Despite having lived in Coimbatore all my life, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I had the opportunity to visit our city’s Gurudwara! The invitation was to partake in the traditional Langar. The Langar which means to sit together and share a meal focuses mainly on seva or service to all.
Before leaving home,my friend Anamika thoughtfully sent me several reminders to bring a dupatta, as both men and women have to cover their heads inside the gurudwara. Her cousin Bharat Gupta and his family were offering the langar on that particular Sunday. We arrived at our destination half an hour ahead of schedule . We felt it was only appropriate to pay our respects first at this holy place before sitting down for the meal.
The basic formalities are the same as most other religions. The footwear is to be removed and the feet cleansed before entering the prayer hall. The feet cleansing method consisted not of a tap but very interestingly of a small moat of running water which we had to dip our feet into before ascending the steps.
The air conditioned prayer hall emanated a sense of calm . The women sat on one side, heads covered humming along to the devotional songs that were being sung while the men sat on the opposite side. It was obvious that we were first time visitors to the Gurudhwara ,the glances though curious conveyed a message of warmth and welcome.
A short while later it was time to go downstairs for the communal meal. The kitchen was situated at one end of a long passage. Standing at the entrance to the kitchen ,one could see the huge volumes of food being dished out. The stone meant to roll out rotis was of a considerable proportion. I was introduced to Mr.Kawaljeet Singh Anand , who was supervising the serving of the Langar on that particular day. On seeing that I was interested in the process he said ,” We volunteer every Sunday to cook and serve the Langar. The women come early to roll out the rotis and we make sure that the meal is ready by lunchtime without any delay “. Seeing the mound of rotis piled one on top of another ,it was easy to visualize the many hands that went into making them ! i wished that I had gone earlier to take in the sight of so many women immersed in the job of rolling out 100s of rotis ! Big buckets contained sizeable portions of dhal , paneer, salad and kheer. To add to that was a large vat filled to the brim with white frothy Punjabi lassi ! The thought process that is followed even today while cooking and serving up this meal is that no matter how many ever people sit down to eat, no one will ever go back hungry. The Langar meal is equated to the ‘amrit vessel’ …it never seems to get empty . That sentiment echos the generosity that prevails in the hearts of all members of this Sikh community.
As we take our places on the strips of mats placed on the floor, the plates and tumblers are placed and the food is served immediately .The air is punctuated repeatedly with “roti ji?” , “chawal ji?” and that’s how seconds and more of every dish is offered . It’s interesting to note that the roti is not placed directly onto the plate. Instead they wait until you extend your palms and it is then placed into the hand. This made it more meaningful for me because when you stretch out your hand you do tend to look up into the face of the person handing out the food and the feeling of gratitude comes instantly.
The food is relished in a companionable murmur of conversation. There is no sense of chaos or hurry , each one is allowed to tuck into this hearty meal at their own pace. As I struggle to finish the mound of rice before me , it ‘s apparent that no one wastes even a single morsel on their plate. It seems to be the unspoken rule in the dining hall.
As we head over to wash our hands the plates are handed over to women who have volunteered for the clean up. We got a chance to chat with two ladies from the community.
Jasmeet Kaur along with her co-sister Bubbles explained the importance of sharing a meal of this kind. Bubbles added, ” Everyone is welcome to the Gurudhwara. Here we don’t look at caste,community or status. Even when our former President Giani Zail Singhji came in the early 80s, he sat along with everyone else for the Langar. There were no special arrangements done for him or for his security guards. We always follow that practice here. The Langar offerings are now booked until mid 2017.” Being involved in giving one’s time for feeding others is an immensely fulfilling task.
Jasmeet Kaur who also volunteers to teach children the nuances pertaining to their religion says,”The term Sikh comes from the word ‘seekh’ which means to learn. The covering of the head is a mark of respect and sitting on the floor signifies that one is humble and down to earth. Our faith stresses on the importance of these virtues” .The Langar offering takes place every Sunday and on the first day of every month according to their religious calendar. The wholesome menu rarely changes except on the occasion of their guru’s birthday. She feels that it is vital to set an example to the next generation. Only then will the rituals and traditions be continued and performed with love and understanding rather than out of a forced sense of duty. The happy vibes that the place emanates is truly palpable.
Harjeet Singh Wahan is a much respected memeber of the community and one whom our families are familiar with since many decades. He was surprised that we hadn’t visit the Gurudhwara before. He said, ” You can come at anytime. It’s not that you must visit only when offering the Langar. ”
The smiles don’t stop until they reach the eyes,this is something that I’ve encountered often while interacting with this proud community. They instill in you the faith of forming great bonds of unconditional friendship. I will always remember my first visit to the Gurudwara and it’s an experience that I would recommend for every human being to soak in at some point of their life !
We sat around just watching the Sunday interaction between the families after the meal. As the sun starts to intensify it’s after noon heat, we take our leave ,stomachs full and hearts enriched by the warmth and hospitality shown by this wonderful community that has made this city their home !