Dal and chapati for everyone.
Streams of visitors at the Sikhs’ soup kitchen
There are soup kitchens all across the world providing meals for the needy. The one in Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is typical of many and run by the Sikh religious community. Everyone can eat here for free, regardless of gender, race, caste or social status.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – a magnificent structure crowned by a golden dome – is the most famous Sikh temple in Delhi. The entrance to the kitchen is located in the left wing of the main building. It is here that I find Mr Sevadaar, the head chef, and Mr Harjee, one of the temple’s managers, waiting for me. We’d made arrangements to meet via Facebook.
When you enter the temple’s kitchen, or langar, for the first time, you’re overwhelmed by the sheer size of the room, and the array of pots and pans. It’s filled with the smells of food and the din of music. Although dozens of people work here – most of them volunteers – there’s not a trace of chaos.
Andreas Kohli spoke with Mr Harjee and Mr Sevadaar
Mr Harjee, when were meals first served for free?
The founder of the Sikh religion established the first community kitchen for the needy in 1483. Everyone was welcome – there was no discrimination. All the Sikh temples in the world have one.
Mr Sevadaar, do you serve lunch and dinner?
We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The first meal is served at four in the morning.
How is the kitchen funded, Mr Harjee?
Money for the kitchen comes exclusively from donations. In our religion, people are required to donate ten per cent of their earnings to the needy. Most of the workers in the kitchen are volunteers. They come to help us for a few days.
And what types of food do you offer, Mr Sevadaar?
Every day we serve various seasonal vegetables with dal and chapati. On special days we offer a large selection of other foods. We serve only vegetarian meals – not because Sikhs are vegetarians, but because we don’t want to exclude anyone.
“Once you’ve had your daily meal,” one Indian said, “you can relax: now you’ll survive.” For many guests, food from the langar is probably not about survival. They come because they are members of the Sikh religious community. But in a rapidly growing city with more than 20 million inhabitants, the meals served by the Sikh community are a valuable free source of nourishment for everyone.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="Young men operating the dough mixer.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="The storage room is located next to the kitchen.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="Men and women sitting around a large rectangular platform covered with a cloth. They are rolling the balls of dough used to make chapatis.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="The chapatis are cooked on a large metal griddle. Men and women casually toss the flatbreads onto the hot grill and flip them using long thin wooden spatulas. With an elegant sweep of their utensils, they fling them into a container once they are done.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="Volunteers from the Sikh community work in the kitchen.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="Carpets are rolled out to prepare the hall for the next meal. Everything proceeds very quickly now. The hungry diners enter the hall and sit down on one of the long mats on the floor. Between five and six hundred people gather in the space within a few minutes.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="The food is served in stages. First the volunteers walk between the rows handing out plates. Then they serve the chapatis from large baskets. Finally men come by with metal buckets and ladle out dal or vegetables. Everyone waits patiently for their food while loud music plays in the background. After a quick blessing, people begin eating.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="We are also treated to a meal. The food is not very colourful, but it tastes great – fresh, hot and spicy.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="After the meal, the dirty plates are collected and the crowd disperses. There is no time to tarry – the next meal is already in preparation.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="After the meal, visitors receive a thick warm dessert of sweet rice (kheer) at the large pool outside the temple. Served in small portions on banana leaves, it is eaten as a blessing. Afterwards visitors splash some of the holy water from the pool onto their hands and faces.
© Andreas Kohli"/>© Andreas Kohli" alt="The large pool.
© Andreas Kohli"/>
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