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It is no ordinary feat to serve a meal to thousands of people in a day, round-the-clock. Yet forty to fifty thousand people, on an average, partake of langar every day at Harmandar Sahib. "On Sundays, festival days and Masya, the number exceeds 1 lakh [100,000]" says jathedar Harpinder Singh, who is in charge of the langar.
Serving such a huge gathering is not an easy task but the devotion and selfless service of the sewadars makes the job simple.
"We have 300 permanent sewadars who work at the langar. They knead dough, cook food, serve people and perform a number of other jobs. Also, there are a large number of volunteers, both men and women, who work in kitchen and langar hall. They also wash and wipe the utensils. In the washing hall we have four sewadars to supervise the work," adds Harpinder Singh.
Of course, an elaborate arrangement is in place to cook and serve food at such a large scale. The langar at Harmandar Sahib is prepared in two kitchens, which have 11 hot plates (tawa), several burners, machines for sieving and kneading dough and several other utensils. At one tawi, 15 people work at a time. It is a chain process - some make balls of dough, others roll rotis, a few put them on the tawi and rest cook and collect them.
Everyone is welcome at the darbar to share the meal, with no distinction of caste or religion.
The Sikh practice of Guru ka langar was strengthened by Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh guru. Even Emperor Akbar, it is said, had to take langar with the common people before he could meet Guru Amar Das.
Langar or community kitchen was designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of langar also aimed to express the ethics of sharing and oneness of all humankind.
After eating, the utensils are collected in one part of the hall in huge bins from where they are taken away for washing. Once cleaned, the dishes are quickly but neatly stacked in huge, wheeled storage bins, ready to be used again for the next sitting.