Langar with the Sikhs– an example of commons within religious systems

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I got to thinking about religious institutions after our class a few weeks ago when Massimo mentioned that many religions aren’t generally considered a true commons due to an over-abundance of facades. While I’m not overly ‘religious’ myself, I do feel that ‘commoning’ is a deeply seeded sentiment within most religions (aside from a few image-oriented individuals). After all, many religions claim to have been initiated in order for us to ‘love one another’ regardless of origin, age, or gender.

One perfect example of religious commoning is within Sikhism, specifically in the Golden Temple which is the Sikh’s central place of worship. The Temple was built by Guru Arjan Sahib in the 1500’s (completed in 1601) in order to allow anybody to worship ‘irrespective of cast, creed or race (so they) can seek spiritual solace and religious fulfilment without any hindrance’. The Temple was built on ground level (to symbolize equality) and was created with 4 entrances to symbolize its accessibility to anybody from any walk of life. 

The creation and intention of the Temple is all well and good, but where does commoning come into play? It comes in the way a lot of commoning happens– through food, or ‘Langar’.

As mentioned earlier, anyone is allowed to enter the Temple- this can range from tourists, to pilgrims, to the homeless. Doctors, politicians, Brahmins, and beggars are all required to cover their heads, wash their feet and enter as equals, and all contribute to the temple in some way or another. The grounds are funded by donations and are maintained by Sewadars (volunteers) who come and go as they see fit- these volunteers are often the doctors, pilgrims, or other visitors who come to the Temple. There are several Niwas Asthans (hostels) close by where anyone can stay for free on a first-come-first-serve basis (it has some of the cleanest bathrooms I’ve seen in India!). Finally, there is a giant kitchen which can feed up to 100,000 people every day, this is where much ‘Langar-ing’ happens. Langar consists of many parts- food preparation, serving, eating, and cleaning; it also has a large emphasis on empowering women and children within the community. The meal is prepared three times a day by Sewadars (often supervised by women) and then served by Sewadars to people sitting in long lines on the floor. In the end all of the washing and cleaning is done by more Sewadars. It is a general assumption that if you come for food or lodging, you are expected to contribute through either washing/serving/cleaning/or cooking. Beyond the ‘give and take’ of Langar-ing, this process also teaches the community members the ‘etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of sameness of all human beings; providing a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary.’

I’m sure there are many more examples of pure and honest commoning within a religious institution. If you know of any other inspiring examples, I would love to know!

For more information on the Golden Temple, please see : http://www.goldentempleamritsar.org/index.php

 

 

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