A free kitchen is a place where the less fortunate can come for a free hot meal, often served by volunteers. You might think this is a modern creation, borne out of a need to help the increasing numbers of poor. However, that’s not the case at all.
In Amritsar, India, a Sikh shrine called the Golden Temple is a palatial, radiant complex that draws more than 100,000 visitors a day. This makes it even more popular of a destination than the Taj Mahal.
The Golden Temple, or Harmandir Sahib, the most sacred Sikh temple in India.
The temple is more than pretty. It’s also home to the largest free kitchen in the world, which distributes some 200,000 rotis (a type of Indian flatbread), more than a ton and a half of dal (lentil soup), and other free food items to more than 100,000 people every day. Some are tourists who have come to see the temple, while others are those desperately in need. Anyone who steps into this kitchen is given a free meal, regardless of their nationality, religion, or caste. This has been the case for more than 545 years.
The entrance to the kitchen, which is called a langar.
People coming into the kitchen are handed plates on arrival, and are served a hot meal. In keeping with the philosophy of equality in Sikhism, all people, regardless of their social standing outside the temple, sit on the floor. The exception to this rule is the elderly, who may sit in chairs.
While all Sikh temples have free kitchens, the Golden Temple’s kitchen is striking in the sheer amount of food it moves in a single day. Harpreet Singh is the manager of this vast kitchen, overseeing about 450 employees and hundreds more volunteers. He estimates that 100,000 is the average daily service, with more on weekends and special occasions. “The langar never stops,” he explains. “On an average, 7,000 kilograms of wheat flour, 1,200 kilograms of rice, 1,300 kilograms of lentils, 500 kilograms of ghee (clarified butter) is used in preparing the meal every day.”
Volunteers and staff prepare food to serve at the langar. All food served here is vegetarian.
Many volunteers come in from other places and volunteer at the langar as part of their religious observance. Volunteers are primarily responsible for the smaller chores, such as washing the 300,000 plates that are used every day.
Volunteers wash the thousands of dishes that the kitchen uses daily.
All people are welcome in the langar, regardless of who they are or where they’re from.
While the numbers are staggering, the most amazing thing about this free kitchen is the dedication that has spanned centuries. Over the course of its 500+ year lifetime, the Golden Temple has served millions and millions, and continues to do so today. In addition to meals, space is also available for people looking to spend a few nights, with their only payment being volunteer work.
The Golden Temple is truly a remarkable place for its religious, cultural, and historical value. Its dedication to acceptance and compassion towards all also makes it a special place in the heart of India.