Free and communal serving of food may take its origin from Sufism but it is a long-held tradition and practice in Sikh Temples here in New Delhi and elsewhere. LANGAR is the name for the large community kitchen, where volunteers can be found peeling and chopping onions, making bread, cooking lentils, etc. The volunteers, called Sevadars, work in the Langars attached to all Sikh Temples (Gurudwara), to prepare vegetarian meals fed to pilgrims or visitors, WITHOUT DISCRIMINATION. Food sharing can extend to as many as 20,000 pilgrims as in this Sikh Temple in New Delhi, regardless of faith, class, and status in life.
I almost missed this kitchen as my group left while I was literally “testing the waters” from the temple pool. By the time I looked up, they were gone. I knew I couldn’t leave without seeing how the kitchen works. More so, how the feeding of as many as 20,000 pilgrims is done. I am not sure how I lost them, but I would have thrown a tantrum if I missed this!
No one is allowed entry unless you take off your shoes or sandals and wrap something around your head. You also pass a square tub to wash your feet upon entry. Inside, both pilgrims and visitors mingle —- the only tell-tale signs distinguishing one from the other being that the pilgrims come here to worship while the visitors itch to snap a photo with their cams. Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed inside the temple.
It is curious how food is prepared and fed to as many as 20,000 pilgrims and visitors. We met many volunteers, each obviously knowing what to do in that huge community kitchen. A system is in place. Although I found the lighting quite dim, the kitchen was kept clean and well-ventilated. Each volunteer busy with their assigned tasks. Huge baskets of naan and chapati. Large tubs of lentils or dahl. All served to people without regard for race, creed, faith and stature in life. Food is shared with whomever comes.
I wish there was time to line up, sit crosslegged and join the others to be fed on silver trays. I like the idea of sitting there with so many others, waiting for this man to drop bread on your silver tray, and another coming to scoop some lentils for each of them. I’ve seen it on TV and in some documentary, and would have relished being there and actually experiencing it.
SIKHISM. much has been written and said about this religious sect. One of many tracing its roots here in India. Amazing how this exotic country has encouraged so many life philosophies and faiths. There may be a whole world of difference between Sikhism and Hinduism, or for that matter, other religions. But what sticks uppermost in my mind is the Sikh belief in equality. No caste system for this faith. All beings created equal. Now, that speaks volumes, don’t you agree?
Having visited a Sikh temple, I am now inclined to pick up a book on Sikhism. You bet I am intrigued. I am curious how it began — amidst all the other religions dominating India — and how magnificent temples and community kitchens like this are funded. I am curious about their other beliefs. Did it just branch out as another protestant sect from Hinduism? Is the “equality” philosophy the “breaking point” ? Curious. Curious.