Golden Temple Kitchen – The largest community kitchen in the world.

Pilgrims sit together for langar at Golden Temple (sanjay austa austa)

Pilgrims sit together for langar at Golden Temple


Published first in the Bangkok Post, Aug 2014

It is a kitchen that defies all proportions. The aluminum pots are so huge,  they dwarf you completely. The ladles are the size of rowing oars . The trays have the circumference of trampolines and jugs are as capacious as buckets.

The blazing fire under the leviathan pots is stroked by turbaned men with sticks as long as flagpoles. There are a mountain of potatoes waiting to be pealed for the afternoon meal and  flour sacks, hogging half the room, wait to be kneaded into dough.

This is no ordinary kitchen. This is the kitchen of the holiest Sikh Shrine, the Golden Temple or Harmandir Sahib which serves meals to more than 40 thousand people any given day. On a Sikh religious holiday however, the number can cross 1,00,000, making it the largest community kitchen of the world.

The meals, langar, as  they are called, are served in large halls to everyone free, irrespective of ones faith, caste, race, colour or creed. Everyone sits cross-legged, head-covered on the floor in long rows to eat together. There are no VIP’s here nor untouchables, the two categories that unfortunately remain deeply interwoven into the Indian social fabric. At langar you come with no identities. This underscored the basic Sikh tenant that preaches the essential sameness of everybody.

Cooking in large open pots in the Kitchen (sanjay austa austa)

Cooking in large open pots in the Kitchen

Hindu temples at best offer prasad– (consecrated offering)- which is usually a mish mash of sweetmeats, coconut parings and baked rice. But the idea of serving full sit -down meals at their places of worship , is unique to Sikhism. The idea of langar was initiated by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism himself but it was later established as a religious ideal by the third Guru, Amar Das in the 16th century. It is said that Guru Amar Das was so particular about the langar that when Mughal Emperor Akbar came to visit him he refused to meet him, until Akbar had had the langar. There is a famous painting, which depicts Akbar sitting down for langar with everybody else.

Today all Gurudwaras (The Sikh temples), around the world follow this practice . But Golden Temple, which, attracts more visitors than even the Taj Mahal, has to make special arrangement to run its gargantuan kitchen. But generous donations from Indian Sikhs and the diaspora of devotees make sure the provisions never run dry.

An average of 100 quintals of wheat, 25 quintals cereals, 10 quintal rice , 5000 liters milk, 10 quintal sugar and 5 quintal clarified butter (ghee) is used everyday for the meals. Manning the kitchen are not battalions of professional cooks but an army of volunteers working to earn spiritual karma. Rendering service is one of the tenants of Sikhism and there is no better way to do it than serving tired devotees at the holiest gurudwara.

Men and women sit together and make roties. Someone kneads the dough. Someone rolls it. Someone slaps it on their hands. Someone bakes it. Someone puts it in the basket and finally someone else serves it in the langar hall. (sanjay austa austa)

Men and women sit together and make roties.


Therefore from the cooking of meals to the washing of utensils everything is done by the pilgrims themselves. Ironically, the work they so cheerfully line up to do here, would be precisely the work they would shirk from in their own homes, considering it too lowly and beneath their status. Especially men, who would never be caught washing dishes at home. But  at the wash counters here, shirt-sleeves rolled, they enthusiastically wash pile after pile of dirty plates.

In Golden Temple Kitchen too many cooks do not spoil the broth but it makes for one smooth operation. The division of labor is efficient and is best exemplified by the way the Indian flat bread – roti is made. A gaggle of women are in charge of the roti-making in one large corner of the kitchen. Some knead the dough, the others fashion it into small round balls, another group flattens them and pass them on to women who slap them around their palms before deftly smacking them on a large heated pan. A man with a long iron spatula pokes them until they swell up with air. The rotis are then put in a basked ready to be transported into the dining hall.

But to keep up with the growing number of visitors, an automatic roti-making machine is also pressed into service simultaneously.

It must be said, however, that not the best hygiene standards are maintained in the kitchen. Food is frightfully exposed to the elements -the brewing pots are lidless, with curries often dripping to the floors. But the langar is considered holy and it is so delicious that no one ever notices or   complains.

Huge pots and pans at the golden temple kitchen (sanjay austa austa)

Huge pots and pans at the golden temple kitchen and the dripping dal.

Dishwashing at the Golden Temple, India (sanjay austa austa)

Dishwashing at the Golden Temple, India

Devotees at the Golden Temple see someone . (sanjay austa austa)

Heading to the langar hall on the first floor, Golden temple


Boys working in the golden temple kitchen. (sanjay austa austa)

Boys working in the golden temple kitchen.


Hugs pots are used to cook for the langar. Cooking here happens around the clock. (sanjay austa austa)

Along with gas , wood is still used for the cooking.


Bathers come and take a holy dip in the waters of the Golden Temple from all over the world. (sanjay austa austa)

The bather and the sevadar


Two Sikh men at the Golden temple. The sevadar and the regular devotee. (sanjay austa austa)

Bather and the sevadar.


7 Responses to “Golden Temple Kitchen – The largest community kitchen in the world.”

  1. Meeta Ahlawat says:

    when i visited the golden temple, i went up the first floor to eat the langar. i ran away seeing all the dripping dal its become increasingly difficult to enjoy amritsar.. too crowded

  2. Harsha says:

    Hi Sanjay, it’s a very well written article. However, you claim that the concept of serving full meals is unique to Sikhism. I myself have had full meals in so many Hindu temples. You have got that fact wrong.

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Harsha, Thank you. But i guess that must be on special occasions. Temples don’t have a regular langar.

    • Jaswinder Singh says:

      I’m sure Harsha Hindu temples have full meals.. but I want to ask you is that regular like 24/7, serving 100000 to 300000 people each day, with discipline for hygiene and manners, and volunteers for every aspect(cleaning, cooking, cutting vegies, etc), and most important allowing a muslim or dalit sitting near you to eat? Is that possible in any hindu temple? tell me because I really don’t know.. I will appreciate the responce. because i really want to know.

  3. Harpreet Kaur Jass says:

    Sanjay is dripping dal a problem because of flies it attract or wastage? Lidless is concern but I’m sure mass cooking has its own standards which a cook should comment. I also wish there is more perfection and consciousness in serving and cooking langar but I found two important factors affecting the whole procedure. one: as I mentioned challenges of mass cooking and kitchen being run on faith alone. Second the background of the volunteer. There is no body to educate about the procedure. I can share several of my frustrations and seek or suggest a solution and I’m not so concerned if I hurt alone I want make a point but not criticise. Others may please inbox me their criticism or observations. It’s good to learn.

  4. Nidhi Kamath says:

    A different perspective on food systems, a film on the Golden temple kitchen. Made by my friend Jason Taylor.

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