Image of woman in Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Dr. Harinder Kaur
Guru Nanak Sahib examined in depth for the first time the attitude of religious people towards woman and after knowing the true position, stated clearly that the birth and development of the world depends on woman. Man is born by woman and then spends his entire life with woman and therefore she does not deserve to be ridiculed. The True Guide (Guruji) was the practical leader of social consciousness. Side by side with the development of individual, the social development was also one of his objectives. The Indian spiritualists laid emphasis on renunciation of society as the only way but the Gurus emphasized the need to live in society and then develop a detached outlook and regarded the family life as the important aspect of life. They did not favour leaving home and hearth and going to forests and hills in quest of God. They exhorted the people to live in the family, with wife and children and also sing the praises of God. They favoured –
Anjan mahi niranjan rahiai jog jugat iv payiai.. ( p.130.)
(Remain unaffected by the soot of Maya; this is the way to learn yoga.)
Bhai Gurdas, the contemporary poet and devotee of Guru Arjan Dev, describes how the householder’s life is regarded as the best form of living according to Gurmat (the Sikh thought).
Jaise sar sarita sakal main samund bado
mairu main sumer bado jagat bakhan hai.
Tarvar vikhai jaise chandan birakh bado
Dhatu main kanik ati uttam kai maan hai.
Panchhin main hans, mrigrajan main sardool
Ragan main Srirag, Paras pakhan hai.
Gyanan main gyan ar dyanan main dhyan gur
Sakal dharma main grihast pradhan hai. (Kabit swaiye)
(As ocean is the greatest in the waters
And Sumer is the greatest of the mountains
Among trees, the Chandan is the greatest
And among metals, the gold is the most precious
The swan among the birds, the lion among animals
Sri raga among ragas, Paras (philosophers’ stone) among stones,
Guru is the best gyana and dhyana (Knowledge and meditation)
Among all the faiths, the householder’s life is the best.
In Assa di var, Guruji, talking of yogis, celebates, sanyasis, mendicants, learned ones, etc. says that the householder is the best among all of them. It was for the first time in the spiritual literature that a religious leader had rated the family man higher than sages:
Jogi Bhogi kapdi kya bhaveh disantar.
Gur ka sabad nai chinhi tatsar nirantar
Ik girhi sewa sadhika gurmati lagai
Naam daan isnaan dridh, Hari bhagati su jagai.
(The jogis and others of their ilk wander about in the country. They do not try to care for Guru’s word and its import. On the other hand, a family man who treads the path of Gurmat, inculcates the spirit of service, dwells on His Name and purifies his body by bath, is the true devotee who keeps awake to serve God.
Family life is advised in Sidhagoshta of Sri Guru Nanak Dev. When he met the jogis at Achal Batala, Guru Nanak said to them that how ridiculous it was that they renounced the world to go to hills and forests and then returned to the householders’ door to beg for food. All the Nathas, like Gorakhnath, Chauranginath, Balnath and Bharathari had opposed women vehemently. For them a woman may be a simple one or shaved, that is, who has joined the order of jogis, it does not become her to sit by the side of a Jogi.
Pass bathi sobhai nahi, sathi ramayee bhoond.
Gorakah kahai istri, kah-slah keh moond.
They went to the extent of calling her a lioness, a serpent and condemned her. The Sidhas had questioned Guruji how could one attain salvation by living in family, how can the difficult ocean of life be crossed over. (This was the question of Charpat)
Dunia sagar dutta kahiai, kyon kar paiyai paro.
Charpat bolai audhu Nank deh sacha bicharo.
Guru’s reply was –
‘Jaise jal mahi kamal niralam murgai naisanai.
Surta sabadi bhav sagar tariai Nanak Naam wakhanai.
(As the lotus and duck remain unaffected by water
One can cross over by attuning one’s mind to the Word.)
When the family life is held in such a high esteem in the Sikh faith, it is but natural that the woman should be respected. Therefore, Guru Nanak gave a new message to the Indian society that instead of ridiculing woman, she should be praised as she carries the burden of society on her head. Guruji says –
Bhand jammiai, bhand nimmiai, bhand mangan viahu.
Bhandahu hovai dosti, bhandahu challai rahu.
Bhand mua bhand bhaliai, bhand hovai bandhan
So kyon manda akhiai, jitu jammai rajan. (SGGS, p.473)
(Man is conceived and born by women, and married to her. He befriends her, and she perpetuates the human race.
A woman dies, another is sought, all relationships are made through her. Why should then she be ridiculed? She gives birth to king! (SGGS,p.473).
This concept was quite different from the philospophy of the Jogis, Pundits and it was opposed to the caste system. Living in family is the practical way of life which is the most important feature of the Sikh faith. According to Gurus, the woman was the true faith. Once Guru Hargobind chanced to meet Jehangir, a disciple of Daulai Shah who said to him
Aurat kya aur faqiri kya, Hindu kya aur Piri kya?
Puttar kya vairag kya, daulat kya or tyag kya.?
(Woman and mendicancy do not go together as a Hindu and Pir
(Divine); a son and detachment; wealth and renunciation).
Guruji advised him that the woman you ridicule keeps the moral character high:
Aurat Iman, daulat guzran, puttar nishan,
Faqir na Hindu na Musalman.
(A woman is the faith, wealth is for a living, a son continues the lineage and a Faqir is neither a Hindu nor a Musalman).
Of course the Sikh faith forbids cohabitation with ‘other’ women so that man should not decline morally.
Sudh jab te ham dhari bachan Guru diaye hamarai.
Poot eh pran tohi, pran jab lag ghat tharai.
Nij nari sang neh tum nit badhaiyoh.
Parnari ki sage bhool supnai hoon na jaiyiho.(Dasam Granth)
(When I came of age, my father-Guru told me to take a vow – to be kept throughout my life- to love my wedded wife always and not to go to another woman’s bed erroneously even in a dream).
While Islam gives the liberty of keeping four women, because they believe in polygamy, the Sikh faith enjoins its followers to have one wife.
‘Istri biahuta ke siwaye aur istri na karai
Eik istri par santokh karna badai purakh ka kam hai.’
(No other woman should be kept except the duly wedded wife and be content with one woman, which is what a great person does.)
In the eye of Gursikh poets, woman is half-body of man and is the door to salvation. Bhai Gurdas says-
Lok dev gun gun gyan vich ardh sariri mokh-duari
Gurmukh such phal nihchau nari.
(The woman is divinely considered half-body and door to salvation. A Gurmukh has faith in this maxim.)
The Gurus raised their voice against the evils prevalent in society with regard to women. The evil rite of sati (burning alive with the dead body of the husband), infanticide of the girl child, veil, etc. were opposed. Because of the Muslim influence, observance of Sati ritual was becoming very common. The Guru-poets have explained the real import of being a ‘sati’ and opposed burning of women with the dead bodies of their husbands and said that a ‘true sati’ is a woman who regards her spouse as God, and lives a life of chastity after his death, in the following words –
Satia eh na akhian jo madhyaan lag jalann
Nanak satiya janian jo birha chot marann.(p.787)
(A sati is not the one who burns herself on the pyre.
Sayeth Nanak a true sati dies of shock of demise.)
Among Hindus, especially the Rajputs, had the custom of killing the newly born girls. Some even sold their daughers. The Guru-poets opposed this vehemently. The ‘rehatnamas’ (codes of conduct) make a mention of this very clearly:
‘Guru-ka-Sikh should not kill a girl,should have no dealing with those who kill their daughters and should not sell their daughters. If a Sikh has a dealing with the killer of daughters, he will be guilty and suffer my wrath. If a Sikh has a matrimonial relationship with the daughter killers, he would be cursed in this world and the next.’1
In this way the Guru-poets tried their best to reform the society suffering from these evils. The Guru-poets also opposed the veil with which the women covered their face.They preached the equality of men and women. The women could not enter the Code of Conduct by Bhai Chopa Singh, Gurmat Sudhakar, p.495.
congregation and sit in the common kitchen if she had a veil and in this way the Gruus restored the dignity of women. Equal rights were bestowed on women and they were made even preachers.
Guru Gobind Singh introduced an innovation. When Amrit (Water for baptism) was being prepared, he had the patashas (sugar bubbles) put in it by ?Mata Jito and stirred the water with khanda (double edged dagger), reciting Gurbani. He thus made it a combination of sweetness and strength. The women can be baptized in the same manner as men and there is no restriction or distinction. . The result of this was that the brave women like Mai Bhago and Bibi Sahib Kaur lent credit and valour to the Sikh faith and even undergoing the suffering under the tyranny of Mir Mannu, they kept their faith intact. Such brave women gave birth to brave men who changed the history of the Punjab. This would not have been possible if this revolutionary call of Guru Nanak had not been issued –
So kyon manda akhiai, jit jammae rajan (p.473)
‘Why speak ill of those who give birth to rulers.’.
The Guru-poets restored the lost dignity of women successfully. Compared to other scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib is a scripture which has an entirely different view about woman.