The institution of Langar in the Sikh faith is commonly known as Guru-Ka-Langar. Langar is derived from Persian word meaning: 'an alms house', 'an asylum for the poor and the destitute', 'a public kitchen kept by a great man for his followers and dependents, the holy men and the needy.' Guru-Ka-Langar conveys the latter meaning. Bhai Khan Singh and Kapur Singh are of the opinion that the word langar is from Sanskrit analgrah, meaning 'the cooking place'. Kapur Singh says Guru-ka-langar was an Aryan institution which was revived by the Sikh Gurus. He writes that this institution was used by the Gurus as powerful lever for equalitarian uplift of the people, by demolishing caste barriers and ethnicity discrimination. The Sikh Gurdwaras are not only places of worship but also the training centre of service. Such services as sweeping the precincts, serving drinking water to the thirsty, fanning the congregation in hot weather and serving food to the hungry have always formed an integral part of the functions in a Sikh shrine. Of these, langar is perhaps the most important. A Sikh Gurdwara without a free kitchen is inconceivable and the largest community langar is at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, the epicentre for divinity and spirituality. In its very inception, a protest against the inequities of the caste system, the Sikh langar is a 'common refectory' attached to every Gurdwara. Guru Nanak Dev Ji had started a crusade against the tyrannies of the high born over the people of humble origin; and the Guru's langar was an institution which was promulgated in this holy campaign. A practical step to root out the evil which was eating into the very vitals of the Indian people, the free kitchen became the foundation of equality and fraternity, among the followers of the Guru. If one studies write the ideals of Sikh faith, one would be simply impressed by a really unique feature: the secularisation of service. And this ideal is most vividly practiced in the Guru's free kitchen, which is open to all. Those who profess other faiths are as freely allowed to partake of and help in the running of the kitchen as the followers of the Sikh faith themselves. No distinction is made between man and man, between the Sikhs and the non-Sikhs, between the high caste and the low caste, in the seating or serving food in the Guru's kitchen. ' Men of God, wherever they are, of whatever race or creed, belong to one community, the community of man, free from the chains of birth, creed and race.' The Sikh Gurus exhorted their followers to regard everyone as their own brother. We are brothers born of the same father. 'Our Father is one and we are all his children.' We are members of one family. All the Gurus showed in actual life how this percept of the 'Brotherhood of Man' was to be lived out; the free kitchen is perhaps the best demonstration of the same Love and active sympathy for the downtrodden to lift and hug the fallen, and to share our earnings with the needy and the poor are some of the factors of a true religion. And the free kitchen is an institution where these noble ideals can be practiced. A Sikh Gurdwara is a central place of worship and langar is a place for serving each other. In a langar a mingling of all classes is provided and in dining together realisation of the truth 'all food is gift of God and that prejudices about it are entirely invalid'. 'Bread and water belong to the Lord - and the desire to serve, the pleasure of Sikhs' - is the common utterance of the Guru's disciples when serving in the free kitchen. Langar, in short, helps in teaching service, spreading equality, removing untouched ability and such other evils and prejudices as spring from social and racial distinctions. The institution of langar is as old as the Sikh faith. It was started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and carried on by his successors. Guru Nanak Dev Ji declared that every Sikh-house should be Sach-Dharmsal (a place of open hearted charity, truth and devotion). In the words of Bhai Gurdas, 'Wherever the holy feet of Guru Nanak Dev Ji touched, Dharamsals were erected', which were at once the houses of charity as well as devotion. In a way the kitchen in every Sikh's house is a Guru-ka-langar, as he is enjoined to share his food with others. Bhai Puran Singh Ji rightly observes: 'Today no Sikh with a grain of faith in him, can possibly think that he owns the bread.' Langar in a Sikh Gurdwara is the community kitchen. Every Sikh is expected to take part in the running of the kitchen. He may pay for the expenses, bring provisions or personally contribute labor of love, by cleaning utensils, fetching water or fuel, or taking a hand in cooking and distributing food. Bhai Puran Singh Ji calls Guru's langar 'Temple of Bread' and says: 'What is a home, but a hospitable feasting of children with bread and love and faith? What is spiritual life in the temple of flesh, without a full meal first? The very first temple made by Guru Nanak dev Ji, therefore, was the Temple of Bread, or Guru's Langar. In one common Temple of Bread, the bread of God was made free to the children of man. Let none be hungry where the spirit of God prevails. The Guru's people and the Guru were one home and one family, but it was no Utopian idea, as of the modern socialism or the democracy of labour, it was the democracy of soul, so gloriously invoked in the temple of the human heart by the genius of the Guru'. For a moment, if one pushes the religious fact aside, it is no ordinary feat to serve a meal to thousands of people in a day and that too round-the-clock. Forty to fifty thousand people, on an average, partake of langar every day at Harmandar Sahib. "On Sundays, festival days and Masya, the number exceeds 1 lakh," says jathedar Harpinder Singh, who is in charge of the langar. Serving such a huge gathering is not an easy task. But, the devotion and selfless service of the sewadars makes the job simple. "We have 300 permanent sewadars who work at the langar. They knead dough, cook food, serve people and perform a number of other jobs. Also, there are a good number of volunteers, both men and women, who work in kitchen and langar hall. They also wash and wipe the utensils. "In the washing hall we have four sewadars to supervise the work," adds Harpinder Singh. Of course, an elaborate arrangement is in place to cook and serve food at such a large scale. The langar at Harmandar Sahib is prepared in two kitchens, which have 11 hot plates (tawi), several burners, machines for sieving and kneading dough and several other utensils. At one tawi, 15 people work at a time. It is a chain process - some make ***** of dough, others roll rotis, a few put them on the tawi and rest cook and collect them. It is all done so meticulously that one is surprised to see that on one hot plate, in just two hours, over 20 kg of flour is used to make rotis. The kitchen also has a roti-making machine, which was donated by a Lebanon-based devotee. The machine is, however, used only on days that are likely to witness huge crowds. The machine can make rotis of 20-kg flour in just half-an-hour. To get the flour, there are two machines in the basement of the langar hall and another that kneads one quintal of flour in just five minutes. It is this fine team of man and machine that makes it possible for the gurdwara to provide 24-hour langar on all days. But, what about putting together the raw material? "About 50-quintal wheat, 18-quintal daal, 14-quintal rice and seven quintal milk is the daily consumption in the langar kitchen. We have utensils that can store up to seven quintal of cooked daal and kheer at a time," says assistant in-charge Kanwaljeet Singh. Items needed in langar are bought in huge quantities from Delhi. The purchase mainly includes pulses, while other every-day requirements are met from the local market. A stock of all items is maintained for two months, he adds. "Desi Ghee comes from Verka Milk Plant in the city Also, the devotees . make donations. In a day we receive , over eight quintals of sugar and seven quintals of dal. Often, people also donate money in langar funds. For instance, we recently received a donation of Rs 2 lakh from a devotee who wanted to bear all langar expenses for a day ," says in-charge Harpinder Singh. "Besides dal-roti, kheer and karah prasad is prepared on alternate days. On an average, seven quintals of milk and an equal quantity of rice is needed to prepare kheer. On festive occasions, we also distribute jalebis. Every day over 100 , gas cylinders are needed to fuel the kitchen. For making tea, 6 quintals of sugar and 20 kg of tea leaf are consumed," adds Kanwaljeet. But, all this wouldn't have been possible without the grace of Waheguru: "Loh langar tapde rahin" (may the hot plates of the langar remain ever in service) are the words that every devotee says in his prayers at the gurdwara. At a time, over 3,000 people are served on the two floors of the hall. Everyone is welcome at the darbar to share te meal, with not distinction of caste or religion. The Sikh practice of Guru ka langar was strengthened by Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh guru. Even Emperor Akbar, it is said, had to take langar with the common people before he could meet Guru Amar Das. Langar or community kitchen was designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. On the other hand, following the principle of division of labour, the sewadars in the hall make sure that sangat gets the complete meal, from pickle to rice and dal. The whole thing is highly organised - from arranging the material to cooking and then serving. After eating, the utensils are collected in one part of the hall in huge bins from where they are taken away for washing. Once cleaned, the dishes are quickly but neatly stacked in huge, wheeled storage bins, ready to be used again for the next sitting. Aashima Seth Captured on film Belgian filmmakers, Valerie Berteau and Philippe Witjes were so impressed with the langar at the Darbar Sahib that they made a documentary film on it. Entitled Golden Kitchen, the film has impressed audiences at numerous film festivals in Europe. It was adjudged 'Outstanding' at the Festival of Short Films organised at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Critics have praised the film for bringing out the beauty of what is for western audiences "an endeavour that is remarkable in scale, the clockwork efficiency with which the kitchen is organised and the fact that all the people manning the kitchen are volunteers who are inspired to undertake the heavy labour by their religious convictions." IN THY SERVICE Around 3,000 people are served meals at a go. It wouldn't be possible without sewadars, who look for no return except Waheguru's blessings.