Sikh women who were source of inspiration

By Stuti Malhotra

The first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Devji, laid the foundation of equality between men and women by stating:  “Why should we talk ill of her, who gives birth to kings? The woman is born from woman; there is none without her.” (Guru Granth Sahib p 473)

By demonstrating great courage and valour, Sikh women became the backbone of their religion; they undertook different responsibilities at different times, ranging from running the community kitchen to fighting battles.

Mata Khivi, wife of the second of the 10 Sikh gurus, Guru Angad Dev, took the responsibility of langar, the community kitchen, and was an embodiment of selfless service. Her community kitchen would be open at all times. The Guru Granth Sahib mentions her thus: “Great was her shadow like that of a huge tree. Regularly and abundantly, she served the delicious rice pudding enriched with clarified butter and tasting like elixir, to the persons who visited the Guru.” (GGS, p 967)

Mata Khivi was instrumental in establishing the practice of langar which served all without any discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, gender or religion. The tradition of  langar continues till date and has become very much a part of Sikh identity. Mata Khivi broke the age-old practice of purdah and encouraged women to do self-less service in the community kitchen. She has been called as Mata as she would feed everyone with care and affection like a mother.

Mai Bhago, also known as Mata Bhag Kaur, was a disciple of the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh. She was born and brought up in a devout Sikh household and was instrumental in influencing the Sikhs who expressed ‘bedava’, dissent, against Guru Gobind Singh, to return to the Guru and fight for him valiantly under her leadership.  Mai Bhago is said to have saved the Sikh panth from disintegration at a crucial juncture, and is referred to as the Joan of Arc of Sikh history, an exemplary representation of bhakti and shakti.

On another occasion, when Mai Bhago learnt that the Mughal army was chasing Guru Gobind Singh, she dressed like a soldier, riding a horse and bearing a sword, led a military contingent to block the path of the Mughals and fought against them at Khidrana in what is known as the Battle of Mukatsar.

Guru Gobind Singh was pleased with the sacrifice of the brave Sikhs and called them ‘Muktas’, the liberated. From then on, Mai Bhago was always with Guru Gobind Singh, as part of his security. She played an exemplary role of a disciple whose  mettle is tested to the hilt, and also became a role model for women fraternity of the religion. Some historians also mention that the tradition of women wearing a turban was initiated by Mai Bhago.

Bhai Vir Singh, a Sikh writer and theologian, calls her the ‘Pole Star’ of the Sikhs who guides the lost travellers. She is a source of inspiration to the community till date.

It was due to the spirit infused by the Sikh Gurus that the remarkable character of Sikh women came to the fore and they played an important role in Sikh history.

The writer is a research scholar at Punjabi University, Patiala



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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