A Bright Spot in the News

At a time of mounting religious tensions around the world – including right here in our own backyard – it is heartening to read a story like the one that recently appeared in the New York Times, under the heading of “Amritsar Journal.” (See A Sikh Temple Where All May Eat, and Pitch In, by Lydia Polgreen, with reporting by Hari Kumar, New York Times, 29.Aug.2010.) In a fascinating story – one that is likewise illuminating and uplifting – the Times correspondent gives a captivating account of the daily operations at the community kitchen – or langar – at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, “the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion.”

According to the Times, the community kitchen feeds about 80,000 people on an average weekday, completely free of charge, with help from a small army of volunteers, numbering into the thousands. By itself, this is an impressive logistical feat; the Times reports that on a typical day, the langar turns 12 tons of whole wheat flour into almost a quarter-million roti (flatbreads), and more than 3 tons of lentils, 1,700 pounds of onions, 132 pounds of garlic, and 330 pounds of hot red chilies into thousands of portions of dahl to feed the masses.

What’s most remarkable, though, is the open-handed generosity of this institution, and the inclusiveness of its hospitality. As the Times correspondent notes, “Anyone can eat here for free, and many, many people do,” including people of many different faiths who eat side by side with one another, or volunteer to prepare and serve the meals to others. A Hindu man told the Times that he had been volunteering at the kitchen for the past five years – all day, nearly every day – because “It is my service.”

It’s remarkable for any city, but especially so for Amritsar, a city with a troubled past, whose history of sectarian violence is not that distant from today. Yet the community kitchen at the Golden Temple stands as an example of the beautiful things that can happen when people put aside their differences and put their best values into practice. We all would do well to learn from this example.

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