Langar to Hunger Free Kitchen

The passionate team of Guru Nanak Foundation of Canada has decades of experience by serving orphanages, blind centres, and schools of low-income and unfortunate people of Punjab and other parts of India. We have witnessed the destructive and heartbreaking impact hunger can have on the lives of many poor communities there. Starvation causes these people to feel ill and in depressed mood at all times and unable to function without energy thereby making them unfit to work and support their families. As a result, they soon fall prey to extreme poverty and become homeless. Sikhs are blessed with their valuable tradition of Langar (Free Kitchen) which is a tool to build, nurture, and sustain community in this world. 

Filling the Need to Feed

We have learned that homelessness problem is deep rooted and complex involving many associated factors such as family issues, addiction to alcohol or drugs, mental health and unethical activities. We acknowledged we had a shared responsibility to help and to make a positive change in the lives of those living on the streets.

The service we provide is not tailored to a specific community or ethnic group, we are an all inclusive faith based and value led foundation serving all of humanity under the philosophy of Sikh Gurus regardless of caste, creed, colour, faith or nationality.

Caring Close to Home

“Langar to Hunger” is the main objective and mission of this organization. To spread the divine message of Guru Nanak – “Sharing your earning for the caring of humanity” has become an emerging need to the Canadian society as well. World’s statistics are cautioning that every second, a person dies of hunger and 1 in every 6 people on Earth do not have enough food to survive. By observing these alarming stats of the world, Guru Nanak foundation has developed an excellent plan to help the homeless and needy people of the Greater Vancouver region and other parts of BC.

Our skilled and enthusiastic team members have had a good experience by working with the local free kitchen charity that is feeding homeless and needy people in the Vancouver area from more than a decade. Our hardworking volunteers have good knowledge to prepare, cook, transport and serve the fresh hot meals. With over 100 passionate youth volunteers and our special transportation vehicles to help support hungry people, we have launched a better developed project for homeless community.

We’ve also managed to form valuable links with fantastic charities, businesses, and religious organizations, which are now working alongside with us to combat homelessness and help make a better Canada. We believe that feeding the poor is about seeing the humanity that all people have in common, “It’s a platform to teach love, compassion and kindness.”

We have noticed the homeless and starving community in the Surrey and Fraser Valley area are not served by any organization efficiently. The number of homeless people is increasing rapidly day by day in these cities. With the great support and encouragement by the local Gurudwaras, Guru Nanak Foundation of Canada is determined to feed at least 1000 needy people on the weekly basis under the moto of “Guru Nanak’s Langar to Hunger”.

With the help of our network of dedicated volunteers we are committed to expand our locations so we were able to reach and help even more people day by day.

Importance of Langar Community’s Free Kitchen

The Langar or free community kitchen is a hallmark of the Sikh faith. It was established by the first Guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, around the year of 1481. It is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender, or social status; to eliminate the extreme poverty in the world, and to bring about the birth of "caring communities". 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." (Guru Granth Sahib, 282)

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For the first time in history, Guruji designed an institution in which all people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It is here that all people high or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit in the same pangat (literally "row" or "line") on the floor to share and enjoy the food together.

The volunteers (Sevadaars) can be males or females, children or adults, and these individuals help prepare the meals and serve the meals. After the meals have been served, the washing and cleaning up is also done by the sevadaars.

At the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, over 50,000 people are served every day in this way! The food there is simple, usually dal (spiced lentil soup), chapattis (whole wheat flat bread) and chawal (rice). Its taste and vibration are very divine because it is prepared and served with constant chanting and prayer. All of the food and labor are donated. It is considered a blessing and privilege to contribute in any way.

We can easily bring this tradition into our communities. If you are beset with a difficult challenge or wish blessings for a special event, whether it be dealing with a great personal loss, a stressful important decision, or a family celebration...say a prayer, make some food, and find some people to serve. You might invite friends over, bring the food to work, or share it with your neighbors.

The act of preparing and serving food with love and prayer is very potent! Such an offering brings power to your prayer, a deep sense of fulfillment, and the hand of the Divine into the resolution of your affairs. This is to say that it doesn't take a lot for you to make a difference. When you do something with goodness in your heart, it generates more goodness.

Who knows what lives you may touch when serving to the starving person? Even the smallest bit of love and kindness goes a long, long way toward making this world a finer place.

Our vision to Langar service is universal and all embracing. It is not confined to a single caste, colour, creed, country or a gender. It does not know the man made barriers or cruel diversities but believes in:# Manas ki Jaat

The life and activities of Guru Nanak were remarkable from early childhood. His father, Mehta Kalu was keen that his son should adopt a respectable and lucrative profession. At the age of 12, his father wanted him to be a trader and thus gave him 20 rupees and asked him to use the given money to "strike some good and profitable bargain" - to do a "Sacha Sauda" or to "strike a good bargain" meaning get into a profitable trading situation.

Instead of doing a worldly "good bargain", the Guru bought food with the money he had, and distributed everything among the poor and starving people of a village on his route to city. When his father asked him what happened to the money? He replied that he had done a "True business" by feeding the hungry community and providing them clothing. His father was very angry that his son had wasted the money and scolded him. However, his elder sister, Mata Nanki stood by her dear brother and strongly defended his actions.

Such noble actions of the young Nanak and his refusal to hoard worldly wealth indicated that he was no ordinary man, but one who was destined to be a true Guru, a spiritual teacher of mankind. Today, at the place where Guru Nanak had fed the poor, stands a Gurdwara named Gurdwara Sacha Sauda. This is how this tradition of Langar (serving of free food) started in Punjab.

Guru Nanak's message of Saacha Sauda (true business), from where the concept of langar comes and is being followed by the Sikhs throughout the world is a key compassionate practise for the humanity.

Guru Nanak taught Sikhs lead a family life and to follow a three-fold motto which helped them connect with God in and amongst everyday life:

  1. Naam Japo – pray and remember God
  2. Kirat Karo – earn an honest living
  3. Vand Chakko – share with others

The Institution of Langar Community Kitchen

The institution of Guru ka Langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service for mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the pangat. Langar also teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of sameness of all human beings; providing a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary.

Everyone is welcome to share the Langar; no one is turned away. The food is normally served twice a day, every day of the year. Each week a family or several 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 done by volunteers and or by voluntary helpers (Sewadars).

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Besides the Langars attached to gurdwaras, there are improvised open-air Langars at the time of festivals and gurpurbs. Specially arranged Langars on such occasions are probably the most largely attended community meals anywhere in the world. There might be a hundred thousand people partaking of food at a single meal in one such langar. 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 iron pots of Langar be ever warm (in service).”

Guru ka Langar (lit. 'Gurus' communal dining-hall) is a community kitchen run in the name of the Guru. Often referred to as the Guru's Kitchen it is usually a small room attached to a gurdwara, but at larger gurdwaras, such as the Harmandir Sahib, it takes on the look of a military kitchen with tasks arranged so that teams of sewadars prepare tons of food (all meals are vegetarian) for thousands of the Gurus' guests daily. Langar, is said to be a Persian word that translates as 'an almshouse', 'an asylum for the poor and the destitute', 'a public kitchen once kept by a great man for his followers and dependants, holy persons and the needy.' Some scholars trace the word langar to Sanskrit analgarh (cooking room). In Persian, the specific term langar has been in use in an identical sense. In addition to the word itself, the institution of langar is also traceable in the Persian tradition. Langars were a common feature of the Sufi centres in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even today some dargahs, or shrines commemorating Sufi saints, run langars, like Khwaja Mu’in ud-Din Chishti’s at Ajmer.

Principle of equality

The principle of Guru Ka Langar is so important that even when the ruler of India Emperor Akbar visited Guru Amar Das Ji, he too had to first sit in pangat lined up with commoners sharing simple foods cooked by Sikhs who months before may have been from any of India's castes. Anyone had to take Langar before he was allowed to meet with the Guru. Hence the mighty Emperor who was usually served elaborate dishes with complicate sauces, all of which had to be first tasted to assure he was not poisoned sat amongst people formerly of all castes and religions, which outside of the Sikh Langer people of differing religions would not even drink water from those of another religions' well. Or take food cooked by other of a differing religions hand.

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The Langar started by Guru Nanak was truely a revolutionary idea. Akbar was so impressed by the Langar and the service that it shared to people of any religion, that he offered a great jagir (a sizeable estate with several villages and the right to the products and produce produced by the tenants) as a contribution to the langar' maintainance. As the Mahima Prakash records, the Emperor refused to step on the silks spread out for him by his servants when going to call on the Guru. He turned aside the lining with his own hands and walked to the Guru’s presence barefoot. The Guru would not accept the Emperor's offer of the jagir, so Akbar offered it as a wedding present for the Guru's daughter. It is believed that the gifted land, is today, the city of Amritsar.

When President Nasser of Egypt visited the Golden Temple he was so touched to see so many Kashmiri Muslims, Hindu’s, Christians and Sikhs sitting together to eat in the Langar that his party left all the money they carried with them as a contribution to it’s running.

Voluntary & Selfless Service

The Langar is run by sevadars 'volunteers doing selfless service’ Sikhs and others who wish to help. It is a community kitchen and anybody can help in its running. This function of Seva results in a community feeling in peoples' minds as they drop their mask of ego. The feeling of "I" or "me" is forgotten as they perform this valuable service to humanity.

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The langar continued to perform its distinctive role, even in days of the direst persecution. Bands of Sikhs forced to wander in the deserts, jungles and mountains surrounding Punjab would cook whatever they could get, and sit in a pangat to share it equally even as they risked their lives as they dogged the trains and caravans of the Durranis, raiders who came to India for its treasures taking away the young men and women whether Sikh, Hindu or Jain as plunder to be sold in Afghanistan as slaves. Whatever food they had was shared with them all. Later, when the Sikhs came into power, the institution of langar was further consolidated because of increased number of gurdwaras running langar. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was generous in rebuilding many Gurdwaras that had been damaged in the wars and was generous in assigning sizeable jagirs to support them. He also ordered many more Gurdwaras built.

Tradition of Langar

The Langar must be:

  • Simple vegetarian meals
  • Prepared by devotees who recite Gurbani while preparing the langar
  • Served after performing Ardas
  • Food distributed in Pangat without any prejudice or discrimination
  • All food must be fresh, clean and hygienically prepared

Simple, High Quality Food Served Free

An essential part of any Gurdwara is the Langar, or free kitchen. Here the food is cooked by sevadars and is served without discrimination to all. After the Sadh Sangat has participated in any ceremony, they are served the Guru’s Langar. It was inspired by Guru Nanak’s act of serving food to wandering holy men when given money by his father to strike a good bargain. The practice of serving food to all was started with Guru Nanak’s Sikhs at Kartarpur.

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The Guru’s Langar is always vegetarian, and traditionally is made up of simple, nourishing food. Strict rules of hygiene and cleanliness are important when preparing the Langar (i.e., washed hands, never tasting it while cooking). Individuals with communicable diseases should not participate in the preparation of Langar. It is also suggested that Gurbani be recited during the preparation.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh made grants of jagirs to gurdwaras for the maintenance of langars. Similar endowments were created by other Sikh rulers as well. Today, practically every gurdwara has a langar supported by the community in general. In smaller gurdwaras cooked food received from different households may comprise the langar. In any case, no pilgrim or visitor will miss food at meal time in a gurdwara. Sharing a common meal sitting in a pangat is for a Sikh is an act of piety. So is his participation in cooking or serving food in the langar and in cleaning the used dishes. The Sikh ideal of charity is essentially social in conception. A Sikh is under a religious obligation to contribute one-tenth of his earnings (daswand) for the welfare of the community. He must also contribute the service of his hands whenever he can, service rendered in a langar being the most meritorious.

Keep the Langar ever open

The last words of Guru Gobind Singh before before he passed away at Nanded were, Keep the langar ever open , his final wish requested of Bhai Santokh Singh. One of the lines in Guru ji's Dasam Granth reads: “Deg tegh jag me dou chalai—may langar (charity) and sword (instrument of securing justice) together prevail in the world.” The first Sikh coin minted in the eighteenth century carried the Guru's maxim in Persian: “Deg tegh fateh—may langar and sword be ever triumphant.”

The Protocols to make Langar

When preparing food for the Langar, the mouth and nose will be covered by a piece of cloth known as a "parna". Also during the preparation due regard is made to purity, hygene and cleaniness, the sevadars (selfless workers) will normally utter Gurbani and refrain from speaking if possible.

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When the Langar is ready, a small portion of each of the dishes is placed in a plate or bowls and placed in front of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and a prayer called the Ardas is performed. The Ardas is a petition to God; a prayer to thank the Creators for all His gifts and blessings. A steel kirpan is passed through each item of food, after the "Guru-prashad" (holy food) has been blessed. The blessing of the Langar with Ardas can be done anywhere, in case the Langar needs to be served before the completion of the Gurdwara ceremony. The Langar is not eaten until the Ardas has been recited. After the Ardas is completed, each item of food is returned back to its original pot or container. It is said that the blessings of the "holy" food are thus passed to the entire Sangat (congregation) through the Langar.

When serving the Langar, the servers must observe strict rules of cleanliness and hygiene. Servers should not touch the serving utensils to the plates of those they serve. When serving foods by hand, such as chapatis or fruit, the servers’ hands should not touch the hand or plate of those they are serving. Those serving should wait until all others have been completely served before they sit down to eat themselves. It is advisable not to leave any leftovers.

Sikhs believe that it is against the basics of Sikhism to eat meat, fish or eggs, hence non-vegetarian foods of this sort is neither served nor brought onto the Gurdwara premises. Others believe that the reason vegetarian food is served in Gurdwaras is so that people of all backgrounds can consume the food without any anxiety about their particular dietary requirement and to promote complete equality among all the peoples of the world. Alcoholic and narcotic substances are stringently against the Sikh diet, hence these with any meat products are strictly not allowed on Gurdwara premises.