At the center of Sikh teaching about equality is the langar (kitchen).That’s why it is so important.
Every gurdwara has a langar where all people are welcome to a free meal regardless of their sex, color or religion. There are no rituals observed in the langar and everyone eats together. All the food is vegetarian so that no religious group is offended.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji established the langar because he rejected the Hindu caste system where people of different castes do not eat together. Guru Nanak Dev Ji wanted to stress the idea that everyone is equal. Everyone shares the tasks of preparation, cooking, serving and cleaning. This shows sewa – selfless service to the others in the sadhsangat (community), the gurdwara, and the world outside.
The teaching of the langar was continued by Guru Amar Das Ji (the third Guru) who made a rule that no one, however important, could see him until they had first eaten in the langar.
The Langar or free kitchen was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji in about 1481. It is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, color, creed, age, gender or social status; to eliminate extreme poverty in the world and to bring about the birth of “caring communities”. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. “..the Light of God is in all hearts.” (sggs 282)
For the first time in history, Guruji designed an institution in which all people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It is here that all people high or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit in the same pangat (literally “row” or “line”) to share and enjoy the food together.
The institution of Guru ka Langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service for mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the pangat. Langar also teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of sameness of all human beings; providing a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary.
Everyone is welcome to share the Langar; no one is turned away. The food is normally served twice a day, every day of the year. Each week a family or several families volunteer to provide and prepare the Langar. This is very generous, as there may be several hundred people to feed, and caterers are not allowed. All the preparation, the cooking and the washing-up is done by volunteers and or by voluntary helpers (Sewadars).
Besides the Langars attached to gurdwaras, there are improvised open-air Langars at the time of festivals and gurpurbs. Specially arranged Langars on such occasions are probably the most largely attended community meals anywhere in the world. There might be a hundred thousand people partaking of food at a single meal in one such langar. Wherever Sikhs are, they have established their Langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour:
“Loh langar tapde rahin.”
“May the iron pots of Langar be ever warm (in service)”