Guru Nanak spent the last years of his life at Kartarpur, Punjab. He would plough, plant, and harvest on his farm, and the produce was used in the community kitchen, the langar. His faithful devotee Bhai Lehna, contributed salt to the langar, in addition to service throughcooking, and the cleaning of utensils. The community cooking was done in large copper vessels, called deg, and they became the symbol of thelangar. Other devotees began contributing from their honest earnings. Food was cooked by volunteers, as a service. The same food was shared by all, and the entire congregation sat at the same level, and partook of the offerings. The deg therefore became a powerful symbol of the Guru’s teachings. The devotee is to earn his living, and prosperthrough honest work, and share one’s earnings. Without compromising the truthful principles of the spiritual path, the devotee earns enough for his own needs, and sets aside for sharing with others. One is free to share without limit; His apostles have suggested a measure of one-tenth of one’s earning. All, even the very rich, must perform community service, and all are equal, at the same level. The potent symbol of the deg was then married to another powerful one, the sword, or the teg.
As a devotee progresses through honest work, the teg is needed, not merely to protect himself or his wealth, but more importantly to provide reassurance to the weak and disempowered. The sword is not picked up in anger, and it is not flourished to usurp. Instead, its presence brings hope in the community, and especially amongst the disempowered.
The daily morning and evening prayer in the gurudwara therefore has the following words:
May the deg and teg be blessed with victory.
Juxtaposed, the deg and teg represent economic progress, within a framework of growth with equity. They are evocative symbols of a hopeful world, where communities guard against exploitation, and work for empowerment of the needy.