Langar (Punjabi: ਲੰਗਰ, Hindi: लंगर) is the term used in the Sikh religion or in Punjab in general for common kitchen/canteen where food is served in a Gurdwara to all the visitors (without distinction of background) for free. At the langar, only vegetarian food is served, to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals. Langar is open to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.
The exception to vegetarian langar is when Nihangs (in India) serve meat on the occasion of Holla Mohalla, and call it Mahaprasad. There are also variations on langar, for example at Hazur Sahib, where meat is included. Langar is also a common term used across various units in the Indian Army, when referring to a mess, especially when there is no building and the food is served in open air (or through temporary arrangements like tents).
The institution of the Sikh langar, or free kitchen, was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. It was designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status, a revolutionary concept in the caste-ordered society of 16th-century India where Sikhism began. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. "...the Light of God is in all hearts."
After the Second Sikh Guru, the institution of langar seems to have changed, somewhat, and meat seems to have been excluded from this institution. The reason cited for this by historians is the accommodation of Vaishnavite members of the community.
The institution of Guru ka langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of Sikhs in a task of service for mankind. Even Sikh children help in serving food to the people (Sangat). Langar also teaches the etiquette of eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of equality of all human beings and provides a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary.
People from all classes of society are welcome at the Gurudwara. Food is normally served twice a day, on every day of the year. Recent reports say some of the largest Sikh community dining halls in Delhi prepare between 50,000 and 70,000 meals per day. At Golden temple nearly 100,000 people dine everyday and the kitchen works almost 20 hours daily. Each week one or more families volunteer to provide and prepare the langar. This is very generous, as there may be several hundred people to feed, and caterers are not allowed. All the preparation, the cooking and the washing-up is also done by voluntary helpers, known as Sewadars.
Besides the langars' attachment to gurdwaras, there are improvised open-air langars during festivals and gurpurbs. These langars are among the best attended community meals anywhere in the world; upwards of 100,000 people may attend a given meal during these langars. Wherever Sikhs are, they have established their langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour: “Loh langar tapde rahin—may the hot plates of the langars remain ever in service.”
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