In Indian society, women were usually subject to various caste-rules and severe restrictions. They remained illiterate and were ill-treated. Female infanticide was often practiced.
Guru Nanak challenged the idea of inferiority and evil associated with women and freed her from slavery and taboos of the society. In one of his hymns, he said:From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman. That mouth which praises the Lord continually is blessed and beautiful. O Nanak, those faces shall be radiant in the Court of the True Lord. || 2 || (Page 473)
Guru Nanak and his successors gave woman a status equal to that of man. They regarded woman as man's companion in every walk of life. The Gurus thought this equality worked to their mutual benefits. For example, woman is the first teacher of man as his mother. Her function is to mould children and discipline them. She has to be educated so that her children may develop their potential to the fullest. She was allowed to join holy congregations, participate and conduct them. They were appointed missionaries. They were called 'the conscience of man'. The practice of Sati, (the custom of burning a woman with the dead husband on the funeral pyre), was prohibited and widow-remarriage was encouraged. Women soldiers fought side by side with male soldiers in one of the battles which the tenth Guru fought.
In the Sikh way of life, women have equal rights with men. There is absolutely no discrimination against women. Women are entitled to the Khalsa baptism. They have equal rights to participate in social, political and religious activities. Women are allowed to lead religious congregations, to take part in recitation of the holy scriptures, to fight as soldiers in the war, to elect representatives to the Gurdwara committees and Indian Parliament and Provincial Assembly. Sikh women have played a glorious part in the history, and examples of their moral dignity, service and upholding of Sikh values are a great source of inspiration. Sikh women never flinched from their duty, never allowed their faith and ardor to be dampened, and have always upheld the honour and glory of the Khalsa. (One famous example is that of Mai Bhago who bravely fought war for Guru Gobind Singh, when some Sikh soldiers deserted him and returned home.)
OF THE MANY FAMOUS WOMEN IN SIKH HISTORY
BIBI AGYA KAUR
Bibi AGYA KAUR,(d. 1918), wife of Bhai Takht Singh and his helpmate in promoting women's education among Sikhs to Which cause he was passionately devoted, was the daughter of Sardar Nek Singh of the village of Sultanpur, near Rahim Yar Khan railway station in the princely state of Bahawalpur.
She had been a resident student at the Sikh girls school, at Firozpur, founded in 1892 and nurtured by Bhal Takht Singh. Agya Kaur had studied at the Mahavidyala up to the high school level. Bhai lakht Singh's first wife Harnam Kaur who was a co-builder of the school died in 1906. He approached Agya Kaur's father to ask for her hand to be his ally in the enterprise he had launched upon. The nuptials took place at Sultanpur on 17 September 1910. On 17 February 1911, Bibi (lady) Agya Kaur left with her husband on a tour of some South Asian countries to raise funds for the school. At Sikh gatherings and at divans at the gurdwaras, she recited holy hymns, kirtan, and made fervent appeals for donations, for their nascent school.
Returning to Punjab on 3 March 1912, she resumed her duties at the Mahavidyala as a teacher and as a matron of the hostel. She was taken ill with influenza during the epidemic of 1918, aggravated in her case by an attack of pneumonia. She died on 27 October 1918. She left behind four children, one of her daughters rising to the position of Director of Public Instruction in Punjab.
Bibi Amro was the daughter of Guru Angad Dev ji, the Second Guru. She was born in 1532 in the village of Khadur Sahib, District Amritsar. She received her early education and training directly from her parents Guru Angad Dev ji and Mata Khivi. Guru Angad spent a lot of time with his children. He taught them the Gurmukhi script that he had revised and simplified which is used in Guru Granth Sahib. When she came of age she was married to Bhai Jasoo son of Manak Chand of Basarke village.
As was the custom of the day she was sent to live with her husband's family. Her father encouraged her to continue doing kirtan and to preach Sikhism to all that she came in contact with. Amar Das who was her husband's uncle was quite taken by her sweet melodious voice when he heard her singing shabads (holy hymns). It was she who first introduced him to the teachings of Sikhism. As his interest grew it was she who sent him to her father to learn more about these teachings. Amar Das was so deeply influenced by Guru Angad Dev ji that he became a devout Sikhs, so much that Guru Angad Dev ji announced him as his Successors. Thus Guru Amar Das ji, the third Guru got to his destiny of becoming a Guru through Bibi Amro ji.
Years later when Guru Amar Das ji gave structure to the Sikh Nation and organised his preachers into 22 teaching districts he put Bibi Amro ji in-charge of one of these districts that he called Manji. What Manji meant was that a person who was leading a Kirtan to be sit on the Manji while whole sangat in front of him.
The person occupying Manji
was the Sikh preacher appointed by Guru Amardas. This appointment can best be
compared to the position of Bishop in the Christian Church today. It was an
administrative position, with full responsibility for the equality and content
of the preaching. She also would have the responsibility of collecting revenues
and making decisions for the welfare of her diocese. Her manji or diocese
included Basarke, her husband's village, where they made their home. It is the
direct result of the efforts of Bibi Amro and other Sikh preaches that Amritsar
today is synonymous with Sikhism. Today, close to the village of Basarke, there
is a tank (man made pond) bearing the name Bibi Amro da Talab (Tank of Bibi Amro)
in her memory.
Bibi Bhani was daughter of Guru Amar Das, consort of Guru Ram Das and mother of Guru Arjan Dev, was born to Mata Mansa Devi on 21 Magh 1591 Bk/19January 1535 at Basarke Gillan, a village near Amritsar. She was married on 18 February 1554 to Bhai Jetha (later Guru Ram Das), a Sodhi Khatri belonging to Lahore, then in Goindval rendering voluntary service in the construction of the Baoli Sahib. After marriage, the couple remained in Goindval serving the Guru. From Goindval Bhai Jetha was deputed by the Guru to go and establish a habitation (present-day Amritsar) on a piece of land gifted, according to one version, by Emperor Akbar to Bibi Bhani at the time of his visit to Guru Amar Das.
Three sons, Prith Chand (1558), Mahadev (1560) and (Guru) Arjan Dev (1563) were born to her. A popular anecdote mentioned in old chronicles describes how devotedly Bibi Bhani served her father. One morning, it is said, as Guru Amar Das was absorbed in meditation, Bibi Bhani noticed that one of the legs of the low wooden seat on which the Guru sat was about to give way. she at once put forward her hand to support the stool. As the Guru ended his devotions, he discovered how her hand was bleeding from the injury it had sustained. He blessed her saying that her progeny would inherit the guruship. Bibi Bhani died at Goindval on 9 April 1598.
Bibi Bhani was mother of Guru Arjan Dev, the Fifth Guru. Undoubted Guru Arjan Dev was brought up as model GurSikh. Guru Arjan Dev was the first Sikh Martyr. Guru Arjan Dev compiled Adi Granth by collecting all the writings of gurus before him and installed it at Golden Temple, which is now The Guru Granth. Guru Arjan Dev completed the construction of Golden Temple.
Kabul wali mai, or the lady from Kabul is the name chroniclers have given to a woman who rendered devoted service during the digging of the baoli at Goindwal under the supervision of Guru Amardas. Day after day says Sarup Das Bhalla in Mahima Prakash, she toiled away at the site, without anyone knowing who she was, and where she had come from. One day Guru Amar Das told the Sikhs that lady was from Kabul and that she had by her love of the almighty and duty towards her husband attained spiritual insight.
An old manuscript Mahima Prakash sri Guru Amar Das and an inscription at Gurdwara Haveli sahib at Goindwal mention a lady being in charge of the Manji or Sikh centre at Kabul they give her name to be Mai Sevan.
Unfortunately nothing else is known about such great soul. There are million other such great souls who through the years have tirelessly, effortlessly worked hard to uplift sikhs and Sikhism.
Mai Bhago was was a descendant of Pero Shah, the younger brother of Bhai Launga a Dhillon Jatt who had converted a Sikh during the time of Guru Arjan. Born at her ancestral village of Jhabal in present-day Amritsar district of the Punjab, she was married to Nidhan Singh Varaich of Patti. A staunch Sikh by birth and upbringing.
Mughals and hilly chiefs had surrounded Anandpur and were demanding it be evacuated. They called that any Sikh who says that "he/she is not anymore a Sikh of Guru Gobind" will be left untouched. A group of 40 Sikhs, led by Mahan Singh Brar told Guru Gobind Singh that they are not his Sikhs anymore. Guru told them that they have to write it in a document that "they are not his Sikhs anymore" and sign it. All forty Sikhs signed this document Bedava and left Guru Gobind Singh. Mai Bhago was distressed to hear that some of the Sikhs of her neighbourhood who had gone to Anandpur to fight for Guru Gobind Singh had deserted him under adverse conditions. Hearing her taunts, these Sikhs were ashamed at their deed. She rallied the deserters persuading Guru, then traveling across the Malva region.
Meanwhile, Guru Gobind Singh had to evacuate the fort of Anandpur, his children were lost in the confusion. Two youngest one's Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, went along with their grandmother (mother of Guru Gobind Singh). While elder one's Ajit Singh and Jhujhar Singh were with their father. Then at battle of Chamkaur Guru's elder sons attained martyrdom, Guru was saved by five Sikhs and he evacuated Chamkaur and was traveling in Malva region, being pursued by Mughal forces of Aurungzeb. Traveling day and night in the Jungles of Malva region, imperial Mughal forces were in constant pursuit of Guru. Guru Gobind Singh reached village of Khidrana, when Mai Bhago and the men, she was leading stopped near the dhab or pool of Khidrana where an imperial army in pursuit of Guru Gobind Singh had almost overtaken him. They challenged the pursuing host and fought furiously forcing it to retreat. All forty Sikhs attained martyrdom in this pitched battle, in which Guru himself was supporting them with a shower of arrows from a nearby high ground, found all the men except one Mahan Singh, killed when he visited the battlefield. Mai Bhago and Guru Gobind Singh ji were the sole survivors of this fiercely fought battle.
Mahan Singh, who had been seriously wounded, also died as the Guru took him into his lap. Guru Gobind Singh blessed those forty dead as the Forty Liberated Ones. He took into his care Mai Bhago who had also suffered injury in the battle. She there after stayed on with Guru Gobind Singh as one of his bodyguard, in male attire. After the death of Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded in 1708, she retired further south. She settled down at Jinvara, 11 km from Bidar in Karnataka where, immersed in meditation, she lived to attain a ripe old age. Her hut in Jinvara has now been converted into Gurdwara Tap Asthan Mai Bhago. At Nanded, too, a hall within the compound of Takht Sachkhand. Sri Hazur Sahib marking the site of her residence is known as Bunga Mai Bhago.
Mai Bhago was the brave women who shamed the 40 deserters to return to the battle of Muktsar. She led them into battle where they achieved martyrdom and were blessed by Guru Gobind Singh.
In the era of Guru Ram Das, one cannot leave out Rajni, youngest daughter of Rai Duni Chand, revenue collector (kardar) of Patti. (The story has all the myth, magic and miracles of a genuine Sakhi, but is nevertheless a charming story). Rajni was a Sikh, a disciple of the Guru. One day she was sitting with her sisters admiring some new clothing they all had received from their father. The girls were ecstatic and exclaiming how good their father was to them. Rajni observed that all gifts are ultimately from God. Their father was merely an instrument of His greatness. Unfortunately for her, he overheard her comment and became very angry.
It was not the First time that she incurred his wrath because of her extreme piety. The infuriated father, believing her to be an ungrateful wretch, married her to a leper with a taunt that he would see how her God would help her lead a normal life. The leper was severely disfigured and a foul smell came from his body. The poor girl had accepted her fate ungrudgingly and worked hard to maintain herself and her crippled husband. She kept repeating the name of God, and was certain that he was testing her with this turn of events. She was forced to beg for a living. Still she bathed and fed her leper husband, never losing faith. One day, she reached the site of a pool on her way to a neighbouring village. Placing the basket containing her husband by the side of the pool, she had gone off on an errand, most probably to look for food. In the meantime, her crippled husband had seen a black crow dip into the water of the pool and come out white. Amazed at this miracle, the man crawled up to the edge of the pool and managed a dip. He found himself completely cured. When his wife returned, she was amazed to find her husband in good health. He was handsome and whole. At first, she was alarmed and suspected that he might be a different person. He had, however, kept one finger with leprosy marks un-dipped. He showed her the diseased finger as proof of his identity. The couple thanked God, and went to the Guru to seek his blessings.
The pool was the future site of the Golden Temple. The medicinal properties of the water were said to have come from Basil (Tulsi), which grew in abundance on its banks. Guru Amar Das used to pick the herb there to make poultices for an infected toe that plagued Guru Angad. The legendary importance of the site highlights the medicinal properties of the waters of the pool, Rajni's leper husband was cured in.Sakhi relates that if you keep faith in God then one day all rewards are paid. Bibi Rajni had always kept the faith in Guru and God, being happy with whatever she had and thus was rewarded at the end.
Nanaki was the first person to recognize Guru Nanak as a prophet and missionary
early in his life. Bibi Nanaki (Guru Nanak's sister) and Mata Tripta (Guru
Nanak's mother) played very important roles in encouraging young Nanak to persue
his lifelong mission.
Amar Das trained missionaries to spread Sikhism throughout the country. Of the
146 missionaries Guru Amar Das trained and sent out, 52 were women. At one time
the country of Afghanistan and Kashmir were under the jurisdiction of women
masands (priests). These women had complete jurisdiction in decision making,
collection of revenues as well as preaching to congregations.
Khivi was the wife of Guru Angad Dev and was in charge of the langar (community
kitchen). She was an unlimited source of bounty and helped create a new social
consciousness for women.
Bibi Bhani has a unique position in Sikh history as the daughter of a Guru (Guru Amar Das), wife of a Guru (Guru Ram Das) and mother of a Guru (Guru Arjan Dev). Bibi Bhani was an inspiration during the formative period of Sikh history and symbolizes responsibility, dedication, humility and fortitude.
Mata Gujri was an illuminating force behind her husband Guru Tegh Bahadur and her son Guru Gobind Singh. After the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Mata Gujri guided and inspired her son Guru Gobind Singh. She was responsible for the training of the Sahibzadas (the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh) who gave up their lives for Sikhism at a young age. Mata Gujri was an inspiring force during one of the most difficult times in Sikh history.
During the baptism ceremony of the Khalsa in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh asked Mata Jitoji to participate in the first baptism by adding sugar cakes (patashas) to water which was stirred with the khanda (double edged sword) and administered to the Khalsa as amrit (sweet water).
Mata Sahib Kaur
Because of her purity, Guru Gobind Singh declared that Sikhs should consider Mata Sahib Kaur as the spiritual mother of the Khalsa.
The widow of Guru Gobind Singh, Mata Sundri helped provide leadership for the Sikhs in a very difficult and tumultuous time following the death of Guru Gobind Singh. She helped maintain the sanctity of the Guru Granth Sahib as the only successor of Guru Gobind Singh and dealt strictly with pretenders and aspires of Guruship.
Sikh Women were given the option of either converting to Islam, or spending their days grinding flour in his prison camps. Their young Sikh children were tortured, spiked, cut limb by limb. Horrifically, their tiny body parts were put around their mother's necks as garlands. These honourable Sikh Women never once succumbed the threats of Mi Manu, but accepted this as the Will of Akal Purakh. Their brave deeds are remembered daily in the Ardas by Sikhs worldwide.
QUOTES FROM THE SRI GURU GRANTH SAHIB
In praise of women.
"We are born of woman, we are conceived in the womb of woman, we are engaged and married to woman. We make friendship with woman and the lineage continued because of woman. When one woman dies, we take another one, we are bound with the world through woman. Why should we talk ill of her, who gives birth to kings? The woman is born from woman; there is none without her. Only the One True Lord is without woman" (Guru Nanak Dev, Var Asa, pg. 473)
Marriage is an equal partnership of love and sharing between husband and wife.
"They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. Rather they alone are called husband and wife, who have one soul in two bodies." (Guru Amar Das, Pauri, pg. 788)
Women have an equal right to participate in the congregation.
"Come my sisters and dear comrades! Clasp me in thine embrace. Meeting together, let us tell the tales of our Omnipotent Spouse (God). In the True Lord are all merits, in us all demerits." (Guru Nanak Dev, Sri Rag, pg. 17)
God is the husband and we are all his brides.
"The spouse is but One and all others are His brides. The false bride assumes many religious garbs. When the Lord stops her going into another's home, then is she summoned into her Lord's mansion without any let and hindrance. She is adorned with the Name and is dear to her True Lord. She alone is the true bride and the Lord lends her His support." (Guru Nanak Dev, Ramkali, pg. 933)
God is our Mother as well as our Father.
"Thou O Lord, art my Father and Thou my Mother. Thou art the Giver of peace to my soul and very life." (Guru Arjan Dev, Bhairo, pg. 1144)
Faithfulness to ones spouse is stressed.
"The blind-man abandons the wife of his home, and has an affair with another's woman. He is like the parrot, who is pleased to see the simbal tree, but at last dies clinging to it." (Bhagat Nam Dev, Bhairo, pg. 1165)
The rape and brutalities committed against women by the Mughal invader Babar condemned.
"Modesty and righteousness both have vanished and falsehood moves about as the leader, O Lalo. The function of the Qazis and the Brahmins is over and the Satan now reads the marriage rites (rape). The Muslim women read the Quran and in suffering call upon God, O Lalo. The Hindu women of high cast and others of low caste, may also be put in the same account, O Lalo." (Guru Nanak Dev, Tilang, pg. 722)
The practice of women burning themselves on their husband's funeral pyre (sati) condemned.
"They cannot be called satis, who burn themselves with their dead husbands. They can only be called satis, if they bear the shock of separation. They may also be known as satis, who live with character and contentment and always show veneration to their husbands by remembering them." (Guru Amar Das, Var Suhi, pg. 787)
The ritual of dowry so prevalent in Indian society condemned.
"Any other dowry, which the perverse place for show, that is false pride and worthless gilding. O' my Father! give me the Name of Lord God as a gift and dowry." (Guru Ram Das, Sri Rag, pg. 79)