Status of Women in Sri Guru Granth SAhib
Dr Kirpal Singh
In ancient times woman was considered source of misery and trouble as she persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and brought a lot of suffering for herself and man. Socrates, an Athenian philosopher had said, “The courage of man and that of woman are not the same. The courage of man is shown in command; that of woman in obeying.” Aristotle has stated, “Woman is unfinished man left standing on the lower step in the scale of development….. woman is weak of will and therefore incapable of independence of character and position”.1 In India Budhism and Jainism considered woman a serious hindrance in spiritual development. To Sidhs and Naths the sight of woman was forbidden. Tulsi Dass, the great Hindu saint of Mughal times has also condemned woman in his writings.2 The purpose of this paper is to study the status of woman in the Sikh Scripture (compiled in 1604 C.E.)
Like the Rig Vedas, the Guru Granth Sahib though religious in character is an important source of history relating to the life and culture of the times. It is, therefore, very important to study the various strands of this venerable spectrum for the study of status of woman from various references similes and metaphors used in the holy scripture.
Guru Nanak (1469-1539 C.E.), the founder of Sikhism ushered a new era of elevation of woman by declaring “Why call her bad from whom are born kings viz most prominent persons” ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥ 3
The following was Guru Nanak’s remonstrance to a man who reviled female sex. In Asa Di Var which was ordained to be recited in every Gurdwara in the morning it is stated:
In a woman man is conceived, from woman he is born, with woman he is betrothed and married.
With woman he contracts friendship, with a woman he goes through the world.
When one woman dies, another is sought for, to a woman he is bound.
Why call her bad from whom are born kings,
From a woman a woman is born, none may exist without woman.
Nanak only one God is independent of woman.
The mouth whichever praises Him is fortunate and beautiful.
Nanak that face shall be bright in the court of the True One.
ਭੰਡਿ ਜੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਨਿੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਮੰਗਣੁ ਵੀਆਹੁ ॥
ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਦੋਸਤੀ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਚਲੈ ਰਾਹੁ ॥
ਭੰਡੁ ਮੁਆ ਭੰਡੁ ਭਾਲੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਬੰਧਾਨੁ ॥
ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥
ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੀ ਭੰਡੁ ਊਪਜੈ ਭੰਡੈ ਬਾਝੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਭੰਡੈ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਏਕੋ ਸਚਾ ਸੋਇ ॥
ਜਿਤੁ ਮੁਖਿ ਸਦਾ ਸਾਲਾਹੀਐ ਭਾਗਾ ਰਤੀ ਚਾਰਿ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਤੇ ਮੁਖ ਊਜਲੇ ਤਿਤੁ ਸਚੈ ਦਰਬਾਰਿ ॥ 4
Niccolai Manucci, the Venetain traveller who wrote an account of “Mogul India” – 1653-1708 A.D. writes, “To their idea, there is not in this world anything to compare in importance with getting married. It is in marriage as they understand things that consist one of the greatest of felicities of human life. Imbibed with that opinion children as soon as they talk and know how to say ‘father’ and ‘mother’ are taught to say that they want to marry.”5 In the Sikh scriptures the idea of marriage has been sublimated by devotion to God who has been described as spouse of all human beings longing to meet the Lord. Guru Amar Das ji the third Sikh Guru, writes,
“In this world there is but one spouse, the rest are all brides.”
ਇਸ ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਪੁਰਖ ਏਕੁ ਹੈ ਹੋਰ ਸਗਲੀ ਨਾਰਿ ਸਬਾਈ || 6
Guru Nanak the founder of Sikhism addresses as feminine which means all human beings; except God who is the Spouse. In this hymn it has been explained how one can get salvation:
Simple, childish female of what art thou proud?
Why in thy own home joy in the Lord thou hast not.
Thoughtless female! the Spouse is close to thee –
why seek Him outside?
In thy eyes put collyrium of fear, and with love deck thyself.
Then alone would one be reckoned happily-wedded,
When her Spouse bears love for her.
What may the simple female do should she not win her Spouse’s love?
Despite all her wailing, into the Mansion shall she not find entry.
With all one’s rushing about, nothing without good fortune is attained.
The woman intoxicated by avarice and greed, in Maya is totally involved.
In such ways is the Spouse not attained.
By the woman turned thoughtless.
Go inquire of the happily-wedded wives by what devices have they attained love of the Spouse
All his doings should one gladly accept,
And discard cleverness and self-will.
He by whose love is attained the boon, (liberation)
At His feet should devotion be offered.
Whatever be the Spouse’s will, obey –
Let this be the woman’s applying scent to herself.
Thus states the happily-wedded wife:
Sister! this wise is the Spouse’s love attained,
By discarding egoism is the Spouse attained –
No other device avails.
Blessed is the day when the Spouse casts
His glance of grace;
Then has the woman the Nine Treasures attained.
The woman winning the Spouse’s love is alone happily-wedded,
And blessed with brothers.
One that in such love is absorbed and by poise intoxicated,
Day and night in love involved –
Is truly beauteous, of lovely aspect,
Of discriminating understanding and wise.
ਇਆਨੜੀਏ ਮਾਨੜਾ ਕਾਇ ਕਰੇਹਿ ॥ ਆਪਨੜੈ ਘਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਰੰਗੋ ਕੀ ਨ ਮਾਣੇਹਿ ॥
ਸਹੁ ਨੇੜੈ ਧਨ ਕੰਮਲੀਏ ਬਾਹਰੁ ਕਿਆ ਢੂਢੇਹਿ ॥
ਭੈ ਕੀਆ ਦੇਹਿ ਸਲਾਈਆ ਨੈਣੀ ਭਾਵ ਕਾ ਕਰਿ ਸੀਗਾਰੋ ॥
ਤਾ ਸੋਹਾਗਣਿ ਜਾਣੀਐ ਲਾਗੀ ਜਾ ਸਹੁ ਧਰੇ ਪਿਆਰੋ ॥ ੧ ॥
ਇਆਣੀ ਬਾਲੀ ਕਿਆ ਕਰੇ ਜਾ ਧਨ ਕੰਤ ਨ ਭਾਵੈ ॥
ਕਰਣ ਪਲਾਹ ਕਰੇ ਬਹੁਤੇਰੇ ਸਾ ਧਨ ਮਹਲੁ ਨ ਪਾਵੈ ॥
ਵਿਣੁ ਕਰਮਾ ਕਿਛੁ ਪਾਈਐ ਨਾਹੀ ਜੇ ਬਹੁਤੇਰਾ ਧਾਵੈ ॥
ਲਬ ਲੋਭ ਅਹੰਕਾਰ ਕੀ ਮਾਤੀ ਮਾਇਆ ਮਾਹਿ ਸਮਾਣੀ ॥
ਇਨੀ ਬਾਤੀ ਸਹੁ ਪਾਈਐ ਨਾਹੀ ਭਈ ਕਾਮਣਿ ਇਆਣੀ ॥ ੨ ॥
ਜਾਇ ਪੁਛਹੁ ਸੋਹਾਗਣੀ ਵਾਹੈ ਕਿਨੀ ਬਾਤੀ ਸਹੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥
ਜੋ ਕਿਛੁ ਕਰੇ ਸੋ ਭਲਾ ਕਰਿ ਮਾਨੀਐ ਹਿਕਮਤਿ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਚੁਕਾਈਐ ॥
ਜਾ ਕੈ ਪ੍ਰੇਮਿ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਪਾਈਐ ਤਉ ਚਰਣੀ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਈਐ ॥
ਸਹੁ ਕਹੈ ਸੋ ਕੀਜੈ ਤਨੁ ਮਨੋ ਦੀਜੈ ਐਸਾ ਪਰਮਲੁ ਲਾਈਐ ॥
ਏਵ ਕਹਹਿ ਸੋਹਾਗਣੀ ਭੈਣੇ ਇਨੀ ਬਾਤੀ ਸਹੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥ ੩ ॥
ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਈਐ ਤਾ ਸਹੁ ਪਾਈਐ ਅਉਰੁ ਕੈਸੀ ਚਤੁਰਾਈ ॥
ਸਹੁ ਨਦਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਦੇਖੈ ਸੋ ਦਿਨੁ ਲੇਖੈ ਕਾਮਣਿ ਨਉ ਨਿਧਿ ਪਾਈ ॥
ਆਪਣੇ ਕੰਤ ਪਿਆਰੀ ਸਾ ਸੋਹਾਗਣਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਾ ਸਭਰਾਈ ॥
ਐਸੇ ਰੰਗਿ ਰਾਤੀ ਸਹਜ ਕੀ ਮਾਤੀ ਅਹਿਨਿਸਿ ਭਾਇ ਸਮਾਣੀ ॥
ਸੁੰਦਰਿ ਸਾਇ ਸਰੂਪ ਬਿਚਖਣਿ ਕਹੀਐ ਸਾ ਸਿਆਣੀ ॥ 7
There are several hymns of this pattern and form in Guru Granth Sahib. All are in the context of spiritual development. Similarly some women have been described with high qualities. Guru, the fifth Guru, the compiler of Adi Guru Granth writes,
“I have got bride of pure deeds by Guru’s Grace.”
ਸੁਕਰਣੀ ਕਾਮਣਿ ਗੁਰ ਮਿਲਿ ਹਮ ਪਾਈ ॥ 8
An ideal women has been described by Guru Arjan having thirty two qualities. Batisulakhani9 and all these qualities have been counted by Dr Gopal Singh in a footnote on page 362 of his translation Vol II of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Similarly there is also mention of sixteen embellishment of ladies by Guru Arjan: solh kIey sIgwr ik AMjnu pwijAw ]10
These sixteen embellishments have been elaborately described by Abul Fazl in Ain-i-Akbari in the following way: “A woman is adorned by sixteen things: 1. Bathing, 2. Anointring with oil, 3. Braiding Hair, 4. Decking the crown her head with jewels, 5. Anointing with sandal wood, 6. The wearing of dresses and those are of various kind…, 7. Sectarial marks of caste and often decked with pearl and golden ornaments, 8. Tinting with lamp-black like collyrium, 9. Wearing ear-rings, 10. Adorning with nose rings of pearls and gold, 11. Wearing ornaments round the neck, 12. Decking with garlands of flowers or pearls, 13. Staining the heads, 14. Wearing a belt hanging with small bells, 15. Decorating the feet with gold ornaments, 16. Eating pan. Finally blandishment and artfulness.11 All these qualities of women have been described in the spiritual context – female (human being) preparing for meeting the Lord-God.
In Guru Granth Sahib, the old Hindu practice of offering women in charity at the places of pilgrimage has been disapproved.
“If man makes gifts of horses, gifts of elephants, gift of women with their couches and land-even their all, these equal not the Lords name.”
ਅਸੁ ਦਾਨ ਗਜ ਦਾਨ ਸਿਹਜਾ ਨਾਰੀ ਭੂਮਿ ਦਾਨ ਐਸੋ ਦਾਨੁ ਨਿਤ ਨਿਤਹਿ ਕੀਜੈ ॥
ਆਤਮ ਜਉ ਨਿਰਮਾਇਲੁ ਕੀਜੈ ਆਪ ਬਰਾਬਰਿ ਕੰਚਨੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਸਰਿ ਤਊ ਨ ਪੂਜੈ ॥ 12
Ravi Das also writes in the same strain. He states:
“If one bathes in Kurukshetra at the time of eclipse and if he makes offering of his wife with decoration…. they are of no avail if he practises slander.”
ਜੇ ਓਹੁ ਗ੍ਰਹਨ ਕਰੈ ਕੁਲਖੇਤਿ ॥ ਅਰਪੈ ਨਾਰਿ ਸੀਗਾਰ ਸਮੇਤਿ ॥
ਕਰੈ ਨਿੰਦ ਕਵਨੈ ਨਹੀ ਗੁਨੈ ॥ 13
The daily life of woman Nam Dev has described like a mother taking care of children while they were in cradle, young girls used to carrying water in pitchers for daily use,14 the house wives preparing dainty dishes, sweet, sour and salty for their families and husbands remember God in their mind.15
Guru Nanak has described the degrading condition of women of his time. He writes:
The women have become submissive and weak while men have become tyrants. Self culture and self-control and piety all have abandoned and they eat what even is forbidden.
They have lost all sense of shame and lost whatever honour they had. Says Nanak. One alone is true, search not for another.
ਰੰਨਾ ਹੋਈਆ ਬੋਧੀਆ ਪੁਰਸ ਹੋਏ ਸਈਆਦ ॥
ਸੀਲੁ ਸੰਜਮੁ ਸੁਚ ਭੰਨੀ ਖਾਣਾ ਖਾਜੁ ਅਹਾਜੁ ॥
ਸਰਮੁ ਗਇਆ ਘਰਿ ਆਪਣੈ ਪਤਿ ਉਠਿ ਚਲੀ ਨਾਲਿ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਸਚਾ ਏਕੁ ਹੈ ਅਉਰੁ ਨ ਸਚਾ ਭਾਲਿ ॥ 16
The practice of polygamy which was common in those days has not been approved in Guru Granth Sahib. According to Abul Fazal, Akbar had seraglio of 5000 woman supervised by a separate staff of females officers.17 A large harem was a privilege of aristocracy, the prerogative of chieftains and fashion of the age.18 It was common among the Hindus and the Muslims. Guru Amar Das refers to it:
If we enjoy myriads of women,
And rule over nine divisions of world.
We receive not Gods Grace
Without true Guru and one cast
Into womb ever again.
ਜੇ ਲਖ ਇਸਤਰੀਆ ਭੋਗ ਕਰਹਿ ਨਵ ਖੰਡ ਰਾਜੁ ਕਮਾਹਿ ॥
ਬਿਨੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਸੁਖੁ ਨ ਪਾਵਈ ਫਿਰਿ ਫਿਰਿ ਜੋਨੀ ਪਾਹਿ ॥ 19
Alberuni writes, “Some Hindus think that the number of wives depend upon caste, for instance, a Brahmin may marry four wives, a Kshatrya three, a Vaisha two and a Sudra one.20 The harems of Muslim chieftains had a large number of women of different origin as it was their common belief, “Buy a Khurasani woman for her work, a Hindu woman for her capacity for nursing children, a Persian woman for pleasure of company and Transoxinian for thrashing her as a warning for other three.”21 Guru Nanak refers to these different types of women in the harems of Muslim nobles. The word harem is indicative of Muslim women’s apartment Guru Nanak writes in Var Asa:
Saddled horses, swift like wind and belles of every complexion adorned the harem of nobles who dwell in houses, pavilions and lofty mansions and make ostentations.
ਤੁਰੇ ਪਲਾਣੇ ਪਉਣ ਵੇਗ ਹਰ ਰੰਗੀ ਹਰਮ ਸਵਾਰਿਆ
ਕੋਠੇ ਮੰਡਪ ਮਾੜੀਆ ਲਾਇ ਬੈਠੇ ਕਰਿ ਪਾਸਾਰਿਆ | 22
The profession of prostitution had been in vogue in India since time immemorial. There are stories and examples galore of prostitutes like Gainkas in the Puranas, etc. Alberuni writes, “People think with regard harlotry that it is allowed to them.”23 With the advent of Muslim ruler in India the prostitution became very popular. Sikh Gurus were against it. it is one of the four taboos in Sikhism. It has been forbidden in Guru Granth Sahib.
During the Muslim rule the evil of prostitution appears to have spread far and wide Ala-ud-Din Khalji fixed tariff of wages for public women and a number of prostitutes in Delhi were conferred in marriage relieving the profession of too much congestion.24 Akbar the Mughal Emperor constructed a separate quarter outside the city of Delhi. All public women were asked to reside there. Special state officials were appointed to supervise them.25 Guru Arjun, the fifth Sikh Guru who was contemporary of Akbar writes that people have no scruple in visiting the prostitutes. He writes:
Man in contemplating evil feels no hesitation.
In enjoying harlot no shame he has.
ਚਿਤਵਤ ਪਾਪ ਨ ਆਲਕੁ ਆਵੈ ॥
ਬੇਸੁਆ ਭਜਤ ਕਿਛੁ ਨਹ ਸਰਮਾਵੈ ॥ 26
The word “Satti” has bee used in the Adi Guru Granth in different connotations. It implies ‘truthful, immortal, disciplined, virtuous, generous, pure’ etc. It also refers to the custom of Satti by which a widow used to burn herself with her dead husband. It was considered virtuous according to the fourth Chapter of Parashar Simriti.27
The custom of Sati or self-immolation was originally restricted to high castes like Brahmin and Kshatryas. It was very popular with the Rajputs, Ibn Batuta who visited India during Sultanate period and Niccolai Manucci, Venetician traveller who visited India during the Mughal period have described this custom in detail. “A procession was soon formed to conduct her to the place of cremation. The Brahmins and other relations joined the procession and showered their profuse greetings on the widows on the glorious fortune that attended her. The woman took coconut in her right hand and a mirror in her left and rode on a horse…..”28 Manucci writes, when these ceremonies are finished….. (widow) to the top of the pyre and lying down on her side. Closely embraces her hand. At once the relations bind her feet strongly by two ropes to two posts driven into ground for the purpose. Next they throw some more wood and cowdung on two bodies………… they apply flame.”29
In the Adi Guru Granth this cruel custom has been condemned as it has been clearly stated by Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh Guru:
“They are not called Sattis who burn themselves with their husband’s corpses.
Nanak they are known as Sattis who die in sheer shock of separation.
They too are known as Sattis who abide in modesty and contentment, who wait up on their Lord and rising in the morning ever remember him.
The wives burn themselves in the fire with their husband. If they heartily love their spouse then suffer they great bodily and mental pang ever otherwise.
Nanak if they love not their husband, why should they burn themselves in fire? Whether the husband he alive or dead such wife remains away from him.”
ਸਤੀਆ ਏਹਿ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਨਿ ਜੋ ਮੜਿਆ ਲਗਿ ਜਲੰਨਿ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤੀਆ ਜਾਣੀਅਨਿ@ ਜਿ ਬਿਰਹੇ ਚੋਟ ਮਰੰਨਿ ॥ ੧ ॥
ਭੀ ਸੋ ਸਤੀਆ ਜਾਣੀਅਨਿ ਸੀਲ ਸੰਤੋਖਿ ਰਹੰਨਿ ॥
ਸੇਵਨਿ ਸਾਈ ਆਪਣਾ ਨਿਤ ਉਠਿ ਸੰਮਾਲੰਨਿ ॥ ੨ ॥
ਕੰਤਾ ਨਾਲਿ ਮਹੇਲੀਆ ਸੇਤੀ ਅਗਿ ਜਲਾਹਿ ॥
ਜੇ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਪਿਰੁ ਆਪਣਾ ਤਾ ਤਨਿ ਦੁਖ ਸਹਾਹਿ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਕੰਤ ਨ ਜਾਣਨੀ ਸੇ ਕਿਉ ਅਗਿ ਜਲਾਹਿ ॥
ਭਾਵੈ ਜੀਵਉ ਕੈ ਮਰਉ ਦੂਰਹੁ ਹੀ ਭਜਿ ਜਾਹਿ ॥ 30
1. Quoted in Sulakhani, Prabhjot Kaur, Ludhiana, 2009, page 19
2. Ibid., p. 20
3. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 473
4. Ibid., p.
5. Storia Do Mogor 1653-1708, Edited, William Irvine, Vol. III, London, 1907, p. 54
6. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 591
7. Ibid., p. 722
8. Ibid., pp. 371
9. Ibid., p 371
10. Ibid., p 1361
11. Ain-i-Akbari, Abul Fazal, Vol III, Calcutta, 1948, p. 343.
12. The Adi Guru Granth, p. 973
13. Ibid., p 875
14. Ibid., p 972: ਕਹਤ ਨਾਮਦੇਉ ਸੁਨਹੁ ਤਿਲੋਚਨ ਬਾਲਕੁ ਪਾਲਨ ਪਉਢੀਅਲੇ ॥ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਕਾਜ ਬਿਰੂਧੀ ਚੀਤੁ ਸੁ ਬਾਰਿਕ ਰਾਖੀਅਲੇ ॥ ਬੇਦ ਪੁਰਾਨ ਸਾਸਤ੍ਰ ਆਨੰਤਾ ਗੀਤ ਕਬਿਤ ਨ ਗਾਵਉਗੋ ॥
15. Ibid., p. 1413: ਜਿਉ ਪੁਰਖੈ ਘਰਿ ਭਗਤੀ ਨਾਰਿ ਹੈ ਅਤਿ ਲੋਚੈ ਭਗਤੀ ਭਾਇ ॥ ਬਹੁ ਰਸ ਸਾਲਣੇ ਸਵਾਰਦੀ ਖਟ ਰਸ ਮੀਠੇ ਪਾਇ ॥
16. Ibid., p. 1242-43
17. Ain-i-Akbari, HBlochmann, Delhi, 1965, p. 45-46
18. Maharana Partap (1540-79) had eleven wives and Raja Man Singh of Jaipur had 1500 wives – graded in different categories vide Folklore of Rajasthan. Dr R Ahuja, National Book Trust, New Delhi, 1980, p. 67
19. The Adi Guru Granth Sahib, p. 26
20. Alberuni’s India, English Translation by E.C. Sachan, Delhi, 1964, p.
21. Quoted in Kirpal Singh Narang’s History of Punjab, 1526-1857, Delhi, 4th edition, p. 25
22. The Adi Granth Sahib, p. 472
23. History of Punjab, Vol III, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1972, p. 333
24. Life and Condition of the People of Hindustan, K.M. Ashraf, New Delhi, 1970, p. 265
25. Some Aspects of Social Life During Mughal Age, P.N. Chopra, Jaipur, 1963, p. 170
26. The Adi Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1143
27. Mahankosh, Bhai Kahn Singh, Language Department, Patiala, 1960, p. 149
28. Life and Condition of People of Hindustan, K.M. Ashraf, New Delhi, p. 187
29. Storia Do Mogor or Mughal India, Niccole Manucci, translated William Irvins, London, 1907, Vol III, p. 60
30. The Adi Guru Granth Sahib, Var Sohi, p. 787
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