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"Langar, its ideal and concept"
by Mr. Hardit Singh

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This page was last updated on Oct 5th 1999.

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Langar is a Persian word, meaning a heavy iron or steel piece specially made to keep the vessels in one place, particularly when they approach the seashore. Its origin may be traced to the Sanskrit word lag which means to come near in the European languages, it is called anchor.

Langar is the holdfast of boats in water, whereas in dietetics it is the succour of the needy, the infirm and the poor.

The institution of langar was initiated by Guru Nanak after completion of his four missionary tours at Kartarpur, now in Pakistan. Its need was felt to cater for visitors and devotees who came to meet Guru Nanak. The kitchen came to be known as Guru-ka-langar. Rations came from the lands which Guru Nanak himself tilled with the help of his devotees and from the nearby villages.

Guru Nanak's dictum of earning one's bread by honest means and sharing it with others and offering one tenth of one's income (daswand) for noble causes laid the foundation of the langar concept. He had further said that a devotee should consider his body, mind and wealth as God's trust and bounty, and as such, should have no qualms to share it with others. Giving away ill gotten wealth for charity is of no value or consequence. That is why Malik Bhago's food was rejected by Guru Nanak, and he preferred to stay and dine with the poor and lowly Bhai Kalo. Sajan. a thug, was also reprimanded for the same reason and asked to run a langar for travellers and the poor.

After Guru Nanak's demise, the main langar shifted to Khadur Sahib along with Guru Angad Dev. The Guru's wife, Mata Khivi, a very pious and noble soul, took special interest in the management, preparation and serving of food particularly swect dishes laced with ghee and milk. Mata Khivi considered the holy congregation (sangat) as her children and fed them well.

During the time of Guru Amar Das, the third Guru, everyone was to sit in line (pangat) without any distinction of caste or creed, high or low to partake of the food, and, no one could meet the Guru without first taking his meal in the langar. This system was introduced to instil equality and brotherhood Emperor Akbar had lo follow the same routine, before he could meet the Guru. He was so impressed to see the langar management that he offered land revenue of twelve villages, which the Guru refused, saying that the langar should be run by the honest earnings of the people.

When Guru Amar Das founded 22 dioceses equivalent to 22 provinces of the Mughal Empire, their heads were instructed to run langar and to collect dasevand for the public common cause.

Guru ka langar moved to Amritsar along with Guru Ram Das and continued there till Guru Hargobind shifted to Kiratpur Sahib. It was enlarged to cater to the needs of the developing town and faith. During Guru Arjun Dev's time, the running of the langar somewhat suffered due to the opposition of Baba Prithi Chand, who was a rival claimant to the Guruship. The situation was soon retrieved with the efforts of Baba Budha and Bhai Gurdas. During the holy regime of Guru Aljun Dev, two important incidents occurred:

i. Bhai Manjh, who was attracted to Sikhism from a Muslim sect, engaged himself in serving the Guru's langar by fetching fuel wood from the ncarby jungle Once, due to inclement weather, he fell into a well whilst carrying wood on his head. On hearing this, the Guru rushed to the well with necessary equipment. When the ropes were lowered, Bhai Manjh requested the Guru to draw out the fuel wood first, as he considered dry wood more essential than himself. It was done, and when Bhai Manjh was drawn out, the Guru embraced him in his wet clothes blessing him, "Manjh is the Guru's beloved. Whosoever keeps his company shall be redeemed."

ii. An unknown Sikh deeply involved in meditation used to come out from his quarter once a day for his meal from the langar. The Guru heard of it and advised him that his meditation will not fructify so long as he eats free from the langar. He, thereupon, started bringing one bundle of wood for the kitchen. The Guru again advised him that since he ate his food in return for the wages of his service, his credit was nullified. The Sikh then brought two bundles, one for the kitchen and the other he sold to buy provision for his food. The Guru was pleased with it, and said that a devotee should not crave for the langar's food, which is essentially meant for the needy. Only those who earn their living and share it with others, can reap the benefit of their prayers.

Of Guru Hargobind's times, two incidents are worth mentioning

i. Bhai Gharia was sent to Kashmir to establish a diocese and for collection of daswantl from the local Sikhs. He collected quite a few thousand rupees, but utilised these to alleviate distress of the poor during a famine. On his return to Amritsar, the Guru appreciated his action.

ii. A Sikh, who was carrying honey for the Guru refused to part with it when demanded by a hungry person. The Guru did not accept the honey, questioning the Sikh as to why it was not given to him when he needed it most. The Sikh was puzzled. The Guru then explained that a "poor man's mouth is the Guru's coffer." The name of that poor, but enlightened soul, was Bhai Kutoo.

During Guru Gobind Singh's time at Anandpur Sahib, many Sikhs started langars in their own houses in addition to the Guru's langar. Once Guru Gobind Singh, in the garb of a poor Sikh, visited these private langars to see their service:

Wherever he went, food was not served under such pleas as food not being ready, or it was not the meal time, or all the diners had not arrived or the prayers had not been said. At Bhai Nand Lal's house, however, the Guru was courteously received and the food was offered in its preparational stage, i.e., kneaded atta, half boiled dal with a humble request that Could the guest wait for a little more time, a proper meal would be served. At this, the Guru removed his garb and blessed Bhai Nand Lal for maintaining true sanctity and spirit of langar.

Langar was also called deg by Guru Gobind Singh. He had ordained that both the deg and teg (sword for the protection of dharma) are the two sides of the same coin and, as such, are equally important. During the Sikh Confederacy (misl) period 1716-1799 CE, and even in Maharaja Ranjit Singh's time, Deg beg Fateh—victory to langar and sword, became their national slogan. Even in the hardest time when the Sikhs, lived ha jungles under privation and persecution, it is on record that the Sikhs welcomed their enemies for meals and escorted them out safely during active hostilities.

Recently, a very senior non-Sikh officer of Himachal Pradesh stated his desire to improve the road from Rajghat to Baru Sahib Gurdwara from a sense of gratitude to a Sikh, whom he had met in his childhood. He said he belongs to a remote village in Kangra district: About 45 years ago, his elder sister had to appear for matriculation examination at Mandi. Since there was no mode of conveyance available in those days, they went on foot and reached Rawalsar, about twenty five kilometre short of Mandi late at night. They were tired and hungry and looked for shelter. They knocked at the door of the local Shiv Mandir and next at the Buddhist temple, but no one cared for them. On hearing that there was also a small gurdwara in the vicinity, they went there almost near midnight and knocked at the granthi's house. The granthi received them with open arms, gave them hot water for wash, fed them with a hot meal and provided beds for the nights rest. He did not allow them to go the next morning without a meal and cooked food for them for the rest of the day, and an request to stay in the gurdwara on their return journey as well.

The officer stated that as a child from a remote village, he had no idea about the Sikh religion. The meeting with the granthi at Rawalsar was his first encounter with a Sikh, and the treatment he received made on his impressionable mind a lasting imprint that Sikhism is a human caring and altruistic faith that embraces all humanity and is un-failing succuur of the needy and the neglected. That impression motivated him 45 years later to do all he could to improve the road to Baru Sahib Gurdwara, which also runs a langar for visitors, travellers and the destitutes. There cannot be a better example than this incident to demonstrate the ideal and concept of the Guru's langar.

The langar institution in Sikhism includes free boarding, lodging and, where possible, first aid as well. its main purpose is to provide succour to the needy and the unprivileged section of humanity, irrespective of caste, creed or colour distinction. Its main theme and features are:

a) Distribution of food is the highest meritorious action. It embraces the dictum Sarbat da Bhala, or well-being of the entire humanity.

b) Implementation of the Guru's commandment of earning one's bread by honest means and sharing it with others.

c) Inculcation of community service to curtail egoism, which is the main barrier for good human relationship and God-realisation.

d) Eradication of distinction between the poor and thc rich, high and low born and religious prejudices, when everyone eats the same food, squatting in one line.

Sikhs consider the Guru's langar as sacred and its food a sacrament Community service in the langar and contribution towards its running is considered virtuous and of spiritual value. He does not crave or keep an eyc on the langar's food for his sustenance, but it is taken as a parsad in thankfulness of the Guru's grace. According to Bhai Gurdas, the apostle of Sikhism, craving for langar tood by other than the needy, is like consuming poisoned sugar.

The dry bread of the saints, is equal to all the treasures. Thirty six sorts of dishes, In the house of the apostate, They are like poison. Wearing the old blankets, Of the pious persons, The mortal becomes not naked. He loses this honour by putting on The silken raiment of the apostate.

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