In November last year, I was in Rangoon. After visiting world-famous Buddhist temples Shwedagon Pagoda and Sule Pagoda, I was keen to visit Rangoon's 100-year-old gurdwara located on Thein Byu Street. After reaching there, I was distressed when a Burmese told me that the gurdwara was damaged in a fire a month ago and was closed.
But I knew a gurdwara can't be deserted and ventured inside the premises. I was right. Guru Granth Sahib was shifted to a room at some distance and head granthi Bibi Balbir Kaur was doing 'path'. I paid obeisance and sat there. When Bibi Balbir Kaur finished the 'ardas', she came to me and was happy to learn that somebody had come from India, that too from a place which was very close to Guru Ki Nagri, Amritsar.
We exchanged views about the affairs in Burma and India. As I got up to take leave, she came to me with folded hands, "You won't go without taking 'Guru ka langar'. I was a bit surprised by her offer. Before I could say anything, she said, "A gurdwara without a free kitchen is inconceivable. Since the fire broke out, I prepare 'langar' in my room and ensure that nobody goes without having it. Therefore, I request you to accompany me to the adjoining room."
As we were moving, I said, "I must salute your spirit of 'sewa', but I think it is too much to carry this entire burden single-handedly." She looked unmoved and said, "Gurdwara is a place of worship, and according to Sikhism, no worship is complete without service, which includes sweeping the precincts, serving drinking water to the thirsty, fanning the congregation in hot weather and serving food to the hungry.
Of these, 'langar' is perhaps the most important. The Gurus desired that every Sikh should share his food with others and their kitchen should be open to all. Serving others should be considered an opportunity to refine oneself and go a step closer to God. It is for this reason that cleaning of shoes is considered the best form of service.
Further, the great Gurus cautioned that it would be churlish on our part to think that by serving and feeding others we are doing good to them. Rather, we should be grateful to them that they gave us an opportunity to improve ourselves and thus progress further in the pursuit of higher goals in life."
By then we were in her room. I could feel an altogether different aura and vibrations there. She prepared fresh 'roti' and served the food comprising dal and a vegetable dish with such love and devotion that can't be put into words. After I left, the words of the Dalai Lama were ringing in my ears, "The best religion is the one which makes you a better human being. Your conduct in front of others is the reflection of your religion."
That religion is bound to flourish by leaps and bounds the central point of which is service to people and the ambassadors of which are selfless preachers like Bibi Balbir Kaur.