Guru Ka Langar was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev ji in ~1481. It is the best depiction of the Sikh Gurus’ teachings which were based on principle of equality among people of the world regardless of religion, caste, color, creed, age, gender or social status. It also expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind.
As the legend goes, Guru Nanak’s father Mehta Kalu wanted his son to become a successful trader and took upon himself to train his son early in age. When Nanak was 12 his father gave him Rs 20 and told him to use it to ‘strike a good bargain’ or ‘sacha sauda’. Young Nanak bought food with the money and fed the sadhus who had not eaten for days. For him this was ‘true business’ or ‘sacha sauda‘. His father was enraged on hearing what he had done but that was Guru Nanak ji, noble and pure in his thoughts and actions.
Gurdwara Sacha Sauda stands today where Guru Nanak had fed the poor. The tradition of Langar (serving of free food) thus started in Punjab.
Another interesting snippet from history: When Emperor Akbar called upon Guru Amar Das ji (Third Sikh Guru) he had to first sit in the pangat (meaning line/row) for langar in line with Guru’s principle of “pahile pangat pachhe sangat”— “first comes eating together, then meeting together” . The selfless sewa and concept of langar impressed Akbar so much that he decided to give away a huge jagir as his contribution for the maintenance of langar. The Guru had refused to accept the same and Akbar offered it as a wedding gift to Amar Das ji’s daughter. It is believed that the gifted land is none other than the Amritsar we all know.
When President Nasser of Egypt visited the Golden Temple he was touched to see people irrespective of religion, caste or creed sitting together and enjoying the langar. He left all the money that he and his party had carried with them as a contribution to this community kitchen.
Simple Rules of Langar:
1. simple vegetarian meals
2. prepared by devotees who recite Gurbani while preparing the langar
3. served after performing Ardas
4. food distributed in Pangat without any prejudice or discrimination
5. all food must be fresh, clean and hygienically prepared
Bhai Desa Singh in his Rehitnama says, “A Sikh who is ‘well to do’ must look to the needs of his poor neighbours. Whenever he meets a traveller or a pilgrim from a foreign country, he must serve him devotedly.”
The last words of Guru Gobind Singh ji before before he passed away at Nanded were to ‘keep the langar ever open’.
One of the lines in Guru ji’s Dasam Granth reads as……… “Deg Tegh Jag Me Dou Chalai” — “may langar (charity) and sword (for the protection of dharma) together prevail in the world”
The first Sikh coin minted in the 18th century carried this very message of Guru in Persian.
One of Guru Gobind Singh’s commandments was that a Sikh visiting another Sikh’s door must be served food, without hesitation or delay.
Another of his sayings goes as “Gharib da munh guru ki golak hai” — “to feed a hungry mouth is to feed the Guru”
The main principles behind the Guru ka Langar 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 belief in God.
d) Eradication of distinction between the poor and the rich, high and low born and religious prejudices, when everyone eats the same food, squatting in one line.
e) This spirit of common sharing and of mutual co-operation and service was the underlying principle of the Sikh tradition of langar.
In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour:
“Loh Langar Tapde Rahin.”
“May the iron pots of Langar be ever warm (in service).”
Gaining knowledge, is the first step to wisdom. Sharing it, is the first step to Humanity!
Happy Reading & Sharing!