Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

 

 

Sri Guru Singh Sabha
Havelock road
Southall, UB2 4NP

Closest station: Southall Rail station

Opening times:
Daily from 5am-10pm

Check the website to get involved

Free meals at Sikh temples

This weekend took us to Southall, home of the Punjabi community in West London. We met members of one of the area's many Sikh temples, who were preparing food for the free kitchen on this bustling Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took off our shoes along with the other visitors, and covered our heads with scarves. Sikh temples, or Gurdwaras, also have spare bandanas for men who don't wear turbans.

After bowing respectfully to the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, housed in its golden canopy, we sat down for a while to take in the sweet sounds of the holy book being sung aloud.

Service for all

Serving humanity, or Sewa, is a core teaching of the Sikh religion, whether it is by giving time to those in need, donating money or sharing knowledge. One of the main duties is to provide Langar, a free, round-the-clock kitchen for guests. People of any race or religion are welcomed to sit on the floor alongside everyone else and eat Langar, which consists of solely vegetarian food.

The whole system, from food preparation to cleaning up, is run by volunteers, or Sewadars, who offer their help and service selflessly, without expecting anything in return. The idea was originally introduced by the Sikh founder Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

As Sewadar Gurdeep Singh led us on a tour around the kitchen, we were mesmerised by the rythmic tossing and beating of dough, as women prepared chapatis. At the next table, men were leaning over a burning hot plate, flipping the flattened dough until it was slightly browned.

A long day

Some Sewadars devote time to serving Langar every day, while young Sikh students come at the weekends. Preparing the dishes, which range from daal (lentils) to kheer (semolina), starts at 2am in order to feed hungry mouths by 5am.

In a continuous cycle throughout the day, trays are taken, filled and emptied by visiting worshippers, and given to another group of Sewadars who are in charge of washing up. By 9 or 10 at night, the kitchen is sparkling clean again, ready for another day of hard work to begin again in a few hours time.

The busiest day for this Gurdwara is on a Sunday, when the temple pulses with energy and life. The Sewadars, along with the chefs, feed from 5,000 to 10,000 people on this one day alone. We stood in the fridge among gallons upon gallons of milk that would all be used in one day to make kheer. 

After a long day, we took a metal tray from the pile. Ladles-full of lentil curry, vegetable curry and creamy semolina were added to our tray as we moved along. We were also offered chapatis, masala tea and jalebi, a sweet battered pretzel doused in syrup.

As we sat and ate this delicious meal, the Gurbani, or devotional songs, played continuously, echoing throughout the spacious rooms, soothing our souls.

Southall hosts the grand Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara. But London also boasts many other venues where you can join this community experience and taste some of the best vegetarian Indian food. Upton Park and Southfields are also home to major Gurdwaras, as well as the oldest Sikh temple in Europe in Shepherd's Bush.

Jody-Lan Castle