THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN SIKHISM
Man and woman are two sides of the same coin-the human race. Man takes birth from a woman and woman is born of a man. This system is interrelating and inter-dependent. A man can never feel secure and complete in life without a woman. A man’s success depends upon the love and support of the woman who shares her life with him and vice versa. Guru Amar Das Ji, the third Guru proclaims in this hymn;
“They are not truly husband and wife whose bodies merely come together. Only they are truly wedded whose two bodies have one soul”. (Adi Granth page 788)
It is this essence of fellowship that is the stimulus behind a successful person. This fellowship makes one’s life happy and full of promises. Fellowship is a real blessing and assurance, to make life fascinating and worthwhile.
The first woman to be remembered in Sikhism is Mata Tripta Ji, the mother of the first, and founder Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. She meditated while carrying the child Nanak in her womb, and brought him up with love and tender care trying to protect him from his father Mehta Kalu’s wrath for being solitary.
Bebe Nanki Ji, the elder and the only sister of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, was a highly intelligent, spiritually awake, and pious lady. It was she who recognised the divine light in her brother and envisaged his mission of life before anyone else could perceive it. She didn’t treat him just as a brother, she respected him like a Guru for the whole of her life. She supported her revolutionary brother for the whole of her life who had come to redeem people from misconception and superstitions.
Mata Sulakhni, the wife of Guru Nanak Dev Ji is another eminent Sikh lady. She supported Guru Nanak every inch of the way, and never complained. She never stopped him from helping the people in need at Sultan Pur, and when he went away on his long travels, she looked after her in-laws and brought up her sons with great love and care.
The next prominent woman in Sikhism is Mata Khivi Ji, the spouse of the second Guru, Guru Angad Dev Ji. She toiled lovingly in the Langar (community kitchen) day and night and enjoyed serving food with her own hands. Many people were inspired to accept Guru’s way because of her consideration, modesty and selfless service. Her name comes up in the Adi Granth on page 967 where Rai Balwand writes; “Balwand says that Guru Angad’s consort, Khivi a noble soul, is like a tree with shade of thick leaves. She distributes rich food in her kitchen, rice pudding enriched with clarified butter tasting like Amrit (nectar) to the people who visit the Guru.
Another notable Sikh lady is Bibi Amro Ji, the daughter of the second Guru. She meditated with such concentration that she became a symbol of meditation herself. She used to sing the Gurbani in the early morning hours, which influenced Baba Amar Das to find the True Guru.
Bibi Bhani Ji, the daughter of Guru Amar Das served her father with dedication and was a pillar of strength for her husband Guru Ram Das. She gave her blessings to her son the fifth Guru, Guru Arjun Dev Ji in such beautiful words that are recorded in the Adi Granth on page 496. “O son! Your mother blesses you that you may never forget the Dear Almighty God Waheguru even for a moment and you may always live in His presence”.
The next outstanding lady in Sikh history is Mata Gujri Ji, who was the wife of the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and the mother of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. She was a great wife, a great mother, and a great grandmother. She sent her husband to sacrifice his life for the human right of the Hindus to worship their deities. She prepared her son who was only nine years old at that time for the duty of completing the work started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji. When she was imprisoned along with her two younger grand sons, her encouragement and advice helped them to keep up their spirit of devotion and dedication to Sikhi even in the most distressing time so much so that they sacrificed their lives but didn’t give up their religion. Sikh history stands tall in projecting the model of Mata Gujjar Kaur. She herself became an exceptional martyr in the galaxy of martyrs.
The mother of Khalsa - Mata Sahib Kaur Ji, the wife of Guru Gobind Singh was a very pious and spiritually enlightened lady. She served the Khalsa for forty years after Guru Gobind Singh passed away in 1708 and directed Bhai Mani Singh to collect Guru Gobind Singh’s writings and edit them into what is known as the “Dasam Granth”.
Mata Bagh Kaur Ji is another Sikh lady who set an example of selfless service, courage and leadership by not accepting the cowardice of the forty Sikhs, who under the leadership of Mahan Singh, wrote a disclaimer and left Guru Gobind Singh in the siege at Anand Pur Sahib. She led them and collided with a large mughal force near Khidrana. Guru ji tore the disclaimer at the request of Mahan Singh, and Mata Bhag Kaur went with the Guru ji to Nander and served him till the end of his life.
Mata Sunder Kaur Ji, the widow of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, led the Sikhs from Delhi. She was very strict with those who wanted to undermine the Guruship of the Guru Granth Sahib. The aspirants and claimers of Guruship were dealt with an iron hand.
During Mir Mannu’s time fierce persecution and terror gripped the Punjab. The Sikhs heads were sold for money and hundreds of Sikh women were captured and imprisoned. They were forced to accept Islam, or wear the wreaths made from the flesh of their slain children round their necks. Despite this bitter ordeal they remained steadfast in their faith.
Sardarni Sada Kaur was the actual builder of the Sikh Empire in Punjab. She was the brain and power behind Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was only eleven years old when he became the king. It is rightful to say that “She was the ladder by which Ranjit Singh reached the summit of power”.
In the eighteenth century another brave lady was Bibi Sharan Kaur. She was so brave that she went alone in the fort of Uttam Zai on a secret mission and single-handedly killed Akbar Khan, who was preparing to fight the Khalsa. When Dost Mohhamad invaded Jamraud, she was sent with a message for Hari Singh Nalua to Bala Hisar. On the way back she fought with four mughals. She killed two of them, one was wounded and the other ran away. She was straight away sent to Lahore with a letter for Maharaja Ranjit Singh to help. Maharaja at once went to Jamraud with his army, defeated Dost Mohammed and honoured Bibi Sharn Kaur in the Lahore Darbar.
Bibi Balbir Kaur’s name shines like a beacon in the twentieth century history. On September the 14th 1922 British Government interfered with the Akhand Paath at Jaito. The Sikhs did not tolerate this religious insult and marched to Jaito in batches of 500. On February the 21st 1923, the government resorted to firing. Bibi Balbir Kaur was also taking part in this march carrying her small child in her arms. A bullet hit the child and it died but Bibi Balbir Kaur didn’t flinch or cry. She resignedly laid the dead body of her child on the road and marched on. Soon after another bullet hit her and she was killed too. There were many Sikh brave women like her in that group.
In the recent times Bibi Upkar Kaur embraced martyrdom at Harmandar Sahib (the Golden Temple) in the “Operation Blue Star” on 6th of June 1984 along with her colleagues. She was the president of the Girls Wing of All India Students Federation. She encouraged other girls to fight for justice and equality and take equal part with the men folk.
Bibi Gurdev Kaur M.A., B.Ed., Founder Sikh Nari Manch UK
Shromani Baal Sahitkaar (best children's writer) Punjab Govt 1997