Feeding faith

Deepti Asthana | Updated on August 31, 2018 Published on August 31, 2018

The Golden Temple’s langar, or community kitchen, rolls out thousands of rotis by the hour

Sitting by the Amrit Sarovar — the tank surrounding Amritsar’s Golden Temple, I watch the glittering reflection of the holy shrine all evening. The slow-paced bhajans sound over the speakers installed in all four corners of the gurudwara, and many of us in the crowd are humming along to the best of our ability.

Amidst the hectic bustle of Amritsar, the Harmandir Sahib, as the Golden Temple is also known, is a place of sweet solace. In 1577, the city got its name from the Amrit Sarovar, which was excavated by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. It has since become the holiest of all places for Sikhs.

What also makes this shrine special is its community kitchen, or langar, which daily serves free meals to nearly one lakh people of all faiths, making it one of the world’s largest community kitchens. The gigantic utensils used for cooking lentils, tea and kheer dwarf the cooks. The food is simple, yet tasty.

The 300 sewadars, as the kitchen staff are called, and hundreds of volunteers work with clockwork precision to pull off this mammoth task on a daily basis. People from different castes, creed, states and countries come together to volunteer.

A young man shows me how the langar’s gigantic roti-making machine works, churning out 25,000 rotis every hour. The machine is said to have been donated by a devotee from Lebanon. It is mostly used during festivals and weekends, when the number of visitors peaks. Flour poured into one end of the device turns into dough within a few minutes; at the opposite end, rows of rotis appeared magically on the hot plate. A boy quickly collects the cooked rotis in a basket and runs across the room to add them to a bigger heap. I put aside my camera and join the women who are distributing them. It is my time for the sewa.

Deepti Asthana is a Mumbai-based photojournalist

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Published on August 31, 2018