Sikh Students Association and UPC partner for the first time to co-host Langar on the Lawn

Langar on the Lawn raises cultural awareness of Sikhi and connects with people through traditional food and religious service

langar

During Langar, people of all classes, genders and religions are welcome and seated beside one another on the floor in a display of unity and equality.

Cady Rombach | Cavalier Daily

This past Saturday, the smell of spices wafted through Newcomb Hall, complemented by lively chatter. Beyond the open doors of the South Meeting Room and table with complimentary head coverings and flyers, people sat on the floor, enjoying a meal together as part of Langar on the Lawn. This event, co-hosted by UPC and the Sikh Students Association for the first time, celebrated the Sikh practice of Langar — a communal, vegetarian meal provided for free at the end of Sikh religious services.

Langar on the Lawn was originally intended to be held on the South Lawn but moved due to rain. The event took place Saturday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Newcomb Hall and was attended by about 200 people. It was hosted to model the tradition held in many Sikh Temples, or Gurdwaras. Prabhjot Singh, president of SSA and fourth-year College student, spoke to the meaning of Langar in the Sikh religion.

“The concept of Langar itself … brings up so many things are almost innate to a human, where’s it’s just … eating a simple meal and sharing it with another person,” Singh said. “Even going down to its symbolic elements, like sitting on the floor, which just represents being equal.”

In Sikh culture, Langar typically follows a religious service at a Gurdwara. People of all classes, genders and religions are welcome and seated beside one another on the floor in a display of unity and equality. All attendees are then served vegetarian Punjabi food — originating from the Punjab region of South Asia — to promote these ideas and share the common experience Singh refers to.

Singh also referenced the hierarchical divides present in India during the time of Langar’s origins around 1500 CE.

“Our founder, Guru Nanak, what he did was kind of coalesce that and be like, ‘You know what, we can all share a meal together,’” Singh said. “These boundaries … they’re not really real, we’re all the same, we’re all human.”

Singh explained that Langar was more clearly institutionalized as a part of the religion with the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad Dev Ji.

“Langar wouldn’t just be limited to the people of the congregation, everyone was allowed to come,” Singh said.

The Golden Temple in India, home to the world’s largest free community kitchen, is a testament to this idea — anyone is welcome to dine, regardless of status. Singh visited the Golden Temple during his early childhood, and it made an impact on him. 

“It’s a proud moment as a Sikh, to see it come to life in such a grand scale,” Singh said.

Singh has actually helped organize a Langar in the past called Langar on the Hill. Through his summer internship with the Sikh American Legal Defense Education Fund, Singh contacted Congress members and fundraised to hold the event on Capitol Hill.

Though SSA has held similar events to celebrate the religious holiday Vaisakhi, this is the first  year that Langar is the main occasion.

In order to bring this custom to the University, SSA partnered with UPC for financial, creative and planning assistance. According to UPC Cultural Connections committee director Kelvin Huynh, UPC matched SSA’s budget of $1,500 for a total event budget of $3,000.

“One of my goals for UPC this year was to cosponsor with organizations UPC had not previously [cosponsored] with,” Huynh said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “I hoped to work with the Sikh Students Association in order to create an event that was unique and could promote their values and traditions.”

Since Huynh knew Vice President of SSA Jasmeen Dhillon, he reached out to her, and they agreed to co-host a cultural event. Planning for the event began in December 2018.

“By cosponsoring cultural events with multicultural organizations … it allows the multicultural organization to have an input and opinion in decision-making … ensuring that we are properly representing the culture,” Huynh said.

In recent years, the Cultural Connections committee rebranded, shifting its goals from partnering with all CIOs to focusing more on holding multicultural events around Grounds. Huynh said he feels the committee’s new focus encourages cultural diversity and fluency, while benefiting both the broader University community and minority groups.

At Langar on the Lawn, informative flyers were given out to encourage attendees unfamiliar with its significance to learn more. The papers provided answers to common questions such as, “Who started Langar?” and “What is Langar?”

Class of 2018 alumna Margaret Wiwuga was one such attendee who was unfamiliar with Sikh culture and excited to learn.

“I know absolutely nothing about Sikhism and I really wanted to learn about it, so I thought now was the time, and I was hungry, so I was very glad that there was ample food,” Wiwuga said. “I’m glad that they typed out these explanations, too.”

Wiwuga said she would have liked to hear even more about the Sikh religion and culture, but will be researching the topic on her own time to learn more. Wiwuga also said she will definitely be attending more cultural events in the future.

Third-year Engineering student Disha Jain came to Langar on the Lawn with a different perspective that was more familiar with Sikhism. Though she is not a member of SSA, she has friends in the organization and saw UPC’s advertisements for the event.

“I have a lot of close family friends who are Sikh, and my parents actually helped serve food at a Langar a couple weeks ago,” Jain said. “It kind of seemed like kismet that about a week after that, I saw the advertisement for this event ... I’m Hindu and Hindus have a similar tradition … so it’s a good reminder of home.”

Jain also spoke to the cultural understanding that an event like Langar on the Lawn can provide.

“I feel like a lot of people … don’t understand how much of an ingrained part it is in Indian cultures to serve other people,” Jain said. “I think Langar is a really great example of that ... to serve other people and to make sure everyone else is satisfied before you’re satisfied.”

Before the larger Langar on the Lawn, SSA also hosted a smaller-scale religious service. First-year College student Iksha Rohatgi was in charge of this portion of the evening.

“We like to pray before we eat [the food] … so that’s what we had before this,” Rohatgi said. “It’s also a religious holiday [Vaisakhi] this weekend, and so we wanted to have a small prayer session for that because there’s no temple around us.”

As students and community members sat in rows chatting and eating, SSA members walked around serving second helpings of the food, and SSA members spoke at a podium to give general information about Langar and thank attendees for coming.

Singh described how comforting it was to see the community come together in this way.

“U.Va. SSA has always been around, but I think we’ve always struggled to just make our way into the community, and this is just one way of doing that,” Singh said. “The hope is twofold — it’s more than just people understanding who Sikhs are, it’s also about us understanding the other people in Charlottesville too.” 

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