Pilgrims eat free at India's Golden Temple

Pilgrims and visitors to the Golden Temple, the holiest site in Sikhism, receive a free vegetarian meal in honor of the religion's founder's practice of feeding the poor.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Pilgrims and visitors to the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest site, can relish more than the immaculate marble grounds in Amritsar: They can also get a free bite to eat.

The two-story langar (free kitchen) offers fresh vegetarian meals daily to tens of thousands through the efforts of devoted volunteers, who serve lentils from deep pots, wash tin plates, pass out water and chai, and stir caldrons of rice pudding over wooden fires. Everything is made from scratch, even flour and chili powder is ground on site. Ingredients are stored in the basement, including ghee (clarified butter) and donated wheat.

At mealtime, visitors sit on narrow mats as turbaned men distribute round bread. To accept the offering, diners must raise their cupped hands. This service follows in the footsteps of Guru Nanak, Sikhism’s founder, who fed the poor, says volunteer Sukhdev Singh. Mr. Singh, a welder, says anyone can come and eat as often as they like.

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