Guruís Langar

Charnjit Singh Bal

The reformist Sikh Gurus practiced what they preached. Guru Nanak Sahib founded village Kartarpur [Lahore], settled there and started agriculture farming at the end of his fourth and last odyssey. From avails of his labor he started a charitable social service of providing food to the needy and advised his Sikhs [disciples] to do the same. The successive Sikh Gurus traditionalized that charitable social service. The tradition later came to be known as Guruís Langar and became an institution and an integral part of the Gurudwaras (Sikh Temples).

When the compassionate Sikh Gurus established this unique institution five hundred years ago, there were no charitable institutions, Taverns, inns or motels to cater to the impoverished and travelers. The segregationist Brahmans had instituted caste system that divided the Indiaís Hindu society into four socio-religious tiers. The Brahmins placed themselves at the top and Shuderas were relegated to the lowest tier. The latter were ostracized, discriminated and treated worse than slaves.

The Guruís Langar combines Sikhism three noble principles, charity, community service and Social equality. Funded by the Sikh congregationsí voluntary donations or endowments the Sikh Guruís Langar is served to every one, regardless of caste, creed gender or socio-religious status, sitting at an equal level. Because of the prevalent social custom and or economic conditions at the time, every one in India dined sitting cross-legged on the floor. Even in the first half of twentieth century in India there were very few households that could afford or cared for dining tables and chairs.

With time the Guruís Langar too, just like some other noble socio-religious concepts of Sikhism seems to have lost its real objectives i.e. social equality, charity and community service. Exposed to the prolonged influence of prevalent socio-religious prejudices, customs, traditionsí dogmas and taboos of the predominant ritualistic Hindu society of India, many Sikhs have misconceived the novel concept and objectives of the Guruís Langar and convinced themselves that eating it in any way other than sitting cross-legged on the floor is a taboo. Many others consider eating Guruís Langar in itself, especially sitting on the floor, is a pious religious rite that will enhance their standing in the eyes of the Guru and the God.

The misconception combined with the misguidance of some opportunistic Sikh leaders and gullibility of some Sikhs have turned Guruís Langar into a contentious issue which has further fragmented the Sikh community. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, a prominent Sikh theologian writes,

ďThere is very little ability in us [Sikhs] to analyze. Without analyzing we start to controvert an issue on trivial arguments. Sometime ago (circa 1935/36) in response to an emigrant (of Stockton, California, USA?) Sikhís query the S. G. P. C. suggested that it is not improper to build a Gurdwara [Sikh Temple] with Guru Granth Sahibís seat at higher level and [for Sikhs to] sit on the chairs. There was strong opposition to this suggestion but no one stopped to think, as to which doctrine of Sikhism would be violated in this regard. With total reverence to the Guru Granth Sahib, Sitting how or where isnít disrespectful. In the past, in the courts of Maharajas and Kings people used to stand but with the change in time the common people too have got the right to sit. The Gurus themselves accorded cots [to sit on and preach] to the Sikh preachers."

"If Guru Arjrun Sahib hadnít built Harmandir Sahib himself, the Fundamentalists would certainly have performed Kopal Kirya (Brahmanism's skull-smashing rite during cremation to facilitate the Soul to ascend to the Heaven and join ancestors) on those who sit on the (Harmandir Sahibís) upper floors and galleries.Ē Gurmut Martund, Introduction, Page [B] (Published by S. G. P. C. 1962).

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