Thoughts on doing Seva and cooking the Guru’s langar

In the Sikh way of life, seva is considered the prime duty of the householder (grihasthi). “That home in which holymen are not served, God is served not. Such mansions must be likened to graveyards where ghosts alone abide”, says Kabir (GG, 1374). The Sikhs are all ordained to be householders, and seva their duty. In Sikh thought, the polarity of renunciation is not with attachment, but with seva.

True seva according to Sikh scriptures must be without desire (nishkam), guileless (nishkapat), in humility (nimarta), with purity of intention (hirda suddh), with sincerity (chit lae) and in utter selflessness (vichon ap gavae). Such seva for the Sikh is the doorway to dignity as well as to mukti (liberation). “If one earns merit here through seva, one will get a seat of honour in His Court hereafter” (GG, 26).

According to Sikh tenets, “You become like the one you serve” (GG, 549). Therefore, for those who desire oneness with God, serving God and God alone is the prime way. But God in Sikhism is transcendent as well as immanent. The Transcendent One is ineffable and can only be conceived through contemplation. Service of God, therefore, only relates to the immanent aspect of God and comprises service of His creatures. Humanitarian service is thus the Sikh ideal of seva.

Above adapted from article By J. S Neki
Authored by


The Sikh spirit of seva Sunday, January 22, 2006 20:50 IST Ramesh Seth (

In India, seva or selfless service to others is a long-standing tradition. In Sikhism particularly, it continues to be widely practiced with great devotion. I was a witness to the Sikhs’ spirit of seva in action.

On one wintry night, my wife and I were travelling by train from Delhi to Amritsar. Once or twice when I woke up I found it was raining heavily outside. At dawn, I found the train had stopped just before Ludhiana station. The track ahead was submerged under water. I stood near the door of the bogey to watch with worry the pounding rain and rising water.

Then I saw three well-built Sikhs approaching my bogey. They held umbrellas and a bucket each in their hands. One of them addressed me, “Do you need some tea?” It was most welcome. “Yes, please,” I replied.

“Then please bring your glass and we will serve you. And if others in your bogey also need tea, tell them too to please come and get it.”

After getting two teas, I asked, “How much do I pay?”

They looked at me, amused, “Bauji, we are from the gurdwara,” one of them said pointing to the gurdwara building not far from the railway track. “It is a seva we are doing. When we saw your stranded train, we thought you people would need tea. Now, if you’d excuse us, we have to cover the rest of the train.”

I gave one glass of tea to my wife and told her the story. She looked at the foul weather outside. She was impressed by the dedication of the gurdwara staff. How steeped one must be in the seva philosophy to brave rain and chilly weather to serve free hot tea to stranded passengers! “Some seva,” she remarked.

Then a thought occurred to me. Those Sikhs had done their duty, but had I done mine? When they came back after covering the entire train, I gave them a little contribution for the gurdwara fund. They were reluctant to accept it, but I said, “It is my seva for your gurdwara.”

Ramesh Seth has made a documentary on the Golden Temple.