by Dr. Mohinder Singh Dhillon
Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of Sikhism, saw his nation and his people in the depth of degradation. The Punjab had once been the land of power and wisdom, but successive raids of invaders had left the region ruined and helpless. The people of Punjab were financially, physically, and even morally bankrupt: they had lost all self-respect. Babur, the Mugal emperor from Afghanistan, had attacked India, slaughtering Punjabi men, raping women, and killing children in order to build his empire ruled from Delhi. Guru Nanak’s heart bled, but he could not fight the armies of Babur; instead he began teaching to uplift the souls of his people. People called him ‘Guru,’ a spiritual teacher, and Guru Nanak’s followers began to call themselves Sikhs as his disciples. A Sikh never ceases to learn. Guru Nanak laid down many principles to pursue a pure, powerful equality and lives free of fear. He began helping the sick, the poor, and the hungry. A free kitchen called a Langar was established so that no one in the community would go to sleep hungry.
We can learn important lessons from the story of how Guru Nanak came to establish the tradition of the Langar. His father had given him a substantial sum of money to start his own business. Nanak began the journey from his village towards the city, but as he was passing through another village he heard that there were many hungry people. He bought food and asked the villagers to cook for all the hungry people. He spent all his money on food, and returned home empty-handed. “Have you bought a business?” his father asked. “No,” Nanak answered, “but I spent the money for the best cause.” This began the tradition of Langar. In all Gurudwaras, Langar is prepared for the neediest in the local community. In the largest cities, Langar is served 24 hours a day. In the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, it is estimated that 100,000 people eat every day, and on special days more than 150,000 are served Langar without any distinction of colour or creed. In Winnipeg there are eight Gurudwaras, and each Sunday hundreds of people are served Langar as part of a continued commitment to Guru Nanak’s principles of a world of equality and dignity.