On May 22nd, students at the University of Oxford made history in organising the first ever Sikh Langar to be held on the campus.
Langar is the 500-year-old community kitchen of a gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) which serves free vegetarian meals to all regardless of religion, caste, gender, economic status, or ethnicity.
On arrival at the langar hosted in Rhodes House, attendees each received a head covering with their names in Punjabi. Following a presentation on Langar and Sikh values by Serene Singh, Rhodes Scholar and Graduate President for the Oxford Sikh Society, there was a performance of Sikh kirtan music with traditional Indian classical instruments including the vaaja (harmonium) and the tabla (drums).
The event concluded with the attendees sitting on the floor cross-legged and sharing a meal.
Serene Singh was selected to be a Rhodes scholar in 2019, and is “grateful to have community and a home in Rhodes House”. Singh organised the event “as an opportunity for […] scholars, students and leaders, most of whom have never heard of a Langar, to have an immersive experience with people who can go back to their own cultures from around the world; even if they never have the chance to experience a Langar again, the values of the Langar stick with them.”
Singh added that the langar is open to people not just of Sikh faith, demonstrating this both through the event at Oxford and through future plans to open it to more students and those in need around the city.
Singh stated further: “What is really beautiful about Langars is that they puts into practice what people in Oxford speak a lot about – equality, justice, and breaking systems of oppression. We hear about it a lot in academia, but rarely are we able to see it in practice.
“Langar continues to exist through over 500 years of history, and [addresses an important question in our society]: how can we humanise people that we otherwise thought we could not?” Singh has had notable impact during her time as a student, recently making history by reciting “Mool Mantar” (a Sikh prayer) instead of the traditional Latin one at a St Peter’s College formal dinner.
Singh also highlighted the prominence of “[the many] structures and systems at Oxford that prevent access”, and notes how the Sikh Langar “challenges all forms of hierarchy”. Singh summarised the Langar tradition by stating: “We are all equal no matter who we are or what our identities are.”
Image credit: Hestia Zhang and Swathi Srinivasan
Image Description: Organiser Serene Singh speaking at the first langar in Rhodes House, University of Oxford.