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Arizona Sikhs Serve Langar at Huge Interfaith Gathering
Dr Jaswant Singh Sachdev, MD
“Oh! What a beautiful treat? What an amazing religious tradition of the Sikh faith? Never heard of such a religion that serves food to all and at every religious service. What a concept of sharing and equality? Thank you! our Sikh brothers and sisters” These were the different voices heard all over from those who came to share Langar at Heritage square in downtown Phoenix after Sikh community of Phoenix, Arizona took a lead from the Sikhs of England. About one and half years ago, Sikhs from England set a unique example of the Sikh tradition of Langar at World religious conference in Barcelona, Spain. Thousands and thousands of people who attended that event were continuously served Langar or the Free Kitchen for two to three days by the Sikhs of England under the banner of Nishkaam Seva Jetha of England.
Some of the members of Interfaith Movement from Phoenix belonging to other faiths had attended that event at Barcelona in the past and had been fascinated by it. When a similar kind of event was planned in downtown Phoenix on November 17th, the Sikh Community took the lead and came forward to serve Langar to the entire gathering. It was felt by many Sikh residents that this will be another unique opportunity to show off our unique Sikh identity through this noble Sikh tradition. This became further important for Arizona in the past had already earned the dubious distinction of being first in losing one of its Sikh residents in hate crime immediately after 9-11. Additionally, in this week the Sikhs all over the world were celebrating Prakash Utsav (Birthday) of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh faith, who had initiated this unique concept for Sikhs to follow.
The Lungar or “The Free Community Kitchen” as many in the west would often call it, is one of the fundamental and most important religious traditions of the Sikh faith the like of which is found in no other faith. Historically this tradition of the Langar (Free Kitchen) or Temple of bread was started by Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. “He advised that all Sikhs must share “Vand Chhaknna” their food with others. Later on, this tradition took upon the form of an institution. Every Sikhs was expected to either contribute in the form of donating food or help in preparation or in the service. Guru Angad, the second Guru of the Sikhs further expanded it and personally volunteered in serving it. Mata Khivi, His wife would often look after the pilgrims who will come from all over the country to visit with Guru Ji and supervise preparation of the Langar. The kitchen will stay open from early morning to late evening so that each and every one who wished could come and join in, In fact the visit with Guru would always require to first join in a Pangat or line to have Langar before one could join into the Sangat or congregation. Food first and congregation next- ‘Pahle Pangat Pachhey Sangat’
Guru Amar Dass, the third Guru of the Sikh formalized this tradition and put it on firm footing. Even Akbar, the then Emperor of India and Raja of Haripur were asked to sit on the floor with common people and take meals with them before an audience with the Guru. (Sikhpoint) Guru Ramdas the 4th Guru of the Sikhs furthered it by serving water and meals to travelers. Similarly 5th Guru of the Sikhs and his wife also personally served the Sangat. Traditionally in a Langar, all persons are asked to share food sitting in line touching one another regardless of the societal status and richness. This was to undo the harm that was being done to Indian Society as a result of despicable division.
On the evening of November 17th, a group of about 50 Sikhs assembled in Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix to serve Langar to a huge expected gathering of Interfaith Movement in a unique and grand way. Fresh hot vegetarian full dinner was prepared couple of hours earlier. As soon as the members belonging to other faiths started arriving they were asked to take their shoes off. A separate area was earmarked where Sikh women volunteers and children bagged their shoes and kept them. Rows of long pieces of carpet were already spread down on the floor where visitors were respectfully asked to sit in Pangats touching one another. The langar was then served by Sikh Volunteers in exactly the way it is done in a Gurdwara. From 500 to 700 people were served Guru Ka Langar that had been sanctified with Ardas before hand. A slide presentation highlighting the history, significance and pictures of Langar service in Gurdwaras was continuously projected upon a huge screen visible to every body while they were enjoying Langar. Simultaneous Kirtan, the singing of Gurbani was continuously played in the background.
The entire gathering was fascinated by this unique tradition of the Sikhs that not only serves free food but also breaks the barrier of caste system and rejects the difference between high and low. In fact the citizens of the valley and interfaith group could not believe as to how such a small community could pull their resources together and show their generosity for giving and serving selflessly. This effort of local Sikh community will go a long way in dispelling ignorance about Sikhs and their identity while letting the rest of the world know about their incomparable religious tradition.
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