These men would like to cook your lunch.
After three days in Amritsar, I’m back in New Delhi, holed up in a hotel room waiting for the hue and cry surrounding today’s attacks to die down. And I don’t mind much. The attacks have given me a lot to think about, but frankly my mind is still filled with the sights, smells, and insights I gained in Amritsar. Primarily I was there to learn about Sikhism. The Sikhs are an incredible group. This story of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple, and a kitchen that feeds up to 170,000 people a day for free can do nothing if not overturn the misconceptions of us westerners left squeamish around bearded men with turbans by the constant barrage of post-911 propaganda.
The Sikh religion is a reform movement that began in India around the 1480′s. As one of its central tenets, Sikhism holds that all people, regardless of gender, religious background, race, or caste are equal. As a way to symbolize and practice this, the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev, founded the Langar, or community kitchen. Food was to be for all, the rich would eat with the poor, and it would run, by the grace of God, on donations and volunteer labor. And it has, for over 500 years. Amritsar is amazing in this regard, the seat of a major world religion from its very inception right through till today. The Golden temple is a fascinating spiritual site. But more significant to me than any of the Sikh theology and ceremony on offer is the direct practice into which the Langar puts the Sikh injunction to serve others. Their temple may be gilded, but it is the hearts of the volunteers in this great kitchen that shine the brightest
- Amritsar’s Golden temple is daily a place of peace, reflection, daily prayer, and a site of pilgrimmage for thousands of Sikhs.
- The Temple is site to the world’s largest Langar, or community kitchen. The Langar is a symbol of equality and offers free vegetarian meals to all.
- The Langar is a tradition started by Guru Nanek, the first Sikh guru. It is intended to demonstrate the equality of all people. It is not merely there to serve the needy. It is open to all, and rich, poor, men, women, people of all religions eat side-by-side.
- The Langar’s operations manager stands by stacks of warm Chapatis ready to be dispensed to guests. The Langar never closes, and the kitchens run round the clock.
- Volunteers prepare all the food. This young girl chops onions into a large pan. Discarded onion peels are swept into heaps.
- Two volunteer women shell garlic for use in the food. Much of the food is donated to the Langar, which runs entirely on volunteer labour, and donations.
- Cauldruns ten or twelve feet across are heated by roaring log fires kept alive by electric fans. On a slow day, the Langar serves 80,000 guests.
- Smaller vessels are used to prepare food during less busy times of the day. Two men stir a bubbling cauldrun of potato chilli stew.
- Bread is an important component of any Indian Meal. Making bread for 80,000 people a day is an impressive task in itself. Whole wheat dough is neaded here.
- This volunteer’s task is to sit atop the chapati machine, catch large chunks of dough, and press them into the top of the machine.
- Warm flatbreads appear at the other end of the machine. Bread is used to soak up much of the liquid in the dishes served at the Langar.
- Supplimentary bread-making takes place over iron griddles. During busy times, the chapati machine cannot keep up with the demand for bread, and there are several stations like this one around the Langar, where small crews knead, roll, and fry flatbreads to accompany the meals.
- Once the bread is cooked it is gathered into baskets, and sent to the dispensary to be handed to the guests.
- Volunteers serve food from large buckets. The stew is mixed with a long steel spatula before buckets are filled in the dispensery, and taken through to the adjoining dining hall.
- Portions are evaluated based on the size of the eater, but seconds are forthcoming, and nobody goes home hungry. Rice pudding is a staple sweet at the Langer.
- Tea, a sweet masala chai, flavoured with cardomom and ginger, traditional in the Punjabi region, is poured from bucket-sized teapots.
- All the dishes are washed by hand by volunteers. The dish-room is set up with many troughs through which water flows. Each dish goes through several rinses, some with soap.
- Clean dishes are stacked and racked ready to be sent round again. Volunteers from all over the world were present in the dish-room the morning I visited.
- A man takes a dip in the sacred waters that surround the temple. The Golden Temple is more than just a religious site. The temple is an outreach site, and its Langar is a symbol of inter-religion equality and cooperation, one we can all learn from.
- articleby:by David