Woman in Gurmat philosophy
The fundamental principle propounded in Sri Guru Granth Sahib in regard to equality of man is based on –
‘Hari tum mahi jot rakhi, taan too jag mahi aya.’
(God kindled the light in you and you came to this world).
It is not said here whether it was the man or the woman who came to this world. According to Gurbani, one comes to this world when God puts His light in one. In this way in all the creatures His light shines and the ideal placed before one is –
‘Man too joti saroop hai, apna mool pachhan.’
(O my mind you are formed of His Own Light; know your origin).
In this way the Gurmat makes it clear in Japuji Sahib when Guruji himself raises the question-
‘Kiv sachyara hoyiai, kiv koorai tuttai paal.’
(How can one attain the Truth and how can the wall of falsehood be demolished?
And Guruji himself answers the question –
Hukam razai chalna, Nanak likhya naal.
( Live in His Will, sayeth Nanak, it is ordained.’
This method is made known to us by the Guru or By Gurbani. The concept of Guru in the Sikh faith is that of Word-Guru because the Word is indestructible, eternal. Therefore faith in Gurbani means faith in the Guru. There is no difference in being a woman or a man for this faith. According to Gurbani, a human being is not high or low because of caste or birth or being a male or a female. One becomes high or low because of one’s deeds. Thus, according to the Sikh faith, there exists no division between man and woman. All the beings are equal from birth. According to Sikh doctrine, a person (whether a man or a woman) could belong to two classes – a gurmukh (guided by Guru) or a manmukh (guided by self). One, who leads life in accordance with Guru’s teachings, obeying the command of Weheguru, is a Gurmukh. One who follows the dictates of his own mind, doesn’t care for Guru’s word, and guided by one’s own ego, is a manmukh. Gurbani has laid down a path for the Gurmukh, who, whether a man or a woman, belongs to the acceptable class and a manmukh, whether a man or a woman, is placed in the un-acceptable class. A manmukh remains subject to the cycle of births and deaths while the Gurmukh with the Guru’s Grace experiences the divine light lit within or can have such an experience.As has been said before, Gurbani is the Word. Therefore one has to put ones faith in the Word. Because according to Gurmat, there is no difference between a man and a woman, either he or she is a gurmukh or a manmukh. That is why woman enjoys not only an equal status but respectable one which has come to the fore for the first time practically in the Indian ethos.
In any faith, when something is ‘revealed’ it needs a medium and for highlighting the truth thereof there are its own symbols. If we study any revealed faith in depth we can see those symbols clearly. Gurmat ‘revelation’ came to light in the form of Gurbani. To highlight this truth, the Gurus made use of the language whch they chose from different aspects of life. In the entire Bani the two symbols, man and woman, have been used extensively. Woman symbolizes a seeker, a devotee, or a disciple who has been also called a sister, a friend (saheli), a wife, a happily-wedded woman, etc. A friend and sister have been used as a co-religionist or a compatriot. Similarly, wife, a good woman, etc. represent a Gurmukh. Symbols like bad woman, woman of ill repute, etc. have been used for manmukh. Without going into the details of the symbols or images, I would draw attention to the hymn headed ‘Lavaan’ composed by the Guru Ram Das in Raga Suhi Chhant and make it the basis of my elaboration.
In the first stanza of the hymn headed “Lavaan”, Guruji inspires the devotee to have faith in the Word. The human being has been called a woman who prays before the Timeless God to help her meet the Guru so that by reciting His Name, she can destroy the dreaded disease of ego. It has been stated therein that such a woman (seeker) falls in eternal love with Guru’s word. All her sins and evils are destroyed; she gets rid of the disease of ego and she attains the state of equipoise. Here the heart of the human being has been likened to bed which becomes full of comfort with the blessing of the Word. Waheguru (God) has been called the basis of spiritual consciousness because He is the epitome of Knowledge and meeting Whom the woman enjoys the bliss of this union. Union with God has been called sanjog which is the climax of the spiritual bliss.1 Further, the symbol Kudam (father of the bridegroom) has been used as the one who plays the role of a mediator to help in the union of woman (human being) with the Timeless (God). When through Guru and the congregation, devotional singing is done, the union between the seeker (woman) and God takes place. All the evil existing in mind has to be destroyed through Gurbani. It has also been stated that the woman who follows the dictates of her own mind (manmukh) cannot experience presence of God. She has within her the evils like attachment, falsehood, deceit, etc. and she has to suffer. She does not follow Guru’s teaching and it is difficult to find the path without Guru’s teaching. With His Grace only does one have union with Him. Omen, astrologer, pandit, horoscope, friend, spouse, are the symbols through which it has been taught that when, with the kindness of the Guru, the Divine Light shines within, one experiences the ecstasy of eternal bliss. The Gurmukhs, sitting in the congregation (assembly of the righteous) read Gurbani and discuss it and this kindles the divine light. Waheguru is beyond the reach of senses. His love is ever new and God is friendly even from childhood, when through Grace the human being symbolized by a woman meets Him, she becomes a happily wedded bride and she never has to suffer the pangs of separation. 4
Through the symbolism of Lavaan, it has been stated that the real marriage is the union of man with God. The woman sacrifices herself unto her Lord, Waheguru, and feels grateful for having been put on the right path towards God to recite His Name. This is the first circumbulation with the spouse (God). Here it has been stressed to have firm faith in Gurbani which for a Sikh or seeker is like the Vedas of Brahma. This strengthens the faith and sins are destroyed. Nam-simran (recitation of His Name) has been likned to Simrtati or Shashtra. This is the second circumbulation with the Lord-spouse. The fear and ego are destroyed and one becomes fearless and the pure sense of divine fear pervades in the mind. The attributes of God, as stated in the Mool Mantra, one is Fearless and the other Without enemity. One has to imbibe the attributes of God in one’s mind because according to Gurmat philosophy, man adopts the traits of the object of his worship. This means – ‘Jaisa sevai, taisa hoye.’
The third ‘laav’ mentions detachment. This is not the detachment by suffering physical pain as found in the Vedas and Shastras, but the detachment of living in the world, performing all the responsibilities, and still not getting lost therein. The way to maintain purity has been termed as detachment. Thus this ‘laav’ says that such a human being symbolized by a woman, as has liberated herself from the bondage of attachment (According to Gurmat one cannot kill one’s mind, but the mind can rise above the worldly bondage), begins to yearn for union with God, the true Lord, gets so eager to meet Him. With Waheguru’s Grace, those who have the good fortune are able to attain God, the Spouse. They, in order to sing His praises, take recourse to Gurbani. In the fourth ‘laav’ there is the symbolic mention of ‘kaj rachaya’ (performance of marriage ceremony). After getting across the three stages, or the three ‘lavaas’, when a person enters the fourth stage, he or she is but natural to attain an equipoise and in this state the union with the spouse, the true Lord, takes place. The body and mind get one with Him, enjoy the bliss. This union is everlasting and never ends, which keeps one for ever in high spirits. This is confirmed in Assa raga, where Guru Nanak, calls this Union a marriage, when the Highest Truth enlightens one’s mind. When the mind gets in unison with God, the soul meets the Supersoul, the human senses get attuned to the Highest Truth, such a state of mind is called ‘marrage’. Here Guru Nanak calls the senses as friends because they have become the companions of the Supreme Truth. 8
In the same manner in the salokas (couplets) of Baba Farid, where the human being has been symbolized as a woman, the moral code has been laid down. What are the virtues which one should have, which mantra should one recite by which one can please God to be on one’s side and in reply, Baba Farid prescribes three virtues – humility, forgiveness and sweet tongue-which should be had to become worthy of His love. This is generally explained to give exhortation to a women. But this is not for only woman but for the entire human race. 9
This becomes amply clear from an analytical study of the text of ‘lavaan’ the context in which the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ have been used. Human beings cannot be divided into any classes, except those of Gurmukh and manmukh. Whether one is a woman or a man, in the eye of God she or he is a human being, he or she has to tread the path shown to reach God through the teachings of Guru and to experience the bliss of union with Him. Secondly, it is clear that man and woman are on equal footing on the road to this Union and they have to make efforts of the same kind. Thirdly, the path shown by Gurmat is of a social nature. It is integral part of social life. There is no place for seclusion or renunciation in this path. The importance of family life is highlighted in the text of ‘lavaan’ while the earlier faiths of India advocated seclusion, renunciation and living in the woods. Where the family is important, the woman in the family gets her due place because the family life is a vehicle which cannot at all be run without the cooperation of woman. Another thing which comes to the fore is that Gurmat is not confined to an individual but it concerns the entire congregation. One has to learn the Gurmat way of life in the congregation only. The way to attain God has to be shown by being in the congregation. Many of the scholars when they study ‘lavaan’ or other such texts, tend to forget the nature of Gurbani and they think that this text or such other texts, are the exhortations to women only. For example, in Sri Raga Chhant Moh. 4, ‘Viah hoya mairai babula, Gurmukh Hari paya’ they forget that the Guru has used the words like marriage, formless, spouse, marriage party, etc. symbolically. In the previous hymn the word ‘payiararai’ (parental) has been used for this world and the ‘sahurarai’ (in-laws’ place) as the Waheguru’s House, the next world. Here the spouse has been called ‘The Formless One’ Who can be attained through Guru. This is such a state of union wherein the knowledge imparted by Guru shows its dazzling light and destroys ignorance. Donation (dowry), etc. have also been mentioned and God has been called ‘Babul’ (father). Here also mention has been made of ‘manmukh’ whose dowry is falsehood and full of ego and thus not lasting and subject to decay.
This respectable place was not available to women in the earlier religious thinking and it becomes quite clear after a study of the Gurmat philosophy. Such instances can be found in the life stories of the Gurus also which go to show that the women, who are Gurmukh, have right to union with God, practice the faith and recite Gurbani. Bebe Nanaki, Guru Nanak’s sister cooperated with Guru Nanak in every way because she was an ‘awakened’ soul. Because of this awakening, sister Nanaki perceives closely the traits of a prophet in Guru Nanak. Bibi Amro, Guru Angad Dev’s daughter, was married to the nephew of Guru Amardas, at Basarke. Listenting to the lines of Gurbani from her mouth,
‘Bhaya manor kanchan phir hovai, je Gur milai tineha.
(Maru Moh. 1)
(Dross of iron becomes gold if one meets Guru, the true guide.)
created in the mind of guru Amardas the yearning for meeting Guru Angad Dev. He gave up the goddess worship and began to serve Guru Angad Dev. The Gurus advocated family life, got married themselves and showed the path of ‘Detachment in the midst of comforts of home’. Guru Tegh Bahadur, who is considered as a great recluse and ‘detached’ soul, had got married to Mata Gujri and gave birth to a son like Guru Gobind Singh and perpetuated the line. As against this, there are many saints and sages who claim to be adherents of the Sikh faith, and followers of the path shown by Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but consider the family life as an obstacle and do not get married. It may not be so bad not to get married but being egoistic about this is certainly very bad as they believe that giving up family life is true religion. This is against the tenets of Sikh faith, and opposed to the path shown by Guru Nanak. Bhai Gurdas condemns this strongly. When Guru Nanak settles down as a family man and wears the worldly dress after completion of his outings, he enters into a dialogue with the Sidhas on the occasion of Shivaratri fair. A Jogi asks Guru Nanak, seeing him in worldly attire, as to why has he mixed ‘kanji'(fermented gruel) with milk. When it is churned, it won’t give butter, meaning thereby that living in the world, one cannot attain spirituality. In the words of Bhai Gurdas (10), Guru’s reply was that his (the jogi’s) mother, who gave him birth was devoid of wisdom, as she had not taught him rightly. Firstly, you renounce the world and family life to become a recluse, and for filling your belly you go to the door of a householder to beg for food. Unless we give something to the world, we cannot get anything out of it. Two things are thus proved; first, God can be attained while living in the world and not by becoming a recluse and deserter and second, the mother plays a vital role in showing the right path. The first teacher of man is woman.
It is commonly believed and it is the pivot of the Sikh faith that when Guru Gobind Singh prepared Amrit (holy nectar), Mata Sahib Deva added patasas ( sugar bubbles) to it. This was done to bring to the fore the symbolic of sweetness and maternal aspect. It was declared that while Guru Gobind Singh was the ‘father of the Khalsa’, Mata Sahib Kaur (renamed as such after getting baptized) was given the title of the ‘mother of the Khalsa’. In the history of India we find the example of ‘Rashtrapita’ (father of the nation) or Rashtrachacha (Uncle of the nation) but not that of Rashtramata or Rashtrachachi.
Mata Bhago’s example is before us. She fought with the enemy side by side with the Singhs at Mukatsar. According to history, Mata Bhago belonged to Dhillon gotra, and hailed from village Jhabal in District Amritsar. When the forty Singhs (who were later called the ‘Freed’ ones) had deserted Guru Gobind Singh and handed him their ‘Disclaimer’, they returned home. It was Mata Bhago who reminded them of the folly of showing their back to the Guru and prepared herself to join the fight and showed the deserters the path to salvation. A Sikh woman is as much a part of the Sikh congregation as a Sikh man. The concept of becoming one from two teaches us that the man and woman are complementary to each other, thus laying the foundation of social awareness in this regard.
We should have faith in Gurbani and follow the path shown by Gurbani. This enables us to fully understand the evil division of man and woman and her exploitation. In the Assa-di-Var of Guru Nanak (in the social, religious and political context) it is said about woman that the world remains perpetuated through woman because she gives birth to the offspring. The family is raised and friendship is forged with woman only. When one woman dies, another woman is sought. Thus woman performs the pivotal role in society. Then why should one talk ill of a woman, who gives birth to even kings? The entire humanity comes to the world through woman. It is Waheguru alone who is outside the process of birth. (11). In the same way when the Brahmins call themselves of high birth, Bhagat Kabir questions them. He says, ‘How are you born as a branhmin? Your mother, the woman, has given you birth in the same way as an ordinary one is born (in the natural way).
The works of Bhai Gurdas are held in very high esteem in the Sikh faith, so much so that his writings are called the “Key to Gurbani”(Granth Sahib). He is the first theologian of Gurmat and of such a high calibre that he had the privilege of being so very close to Gurus and being the scribe of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Bhai Gurdas regards a woman as ardh-shariri (Half body of human) and the door to salvation. With this, all the traditional and religious misgivings about women are removed. Being half-body of human, the woman is in no way inferior to man or incomplete. The woman is possessed of human mind as the man.As the man is superior to other creatures in the universe, so is the woman, the medium of salvation.Using woman symbolically, Bhai Gurdas makes her entitled to love and affection in the parental house, respected sister of the brothers and the one belonging to the family and a hope has been expressed that she would be given dowry of love and affection with all the zeal and sent off. She is respected in the in-laws’ place also as she has the ability to bring in newness and improvement in the new house. She is loved by her husband. She is knowledgeable and understands the true import of Gurbani and she is verily the half body of man and the door to salvation. A woman having full faith in Gurbani is called a Gurmukh and entitled to the fruit of comfort.(12)
This point thus becomes crystal clear that the doctrinal context of woman consciouness exists in Gurbani. It can be concluded in the light of what has been stated in the foregoing that the concept of gender based exploitative practices has no place in the Sikh faith. In this way the woman, coming out of her background of being weak, appears as self-confident human model (able to do anything within the human reach).
SGGS, Suhi M. 4, p.772
Ibid, p,.773-Sat santokh kar bhao…
Ibid, Manmukh vichhudi door mahil na…..
Ibid, Aiya lagan ganaye…
Ibid, Har pehladi laav……
Ibid, Srirag M.4, Viah hoya mairai babula….
Ibid, Assa Mo.1, p. 351-Kar kirpa apnai ghar aiya…
SGGS, Salok Baba Farid, p.1384 -kavan su akhar…
Vara Bhai Gurdas (1/40) – Kadhi khunas jogisraan..
SGGS, p.473…Bhand jammiai bhand nimmiai…
Ibid, Gauri Kabir, p. 234
Var Bhai Gurdas (5/16)..Pevkadai ghar ladli…