The Origins of Langar on Campus
By UOB Sikh Society Committee (2004/05)
It was the start of the academic year of 2004. Facebook wasn't quite around yet but Tony Blair most definitely was. Britney Spears was singing about her toxicity and Mean Girls had its cinematic debut.
The small but decently formed Sikh society at the University of Birmingham were sitting around eating curly fries in the Guild when they were struck with an idea. How about celebrating the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Jee by serving Langar to all on campus? The conversation, as so often does in these moments of clarity, quickly got ahead of itself. We'll put up a big tent by the clock tower and serve thousands! It will be amazing! And thus, through the grace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, a huge amount of support from BOSS, the local Gurdwara and the loving Sangat, and a lot of luck, a bunch of naive twenty somethings decided to do just that.
We approached Bhai Sahib at GNNSJ Gurdwara on Soho Road to ask them for their opinion on the idea and if they would be willing to help us with the preparation of the Langar. Bhai Sahib Ji was enthusiastic and supportive - confirming it was a good idea and encouraging us to push ahead.
The Singhs and Singhniya at BOSS did the rest. They sorted out the tent, all the logistics, the vans, the manpower and the guidance throughout. And boy did they arrive in numbers! On the day, Singhs and Kaurs from across Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, London and Manchester all arrived and ensured the event ran smoothly. Musicians bought along their sarangis, dhads and dhols. Photographers and cameramen arrived alongside a speaker system, carpets, head coverings, buckets, cutlery... You name it, it all turned up seemingly out of the blue! A Sikh couple even bought handcrafted gifts to hand out to all on the day in celebration of the Gurpurbh. It felt like an army of Sikhs had descended on campus from nowhere (the Sikh population at UoB wasn't so big in those days) and it was overwhelmingly beautiful.
We had no idea what we were doing. We had handpainted a few banners to hang around campus and had done some shoutouts in our lectures. The Sangat of Guru Nanak Dev Ji sorted out the rest. We must have served over 1500 people that year and the Langar, originally made for just 500 people, simply never ran out.
Over the years since, we have seen the grace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji descend over many universities. The story above accounting the magic of the first Langar at a campus with all its uncertainties, fears and ultimate success will resonate with many intrepid and brave students who became the first to following in the footsteps of Guru Nanak Dev Ji at their own university too.
To date there are around 20 Langar on Campus events that occur at universities across the UK and the idea has now hit campuses in Canada, the US and Australia. Students, lecturers, cleaners, deans, security staff and members of the public all attend, sit together, share stories and similarities, partake in wholesome physical and spiritual upliftment and depart, feeling a little more bolstered and armed for the challenges of daily life. With Guru Nanak Dev Ji's blessings, we hope the teachings of love, compassion, humility and equality continue to grace university and college campuses for many years to come.
With love and fond memories,
University of Birmingham Sikh Society.
Class of 2004/2005