Concepts in sikhism

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VAHIGURU (G. S. Talib) also spelt and pronounced Vahguru, is the distinctive name of the Supreme Being in the Sikh dispensation, like Yahweh in Judaism and Allah in Islam. In Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, the term does not figure in the compositions of the Gurus, though it occurs therein, both as Vahiguru and Vahguru, in the hymns of Bhatt Gayand, the bard contemporary with Guru Arjan, Nanak V (1553-1606), and also in the Varan of Bhai Gurdas. Guru Gobind Singh, Nanak X (1666-1708), used Vahiguru in the invocatory formula (Ik Onkar Sri Vahiguru ji ki Fateh, besides the traditional Ik Onkar Satigur Prasadi) at the beginning of some of his compositions as well as in the Sikh salutation (Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa Vahiguru ji ki Fateh varied as Sri Vahiguru ji ki Fateh). Bhai Gurdas at one place in his Varan (I.49) construes vahiguru as an acrostic using the first consonants of the names of four divine incarnations of the Hindu tradition appearing in four successive eons. Some classical Sikh scholars, such as Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Santokh Singh and Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, taking this poetic interpretation seriously, have traced the origin of the term in ancient mythology. Modern scholars, however, affirm that the name Vahiguru is owed originally to the Gurus, most likely to the founder of the faith, Guru Nanak, himself. According to this view, Vahiguru is a compound of two words, one from Persian and the other from Sanskrit, joined in a symbiotic relationship to define the indefinable, indescribable Ultimate Reality. Vah in Persian is an interjection of wonder and admiration, and guru (Sanskrit guru: heavy, weighty, great, venerable; a spiritual parent or preceptor) has been frequently used by Guru Nanak and his successors for satiguru (True Guru) or God. Bhai Santokh Singh, in Sri Gur Nanak Prakash (pp. 1249-51), reporting Guru Nanak’s testament to the Sikhs has thus explicated Vahiguru: Vah is wonder at the Divine might; gu is spiritual darkness while ru is illumination brought to eliminate this darkness. Cumulatively, the name implies wonder at the Divine Light eliminating spiritual darkness. It might also imply, “Hail the Lord whose name eliminates spiritual darkness.” Earlier, Bhai Mani Singh, Sikhan di Bhagat Mala, gave a similar explication, also on the authority of Guru Nanak. Considering the two constituents of Vahiguru (vahi + guru) implying the state of wondrous ecstasy and offering of homage to the Lord, the first one was brought distinctly and prominently into the devotional system by Guru Nanak, who has made use of this interjection, as in Majh ki Var (stanza 24), and Suhi ki Var, sloka to pauri 10.

Apart from the use of this interjection, the attitude of wonder and total submission at the sight of Divine Greatness is prominently visible in Guru Nanak as evidenced for example in the hymn in Dhanasari: “gagan mai thalu ravi chandu dipak bane tarika mandal janak moti (GG, 663); in measure Suhi: “kaun taraji kavanu tula tera kavanu saraphu bulava” (GG, 730); and in Japu: “kete pavan pani vaisantar kete kan mahes, kete barame gharati ghariahi rup rang ke ves” (GG, 7). In Asa ki Var (GG, 462-75) the opening sloka to pauri 3 is woven round vismadvismadu nad vismadu ved, wondrous is the sound, wondrous the wisdom. Wonder and ecstasy are expressed at the cosmic order and its mystery full of contradictions, yet all comprehended in the Divinely-appointed system. This sloka concludes with: “Ever present to our gaze is wonder. At the sight of this mystery are we wonderstruck. Only by supreme good fortune is it unravelled.” In the opening sloka to paruri 4—bhai vichi pavanu vahai sadvau, in (the Lord’s) fear bloweth the wind with its myriad breezes—is expressed wonder at the cosmic “fear” under which the universe operates in obedience to the Divine Law, the Lord alone being exempt from such fear.

In Japu, besides other themes, one that stands out prominent is wonder at the cosmic order, its infinitude and the mystery of its moral élan. As a matter of fact, the theme of Japu may be said to be what occurs in the course of stanza 4: vadiai vicharu (contemplation of Divine infinity). In stanza 16, for example, is the expression of wonder at the limitlessness of space. Stanzas 17-19, each beginning with asankh (infinite), are uttered in the same mood.

In stanza 22—patala patal lakh agasa agas, countless the worlds beneath, countless the worlds above—is a vision of the limitlessness of the universe. So are stanzas 24, 25, 26, 27, 32, 34, 35 and 36. It is in response to this overwhelming vision of Guru Nanak that the unique Name of the Supreme Being, Vahiguru, originated. No other name could have been adequate to express what in his vision he found lying at the heart of the cosmos, compelling a response in the human self attuned to devotion and ecstasy.

Guru Amar Das has also employed the term in Gujari ki Var (GG, 514-16) and in Astpadis in Malar (GG. 1277). In the former, it is calculated that the interjection vahu-vahu (Hail, hail the Lord) is used as many as 96 times. The interjection vahu (hail, wondrous is the Lord) occurs in Guru Ram Das in conjunction with Satiguru (compounded from Guru) in sloka 2 in Sloka Varan te Vadhik (GG, 1421). In Guru Arjan by whose time the formulation Vahiguru appears to have become current and acquired distinctiveness as the Name Divine, the phrase ‘Gur Vahu’ figures in Asa measure (GG, 376). This is only as inverted form of Vahiguru and has the same force and significance. Kavi Santokh Singh in Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth (p. 5686) uses the two terms as synonymous: “simrahu vahiguru guru vahi, or contemplate ye Vahiguru, the Lord all hail.”

The earliest use of Vahiguru, in this form, is traceable to Varan by Bhai Gurdas and to Gayand’s hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. In both it may be said to have occurred contemporaneously, for while no date can be assigned to Bhai Gurdas’ Varan, the work may be assumed to have appeared soon after the compilation of the Scripture in 1604, being so much alive with its spirit and phraseology. Gayand in the course of his lines encomiastic of Guru Ram Das (GG. 1403) made use of Vahiguru as the supreme Name Divine in recognition of the primacy and appeal it had by then come to acquire in the Sikh tradition. In this Savaiyya numbered 11, the term occurs twice as Vah Guru. Earlier in that numbered 6, it is repeated thrice as Vahiguru in the opening line, expressing fervour of devotion. So also in the concluding line of Savaiyya 7. In Savaiyya 12, Vahu Vahu (Wonder, personifying the Lord) signifies the Supreme marvel, embracing the infinitude of the universe. In Savaiyya 13, this name is used twice once as Vahiguru in the opening line and Vah Guru in the last line. In the concluding line of Savaiyya 8, Vahiguru is used thrice, concluding with the interjection Vahi (Hail).

Some relevant lines from Bhai Gurdas, Varan, may also be reproduced here: vahiguru guru sabadu lai piram piala chupi chabola, putting faith in Vahiguru, the Master’s teaching, the seeker drains in peace and tranquillity the cup of devotion (IV. 17); “paunu guru gursabadu hai vahiguru gur sabadu sunaia, paunguru is the Master’s word wherethrough he imparted the holy name Vahiguru (VI. 5); vahiguru salahna guru sabadu alae, to laud the Lord let me give utterance to the Master’s Word (IX. 13); satiguru purakh daial hoi vahiguru sachu mantra sunaia, the holy Master in his grace imparted to the seeker the sacred incantation Vahiguru (XI. 3); nirankaru akasu kari joti Sarup anup dikhaia, bed kateb agochara vahiguru gursabadu sunaia, the Formless Lord manifesting himself granted sight of His unique effulgent self and imparted to the seeker the Word Vahiguru, that is beyond the ken of Vedas and the Muslim Scriptures” (XII. 17); vahiguru gurmantra hai japi haumai khoi, Vahiguru is the Master’s incantation. By repeating it egoism is cast out (XIII. 2); dharamsal kartarpuru sadh sangati sachkhandu vasaia, vahiguru gur sabadu sunaia, Guru Nanak in the temple at Kartarpur established the Realm Eternal as the holy congregation, and imparted to it the Divine Word Vahiguru (XXIV. 1); sati namu karta purakhu vahiguru vichi ridai samae, let the seeker lodge in his heart the holy Name, the creator immanent, Vahiguru” (XL. 22). In these verses, Vahiguru signifies the supreme name Divine, to which devotion may be offered. It is transcendent and annular of sin and evil, thus combining in itself the ‘attributed’ and the ‘unattributed’ aspects in consonance with the Sikh doctrine voiced in the Scripture. The main point is that by Guru Arjan’s time and after, this name over all others was established as the object of devotion. The term received the final seal in the time of Guru Gobind Singh.

Vahiguru is for Sikhs the gurmantra (invocatory formula received from the guru) or nam for repetition (silently or aloud, with or without a rosary) and meditation upon the Supreme Reality. Bhai Gurdas in his Varan refers to it variously as japu mantra (invocation for repetition), guru sabadu (the Guru’s Word), sachu mantra (true mantra) and gurmantra. It is also called nam (the Name), and is sometimes compounded as “Satinam-Vahiguru” to be chanted aloud in congregations. Nam japna (repeated utterance of God’s Name, i.e. Vahiguru) is one of the three cardinal moral principles of Sikhism, the other two being kirat karni or honest labour and vand chhakna or sharing one’s victuals with the needy. Since the manifestation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, Vahiguru has been part of the Sikh salutation: Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh (Hail the Khalsa who belongs to the Lord God! Hail the Lord God to whom belongs the victory! ! ). It has since also been the gurmantra imparted formally at initiation to the novitiate by the leader of the Panj Piare administering the rites.


1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1959

2. Gurdas, Bhai, Varan. Amritsar, 1962

3. Mani Singh, Bhai, Sikhan di Bhagat Mala. Amritsar, 1955

4. Santokh Singh, Bhai, Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth. Amritsar, 1927-35

5. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

G. S. T.
VAHIGURU JI KA KHALSA VAHIGURU JI KI FATEH (G. S. Talib), form of Sikh salutation, was made current among the Sikhs by command of Guru Gobind Singh at the time of the manifestation of the Khalsa in 1699. The salutation used in the days of Guru Nanak was Sati Kartar (Hail the Creator, the Eternal). This is how he, according to the Puratan Janam Sakhi, his oldest biography, greeted those he met. Some accounts of his life, such as that by Hariji, mention other similar forms of greeting, one among those being Raja Ram Sati (Hail the Holy Creator!) In the hukamnamas or letters sent to sangats by the Gurus prior to Guru Gobind Singh’s time, the opening greeting used to be: Guru Sati (Hail the Eternal Lord!) which is only an inverted form of Satiguru. Other forms of salutation such as Ram Sati (Hail God the Eternal!) and respectful salutations like Pairin-Pauna (I fall at thy feet) were also current among the generality of Sikhs. Namaskar (I bow to thee) was in use in greeting the holy, or offering worship to God. Such greetings are specifically mentioned or hinted at in the older writings.

With the development of the Sikh creed in the time of Guru Nanak’s successors and the propagation of a new tradition basing itself on a monotheism whose roots, however, were Indian, as against the prevalent polytheism, pantheism and, at the higher levels, henotheism, a new terminology came into existence which distinguished the Sikh faith from the numerous creeds prevalent at the time. Names like Ik Onkar, Oankar, Parbrahm were favoured above others for the Godhead: Hari, Narayana and Rama acquired greater currency compared to other names drawn from mythology. But the particular names of God which constituted a kind of differentia of Sikh society were Nirankar (Formless), Kartar (Creator), Sachcha Patshah (True or Eternal King), Satiguru and Vahiguru. Guru is Lord, Master, and Vahiguru is expressive of wonder or ecstasy at Divine infinitude or glory, with the implied sense of name. Vahiguru has become the most characteristic name for God in the Sikh creed, like Allah in Islam. It occurs in the Guru Granth Sahib (Savaiyyas, Mahala IV by Bhatt Gayand, page 1402) repeated ecstatically as a mantra. In the compositions of Guru Arjan (GG, 376), it is used in the inverted form as Gur Vahu. Bhai Gurdas in his Varan has used it as being synonymous with the Absolute, the Creator in a number of places (I. 49, IV. 17, VI. 5, IX. 13, XI. 3 & 8, XII. 17, XIII. 2, XXIV. 1. XL. 22). This prolific use by one whose philosophical exposition of Sikh metaphysics and mysticism is the earliest on record, indicates that by the time of Guru Arjan (the Savaiyyas referred to above were also composed by poets (Bhatts) attending on him). Vahiguru as the Sikh name for God was well established and had acquired the overtones which have since been associated with it as expression of the Sikh monotheistic affirmation of faith.

Because of this close and inalienable association, Guru Gobind Singh at the time of introducing the new form of initiation to the faith, with adjuration to the initiates to maintain a stern moral discipline and to cultivate qualities of crusaders and martyrs for the faith, administered the new faith in terms of the name of God which was held in the highest reverence in the tradition handed down to him. The new form of salutation, which annulled all the previous ones till then prevalent in Sikh society, was enunciation as Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa Vahiguru ji ki Fateh—the Khalsa is the Lord’s own: to the Lord is the Victory. This two-fold affirmation was, in the first place, expression of a special relationship between God and those who dedicated their entire life to His service. Second, it was the expression of that faith in the ultimate triumph of the forces of Goodness which despite all apparent setbacks, trials and travail, is the just and essential end of the fight between good and evil in the world. This faith has been asserted over and over again by Guru Nanak and his spiritual successors. After being administered amrit (water stirred with a two-edged dagger; sanctified by recitation of the Guru’s word and thus transmuted into the elixir of immortality), each initiate was adjured to raise the affirmation, Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa Vahiguru ji ki Fateh! This was duly repeated, and the tradition continues till this day. Apart from being used as the affirmation of faith, this formula is also the orthodox, approved Sikh form of salutation.

Two terms in this formula need elucidation. Khalsa is an Arabic word, meaning, literally, ‘pure’ and used in the administration terminology of the Muslim State system in India for the lands or fiefs directly held by the sovereign and not farmed out to landlords on certain conditions of military service and of making over to the State a share of the produce. In the term khalsa, both these meanings are discerned. In one of Guru Hargobind’s Hukamnamas and in one of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s khalsa is used for the Guru’s devotees, with the implication particularly as ‘the Guru’s Own!’ As Guru Gobind Singh adopted the term and gave it centrality in the enunciation of the creed, the idea of purity perhaps came to acquire primacy. When Guru Gobind Singh sent a set of youths to Varanasi to study Sanskrit, they were given the appellation Nirmala which is the Sanskrit-based parallel to the Arabic khalsa. Nirmalas are now a Sikh sect, who have maintained traditions of high scholarship. Khalsa occurs also in the Guru Granth Sahib (GG, 654) where it is used in the sense of pure’, ‘emancipated.’ This term appealed to Guru Gobind Singh as being truly expressive of the vision of a noble, heroic race of men that he was creating.

Fateh, fatah in Arabic, literally means opening or forcing the portal of a besieged fort, implying victory. It has been used in the Qura’n in the sense of victory, and one of the attributive names of God in the Muslim tradition is Fattah (lit. Opener, i.e. Vanquisher over all evil forces). While jai, jaikar have been used in the Sikh tradition for victory and are used thus even in the Dasam Granth, jai was dropped from the new Sikh tradition, though for shouts of victory the term jaikara has become firmly established. Fateh was adopted as the current popular term for triumph or victory and made part of the Sikh affirmation and salutation. Fateh as fatih occurs once in the Guru Granth Sahib “phahe kate mite gavan fatih bhai mani jit—the noose of Yama hath been cleft, transmigration hath ceased and, with the conquest of the self, true victory hath been achieved” (GG, 258). The implied meaning here is of a moral victory. Jit, a word from Indian tradition, like jaikara has got established also in Sikh tradition, and in the invocation Panth ki Jit (Victory of the Panth) is repeated in the Sikh collective prayer daily. Fateh nonetheless remains the prime Sikh term for victory, and has been repeated again and again in Sikh history, down from the Persian couplet put on Sikh coins (Deg-o-Tegh-o-Fateh-e-nusrat bedarang, yaft az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh) to the common daily parlance of the Sikh people, wherein every success is designated as fateh.


1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, n. d.

2. Padam, Piara Singh, ed., Rahitname. Amritsar, 1989

3. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, Guru Khalsa de Nisan te Hukamname. Amritsar, 1967

4. Randhir Singh, ed., Prem Sumarag Granth. Jalandhar, 1965

G. S. T.
VAK (P. S. Sambhi), from Sanskrit vaka (sounding, speaking; a text, recitation or formula) or vakya (speech, saying, statement, declaration, a sentence or period), has a special connotation in the Sikh system. In Sikh terminology, Vak means the command or lesson read from the Guru Granth Sahib. Vak laina or hukam laina (obtaining or receiving the Guru’s word or command) is for the Sikhs tantamount to having a darshan or audience of the Guru Granth Sahib, ever-present Guru for them. It is an act of seeking the counsel or instruction of the Guru who ‘speaks’ through the vak or hymn recited aloud. Customarily, vak or hukam is recited in sangat by an officiant after the installation or opening of the Guru Granth Sahib in the morning and every time after ardas or supplicatory prayer is said at the end of the service. Vak or hukam may be read individually by the seeker from the Holy Book in the gurdwara or in his own home or he may request the granthi (officiant) or any one else present to read it out for him.

The Sikh Rahit Maryada or the code governing Sikh belief and practice published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, statutorily elected religious body representative of the entire Sikh community, lays down the following procedure under the head hukam laina:

  1. To bow before the Guru Granth Sahib, respectfully to attend the sangat which

truly represents the Guru, and to recite or listen to vak amounts to having

the darshan or sight of the True Guru. To have a sight of the Guru Granth

Sahib by uncovering it and then not to read the vak is manmat or self-willed transgression.

(b) During the congregation, only one thing should take place at a time—kirtan, discourse or scripture-reading.

(c) During the congregation, only a Sikh (man or woman) is entitled to sit in attendance of the Guru Granth Sahib.

(d) While any one, Sikh or non-Sikh, may read the Scripture for himself, only a Sikh should read it aloud for the sangat.

(e) For obtaining vak, the hymn at the top of the left hand page of Guru Granth Sahib opened at random should be read out from the beginning. If the beginning is at the preceding page, the leaf may be turned. A complete hymn should be read ending with the line where usually the name Nanak appears.

  1. Hukam should also be picked from the holy book at the end to mark the close

of the ceremony.

Vak thus recited in slow rhythm and with correct intonation makes impact on the listeners. It is taken to be the Guru’s command for the day. Historically, there have been instances when theological or even mundane disputes have been settled by having recourse to vak. For example, on 12 October 1920, when the priests of the Harimandar refused to accept the sacrament (karah prasad) brought by a group of the so-called low-castes, it was agreed to obtain the Guru’s verdict. The priests agreed. As the custom goes, the Guru Granth Sahib was opened at random and the words read impromptu went unambiguously in favour of the reformers. This was accepted without argument and without question. Such reliance on vak arises from the belief of the devotees that the bani of Guru Granth Sahib is revelation enjoying Divine sanction.


1. Sikh Rahit Maryada. Amritsar, n.d

  1. Cole, W. Owen, The Guru is Sikhism. London, 1982

P. S. S.
WOMEN IN SIKHISM (G. S. Talib). Women who had many equal privileges with the menfolk in Vedic India were reduced to a position of utter subordination during the time of the lawgivers. In the codes and institutes laid down in the dharmasastras they were given the status of sudras. They were declared to be intrinsically impure and unfit, hence ineligible, even for listening to the recital of sacred texts and receiving religious instruction or initiation. The inherent attraction of the female was considered to be a temptation to sin, and man had to remain on guard all the time. Woman was maya, illusion; “nature had designed her for the enjoyment of man” and she had “no other function than to serve him.”

With the Muslims came pardah, the veil, and zananah, confinement of womenfolk to the interior apartments. The female became a greater liability for the male of the invaded populace who, weakened economically, had not only to feed his female dependants but also to be ready to protect their honour and chastity in those troubled times. This, among other causes, social as well as cultural, led to the practice of female infanticide, as also of child marriage. The state of a widow was the most pitiable. Polygamy was permissible for man, but a woman could not remarry even after the death of her husband. The smrtis enjoined upon the widow to practise sahamarana, lit. simultaneous death, commonly known as sati, by burning herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. Where concession was made and the widow allowed to live on, being pregnant or having infant children, for instance, she remained ostracized from society, submitting herself to rigorous discipline of self-denial.

With the advent of Sikhism appeared a liberating force in Indian society. Affirmation of the dignity of the human being, male as well as female, was central to Guru Nanak’s teaching. His mystical vision of the immanence of the Creator in all of His creation was concretized in a forceful enunciation of the gospel of equality. Guru Nanak said that all creatures were equal before God and that to make distinctions among them on the grounds of birth or sex was sinful. For women especially, he had many bold and sympathetic words to say. Quoted most often in this respect are verses from Asa ki Var, a long composition sung in sangat in the morning service. “Of woman are we born, of woman conceived; to woman engaged, to woman married. Women are befriended, by woman is the civilization continued. When woman dies, woman is sought for. It is by woman that the entire social order is maintained. Then why call her evil of whom are great men born?”

In another stanza in Asa ki Var, Guru Nanak rejects the prevalent superstition of sutak, according to which a woman giving birth to a child remains in pollution for a given number of days, depending upon the caste to which she belongs. Pollution is not in childbirth, says Guru Nanak “Greed is the pollution of the mind; lying the pollution of the tongue; looking with covetousness upon another’s wealth, upon another’s wife, upon the beauty of another’s wife the pollution of the eye; listening to slander the pollution of the ears. The pollution in which they commonly believe is all superstition. Birth and death are by Divine Will; by Divine Will men come and go” (GG, 472). As against celibacy and renunciation, Guru Nanak recommended grhastha, the life of a householder, in which husband and wife were equal partners. Fidelity was enjoined upon both. In the sacred verse, domestic felicity was presented as a cherished ideal and conjugal life provided a running metaphor for the expression of love for the Divine. Bhai Gurdas, poet of early Sikhism and authoritative interpreter of Sikh doctrine, pays high tribute to womankind. “A woman,” he says (Varan, V.16), “is the favourite in her parental home loved dearly by her father and mother. In the home of her in-laws, she is the pillar of the family, the guarantee of its good fortune. . . Sharing in spiritual wisdom and enlightenment and with noble qualities endowed, a woman, the other half of man, escorts him to the door of liberation.”

To ensure equal status for women, the Gurus made no distinction between the sexes in matters of initiation, instruction or participation in sangat, holy fellowship, and pangat, commensality. According to Sarup Das Bhalla, Mahima Prakash, Guru Amar Das disfavoured the use of veil by women. He assigned women to the responsibility of supervising the communities of disciples in certain sectors, and preached against the custom of sati. Sikh history records the names of several ladies such as Mai Bhago, Mata Sundari, Rani Sahib Kaur, Rani Sada Kaur and Maharani Jind Kaur who played a leading role in the events of their time and left their imprint on them.

In the tumultuous decades of the eighteenth century when Sikhs went through fierce persecution, the women displayed exemplary steadfastness. Their deeds of heroism and sacrifice are to this day recounted morning and evening by the Sikhs in their ardas. “Our mothers and sisters,” they repeat every time in their prayer, “who plied handmills in the jails of Mannu, the Mughal governor of Lahore (1748-53), grinding daily a maund-and-a-quarter of corn each, who saw their children being hacked to pieces in front of their eyes, but who uttered not a moan from their lips and remained steadfast in their Sikh faith—recall their spirit of fortitude and sacrifice, and say, Vahiguru, Glory be to God!”

Even in those days of severe trial and suffering, Sikhs were guided in their treatment of the womenfolk of enemy captured in battle by the highest standards of chivalry. They showed towards them utmost respect. In AD 1763, for instance, one of Ahmad Shah Durrani’s generals, Jahan Khan, was defeated by the Sikhs at Sialkot and a number of his female relations and dependants fell into their hands. “But” says ‘Ali ud-Din, in his ’Ibratnamah, “as the Sikhs of old would not lay their hands on women, they had them escorted safely to Jammu.” Another Muslim chronicler, Ghulam Muhaiy ud-Din, vituperates the Sikhs in his Fatuhat Namah-i-Samadi, yet he does not fail to notice the esteem they had for women. “They (i.e. the Sikhs),” he records in his book, “look upon all women in the light of mothers.” This is how a Sikh was defined by Bhai Gurdas a century earlier. He said, “A Sikh casting his eyes upon the handsome womenfolk of families other than his own regards them as his mothers, sisters and daughters.”

Such being the respect for womanhood among the Sikhs, monogamy has been the rule for them, and polygamy a rare exception. Female infanticide is prohibited. The Rahitnamas, codes of conduct, prohibit Sikhs from having any contact or relationship with those who indulge in this practice. As for sati widow-burning, Scripture itself rejects it.

In a sabda (hymn) in measure Suhi, Guru Amar Das says, “Satis are not those that burn themselves on the husband’s funeral pyre; satis are they, O Nanak, who die of the pangs of separation (GG, 787)”. Stanza follows: “They, too be reckoned satis who live virtuously and contentedly in the service of the Lord, ever cherishing Him in their hearts”. “Some”, continues the sabda, “burn themselves along with their dead husbands: [but they need not, for] if they really loved them they would endure the pain alive.” As a practical step towards discouraging the practice of sati, Sikhism permitted remarriage of widows.

In the present-day democratic system in India, women as a whole have been rid of many of their disabilities. They all enjoy political franchise and many new opportunities for advancement have opened up for them. Sikh women have shown enterprise in several fields and are among the most progressive in education and in the professions such as teaching and medicine. In the Sikh system, they are the equals of men in all respects. They can lead congregational services and participate in akhand paths, uninterrupted readings of scripture to be accomplished within forty-eight hours. They vote with men periodically to elect Sikhs’ central religious body, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which administers their places of worship.


1. Sabdarath Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1975

2. Baig, Tara Ali, India’s Women Power. Delhi, 1976

3. Marenco, Ethne K., The Transformation of Sikh Society, Portland, Oregon, 1974

4. Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh, The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent. Cambridge, 1994

G. S. T.

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