The Sikh Dining Tradition of Langar

The Best Bargain Is the Profit of Selfless Service

Langar Kitchen at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib
Langar Kitchen at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. Photo © [S Khalsa]

When the first Sikh guru Nanak Dev became an adult, his father gave him 20 rupees and sent him off on a trading expedition. The father told his son that a good bargain makes for a good profit. On his way to buy merchandise, Nanak met a group of sadhus living in a jungle. He noticed the emaciated condition of the naked holy men and decided that the most profitable transaction he could make with his father's money would be to feed and clothe the hungry sadhus. Nanak spent all the money he had to buy food and cooked it for the holy men. When Nanak returned home empty handed, his father punished him severely. First Guru Nanak Dev insisted that true profit is to be had in selfless service. In doing so he established the basic principal of langar.

Tradition of Langar

Where ever the gurus traveled or held court, people gathered together for fellowship. Mata Khivi, the wife of Second Guru Angad Dev, made sure to provide langar. She took an active role in the service of distributing free meals to the hungry congregation. Communal contributions and combined efforts of the people helped to organize the guru’s free kitchen based on the principals of the three golden rules of Sikhism:

  • Kirat karo - Earn an honest living.
  • Vand chakko – Serve others and share food.
  • Naam japna – Remember the name of God at all times whether cooking, distributing langar, or doing the cleanup.

Institution of Langar

Third Guru Amar Das formalized the institution of langar. The guru’s free kitchen united the Sikhs by establishing two key concepts:

  • Pangat - All of humanity is one family regardless of caste, color, or creed. All sit together cross-legged in lines, forming rows without discrimination, consideration of rank, or position.
  • Sangat - Noble devotees influence others to aspire to truthful living. Congregate with the like-minded company for the purpose of uttering the name of one God in the presence of the Guru.

The Langar Hall

Every gurdwara no matter how humble, or how lavishly elegant, has a langar facility. Any Sikh service, whether held indoors or out, has an area set aside for the preparation and service of langar. The langar area may be separated by a simple screen or completely detached from the place of worship. Whether prepared in an open-air kitchen, a partitioned area of a home, or an elaborate gurdwara complex set up to serve thousands, langar has distinctly separate areas for:

  • Storage of provisions.
  • Storage of service utensils.
  • Preparation and cooking.
  • Service of prepared food.
  • Sitting place to dine.
  • Washing of used utensils.
  • Disposal of waste.

Example of Langar and Seva (Voluntary Service)

The guru's free kitchen profits in feeding both the body and nourishing the spirit of the soul. The langar kitchen operates entirely through Seva voluntary selfless service. Seva is performed without thought of being paid or receiving any kind of compensation. Every day tens of thousands of people visit Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Each and every visitor is welcome to dine or help out in the guru’s free kitchen. The food available is always completely vegetarian, no eggs, fish, or meat of any kind is served. All expenses are covered completely by voluntary contributions from the members of the congregation.

Volunteers take responsibility for all food preparation and clean up such as:

  • Mix atta dough in machines needed every day for an estimated 50,000 - 80,000 to prepare roti, a kind of flat bread.
  • Roll out the roti by hand and cook it on hot iron plates.
  • Cut and fry onions, spices, and vegetables.
  • Boil a variety of lentil soups.
  • Distribute food to worshipers who dine sitting side by side in rows.
  • Wash thousands of steel plates and spoons, take care of the disposal of all waste, and clean up of the kitchen and dining hall.
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Your Citation
Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "The Sikh Dining Tradition of Langar." Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2020, August 25). The Sikh Dining Tradition of Langar. Retrieved from Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "The Sikh Dining Tradition of Langar." Learn Religions. (accessed April 1, 2023).