Every day, Shri Harmandir Sahib, known worldwide as the Golden Temple, serves upwards of 50,000 free meals to whoever shows up. This beautiful gold-coated gurudwara (temple) in Amritsar is the most sacred place for Sikhs. It’s both the spiritual and temporal centre of the religion, and thousands of pilgrims, tourists, and followers arrive daily to worship, pray, volunteer, and soak up the peaceful vibes.
The Sikh religion rests on several important values, including equality and community service. To that end, every gurudwara offers langar, a free communal kitchen. The langar at Golden Temple follows this tradition on a big scale, in keeping with the size of the gurudwara and the number of visitors it gets.
You have to see the communal kitchen to believe it. The huge size of the rooms, cooking vats, mounds of food, plus the numbers of people prepping, cooking, and cleaning is a site to behold. It’s virtually a small army at work, and many of them are volunteers.
Lentils are cooked in huge vats, on open fires, that take two people with large wooden paddles, to stir. While some volunteers prepare and roll rotis, a roti-making machine was brought in a few years ago to keep up with the capacity. It can make 25,000 rotis an hour. The kitchen uses 12,000 kilograms of flour, 1,600 kilograms of pulses (lentils), 1,600 kilograms of vegetables, and 1,400 kilograms of rice per day. About 25 percent of the food is donated.
A traditional vegetarian meal of rice, lentils, vegetables, and rotis is served in two large dining halls that each accommodate 5,000 people. Everyone sits on the floor, in long rows, as volunteer servers walk up and down dishing out food. A machine on wheels serves clean, filtered drinking water, and another one serves tea.
The metal plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery are all washed by a small army, too. A total of about 500 employees and 250 volunteers work in the kitchen at a time. Volunteers are allowed to do everything except the cooking.
Langar was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, to uphold the principle of equality. All people, regardless of religion, gender, caste, class, and color sit together on the floor to eat. It was a revolutionary concept in 16th century India, when Sikhism began. The langar also expresses the ethics of sharing, community, and inclusiveness.
Know Before You Go
The Golden Temple is open every day and meals are served starting at 8 a.m.