Concepts in sikhism

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What happens on gurpurbs is a mixture of the religious and the festive, the devotional and the spectacular, the personal and the communal. Over the years a standardized pattern has evolved. Yet no special sanctity attaches to the form, and variations can be and are indeed made depending on the imaginativeness and initiative of local groups. At these celebrations, the Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, is read through, in private homes and in the gurdwaras, in a single continuous ceremony lasting forty-eight hours. This reading, called akhand path, must be without interruption; the relay of reciters who take turns at saying the Scripture ensures that no break occurs. Additionally special assemblies are held in gurdwaras and discourses given on the lives and teachings of the Gurus. Sikhs march in processions through towns and cities chanting the holy hymns. Special langars, or community meals, are held for the participants who at certain places may be counted by the thousand. To partake of a common repast on these occasions is reckoned an act of merit. Programmes include initiating those not already initiated into the order of the Khalsa in the manner in which Guru Gobind Singh had done in 1699. Sikh journals and newspapers bring out their special numbers to mark the event. There are public functions held, besides the more literary and academic ones in schools and colleges. On gurpurbs commemorating birth anniversaries, there might be illuminations in gurdwaras as well as in residential houses. Friends and families exchange greetings. Coming into vogue are the printed cards such as those used in the West for Christmas and the New Year day.

Sikh fervour for gurpurb celebration had an unprecedented outlet at the time of the tercentenary of Guru Gobind Singh’s birth in 1967. There is no evidence on record whether centennials previously had been similarly observed. References are however traceable to a proposal for especially marking the second centennial in 1899 of the birth of the Khalsa. The suggestion came from Max Arthur Macauliffe, author of the monumental work, The Sikh Religion, but it did not receive much popular support. The three-hundredth birth anniversary in 1967 of Guru Gobind Singh turned out to be a major celebration evoking widespread enthusiasm and initiating long-range academic and literary programmes. It also set a new trend and format. With the same ardour have been observed some other days as well; in 1969, the fifth centennial of Guru Nanak’s birth; in 1973, the first centenary of the birth of the Singh Sabha; in 1975, the third centenary of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur; in 1977, the fourth centenary of the founding by Guru Ram Das of the city of Amritsar; in 1979, the 500th anniversary of the birth of Guru Amar Das; in 1980, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Maharaja Ranjit Singh; in 1982, the third birth centennial of Baba Dip Singh, the martyr.

Hm. S.

GURU (W. Owen Cole), a spiritual guide or preceptor. The term, long used in the Indian religious tradition, has a special connotation in the Sikh system. The Sikh faith itself signifies discipleship, the word sikh (sisya in Sanskrit and sissa or sekha in Pali) meaning pupil or learner. The concept of Guru, the teacher or enlightener, is thus central to Sikhism. The Guru, according to Sikh belief, is the vital link in man’s spiritual progress. He is the teacher who shows the way. He is not an intercessor, but exemplar and guide. He is no avatar or God’s incarnation, but it is through him that God instructs men. He is the perfectly realized soul; at the same time, he is capable of leading the believers to the highest state of spiritual enlightenment. The Guru has been called the ladder, the rowboat by means of which one reaches God. He is the revealer of God’s word. Through him God’s word, sabda, enters human history. The Guru is the voice of God, the Divine self-revelation. Man turns to the Guru for instruction because of his wisdom and his moral piety. He indicates the path to liberation. It is the Guru who brings the love and nature of God to the believer. It is he who brings that grace of God by which haumai or egoity is mastered. The Guru is witness to God’s love of His creation. He is God’s hakam, i.e. Will, made concrete.

A special figure is employed to describe the transference of the Guruship in the Sikh tradition. This figure helps us understand the true nature of Guru. The Guruship passes from one Guru to the other as one candle lights another. Thus the real Guru is God, for He is the source of all light. It is clear that the Guru is not to be confused with the human form (the unlit body). In the Sikh faith which originated in Guru Nanak’s revelation, Ten Gurus held the office. In Sikhism the word Guru is used only for the ten spiritual prophets—Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, and for none other. Now this office of Guru is fulfilled by the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sacred Book, which was so apotheosized by Guru Gobind Singh.

Various connotations of guru have been given based on different etymological interpretations. One generally accepted in Sikhism is that derived from the syllable gu standing for darkness and ru for its removal. Thus guru is he who banishes the darkness of ignorance. According to Sikh belief, guidance of the guru is essential for one’s spiritual enlightenment.

No particular text dealing with the concept of guru is found in the Sikh Scripture, though scattered references abound. They are often figurative and symbolic but are fully expressive of the pre-eminence accorded to the guru. He has been called a tirtha, place of holy pilgrimage, i.e. purifier; a khevat, the boatman who rows one across the ocean of worldliness; a sarovar, a lake where swans, i.e. holy saints, dwell and pick up pearls of sacred wisdom for food; a samund, ocean which is churned for the gems, for his bani, or inspired word, is itself deep like the ocean and its wisdom can be brought out only after long meditation; a dipak, lamp which lights up the three worlds. In another comparison the Guru is called pilak, elephant controller, as he restrains the mind that is like a mad, romping elephant. He is called data, donor of wisdom; amritsar, the pool of ambrosia of the Name; a basith, one joining the seeker in union with God; joti, the light which illuminates the world. Other comparisons are anjan, collyrium, which sharpens the sight— a metaphor for the spiritual vision; sahjai da khet, the field of equipoise or equanimity; paharua, the watchman who drives away the five thieves, i.e. the five evils. He is sura, the hero whose sword of jnana or knowledge rends the veil of darkness and overcomes ignorance and wickedness, paras, philosopher’s stone which turns base metals into gold, for he transforms ordinary men into holy saints. There are numerous more comparisons.

The first stanza of Bhavan Akhari, one of Guru Arjan’s compositions in the Guru Granth Sahib, is a paean of glorification in honour of the Guru (Gurudev) in exalted classical style. Gurudev, i.e. the divinely inspired Master, is the mother, father; he is the Master and the Lord Supreme. He is friend, relative, brother. He confers on the seeker the name of the Supreme Being, i.e. the mantra, which is infallible. Gurudev is the touchstone which surpasses all paras. Gurudev is sacred tirath of the ambrosia of immortality, a bath wherein is a bath in jnana. Gurudev is the banisher of sins; he makes the impure pure. Gurudev has existed from beginning of the beginning, from the beginning of the ages and has lasted through all the yugas; i.e. his light is eternal. His teachings of the Name alone can save humanity (GG, 250).

The guidance of the guru is absolutely essential; no spiritual gain can accrue without the guru’s guidance. The view has been constantly reiterated in the Guru Granth Sahib:

Were there to rise a hundred moons, and a thousand suns besides,

Without the guru, it will still be pitch darkness (GG, 463).

None other than the guru can give enlightenment,

Nor can happiness without him enter the heart (GG, 650).

“None has ever realized God, none at all, without the guru’s guidance,” declares Guru Nanak (GG, 466). Using figurative language, it is pointed out that no blind man can find the path without the guru, as nobody can reach the housetop without the stairs and no one can cross the river without a boat. As says Guru Amar Das, he who remains without the Guru’s guidance is the rejected one (GG, 435).

What is gained if the guru’s compassion and guidance are available is thus elaborated:

By the holy preceptor’s grace is faith perfected;

By the holy preceptor’s grace is grief cancelled,

By the holy preceptor’s grace is suffering annulled;

By the holy preceptor’s grace is love of God enjoyed;

By the holy preceptor’s grace is union with God attained (GG, 149).

The guru cleanses the seeker’s mind of the impurity and brings it to contemplating on the Name. He breaks the shackles of the disciple who turns away from the excitements of the senses. He seeks his welfare and cherishes him as the beloved of his heart. A touch of him erases all blemishes of conduct. The bard Nall refers to the transforming power of the guru thus in symbolic language: “From base metal I became gold by hearing the words of the Guru. Poison was turned into nectar as one uttered the Name revealed by the Guru. From iron a diamond I became by the Guru’s grace. From stone one becomes a diamond in light of the jnana manifested by the Guru. The Guru transformed common timber into fragrant sandalwood and banished all pain and misery. By worshipping the feet of the Guru, the foolish and the evil became angels—the noblest of men” (GG, 1399).

God, who is “without form, colour or feature,” is yet self-communicating. “Through the True Word (sada) is He revealed,” as says Guru Nanak (GG, 597). Further:

Within every heart is hid the Lord;

In all hearts and bodies is his light.

By the guru’s instruction

Are the adamantine doors opened.

Here sabda and guru are juxtaposed. Often they become one word, sabdaguru, identifying sabda with the guru.

The sabda guru is the profound teacher;

Without the sabda the world remains in perplexity (GG, 635).

Set your mind on the gursabda

Which is over and above everything else (GG, 904).

Through the sabda one recognizes the adorable Lord

Through the word of the guru (gurvak)

Is he imbued with the truth (GG. 55).

Sabda is the same as the guru, says Guru Ram Das. “Bani (the guru’s utterance or word) is the guru and the guru is bani; in bani are contained all the elixirs” (GG, 982). Sabda, ever present, is articulated through the human medium, the guru, so ordained by the Supreme Being. The historical Gurus of the Sikh faith are believed to have uttered the truth vouchsafed to them by God. “As I received the word from the Lord, so do I deliver it,” says Guru Nanak (GG, 722). Guru Arjan: “I know not what to say; I utter only the word I receive from God” (GG, 763). And Guru Rim Das: “Own ye the Sikhs the bani of the guru as truth and truth alone, for the Creator Himself makes him utter it” (GG, 308).

God, thus, is the primal Guru of the whole creation. This is how Guru Nanak discloses the identity of his own Guru. One of his compositions, the Sidha Gosti, is in the form of a discourse with a group of yogis. Therein a yogi puts the question to him, “Who is your Guru? Whose disciple are you?” (GG, 942). To which Guru Nanak replies:

Sabda is my Guru, and the meditating mind the disciple.

By dwelling on Him I remain detached.

Nanak, God, the cherisher of the world through the ages, is my Guru (GG, 943).

Elsewhere Guru Nanak and his successors affirm that the Satiguru is God.

The light of the pure Lord, the essence of everything, is all-pervading.

He is the infinite, transcendent Lord, the Supreme God

Him Nanak has obtained as his Guru (GG. 599).

Accredited is the personality of the bright Guru, God

Who is brimful of all might.

Nanak, the Guru is the transcendent Lord Master.

He, the ever present, is the Guru (GG, 802).

According to Sikh belief there is no difference in spirit between such a guru and God. “The guru is God and God is the Guru; there is no distinction between the two” says Guru Ram Das (GG, 442). “God hath placed Himself within the guru, which He explicitly explaineth” (GG, 466). “Acknowledge the Transcendent God and the guru as one “ (GG, 864). The real personality of a human being is the atman, the physical body is only a temporary dwelling place for the atman which is eternal and is a spark from the Eternal Flame, the Supreme Atman or God. “O my self, you are an embodiment of God’s Light; know your true origin” (GG, 441). Being encased in the physical frame, this atman becomes so involved in the temptations of the physical world that it forgets its reality and loses contact with the Flame of its origin, whereas the atman of the Guru remains ever in tune with that Supreme Light from which it has sparked off. It is thus that God is accepted as residing within the guru. It is in this sense that there is no distinction seen between the guru and God. Guru or satiguru is thus a word with a double meaning in the Guru Granth Sahib. It may refer to God or to His chosen prophet.

The true Guru is easily distinguished. “The true guru is one who has realized the Supreme Being and whose association saves the disciple” (GG, 286). “The true guru is one in whose heart dwells the Name Divine” (GG, 287). “He by meeting whom the mind is filled with bliss is the true guru. He ends the duality of the mind and leads (the disciple) to the ultimate state of realization” (GG, 168). “Praise, praise be to the true guru who demolishes the fort of dubiety; wondrous, wondrous the true guru who unites the seeker with the Lord” (GG 522). The guru is ordained as such for the liberation of mankind. He transmits the message of God to men and performs acts of grace to save them. The guru is sent by God, but he is not God’s incarnation. “Singed be the tongue which says that the Lord takes birth” (GG, 1136). He is ajuni (unborn); He is saibhan (self-existent). Highest tribute and adoration are reserved for the guru. Devotion to the guru is deemed to be the quintessential quality of a religious man. The pain of separation from the guru and the joy of meeting with him find expression in poetry of deep intensity, as in Guru Arjan’s hymn in Rag Majh (GG, 96-97).

Guru Nanak was suspicious of human preceptors, pandits, gurus and pirs. They are generally denounced as blind guides, self-styled and traders upon ignorance and superstition. He warns against them:

Never fall at the feet of one

Who calls himself guru and pir, and goes begging.

He who eats what he earns

And from his own hands gives some in charity,

He alone knows the true way of life (GG, 1245).

The disciple whose guru is blind will not attain the goal (GG, 58). Taking up this thought the third Guru said:

The disciples whose guru is blind perform only blind deeds.

They follow their own wayward will,

And ever utter the grossest lies (GG, 951).

When Guru Nanak speaks of his guru or satiguru, it is not such teachers that he has in mind. The true guru is the means of the self-revelation of God. He makes the concealed and ineffable God known. He symbolizes the supreme act of God’s grace in revealing Himself as Truth, as the Name, as the Word. The true guru comes to unite all people of the world and to unite them to the Supreme Being. A false guru creates schisms, divisions and prejudices. The true guru as manifested in the history of the Sikh faith comes to suppress the forces of evil and to rally the forces of good. He comes to resuscitate the values of true religion, dharma.

The Sikh faith developed under the guidance of ten successive Gurus from 1469 to 1708. Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Guru, appointed no personal successor, but bequeathed the guruship to the Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib. The holy Word or sabda had always been referred by the Gurus as well as by their disciples as of Divine origin. The Guru was the revealer of the Word. The Word was identified with the Guru when Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed the Holy Book Guru before he passed away. Bards Balvand and Satta theorize that of their three aspects—joti, i.e. light, jugati, way or procedure, and kaia, i.e. body—it is only kaia, the body, that changes as succession passed from one historical Guru of the Sikh faith to the next. Joti and jugati remained the same. As sang the bards: “Joti oha jugati sai sahi kaia pheri palatiai” (GG, 966). From their verse emerges this concept of three aspects of the guruship.

God is the source of all light or consciousness. God kindles that light, in the chosen human body, the Guru; in the joti-aspect the Guru is the most enlightened human being, he is in direct communion with God. He communicates the message of God to mankind. He transmits His light to the world. Without the guru, darkness prevails. Says Guru Nanak, “The light of the guru alone dispels darkness” (GG, 463); “The guru is that lamp which illuminates the three worlds” (GG, 137). Balvand and Satta in their hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib affirm that the historical Gurus of the Sikhs shared the same joti (light). The joti got transferred to the successor’s body. Thus, right from 1469, the year of the birth of Guru Nanak, to 1708, the year of the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh, it was one continuing joti manifesting itself in the Ten Gurus.

This awareness of one light acting through the successive Gurus was so permeating among the Sikhs that Mobid Zulfiqar Ardastani (d. 1670) wrote in his Persian work Dabistan-i-Mazahib, “The Sikhs say that when Nanak left his body, he absorbed himself in Guru Angad who was his most devoted disciple, and that Guru Angad was Nanak himself. After that, at the time of his death, Guru Angad entered into the body of Amar Das. He in the same manner occupied a place in the body of Ram Das who in the same way got united with Arjan. They say that whoever does not acknowledge Guru Arjan to be the very self of Baba Nanak becomes a nonbeliever.”

Guru Gobind Singh, last of the Gurus, himself wrote in his poetical autobiography called Bachitra Natak, “Nanak assumed the body of Angad. . . Afterwards, Nanak was called Amar Das, as one lamp is lit from another. . . The holy Nanak was revered as Angad, Angad was recognized as Amar Das. And Amar Das became Ram Das. . . When Ram Das was blended with the Divine, he gave the Guruship to Arjan. Arjan appointed Hargobind in his place and Hargobind gave his seat to Har Rai. Har Krishan, his son, then became Guru. After him came Tegh Bahadur.”

Balvand and Satta further proclaim that the Gurus indicated the same jugati or the method and way of life. The ministry of Guru Nanak combining joti and jugati, took care of both the worlds, the spiritual and the temporal. It was the ministry of deg (charity), and tegh (power), of miri (temporal authority) and piri (spiritual power). According to the bard, Nanak founded sovereignty on the firm rock of truth. . . Nanaku raju chalaia sachu kotu satani niv dai (GG, 966). As Nanak transferred the joti (light) to Lahina who became Guru Angad, he unfurled the umbrella over his head—lahane dharionu chhatu siri, i.e. he invested Lahina with the authority to carry on with the practice he had introduced. The Gurus preached devotion, bhakti or nam (meditation on the Divine Name), recitation of bani, the sacred texts, and kirtan, i.e. singing of the Lord’s glory in sangat or holy assembly. Along with nam, they inculcated the values of kirat, labouring with one’s hands, and vand chhakna, sharing with others the fruit of one’s exertions. The Gurus had carved a clear way for the disciples.

The Guru’s kaia or body was the repository of God’s light. It was the medium for the articulation of sabda, Word Divine, or God’s message. So it was worthy of reverence. The historical Guru was the focal point of the sangat and the living example of truths he had brought to light. He himself lived up to the teachings he imparted to his disciples.

The sangat turned into Khalsa in the time of Guru Gobind Singh who introduced khande di pahul, i.e. baptism of the double-edged steel sword. With the formation of the Khalsa, the concept of the Guru Panth formalized. By becoming the sixth person to receive amrit at the hands of the Panj Piare, the Five Beloved, who formed the nucleus of the Khalsa Panth, Guru Gobind Singh testified to his own membership of the Panth, and to having merged himself with it and endowed it with the charisma of his own personality. The bani, always revered by the Sikhs as well as by the Gurus as Word Divine, was however above all. This was something which even the Gurus themselves could not change. It was this superiority which Guru Gobind Singh acknowledged in 1708 when he invested Scripture as Guru. The idea of the Guru Panth lives on in the Khalsa. But the Khalsa itself could not alter the fundamental tenets of the Sikh faith as enunciated in the bani. The Guru Granth Sahib was, in the presence of the Khalsa, proclaimed Guru. The finality of the pronouncement remains a cherished truth for the Sikhs and the Holy Book has since been the perpetual authority, spiritual as well as historical, for them. No living person, however holy or revered, can now have for them the title or status of Guru. For Sikhs the Guru is the teacher, the prophet under direct commission from God—the Ten who have been and the Guru Granth Sahib which is their continuing visible manifestation.


1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1959

2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Amritsar, 1932

3. Darshan Singh, Guru Granth Bani vich Guru da Sankalap. Patiala, 1976

4. Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna. Amritsar, 1989

5. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Amritsar, 1980

6. Cole, W. O., The Guru in Sikhism. London, 1982

W. O. C.
GURU KA LANGAR (Prakash Singh) (lit., langar or refectory of the Guru) is a community kitchen run in the name of the Guru. It is usually attached to a gurdwara. Langar, a Persian word, means 'an almshouse', 'an asylum for the poor and the destitute', 'a public kitchen kept by a great man for his followers and dependants, holy persons and the needy.' Some scholars trace the word langar to Sanskrit analgrh (cooking place). In Persian, the specific term langar has been in use in an identical sense. In addition to the word itself, the institution of langar is also traceable in the Persian tradition. Langars were a common feature of the Sufi centres in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even today some dargahs, or shrines commemorating Sufi saints, run langars, like Khwaja Mu’in ud-Din Chishti’s at Ajmer.

In Sikhism, the institution of langar owes its origin to the founder, Guru Nanak himself. Community kitchens came into existence with the sangats or holy fellowships of disciples which sprang up at many places in his time. Sikhs sat in pangat (lit., a row) without distinctions of caste or status, to share a common meal prepared in the langar. Besides the kitchen where the food was cooked, langar stood for the victuals as well as for the hall where these were eaten. The disciples brought the offerings and contributed the labour of their hands to prepare and serve the food. Guru Nanak and his successors attached a great deal of importance to langar and it became, in their hands, a potent means of social reform. The former gave it the central place in the dharamsala he established at Kartarpur at the end of his preaching tours. He worked on his farm to provide for himself and for his family and to contribute his share to the common langar. He had such of his disciples as could afford to set up dharamsalas and langars. Among them were Sajjan Thag, then lost to godly ways, and a wealthy nobleman, Malik Bhago, both of whom had converted to his message. Bhumia, formerly a dacoit, was asked by Guru Nanak to turn his kitchen into a langar in the name of God. A condition was laid upon Raja Shivnabh of Sangladip (Sri Lanka) that he open a langar before he could see him (Guru Nanak). The Raja, it is said, happily complied.

Guru Angad, Nanak II, further extended the scope of the institution. He helped with cooking and serving in the langar. His wife, Mata Khivi, looked after the pilgrims and visitors with the utmost attention. Such was her dedication to work in the langar that it came to be known after her name as Mata Khivi ji ka Langar. The bard Balvand pays homage to her in his verses, in the Guru Granth Sahib. To quote the stanza:

Blest, sayeth Balvand, is Khivi [the Guru’s wife],

Comforting by far is her presence to the disciple,

Amply she distributes food in the Guru’s langar.

The fare includes khir, rice cooked in milk and ghee,

Which has the taste of ambrosia itself.

(GG, 967

The Var by Satta and Balvand also applauds Guru Amar Das’s langar wherein “ghee and flour abounded.” In spite of rich variety of food served in his langar, Guru Amar Das ate a simple meal earned by the labour of his own hands. “What was received from the disciples was consumed the same day and nothing was saved for the morrow.” Contributing towards the Guru ka Langar became an established custom for the Sikhs. Partaking of food in Guru ka Langar was made a condition for disciples and visitors before they could see the Guru. Guru Amar Das’s injunction was: “pahile pangat pachhe sangat”—first comes eating together, then meeting together.” Langar thus gave practical expression to the notion of equality. Emperor Akbar, who once visited Guru Amar Das at Goindval, had to eat out of the common kitchen like any other pilgrim. As the Mahima Prakash records, the Emperor refused to step on the silks spread out for him by his servants when going to call on the Guru. He turned aside the lining with his own hands and walked to the Guru’s presence barefoot.

Bhai Jetha, who came into spiritual succession as Guru Ram Das, served food in Guru Amar Das’s langar, brought firewood from the forest and drew water from the well. By such deeds of devoted service, he gained enlightenment and became worthy of the confidence of Guru Amar Das. Langar served to train the disciples in seva and to overcome class distinctions.

The institution of langar had become an integral part of the Sikh movement by now and, with the increase in its numbers, it gained further popularity and strength. With the development under Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan of Amritsar as the central seat of the Sikh faith, the capacity of the local Guru ka Langar increased manifold. Sikhs came from far-off places to see their Guru and to lend a hand with the construction work. They were all served food in Guru ka Langar.

Guru Hargobind and Guru Tegh Bahadur travelled extensively in north and northeast India. This led to the establishment of many new sangats. Each sangat meant an additional langar. In the reign of Guru Gobind Singh, the institution of langar acquired further significance. At Anandpur, the new seat of Sikhism, a number of langars were in existence, each under the supervision of a devoted and pious Sikh. Food was available in these langars day and night.

Once Guru Gobind Singh, disguised as an ordinary pilgrim, made a surprise check of the langars at Anandpur. He discovered that Bhai Nand Lal’s langar was the best maintained. He complimented him and asked others to emulate his standards of dedication and service. One of Guru Gobind Singh’s commandments was that a Sikh visiting another Sikh’s door must be served food, without hesitation or delay. Another of his sayings ran: “Gharib da munh guru ki golak hai —to feed a hungry mouth is to feed the Guru.” This spirit of common sharing and of mutual co-operation and service was the underlying principle of the Sikh tradition of langar.

“Keep the langar ever open” are reported to have been the last words of Guru Gobind Singh spoken to Bhai Santokh Singh before he passed away at Nanded. One of the lines in his Dasam Granth reads: “Deg tegh jag me dou chalai—may langar (charity) and sword (instrument of securing justice) together prevail in the world.” The first Sikh coin minted in the eighteenth century carried the Persian maxim: “Deg tegh fateh—may langar and sword be ever triumphant.”

The langar continued to perform its distinctive role in days of the direst persecution. Bands of Sikhs wandering in deserts and jungles would cook whatever they could get, and sit in a pangat to share it equally. Later, when the Sikhs came into power, the institution of langar was further consolidated because of increased number of gurdwaras running the langar, and assignment of jagirs to gurdwaras for this purpose.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh made grants of jagirs to gurdwaras for the maintenance of langars. Similar endowments were created by other Sikh rulers as well. Today, practically every gurdwara has a langar supported by the community in general. In smaller gurdwaras cooked food received from different households may comprise the langar. In any case, no pilgrim or visitor will miss food at meal time in a gurdwara. Sharing a common meal sitting in a pangat is for a Sikh an act of piety. So is his participation in cooking or serving food in the langar and in cleaning the used dishes. The Sikh ideal of charity is essentially social in conception. A Sikh is under a religious obligation to contribute one-tenth of his earning for the welfare of the community. He must also contribute the service of his hands whenever he can, that rendered in a langar being the most meritorious.

The institution of Guru ka Langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service of mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals and the children join in serving food to the pangat. Langar teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community. Again, langar has played a great part in upholding the virtue of equality of all human beings.

Besides the langars attached to gurdwaras, there are improvised open-air langars at the time of festivals and gurpurbs. Specially arranged langars on such occasions are probably the most largely-attended community meals anywhere in the world. There might be a hundred thousand people partaking of food at single meal in one such langar. Wherever Sikhs are, they have established their langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour: “Loh langar tapde rahin—may the hot plates, the langars, remain ever in service.”


1. Bhalla, Sarup Das, Mahima Prakash. Patiala, 1971

2. Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909

3. Teja Singh, Growth of Responsibility in Sikhism. Bombay, 1948

4. Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs. Patiala, 1970

5. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

6. Prakash Singh, The Sikh Gurus and the Temple of Bread. Amritsar, 1972

7. Cole, W. Owen, and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, New Delhi, 1978

Pk. S.

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