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Langar, The Sikh Refectory - Sangat And Pangat (from Sikh Chic)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Guru Nanak felt that the real cause of the misery he saw in the people of the land was their disunity born of diversity of belief.

He, therefore, refused to recognize any distinction between man and man and tried to bring his followers together both in thought and deed. He inculcated a common mode of worship and a common social institute by laying the foundation of sangat and pangat.

Sangat means ‘association‘. It is the getting together of noble and good people.

Pangat literally means a ‘row‘. It stands for people sitting and eating together in the same row in guru-ka-langar.

From the time of Guru Nanak, sangat and pangat have gone together, for the Sikhs, both in precept as well as in practice. Wherever there was a sangat there also was a langar, as these sangats were 'not merely places of worship but also wayside refectories which gave food and shelter to indigent wayfarers.' [Glossary of Punjab Tribes & Castes, 1:687]

Bhai Gurdas recapitulates the every day duties of a Sikh thus:

"A Sikh is to rise from his bed in the last watch of the night and take his bath. He should then repeat the Name in silence and absolute concentration as instructed by the Guru. His next duty is to go to the sangat and there, steeped in true reverence, recite and listen to the holy hymns. And before partaking of his food, he should distribute a part of it to others. At dusk he is enjoined upon to recite the Sodar and, before retiring, the Sohila." [Bhai Gurdas' Vaars, VI:3, XI:4, XI, XII]

A Sikh has thus been given a simple routine for daily practice. He has been asked to cultivate a certain discipline. A true Sikh has to be unceasing in his devotion and service to the sangat.

The Sikh concept of charity or philanthropy is a social concept. Charity or daan in the Sikh religion is not merely ‘giving alms'. It rather stands for service. The exhortation of daan was meant to create an economic agency, which through offerings made to the Gurus served to keep the Sikh langars alive.

Later on, it crystallized into the institution of daswandh (tithe) and the Gurus established masands for its collection.

[In the time of the Afghan kings, nobles were styled Masnad-I-Ali. Hence the word masnad was employed as an ordinary appellation of courtiers. From its frequent use, it was changed on the tongues of Sikhs into masands. The Guru was called Saccha Padshah or the True King, so his agents were styled masands.] - Dabistan-i-Mazahib

Teacher, scholar and translator, Prof. Teja Singh says: "It is the glory of the Sikh history that the Guru had in mind the duties of a nation, as much as the duties of an individual."

The Sikhs were given the realization that their concern was not merely their personal salvation, but being members of a community they also had a larger set of duties and responsibilities. The ideal of service in this larger context became intimately bound up with the concept of the ‘Sikh Brotherhood' or the Sikh Sangat.

So the ideal of service for a Sikh ceases to be merely individualistic and involves a sense of corporate responsibility. A corporate sense could only arise if certain obligations were made definite and universal, so that the character of a corporate liability is evolved.

"It is important to grasp this," says Indu Bhusan Bannerji [Evolution of The Khalsa, V-I:254], "because it explains the speciality that arose in Sikhism. It shows why, inspite of the fact that the ideal of service and the inculcation of a spirit of brotherhood were equally significant features of almost all the schools of religious revival in contemporary India, it was in Sikhism alone that a sense of corporate unity gradually evolved."

And from its earliest days, in Sikhism, one manifestation of this corporate obligation was the maintenance of the Langar.

As the faith gradually grew and gained popularity, a situation arose when it became necessary to organize the sangats and provide the Sikhs with convenient local centres. It was to meet this necessity that the manji-system was reorganized during the days of Guru Amar Das.

He divided the Sikh ‘spiritual empire' into 22 bishoprics or manjis. "Manji' literally means the couch on which the Gurus sat and issued instructions to their audiences. These manjis organized the Sikh Sangats; and as the sangats multiplied steadily, so grew the Guru-ka-Langar, a free community kitchen, which is an essential part of every Sikh Gurdwara.

* * * * *

The Masands, together with the Sangats, formed the pivot of the organization during the time of Guru Arjan and for several decades creditably served the cause of Sikhism. The well-knit organization of the Sangats and the Masands not only kept the Sikhs together and in touch with the Guru, but also provided them with funds necessary for the various kitchens at different places and for other common purposes.

Under Guru Hargobind and his successors, the system of Sangats and Masands was supplemented by several Dhuans (hearths) and Bakhshishs (bounties). [Teja Singh, Sikhism: Its Ideals & Institutions, pp 72-3]

But the masand-system could not continue long in proper order. The misappropriation of offerings became a habit with almost all the masands. So Guru Gobind Singh, convinced of the perversity of the masands, discontinued this system.

* * * * *

Because of liberal traditions, Sikhs are bound by no strict dogmas or rituals. They observe no rigid do's and don'ts in the matter of food and recognize no difference between man and man in sangat and pangat. These are the inviolable principles of the Sikh tradition as laid down by Guru Nanak and carried on by the other Gurus, and are being followed by the faithful Sikhs till now.

A true Sikh spirit shines through the congregational prayers and singing of hymns in the Sikh sangats, and serving of food in the langars to all who sit in the pangats, which are essential religio-social services in the gurdwaras. These institutions have played a great role to build the liberal and tolerant character of the Sikhs.

In fact. Sangat and Pangat had a potent influence in the emancipation of the down-trodden in India in general and the Punjab in particular. These institutions gradually brought before the people the vision of a classless democratic society, where all could claim equal status in faith and in practice.

These allied and integrated institutions bestow upon Sikhs a distinct individuality, dignity and unity. They give them the discipline of service and a spirit of co-operation; teach them philanthropy, equality and brotherhood.



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