Here’s How Gurudwaras are marking the 550th birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak

There’s a story behind the concept of langar offered free of cost to everyone

Ishita Lote

“It’s a big day for us,'' says Mandeep Singh Wadhwa, as he fills me in on the significance of the recent inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor that leads to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, which is where Guru Nanakji, who founded the Sikh faith, spent his last days and which eventually also became his final resting place. “A historic moment such as this gives us another reason to celebrate his 550th birth anniversary with even more enthusiasm and cheer,” adds his wife Kawaldip Kaur.

Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated on the day of Karthik Poornima. It is one of the most important festivals for the Sikh community and this year marks the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. 

We head towards Gurdwara Shri Dashmesh Darbar—one of the seven Gurudwaras in the jam-packed area of Guru Teg Bahadur Nagar, Sion, Mumbai. There are two reasons why people get drawn towards Dashmesh Darbar. The immense faith in it for making their prayers and wishes come true and the all-day Langar that ensures that nobody returns hungry. The Gurudwara recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary and is all lit up for Guru Nanak Jayanti.

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It’s almost time for the evening prayer Rehras, which is a prayer of thanksgiving. 

“We’ve come at the right time,'' says Kawaldip, and as I follow her gaze, I instantly know why. Big thalis covered with a white cloth are being brought and arranged around the holy book Guru Granth Sahib, as a priest is finishing off the prayer. We all get a handful out of the thalis which contain the melt-in-mouth kada prasad—a sweet halwa made with whole wheat flour or semolina, sugar and ghee—each ingredient in equal measure. 

A hall next to the Gurudwara serves Langar—a free vegetarian meal which is served to all, irrespective of caste, class or religion. It’s the translation of the concepts of equality and charity, which were advocated by Guru Nanak Dev about 500 years back. It’s an all-day langar, which means you get food at any point of the day that you visit the Gurudwara. A typical lunch or dinner langar consists of dal, rotis, sabzi and rice. But on special days like Guru Nanak Jayanti or Baisakhi, there are special varieties of vegetables, and a sweet (kheer or gulab jamun). Everyone sits together in a row to eat the same meal—which promotes harmony and friendship among people.

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On our way back, we take a detour and pass by the Diwachand Ramsaran Compound near the Eastern freeway, Wadala, Mumbai. Big pandals are being set up in preparation for the all-day langar on Gurupurab. “Around ten thousand people are expected this year,” Wadhwa tells me. The Sewak Jatha group—the organisers of this langar, have a committee of 350 disciplined and motivated members, who carry the responsibility of providing Sewa. 

“Sikhism places a lot of emphasis on Sewa. The langars that are carried out on such large scales, function due to the enthusiastic efforts of the Sewaks. From donating sacks of potatoes, grains and pulses, chopping vegetables and helping with other cooking to serving food and providing water—everything happens because of the voluntary actions of people. Additionally, they also set up free health check-up camps which is a boon for those who cannot afford healthcare expenses,” he adds. 

How did langar start?

One of the popular stories goes like thisGuru Nanak Dev was given some money by his father, who was a businessman. He was asked to make a good profit out of it. But when Guru Nanakji came across poor and hungry men, he spent all that he had to buy them food. His father was disappointed to see him come back empty-handed. To this, Guru Nanak Dev had only one response—true  profit lies in selfless service and compassion for others.

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Later, when Guru Nanakji started giving sermons, people would come with a number of offerings. And this is how the concept of langars evolved. Guru Nanak Dev encouraged people to use their contributions to prepare, serve and eat food together, irrespective of caste, class or gender. 

There is also iconic Khara Prashad, cooked with equal parts wheat flour, desi ghee and sugar, it is symbolic of equality.

The Three Pillars of Sikhism

The concept of langar has its foundation in one of the three golden rules laid down by Guru NanakjiVand Chakko, which means selfless service for others and sharing a part of one’s income or resources (such as food or utensils) to a Gurdwara. The other two principles are Naam Japna, chanting the name of the Supreme being, and Kirat Karo—earning one's livelihood with honesty and integrity.

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How is Guru Purab celebrated?

The celebrations start two days prior, with the Akhand Path of The Guru Granth Sahib, holy book of the Sikhs. “Akhand Path is the continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib, which takes 48 hours to complete. People take turns to read this 1430 pages long Guru Granth Sahib” explains Wadhwa. 

On the day of Guru Nanak Jayanti, the Guru Granth Sahib is opened at dawn. People head to the Gurudwaras in the morning to offer their prayers. Langar happens throughout the day in all Gurudwaras on this day.

Apart from this, people form groups and sing Kirtans (hymns), praising their Guru’s teachings. On the day of Guru Nanak Jayanti, a procession called the Prabhat Pheri sets out, in which the holy book Guru Granth Sahib is placed in a palanquin and decorated with flowers and rumalas. People come out of their houses and take blessings of the holy book. “Many people organise snacks and beverages on this day for those who are part of the procession,'' Kawaldip tells me. 

The celebrations come to an end late at night after reciting the Gurbani or compositions of Guru Nanak Dev.

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