Free meal­time for thou­sands in Delhi ex­am­ple of Sikhism


Har­jeet Singh can usu­ally be found rid­ing around New Delhi on his Har­ley David­son Su­per­low, or help­ing for­eign com­pa­nies set up oper­a­tions in In­dia. At home, the busi­ness­man has staff to clean and cook for his fam­ily. But at the gur­d­wara where he wor­ships along­side other Sikhs, he sweeps the floor, cleans dirty dishes and helps pre­pare meals for thou­sands not as for­tu­nate as him.

He cites Sikh scrip­tures: “a tenth of your in­come and time should be ded­i­cated to serv­ing peo­ple.” Work­ing in the gur­d­wara twice a week also helps him purge his ego, he says.

Ser­vice is one of the most in­te­gral tra­di­tions of gur­d­waras. From clean­ing to pre­par­ing tons of food ev­ery day there is plenty of work to be done. And there are plenty of se­vadaars, or vol­un­teers, to do it.

Each day peo­ple from all walks of life pour in to as­sist. Oth­ers come for a free meal.

The lan­gar, which trans­lates to com­mu­nity din­ner, be­gins at noon in a large, high-ceilinged hall at the Bangla Sahib Gur­d­wara in New Delhi. Sev­eral rows of car­pets are quickly oc­cu­pied by peo­ple who swarm in and sit down to be served.

They are from all re­li­gions, and re­flect the spec­trum of life in this crowded city. Some are des­per­ately poor. Some work in nearby of­fices. Some sim­ply like the food.

More than a thou­sand dishes are laid out on the floor, and vol­un­teers with buck­ets of lentils and In­dian flat bread crouch over to fill the plates. The meal, which runs into the evening, feeds more than 10,000 peo­ple ev­ery day. On Sun­days, the num­ber dou­bles.

Leg­end has it that a teenage Guru Nanak, who founded Sikhism in late 15th cen­tury, was given some money by his fa­ther and asked to turn a profit. But when Nanak went into town he saw a group of hun­gry men and used the money to buy gro­ceries and asked them to cook it to­gether and eat.

While this made his fa­ther very an­gry, it is now a tra­di­tion fol­lowed by more than 30 mil­lion Sikhs world­wide. Nearly ev­ery gur­d­wara in the world, ir­re­spec­tive of size, has a kitchen and serves a lan­gar.

Men, women and chil­dren throng the kitchen at Bangla Sahib, one of the big­gest gur­d­waras in In­dia, brew­ing soupy dishes in gi­gan­tic me­tal pots, rolling mounds of dough and flip­ping breads on mesh-topped stoves.

While the gur­d­wara em­ploys a small group of men to help man­age the kitchen, it de­pends on vis­it­ing wor­ship­pers to con­trib­ute nearly half of all work and food sup­plies. In ad­di­tion to what is brought in as do­na­tions, the gur­d­wara spends more than US$2,000 a day on the meal, ac­cord­ing to the man­age­ment com­mit­tee at Bangla Sahib. Sacks of rice, flour, and lentils are stacked from floor to ceil­ing in the stor­age room. The lan­gar must go on ev­ery day.

“It is not just an eat­ing joint,” said Kan­wer Deep Singh, the 47-year-old in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer of the gur­d­wara. The lan­gar, he said, is a means of bring­ing a di­verse com­mu­nity to­gether ir­re­spec­tive of so­cial sta­tus and re­li­gious be­liefs.

“In this turn you may be serv­ing, and the next turn you may be sit­ting down to eat.” he added.


In this May 19 photo, Sikh vol­un­teer Amardeep Singh, 20, a busi­ness stu­dent, dis­trib­utes food at lan­gar, which trans­lates to com­mu­nity din­ner, at the Bangla Sahib Gu­rud­wara or Sikh tem­ple in New Delhi.

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