The term "langar" literally translates to "kitchen." In Sikhism, it is commonly used in the phrase "Gur ka Langar," which refers to the Guru's kitchen. However, its true essence is better described as sacred food service or divine dining. Langar encompasses both the cooking facility connected to the Gurdwara and a concept of "bibek," which entails cooking with mindfulness and meditation on the divine to foster humility, ultimately expressed through "seva" or selfless service.
Langar serves to nourish the bodies of the sangat, the congregation being served, while also nurturing the soul of the one engaging in the service. Those who partake in langar, the diners, also demonstrate humility by sitting together on the floor, disregarding any distinctions of rank.
At every Gurdwara, there is a langar where all people, irrespective of their sex, color, or religion, are warmly invited to partake in a free meal. There are no rituals observed during langar, and everyone dines together. The food served is strictly vegetarian to avoid offending any religious group.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji established the langar as a rejection of the Hindu caste system, where people from different castes did not eat together. He emphasized the idea of equality, where everyone is considered equal. In the langar, everyone shares the tasks of preparation, cooking, serving, and cleaning, exemplifying "sewa" or selfless service to others within the sadhsangat (community), the Gurdwara, and the wider world.
Guru Amar Das Ji, the third Guru, continued the teaching of langar and established a rule that no one, regardless of their importance, could meet him until they had first eaten in the langar.
In Gurbani, the sacred scriptures of Sikhism, it is expressed that freeing the mind from ego and using the tongue to recite Gurbani and Naam (divine Name) allows one to absorb and digest the "langar" of the Guru's word, implying that the Guru's teachings provide an infinite supply of spiritual nourishment.
Example from Gurbani:
ਲੰਗਰੁ ਚਲੈ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦਿ ਹਰਿ ਤੋਟਿ ਨ ਆਵੀ ਖਟੀਐ ॥
"The dining hall of the Guru's word is open; its supplies never run short." (SGGS||967)