When it is lunchtime at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, India, you can see swarms of people. Nearly 100,000 people eat here on an average every day and not a single one of them pays for any of the food they consume. Now, who said that there is no such thing as free lunch?
The preparation of a meal of this big a scale is only made possible by a bevy of volunteers and a truly astonishing amount of raw materials including 13,000 kilos of flour, 1,600 kilos of rice, 14,000 kilos of lentils, and up to 3,000 kilos of vegetables. Much of the work here is done by hand, but you will also be able to see a mechanized oven and a conveyor belt make 200,000 delicious rotis on a daily basis. The langar, as it is called, never shuts down—and even late during night, pilgrims can stop by for a meal.
All of this happened because nearly 500 years ago, a Sikh guru who was living in India introduced a completely revolutionary idea about consumption of food. This idea was simple: a place should be decided where everyone, regardless of their religion or social or economic status, could sit together on the ground to eat the same food as equals. This philosophy behind free meals was a radical change from the existing norms, through which caste hierarchies made decisions about food like what should be eaten and with who.
Even though all Sikh temples from around the world have free kitchens, the langar of the Golden Temple is the biggest and the most elaborate. It hosts more than 100,000 people on the weekdays, and up to 150,000 on the holy days, attracting more visitors than even India’s most famous tourist destination, the Taj Mahal. After the visit to the temple, visitors and devotees alike move in a drove towards the langar, where hundreds of volunteers can be seen busy preparing the food. This food never runs out and no one hungry is ever turned away. The Community Kitchen is huge and everything here is for free. FOR FREE! EVERYTHING! FOR EVERYONE! It does not matter what religion, caste, economic background or nationality you are from.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar is like a “mecca” of Sikhism, which is the major religion in Punjab, whose capital is Amritsar.
The Sikh’s beliefs are always based on sharing, aiding each other and living as part of a community with shared tolerance. And this is abundantly portrayed in the milieu of the Golden Temple. Food is made in huge pots which are later washed so thoroughly that it looks like someone actually climbed into them and then washed them from the inside. All the food is served on the ground, and the “tables” are wiped with a mop. What’s fascinating to see is that while about one thousand people are leaving the dining hall through one door, another one thousand enters the hall by the other door that is in the opposite end of this dining hall.