notable and rich disciples rather at odd hours. He found most of them unwilling to receive him before time. Bhai Nandlal, however, served him as best as he could. The following day he narrated his experience in a durbar and advised them to offer something to eat to visitors even at irregular times. The Guru continued
"There is nothing equal to the bestowal of food. Blest is the man who giveth to the really hungry. Let no one fix a time for the exercise of this virtue. It is not necessary to consider whether it is night or day, evening or morning, whether the moon is dark or full, or if there is a particular anniversary. Nor is it necessary to consider what the social position of the applicant may be. Avoid all delay in such a matter. Charity is of all gifts the greatest, for it saveth life."1
Later on Deg, Teg and Fateh became the slogan and ideal of Sikh life. It means
Serve food, apply sword and gain victory.
A langar forms a necessary part of every big Gurdwara today.1
The institution of lan gar proved of great help in establishing social equality, in breaking bonds of caste system, In establishing dignity of labour and in developing spirit of service and unity.
Community Kitchen-Refectory in Gurdwaras
(srIrk Eqy rUhwnI lMgr)
“Let no one be hungry where the spirit of God prevails”
Langar is the name given to free community kitchen run by the Sikh Gurus and their followers. It is known as Guru-Ka-Langar. It is served to everybody without any consideration of caste, color, creed and status in the society. It is an important institution in Sikhism. Puran Singh calls Langar as a temple of bread for poor, needy and destitute.
Where there is a Gurdwara, there is sure to be a free Langar attached to it. A Sikh Gurdwara without Langar is inconceivable. All the devotees and visitors who come to visit Gurdwara or attend Sangat (Holy congregation) in the Gurdwara, are provided with free Langar (Free Kitchen ). Sikh Langar is probably the most largely attended community kitchen in the world. It is a strong belief that the visitor to the Gurdwara must first sit in Pangat to partake Langar and then enjoy Sangat.
Pehle Pangat pichhe Sangat
Freshly prepared vegetarian meals are served in the Langar. The Langar contains Parshada (Roti), cooked vegetables, Daal, Khatta (Yogurt), Kheer (Rice pudding cooked in sweetened milk), Karah Parshad (consecrated food ), Laddoos and Jalebis etc. This service is performed by the volunteers called Sevadars. Guru-Ka- Langar is prepared by the devotees themselves. Langar is placed before Sri Guru Granth Sahib prior to Ardas for blessings of God. It is served by the volunteers without any discrimination to the Sangat in Pangat (People sitting and eating Guru-ka-Langar together in a row ).
The community kitchen system encouraged the Sikhs to eat together in Pangat irrespective of caste, color and creed. In Langar, rich and poor, king and pauper, Sikhs and non-Sikhs, all share food sitting together in one row. The Sikhs feel it to be their honor to serve the travelers, pilgrims or other visitors to their homes or the Gurdwaras. Langar has led the followers to the path of equality, universal brotherhood, love and harmonious living.
Langar, a Great Service to down trodden and caste ridden
The Sikh Gurus used the institution of Langar as a powerful lever for equalitarian uplift of the down trodden community.
The institution of Langar came into being in the times of Guru Nanak Dev when devotees used to attend to his discourses at Kartarpur. Guru Nanak Dev would use a little share of his agriculture earnings for his domestic affairs and would contribute the remaining towards service of Sangat and Pangat. Guru Nanak Dev introduced the system of community kitchen to eradicate the social barriers between high and low, rich and the poor, touchable and non-touchable, Hindu and the Shudra, king and the pauper. Guru Angad Dev Ji popularized and expanded the community kitchen as it was of great service to the outcaste, destitutes and poor people. Mata Khivi, wife of Guru Angad Dev Ji prepared and distributed food with her own hands.
“Saith Balwand, Khivi was a noble person who afforded very effectual shade to the disciples. She distributed wealth in the kitchen, rice boiled in milk and Ghee that tasted like ambrosia”.
blvMf KIvI nyk jn ijsu bhuqI Cwau pqRwlI |
lMgir dauliq vMfIEY rsu EMimRqu KIir iGEwlI |
(rwmklI kI vwr, rwie blvMif qQw sqY fUim EwKI )
Guru Amar Das wanted the visitors to shun caste system and create liberal views in their routine life. He made it obligatory for the visitors to go to langar first and then attend the Sangat or behold him. This created amongst the followers a feeling of affection, mutual harmony, fellowship and unity.
Once Emperor Akbar came to meet the Guru and he had to first partake in Pangat (sitting in a row ) and then he could meet the Guru. The Langar system was run from the offerings of the faithful Sikhs. Whatever was daily received, used to be spent daily. Nothing was saved for the next day.
Balwand and Satta write in Ramkali Ki Var,
“In thy kitchen (O Amar Das), butter and flour are served in plenty every day”.
inq rsoeI qyrIEY iGayu mYdw Kwxu |
The Sikhs believe,
“Bread and water belong to the Lord and the desire to serve is the pleasure of Sikhs”.
E@n pwxI gurU kw, tihl Bwvnw is@K~ dI |
Bhai Nand Lal says,
It is against Maryada to roam about bare headed , eat bareheaded and serve Parsad bareheaded . Such person who defies this, is the biggest Tankhahya.
ngn hoie bwhr iPrih, ngn sIs jo Kwie |
ngn pRswd jo b~teI, qnKwhI bfo khwie |
(Tankhahnama Bhai Nand Lal. p-58 of Rehtname by Piara Singh Padam
Preparation of Langar
The provisions in the Langar are voluntarily offered by the devotees and food is cooked by the volunteers while chanting hymns. It is considered to be an honor to do Seva in the Langar and serve the community. All rich and poor are treated alike in Langar. The service in community kitchen aims at doing away with ego. It inculcates a sense of human service, humility and humbleness. Langar serves as a strong bond of union within the community. It acts as a fair leveler and equalizer in the society.
Rules concerning tradition of Langar
- The Langar must be simple and vegetarian
- The Langar must be prepared by devotees by reciting Gurbani
- The Langar must be served after performing Ardas
- The Langar must be distributed in Pangat without any discrimination
- Langar must be fresh and clean
Langar a new direction to Sikh Charities
It gave a new direction towards Sikh sense of offering charities. According to Dr. Narang, It taught Sikhs the first lesson of contributing money towards a common fund. Langar played a significant role in India to eradicate caste system, untouchability, and other social and cultural evils. People of high and low castes sit and dine together in Langar. It created a sense of unity and oneness as preached by the Gurus. It was a powerful aid in promoting and spreading the Sikh religion. Langar manifests the principle that all are equal before God and equally entitled to the nourishment for body and soul.