By Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons)
It’s not just what we say, but what we do that counts.
Over ten thousand registrants at the past Parliament of the World’s Religions were invited as guests of the Sikh volunteers to share a meal in The Salt Lake City, Utah, throughout the five-day event. The guests came from every religion of the world; all were served with the same passion without any discrimination. Sikhs were only practicing the values that their gurus taught them. They were practicing what they preach, serving langar.
It is well known that daily Langar at the Golden Temple Guruduara in the Amritsar City of India serves nearly a hundred thousand guests every day. It is also known that every one of the thousands of Guruduaras spread all over the world serve Langar at the end of every service.
In the Langar, food is prepared fresh by the Sikh community to serve the meals to all without any discrimination based on religion, gender, social or economic status, or political consideration. This is an open service where there is no expectation for any reward in return.
In the Langar, all are seated on the ground at the same level, served the same food that is always vegetarian and is not forbidden in any religion. It is financed through individual contributions of funds and ingredients.
Langar being served in Amritsar is shown below.
Also, every Langar always starts with a universal prayer of thankfulness to express heart-felt gratitude to the Creator for the opportunity to love and to serve.
Every day the Langar is started with a universal prayer of gratitude. The verses are taken from the Sikhs’ sacred book, the Guru Granth Sahib, as well as those composed by the community to suit the occasion. It is often following a short session of reciting or singing hymns from the Guru Granth.
Sikhs around the world recite the same prayer at least once a day. The prayer does not ask for anything. Instead, it praises the Creator for taking care of its creation like father and mother. It offers gratitude for all the bounties that are given to us to enjoy and the wisdom to be ever thankful.
Often, chanting of sacred verses from the Guru Granth Sahib precedes the prayer said before the opening of the Langar.
Experience of Serving Langar
Serving LANGAR is a multi-Faith Multicultural experience. People from all religions not only join Sikhs to share a meal but also like to serve Langar. People from a variety of backgrounds want to serve Langar.
I witnessed this very vividly both in Salt Lake City and several years earlier in Barcelona, Spain that attendees of the Parliament were noticeably eagers for the opportunity to serve the langar before they ate themselves.
Langar in the New World
Langar is a Sikh institution started by Guru Nanak over five centuries ago, and it has been served since then in every guruduara in the world. What is new and more recent is that the Langar is now served also outside the Guruduara to the communities all over the world and where ever there is a call to feed the hungry or share a meal with faith communities. Thus, the Sikhs are increasingly taking the concept of Langar outside its traditional setting in Guruduaras or temples and out onto the streets to feed the homeless and the poor.
In the Salt Lake City of USA, the Langar was shared with the followers of over 50 religions from almost every country and tradition of the world. Thousands of pounds of food prepared locally as well as in Los Angeles was trucked to the site of the Parliament. The Sikh volunteers cooked hundreds of pounds of rice, baked over 50 thousand Punjabi Naan (chapati of white flour) in ovens, several thousands of sweet like gulab jamans (after sweet meal dish), and prepared hundreds of gallons of sweetened yogurt drink, mango lassi, tea, and coffee.
Langar Served in Challenged Situations
I like to tabulate below some examples of Langar being served in a variety of challenging situations from the earthquake in Nepal to refugees in the Middle East to homeless in North America or Europe, and everywhere in between. With thanks and due acknowledgement I also wish to include here some of the Langar events recently summarized by a young Indian journalist, Priyanjana Roy Das (Source: http://www.scoopwhoop.com). With due acknowledgement, I am borrowing some of her photos and photos taken by others.
Langar at Nepal Earthquakes
Talking of recent earthquakes in Nepal two Sikh organizations in New Delhi and Amritsar, and an organization from California sent out 25,000 packets to Kathmandu besides sending their team of people who served hot meals to over 10,000 people a day there.
According to the Trussell Trust, Langar fed 346,992 people across Britain in one year. The Sri Guru Singh Sabha Guruduara in Southall, the biggest Sikh temple outside of India, alone serves 5,000 meals on weekdays and 10,000 meals on weekends.
Seva Food Bank
Sikhs have been a part of Canada for over a hundred years now. The SEVA FOOD BANK opened its doors in 2010 and has dedicated itself towards providing safe, nutritious and most importantly, culturally-appropriate food to low-income families in Mississauga in Canada. Being a religious organization, they do not fail to respect and take into account the food cultures of other people while serving food and preparing the menu. Truly inspiring, to say the least.
Khalsa Food Pantry and Khalsa Peace Corps Los Angeles, USA
Located in Pacoima, CA, the Khalsa Food Pantry provides assistance to the low-income families in the US and every week, the Khalsa Peace Corps serve about 600 meals at Skid Row and Venice Boardwalk alone. Sharing meals and uplifting the spirit of communities, they are serving and growing, with dedication and good will.
Food and Supplies for Assam Flood Victims
Around 45,000 people were victims of a recent flood in the Indian State of Assam. The floods devastated four districts of Assam according to the state disaster management authority.
While a lot of people criticized the Government and local elected officials for their apathy and ineptness during the floods, they were also thanking the local Sikh congregations. People there visibly appreciated Sikh dedication and efforts to reach out to the flood affected areas and help those in need.
For instance, Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Dibrugarh distributed food to over 1000 people affected by the floods. Others similarly served those in distress; all volunteers were enthused to join hands in the service to the children of the Creator.
UK’s Khalsa Aid Provides Langar and Disaster Relief in Many Countries
The UK based Sikh charity, Khalsa Aid, provides disaster relief in Albania, Turkey, Somalia and Pakistan. Their Langar of prepared food was always there where and whenever needed. The British Sikhs also helped the Thames Valley and Somerset flood victims by delivering sand bags, food and medical supplies to those affected. In one of their Middle East ventures, they also delivered food, blankets, clothes and water to over 150 Yazidi refugee families, many of whose family members were kidnapped by the ISIS for abuse.
Tweaking the concept of Langar, the Khalsa Aid has been collaborating with the locals to provide fresh bread to nearly 14,000 refugees daily in the strife-torn region for many months now.
Sikhcess Project USA
The Sikhcess Project provides food and clothing to the homeless in several local communities across the USA. Based on the basic humanitarian principles of sharing, inclusiveness, community, and public service, this project not only helps those in need but also creates public service opportunities with the goal of enhancing life for all humankind.
Sikhs set up a langar for flood hit victims in Uttarakhand
Some time ago Uttarakhand State of India experienced catastrophic flashfloods. The state government released a final list of 4,120 persons, including 92 foreign nationals missing. While many were busy blaming the authorities and disaster management procedures, the Sikhs of Delhi Sikh Guruduara Management Committee came forward and provided a helping hand to rescue and serve the stranded pilgrims in Uttarakhand. They provided LANGAR around the clock for affected people as long as it was needed.
Midland Langar Seva Society Birmingham UK
The Midland Langar Seva Society is a food relief organization in Birmingham UK. It has been selflessly serving LANGAR and other help to homeless and providing food and hunger relief to those that are in need of it.
Langar at Kashmir Floods
The Sikhs sent out food packets to more than 70,000 people daily during recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir. In addition, they established permanent Langar at several places in Srinagar. Their Guruduaras opened doors to people from all communities and religions in need of help. In addition, food for more than hundred thousand victims stranded in different places was airlifted from Amritsar.
KIRPA Food Bank in Wolverhampton
With the aim of helping everyone realize that there is no other race but one – the human race, the Kirpa Food Bank is dedicated to feed the homeless, the victims of disasters and those in need in this area.
Gurmeet Singh is Exceptional
Are you in pain? This is the question Gurmeet Singh usually asks when he enters a hospital ward in the north- Eastern Indian city of Patna. He has been serving this way now for over 20 years.
By day, 65-year-old Gurmeet works at the clothing shop. By night, he is a veritable messiah to the residents of a foul kingdom of disease and disability. The facility is tucked away in the corner of a vast 90-year-old 1,760-bed state-run Patna Medical College and Hospital.
Once Gurmeet reaches the ward, he is playing, at once, nurse, doctor, provider, and kin. He goes through prescriptions and pays for the more expensive medicines, tests, scans, and chemotherapy for cancer patients. He donates “a lot of” blood.
Then he takes out the shining steel plates and caringly serves the food.
Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen in Doncaster and Edinburgh
Not everyone can help everyone, but everyone can help someone. With the aim of providing and serving free food to anyone in need of it, the Sikhs are helping so many people every day, selflessly and happily.
The Bedford Langar Project
These two Sikh organizations, The BedFort Langar Project and Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team (SWAT) in London, are taking care of the needs of the poor. No one has ever become poor by serving others, have they?
Round-the-clock Langar on the Delhi-Ambala highway
The Sikh community distributed free snacks, cooked rice and hot tea to stranded travelers and ran a round-the-clock Langar for people who were stuck in Haryana during the Jat Agitation. While the Agitators must have caused discomfort to everyone, the Sikhs were there working for the relief of those in need, comforting people of all castes and religions.
The Khalsa Aid Langar for those stuck in Chennai floods
Coming to the rescue of the distressed and helping those in need, during the India’ Chennai floods, the Sikhs offered food and basic necessities to the ones stranded and grieved by the floods.
Act of Justice
Hunger is not an always issue of charity. At times, it is an act of justice. The Sikh community’s work often goes unnoticed as they are too busy helping others to even take notice of it. They are intoxicated in love their Guru and the Guru given mission.
Acknowledgement: Many of the photos were taken by the famous Indian journalist Priyanjana Roy Das (Source: www.scoopwhoop.com) during her visit to various Langar sites in India. They are duly acknowledged with thanks.
Send all communications to:
Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons)
Professor Emeritus & Chairman, Dept of Pharmacology & Neurosciences, University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Professor Emeritus, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.
President, Academy of Guru Granth Studies.
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