Friday, January 27, 2006

Episode 2 of India Travels: Guru Ka Langar?

Extracts from diary when I went to Panjab in June-August 2003:

We arrived at Amritsar airport Thursday night. My cousin came to pick us up. By the time we got to the house and said hi to everyone it was 3 o'clock in the morning. So I did ishnaan (bathed) and did my morning Nitnem (daily prayers).

Later in the morning I woke up and freshened up. I found out that there is an Akhand Paath da Bhog (the conclusion of 3 days of continous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee) at my cousin's inlaws house at RuRke (near Gorayia). So everyone got ready. My cousin, his wife (bhabi jee), my neice & nephew, my mum and I got ready and went to the programme.

We arrived at my cousin's inlaws house and we did Matha Tekh. I sat in the room where Guru jee was. Keertan was being sung. Chalo, Samaaptee happens (programme ends). Guru Sahib's saroop was to be taken from the house back to the Gurdwara Sahib (which was down the road). Sat Naam, WaaheGuroo! Guru Sahib's saroop was being carried by the Gurdwara Granthi Singh from upstairs to downstairs. The shocking thing was the only person to do Matha Tekh to Guru jee while walking past downstairs of the house (where the majority of the ladies were standing) were my mum and I. NO ONE ELSE bent down to do Matha Tekh. I couldn't believe it. WHATS HAPPENING?

I asked my mum whether she found that odd that no one did Matha Tekh as Guru Sahib walked pass (instead they slightly lowered their head and had their hands together). My mum agreed that it was strange.

Now it was Langar time. "Roti is ready! Go and eat roti! ...ਰੋਟੀ ਤਿਅਾਰ ਹੈ! ਅਾਜੋ ਰੋਟੀ ਛਕੋ!" Rab Bhalla Kare. "ROTI!" Is this what we have demeaned Langar to be? I said to my cousin and the rest of the men "Bhai Sahib, are we eating Roti or Guru-Ka-Langar?" They realised that they had belittled Langar and said, "No, Langar."

The Langar was meant to be served on the roof of the house. I was just about to walk up the stairs when I saw the "LANGAR" being cooked. Waheguroooo, Wahegurooo, Waheguroo! The "Langar" was being cooked by HALWAAEE (Cooks). Firstly, the cooking didn't look hygienic. Secondly, most of the workers looked non-Sikh. And lastly, most of them didn't even have their head covered!! Chalo, "don't be fussy" I thought to myself (I wasn't Amritdhari yet).

Suddenly these ladies arrived. They are called "BaazigarNeeaa." They are poor people who usually do odd jobs or dance at weddings to make money. Anyway, they came over and asked the family if they could have some Langar to eat. They looked poor and hungry by they look on their face. "GO AWAY!" was the response from the family. "DID YOU NOT HEAR, GO AWAY!" Sat Naam. Dhan Guru Nanak! Have we forgotten what langar is about? Have we forgotten the function of Langar, which is to feed the hungry person's stomach, and where the rich and poor sit together and eat? O dear me! I told my cousin, "Why you turning these people away?" "They will eat and then keep on asking for more and more food and take it with them home!" he replied. Well "I am sure you can at least give them a few Jaleebis (Indian sweets) each? It's not exactly "LANGAR" if you turn people away and only feed certain people!" Sadly they were turned away! Rab Bhalla Kare.

CAN THINGS GET ANY WORSE? I got up on the roof. "Langar Chhako! (Eat Langar)" O deary me. Perhaps I was better off calling the food "ROTI" than "langar"! It was a HELP YOURSELF BUFFET. Reminded me of Pizza Hut lunch time buffet. I felt sick. The plates looked dirty (all catering plates in India are DIRTY!). I thought O well "a man has to do what a man has to do." I tried to pick the plate, which LOOKED the cleanest (well they can't be CLEAN, because they are only washed with water!!). I poured a little bit of daal and sabji and 2 rotis.

A picture of Guru Arjan Dev Ji serving Langar, the way it should be served.

WHERE DO I SIT? Do I have choice? Phone a friend? 50/50? Or perhaps ask the Sangat. The options were either stand up or sit on chairs. I sat on a chair. Ate the food saying "Sat Naam, Waheguru!".

A picture showing how one usually sits when eating Guru-Ka-Langar in Pangat (the congregation).

I could have done with another roti but after I saw people eating and then going back for seconds without washing their hands and touching the rotis and salad with their unwashed hands, i thought "Ermm. I think I will leave it!" :)

In England we know know HOW TO EAT LANGAR! At this function all the men who wore rumaals (which was the MAJORITY), took their rumaals off their heads and ate "LANGAR" bareheaded. It was disturbing to see. I thought "What has happened here! Its like a scene in a horror film!"

The Granthi Singhs came back from the Gurdwara Sahib to the house. I asked them about this. Firstly, how come people didn't properly do Matha Tekh when Guru jee was being carried out of the house. Secondly, I asked him does he know what the Guru's Langar di maryada is (the Guru's tradition for conducting Langar). To the first question he said, "Welcome to Panjab. People don't have pyaar for Guru. They are doing Paath as a ritual." I thought fair enough. It's sad but what can he do.

To the second question he smiled and said, "Yes I know Langar di Maryada?" Then I asked, "Is that being followed here?" He said, "No Bhai Sahib! Welcome to Panjab. No one follows Gurmat. They pay us and expect us to keep quiet. If we spoke they will say "Go home!" to us. What can we do? This is our livelihood. We try to enforce Gurmat where we feel we can do so, but where people do their own way of doing things, we can't stop them."

How sad! :( My mum told the ladies of the family whose function it was that how Langar being served is not how it is should be done and is done in UK. The ladies had never thought about it! And they said "O yeah, I suppose thats true. It should be done like that. However, everyone does it like that in Panjab." I was shocked that people invited Guru jee to their home, have an Akhand Paath and have Keertan sung YET they can't be bothered to COOK Langar themselves, can't even bothered to SERVE langar, and on top of that can't be bothered to do MATHA TEKH to Guru Sahib when leaving the house. Isn't this PURE LAZINESS?

This was my first proper day in Panjab and it was a painful experience to wake up and realise how Sikhi had become a "Karam" (act), rather than "Dharam" (way of life). May Waheguru bless us all with wisdom and pyaar (love) for his Beloved Lotus Feet.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what are the Babas doing to help out in this ALL know the answer!

Anonymous said...

paaji thas so true!!!!
wen i went india
the same thing happened:(
(my mums friends akhand paath)

well i cant speak im bad aswell, we did an akhand path n we got halwaees to do the cooking, but we served the langar ourselves :)
(our akhand paath)
but we're still bad!!:'(

Anonymous said...

To 'Anonymous' 1,

'Baba's' aside, what are YOU doing about all this?? Its so easy to question the actions of others but how about looking at yourself first..

Manvir Singh Khalsa said...

Every Guru's Sikh is a Parchaarik, an Ambassador of the Guru. We have to become the change we want to see, and project a positive image ourselves.

When I go to India with my family we always get the relatives in India where we stay to do Rehraas on a regular basis. We get together and do Keertan and do Vichaar. Last time I went, we went through Sikh Rehat Maryada, bit by bit everyday. I was amazed that some family members from India had not heard of many things written in Sikh Rehat Maryada. Also doing vichaar on Gurbaani is important.

Start things up and hope they carry it on when you leave. When you ring back India ask whether they are carrying on with the routine of reading Gurbaani and getting together.

Anonymous said...

I went to india and thank God they followed maryada for langar, and did not fail to show respect to Guru Ji.

Everyone bowed and walked bare foot and heads covered to accompany Guru Ji after the program-punjab btw-hope, there is!

SikhsRus said...

great post! I wonder what would Guru Nanak Saheb do? Would he visit these people's house or decline their request? The Granthis should speak out and politely ask people to show respect for the Guru and Guru Ka langar? But the respect has to come from people's heart and not forced on to people. If someone is standing with hands folded instead of kneeling down, but has full respect from heart, I see no disrespect to the Guru sahib. Other thing on Guru ka Langar, can ignorance about not touching food without washing hands be forgiven? For example, a person from another faith or culture, or a little child who may not be familiar with the Sikh Rehit?

Manvir Singh Khalsa said...

I thought washing hands before eating (especially langar) should be common sense. But as a wise person told me "Common sense is rare sense."

Guru Harek te Kirpa Kare. May we all be inspired by Guru jee's pyaar and wisdom.

ਿੲਕ ਿਸੰਘ said...

everything i know about Rehat i learned it in punjab 15 years ago. i never saw any sikh disobey the Guru like the way you described. then again we should be OPEN MINDED about all this right? in the name of TARAKI (betterment) of bahichara (brotherhood) and MODERNIZATION!

there was a middle ground (between taraki and Rehat) but i guess once we left it in the 90's we lost it forever?

also manvir, you never answered my question if the Southall people ususally have such a nice program at the Gurudwaras(you described a couple of weeks ago) or was it a special weekend?

thanks for the post! i won't be so blindsided in a couple of weeks!