Since the time of Guru Nanak, the first guru of the Sikh people who started the tradition in 1481, the Golden Temple in Amritsar has been serving free hot meals, also known as langar, to people of all religions and faiths who come to its doors every day.
Free langars are served at all Sikh gurudwaras, wherever they may be in the world. But the langar at the Golden Temple is special indeed. This does not have so much to do with the quality of the food, which is always delicious, but for the sheer scale of the operation and the number of devoted volunteers who prepare it with much love, every single day of the week.
Here are 10 things you must know about the langar at the Golden Temple, the largest free kitchen in the world:
1. Meals in the langar are vegetarian, and are simple, nourishing and nutritious. They usually consist of rotis (bread), rice, daal (lentils), a vegetable dish, and kheer (dessert).
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2. The langar at the Golden Temple serves a massive number – 50,000 people a day! On holidays/religious occasions, the number often goes up to 100,000!
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3. The kitchen has two dining halls, which have a combined capacity of 5000 people. People come and sit down to eat on the mats on the floor, are served food by the volunteers, and are ushered out politely to make room for the next round of diners.
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4. Serving these many people day after day is no easy task, but the clockwork efficiency of the sewadars (workers) makes the task simple. Usually, 90% of the working staff is made up of volunteers who, along with the 300 permanent sewadars, ensure the food is cooked and delivered on time. Some people volunteer for a few hours, some for a day, while others volunteer for days on end!
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5. There are two kitchens in which the food is prepared. There are 11 hot plates (tawa), several burners, machines for sieving and kneading dough, and several other utensils. On normal days, all the dishes are hand made by the sewadars.
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6. On holidays and religious occasions, a roti making machine (donated by a Lebanon based devotee) is used, which can churn out 25,000 rotis in just 1 hour!
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7. Given the numbers of diners, imagine the amount of raw material needed! About 50 quintals of wheat, 18 quintals of daal, 14 quintals of rice, and 7 quintals of milk are consumed daily in the langar kitchen. One hundred gas cylinders are needed to cook the food.
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8. Most of the raw materials are brought from Delhi, or bought locally. The kitchen receives a lot of donations too, either in cash or kind.
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9. Normal cooking vessels don’t suffice for cooking such vast quantities of food. Instead, the langar uses large vats that can store as much as 7 quintals of daal or kheer at a time!
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10. Hygiene is of utmost importance, both before and after meals. Dirty plates are handed over to another set of volunteers. Each plate is washed 5 times before being used again.
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The selflessness and generosity of the volunteers at Harmandir Sahib shows that not only is this beautiful temple made of gold, but so are the hearts of the devotees who come to worship here.
(With inputs from Varun Jadia)