Gurbani and women

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From woman, man is born;

within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married.
Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come.
When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound.
So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.
From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all.

Guru Nanak, Raag Aasaa Mehal 1, Page 473

“Children are our gift to the world, money is for sustenance and a woman is our conscience”. (1048)

“O Nanak, meeting the True Guru, one comes to know the Perfect Way of life. While laughing, playing, dressing, and eating, he is liberated.”124“Such is the holy preceptor’s miracle that even living with progeny and wife, man can obtain state of supreme bliss” (SGGS 661).

“A married woman is the purest specimen of humanity” (SGGS P.872).

“A true householder must restrain his faculties. He should beg God for prayer, austere life, and self-discipline. He should involve himself in good charitable deeds. Such a householder is purer than the purest Ganges”. (SGGS P.952

“He alone has found the right way who eats what he earns through hard work and shares his earnings with the needy”. 1245

The Sikh Gurus were of the opinion that girls add to the aesthetic sense of a family. The affection between a brother and a sister is ideal.136 She casts a sobering influence on the brother which ennobles him. When the brother departs, a sister is the one who grieves the most and suffers great pangs of separation. “She calls out, Brother, O brother — stay, O brother!” But he becomes a stranger. The brother departs for his own home, and his sister burns with the pain of separation”. (SGGS P. 935)

Woman as wife

It was very necessary in the times of the Sikh Gurus to restore respect to the wives and consider them equal and praiseworthy. Guru Nanak set an example when he began addressing his wife “Parjat” (fulfiller of all desires).138 He always addressed his wife lovingly as prmySr kIey sul`KxIeyN (My dear blessed Sulakhni). Guru Arjan Dev wrote: “She is the most noble of all the family. She counsels and advises the elders and Youngers. How blessed is that household, in which she has appeared. In my home she is my leader. She is the ruler and the Guru has made us her courtiers”(SGGS P.371). 139 Not only this, the Guru went a step further and said that a faithful woman at home is comparatively much better than a nun. “A woman expresses special devotion, and has such an agreeable disposition. Her beauty is incomparable, and her character is perfect. The home where she dwells becomes praiseworthy”. (p370)

The Sikhs were restricted from treating women as playthings. They were to consider women other than their wives as daughters, sisters, and mothers depending on their ages.141 The ideal situation was described by Bhai Gurdas when he wrote “With one wife you are as good as a bachelor”.142 Illicit or extra marital relationships result in disease, disasters, and in some cases death. They were strictly forbidden to the Sikhs. We can now understand how the Guru’s wisdom can save humanity from the dangerous disease of AIDS. Although the Guru does not mention AIDS by name but his description clearly brings out the facts that are now commonly known. He writes, “For a momentary sexual pleasure he/she will suffer untold pain for a long time. Although these moments are glorious, they lead to a long period of regret” (SGGS P.403).143 The Guru then goes on to describe the type of pain adultery leads to. He writes, “As is the pain from a cobra-bite, so is the pain an adulterer suffers from adultery” (SGGS P. 403).

The Guru calls a wife bqIh sulKxI scu sMqiq pUq (having thirty two qualities) (pMnw 371)

Woman as repository of knowledge

The veteran Sikh poet, Bhai Gurdas, wrote that “decked with social knowledge and spirituality a woman is the gateway to salvation and harbinger of peace through firm faith”.145 For the first time in the history of the world, the Sikh Gurus offered the women equality in worship, equality in society, equality in preaching and freedom of thought and practice. The Gurus expected the Sikhs not to look down upon women as inferior or a source of temptation but as a sensible mentor. They condemned the undignified treatment meted out to women and rejected the idea that women were inherently evil and unclean.


Celibacy was a cloak for licentiousness and profligacy and the so-called saints, sidhs, monks, and yogis were corrupting the society. .146 People feared their noised about miraculous powers and did not dare murmur a word against them The Sikh Gurus called enforced celibacy a sham. They depicted the celibates and escapist Sidhs as runaways from social responsibilities and exposed the so-called chaste and celibate Brahmans and Sadhus as follows: “With bowl in hand, wearing his patched coat he goes about begging and desires pollute his mind. Abandoning his own wife, he is engrossed in sexual desire; his thoughts are on the wives of others”. 147

“You smear your outer body with ashes, but deep within, you are filled with darkness. You wear the patched coat and all the right clothes and robes of a mendicant, but you are still egotistical and proud”. 148(SGGS 1243) To the celibate nuns he said, “A woman is like a devoted follower. It is not proper for her to be without a husband”. (1268)

Purdah (veil)

Purdah150 was strictly enforced among women. The Muslims supported it because it is sanctioned by their religion but the Hindus adopted it to hide their daughters, mothers, and wives from the piercing eyes of the foreign invaders. The purdah proved ineffective in arresting the lustful glances of men but it certainly made women cowards and they came to be known as Abala (Powerless). Guru Amar Das regarded it an instrument of the suppression of modesty and condemned it. He did not allow the queen of Haripur to come to Sangat (religious assembly) unless she removed her veil. He said, “Away, Away, ladies who crouch in veil”. 151 All those women who followed the Guru’s advice became free and were described as follows; “False modesty that suppressed is ended Now with veil cast off I have started on the way of devotion”. (SGGS P. 931)152

The Sikh Rehat Maryada says, “It is not proper for a Sikh woman to wear a veil or keep her face hidden by veil or cover” (Article XIX F)


The custom of Sati was snubbed and strictly forbidden by the Sikh Gurus. Guru Nanak said a true widow is one who leads a pure life after her husband’s death. Guru Amar Das (1479- 1574AD) condemned Sati as follows: 154 “They are not Satis who burn themselves with their husbands, Rather they are Satis who die with the mere shock of separation from their husbands. And they too are considered Satis who abide in modesty and contentment. Who wait upon the Lord and rising in the morning ever remember him.” Again in Suhi Ki var the Guru argued “Women are burnt in fire with their husbands, If they appreciate their husbands they undergo sufficient pain by their death. If they appreciate them not, why should they burn at all?”(SGGS 787) 155 He sent Hukamnamas (edicts) far and wide asking his followers not to let women commit sati or wear veils and to preach vehemently against these cruel customs.156

Sutak/ Patak

It was believed in Hinduism that when a baby is born the woman giving birth to the baby becomes polluted and impure. This was called Sutak (sUqk). Such women were prohibited from entering the kitchen up to 30 days. The Sikh Gurus vigorously condemned this practice and said that impurity does not lie in human birth but in evil tendencies of the mind. The Guru condemned Sutak (sUqk) and said: “If pollution attaches to birth, then pollution is everywhere. Firewood and cow dung sustain life, All types of grain have life in them Even the life-giving water is not without life How can then we believe in pollution, when pollution inheres with staples? Nanak says: Pollution cannot be washed away by purification rituals. Pollution can only be removed through acquiring true knowledge”. (SGGS P.472)157

Gender differences

The Sikh Gurus preached that sex, social status, or race made no difference in spirituality. Guru Ram Das wrote: “In all beings is He himself pervasive, He pervades all forms male and female, Saith Nanak hidden from gaze He operates, By the Guru’s guidance manifested”. ( SGGS P.605)160 The Gurus preached that only ethically and spiritually enlightened pious women can raise great men. Women in general have more spiritual acumen than men.161 According to Sikhism God has no body, no gentilia and hence no sex, 162 He is all–soul and unborn. To label Him as male or female is patently absurd. Similarly one and the same conscious self is present in all beings. We should not think that we are male or female but only that we are human beings, born to cherish and be useful to one another. The Guru even went so far as to address God as husband and himself as His wife.163 He said that this fact is understood through intensification of spiritual awareness. The more a mind becomes inward-looking, the sooner the idea of difference disappears. The more a person is spiritually awake the more he transcends the limitations of sex and imbibes the spiritual oneness of humanity.164

The Guru asked his followers to forget the invidious distinctions of sex and join together in the praise of the Lord. He said, “Come my sisters and dear friends, clasp me in thy embrace like a friend. Meeting together let us tell the tales of our omnipresent spouse (God). In the True Lord are all merits and in us are all demerits.165 (SGGS P.17)

More Gurbani & quotes

“O my mind why go to the forests for seeking Him? The Omnipresent is with you. He is with you as is the fragrance in a flower or the image in a mirror. Similarly God resides within you where you should look for Him. The Guru tells us that outside and inside He is everywhere. O Nanak the doubts of mind are dispelled only by introspection.” 684

“Each of the Supreme Being Gurus under authority of God gave women equal status. They gained social and religious freedom at a time when the existing religions and society considered women to be property. The false notion that they were inherently evil and unclean was removed. A Woman was no longer regarded as temptation-incarnate. The Gurus exposed the folly of such notions”. (The Guru Granth Sahib is Divine by Janet Lant P.18)