Sikh Temple: Free food for the whole community – an act of faith

The Sikh temple, or Guru Arjan Dev Gurdwara  in Normanton (Stanhope Street), contains one of the largest free food halls ,( langar in Punjabi), in Derby. It operates  for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is available for everyone to use….for free….Sikh, or non-Sikh.

The provision of the langar is at the heart of one of the key principles and philosophies of Sikhism which is to:

 …uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status; to eliminate extreme poverty in the world and to bring about the birth of “caring communities”

Sikhism formed as it broke away from the Indian caste system which was hierarchical and discriminatory.  To reflect this split men took the last name Singh ( lion) and women, Kaur (princess). The most visible side of Sikhism, in men, particularly, is the practice of Kesh – uncut hair, and the wearing of a Dastar, or turban.

In Sikhism, there are 3 duties to uphold, every day  – to remember God, work hard, and to share. Sharing is contained within the principle of seva ( in Punjabi) – or “selfless service”. All good Sikhs will give “10% of their money, and 10% of their time” to serve others.

Each day,  volunteers arrive at the Guru Arjan Dev Gurdwara, in the early hours of the morning to prepare the food for the 2-300 people per day who visit the langar – this number doubles at the weekend.

The Gurdwara is a place of religious observance, and one for celebrating and blessing births, birthdays, marriages,  deaths, and other significant events.  The ceremonies can be for a few hours or up to 3 days with the priest reading from the scriptures, the langar providing the food,  and large halls for people to meet friends and family, and enjoy the occasion.

The Gurdwara is a charity and, unlike many others, it does not rely on funding from Derby City Council, or external funding agencies – there are no bid writers on the staff. It is entirely self-financing – the ideal position for any charity.

The ceremonies are subject to a charge, and many people donate time, food,  and money as part of their Sikh faith, and community contribution, to ensure that the Gurdwara, which is their religious focal point, is a thriving establishment.

The Charity is run by a committee of 15 people. There are 4 priests, 2 chefs, admin staff and Punjabi teachers  – some of whom are paid. It has significant expenses all of which are self-funded.  Details of all weekly costs are routinely shown in the foyer of the Gurdwara for everyone to see where the money is being spent.

Vaisakhi, the annual event, that is attended by thousands of people, and that parades through the streets of Normanton is entirely funded by the Gurdwaras in the City.  Local businesses set up in the street providing free food and drink as part of their observance of the Sikh principles.

6X4A7656The whole Sikh community contributed to the building of the Gurdwara, which is held by the charity. It is a substantial property, requiring  constant maintenance and development. Funds are either generated from regular activities or from special donations from members of the faith. Currently the outer buildings in the plot are under refurbishment to create more space for ceremonial / religious events and to increase its capacity.

Each year they identify opportunities to donate money to the wider community and, in the past,  have supported the Royal Derby Hospital renal unit with the purchase of a kidney dialysis machine.

Whilst it is mainly Sikhs who use the langar in the Gurdwara, there are the occasional visitors who are always welcomed. Provided any person entering the hall, covers their head, removes their shoes, washes their hands, is free of alcohol and drugs, and behaves with respect, and dignity, then a free meal awaits them….and a peaceful atmosphere.

This is not done for any return…it is an act of faith.

It is for everyone…

Categories: Norm, Sikhism

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