Mata Khivi was Guru Angad Dev's wife made the concept of langar (community kitchen), a reality. "Langar" is an open and a free kitchen at the Gurudwara serving food for all.
By Harjinder Singh
'Langar' refers to the distribution of food - free - to the sangat. It promotes the idea of equality as the members of the sangat are required to sit cross legged on the floor alongside each other, regardless of caste, status or rank. There is no special treatment meted out to individuals of a certain class, food is not especially prepared for a particular individual or group of individuals
Whilst preparation due regard is made to purity, the sevadars (selfless workers) will normally utter the Gurbani and refrain from speaking if possible. The mouth and nose will be covered by a piece of cloth known as a parna.
The Langar system originated during Guru Nanak 's time. Once as a child, he was sent to the city by his father - Bhai Kalu Chand - to perform a profitable trade, he was given money for this purpose and a friend known as Bhai Bala was sent with him. During the journey however, the Guru came across some Sadhus (holy ascetics) who were resting in a nearby forest, the Guru spent most of the evening with them before continuing on his journey. Once at the city, he spent the money given by his father on food for the Sadhus - much to the discouragement of his friend. When the Guru returned home, he was scolded by his father.
Throughout his travels, he caused for food to be distributed wherever he rested and some years later, when he returned from his journeys, the prophet caused for the institution of Langar to become regular at the village of Kartarpur. The langar system continued uninterrupted from that time. During Guru Amar Das Ji's time, the Guru made it compulsory that anybody wishing to see him must first partake in the langar Pahile Pangat Pishe Sangat. The emperor Akbar was not exempt from this rule and during his visit, he found himself sitting alongside the lowly folks of his empire eating the same food as them.
The Langar is prepared from the food donations that are made before the Guru Granth Sahib, a kitchen is set aside for this purpose. When the food is prepared, it is taken before the Guru Granth Sahib and an Ardas (prayer) is performed asking the Guru to accept the food and bless the sevadars who prepared it and bless those that eat from the Langar. Following this, it is served in the Langar hall. Traditionally, the head must be covered and shoes removed in this room, the langar should be served on the floor with the sangat sitting cross legged. However, due to Western influences, it is normal to find chairs and table laid out and the rule of removing shoes has often been waived. Gurudwaras in the subcontinent however, still observe the traditional regulations.
It is advisable not to leave leftovers. Meat - including fish and eggs and alcoholic/narcotic substances are strictly against the Sikh diet, hence these are not allowed on Gurudwara premises.
Some Gurudwaras have 24 hour free food service. Langar is also a venue to encourage voluntary service or Sewa for humanity. Sitting and eating together on the floor instills humility and symbolizes equality - Equality amongst all human beings. Discrimination, be it on the grounds of race, sex, color, caste, religion, disability or any social stratification is not permissible in Sikhism.