Women in Sikhism

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The role of women in Sikhism is outlined in the Sikh scriptures, which state that the woman is to be regarded as equal to the man. In Sikhism, women are considered to have the same souls as men and an equal right to grow spiritually. They are allowed to lead religious congregations, take part in the Akhand Path (the continuous recitation of the Holy Scriptures), perform Kirtan (congregational singing of hymns), work as a Granthi, and participate in all religious, cultural, social, and secular activities. As such, Sikhism was among the first major world religions to imply that women were equals to men. "Guru Nanak proclaimed the equality of men and women, and both he and the gurus that succeded him allowed women to take a full part in all the activities of Sikh worship and practice."[1][2]

Sikh history has recorded the role of women, portraying them as pairs in service, devotion, sacrifice, and bravery to men. Examples of women's moral dignity, service, and self-sacrifice are common in the Sikh tradition.

According to Sikhism, men and women are two sides of the same coin of the human. There is a system of inter-relation and inter-dependence in which man takes birth from a woman, and woman is born of a man's seed. According to Sikhism a man can not feel secure and complete during his life without a woman, and a man's success is related to the love and support of the woman who shares her life with him, and vice-versa.[3] The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, reportedly said in 1499 that "[it] is a woman who keeps the race going" and that we should not "consider woman cursed and condemned, [when] from woman are born leaders and rulers."[3][4]

Sikhs have had an obligation to treat women as equals, and gender discrimination in Sikh society has not been allowed. However, gender equality has been difficult to achieve.

History, Purdah and sati[edit]

Women who were used to having the same privileges as men in Vedic India, "Hindu women enjoyed equal status with men in many ways in the Vedic period, (from about 1500 BCE) when upanayana, the rite of initiation was open to them,"[1] were reduced to a position of subordination during the time of the Lawgivers.[citation needed] Sikhism was a liberating force for women in Indian society. Affirmation of the dignity of humans, of both men and women, was central to Guru Nanak's teaching.[3] He said that all creatures were equal before God, so to make distinctions among them on the grounds of birth or sex was sinful.[3] He was also bold, at least for his time, in his praise of women. In the Asa di Var, a long composition sung in sangat in the morning service, he expresses extreme respect and admiration for women, "of whom great men are born".

Sutak and celibacy[edit]

In another stanza in the Asa ki Var, Guru Nanak Dev Ji rejects the prevalent superstition of sutak, the belief that a woman giving birth to a child is unclean for a given number of days depending upon the caste to which she belongs:

"The impurity of the mind is greed, and the impurity of the tongue is falsehood. The impurity of the eyes is to gaze upon the beauty of another man's wife, and his wealth. The impurity of the ears is to listen to the slander of others. O Nanak, the mortal's soul goes, bound and gagged, to the city of Death. All impurity comes from doubt and attachment to duality. Birth and death are subject to the Command of the Lord's Will; through His Will we come and go." (GG, 472)

Instead of celibacy and renunciation, Guru Nanak recommended grhastha—the life of a householder. Husband and wife were equal partners and fidelity was enjoined upon both. In sacred verse, domestic happiness was presented as a cherished ideal and marriage provided a running metaphor for the expression of love for the Divine. Bhai Gurdas Ji, poet of early Sikhism and authoritative interpreter of Sikh doctrine, pays high tribute to women. He says:

"A woman, is the favourite in her parental home, loved dearly by her father and mother. In the home of her in-laws, she is the pillar of the family, the guarantee of its good fortune... Sharing in spiritual wisdom and enlightenment and with noble qualities endowed, a woman, the other half of man, escorts him to the door of liberation." (Varan, V.16)

Equal status for women[edit]

Mai Bhago (top right) in the battle of Muktsar December 1705

To ensure equal status for women, the Gurus[5] made no distinction between the sexes in matters of initiation, instruction or participation in sangat (holy fellowship) and pangat (eating together). According to Sarup Das Bhalla, Mahima Prakash, Guru Amar Das disfavoured the use of the veil by women. He assigned women to supervise some communities of disciples and preached against the custom of sati. Sikh history records the names of several women, such as Mata Gujri Mai Bhago, Mata Sundari, Rani Sahib Kaur, Rani Sada Kaur and Maharani Jind Kaur, who played important roles in the events of their time.

Women's displays of steadfastness during the eighteenth century when Sikhs were fiercely persecuted have had a strong impact on modern-day Sikhs, who recount these stories in their ardas:

"Our mothers and sisters they repeat every time in their prayer, who plied handmills in the jails of Mannu [the Mughal governor of Lahore (1748-53)], grinding daily a maund-and-a-quarter of corn each, who saw their children being hacked to pieces in front of their eyes, but who uttered not a moan from their lips and remained steadfast in their Sikh faith—recall their spirit of fortitude and sacrifice, and say, Vahiguru, Glory be to God!"

Praised treatment of enemy women[edit]

Even in times of severe trial and suffering, Sikhs were guided in their treatment of the women prisoners of war by the highest standards of chivalry. In 1763, for instance, one of Ahmad Shah Durrani’s generals, Jahan Khan, was defeated by the Sikhs at Sialkot and a number of his female relations and dependants fell into their hands. Ali ud-Din writes in his Ibratnamah, "as the Sikhs of old would not lay their hands on women, they had them escorted safely to Jammu."[citation needed]

Another Muslim chronicler, Ghulam Muhaiy ud-Din, vituperates against the Sikhs in his Fatuhat Namah-i-Samadi but notices the esteem they had for women. He writes, "[The Sikhs] look upon all women in the light of mothers." This had been how a Sikh was defined by Bhai Gurdas a century earlier: "A Sikh casting his eyes upon the beautiful womenfolk of families other than his own regards them as his mothers, sisters and daughters."

Monogamy, the banning of infanticide and widow burning[edit]

Such being the respect for womanhood among the Sikhs, monogamy has been the rule for them, and polygamy is exceptionally rare. Female infanticide is prohibited. The Rahitnamas (codes of conduct) prohibit Sikhs from having any contact or relationship with those who indulge in this practice. As for sati (widow-burning), Scripture itself rejects it.

In a shabad (hymn) in measure Suhi, Guru Amar Das says, "Satis are not those that burn themselves on the husband's funeral pyre; satis are they, O Nanak, who die of the pangs of separation (GG, 787)"

"They, too must be reckoned satis who live virtuously and contentedly in the service of the Lord, ever cherishing Him in their hearts... Some burn themselves along with their dead husbands: but they need not, for if they really loved them they would endure the pain alive."

As a practical step towards discouraging the practice of sati, Sikhism permitted remarriage of widows.

Current status[edit]

In the present-day democratic politics of India, a fair amount of organizations study and work in order to rid women of many of their disadvantages. They have access to political franchise and new opportunities for advancement have opened up for them. Sikh women have shown enterprise in several fields and are among the most progressive in education and in the professions such as teaching and medicine. Within the Sikh system, they are the equals of men. They can lead congregational services and participate in akhand paths, uninterrupted readings of scripture to be accomplished within forty-eight hours. They vote with men to elect Sikhs' central religious body, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which administers their places of worship (Gurdwara).

Famous women in Sikhism[edit]

The first woman to be remembered in Sikhism is Mata Tripta Ji, the mother of the first and founding guru, Guru Nanak. She is said to have meditated while carrying the child Nanak in her womb, and to have brought him up with love and tender care, while attempting to protect him from his father Mehta Kalu's undue wrath.

Another famous woman is Bebe Nanaki Ji, the elder and only sister of Guru Nanak. She is a highly intelligent, spiritually awake, and pious lady who recognised the divine light in her brother and envisaged his mission of life before anyone else could perceive it; she did not treat him just as a brother but also respected him as she would a Guru, supporting him throughout her life.History

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Talib, Gurbachan Singh. "Women in Sikhism". Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Punjabi University Patiala. Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  2. ^ Holm, Jean; Bowker, John (1994). Women in Religion. Continuum International Publishing. Retrieved 18 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d Aad Guru Granth Sahib. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. 1983. 
  4. ^ Singh, G.B. (2004). Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-998-0. 
  5. ^ http://www.sikhs.org/women.htm
  • Robert O. Ballou, The Portable World Bible, Penguin Books, 1976, p. 237-241.
  • Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, translator, The Meaning of Glorious Koran, Mentor Book, New American Library, New York and Scarborough, Ontario, 1924, p. 53, Surah II, 223-228.
  • Kanwaljit Kaur, Sikh Women, Fundamental Issues in Sikh Studies, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 1992, p. 96.
  • Guru Granth Sahib, p 73.
  • Guru Granth Sahib, p. 788.
  • Kanwaljit Kaur, op. cit., p. 99.
  • Sabdarath Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1975
  • Jean Holm,John Bowker, Women in Religion, 1994

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