For over 500 years, the international Sikh community has been preparing, cooking and offering up free food, known as ‘langar’ to the wider public.
Today, this tradition continues in gurdwaras across the world, and last week, seven days were held nationally to promote langar amongst the non-Sikh community.
Alerting the public that Gurdwaras are places to go for free food for anyone, with no expectations or stigmas attached, Langar Week ran from Monday 5th to Sunday 11th October.
In Leeds, a team of volunteers took to the streets in Dortmund Square on Monday to dish out some free meals and spread the word of the world’s ‘oldest soup kitchen’.
Ripaljeet Kaur was part of the organising team for the local event and said she was amazed by the response.
“We had around 900 people, from all backgrounds – professionals, students and homeless, come down for the event which was bigger than any of us could have imagined,” she said.
“All the food was donated for the day by gurdwaras in Leeds and Bradford, and it was just an amazing thing to be a part of.”
As well as serving up free food, volunteers, proudly wearing their slogan ‘Hello Hunger, Goodbye Langar’, spoke with visitors about the concept of langar.
Langar sees young and old, rich and poor, Sikh and non-Sikhs all share the same vegetarian food, in the same place, all seated at the same level.
The idea is that no one knows about your background and therefore you are not judged but accepted as equals.
“A lot of people we spoke with didn’t know about langar when we met them on the day,” Ripaljeet added.
“Regardless of beliefs, backgrounds or cultures, gurdwaras offer langar to the whole community and it is important that people know this option is available to them.”
Langar was first served up in the 16th century by the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
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, serves up to 50,000 meals a day free of charge with that number often increasing to more than 80,000 during celebrations.
Harbans Singh Sagoo, chairman of Leeds’ Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, 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,” he explained.
“This causes a conflict, because as men of faith we need to show compassion, yet they cannot come in to a 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.”