In the age of Happy Meals, Combo Food offers and extra cheese pizzas there’s still one repast that tempts us beyond the fast food goodies. If you’re a Punjabi or have accompanied one to the Guru da ‘langar’ you’d agree that this basic meal brings a soul-satiating experience that outclasses even fine dining. A tradition that’s lasted for centuries, bringing people together one and all, the langar, or community kitchen, is a quintessential element of almost every Gurudwara (venue for Sikh congregational worship).
Prepared against a backdrop of chanted hymns and prayers, the Langar is served with heart
The langar is embedded in the origins of Sikhism: the first Guru of Sikhs, Guru Nanak, introduced the concept of offering free food to people from all castes, creeds and communities to spread the message of equality and selfless service. Since then, the tradition has catered to thousands of devotees, transcending all barriers of religion, race and colour. While the food offered might differ slightly from one Gurudwara to another, the most savoured and popular langar items are ‘langar vali daal’ (lentil curry) and ‘parshada’ (flat bread). If you’re lucky enough to arrive during a guruparab (Sikh festival), you may also be greeted with special fare such as kheer (rice pudding) and lassi (buttermilk/yoghurt drink).
Despite the simple menus, what makes langar food delectable is the taste that seems to quench the soul. It’s believed that this dash of divinity derives from the sacred hymns and prayers chanted throughout langar preparations. But there’s much more to the langar aside from the wonderful taste experience: it’s also about the service lent by hundreds of devotees to ensure that the tradition continues.
Visit the cooking area at a Gurudwara and you’ll find men and women, young and old, rich and poor, all participating in the preparations. While experienced hands take on the more significant chores, beginners tend to serve the food or wash the dishes. What makes their experience memorable and worthy is the joy of selfless service; those with staunch belief might also say that divinity and service are inseparable, making contributors part of the blessed ones.
Encompassing the experience of dining with hundreds of others, enjoying delicious, soul-nurturing food and overcoming the boundaries of religion, the langar is a must for everyone. If you haven’t attended for a while, it’s time to revisit, and if you’ve never been, now is the time to go.
(Images: flickr.com/photos/mrsikhnet, flickr.com/photos/reisgekki, flickr.com/photos/debranche; Gurumustuk Singh, Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen & Suvir Singh)
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