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A community meal in progress at a Sikh langar

In Sikhism, a langar (Punjabi: ਲੰਗਰ, pronunciation: [lʌŋɾ], 'kitchen'[1]) is the community kitchen of a gurdwara, which serves meals to all free of charge, regardless of religion, caste, gender, economic status, or ethnicity. People sit on the floor and eat together, and the kitchen is maintained and serviced by Sikh community volunteers who are doing seva ("selfless services").[2] The meals served at a langar are always lacto-vegetarian.[3]


Langar is a Persian word that was eventually incorporated into the Punjabi language and lexicon.[4][5][6]


Sikh painting showing a langar in the bottom right, c. 19th century.

The concept of charity and providing cooked meals or uncooked raw material to ascetics and wandering yogis has been known in eastern cultures for over 2000 years. However, in spite of institutional support from several kings and emperors of the Delhi sultanate (up to the Mughal empire), it could not be institutionalized into a sustainable community kitchen, but continued as volunteer-run free food opportunities.

Within the Jammu hills, a significant component of the Sufi missionaries' social outreach was to organize community kitchens, known locally as langar. In addition to providing meals to the needy, they were also intended to promote inclusion within their society and discourage segregation and untouchability, both of which were widely practised throughout the Indian subcontinent. This practice, largely facilitated through donations, allowed participants to discard their social identity and was considered a sacred duty. The tradition was inaugurated in the 12-13th century by Shaikh Farid. [7]

The community kitchen started by the Sikh Gurus, was universal and accepting of people from all faiths and backgrounds, a tradition which has continued to this day. The type of food served and the method of cooking employed, further helped make Sikh langar universally accepted by all faiths and castes.

Several writers such as Gurinder Singh Mann and Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair have alluded to this fact of cooked food (or raw material) being provided to travelers, ascetics and wandering yogis,[8] free food distribution practices being in vogue in fifteenth century among various religious groups like Hindu Nath Yogis and Muslim Sufi saints.[9][10] However, no evidence exists of formal institutionalized community kitchens, providing cooked free meals, continuously, over a period of time by any particular community.

The roots of such volunteer-run charitable feeding is very old in Indian tradition; for example: Hindu temples of the Gupta Empire era had attached kitchen and almshouse called dharma-shala or dharma-sattra to feed the travelers and poor, or whatever donation they may leave.[11][12] These community kitchens and rest houses are evidenced in epigraphical evidence, and in some cases referred to as satram (for example, Annasya Satram), choultry, or chathram in parts of India.[13][14] In fact, Sikh historian Kapur Singh refers to Langar as an Aryan institution.[15]

The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim I Ching (7th century CE) wrote about monasteries with such volunteer-run kitchens.[16][17] The institution of the Langar emerged from Fariduddin Ganjshakar,[18][19] a Sufi Muslim saint living in the Punjab region during the 13th century. This concept further spread and is documented in Jawahir al-Faridi compiled in 1623 CE.[20]

The concept of langar—which was designed to be upheld among all people, regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender, or social status—was an innovative charity and symbol of equality introduced into Sikhism by its founder, Guru Nanak around 1500 CE in North Indian state of Punjab.[10]

The second Guru of Sikhism, Guru Angad, is remembered in Sikh tradition for systematizing the institution of langar in all Sikh Gurdwara premises, where visitors from near and far could get a free simple meal in a simple and equal seating.[10]: 35–7 [21] He also set rules and training method for volunteers (sevadars) who operated the kitchen, placing emphasis on treating it as a place of rest and refuge, and being always polite and hospitable to all visitors.[10]: 35–7 

It was the third Guru, Guru Amar Das, who established langar as a prominent institution, and required people to dine together irrespective of their caste and class.[22] He encouraged the practice of langar, and made all those who visited him attend langar before they could speak to him.[23]

Contemporary practice

Volunteers helping preparing food for langar at the Golden Temple

Langars are held in gurdwaras all over the world, most of which attract members of the homeless population. The volunteers feed people without any discrimination, alongside the Sikh devotees who gather.[24][25][26] Almost all gurdwaras operate langars where local communities, sometimes consisting of hundreds or thousands of visitors, join for a simple lacto-vegetarian meal.[27]


See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Pashaura Singh, Louis E. Fenech, 2014, The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies[dead link]
  2. ^ Mark McWilliams (2014). Food & Material Culture: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2013. Oxford Symposium. p. 265. ISBN 978-1-909248-40-3.
  3. ^ William Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi (1995), The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Sussex Academic Press, ISBN 978-1898723134, page 148
  4. ^ Kathleen Seidel, Serving Love, Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook", September 2000. Accessed 15 January 2010.
  5. ^ Satish C. Bhatnagar (November 2012), My Hindu Faith and Periscope, Volume 1, Trafford, p. 245, ISBN 9781466960978
  6. ^ Steingass, Francis Joseph (1992), A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, Asian Educational Services, p. 1130, ISBN 9788120606708
  7. ^ Mohammed, Jigar (2023-12-01). "A Panoramic Reconstruction of Sufism in the Jammu Hills". In Singh, Surinder (ed.). Sufism in Punjab: Mystics, Literature and Shrines. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-003-83414-4.
  8. ^ Mann, Gurinder Singh (2001-05-03). The Making of Sikh Scripture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-802987-8.
  9. ^ Singh, Pashaura; Fenech, Louis E. (March 2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  10. ^ a b c d Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair (2013). Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4411-1708-3.
  11. ^ Manabendu Banerjee (1989). Historical and Social Interpretations of the Gupta Inscriptions. Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar. pp. 83–84.
  12. ^ Vasudeva Upadhyay (1964). The Socio-religious Condition of North India, 700-1200 A. D.: Based on Archaeological Sources. Munshi Manoharlal. p. 306.
  13. ^ [a] Prabhavati C. Reddy (2014). Hindu Pilgrimage: Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Srisailam in South India. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-317-80631-8.; [b] Sanctuaries of times past The Hindu (June 27, 2010)
  14. ^ Singh, A.K. (2002). "A Śaiva Monastic Complex of the Kalacuris at Chunari in Central India". South Asian Studies. 18 (1). Taylor & Francis: 47–52. doi:10.1080/02666030.2002.9628606. S2CID 191573026.
  15. ^ Siṅgha, Prakāsha (1994). Community Kitchen of the Sikhs. Singh Bros. ISBN 978-81-7205-099-3.
  16. ^ William M. Johnston (2013). Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Routledge. pp. 953–954. ISBN 978-1-136-78716-4.
  17. ^ Nancy Auer Falk; Rita M. Gross (1980). Unspoken worlds: women's religious lives in non-western cultures. Harper & Row. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-0-06-063492-6.
  18. ^ Epilogue, Vol 4, Issue 1, p. 45
  19. ^ R. Nivas (1967), Transactions, Volume 4, The word langar, and this institution has been borrowed, so to speak, from the Sufis. The khanqas of the Chisti and other Sufi saints had a langar open to the poor and the rich, though the Hindus mostly kept away from them. To make the Brahmin sit with the pariah and do away with untouch- ability, and to make the Hindus and Muslims eat from the same kitchen and destroy all social, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, p. 190
  20. ^ Barbara D. Metcalf (1984). Moral Conduct and Authority: The Place of Adab in South Asian Islam. University of California Press. pp. 336–339. ISBN 978-0-520-04660-3.
  21. ^ Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 319. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8.
  22. ^ Eleanor Nesbitt (28 April 2016). Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-106277-3.
  23. ^ Singh, Prithi Pal (2006). "3 Guru Amar Das". The History of Sikh Gurus. New Delhi: Lotus Press. p. 38. ISBN 81-8382-075-1.
  24. ^ "Why homeless Britons are turning to the Sikh community for food". BBC News. 22 February 2015. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  25. ^ Paterson, Kirsteen (July 14, 2016). "Scotland: Sikh charity feeds those most in need". The National. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  26. ^ Shamsher Kainth (March 8, 2017). "Sikh volunteers take hot food to homeless in Melbourne". SBS Punjabi. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  27. ^ Harold Coward; Raymond Brady Williams; John R. Hinnells (2000). The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada, and the United States. SUNY Press. pp. 196–198. ISBN 978-0-7914-4509-9.