This system (langar) was implemented in Sikh temples over 500 years ago. Through initiatives such as National Langar Week (which takes place in either October or November), as well as other projects, Sikhs are hoping to spread the spirit behind the system of langar into the national and international community, so that everyone can benefit from this system of sharing and collaboration. It is something that, until now, has remained within the Sikh community. So, in case you had seen the word langar in the press recently, but weren’t really too sure what it was all about, we thought we’d explain a little about langar and also about seva….
The term ‘langar’ refers to the food served at the Sikh temple (Gurdwara). The term ‘seva’ means ‘service’, and everybody who enters the Gurdwara must do seva (service). Seva could be cooking the food, helping clean, washing up, serving food to those eating and generally helping to run the Gurdwara. In other words, seva is where, as a member of the Sikh community, you volunteer your time to help run the Gurdwara. No one is ever refused entry into the Gurdwara, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or religion. It is a place where anyone can go for a hot meal, which is always vegetarian.
Gurdwaras serve as both a place of religious worship, and also as a community centre. The langar is served in the community centre area of the Gurdwara, from the kitchens that are built into every Gurdwara. The system of langar was first introduced over 500 years ago as many people in Punjab were dying of malnutrition, and the Sikh community decided to implement a system to address the situation. So, here’s how the system works…
When you enter the Gurdwara, you cover your head and take off your shoes, and go to the prayer room. When you pay your respects to the religious scriptures, you give an offering. This is usually money, but doesn’t necessarily have to be. You give whatever you can, so if you can’t give money, you could give a bag of flour or a sack of onions. All the donations are then used to run the Gurdwara. Once you have paid your respects and after prayers, you go to the community room, and have your langar. This has been prepared by the people doing seva, whether it’s washing up, or prepping vegetables or helping serve the food (which is served canteen style). Everybody should try to do seva as often as they can.
This system has been successfully running for centuries, and continues to do so across the world. The system of langar exists wherever you find a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) or a large Sikh community who have set up a langar station outside of a Gurdwara in times of need (eg. natural disaster zones, war zones etc.).
Whenever we teach our cookery workshops, and we explain Langar, participants always find it remarkable (and almost strange), that in this fast paced day and ages, that the system of Langar continues. All we can say is that it is so engrained in Sikh identity that there is never a question of whether or not you’d do seva at the Gurdwara, or whether you’d think about not giving an offering of money or ingredients. It’s as automatic as brushing you teeth – you don’t question it. Yes it’s a small amount of effort, but you know that the benefits are absolutely worth it, and that it is of benefit to you to give back and to help those in their time of need.
So, should you ever get the opportunity to visit a Sikh temple, don’t pass it up! To see this in practice, here is the BBC South coverage of the Sikh community in Southampton, England, taking Langar out of the Gurdwara, to those in need…
Learn how to make authentic Punjabi food, just like the food served in the Gurdwaras for langar: See our cookery school
“It is quite possibly the best dhal I have ever encountered..”
Annabel Venning, Journalist, eating our family recipe Masoor di dhal (red lentil) made with Pure Punjabi Garam Masala.
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