The Subtle Fervency of the feminine persona:
A consonance of thought and deed in the indefatigable Sikh Woman in her Spiritual Journey in the Scripture
Alexander Smith says, “The saddest thing that can befall a soul, is when it loses faith in God and Woman.1 (Smith, 55).
The cosmic fence for the germination of a new life undoubtedly, is the sacred womb of a woman. It is certainly the mother who nurtures another being within the pure horizons of her ‘self’ and then leads her child into the frigid ‘Maya’ outside her safe warmth, guides her little one to face the onslaughts of the journey ahead, undergoing at the same time, the metaphysical principle of pain. The man, essentially, acts as the Bearer of the sapling, the one who has the seed, for the continuation of the lineage, through the universalized conception of the progeny.
But it is the woman, who passes through physical discomfort, segregates her mental faculties to undergo the traumatizing effects of the natural wheel of pain, and above all, unifies her sensibilities and armours her inner strengths, to cushion her newly born messenger with tenderness, love and joys of motherhood.
Though these facts have been symbols of truths eternally, and this is no paradigm which needs exploration; but it is also a universally acknowledged fact, that we, the human beings, with all our versatility and intelligence ratios, emerge weak in our practice, of what we profess. Thereby, the implication is that women may be churners of life, morals and virtue, they may be harbingers of tradition, they may be invigilators of harmony and wisdom, but even today, they are spurned, maligned, looked down upon as the weaker sex, and sifted out as beings who essentially lack male heroism, grandeur and forethought.
Despite the richness of our Eastern ethos, despite the mystic felicitations of the Greeks, despite the modern standards set up by the Westerners, it must be confessed that woman, has had a tough climb up the hill of self recognition, self assertion and self realization. The time when Guru Nanak Sahib emerged as the spokesperson for women’s equality and individuality, was indeed a turbulent period. Women were considered inferior in the social set up, they were burnt alive according to the Sati Pratha, they were confined and marginalized through the false decour of the veils, and they had no existence outside the clutches of the Patriarchal Society where their entity was doomed to be shadowy and dwarf sized.
Guru Nanak Sahib weighed the scenario with a sage’s insight and brought a whiff of revolutionary wisdom and idealism, paving way for the new woman to evolve and assert herself.
Dr. Mahinder Kaur Gill says,
ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਵਿੱਚ ਗੁਰੂ ਸਾਹਿਬਾਨ ਖ਼ੁਦ ਆਪ ਇਸਤ੍ਰੀ ਰੂਪ ਰਾਹੀਂ ਆਪਣਾ ਅਨੁਭਵ ਪ੍ਰਕਾਸ਼ ਕਰਦੇ ਹਨ।" (Gill, 266).
i.e. Guru Sahib envisages his spiritual resplendence in the garb of a true woman. (Trans self).
Dr. Gill emphasizes the same thought when she says,
“ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਏਕਾ ਪੁਰਖ ਸਬਾਈ ਨਾਰ' ਦੇ ਸੰਕਲਪ ਨੂੰ ਸਮਰਪਿਤ ਹੈ। ”2
i.e. Gurbani is dedicated to the concept of the Eternal Lord and the entire cosmos as the feminine devotees, in an attempt to reach the Divine. (Trans. self).
The Sikh experience of prayer, the purity and illumination of the Gurshabad, the unity of the material forces with the well knit sanctity of Divine light, is all the more expressive and detailed, when we realize its mode - i.e. the experience rides on the vehicle of a feminine persona equipped with simplicity, innocence, love and the supremacy of ‘Bhavana’. Guru Nanak Sahib’s emphasis on ‘Grihast’ as the medium of “Brahmgyan”, and divine experience in the fulfillment of a “Suhagan’s” attire exhibits his true definition of Faith. How true the Sikh devotees are to one another in consonance with the “Maryada’ of the ‘Anand Karaj’, determines the truth, they experience for the cosmic bliss and also for the harmony set forth by the Guru. The equipoise or the ‘Sehaj’ advocated by Guru Sahiban finds expression in the realization of both, the Gurshabad as well as sanctity of the marital consummation.
Dr. Gill exemplifies the same thought when she says,
ਸਿੱਖ ਧਰਮ ਵਿੱਚ ਤਾਂ ਆਤਮਕ ਉਚਾਈਆਂ ਨੂੰ ਛੁਹਣ ਨੂੰ ਥਿਰ ਸਹਾਗ ਦਾ ਨਾਮ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਗਿਆ ਹੈ। (Gill, 267).
i.e. The Sikh religion equates the heights of spiritual realizations with the sublime symbol of conjugal union and marital bliss (Trans. Self).
Guru Amar Das Sahib had raised voice against the impure practices of Sati, child marriage and Purdah. He had discarded the prevailing superstition of Sutak and had vehemently criticized female infanticide and the wearing of the veil The third Guru’s message epitomized his Sewa Bhawna and how, to be a true worshipper, one had to sell his soul in way of Seva, at the feet of one’s Guru. It is only by igniting the feminine voice of emotion and love for the over soul, that ultimate union with the Divine is possible.
Guru Gobind Singh’s encouragement of woman to keep even shastars, symbolized that he did not envision her role in society as being that of a “nice, meek, housewife”, but rather that of a fearless, active, independent warrior, involved in the world.”3
Guru Hargobind refers to woman as the “conscience of man”, without whom moral living was impossible. It is thus extremely significant that the tenets of Sikhism are in a practice of marked difference with regard to the beliefs of Puritanism, which draws a strict line between spiritualism and the participation of women in religious congregations especially as an appendage of filial unity or marital alliance. The two ways do not merge. Similarly, the eastern myth realized women as symbols, either of, ‘Kamini’ or a temptress or glorified her as the Goddess Kali or Durga.
But with Sikhism’s evolution, the doctrine of the middle path where women came to ascend a slot, not only of dignity, but also had the authority to be active participants as karmic beings involved with the shaping of their destiny.
Gurbhagat Singh in his book, Vismadi Poonji expostulates,
“ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਨੇ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਅਤੇ ਕਾਇਨਾਤ ਦੇ ਕੁੱਲ ਰਹੱਸ ਨੂੰ ਅਨੁਭਵ ਕਰਨ ਲਈ ਮਹਲਾ ਅਧਿਆਤਮਕ ਸਰੂਪ ਬਣਨ ਦਾ ਚਿੰਤਨ ਅਤੇ ਅਭਿਆਸ ਸਾਨੂੰ ਦਿੱਤੇ ਹਨ। ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਵਿੱਚ ਜਿਸ ਸਹਿਜ ਜੀਵਨ ਨੂੰ ਆਦਰਸ਼ ਬਣਾਇਆ ਗਿਆ ਹੈ, ਉਸ ਵਿੱਚ ਭਾਵ ਅਤੇ ਗਿਆਨ ਦੋਵੇਂ ਸ਼ਾਮਿਲ ਹਨ ”,4 (Singh, 84).
i.e. Guru Nanak Sahib, delineated the symbol of the feminine urge in the form of prayer and the exercise of that prayer, and thus initiated a new meaning to realize and comprehend the secret of the metaphysics of the universe. Sehaj or equipoise here is an amalgam of both Divine knowledge as well as the cosmic need for love (Trans. Self).
History has witnessed a woman like the Joan of Arc, in medieval France (today applauded as Saint Joan,) who had an experience larger than life of the Spirit and the Ultimate, but was unfortunately burnt alive as a heretic and for indulging in witchcraft. But her sublime strength raised her to heights even after her physical departure and with passing years, her sacrifice, her communion with divine forces, and above all, her courage on the war front finds golden inscription in the annals of history. We have had Mira Bai, who was so mesmerized with Lord Krishna’s purity, that poison could be no bar obstructing her union with the Creator. What was a venomous potion for the earthly beings became for her a means of deliverance from the shackles of the body and a step ahead towards her lord’s feet. We have had our symbol of valour, and resilience in the demeanour of Mai Bhago, whose love for the Guru’s feet, catalysed her historic endeavour to the dynamic leader of the 40 ‘Muktas’ gone astray. She was not only the glory of the Sikh women but also emerges as an individual with tenacious resolve and an affirmation to do or die in the face of conflict.
The contribution of the Guru Matas, right from Mata Tripta and Bebe Nanki, till the sagacious sacrifice of Mata Gujri, can certainly not be overlooked. The limitless sacrifice of Mata Gujri in her sacrificial trance in the ‘Thanda Burj’ will continue to engender women with faith, to surmount oddities with fortitude. Mata Sahib Kaur, as the spiritual mother of the Panth reflects the purer realms of the Guru’s victory-both in the material world as well as the cosmological unity of the devotee and the Divine. The insignia of the Sikh Guru Mata as Mata Kheevi stands for piety, purity and perfection. She is eulogized as nyk jn, the noble personage,
ਬਲਵੰਡ ਖੀਵੀ ਨੇਕ ਜਨ, ਜਿਸ ਬਹੁਤੀ ਛਾਉ ਪ੍ਰਤਾਲੀ, ਲੰਗਰ ਦa੍ਹਲਤਿ ਵੰਡੀਐ, ਰਸੁ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਖੀਰਿ ਘਿਆਲੀ।੫ (ਅੰਗ 967)
The noble Kheevi, whose existence as a divine canopy for all, As she distributes langer, the cosmic wealth, the ambrosial nectar of sveet delicacies. (Trans. self).
The ‘Grihast’ as “Uttam Jeevan’ both prescribed and practised by the Sikh Gurus was an attempt to realize, and imbibe Guru’s ‘jot’ within the physical self of one another, ultimately aiming to assimilate one’s being with the Cosmological resplendence.
ਮਨ ਤੂੰ ਜੋਤ ਸਰੂਪ ਹੈ
ਆਪਣਾ ਮੂਲ ਪਛਾਣ. ।। (ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ)
The woman was to be the torch-bearer of this pristine resolve. She was to serve as a beacon light-in her attempt to keep the flame of faith burning, with ‘Sanskars’ that culminated in ‘Brahm Gyan’. She had to act as the fountainhead of all values that had to be conserved and preserved for the future generations. She had to be, the alma mater of vivacity, wit, energy, serenity and a resolve within quietitude. In a nustshell she had to be both an amalgam of the earthly and the divine.
In a school prayer we are often taught the axiom,
“O God, give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, The courage to change what I can, And the wisdom to know the difference”
It is precisely the calibre to comprehend this difference, wherein lies the strength of the Sikh woman in her efforts to tread the path envisioned by the Gurus as well as the Scripture.
An effort to be in consonance with the precepts which are timeless, beyond transitoriness and would be a perpetual source of wisdom.
1. Smith, Alexander. Faith: Quotable Quotes. ed. O.P. Ghai (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1993.
2. Gill, Dr. Mahinder Kaur. “Sikh Dharam Vich Nari Daa Role Te Rutba” Samkali Sahit (New Delhi: Punjabi Sahit Sabha : 2010).
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women in Sikhism.
4. Singh, Gurbhagat. Vismadi Poonji: Punjab Ate Punjabi Di Maulikta. (Amritsar : Singh Brothers, 2010)
5. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 967.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All