The story behind the famous Langar at the Golden Temple

The most important of the Sikh gurdwaras and the largest, Harmandir Sahib, sees footsteps of around 1,00,000 people every day. Of these, about 50,000 to 80,000 people eat the Langar meal each day and perhaps twice as much on weekends and on days of religious significance. The langar was instituted in 1577 by Guru Ramdas Ji, the fourth of the holy Sikh gurus. The Golden Temple langar complex, the Guru Ramdas Community Kitchen with its one-acre workspaces, kitchens and two dining rooms, is located right next to the entrance on the east side of the temple courtyard, near the dukh bhanjani Ber tree. It’s an awesome sight to see how the place works and how so many are managed.

The kitchens are run with military efficiency and kept spotlessly clean. Food is served day and night, except for a short break of around 4.30 am to 5 am. The langar is cooked in three batches. The dining rooms spanning over 50,000 square feet can accommodate approximately 5,000 people at a time. There are around 500 employees (including 12-15 cooks) working in three shifts, employed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak committee, which is in charge of the operations of the gurudwara. Some 150 dressmakers and 250 volunteers help carry out the myriad of tasks of running what has been called the world’s largest free kitchen. Volunteers help with all activities except for the actual cooking, which is done by the cooks.

Staff, dressmakers and volunteers are grouped together for each type of service. There are marked areas for volunteers to prepare food, such as peeling potatoes and chopping vegetables. The Sewadars and the assistants take care of the dishes. All used utensils, plates, and spoons should be cleaned after a lot of devotees have eaten. Each plate is washed three to five times to make sure it is clean and suitable for the next dinner.

Do the Langar at the Golden Temple

On a typical day, the catering service at the Golden Temple begins at 5 a.m. Pilgrims who have slept through the night at the temple complex gather in the dining halls and sit in rows for morning tea and cookies. Sewadars roll steel containers on wheels along the rows. The tea flows into small steel cups from a tap at the bottom of each container. From 5 am to 7:30 am, approximately 50,000 cups of tea are served with cookies or bread. Tea is generally available throughout the day, outside the dining rooms.

At 8 a.m., the kitchens are ready with the first meal of the day. The guests keep their heads covered as they did to enter the Darbar Sahib. Volunteers distribute clean stainless steel plates, katoris (bowls) and spoons. The dressmakers walk down the rows and pull out rice, dal, and curries in stainless steel buckets. The rotis are usually placed on the outstretched hands of the diner, in the same way that the karah parshad is distributed, indicating the humility of the recipient of the blessing. Once a group of guests has left the room, volunteers quickly clear the room of plates, bowls and spoons. Another group of volunteers cleans the floor while another begins to wash used plates and cutlery in long troughs fitted with running water tubes. The thousands of cleaned steel plates are stacked in huge carts. In no time at all, everything is ready for the next batch of diners.

The menu includes rice, dal, chapati, sabzi, channa, salad and dessert, usually kheer such as lauki ki kheer, sheera or both (the variety of vegetable curry and kheer changes day). depending on the menu and the ingredients at hand). Dal is usually the delicious wali dal langar. A room, equipped with huge cauldrons sitting on wood-fired ovens, is reserved for the manufacture of dal. In each cauldron, 400 kg of dal is cooked slowly for about three hours with onions, garlic, 12 kg of masala, 12 kg of haldi (turmeric powder), 24 kg of salt and 48 kg of ghee. Periodically, the dal is stirred using a long rod, but otherwise it is left to cook undisturbed.

Most of the work in the kitchens is manual. There are three chapatti making machines with conveyor belts, each with a production capacity of 4000 chapati per hour. However, since service is an integral part of the langar, these machines are only used when there are very large numbers to be supplied. Women volunteers do chapati manually on normal days and supplement the machines on high traffic days. The women unroll the chapati with speed and dexterity, on an assembly line system. One group rolls the rotis, another group, usually Sewadar men, take care of them on the huge griddle, turning them with a long rod. A third applies a little ghee to each roti using a piece of cloth attached to a stick and dipped in the bowl of ghee.

On festivals and special days such as Gurupurub and Diwali, additional items may be added to the menu. The Jalebis are a highlight of Baisakhi.

The temple’s annual budget was recorded as Rs 1,106 crore for 2017-18. About Rs 30 crore is set aside for langar (Rs 12 lakh per day for normal days and Rs 16 lakh per day on festival days), with about 25 percent of the material required being offerings by devotees. A procurement team and manager plan, purchase and organize logistics for the rest of the materials. A small fleet of vehicles collects the material at the entrance to the town, as the roads leading to the Langar complex are too narrow to accommodate large trucks and trucks. Firewood and gas fuel the kitchen, supported by the makers of electrically powered chapati. About 5,000 kg of firewood and 100 LPG gas cylinders are used every day. The ghee used is pure desi ghee and it gives the food a special aroma and taste. Atta up to 10,000-12,000 kg; 10,000 to 13,000 kg of dal; 1,000 to 1,500 kg of rice; 2,000 kg of vegetables; 500-700 kg of ghee; 1000 kg of sugar and 5000 liters of milk are consumed every day. At least 750 kg of powdered milk powder is used for kheer per day.

Warning:This excerpt from Bhog Naivedya: Food Offings to the Gods by Sujata Shukla Rajan was published with permission from Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.

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