The Legacy of Langar

A cherished part of Parliament lore is the legacy of langar.

The story goes like this. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and the first Sikh Guru, taught his followers to value equality, and the dignity and significance shared by all human beings. Inherent in that teaching was the idea that each and every person deserved to eat, regardless of gender, race, creed, or caste. Eating together and feeding those who were hungry was a public display of that ethic of equality.

The tradition birthed from Guru Nanak’s teaching is more than ever today an essential observance for the adherents of the fifth largest religion in the world - a mealtime in the temple when all are welcomed and all are served.

For anyone who has been to a Parliament, langar is more than just a meal. For first-timers, it is a solemn ritual to which they arrive hungry, nervous, and curious. They depart on a full stomach, yet feeling somehow lighter, having shed a little bit of ego.

Though sacred, langar feels joyful and communal. Balanced. Rejuvenating. A reminder that we’re all navigating this world together.

So it was a dream-come-true for organizers of the 2015 Parliament when the langar tradition was brought back by a multitude of enthusiastic Sikhs, who dedicated a year of planning to coordinate with the leadership of UK-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, international volunteers, Salt Lake City’s local gurdwara, and Parliament Board Trustee Manohar Singh Grewal.

At the Barcelona Parliament a decade earlier, Sikhs fed thousands, including both convention attendees and walk-ins from the street. What an inspirational experience to see global members of the interfaith movement and the local community alike, entering the sacred langar space lured in by the sounds and aromas, removing their shoes, covering their heads

and taking their place on the floor, all seated in rows, all humans equal.

At the first U.S. Parliament in over twenty years - especially during a time when members of the Sikh community are experiencing rising xenophobia and bias-motivated violence (including beatings, murders and mass killings) - langar beautifully united Sikhs and their neighbors in this heart- centered act of faith.

The langar at the Salt Lake City Parliament served unlimited helpings of healthy, satisfying, and scrumptious vegetarian food to upwards of 7000 people every day. Over 1000 volunteers took on cooking and ladling out delicious Indian fare, prepared in Utah’s main gurdwara and the Salt Palace. By the end, volunteer shifts exceeded 300.

While local volunteers representing many faith traditions jumped in to help with Langar, some of the Sikh volunteers traveled from across the globe to contribute. There were 60 volunteers from the United Kingdom alone!

At the end of each day’s langar service, meals were donated to the homeless of Salt Lake City, ensuring that the Parliament’s message of religious harmony and service to all would reach those in the most need.

The effort cost at least $100,000 according to Jagdish Gill, a Sikh Utahn who serves as Vice Chairman for this gathering’s langar.

The Salt Lake Parliament langar also won the hearts of global media who often entered the hall to cover the action, hear from the international attendees, and eat. The Salt Lake Tribune reported,

Diners sit in lines on the floor and are served by volunteers — people of all faiths — who walk up and  down the aisles dishing out rice, yogurt, chickpeas, pasta and fruit in large tin buckets. They provide water to drink.

'Everyone sits on the floor,' Gill says, “to show that there are no differences among us. No caste, no rich or poor. We are all equal human beings.

In addition to langar, food pop-ups within the Salt Palace took on careful menu planning to ensure that dietary offerings would span the spiritual spectrum and satisfy needs like Halal, Kosher, and vegan preferences.

With the gratitude came a bit of competition, too, as dozens of faith leaders left wondering what their tradition could uniquely offer to match the incredible magic of langar in Parliaments to come.

There will be many breads to break.