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Sikhing Answers

Why Do We Sit On The Floor In Langar?
Sikhing Answers - XV

 

 

 

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TODAY'S QUESTION - # 15

Why do we sit on the floor while eating in the gurdwara langar?

Is it mere tradition or is there a purpose, a meaning, behind the practice?

 

Posted on March 20, 2012

Closing Date: March 27, 2012

 

Conversation about this article

1: Aryan (Bolzano, Italy), March 20, 2012, 6:33 AM.

Food can be served while sitting on the floor or at tables and chairs. There is no restriction how the sangat sits to eat food. The principle involved is equality for all. If everyone cannot be provided with chairs and tables, let all enjoy together sitting on the ground. Traditionally, Sikhs have been sitting on the floor to eat langar. This has been popular because it helps in serving a large number of people quickly and the people sitting feel humble before the Guru. The feeling of being higher than others is removed by this method. Hence, this method is prevalent even today in the West where Sikhs can provide chairs to all the people but still choose to sit on the floor. Serving langar to the pangat sitting on the floor looks hard only because we are not accustomed to doing that. If we go to Amritsar or Anandpur Sahib, we will see thousands of people being served langar while sitting on the floor. We too have to learn the technique and get used to it. It gives a greater feeling of unity and equality while sitting together like that and eating langar. In some gurdwaras in the West, they have introduced chairs and tables for eating langar. We cannot say that this is a wrong method. However, it is not a restaurant where eating food is the objective and chairs are needed to sit on. Partaking of langar is an essential part of our religious practice of breaking bread with the congregation. Sitting on the floor has its own charm and pleasure; it sends the proper message to all that being humble in the presence of the Guru is paramount.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), March 20, 2012, 7:06 AM.

We always sit on the floor in langar for one reason, and that is humility.

3: Richa Bimra (India), March 20, 2012, 7:33 AM.

It reminds us that every one is equal and the same in front of God. It shows unity and equality. And it shows that we accept that in the House of God, we are to pay no heed to worldly differences ... and apply that idea to our lives.

4: Jagbeer Singh Khalsa (Birmingham, United Kingdom), March 20, 2012, 7:53 AM.

Besides the teachings of our Gurus concerning Guru ka Langar, I always like to think about this like this: Only people with worldly titles are sitting on thrones, and they are all - including that of the Pope and the Dalai Lama - are being given to mortals by mortals. But, showing humility by sitting on the floor, all of us together, puts us all on the same level - as children of the One.

5: Jadan Singh Johal (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), March 20, 2012, 9:40 AM.

There has been a lot of debate in Canada regarding whether you should have your langar sitting on the ground or tables and chairs. The argument that is made is the Gurus wanted us to be showing humility and therefore we sat on the floor to eat. Others argue that by sitting on tables and chairs we are still equal. My personal belief is that as long as we are all either sitting on the floor or all sitting on tables and chairs we are expressing the sentiment. I think with times you have to change to a certain degree.

6: Prab Singh (U.S.A.), March 20, 2012, 9:48 AM.

The basic principal of langar is equality and humility; the ideas behind Sikhism stress practicality and logic. As for sitting on the floor, I believe it is logical and simple for the following reasons: 1) all sitting in a pangat are eating a meal together, setting aside all differences and pretentions; 2) by sitting on the ground, you are literally lowering your self which subconsciously lowers one's ego. So, yes, I am for enjoying a meal from the Guru's kitchen sitting on the ground.

7: Sumeet (India), March 20, 2012, 10:55 AM.

Sangat and Pangat are two wonderful concepts in Sikhism. Sitting in pangat for langar teaches humility and equality.

8: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), March 20, 2012, 11:55 AM.

We go to the gurdwara for spiritual lessons, not for a buffet meal. The ultimate spiritual lesson of langar for me is utter humility. Here I sit on the floor - uncomfortable, spilling food on my pants like a little kid, but learning a priceless lesson in humility. Where else would you see a corporate CEO, doctor, taxi driver and poor person, or in earlier times a Maharaja and a Guru, all sitting together and not on chairs, or cushions or thrones but on the floor like the poorest of the poor. It is a slap-in-the-face reality check that no matter how rich, powerful or self-important you may think of yourself, in the eyes of Waheguru we are all human beings and we are all equal. I wish there were more lessons like langar in our daily lives. And for those of you who think sitting on tables and chairs in langar is about 'modern times', or eating a meal in comfort and convenience, you are completely missing the whole point of this extraordinary gift to us.

9: R. Singh (Canada), March 20, 2012, 4:01 PM.

Humility comes from inside, outward displays notwithstanding. Making it into a display of devountess takes away from the concept of sharing your bounty with fellow humans without discriminating. There are places where the poor are still not served along with others; inspite of sitting on the floor, the ego flourishes. Hence back to Guru Nanak's censure of outward displays of empty piety. How far can enforced piety go in this respect? Giving elders and physically challenged milk cartons to sit on instead of proper seating is very unthoughtful and disrespectful. It is a tradition carried on without thought for the changing world or needs, with due apologies to all those who actually mean what they do.

10: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), March 20, 2012, 9:10 PM.

I wholly agree with #1 - Aryan ji. You don't become any less holier or humbler if you sat on chairs. At my age I cannot any more cross my legs to sit on the floor. Also the greatest advantage is that the langar 'thaali' is much closer to the mouth with less chance of ghee-laden curry spilling over the shirt, thus invoking the ire of my Sardarni. Even for the Sunday service, the gurdwara provides chairs and benches for the elderly who have a problem sitting on the floor. In old days, "charan chalo marg gobind" walking bare-footed to the gurdwara was a common practice. Do we practice that anymore? Humlity and equality is not enchanced just by sitting on the floor.

11: Sukhindarpal Singh (Penang, Malaysia), March 21, 2012, 3:18 AM.

My faith is a very practical and down-to-earth way of life. My memory tells me that ever since I was a toddler, I have been having langar sitting on benches and tables in the (now) 110 year-old Wudda Gurdwara Sahib, Penang. Only recently have some started partaking langar sitting on the floor. I have no qualms over sitting on the floor if the situation so warrants. However I shall not compel anyone to do so where tables and chairs/benches are available. Equality is served any way one sits. It is the "substance" of equality that matters.

12: K. Singh (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), March 21, 2012, 8:04 PM.

I look at it this way: the Gurus wanted everyone to be equal, everyone has a floor that they can sit on, but the poor do not have tables and chairs, but since we all have a floor, we can sit on the floor. It is a sign of humility for the rich to bow down and sit with the poor, and make everyone equal, but it is not fair to expect the poor to raise themselves to the level of the rich just for one meal. As some have said, if you cannot physically sit on the floor due to age or medical condition, that exception is fine in my opinion, but I am not comfortable with the idea of sitting on chairs and tables in the langar hall.

13: Manjeet Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), March 23, 2012, 7:11 AM.

Does one become holier or humbler if one sits on the floor to partake in Guru's Langar? Here's what Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha said many years ago in his 'Gurmat Martand' (1938): "asaaday vich vichaar shakat bahut ghat hai ... kuchh samaa hoeyaa kay shromani gurdwara parbandak kameti nay videsh gaye sikh de parsann da uttar dinday hoye raaye ditti si kay Guru Granth Sahib da singhasan ucchaa rakh kay gurdwara banana atay kursiya te bethnaa na munasibh nahi. Is sanbandh vicho hadon vadh kay virodh hoya. Parr kisay nay vichaar nahi kitee kay is vich Sikh dharam day kis niyam da bhang hunda hai. Guru Granth Sahib da pura adab rakh kay koyee nischit nindat nahi". Bhai Sahib further says: "kissay samay maharajeyaa(n) atay badshaahaa(n) day darbaar vich lok khalotay rahinday san parr samay day naal maloomi aadmeeyan nun bhi bethan da adhikaar mil gya. Guru Sahiban nay aap manjiyaa(n) bakhshiya, Dasmesh nay panjh piareya agay khalo kay amrit chhakeyaa ..." In essence, Bhai Sahib says, so long as there is no disrespect shown to Guruji [the singhaasan must always be higher than your seating place], it is okay to sit on chairs.

14: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), March 24, 2012, 12:09 PM.

Ideally, sitting on the floor (pangat) is for equality, unity and humility. (During the Gurus' time there were no chairs and tables and sitting on the floor was the natural outcome for langar). But this is not the case in the diaspora's gurdwaras. Management and majority of the sangat like to sit with their own people, whether it is sitting on the floor or table and chairs ... for socializing or business reasons.

15: Gurbux Singh (Chatsworth, Calfifornia, U.S.A.), March 24, 2012, 7:57 PM.

My wife and I had to make a necessary trip back to Singapore due to the death of her brother. The Bhog was at Singh Sabha gurdwara and during langar, you could sit on tables and chairs and a little space is for floor pangat. I am blessed to be able to sit cross-legged still and noticed that people who sat on the floor, ate their food, got up and moved on for others to sit. I noticed some young ones who were sitting on chairs in no hurry to get up and were busy making phone calls or catching up on gossip. Quite a few of them were enjoying ogling the fairer sex in the hall. Maybe this is a side benefit of sitting on chairs that you do not have to rush to finish your langar food. Was I going to tell them to get up and leave? Is it the sevadars' job? Something to think about. When people are served sitting on the floor, everyone comes down to a single level and no one sits on a throne, so to speak.

16: Autar Singh (Subang Jaya, Malaysia), March 25, 2012, 10:37 AM.

Most gurduaras in Malaysia serve langar to the pangat sitting on tables and benches. Lately there is a small pangat that also sits on the floor. It is natural for most of us to automatically sit on the benches without any thought about us sitting on thrones or having our ego inflated that we are sitting on a higher platform. In fact the small pangat sitting on the floor is hardly noticed. Once I had no choice but to join the pangat on the floor. Believe you me that this act boosted my ego for I was now feeling one up on all those fellows sitting on benches. Instead of inculcating humility in me, it gave a boost to my ego. How do I reconcile this with the sentiment that sitting on the floor is about equality and humility?

17: B. Singh (Canada), March 26, 2012, 4:31 PM.

I've never felt any apprehension towards the idea of using tables and benches. However, I do prefer sitting on the ground. I think the langar is a very unique feature of the Sikh experience and sitting on the ground adds to that uniqueness for me. It is a feature that invites questions from outsiders having their first experience with a gurdwara since sitting on a floor to eat is likely different from what they are used to. It then provides us with an opportunity to explain this tradition as a symbolic act meant to emphasize humility and the equality of people. I don't believe that having traditions and symbols equates to being superstitious. It is when you take your symbols literally, when you believe that the act of sitting on the ground alone is enough to make one humble, that is when superstition takes root. Our traditions and symbols play an important part in shaping our experience and giving our community definition and I don't think we should be so quick to discard them for the sake of convenience.

18: Gurpreet Singh (Australia), November 22, 2014, 3:26 PM.

1. Sitting on the ground while partaking of Guru's langar, 2. Joining both hands while saying "Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh", 3. Closing your eyes while listening to gurbani kirtan, 4. Removing your shoes and washing your feet and hands before entering the Guru's Darbar, 5. Not bowing your head in front of anyone except Guru Granth Sahib ji ... These are some of the gestures you need to perform when you are at a gurudwar, it helps to ensure that you will have some influence of Guru Ghar's rehat-maryada on your personality. Moreover, the tradition of Langar was started by our Gurus to teach equality to everyone. Sitting on the ground is a gesture that helps to destroy the ego. You will have to sit on the ground among the poor and eat with them even if you are a "renowned" Mr Singh who drives a Ferrari; you will have to sit besides a shopkeeper on the ground to consume langar. Being a Sikh, I would politely advise you to avoid the breach of the maryada ... I would say: "Idaan nahi taan odaan ..."

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Sikhing Answers - XV"









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