Sewa is one of the unique concepts in Gurmatt (Guru’s teaching) that people get confused about as it is the same word but the Gurmatt concept is entirely different from the already-established Vedic and other religious systems that were already thousands of years old in India when Guru Nanak Sahib ji came to spread his Gurmat Gyan (Guru’s wisdom).

Most of us have been very cleverly indoctrinated by the Nirmalas, Udasis, some ‘dehdharee’ (self appointed) Gurus and now even from various derawaddees (sects). Remember those sakhis (stories) about Bhai Lehna ji building walls in the rain, and eating dead bodies ; and how Bhai Amardass ji spent 23 years walking backwards 30 miles in pitch darkness to fetch water from the River Beas for Guru Angad Sahib ji to bathe in, that too after washing utensils in the langgar till midnight!‬‬


Countless books and pictorial illustrations are easily available that attempt to reinforce these sakhis as historical facts. These tales are geared towards the notion of sewa that is actually only perhaps 1% of the service as stated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji! 99% of the sewa cited in Gurbani has been deliberately ignored as it doesn’t serve the objectives of the various dera/baba/mahapurash (sects) establishments.

The sewa that Bhai Lehna ji and Bhai Amardass ji really did was to earn the gurgadee (ascension to Gurudom). They certainly didn’t earn gurgadee by fetching water, walking backwards in pitch darkness, or removing dead rats! They earned gurgadee by realising and internalising with Gurbani!

(SGGS 2 Jup)

ਜਿਨਿ ਸੇਵਿਆ ਤਿਨਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਮਾਨੁ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਗਾਵੀਐ ਗੁਣੀ ਨਿਧਾਨੁ ॥

Jin Saeviaa Thin Paaeiaa Maan || Naanak Gaaveeai Gunee Nidhhaan ||

Those who realise Him attain honour.

O Nanak, realise and praise His (treasured) virtues.

In Gurbani the word sewa appears both as service and as devotion.‬‬‬‬ Sewa in the sense of service is always done to people and other creatures of God who are lesser than us in some material needs or wants. This requires diligence to source for and then serve the needy. 

If we wish to provide food as our sewa, then we actually have to go out and look for the hungry and needy. It also means that when we come across any disadvantaged human or creature in the course of our daily life, we should not hesitate to provide the best that we can.

Guru Ram Das Sahib ji tells us that the sewa by a Junn (Sikh) in the manner of a humble and lowly dhaas (slave) is the absolute good deed.


(SGGS 164  Rag Gauri Guaarayee M : 4)

ਤਿਨ ਦਾਸਨਿ ਦਾਸ ਕਰਹੁ ਹਮ ਰਾਮਾ ॥ ਜਨ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਊਤਮ ਕਾਮਾ ॥੨॥

Thin Dhaasan Dhaas Karahu Ham Raamaa ||

Jan Kee Saevaa Ootham Kaamaa ||2||

Please make me the slave of their slaves, Lord.

Serving Your slaves is the ultimate good deed. ||2||

The Gurdwara (Sikh temple) is meant to teach such values. It is supposed to be our kindergarten where we practise and rehearse these values so that we can go out in the real world and do service. The two most important virtues we need to learn in this preschool are humility and selflessness. We should not have any ulterior motive in our service.

(SGGS 286 Rag Gauri Sukhmani M : 5)

ਸੇਵਾ ਕਰਤ ਹੋਇ ਨਿਹਕਾਮੀ ॥

Saevaa Karath Hoe Nihakaamee ||

One who performs selfless service without thought of reward.

But what has happened? Why have we confined our sewa to activities within the Gurdwara and made it the be-all and end-all?  We do this practice with self-serving interests.  The result is that we end up feeding the well-fed, and we feel proud about the fact that the langgar has 8 dishes!  

Some others have given their own inaccurate meanings to service.  An example is someone who goes around wiping 200 pairs of shoes in the Gurdwara with a handkerchief or a dupatta (head cloth) and then puts the dust onto his/ her head! 

The distorted expectation here is that among the 200 pairs, there could be at least one pair belonging to a spiritually connected person and that his/her dust will bless me.  Isn’t this a twisted notion of getting blessed?  

(SGGS 1246 Rag Sarang M : 4)

ਗਣਤੈ ਸੇਵ ਨ ਹੋਵਈ ਕੀਤਾ ਥਾਇ ਨ ਪਾਇ ॥

Ganathai Saev N Hovee Keethaa Thhaae N Paae ||

Calculated service is not service at all, it is not approved.

Gurbani tells us that we have to become that one person who is spiritually connected, not go around looking at the shoes. Imagine if we all ended up looking at each other’s shoes – then who is going to become that one spiritually connected person?

When Gurbani says sewa of the Guru or sewa of God, it is different from serving others because the Guru and God are not needy or wanting in the material sense. Guru Amar Das Sahib ji defines Guru’s sewa as bhagtee (devotional love).

(SGGS 66 Sri Rag M : 3)

ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਗੁਰ ਭਗਤਿ ਹੈ ਵਿਰਲਾ ਪਾਏ ਕੋਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Gur Kee Saevaa Gur Bhagath Hai Viralaa Paaeae Koe ||1|| Rehaao ||

Service to the Guru is worship of the Guru. How rare are those who obtain it! ||1||Pause||

The sewa of God is attained when God Himself gifts it. Realising God –Har Laae – is sewa of God. One has to be blessed in order to obtain such service.

(SGGS 86 Sri Rag M : 5) 

ਨਾਨਕ ਹਰਿ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਸੋ ਕਰੇ ਜਿਸੁ ਲਏ ਹਰਿ ਲਾਇ ॥੧੦॥

Naanak Har Kee Saevaa So Karae Jis Leae Har Laae ||10||

O Nanak, he alone serves the Lord, whom the Lord attaches to Himself.

And service of God is to have pure love for Him, the Supreme Creator. This pure love is selfless and all-consuming. One’s mind has to be immersed in love of the Lord at all times.

(SGGS 178 Rag Gauri Guaarayree M : 5)

ਹਰਿ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਹੇਤ ॥

Har Kee Saevaa Niramal Haeth ||

Serving the Lord with purity and love.

What constitutes the sewa of the Guru? Guru Amar Das Sahib ji declares that to contemplate and inculcate the Shabad within us is sewa.

(SGGS 110  Rag Majh M : 3)

ਸੇਵਾ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਏ ॥

Saevaa Surath Sabadh Chith Laaeae ||

Focussing your consciousness on the Shabad Guru is selfless service.

A child goes to school‬‬‬ to acquire knowledge. In the process he may sometimes carry the teacher’s bag for her, get some coffee from the canteen for her and do some other errands for her.

The teacher’s main purpose is to teach the child to learn from what he is teaching and pass the exams. No matter how many errands he may have done for the teacher but if this student does not learn the lessons taught by the teacher and eventually fails his exam, will the teacher be happy? Will the teacher pass him based on the number of errands he has done for him? The answer is a definite NO. 

The Guru is our teacher. The Guru’s main priority is to make sure we learn the lessons He is teaching so that we can reach our goal and that is to meet our Creator. If in this process of learning we wash some plates, clean the premises and do some other sewa to show our gratitude is fine. But we must not forget that our main duty is to understand the Guru’s message.

No matter how much sewa we have done, if we have not understood the Guru’s message, we have failed and no teacher is happy when his students fail.  Guruji’s message is always based on Sabadh Veechaar (reflection on the Shabad).

(SGGS 223 Rag Gauri M : 1)

ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਸਬਦੁ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੇ ਕਰਣੀ ਸਾਰੁ ॥੭॥

Gur Kee Saevaa Sabadh Veechaar || Houmai Maarae Karanee Saar ||7||

The Guru’s service is reflection upon the Shabad.

Subdue your ego and practise pure actions. ||7||

The real sewa that makes the Guru (teacher) happy is contemplation on Shabad Gurbani. Contemplation on His Gurbani such that the Sikh becomes ONE with Gurbani and begins to lead a life as emphasised in Gurbani. Sewa of the Guru is to acquire Godly virtues imparted via Shabad Gurbani.

(SGGS 1415 Salok Vaaran Vadheek M : 3)

ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਸੇਵਨਿ ਆਪਣਾ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੀ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ॥ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਭਾਣਾ ਮੰਨਿ ਲੈਨਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਰਖਹਿ ਉਰ ਧਾਰਿ ॥ Sathigur Saevan Aapanaa Gur Sabadhee Veechaar ||

Sathigur Kaa Bhaanaa Mann Lain Har Naam Rakhehi Our Dhhaar ||

Those who serve their True Guru, they contemplate on the Guru’s Shabad. They obey the Will of the True Guru, and the Lord’s Name is enshrined within their hearts,

There are more than 400 other references in Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji that establish the fact that to internalize Gurbani and realize God’s values is in fact the true sewa of both Guru and God.

(SGGS 116 Rag Majh M : 3)

ਗੁਰ ਸੇਵਾ ਤੇ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਪਾਵਣਿਆ ॥੧॥

Gur Saevaa Thae Har Naam Paaeiaa Bin Sathigur Koe N Paavaniaa ||1||

Serving the Guru, the Lord’s Name is obtained. Without the True Guru, no one can receive it. ||1||

The compilation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji is in fact the greatest service of all and a special gift to mankind / humanity by our Guru Sahib. By binding Gurbani into the one volume of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji so that it is eternal and not infiltrated is a great sewa. And noble Sikhs like Bhai Mani Singh and Baba Deep Singh ji were blessed with a different form of sewa – to take care of the sanctity and authenticity of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.

(SGGS 474 Rag Asa M : 2)

ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਇ ਸੇਵਾ ਕਰੇ ਤਾ ਕਿਛੁ ਪਾਏ ਮਾਨੁ ॥

Aap Gavaae Saevaa Karae Thaa Kichh Paaeae Maan ||

If one loses one’s self and then serves, one gets honour.

Most so-called sewa these days is done to get a good name for ourselves, to feed our ego, for fame and popularity, to get advantages, privileges or to get recognition from fellow human beings.

(SGGS 895 Rag Ramkali M : 5)

ਸਗਲ ਸਿਆਨਪ ਛਾਡਿ ॥ ਕਰਿ ਸੇਵਾ ਸੇਵਕ ਸਾਜਿ ॥

Sagal Siaanap Chhaadd || Kar Saevaa Saevak Saaj ||

Abandon all clever tricks O mind, and become His servant, and serve Him.

Sewa is understanding, becoming, living and sharing without expectation of reward. An example of Nishkam Sewa (selfless service) as inspired by Sarbat Da Bhalla ‬‬(well-being of all) is the late Bhagat Puran Singh.

(SGGS 861 Rag Gond M : 4)

ਨਿਹਕਪਟ ਸੇਵਾ ਕੀਜੈ ਹਰਿ ਕੇਰੀ ਤਾਂ ਮੇਰੇ ਮਨ ਸਰਬ ਸੁਖ ਪਈਐ ॥੩॥

Nihakapatt Saevaa Keejai Har Kaeree Thaan Maerae Man Sarab Sukh Peeai ||3|| Serve the Lord with a clean heart and then, O my mind, you shall find total peace. ||3||

A Sikh is also a sewak (one who serves) provided that his sewa is done in accordance to the way of the Guru – in accordance with Sikhi Sidhant (Sikhism) taught by the Guru. A true Sikh only serves his Guru/God and we know serving Guru/God also means service for the greater benefits of humanity and the world.

When sewa is carried out with the sole purpose of fulfilling our spiritual obligations and serving the Guru/God then all “recognition” and blessings take place naturally by default. You have to be in sync with your Creator for doing such sewa.

(SGGS 749 Rag Suhi M : 5)

ਮੁਕਤਿ ਭੁਗਤਿ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਜਿਸੁ ਤੂੰ ਆਪਿ ਕਰਾਇਹਿ ॥

Mukath Bhugath Jugath Thaeree Saevaa Jis Thoon Aap Karaaeihi ||

Liberation, comfort and proper lifestyle come from serving You O Lord! You alone cause us to serve You.