Sikh Gurdwara Langar Kitchen and Dining Hall Illustrated

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Sikh Woman Mixing Atta for Roti

atta langar roti
Preperation of Whole Grain Unleavened Dough Atta Seva. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Nurturing Body and Soul in the Guru's Free Kitchen

 Every Sikh gurdwara is equipped with a langar facility for feeding and nourishing both the body and soul of sangat, the congregation of worshipers who attend services in the gurdwara. Langar is a traditional concept which includes bibek principals. While preparing, cooking, serving, and eating together, the consciousness is immersed in the divine when in the gurdwara communal kitchen and dining hall. The decrees, edicts, guidelines, and unwritten rules of langar protocol are observed by devotees in the Guru's free communal kitchen. Only vegetarian food recipes are permitted to be prepared and served for langar in accordance with the Sikhism code of conduct, and dietary law.  Seva, the preparation and distribution of food, and all clean up done, is voluntarily performed by sangat.

  • The voluntary contributions and donations of sangat supply all equipment, other provisions, and food necessary for providing sustenance to the body.
  • Selfless service, and the practice of sitting side by side with out regard to cast, color, creed, or rank, in a common dining area both serve to nourish the soul cleansing it from the effects of ego.

A Sikh woman mixes atta to be used for making roti.

Pictured here: A Sikh woman mixes atta, a kind of course ground wheat flour that is used in making atta dough. The whole grained unleavened dough is to be used for making roti, a kind of Indian flat bread which is to be served with langar. Oil is used to keep the dough soft and the roti pliable when preparing large quantities. This woman preparing food to feed hundreds of worshipers in the Guru's free kitchen, is performing a kind of selfless act known as seva.

Atta Dough is a staple food that can be used in a variety of unleavened Indian flat bread recipes. Favorite atta dough recipes to try at home include:

  • Roti - a kind of staple flat bread.
  • Poori - a kind of crispy deep fried flat bread
  • Paratha - a kind of stuffed, or seasoned flat bread
  • Desi Ghee Biscuits - a kind of western quick bread as an alternative to flat bread.
  • Desi Ghee Dumplings - a kind of soft stewed biscuit.
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Sikh Youth Help Prepare Roti for Langar

Sikh Youth Making Roti for Gurdwara Langar
Indian Flatbread Seva Sikh Youth Making Roti for Gurdwara Langar. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Young Sikhs do seva of making roti, a kind of Indian flatbread for langar.

Pictured here: A group of Sikh youth are taking part in langar seva. Sikh children commonly participate in langar preparation. These young Sikhs are preparing several hundred roti for free langar that will be provided to students taking afternoon classes in gurmat studies.

Roti is a kind of Indian flat bread that is a staple served with nearly every meal served in the Sikh langar hall. There are several basic steps involved in preparing roti:

  1. Atta dough is mixed by hand or machine.
  2. A walnut size piece of atta dough is rolled between the hands to form a round pera ball.
  3.  The pera ball is flattened into a six inch disk with a belna, or rolling pin.
  4. The roti is baked on the top of a hot griddle, carefully cooking each side.
  5. The roti is buttered on one side and then wrapped in foil to keep it warm until it is served to hungry eaters.
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Sikh Women Prepare Atta and Boil Dhal for Langar

Dhal Boiling on the Gas Burners in the Langar Kitchen
Curried Lentils Cooking Dhal Boiling on the Gas Burners in the Langar Kitchen. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sikh women are busy preparing dhal in the prep area of the langar kitchen.

Pictured here: Dhal is boiling in a large kettle on a gas burner in a section of the langar kitchen. Sikh women are busy preparing langar in large enough quantities to serve several hundred worshipers. The women are working together to prepare atta dough which will be used for making roti, a kind of Indian flat bread that will served along side the daal to sangat waiting to eat in the langar dining hall.

Dhal (also spelled daal, or dal) is a staple Indian food. There are a great many varieties of daal  and an even greater variety of delicious dhal recipes. Nearly all recipes include onions, green chilies, tomatoes, turmeric and salt as a basic seasoning. Favorite langar recipes to try at home featuring dhal, lentils, peas, and beans include:

  • Community Kitchen Khichri
  • Curried Kidney Bean Chili
  • Easy Peasy Crock Pot Dhal
  • Meditative Mung Beans
  • Spicy Chickpea Curry
  • Chickpeas and Potatoes with Desi Ghee Dumplings
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Cookware in the Langar Kitchen

Deep Fry Sarbloh Karahee
All Iron Sarbloh Deep Fry Sarbloh Karahee. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

All iron deep fry karahee and steaming pot in the langar kitchen.

Pictured here: A sarbloh kaharee filled with oil sits atop a gas burner adjacent to a steaming kettle at the rear in which dhal is boiling. Sarbloh is a kind of cookware that is made of all iron and is similar in shape to a wok.

Sarbloh cookware is fashioned by hand by an iron smith and may be used for cooking any number of ways. A karahee is used used for cooking Prashad, a blessed food served at the close of the Sikh worship service. The karahee full of oil atop a gas burner is used in the langar kitchen for deep frying foods such as:

  • Jalebi - A  kind of pretzel shaped sticky sweet which is deep fried and then soaked in sugar syrup prior to serving.
  • Pakora - Minced vegetables fried in a spicy chickpea batter and served as a savory snack.
  • Poori - A popular kind of deep fried crispy flat bread.
  • Samosa - A deep fried crust filled with spicy potato and pea stuffing.
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Langar Preparations

Chopped Onions
Seasonings Chopped Onions. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Onions await cooking.

Pictured here: An enormous basket and bowl filled with onions that have been peeled and chopped, and stand ready to be used for seasoning in a variety of foods that are to be prepared for langar.

Onions are the number one seasoning used in making langar. Onions are primarily used in Tarka a seasoning prepared by frying onions together with tomatoes, chilies, and spices. Tarka is the base seasoning for a variety of langar recipes:

  • Sabji curried vegetables of all kinds.
  • Chawal recipes made with seasoned rice.
  • Dhal soups prepared with legumes, lentils, peas, or  beans.
  • Pakoras often have onions added for seasoning and flavor.
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Sink With Langar Utensils

Langar Utensils
Cooking Pots and Paddle Cooking Paddle. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Langar utensils waiting to be washed.

Pictured here: Utensils that have been used for cooking langar fill a sink. A long wooden paddle which has been used for frying tarka (seasoning) in an all iron sarbloh karahee for stirring dhal (lentils) in a deep pot, is waiting to be washed by a sevadar, any person who performs voluntary service.

All cleaning tasks in the gurdwara and langar hall are performed as voluntary service. Although many gurdwaras have installed dishwashers, much of the cleanup involved in langar kitchen maintenance continues to done voluntarily by hand. It's really quite amazing how eagerly Sikhs care for the communal langar kitchen. It's rare to find any task waiting to be done for long.

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Langar Sevadar

Langar Sevadar
Sikh Doing Seva Langar Sevadar. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sevadar doing langar cleanup.

Pictured here: A sevadar is doing dish washing seva, as a completely voluntary service. He lovingly cleans utensils which have been used in the preparation of free meals distributed to sangat in the langar dining hall.

Seva is considered an effective means of achieving humility and reducing the effects of egoism upon the soul. Humility is believed by Sikhs to be a key component to attaining enlightenment and ultimately obtaining salvation. Seva in the langar facility can include, but is not limited to:

  • Donating food stuff
  • Food preparation
  • Cooking langar
  • Serving Langar
  • Clearing plates and cups
  • Washing plates, and pots
  • Sweeping and mopping floors
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Langar Sign Up

Langar Sign Up
Volunteer Bulletin Board Langar Sign Up. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Volunteer bulletin board for langar seva sign up.

Pictured here: A bulletin board is displayed in a communal area encouraging gurdwara members to sign up for langar seva. Families, individuals, or other groups (such as Youth Camps etc.) voluntarily sign up to sponsor the various programs held at the gurdwara.

No Sikh worship service, program, class, or other event is ever complete without langar. Loving labor and cost of provisions is provided for strictly by voluntary service. Sangat may offer both time and money. Food are provided by individual donations of various foods and drinks, as well as by sponsors who cover costs of buying food and organize the cooking of meals. Langar is always provided at the gurdwara for every participant of each regularly scheduled weekly program, class, or other event.

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Langar Storage Racks

Langar Utensil Storage
Racks of Pots and Pans Langar utensil storage rack. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Utensils used for preparation of langar and storage rack.

Pictured here: Clean dry cooking utensils, pots, and bowls are stored on racks in an out of the way area of the langar facility ready for use. All cooking utensils and storage racks are either donated by individual gurdwara members, or paid for out of gurdwara funds that have been provided by member offerings. All cleaning and organization of utensils is done by volunteers.

 A great deal of devotion and loving service is required to keep a free communal kitchen clean and organized. Hundreds if not thousands of free meals are prepared daily in the langar facility of each and every gurdwara throughout the world.

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Langar Tea Seva

Langar Tea Seva
Hot Beverage Langar Tea Seva. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Preparing tea for Sangat

Pictured here: A Singhni pours a gallon of milk into boiling hot tea that she is preparing for sangat in the langar cooking facility. Indian Tea is a very popular hot beverage usually available along with free meals in the langar dining hall. The langar facility is the communal kitchen of Sikh society, where individual Sikhs feel right at home making tea to share all with devotees and worshipers who are just like family to each other.

Indian tea also known as Cha or Chai is made by boiling loose leaf black tea in milk diluted with water:

  • One third milk with two thirds water.
  • Half milk and half water.
  • Two thirds milk with one third water.

Tea is generally sweetened with sugar and may be spiced with black pepper corns, cardamom pods and seeds, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds, or ginger slices.

Caffeine free Banaksha (Banafsha) is a blend of milk and water made without black tea that is boiled together with beneficial herbs, a variety of exotic spices, and sweetened with sugar.

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Tea Service in the Langar Hall

Singhni Langar Tea
Quick Chai Recipe Singhni Takes Tea. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Singhni takes tea in the langar hall.

Pictured here: A Singhni helps herself to a cup of hot Chai (tea) that is available for sangat in the dining hall of the gurdwara langar facility. A warm cup of Chai (tea) is a welcome comfort anytime a quick pick me up is desired, but especially during early morning Asa di Var kirtan and all night Rain sabaee kirtan programs.

Quick pot of delicious Chai (tea) recipe to try at home:

  • 16 cloves
  • 16 peppercorns
  • 12 cardamom pods cracked
  • 4 slices of ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ tsp fennel seed
  • ½ tsp black tea (optional)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 Tbs brown sugar

Place all ingredients together in a medium pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer or boil gently 3 - 5 minutes.
Turn off heat, strain, and serve. Yields 4 to 6 servings.
Spices may be used again to flavor a second pot of Chai.

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In Line for Sweet and Salty Snacks

Langar Singh
In Queue for Sacred Meals Langar Line-up. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sikhs standing in line at langar service counter.

Pictured here: A Singh stands in line at the langar service counter looking over the selection of snack items. Traditional Matri sweet and salty snack foods are served in rotation between meals consisting of of daal, roti, sabji, and rice.

Popular snacks commonly served in the langar hall are classified in two separate varieties:

Sweet snacks include but are not limited to:

  • Besan Barfi - A delicious fudge concocted from chickpea flour. butter and sugar.
  • Gulab Jamin - Consistency of a pancake in the shape of a donut hole soaked in syrup.
  • Jalebi - A deep fried pretzel shaped sweet soaked in sugar syrup.
  • Laddoo - A round sweet, traditionally prepared with chickpea flour.
  • Naam Ladoo (Spiritual Confection) - Butter nut cookie, rolled in powdered sugar and prepared with prayer.
  • Prem Prashad Cookie - Heart shaped shortbread butter cookies.

Salty snacks include but are not limited to:

  • Vegetable  - Deep fried savory vegetables in chickpea batter.
  • Mathi  - Unbelievably tasty, similar to bits of savory deep fried pie dough.
  • Samosa - Spicy potatoes and peas in a deep fried crust.
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Langar Sevadars

Langar Service
Organation of Sacred Dining Hall Langar Sevadars. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sevadars in the langar service area.

Pictured here: Sevadars in the area adjoining the Langar sacred dining hall perform voluntary service organizing production. Disposable eating utensils are on the counter next to snack items, which are available to anyone visiting the gurdwara and langar facility.

Voluntary service, known as seva performed to reduce egoism, is an essential aspect of every gurdwara langar facility. Sevadars take care of everything from cooking to cleaning all the while keeping in mind the protocol and unwritten rules of the langar hall. Just a few of the important tasks performed by voluntary sevadars which keeps everything running smoothly in the sacred communal free kitchen include:

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Sevadar Serves Langar

Langar Sevadar
Variety of Separate Types of Indian Food Langar Sevadar. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Voluntary community service in the langar dining hall.

Pictured here: A young Singh serves langar to a member of sangat in the langar dining facility of the gurdwara. The recipient is holding a divided plate that has individual spaces for the many selections of delectable foods offered in the row of trays.

Typically langar features three or more separate types of traditional Indian food. Popular traditional recipes to try at home include:

  • Roti wholegrain Indian flat bread.
  • Basmati Rice plain, or with vegetables, spices, and seasonings.
  • Dhal (lentil pea curry), Rajma (kidney bean curry), or Chole (chickpea curry).
  • Aloo Gobi (potato cauliflower curry), Aloo Mattar (potato pea curry), or Aloo Baingan (potato eggplant curry), Aloo Palak (potato spinach curry).
  • Raita (spiced yogurt with cucumbers), or Boondi (tiny balls of fried chickpea batter in Yogurt) or Dahi (plain yogurt).
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Singhni Takes Langar

Singhni Langar
Disposable Divided plates Verses Reusable Steel Plates Singhni Takes Langar. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sangat in the langar hall.

Pictured here: A young Singh serves langar to Singhnis and other members of sangat in the serving area of the dining hall. Their disposable divided plates with individual spaces are made of paper.

Steel trays, cups, and eating utensils are gaining popularity in langar halls. Reusable serving trays are considered a better choice with less impact on the environment than disposable paper plates, Styrofoam cups and plastic flatware. While many gurdwaras rely on human dishwashers to clean plates, more and more gurdwaras around the world are installing dishwasher machinery to make the task of washing hundreds and thousands of plates a less formidable task. Volunteer sevadars work together to insure that a steady supply of clean plates, cups, and spoons are available at all times.

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Sangat in the Langar Hall

Sangat Langar Hall
Sitting Together Without Regard to Social Status Sangat in the Langar Hall. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Sangat dines in the langar hall.

Pictured here: Sangat sit together side by side all lined up in a row. Some are resting while others are eating sacred food prepared in the communal langar kitchen.

Hundreds of worshipers partake of free meals in the Guru's communal free kitchen. In large gurdaras the numbers reach thousands, and on special occasions tens , and even hundreds of of thousands devotees are fed in a single day. When many members of sangat are gathered in the langar dining hall, sevadars may walk up and down the lines between the rows to distribute langar to each and every individual.

The Gurus instituted the concept of "pangat sangat", meaning to sit in a row with companions. Though friends and family naturally group together, the Sikh sangat sits together without regard to rank, cast, color, or creed. This practice is to encourage humility and subdue egoism with the aim of attaining enlightenment and the goal of obtaining salvation. 

Pangat precedes Sangat, emphasizing that it is important to nourish the body with sustenance and give it substance and strength before coming together in sangat to nourish the soul with prayer and meditation. Devotees who come to the gurdwara are never be expected to worship on an empty belly, but are encouraged to go first to the langar hall, eat their fill, and then join in services.

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Disabled Only Langar Table

Disabled Only Langar Table
Table for Disabled Sangat Disabled Only Langar Table. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Table in the langar hall with "Disabled Only" sign.

Pictured here: A sign hung above a table states. "Disabled Only". The sign is a reminder to the importance of sitting together without regard to social status.

In the langar dining facility everyone sits together on the floor to disbar ideas of caste, or rank. Tables at gurdwara langar facilities are provided only for people with physical disabilities which would prevent them from sitting on the floor. To counter act Western influence taking hold in gurdwaras, in 1998, the Akal Takhat issued an edict prohibiting the use of tables and chairs while consuming langar, except for the disabled spurring controversy, and infighting among opposing factions. Gurdwaras that are acting in compliance with the edict  may post signs stating that the tables provided are reserved only for the use of worshipers who are physically challenged, and unable to sit on the floor. 

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Chardi Kala Singh

Chardi Kalaa Singh in Langar
Keep Up Spirit Displayed Chardi Kalaa Singh in Langar. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

Singh displays the chardi kalaa spirit.

Pictured here: An elderly Singh clearly displays the keep up spirit of "chardi kalaa" as he demonstrates keeping within tenets of Sikhism by sitting on the floor for langar, while the table for the disabled goes empty. The cane indicates a physical difficulty that his spirit denies in expressing an undeniable love for Sikhi.

Gurdwaras recognize special needs of physically challenged worshipers and provide options for elderly and disabled:  

  • Two story gurdwaras install wheel chair accessible elevators:
  • Space at the rear of the worship hall is reserved for wheel chairs and benches.
  • Tables are provided along the outer edges of the langar dining hall for the disabled.

Many gurdwaras also provide annexes with glass viewing windows and soundproofing for parents with infants and toddlers.