WOMAN AS GURMAT PORTRAYS HER
"The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world", goes an English saying. Lives of many great men stand testimony to this idea.
Punjabi folklore talks of a mother whose ear was bitten off by her son, when she went to see him in jail, where he was serving a sentence convicted of theft. The stunned mother was explained the reason by her son that she had failed in her duty as a mother, as she did not prevent him from stealing the very first time he had stolen a pen from his class-mate’s bag. Thc bad habit ultimately made him a notorious thief, and landed him in jail. That a mother has a key-role to play in the character-building of her offspring, is obvious.
According to Guru Nanak, the role of mother gave women a unique status. He dismissed the prevailing values downgrading women, with his famous question in Asa di Var:
"How can one who gives birth to kings be called inferior?"
The condition of women in India before the advent of Guru Nanak was deplorable. She was equated with a she-wolf or serpent. Leaders of various religious groups failed to do justice to women. Islamic Shariat allowed polygamy, and equated thc evidence of two women with that of one man. Jogi Gorakh Nath calls woman a she-wolf, and the Jains consider woman ineligible for moksha. Gautam Buddha did not allow entry of woman to his sangh, and in rare cases, when she is allowed, the code of conduct she is expected to observe, makes her inferior to a male bhikshu. Shakespeare says, "Woman, is another name for frailty." For Chesterfield, she is an "agreeable blunder". Manu uses derogatory words for her, and Tulsi Das goes to the extent of classifying her with cattle, Sudras and the vulgar. Even world famous philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle, could not be free from the prejudice against women. Socrates says, "The courage of a man and that of a woman are not the same. The courage of a man is shown in commanding, and that of a woman in obeying". Aristotle says, "Woman is an unfinished man left standing at a lower step in the scale of development. The male is by nature superior, and female inferior. The one is the ruler and the other ruled. Woman is weak of will and, therefore, incapable of independence of character or position".
Even Christianity does not accord religious equality to women. Tradition and custom place a woman at a lower pedestal. Till today, a woman cannot be a priest, and she got the right to property as late as 1882, and the right to vote in 1918.
Only a revolutionary like Guru Nanak could raise a woman to a high pedestal, as early as the 15th century. Today, with thc blessing of the Guru,
Sikh women have equal rights with men. A Sikh woman reserves the right to be a granthi, (one who conducts religious ceremonies), a preacher or a ragi (one who sings hymns from Guru (Granth Sahib). She can take amrit and can be included among the ‘Five Beloved’s’ (Pan; Piaras) for the initiation ceremony. At this time highest president of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak committee is a woman named Jagir kaur, that is the controller of all the gurdwars in india.
Many verses from Gurbani authenticate that Sikh philosophy not only accords equal status to woman, but she is also considered man’s guide on the spiritual path. A woman who has lost her ego in the love of her husband, and through him loves humanity, knows how to love the Lord.
"Go inquire of the happily-wedded wives, by what devices have they attained love
of the Spouse." SGGS, p. 722
It is needless to say that only a superior person is approached for such
"I ask the happily-wedded wives, ‘how have you with the Lord found union?’
The happily-wedded wives, true devotees, took compassion on me,
Telling me: ‘The holy Master’s Word is a jewel; by faith is its joy received. "
The word is humility, the quality forgiveness,
Sweet speech the jewels:
SGGS, p. 41
Sister, wear these ever then alone will the Lord be thine."
SGGS, p. 1384
Patience, humility and sweetness of demeanor are some of the qualities that help woman in the fulfillment of love. It is these very qualities which pave the way for the attainment of the love of the Lord. One has just to change the direction of thoughts to the love of the Lord. These feminine attributes are helpful in the quest and the attainment of God.
Gurbani portrays three kinds of women, Kuchajji (meritless woman), Suchajji (meritorious) and Gunwanti (Virtuous).
A meritless woman’s only concern is money. She is attracted only towards wealth, and the feeling of love is totally absent. She craves only for the riches and not the company of her true love.
"Cherished friend! gold and silver attractive, pearls and rubies
Has the Lord blessed me with —
To these my heart have I attached.
Cherished friend! houses of clay with stone
I made firm
Cherished friend! in such objects lost, with the Spouse never have l sat."
SGGS, p. 762
For a Suchajji or the meritorious woman, love is the true wealth of her life, and she experiences a kind of bliss in the company of her true love.
"Cherished friend! with Thee am I possessed of all boons
Thou, Lord! art my capilal.
Cherished friend! with Thee by me live l in joy;
with Thee am I all-approved." SGGS, p 762
Gunwenti (the virtuous one) goes to thc gursikh, thc beloved one of the Guru for guidance, when even after being Suchajji and trying her level best, she is unable to attain the Lord. Following the advice of the gursikh, the Gunwanti, is finally one with the Lord.
‘Cherished friend! to touch feet of the Master’s devotec I bow low wherever met.
Cherished friend! to such would I slats my heart agony, supplicating:
True friend! discourse to me of the teaching whereby my rnind otherwhere may not
Cherished friend! my heart to thee shall I dedicate pray show me the path."
SGGS, p. 763
So, Gurbani declares that a woman can not only tread the spiritual path herself, but also guide others in their spiritual pursuit. Bhai Gurdas, the great Sikh scholar, says, "Of all the Vedas’ knowledge and all other virtues, it is the woman who can best guide man to the gates of salvation". Bhagat Dhanna also prays for a "virtuous wife", when he prays for the other necessities of life, which he demands as a matter of right.
It is not only in spiritual matters, that a woman enjoys a supreme status. The status of Sikh women in social sphere is equally honorable. Gurbani gives clear guidelines as to the qualities Sikh women must possess in order to lead a healthy and harmonious social life.
"Possessed of thirty-two merits, holy truth is her progeny. Obedient, of noble
mien, To her husband’s wishes compliant
The younger brother-in-law and elder sister-in-law too with her are pleased.
To her brother-in-law and elder sister-in-law too with her are pleased
Noblest of the whole family, To her brother-in-law imparting wise counsel.
Blessed is the home in which she is present. Therein, says Nanak, servant of
God, is life a bliss. ‘
SGGS, p. 371
Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha has listed thirty two qualities of an ideal woman, some of these are: beauty, cleanliness, modesty, humility, cheerfulness, concord, observance of religion, cleverness, knowledge, service, compassion, truth, dedicated love of her husband, purity of mind, patience, frugality, beneficence, sobriety, chivalry, active habits, interior decoration, respect of elders, proficiency in music, painting, poetry, domestic science, embroidery, hospitality, and child care.
A woman possessing the above mentioned qualities is an ideal woman, a good wife, a good householder, a good mother, in fact, the best of the best in the family. She is capable of guiding other members of the family, and no doubt, her home will be happy, where nothing but supreme joy prevails.
"Should the woman make embroidery of the holy Name and wear such a frock,
Would she be known as a true wife.
Should she look after her home, taste not evil,
Would she have her Lord’s love." SGGS. p. 1171
Cooking skills are also emphasized:
"As in a man’s home is the devoted wife, that with great devotion gives him
Viands tasting of salt, of the six flavors and sweets she gets ready – ".
SGGS, p. 1413
Sikh code of conduct condemns female infanticide. There are clear instructions that one who kills female infants, has no place in Sikh society, and has to be ex-communicated. Many Jutt tribes like Virk and Brars were barred by Guru Gobind Singh himself from being accepted into Khalsa faith when he learned about their infanticide practices, only after many years when infanticide was stopped by these tribes Guru allowed them to become his Sikhs.
The marriage ceremony, according to Sikh rites is not Kanyadan, which assumes that a girl is a piece of property to be given away in charity. It is regarded as Anand Karaj, a ceremony which gives anand, a state of bliss, because it is a union where two souls meet m perfect harmony.
Ostentatious displays of dowry does not have any place in Sikh marriages.
"Other dowers by worldlings displayed,
Are all false, worthless self-display."
SGGS, p. 79
Sikh ideology lays emphasis on only one kind of dowry, the dowry of Han Naam, of divine qualities:
"Father dear! with the holy Lord for my wedded Spouse, Grant me dower of
devotion to Him. Grant me robes of devotion, the objects of decoration, That
blessed I may feel."
SGGS, pp. 78-79
Sikh ideology, if followed in spirit, will eradicate the corrupt dowry system and consequent bride-burning. Sikh men and women enjoy equal social and marital status. Infidelity on either’s part has been strong; condemned. If a woman is expected to be a sohagan, a meritorious wife, an unfaithful husband, too, is denounced in strong words.
"The purblind man disregards his own wife, And with another’s woman into illicit
relationship enters. The parrot at sight of the simbal tree is pleased, But at
the end hangs from it dead. The evil-doer’s abode is in the fire of passion
unceasing he keeps burning. ‘
SGGS, p. 1165
Such is the concept of equality between man and woman in Gurmat philosophy. It is a pity that thc so called modern woman, in her frenzy for equal rights, has turned herself into a rival of her husband, instead of complementing him. In the rat race for equality, faith, love and sacrifice have become a casualty, and a feeling of mistrust has replaced the deep sense of gratitude and trust in each other.
Gurbani accords equal status to both man and woman, laying emphasis on the development of their respective qualities without any attempt to subjugate the other. The female attributes of a woman make domestic life full of bliss, whereas the masculine qualities of a man protect the unit of the family from any kind of social injustice, thus bringing about a kind of fullness in the family life.
Some people with a myopic vision have expressed the opinion that Guru Nanak has undermined the status of women by advising humility on her part. They say that by so doing, the Guru has sided with the feudal lords and advocated their values. They ignore the fact that Guru Nanak, who did not hesitate to lay bare the true face of feudal lords like Malik Bhago, could never have contradicted himself by siding with them, with regard to another principle which was of equal importance for him. Hypocrisy was something totally alien to him. So, the whole idea needs to be understood in its proper perspective. Furthermore, humility is not servility.
When the Guru advocates the qualities of sweetness and humility in a woman, he knows that a woman has these qualities in abundance, more than a man. They are almost a second nature to her. It is these qualities which make life worth living at the home front, and make her even superior to man.
Sikh history is replete with examples of women who lived life according to the Sikh ideal of a woman. Bebe Nanaki, the sister of Guru Nanak, Mata Khivi, the wife of the second Guru,Bibi Amro, the daughter of the second Guru, Mata Bhani, the mother of Guru Arjun Dev, Mata Gujri, the mother of Guru Gobind Singh, Mai Bhago and Mata Sundari are a few of the names often quoted.
Such is the glorious place that women enjoy in the Sikh way of life. If the present day woman has not been able to live upto this ideal, it is because she has not been properly educated in the Sikh way of life. Dr Radhakrishnan says, "Education should be imparted with a view to the type of society we wish to create." It is imperative, therefore, that proper attention is paid to women’s education in Sikh institutions, if we want to produce a generation of fine specimens of humanity seeking Sarbat Da Bhala Good For All.
By Prabjot Kaur, Lecturer, Deptt. of English, Govt College. SAS Nagar, Mohali