I visited Bangla Sahib, where Guru Harkrishan (8th Guru of the Sikhs) provided fresh water during the small box epidemic. The Gurudwara itself is stunning white marble with typical golden domes on top. The well which was constructed by Guru Harkrishan still provides water, and I noticed at the entrance a few shops selling empty plastic containers. A sign that some believe in its healing power and take a collection of the well water back with them. There is also a very large sarover (tank of water common in Sikh Gurudwara’s) to the right, and very large langar hall and accommodations towards the left of Bangla Sahib.
Inside the Gurudwara is a large hall, and the walls around Guru Granth Sahib are all gold plated. I could not help but feel a little emotional as I bowed my head, realizing this was the first Gurughar of my visit. As a Sikh these sites are bound to you and we can be as complex and scholarly about these locations, but mere faith overwhelms when you pay reverence.
Since economic divisions are so obvious here, there is a sense you feel when you sit in the langar hall that is different from the western experience. Here when you sit down to eat langar you are literally sitting with at times the lowest economic level to those who are ultra rich/powerful. It is truly an equalizer, in a way that humbles you. I looked around and noticed homeless were there eating, along with tourists like myself. We all were partaking in something as simple as breaking bread but as complicated as breaking our ego. We are all the same, we are all one, a philosophy that is so ingrained in the tenants of Sikhism yet seldom do we feel it in our day to day life. Here in India, at Bangla Sahib I felt it, I felt that sitting there with those who I would never cross paths with in real life, reminded me of that oneness.
We can escape it in our real lives. Most of our relatives and friends are from our community or same economic level, but in the langar hall that is not the case. It is indeed an amazing concept, anyone who is hungry, thirsty, or needs rest can come to ANY Sikh Gurudwara. I only ate langar for a few minutes but at least 300 people were eating at that time. Statistically around 100,000 folks eat a meal at Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. I did not see anyone shunned or denied, I only saw the sevadars serving everyone as equal, and then wondered why anyone would sleep hungry in India?
In the USA we eat langar mostly as a convenience its part of our Gurudwara ritual, somewhat of a social event. Here it felt very different and it felt ‘right’. It humbled me; we were sitting on the same level eating the same simple food, participating in one of the most basic human needs of nourishment of our bodies. This feeling of equality reminded me of the purpose of my visit here, to feel something different, to feel Sikhi, and in that langar hall I felt one of the most powerful messages that the Guru’s taught, so simply yet so effectively.