The Sikh community is known for hard work, diligence and compassion and over the years, its members have established strong links with various sections of New Zealand’s cosmopolitan society.
Their spirit for rejoicing is also evident at the various festivals and ceremonies. It is with the same spirit that Sikhs in New Zealand will celebrate the festival of lights at various Gurdwaras this month and in November.
“We believe in universal brotherhood, promoting friendship, goodwill and understanding. Diwali is an occasion to give, greet and rejoice. Our festivities are open to all and it is gratifying that our activities are patronised by a cross section of the society, from poets to politicians and businesspersons to ordinary people,” community leaders said.
Gurdwaras are not only places of worship and dissemination of knowledge but also venues that reinforce gender equality, ideals of good living and good food, devoid of any status or even religion.
Every Gurdwara serves food at least twice a day, many of them round-the-clock.
It is no ordinary feat to serve a meal to thousands of people in a day.
In fact, offer of free food to devotees and visitors is a traditional duty implicitly followed in Hindu Temples, Muslim Mosques and Christian Churches, but at the Sikh Gurdwaras, the service, known as ‘Guru Ka Langar’ is religion itself.
The third Sikh Guru Amar Das strengthened this tradition.
Even Emperor Akbar had to take langar with the common people before he could meet Guru Amar Das.
The concept of Langar is to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status.
In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of langar also aims to express the ethics of sharing and oneness of all humankind.
About 50,000 people take part in the ‘Langar’ (Community meal) every day at the ‘Harmandir Sahib,’ popularly known as the ‘Golden Temple,’ (Amristar, Punjab), the Holiest Shrine of Sikhs.
According to Jathedar Harpinder Singh, who is in charge of the Langar at the Golden Temple said that more than 50,000 people eat at the Temple, with the number doubling on Sundays and Festival days.
Serving such a huge gathering is not an easy task. But the devotion and selfless service of the sewadars makes the job simple.
“We have 300 permanent sewadars who work at the langar. They knead dough, cook food, serve people and perform a number of other jobs. There are several men and women volunteers, who work in kitchen and langar hall,” Mr Singh said.
The langar is prepared in two kitchens, which have 11 hot plates (tawi), several burners, machines for sieving and kneading dough and several other utensils.
The kitchen also has a roti-making machine, donated by a Lebanon based devotee. The machine can make rotis of 20 kg flour in just 30 minutes.
Every day, the langar requires about 5000 kgs of wheat, 1800 kgs of dal, 1400 Kgs of rice and 700 litres of milk. More than 100 gas cylinders are emptied each day in preparing food. The ‘Tea Department’ alone needs 20 Kgs of tea and 600 kgs of sugar.
“Desi Ghee comes from Verka Milk Plant in the city. In a day, we receive over 800 kgs of sugar and 700 kgs of of dal,” Mr Singh said.
According to him, many devotees also offer cash to the langar fund. Some devotees donate large sums to cover the cost of day’s food and other expenses.
Belgian filmmakers, Valerie Berteau and Philippe Witjes were so impressed with the langar at the Golden Temple that they produced a documentary film.
Called, ‘Golden Kitchen,’ the film impressed audiences at numerous film festivals in Europe. On June 6 , it was adjudged ‘Outstanding’ at the Festival of Short Films organised at the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Critics have praised the film for bringing out the beauty of what is for western audiences “an endeavour that is remarkable in scale, the clockwork efficiency with which the kitchen is organised and the fact that all the people manning the kitchen are volunteers who are inspired to undertake the heavy labour by their religious convictions.”