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India Kindness In A Kitchen


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
US President Barack Obama, recently embroiled in a “religious” controversy, is likely to visit Amritsar’s Golden Temple during his visit to India this year. As I was reading up on it, I came across a very interesting article in the New York Times and I was, for a moment, ashamed that what I knew of the temple was only from scenes from popular Bollywood movies.

For example, though I knew of the community kitchen at the Temple, the langar, I did not know this – “Sikhism, which emerged in the Punjab region of India in the 15th century, strongly rejects the notion of caste, which lies at the core of Hinduism.“ Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of Sikhism is said to have established the practice of offering langar (free food) to disciples before spiritual services.

First food, then God:

Guru Nanak’s tenets of Sikhism endorse two as the most important: Pangat (one row, loosely translated as sitting together in a row and partaking of a meal) and Sangat (association with the good). While it may be way too optimistic of me, I think this is a wonderful way of perpetuating peace in this disturbed world. Hunger is said to be the root cause of all evil – acts of terrorism, violence, murder. I belong to what I believe should be the most recognised sect of Brahminism – the “A satiated Brahmin is a devout Brahmin” sect. And this tenet of pangat first, sangat next sits very well with me indeed.

There are variations of this in every faith: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you, to name one. It’s simple, isn’t it? We get together, we talk, we eat, we pray and we part.

Each weekday, it is said that close to 80,000 visitors go home spiritually and gastronomically satiated, for visitors to the temple don’t need to be of any particular caste or religion to visit, be made to feel welcome or fed a sumptuous vegetarian meal. People of all faiths are welcome not only to eat, but to serve in some way – they can cook, they can sweep, they can clean or they can eat in peace and sit in companionable silence till it’s time to go home.

And of course, fire burn, and cauldron bubble. But there is nothing wiccan or demonic about the community kitchen at the Harmandir Sahib, the holiest shrine for Sikhs, known to all as the Golden Temple. Sikhs and other community helpers toil over giant cauldrons to cook dal and over 2 lakh rotis are made every day for the hungry disciple, the accidental visitor, the curious tourist or the insouciant yuppie. State of mind isn’t a problem either, leave alone religion or social status.

And cooking for a hundred thousand hungry souls daily will leave behind a holy mess (pun wholly intended) as far as dishes and cooking space go, right? People serve in this capacity also – sweeping, doing the dishes, cleaning the massive kitchen, clearing the eating area for the next meal (lunch and dinner are served here) and then maybe indulge in a “communion before a communion” and sip a pyaala of chai before evening prayers.

Video of a tourist’s langar experience:

YouTube - Amritsar Golden Temple Lunch

When I read about this last week, I reached out to my good friend Sukhdeep, who was kind enough to let me share his pictures. Here are more pics from his photostream, when he took Bobby Chinn’s entourage around for Discovery TLC. He’s also promised to share tips on when and how to get there, so my next vacation plans have been made :D

Read also Pangat and Sangat

A time to eat, a time to pray – this appeals to the vegetarian, the foodie, the peacenik and the spiritual explorer in me. There’s something to take away from the world’s largest free eatery for me – that if charity begins at home, then kindness probably mushrooms in the kitchen.

I’m sure even the fish in the pond agrees.



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