Annadanam - the service of providing free food to all- is a tradition lovingly followed in several places of worship.
The tradition of langar - a community kitchen offering free food to all those who want it, irrespective of age, gender, caste, creed, religion or economic status - is most associated with Sikhism, the religion founded by Guru Nanak Dev, and it is followed in every gurudwara across the world. But other places of worship too have this benevolent custom.
Many Hindu temples and monasteries uphold the idea of equality and encourage everyone, rich or poor, to sit together without any such barriers, and eat food prepared and served by volunteers.
In Namma Chennai too, there are places from where no one returns with an empty stomach.
Vandana Agarwal, who runs Anand Sai Dhaam, a Sai Baba temple on Cathedral Road (Radhakrishnan Salai), says “Annadaan happens every Thursday and we have it on other days too, only on special request. A lot of people sponsor the meals, if it happens to be an important day for them. We have three lists to choose from. One is a fixed menu, with a savoury rice dish. There’s a choice of six to seven varieties of rice dishes and one gets to pick only two. Then there is a special menu where one can choose upto five different dishes - they could be sambar rice, poori-sabji, kheer, etc. One can order any desired quantity of these dishes. There is also a special arrangement where people can order their personal preferences. The temple cook will prepare the meal in the person’s presence. No caterers from outside are allowed, and food from outside cannot be brought in either”, she clarifies.
Only vegetarian food is served, says Vandana. Those who wish to sponsor meals or volunteer to help can do so through the temple management.
A regular visitor to the gurudwaras at T. Nagar and Velachery for the last 35 years, Amrit Rattha says, “When I got married and came to Chennai, I found great strength from my association with the gurudwara. It is where I find my true self. The gurudwara is a revered place for all of us, we have received so much from Baba ji. We have just surrendered to him. Whatever service we do is by his grace.” The Arulmigu Thiyagarajaswamy temple in Thiruvottiyur also engages in community service. Under the Annadanam scheme in place here, at least a hundred people are served sambar, rasam, kootu or poriyal every day.