Langar: A remarkable act of service

When the world celebrated the 551st  Prakash Purab of the Great Spiritual Teacher, Guru Nanak Sahib, I was reminded of the teachings of Baba Nanak which kept the Sikh community moving even in the unprecedented challenges born out of  Covid19.

The pandemic has brought humanitarian crisis – starvation and job losses. Many social organisations, civil society members, and individuals have extended help, and their role has been remarkable. But in these challenging times the world was amazed by the work of the institution of Langar and the Spirit of Sikhism. “Seva” which is one of the important tenets of Sikhism manifests in “Langar”- round the clock free kitchen based on the principles of inclusivity, equality and unity among all religious spheres. The concept of free kitchen-Langar was started by Guru Nanak Sahib.

Selfless Service to God and humanity was so powerful that even Mughal Emperor Akbar, before meeting Guru Amar Das Ji first sat in langar at Goindwal Sahib, Amritsar. When you sit together in langar irrespective of your caste, class, creed, religion, you shed all your differences and realise the one light within. Many are amazed by the spectacle of langar- can food be given free?

The sewa of langar stands on three pillars raised by Guru Nanak Sahib:

“Kirat Karni”- Earn with Labour.

“Naam Japna”-Contemplate upon the name of God.

“Wand Ke Chakna”- Share before you eat.

Seva is an emotion and true langar is Guru’s Shabad (Sacramental Food of the Gur-Shabad: Naam or Giaan Daa Langar). It’s opened for ceaseless or non-stop distribution, and its supplies never run short. It inspires you to see the “World As One”- Tohi Mohi Mohi Tohi Antar Kaisa – You is Me, Me is You, Then what’s the difference.

The Sikh community continued to do sewa with the same compassion during the times of COVID19. From other natural disaster to pandemic, Sikhs are known to serve people relentlessly. In the times of Pandemic they made sure that no one goes empty stomach. The concept of community kitchen has united the world in peace and crisis.

As during the times of COVID19 all the religious places were closed, the Gurdwaras across India kept their Community Kitchens open. It was the only place where migrant workers could find food and other resources. During Covid19 Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi fed millions of stranded passengers, and the migrant workers. Recently, the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara also opened up Pharmacy- “Bala Pritam Dawakhana” and provided medicines, medical tests at subsidised and factory rates.

For the migrant workers camping along the banks of Yamuna river the only place to have their daily  meal was the Gurudwara Sahib near Majnu-ka-tilla. The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee also introduced “Langar on Wheels” taking Guru Nanak’s kitchen to those who cannot visit the Gurdwara Sahib amid the pandemic.

A Sikh family in Delhi, inspired from the compassion and sense of service in Sikh faith performed last rites of Covid19 victims. It was inspiring to see that at one end where people were unwilling to perform the last rites of their own deceased here was a family in Delhi that started a mission of performing last rites of COVID19 patients. When migrant workers started walking to their hometowns, all the Gurdwaras across India opened up their Community kitchens.

What kept the Sikh community going in these challenging times?

The answer lies in Sikh history and the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib. It’s the same compassion which Bhai Kanhaiya Ji carried on the battlefield of Anandpur Sahib when he served water to both friend and foe, and when summoned by Guru Gobind Singh Sahib recited the following verse from Guru Granth Sahib –  “Na Ko Bairi, Na Hi Begana, Sagal Sang, Hum Ko Ban Aayi”- No one is an enemy, no one is a friend, I get along with everyone”.

Its the same compassion which Moti Mehra carried when he served milk to the younger sons and mother of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. It’s the same compassion which Bhai Todarmal carried when he sold everything to buy land to perform the last rites of the younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It’s the love, devotion and faith in the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib which keeps them moving. Even when the sanctity of Darbar Sahib was devastated in 1984, the place didn’t stop serving langar. It continues to serve food irrespective of caste, class or religion.

With the slogan of Guru Gobind Singh Ji – Manas Kii Jaat Sabe Eke Pehchan BoRecognise the whole human race as one, today, Khalsa Aid Orgnisation is a glimmer of hope for millions of people around the world.

For past several years Guru Nanak Langar Mission, a humanitarian organisation have been serving langar to patients and visitors at Govt Medical College, Jammu. Sikh Youth Sewa Trust, an NPO in J&K did a remarkable job by serving packed meals and sanitising pubic offices in the times of pandemic.

When last year a bushfire destroyed homes and animal lives, the Sikh Volunteers, an NGO travelled from Melbourne to Bairnsdale and provided food and medicines to the bushfire victims. A recent article in New York Times highlighted American experience with the langar. The Sikh community kitchens served Covid19 patients and even the protestor of the Black lives matter campaign. Sikh centre of New York prepared 30000 free meals packets for Americans in self isolation.

The pandemic gathered world attention to environmental problems. Every world leader started talking about an imbalance in the current ecological system. But in Guru Nanak’s Philosophy of equality and progressiveness, environment protection, cleanliness, community servicing, and hygiene were given prime importance. One type of “Prashad” is served in every Gurdwara Sahib. You will find volunteers doing sewa and community servicing. Every Gurdwara premises will have a natural water resource and trees. The respect and importance of environment is fundamental to Sikhism. As Guru Nanak Dev Ji illustrates in Japji Sahib-

Pawan Guru, Paani Pita, Maata Dharth Mahath”

“Air is our teacher, water is our father and the great sacred earth is our mother”

Guru Nanak Dev Ji proclaimed ecological awareness with a poet’s fascination and propounded a very important message i.e. the undying bond between humans and the nature. If there is something common between humans of different class, caste and religion then that is our Mother Nature.

Guru Nanak Sahib Ji was born at a time when there were religious divisions. The quality of life of an average individual was very poor. There was religious oppression and persecutions. At that time he came up with a message of Love and Oneness. In his first sermon itself, Guru Nanak Sahib said- “Na Hindu, Na Musaelman”, i.e. in God’s eye there is neither Hindu nor Muslim. God isn’t interested in our religious labels but in how we live and what are our actions.

Khalik Khalak Khalak Main Khalik” (The creation is in the creator and the creator is in the creation).

The concept of community kitchen or the Sewa of Langar started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji is a regular practice in Sikh Gurdwaras. As per a recent survey, daily 12 million people eat Langar in Sikh Gurdwars, worldwide. When research institutions through out the world are closing in towards developing a vaccine for COVID19, I hope when they succeed, the vaccine will be distributed just like a langar, without any discrimination.

Kanwal Singh is Sikh Youth Activist and Columnist.