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Langar (Punjabi: ਲੰਗਰ) (kitchen), is the term used in Sikhism for the community kitchen in a Gurdwara where a free meal is served to all the visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. The free meal is always vegetarian. People sit on the floor and eat together, and the kitchen is maintained and serviced by Sikh community volunteers.
The word langar has origins in the Punjabi language. The Indian origin theory links langar to langal (लङ्गल), a Sanskrit word for "plough, anchor" connoting a place to rest and linked to food or an almshouse.
The langar concept was an innovative charity and symbol of equality introduced by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak around 1500 CE. The roots of such community kitchen institutions and volunteer run charitable feeding is very old in the Indian traditions. The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim I Ching (7th-century CE) wrote about monasteries with such volunteer run kitchens. Similarly, Hindu temples of the Gupta Empire era had attached kitchen and almshouse called Dharma-shala or Dharma-sattra to feed the travelers and poor for free, or whatever donation they may leave. These community kitchens and rest houses are evidenced in epigraphical evidence, and in some cases referred to as Satram (for example, Annasya Satram), Choultry or Chathram in parts of India.
A related concept emerged from the practices of Fariduddin Ganjshakar, a Sufi saint living in the Punjab region during the 13th century, who would redistribute sweets his visitors would bring to his khalifas and common devotees. This concept developed, over time, into langar-khana near his shrine, a practice documented in Jawahir al-Faridi compiled in 1623 CE. According to Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, a professor of Sikh Studies, community kitchens were already operating in Punjab when Guru Nanak founded Sikhism, and these were run by Muslim Sufi orders and by Hindu Gorakhnath orders. However, Guru Nanak developed it as a part of the institutional framework that helped evolve the community free of any prejudices.
In Sikhism, the practice of the langar, or free kitchen, is believed to have been started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. It was designed to uphold the principle of equality among all people, regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. The second Guru of Sikhism, Guru Angad, is remembered in Sikh tradition for systematizing the institution of langar in all Sikh temple premises, where visitors from near and far could get a free simple meal in a communal seating. He also set rules and training method for volunteers (sevadars) who operated the kitchen, placing emphasis on treating it as a place of rest and refuge, and being always polite and hospitable to all visitors.
It was the third Guru, Amar Das, who established langar as a prominent institution, and required people to dine together irrespective of their caste and class. He encouraged the practice of langar, and made all those who visited him attend langar before they could speak to him.
Langars are held in gurdwaras all over the world, some of which attract homeless population according to news reports. The Sikh volunteers feed them without any discrimination, along with the other devotees who gather. Major Indian and overseas gurdwaras operate langars where local communities, sometimes consisting of hundreds or thousands of visitors, join together for a simple vegetarian meal.
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