Ways to one’s heart:
Many would agree the way to their heart is through the stomach. But how is some real soul food if its completely free? Introducing the world’s largest community kitchen: Langar Ka Prasad at the iconic Harmandir Sahib, more commonly known as the Golden Temple. Amritsar is not only the capital of the Sikhs but also recognised as the culinary capital of India. Kulchas, lassi, jalebi–you name it, they’ve got it. Tell mama there IS such a thing as free lunches in the world!
The marriage of faith and food is this truly a unique gurudwara experience. Langar (Punjabi for ‘kitchen’) is the term used in Sikhism for the community kitchen which serves a free meal to all visitors. The concept is simple: all are welcome. Swarmed with pilgrims, the rich, the poor and a sprinkle of tourists, the 24/7/365 kitchen feeds all who comes to its gates regardless of race, religion, caste or economic status. Everyone sits on the floor together, gets served together, eats together and washes up together. It is serviced entirely by volunteers (also of all faiths and socio-economic backgrounds) from the raw materials donated to cooking, serving and cleaning. At the rate they work, this is the real fast food. Better yet, it nourishes the stomach and the soul.
What goes on in the kitchen is an absolute spectacle. People of all ages come together to chop the vegetables, peel the potatoes, stir bubbling cauldrons of dahl, mix massive amounts of atta to roll out pillows of roti. They work in an efficient production system. The meals are almost always vegetarian, with some exceptions like Holla Mohalla where the Nihang Sikhs may serve meat on the day of the festival. While there are many langars throughout the world, the one in the Golden Temple is the largest to date, serving an average of 80,000 people a day and even more on the weekends.
Fun fact: Everything is still made by hand, but a kind devotee donated an automatic roti maker which is meant to churn out 25,000 rotis an hour. It’s put into action on days larger crowds are expected, but on most days, they are still made by hand.
The best time to visit the shrine is in the morning when the Guru Granth Sahib is brought into the inner sanctum. As you arrive, you’d see turbaned men bathing in the ‘Pool of Nectar’. The artificial lake’s peachy hue is reflected from all of the 1,300kg gold shrine. It quite literally, is the shining example of You enter any of the four entrances, leaving your shoes behind. Both males and females must cover their heads (there are cheap cover-ups sold outside the gurudwara). Step through the holy cleansing water, say a little prayer, have a quiet moment, take a wander around the gilded marble complex then head over to the langar.
The air is thick with spices of cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and the like. Onions, garlic and fiery red chilies punch through the air. It’s a marvel for the senses. Bearded barefoot men hover over vast cauldrons, while others knead away. Each is given a metal tray. Volunteers walk up and down the lines slapping dahl of all kinds into the various compartments, and chapatis fly around as they get handed out. Water gets pumped into your silver bowls on the side from a tank. Seconds, thirds, fourths are all given out for free as long as you finish them. You then shuffle on to communal washing up when you’re done, brushing the plates in the soapy water troughs. The silver percussion thunders on as groups and groups continuously come in for food.
In this case, “you are what you eat” has a meaning far and beyond. Long standing tradition from the advocation of diversity and tolerance not only in Sikhism but in India throughout, this scene of an unsaid cross cultural agreement is the truest reflection of accommodation and kindness.
Even if you don’t have the time for langar, catch the Karah Prasad on your way out. Jostle among the crowd a little for this ghee-laden delicacy, where chai is also offered. As you take your sip, marvel at this phenomenal feat the gurudwara achieves on the daily, and bask in the contentment of all who are there.