Joy of sharing

Inspired from the Sufi sense of service, here’s what makes ‘Guru Ka Langar’ one of India’s finest legacy cuisine, writes Madhulika Dash

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Langar is a term that is known across the world thanks partly to the community that has made it travel to distant places and partly due to the fact that it is one of the few ‘human efforts’ to reach out when required — be it floods, earthquakes, tragedy or even on a simple scorching day when there is a good chance to find a langar serving food and cold water to enable people to survive it all.

What gives langar the ability to travel far and wide — after all, it is a temple cuisine as such? It is the
deep-rooted principle of selfless service and free for all: thoughts that may have lost their significance today, but back in the 16th century when it was established by Guru Nanak as a simple “human act”, it was nothing less than a revolution.

The good life

Only then, the young guru, who had spent his fortune creating this mess for his followers to be looked after well, (fed and rested) didn’t realise it. It was a time when religious fanaticism ruled the society with a list of many dos and don’ts — one of them was the segregation of who could find access to eat at a place of worship, which unfortunately exists till date. Langar, on the other hand, even in the beginning boasted of no such restriction. In fact, through the formative years of Sikhism, the one aspect that every guru patronised was the feeling of being a part of a free community that believed in cooking together and eating together. It was one of the philosophy of good life that was propagated by Guru Nanak Dev in the early years, who insisted on his followers to have a good meal at the langar before meeting him.

The “insistence” became an “establishment” under Guru Amar Das, who is credited for giving Guru Ka
Langar, its omnipresence in gurudwaras.

A famous story that illustrates the rise of langar from an
innovative charity and symbol of equality to emerge as the finest legacy cuisine of India occurred
during the early Mughal period.

Munch on this

Food lore states that once Emperor Akbar and the King of Haripur went to meet Guru Amar Das. When asked for an audience, the third guru agreed but insisted, “first have the langar and then we will meet.” Whether the emperor and the king agreed willing or not, they eventually sat down to eat their simple meal amongst the many devotees. It was at that moment ‘equality’ was defined. Since then, Guru Ka Langar, which some believe could have been inspired by the early Sufi saint-run Khanqahs (free kitchen to serve the destitute), became the school that taught the virtue of not only charity and selfless service but also of creating communities that weren’t based on caste, creed and colour.

While Guru Ka Langar did play an undeniable role in transforming the way leaders thought then, it played an even bigger part in promoting the traditional food habits and sustainability, which today gives it the strength to traverse boundaries. Heavily based on the food habits of that time, a langar meal, though seemed basic, but promoted the concept of local and seasonal eating.

A practice that could have been adopted because langar survived on charity — which meant that people could give away food that was available in abundance.

This eventually allowed Guru Ka Langar the much-needed mobility as it adopted to the food culture of different continents. The lack of restriction when it came to food — though langars are largely vegetarian — also meant that the food created in Indian tradition would appeal to the palates of people of different continents. Over the years, this tradition of ‘while in Rome eat like the Romans’ became the allure of langar — as people began identifying the free mess with not only Indian food, but Indian hospitality, turning Guru Ka Langar to one of our finest legacy.

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