The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, is not only a sacred shrine for Sikhs, but also a symbol of generosity and service. Every day, the temple’s langar, or free kitchen, serves 100,000 hot meals to anyone who needs them, regardless of their religion, gender or ethnicity.
The langar is based on the Sikh tradition of seva, or selfless service, which is a daily practice and a way of living well by doing good. Sikhs all over the world do seva in various ways, such as cleaning the floors of temples, delivering oxygen cylinders during Covid crisis or cooking free meals for NHS staff.
“Seva means selfless service, and in Sikhism it is not just an exhortation and a guide but a daily practice,” writes Jasreen Mayal Khanna in her book Seva: Sikh Wisdom for Living Well by Doing Good. “Kind has been cool among Sikhs way before it became a Brooklyn hipster motto.”
“The other name for seva is love,” said 23-year-old Abhinandan Chaudhary, who has been doing seva with his family since he was eight. “A common teaching is that one should be so discreet and selfless, that if you are doing seva from the left hand, even your right hand should not find out about it.”
The langar is run by volunteers and donations, who prepare, cook and serve the meals with love and devotion. The langar offers a simple vegetarian menu, consisting of dal (lentils), sabzi (vegetable dish), chapati (bread), kheer (rice pudding), pickle, water and tea.
The langar also provides a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary for those in need. It teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which upholds the virtue of sameness of all human beings.
“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,” says Bhai Desa Singh in his Rehitnama.
The langar at the Golden Temple is the largest free kitchen in the world, and has been serving people since the 16th century. It was initiated by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, and established by Guru Amar Dass Ji, the third guru of Sikhs.
The institution of Guru ka Langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service for mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the pangat.
“In an increasingly individualized and capitalistic world, it is a refreshing way of living. The spirit of generosity in Sikhism can be seen across the world. During the Covid lockdown, Sikh volunteers in a gurudwara in England delivered thousands of meals a day to NHS staff, while Sikhs in various US cities cooked hundreds of thousands of free meals. In crisis or emergency situations, Sikhs have rallied their full force to help those in need, whether it may be storm-hit Canada or cyclone-struck New Zealand,” said Khanna.
The Golden Temple langar is a fine example of how to cleanse one’s inner self and become more rooted. The place is as pure and the hearts of the volunteers are as golden as the name of the place itself.
– Amritsar: The Indian city where no one goes hungry, BBC, 13th June 2023
– World’s Largest Community Kitchen | Golden Temple | Langar Hall …, goldentempleamritsar.org, 14th June 2023
– Langar – Sikh Religion, sikhreligion.net, 15th June 2023
– Top 10 Unknown Facts About Langar At Golden Temple, Sikh Tours, 20th October 2021