Celebrating the ‘world’s oldest soup kitchen’
For more than 500 years, Sikhs around the world have been preparing, sharing and eating food, known as ‘langar’, with the wider community.
Now, as the nationwide need for foodbanks and soup kitchens continues to grow, seven days of awareness are being held to promote the concept to all people in need of a free meal.
Langar is a term used to describe the free kitchen and food initiative that is served to visitors at a Sikh Gurdwara.
A central part of their religion, the concept was designed by the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, in the 15th century, in order to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of their background.
In Leeds, the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) is just one Gurdwara which provides langar to those who visit the site, 365 days a year.
Operating an open door policy, any person, of any faith, is welcome to visit the place of worship for a free meal.
GNNSJ Chairman, Harbans Singh Sagoo, explained how important it was for greater awareness to be created to help people ‘struggling in society’.
“Wherever you go in the world, a Gurdwara will provide a free meal when it can,” Mr Sagoo said.
“In Leeds there are at least two that provide langar every day and we regularly have a diverse range of people coming down to use the service.
“People are facing more and more problems now because of the economy and this has brought forward the concept of foodbanks.
“We as the Sikh community want to let people know that the system of langar is available to them and by having this National Langar Week, we are attempting to create more awareness.”
He added: “Our scriptures say that ‘where the spirit of God prevails, nobody should go hungry’ and we must practice our faith, not just preach it.
“Langar is a concept that can help people, particularly those who are homeless or socially deprived, and so we must help who we can.”
Every meal served is suitable for vegetarians as to cater for people of all beliefs, including Muslim (halal) and Jewish (kosher), regardless of where the gurdwara is in the world.
The central gurdwara for the Sikh faith, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and serve up to 50,000 meals a day free of charge and that number can increase to more than 80,000 during celebrations.
Mr Sagoo said he does everything he can to ensure all people are catered for when they come to the door of the Beeston-based Gurdwara yet accepted that there are sometimes challenges to overcome.
“Langar has been abused in the past with people who are perhaps drunk or on drugs coming to the gurdwara and being disruptive.
“This causes a conflict, because as men of faith we need to show compassion, yet they cannot come in to the place of worship if they are behaving poorly.
“Therefore, we invested in plastic boxes to carry food so now if someone comes to the door and is drunk or disorderly, we give them the food in a box to take away and eat.
“We would still much rather people come inside to sit down and talk to us because that is how you forge friendships and learn about each other’s lives.”
National Langar Week is officially held this year between 1st and 7th November.