Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Depiction of Women in Sikh scriptures, some selections

Sikhism is often considered a progressive religion, in that its founders shunned the caste-hierarchy and ritualism prevalent in Hinduism and Islam at that time. However, only its socio-cultural aspects can be considered moderately progressive; its spirituality is strictly orthodox and congruent with major Hindu beliefs in reincarnation, Maya, the timeless God, etc.

This article is a collection of some verses from the Adi Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs. These verses are either about women, or use revealing female metaphors to illustrate a point. Some of these metaphors betray the viewpoint that the writer of the verse held towards women.

First, a review of the book The Better Half of Sikh History. It is an important work written by a scholar under the supervision of a oft-maligned Sikh scholar, Harjot Oberoi.

From the article:
'The Ultimate' in Sikh scripture was most often conceived in masculine terms, as Akal Purakh, Karta Purakh' (p. 11). Moreover, 'numerous passages in the scripture associate woman with 'maya,' that which is sensual as opposed to spiritual (p. 11; Guru Granth, pp. 41, 796) [and] women are exalted when obedient and subservient as wives to their divine husbands and men are ridiculed when they are not dominant' (p. 12; Guru Granth, p. 304).

Now, the verses themselves:

Page 1352, concerning a man following a woman:
Mānas ko janam līn simran nah nimakẖ kīn.
Ḏārā sukẖ bẖa­i­o ḏīn pagahu parī bėrī.

You obtained this human life, but you have not remembered the Lord in meditation, even for an instant.

For the sake of pleasure, you have become subservient to your woman, and now your feet are bound.
Page 304, concerning a man following a woman:
Jorā ḏā ākẖi­ā purakẖ kamāvḏė sė apviṯ amėḏẖ kẖalā.
Kām vi­āpė kusuḏẖ nar sė jorā pucẖẖ cẖalā.

Those men who act according to the orders of women are impure, filthy and foolish.

Those impure men are engrossed in sexual desire; they consult their women and walk accordingly.
Page 871, regarding widow remarriage:
Kẖasam marai ṯa­o nār na rovai.
Us rakẖvārā a­uro hovai.
Rakẖvārė kā ho­ė binās.
Āgai narak īhā bẖog bilās.

When her husband dies, the woman does not cry.
Someone else becomes her protector.
When this protector dies,
he falls into the world of hell hereafter, for the sexual pleasures he enjoyed in this world.
Page 874, regarding being born as a woman:
Mahā mā­ī kī pūjā karai.
Nar sai nār ho­ė a­uṯarai.

One who worships the Great Goddess Maya
will be reincarnated as a woman, and not a man.
Page 303, regarding the status of an "abandoned woman":
Oh gẖar gẖar handẖai ji­o rann ḏohāgaṇ os nāl muhu joṛė os bẖī lacẖẖaṇ lā­i­ā.

He wanders from house to house like an abandoned woman; whoever associates with him is stained by the mark of evil as well.
Page 581, regarding the character of a husband-less woman:
Ha­o muṯẖ­ṛī ḏẖanḏẖai ḏẖāvaṇī­ā pir cẖẖodi­aṛī viḏẖaṇkārė.

I too have been defrauded, chasing after worldly entanglements; my Husband Lord has forsaken me - I practice the evil deeds of a wife without a spouse.
Page 651, regarding the status of a "wicked, forsaken woman":
Har jī­o ṯin kā ḏarsan nā karahu pāpisat haṯi­ārī.
Ohi gẖar gẖar fireh kusuḏẖ man ji­o ḏẖarkat nārī.

O Dear Lord, let me not even see them; they are the worst sinners and murderers.

They wander from house to house, with impure minds, like wicked, forsaken women.
Page 472, regarding the menstrual cycle:
Ji­o jorū sirnāvaṇī āvai vāro vār.
Jūṯẖė jūṯẖā mukẖ vasai niṯ niṯ ho­ė kẖu­ār.

As a woman has her periods, month after month,

so does falsehood dwell in the mouth of the false; they suffer forever, again and again.
Page 526, concerning thoughts about a woman:
Anṯ kāl jo isṯarī simrai aisī cẖinṯā meh jė marai.
Bėsvā jon val val a­uṯarai.

At the very last moment, he who thinks of women, and dies in such thoughts,

shall be reincarnated over and over again as a prostitute.
Page 1243, concerning a woman acting wise:
Rannā ho­ī­ā boḏẖī­ā puras ho­ė sa­ī­āḏ.
Sīl sanjam sucẖ bẖannī kẖāṇā kẖāj ahāj.

Women have become advisors, and men have become hunters.

Humility, self-control and purity have run away; people eat the uneatable, forbidden food.
Page 556, regarding one's progeny and wife:
Kalī anḏar nānkā jinnāʼn ḏā a­uṯār.
Puṯ jinūrā ḏẖī­a jinnūrī jorū jinna ḏā sikḏār.

In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, O Nanak, the demons have taken birth.

The son is a demon, and the daughter is a demon; the wife is the chief of the demons.


Paramdhama said...

Patriarchy is the norm among all Martial races. Sikhs with a strong tradition of war and fighters obviously had to be anti Women.

swarnjit said...

Sikh scriptures depict the then prevailing gender relations more by way of highlighting the relations between humans and the Supreme being.I think the gurus use the analogy of gender and the verses are not prescriptive nor are these normative.

Anonymous said...

The translation that you have produced here is literal... which I is not putting across the correct meaning of the verses.

I would suggest that one should avoid making any kind of statements until unless one has searched or studied a topic extensively; which does not seem to be the case here... please do let me know if you need any help in that regard.


Anonymous said...

Param you are totally wrong, Guru Nanak himself stated in verses, that men put down women, but that men are fools since who is it that gives birth to kings?

Anonymous said...


men are fools since who is it that gives birth to kings?

So a woman is valuable because she gives birth to "kings" (i.e. men)?