This 24x7 kitchen serves free food

This 24x7 kitchen serves free food

Nearly 100 LPG cylinders and 5,000 kg wood are used everyday

This 24x7 kitchen serves free food

As you walk barefooted through the aisle of the eating hall in the Golden Temple complex in Punjab’s Amritsar-- holding a set of shining stainless steel plate, a spoon and a beaker-- you’ll realise that the best food ever is the one made with love and served with affection.

Here at the Sikh shrine, it goes even beyond the staple ingredient of love. At the end of a scrumptious vegetarian meal relished sitting on the floor like a non-entity, you are left mesmerised and overpoweringly enamoured by the sheer resolve that goes into accomplishing this never-ending mammoth 24x7 exercise of preparing and serving food. And handing over you a set of mirror-finish stainless steel crockery is just one of the many moments that brings joy on the faces of many who make it possible.

The kitchen at the Golden Temple complex langar or free community kitchen serves food round the clock to an average one lakh hungry people everyday. The numbers double at the langar hall on special occasions or weekends. By far this is the largest free kitchen run everyday anywhere in the world. 

Consider this: The kitchen uses around 100 LPG cylinders and 5,000 kg firewood everyday to ensure no one is left hungry. On an average, 7,000 kg of wheat flour, 12,000 kg of rice and 1.5 tonnes of daal are cooked in the kitchen in giant-sized vessels and made-to-order cooking equipment. Over 2 lakh rotis or flat breads are produced in one single day. 

A whopping 500 kg of ghee or clarified butter is used in preparing the meals each day.  The magnificence of the Sikh Langar tradition has fascinated many. One of them is British Prime Minister David Cameron. On his visit to India early this year, Cameron visited the sacred Golden Temple where he even tried his skills at making a few rotis on the giant hot plate. 

November 17 was the 545th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikh religion Guru Nanak-- the one who gave the community the concept of langar centuries ago. Now, such a gigantic exercise will require more than 450 staff. Hundreds of other volunteers-- men, women and children--pitch in diligently to perform seva to accomplish the task. Up to three lakh plates, spoons and bowls used in feeding the people are washed throughout the day.

The tradition of langar has served society and community in many meaningful ways. The eating hall makes no distinction whatsoever. What counts is the spirit to serve and the feeling with which the food is consumed. The barriers of caste, creed and religion vanish at the dining hall as one sits in parallel rows waiting to be served. Food is called “prasad” or the offering by the god.

Dozens of volunteers with buckets of daal and rice keep moving around in rows stacked with the hungry devotees. Volunteers bend their backs countless times in a day to serve food. Then there would be dozens more swiftly moving around the aisle carrying circular-shaped basketful of rotis to be dropped, and only to be dropped, onto hands of the devotees. That’s the traditional way the roti is served. 

On another side of the eating complex, hundreds of volunteers will first clean up the leftovers in the plate, and then wash it and spoons and breakers with detergent and water only to make sure they are hygienically cleaned and put back to the giant trays from where they will be given to the lakhs of visitors. Many of them have been selflessly following this as a routine for decades. What goes behind the scene gives you a glimpse of the tireless effort of hundreds of people. 

At times, it takes two to stir the giant tumblers simmering over the many flames in the kitchen. Imagine how many times you would have missed the salt or sugar estimate while preparing food at home at ease. And when it’s like preparing meals for no less than a hundred marriages each day, precision holds the key. It’s chefs’ skills that keep all the taste and flavour in the humble langar platter. 

Although the shrine kitchen has an electric machine where wheat flour is put in a machine that acts like a dough maker, but there are hundreds of volunteers who pitch in at the same time to make rotis just like the traditional way at home. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals and people of all ages help in serving food. The tradition of langar has high significance in Sikhism. It is enshrined in the holy books of Sikhism. 

Maharaja Ranjit Singh made grants of “jagirs” to Gurdwaras for the maintenance of langars. Similar awards were created by other Sikh rulers as well. Today, almost every Gurdwara has a langar supported by the community. No pilgrim or visitor to a Sikh shrine will ever miss food at meal time. SGPC staffer and manager of the kitchen Harpreet Singh says that on an average the kitchen serves food to one lakh people and the numbers swell considerable on weekends and special occasions. 

The tradition of langar has not remained confined to India. The Sikh diaspora has made sure the legacy is not lost in dollar dreams. As per estimates prepared by the Sikh Federation in the United Kingdom, there are around 5,000 meals served to people by Britain’s 250 Sikh shrines each week. And these free meals are an answer not only to hunger pangs, they are a great the source of nutrition for homeless people and overseas debt-ridden students. 

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