by M J Aslam
We have still Langars at most famous shrines and Dargahs of the Indian subcontinent. The Khawja Mohi ud Din Chest Dargah is just one of such great examples at hand. In times of distress and need, the community kitchens are still set up by Muslims everywhere in Kashmir and outside.
Lanker is a distorted version of the Persian word Langar. There are two well-known localities in Srinagar city, namely, Bulbul Langar (Bulbul Lanker) and Jogi Langar.
Bulbul Lanker is located between Ali Kadal and Nawal Kadal, Srinagar. The latter is situated in Rainwari Srinagar.
Bulbul Langar is after the name of first Muslim missionary saint, Bulbul Shah Sahab. First Muslim Ruler of Kashmir was Rinchana. He was originally a fugitive Tibetan prince who ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1320 AD. He embraced Islam at the hands of Bulbul Shah under the Muslim name of Sultan Malik Sadr-ud-din Shah.
He set up the first langar in the history of Kashmir for his spiritual mentor Baba Bulbul Shah in his neighbourhood for his living, mendicants, Sufis, and visitors who often stayed there. Bulbul Lanker owes its origin to that community kitchen that was established by Rinchan Shah.
Then, exactly after 100 years, when Sultan Zainul Abiddin ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1420, he at the request of Brahman courtiers, who had a great influence on him, established a Langar, on the lines of Bulbul Langar, at the bank of Dal Lake for Yogis (locally called Jogis) who started travelling in his reign till 1459 from different parts of India in great numbers to Kashmir.
The present Mohalla Jogilangar in Rainwari owes its origin to that Langar that was set up by Sultan Zainul Abidin for them. For his many good deeds for Brahmans, Sultan Zainul Abidin who is otherwise popular till date by the name of Badshah [great king], is also nicknamed as Batteh Shah [king of Bataas].
Origins Of The Word
The etymology of the word Langar is Persian. It has its origin in rich Persian and Turkish tradition. It is not a Sanskrit word as wrongly propagated by some Brahman writers. Langar means a public or community kitchen, which was established by some God-fearing man for his followers and descendants, and the visitors in general. It was an alms-house where alms and free food were distributed among all comers, recluses, needy, mendicants and pilgrims. Here cooked provisions were given to the public free of cost.
With the spread of Islam in the medieval times, Langars were set up by wealthy followers of Sufi preachers or by kings for the said purposes. The rich tradition of Langars has continued in the Muslim world till now. The ancestors of Chak rulers of Kashmir had the family name of Langar.
We have still Langars at most famous shrines and Dargahs of the Indian subcontinent. The Khawja Mohi ud Din Chest Dargah is just one of such great examples at hand. In times of distress and need, the community kitchens are still set up by Muslims everywhere in Kashmir and outside. It is really heartening to see Sikh brothers having been following rich Muslim tradition by setting up community kitchens or Langars within and outside India in the name of Guru Jis for the public in general. Actually, there is a Langar attached to each Gurdawara as an essential component of seva, irrespective of caste, but “the convention was borrowed from Sufi establishments [Khanqahas]”.
There are certain idioms in the Kashmiri language related to the word Langar. They are Langar Chalaan or Langar Pukenavun and Loh Langar. They are inter-connected. Langar Chalaan or Langar Pukenavun means to run the daily expenses of the kitchen at home. It means to support the maintenance of langar (kitchen). Loh Langar Chalavun is a well known Kashmiri idiom. It means the burden of one’s daily and constant duties, daily drudgery from which one cannot escape one’s responsibility like that of a parent or earning sibling who is bound to bear expenses of living /maintenance of all members of the family, home. Langar also means a great pile of food stocks but basically cooked food.
Kashmiri surname Lankar is related to Langar. It is said that in olden times, some ancestor of Lankar family must have been in-charge of Sarkari Langar (king’s or government kitchen). In Pratap Singh’s reign, there was Governor of Kashmir for six years by the name of Manmohan Lal alias Manu Ji Langar whose grandfather was Prime Minister of Jaipur and their family name was also Langar. Among Muslims, whose ancestor or some Buzarg must have been associated with the supervision of Sarkari Langar, the name got modified to Lankar. Hence the family name, Lankar.
Chaks And Langar
During the reign of last Brahman King of Kashmir, Suhadeva, two tribes immigrated to Kashmir under the command of their respective leaders in 1307. One of the immigrant tribes was led by Langar Chak that settled in Trehgam Kupwara. Chak Rulers, whose last ruler was Yousuf Shah Chak, were the descendants of those two Chak Immigrant Tribes of Kashmir.
Tailpiece: While “original” Bulbul Sahab’s Langar lost its name to Bulbul Lankar, its copied version of Jogilangar “preserved” its name. That is how history is preserved for posterity.
(M J Aslam is the author of 2-volume Law of Contract, that was published by Thomson Reuters Publication in 2017. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)