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Relocating gender in Sikh history : transformation, meaning and identity Jakobsh, Doris R. 2000

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RELOCATING GENDER IN SIKH HISTORY: TRANSFORMATION, MEANING AND IDENTITY by Doris R. Jakobsh B.A., The University of Waterloo, 1990 M.T.S., Harvard University, 1992 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Department of Asian Studies We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA December 1999 © Doris R. Jakobsh, 1999 All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by photocopy or by other means, without permission of the author. In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of A S I (X A The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date DE-6 (2/88) Abstract: The term 'gender' has been defined as an evolutionary, fluid construct; gendered realities are thus open to the vicissitudes of circumstance and time, emerging and developing with the shifting needs of the community within which they unfold. An analysis of gender construction is thus a useful mechanism to interpret the historical process on the whole. This theoretical position forms the framework for a reinterpretation of the Sikh community in the colonial context. The Sikh tradition itself has been part of an evolutionary process. From a primary focus on interior religiosity upon its inception, Sikhism developed into an increasingly militaristic order with highly prescribed exterior symbols and rituals. Accompanying this shift was a 'theology of difference', giving religious, symbolic and ritual sanctioning to a specific gender hierarchy. With a primary focus on male Sikh identity, female religious identity was relegated to a secondary position. Under-girding the annexation of Punjab into the British Empire were Victorian notions of the 'manly Christian', Christianized imperialism and chivalry, alongside rigid female ideals such as the 'helpmate'. The Sikhs came to be highly favoured by their imperial masters for their monotheistic ideals and what was perceived as their 'manly' and militaristic character. This hyper-masculine, militaristic construct, already enshrined within Sikh history through the creation of the Khalsa in 1699 received renewed emphasis by the British administration. The Singh Sabha reform movement initiated in the late-nineteenth century ingeniously accommodated selected aspects of the Victorian worldview into their reform agenda, particularly with regard to gender constructs. Leaders of the Singh Sabha began to actively safeguard Sikh interests in a political milieu increasingly defined by communal rivalry. A Sikh renaissance was born, bringing about a successful focus on linguistic concerns of the Sikhs, education, literature and a highly selective interpretive process of Sikh history and religion. Gender politics were pivotal to virtually all aspects of this endeavour. Novel interpretations and in certain instances 'inventions' of distinct female ritual traditions and symbolism alongside female educational initiatives fostering the 'ideal' Sikh woman were central to the objectives of the Singh Sabha reform movement. ii Table of Contents: Abstract ii Acknowledgements vi Table of Contents i i i Chapter 1 The Construction of Women in Sikh History 1 and Religion - Attitudes and Assumptions: An Overview of Secondary Sources 1.1 The Principle of Silence 4 1.2 The Principle of Negation 6 1.3 The Principle of Accommodation 9 1.4 The Principle of Idealization 16 1.5 Conclusion: Moving Beyond Description 20 Chapter U The Development of the Early Sikh Tradition: 25 A Gendered Perspective 2.1 The Milieu 26 2.2 The Early Guru Period 27 2.3 The Janam-sakhis 32 2.4 The Later Guru Period 45 2.5 Gender and the Theology of Difference 48 2.6 'The Wiles of Women' 57 2.7 The Chaupa Singh Rahit-nama 59 2.8 Conclusion 61 Chapter HI Of Colony and Gender: 65 The Politics of Difference and Similarity 3.1 Colonization and the Politics of Difference 71 3.2 Manliness, Morality and the Politics of Similarity 77 3.3 Constructions of Womanhood: The British in India 94 3.4 The Politics of Similarity and its Discontents 113 Chapter IV Contextualizing Reform in Nineteenth Century 117 Punjab: Continuity and Change 4.1 Dissension and Control: The Punjab Adrninistration and Kuka Reform 111 4.2 The Genesis of the Punjab Intelligentsia 126 4.3 Indian Reform, the Missionary Undertaking and the 'Women's Question' 140 4.4 Positioning Punjab's Womanhood: Indigenous Politics and Principles in the Colonial Milieu 149 4.5 Dissenting Visions of Gender Reform: Guru Ram Singh and the Namdhari Sikhs 157 4.6 Contextualizing Women's Reform in the Nineteenth Century: Contrasting Perspectives 165 4.7 Dayananda's Arya Samaj Movement and Singh Sabha Reforms: Contesting Claims and Rhetoric 169 Chapter V Education, Gender Codes and Politics 177 5.1 The Sikhs and Female Education: The Missionary Endeavour, Sikh Orthodox Tradition and Reform Initiatives: An Overview 181 5.2 The Tat Khalsa and its Educational Ideals 185 5.3 The Politics of Gender: The Home and the World 187 5.4 The Sikh Kanya Mahavidyala 201 5.5 The Politics of Language: A Gendered Perspective 205 5.6 The Sikh Educational Conference: Enlarging Female Space 208 5.7 Sikh Role Models and the Tat Khalsa: Crisis of Authority 213 5.8 The Political Milieu: Agitation and Allegiance 233 5.9 The Rhetoric of Reform, Education and the Politics of Patriotism 238 Chapter VI Redefining the Ritual Drama: The Feminization of Tradition 245 6.1 The Anand Marriage Bill: Gender Politics, Rhetoric and Reason 247 6.2 Extending Male Control 265 6.3 Popular Female Traditions and the Gentrified Imagination 275 6.4 Creation and Revision - The Feminization of Ritual 284 6.5 What's in a Name? Circumscribing Sikh Female Nomenclature 296 6.6 Re-defining the Sikh Code of Conduct in the Twentieth Century 309 6.7 Contemporary Scholars and the Rewriting of History 313 Chapter VTI Conclusions 318 7.1 Overview 319 7.2 Women in the Singh Sabha -Agents of Change or Casualties of Reform 322 7.3 Circumventing Hegemony: Alignment and Resistance 328 7.4 Women's Reform - Laying the Foundation for a New Era 332 Bibliography 335 v Acknowledgments: I am indebted and highly grateful to Dr. Harjot Oberoi of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, who supervised this doctoral dissertation and gave considerable time, highly qualified insight and kind support to my entire doctoral process. I am beholden to Dr. Kenneth Bryant and Dr. Mandakranta Bose as Readers of this thesis; they offered invaluable suggestions and moral support during the writing process and final reading. Dr. Margery Fee and Dr. Tineke Hellwig as University Examiners, Dr. Joy Dixon as Chair of the Examining Committee, and Dr. Gloria Goodwin Raheja of the University of Minnesota as External Examiner, along with my Supervisory Committee offered their critique, helpful suggestions and equitable questions during the thesis defense process. I am thankful to all for making the defense less intimidating and leading ultimately to an invaluable learning experience. The Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia has been consistently helpful and generous during these past years. I am particularly grateful to Mina Wong, graduate secretary of Asian Studies for her assistance and consistent kind wishes. As a recipient of the Asa Johal Fellowship in Asian Studies, I am most thankful to Mr. Asa Johal, who generously donated funds to the University of British Columbia for the purposes of supporting students in Sikh Studies. Above all, I wish to thank my partner Paul Roorda for his enduring patience, his truly profound strength and his constant, loving support. Lastly, I wish to thank our delightful children, Kaira and Jessen. Their profound wisdom as well as their insistence on integrity has been my mainstay. Doris R. Jakobsh December, 1999. Chapter One: The Construction of Women in Sikh History and Religion - Attitudes and Assumptions: An Overview of Secondary Sources The status of women was not an issue in Sikhism. Equality was implicit... Women are considered as an integral part of society who must not be excluded by any ritual or doctrinal consideration. Since rituals tend to be exclusive, they cannot be made part of a true faith. In other words, the position of women could be a touchstone for the genuineness of a faith.1 ********************** To know whether to take speakers seriously is difficult in a society that blurs the boundary between serious and strategic communication. When are promises or statements of intent, for instance, merely the casual talk of everyday life or strategic maneuvers in compromising situations rather than acts of serious communication?2 The study of history from a feminist perspective has not been given a great deal of attention in Sikh Studies. While Sikh apologetics repeatedly insist that men and women are inherently equal in the Sikh world view, in reality, historical writings say virtually nothing about women apart from minimal 'asides' referring to the occasional exceptional woman who has been deemed worthy enough to have made the pages of history. These 'exceptional' women are then typically held up as the standard by which to measure the egalitarian ethos of the Sikh tradition. Clarence McMullen notes that in speaking of religious beliefs and practices of the Sikhs there is the need to make the distinction between what he labels as normative and operative beliefs. Normative beliefs and practices are those which are officially stated and prescribed or proscribed by a recognized religious authority, which can be 1 Surinder Suri, "Position of Women in Sikhism," in Jyotsna Chatterji, ed The Authority of the Religions and the Status of Women, Banhi Series, Delhi: WCSRC-CISRS Joint Women's Programme and the William Carey Study and Research Centre, 1989, p. 112. 2 Richard K. Fenn, "The Sociology of Religion: A Critical Survey," in Tom Tottomore, Stefan Nowak, Magdalena Sokolowska, eds., Sociology. The State of the Art London: Sage Publications, 1982, p. 113. 2 a person, organization, or an official statement. Operative beliefs and practices, on the other hand, are those actually held by people.3 While McMullen utilizes these distinctions in his delineation of contemporary beliefs and practices of the Sikhs in rural Punjab, they are useful in analyzing the role and status of women from the larger theoretical perspective of history as well. With regard to the inherent egalitarianism of Sikh men and women, one writer notes: "[t]he Sikh woman has enjoyed superior status compared with her counterparts in other communities. She has earned this by showing the ability to stand by the side of her husband in difficult times."4 Yet, if women and men are inherently equal in the tradition in terms of roles and status, why are they not given similar representation in the pages of Sikh history? It is a question that can perhaps best be explained in light of McMullen's analysis of differentiation. Namely, what is officially touted as normative with regard to gender in history is not necessarily the same as the actual and operative aspects of the same Sikh history. Further, Harjot Oberoi has posited that the principles of 'silence' and 'negation' are paramount in addressing issues that could be conceived as ambiguous within the tradition.5 This chapter addresses the principles of 'accommodation' and 'idealization' 3 Clarence Osmond McMullen, Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Sikhs in Rural Punjab New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1989, p. 5. 4 Kanwaljit Kaur-Singh, "Sikhism," Jean Holm with John Bowker, eds., Women in Religion Themes in Religious Studies Series, London: Pinter Publishers, 1994, p. 152. s With regard to the principles of silence and negation, Oberoi notes: "In the Sikh case, historical texts are virtually silent about religious diversity, sectarian conflicts, nature worship, witchcraft, sorcery, spirits, magical healing, omens, wizards, miracle saints, goddesses, ancestral spirits, festivals, exorcism, astrology, divination, and village deities. When, occasionally, some of these are mentioned in historical texts, they serve to dress up an argument about how Sikhism was rapidly relapsing into Hinduism in the nineteenth century, how its adherents deviated from the 'true' articles of faith and subscribed to 'superstitious' and 'primitive' beliefs. Ultimately, this argument in official Sikh historiography goes on to establish that Sikhs were delivered from the bondage of un-Sikh beliefs by the intervention of the late-nineteenth-century Singh Sabha movement. Scholars who favour such interpretation are backing what I call the principle of negation. They are of the view that Singh Sabha reformers were in line with traditional Sikh doctrines when they opposed a large terrain of Sikh beliefs and practices in the nineteenth 3 along with those of 'silence' and 'negation', specifically with regard to the question of gender within the tradition. The Principle of Silence: The guiding principle within Sikh history is silence with regard to women. Given the traditional assumptions of history pertaining to the realms of politics and economics, historians have generally neglected women's history. Given the lack of tangible evidence with regard to women participating in the businesses of economics, war or politics, they have been viewed as having nothing to offer in the production of historical knowledge. It must also be underlined that given that women have not generally written their own histories, historical accounts are written through the lens of the male gender.6 What was and is important to men thus becomes the focus of historical analysis. Needless to say, the overwhelming impression one receives from Sikh historiography is that women do not have a history. From the silences surrounding women, their experiences and lives can only be perceived as inconsequential. Yet "[w]e know that besides history through century." Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries. Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 30-31. 6 Amrita Pritam, the celebrated poet and novelist was asked to write a poem for the five hundredth anniversary of Guru Nanak. She produced a work entitled "The Annunciation," which caused considerable uproar in Punjab and in the wider Indian community. Focusing on the hopes, dreams and bodily experiences of the pregnant Tripta, Guru Nanak's mother, it was not typical of the devotional poetry written for this quincentenary. Furthermore, the son is never even mentioned, the focus and silent acclamation being of his mother, the life giver of Guru Nanak. For Pritam it was enough, more than enough to become one with Mata Tripta as she awaited the birth of her extraordinary son. Nonetheless one becomes well aware of Pritam's love and devotion to Guru Nanak. See Amrita Pritam, Time and Again and other Poems Calcutta: United Writers, 1975, pp. 37-40. The outcry that followed the publication of the poem was ruthless, demanding that the poem be banned by the government, questioning how a lowly "love's worm" could attempt to write on so elevated a theme. It would appear that history, understood and presented from the perspective of the feminine can only be 4 mankind there exists a 'herstory'. Many aspects of this herstory have been wiped out so that it is quite difficult to reconstruct its basic elements."7 According to some feminist historians, history has less to do with facts than it has to do with the historians' perception of history. While historical writers have operated on the principle of objectivity, pursuing facts, stringing these bits of information together and thus presenting objective 'history', a new wave of scholarly analysis, including feminist theory argues that the process is not nearly as objective as was once believed. There has been a slow recognition that "the writing of history [is] a mental activity in its own right, somewhere between natural science and the writing of fiction."8 The historian thus has an active, creative role in the documentation of the process of history. The specific questions asked are of the essence. Through the questions addressed, one chooses to attend to certain aspects of history; presumably what is presented is in the writer's estimation more important than what is left out. When looking to Sikh women's history, we are told as much about the values of the chroniclers of history, as about the actual events surrounding women themselves. Consequently, one is faced with the often painstaking task of piecing together aspects of historiography which have been either disregarded or interpreted to fit into the dominant male world view of the time. Ultimately then, to know about the history of half the Sikh population, namely, male history, is a distorted history. Thus, integral to the study of women in Sikh history is the principle of stony silence, a vilified and postulated as incomparable to real history, that of the male perspective. See Amrita Pritam, Life and Times Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1989, p. 53. 7 Astrid Albrecht-Heide, "Women and War: Victims and Collaborators," in Eva Isaksson, ed., Women and the Military System London: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1988, p. 124. 8 Mineke Bosch, "Women's Culture in Women's History: Historical Notion or Feminist Vision?" in Maaike Meijer and Jetty Schaap, eds., Historiography of Women's Cultural Traditions Dordrecht: Foris Publications, 1987, p. 48. 5 mechanism utilized to deal with the discrepancies between Sikh ideology as egalitarian and women's exclusion from the process of history. The Principle of Negation: The second principle noted above is that of negation. Harjot Oberoi utilizes the axiom to point out how heterogeneic elements in Sikh history, those labeled as deviant, marginal, threatening or unimportant are negated in order to "generate homogeneity and represent the Sikhs as a collectivity which shared the same values and movements." 9 Though not dealing here specifically with the same issues of heterogeneity and homogeneity, the principle o f negation is particularly useful in exploring the ways in which ambiguous aspects o f a women-focused history have been presented. A n obvious example o f the principle o f negation in full force is a volume written by M . K . Gi l l , The Role and Status of Women in Sikhism.10 Though the title denotes an extensive analysis of the role o f women within Sikhism, Gi l l instead primarily focuses on what she presents as the "institution" o f the Guru Mahals, the wives of the Gurus. While giving attention to each Mahal within the tradition in terms of their achievements and contributions, she also addresses the fact that these women are simply not known within or outside o f the tradition; this in spite o f Gi l l 's presentation o f the Guru Mahals as integral to the very development o f the fledgling Sikh movement. While she mutely questions the indifference of Sikh historians regarding these women, she does not delve into their inattention to the mahals. For Gi l l "it is the attitude of the Gurus towards women which 9 Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries, p. 34. 6 becomes more important than the availability of material regarding the Guru Mahals."11 Gill purports that the Gurus unequivocally raised the status of women, despite the fact that Guru histories are, by and large, silent about the wives of the gurus. From Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh the wives have been treated as part of the historical background, not as individual in themselves...[Yet]...man does not communicate by words alone... even the silence of later historians all point to a sociological fact. It is the silence of respect that is accorded to womanhood in the Punjabi culture and ethos. It helps surround her with an invisible cloak of dignity...The silence that surrounds the Guru's family is an intrinsic feature of Sikh tradition.12 Negating the obvious, namely, that women, even the Guru Mahals have simply not been viewed as consequential in the history of the Sikh tradition, Gill maintains that the silence surrounding the Mahals is indicative of the respect given women in Sikhism. Further, Gill notes that after the death of the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, it was Mata Sundri, one of his three wives who for thirty-nine or forty years took over the political and spiritual leadership of the Khalsa. Ironically, this points to Mata Sundri leading the Sikh Panth longer than any of the nine Gurus subsequent to Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh tradition. Though Gill presents Mata Sundri as leading the Sikh Panth through one of its more difficult and divisive periods,13 she acknowledges that there is 1 0 M.K. Gill, The Role and Status of Women in Sikhism Delhi: National Book Shop, 1995. 1 1 Ibid., pp. 4-5. 1 2 Ibid., pp. 52-53. 1 3 Traditional sources maintain that after the death of Guru Gobind Singh, Banda Bahadur also emerged as one of the principal authority figures among the Sikhs. He became the leader of a schism group within the Khalsa known as the Bandei Khalsa. According to W.H. McLeod, the disputes between the so-called Tat Khalsa, or the 'true' Khalsa and the Bandei Khalsa stemmed from disagreements concerning proper forms of Khalsa observances. See W.H. McLeod, Who is a Sikh? The Problem of Sikh Identity Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 48. While Banda has come to be viewed as a rather mythical figure, an honoured warrior fighting for justice during a time of fierce persecution of the Sikhs, he was also the source of a tremendous rift in the fledgling Khalsa movement. Mata Sundri was at the helm of the Khalsa during the time period following Guru Gobind Singh's death. 7 surprisingly little known of her actual leadership.14 Accordingly she notes: "History is silent on this point, but the silence of history is merely a reflection of her personality."15 Though dealing more specifically with scriptural exegesis rather than with women of history, Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh's contributions too tend to fit into the paradigm of negation. Singh purports that "[b]reaking all patriarchal idols and icons, the Sikh sacred literature celebrates the feminine aspect of the Transcendent and poetically affirms the various associations and images that are born from her."16 Focusing on the ferninine grammatical forms and images within the Sikh scripture Singh insists that it is the feminine in its myriad of forms which is predorninant over the male.17 Yet, this prevalence of the female over the male is contestable, since the Ultimate in the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth is almost exclusively conceived in masculine terms, Akal Purakh, Karta Purakh, Purakh meaning 'man' in Punjabi. Singh continues that with regard to female imagery 1 4 To illustrate the lack of knowledge about the female leaders of the Khalsa, another writer depicts Mata Sahib Devon, another wife of the Gum as the leader of the Sikhs: "Punjabis venerate Mata Sahib Devan as the mother of the 'Khalsa'. She outiived her husband Guru Gobind Singh. She saved Sikhism from the schism into which it was about to fall after Banda's death. It was at her bidding that the martyr-saint, Bhai Mani Singh, was appointed the head priest of Harimander, now famous as the Golden temple." Joginder Singh "The Illustrious Women of Punjab," in Yash Kohli, ed., The Women of Punjab Bombay: Chic Publications, 1983, p. 7. 1 5 Gill, The Role and Status of Women in Sikhism, p. 59. 1 6 Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh, The feminine principle in the Sikh vision of the Transcendent Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 243-244. 1 7 Singh advocates the belief that the gurus, though male, understood their words, their message, to be female, in congruence with the feminine form of bani. "But the Sikh Word is not a masculine logos, it is the beautiful and formless bani. The Word proclaimed by the scriptures and secular writers of Sikhism is Woman." Ibid., p. 252. Yet, this grammatically feminine form of the sacred word is very much in line with the Vedic understanding of sacred speech, deified as the goddess Vac. What is not clear is whether the male gurus in fact understood their enunciation to be ferninine, or whether the representation of sacred speech in the feminine form is simply indicative of their surrounding social, cultural and religious surroundings. To move from a grammatically feminine form of speech to the theological underoinnings of the gurus' egalitarian ethos is conceivably more a reading into the term bani as opposed to the actual intent of the gurus. 8 within the Adi Granth, "[n]o negative associations belittle her."18 Yet numerous passages in the scripture associate woman with maya, that which is sensual as opposed to spiritual: Attachment to progeny, wife is poison None of these at the end is of any avail.19 Maya attachment is like a loose woman, A bad woman, given to casting spells.20 Further, while women are exalted when obedient and subservient as wife to her divine husband, men are ridiculed for those same characteristics: Men obedient to their womenfolk Are impure, filthy, stupid, Man lustful, impure, their womenfolk counsel follow.21 While the subject of women in the Guru tradition will be dealt with more extensively, suffice it to say that Singh's assertions, despite contrary evidence fit neatly into the parameters of the principle of negation outlined above.22 The Principle of Accommodation: Another principle that was utilized particularly by the Singh Sabha reformers in the late-nineteenth century is that of accommodation. And here a comparison of the effects Ibid., p . 4. 1 9 The following quotations from Sikh sacred scriptures, the Adi Granth are from the English translation by Gurubachan Singh Talib. Sri Guru Granth Sahib 4 Vols., Patiala: Punjabi University, 1987, hereafter citedasylG. See^lG, p. 41. 2 0 AG, p. 796. 21 AG, p. 304. 2 2 For a more detailed exploration of some of the issues raised here, see my "Gender Issues in Sikh Studies: Hermeneutics of Affirmation or Hermeneutics of Suspicion?" in Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald 9 of French colonialism in Muslim Algeria with the Singh Sabha reformers and British colonists is particularly helpful. Kay Boals writes about a reformist consciousness that developed among educated Muslim males after the colonization of Algeria. She notes that there is an attempt to accommodate the valuable aspects of the dominant culture, the colonial, and ground them in the tradition of Islam. What follows then is an endeavor to reform and reinterpret the religion and culture of the time. This process involves a reinterpretation of that tradition to read back into its past the genesis of ideas which in fact have been absorbed from the dominant culture...The reformists, however, must show that what they advocate has long been part of their own culture and is firmly rooted there, when in fact that is usually not the case. It is not hard to see that in such a dilemma one's desire to succeed would promote easy distortion of the tradition, distortion which is probably both conscious and unconscious.23 Further, reformers typically were thoroughly educated in Islamic law, while at the same time highly exposed to Western influences. According to Boals, this type of education was characteristically only open to men. Thus it was men that were at the forefront of reform, including attitudes and changes to gender relations. And although the reformist consciousness cannot be considered 'feminist' in any very far-reaching sense, the theoretical arguments put forth to reform Muslim practices in the realm of gender relations were advanced by men. "[RJeformist consciousness, by wanting to purify the tradition, takes that tradition very seriously as something of value to be reinterpreted for modern life. It is thus concerned with male-female relations, not directly in themselves, but rather Barrier, eds., The Transmission of the Sikh Heritage in the Diaspora New Delhi: Manohar Publishers and Distributors, 1996. 2 3 Kay Boals, "The Politics of Cultural Liberation: Male-Female Relations in Algeria," in Berenice A. Carroll, ed., Liberating Women's History. Theoretical and Critical Essays Uibana: University of Illinois Press,1976, pp. 198-199. 10 as they reflect the Koranic prescriptions (rightly interpreted and purified) for relationships between the sexes."24 Turning to the time and context of the Singh Sabhas in the late nineteenth century Sikh history one is faced with a similar scenario. Imbued by a liberal western education, decrying undesirable aspects of the Sikh tradition yet unwilling to reject that tradition outright, these "new elites" tended to walk the often shaky line of accommodation within the two often opposing worldviews. Ultimately, their focus was the reformation and reinterpretation of the Sikh tradition, made possible by their ascendancy into positions of power and prestige. Harjot Oberoi maintains that it was the development of print culture in Punjab along with their western education that gave the Sabha reformers the necessary tools to reinterpret the Sikh tradition. Adoption from the European enlightenment, particularly a rationalistic worldview necessitated the "etching" out of "a novel cultural map for Punjab that would define their aspirations and reflect the changed environment in the province."25 As in Algeria, the role and status of women was an important platform upon which the Singh Sabhas preached their reforms. There were a number of reasons for this focus. Christian missionary activities had begun an active campaign to reach both the outcastes of society as well as women, both groups relegated to the bottom of the Sikh and Hindu societal hierarchy. Missionaries began going into the homes, attracting women from the very bastions of protection in attempts to convert the populace to Christianity.26 Alarmed by these conversions, the reformers hastened to safeguard the Sikh tradition from the 2 4 Ibid., p. 203. 2 5 Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries, p. 277. 2 6 Rajiv A. Kapur, Sikh Separatism: The Politics of Faith London: Allen and Unwin, 1986, p. 15. 11 menacing activities of the missionaries. The emancipation of women, particularly through female education became a central issue for the Singh Sabha reformers. So too was the development of female role models in literature. The prolific writer Bhai Vir Singh wrote numerous novels with female figures playing central roles. The novel Sundri is perhaps his most famous, depicting a young woman who is true to the faith, devout and pure, active in battle, elevated at times to the status of a goddess.27 While the story is designed to advance the cause of Sikh women, it also attempts to glorify the status of Sikh women as compared to their Hindu and Muslim counterparts. And herein we find an important difference between the Algerian reformers whose main goal it was to accommodate positive aspects of colonial culture through the reinterpretation of those attitudes into their own tradition. In the Sikh case, reformers concurred with this aim yet had another equally important objective, namely, the need to show the complete separation of Sikhism from the dominant Hindu tradition.28 Thus, we have Sundri pleading with her fellow Sikhs: I entreat you to regard your women as equal partners and never ill-treat them with harshness and cruelty...In the Hindu Shastras...the woman as treated as Shudra - an outcast. All the Gurus have praised and commended women. In Guru Granth Sahib, woman has been eulogized and she has been given equal right of worship and recitation of the Holy Name.29 The need to show that this positive regard of women was integral to the Sikh tradition, as opposed to the oppressive Hindu religion and similar to the claims of the 2 7 Bhai Vir Singh, Sundri, tr., Gobind Singh Mansukhani, New Delhi: Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, 1988. 2 8 Kahan Singh Nabha's celebrated Ham Hindu nahin (We Are Not Hindus), is indicative of the Singh Sabha platform with regard to their absolute insistence on the separation of Sikhs and Hindus. See Kahan Singh Nabha, Ham Hindu nahin Amritsar, 4th edition, 1914, (first published by Khalsa Press, 1899). 2 9 Bhai Vir Singh, Sundri, p. 114. 12 Christian missionaries/colonizers was of utmost importance for the Singh Sabha reformers. Further, particularly in the novel Sundri, the context is the oppressive Muslim regime that is responsible for the plight of the valiant Sikhs. Much of the revitalization efforts must be seen in light of these anti-Ffindu, anti-Muslim, anti-Christian sentiments. This was particularly the case with regard to Sikh scripture, for only thus could it be 'proven' that the elevated position of women was a long-standing tradition within Sikhism. Given Guru Nanak's absorption in the Bhakti worldview of the fifteenth century, there was indeed evidence to support reformers' claims. J.S. Grewal, in describing the multi-faceted world of Bhakti during the time of Guru Nanak purports that while there was a good deal of rivalry between the various religious groups "many of the contestants had come to believe that salvation was the birthright of every human being irrespectful of his [sic] caste, creed or sex. On the whole it was a rich and lively religious atmosphere. And it was this atmosphere that Guru Nanak breathed."30 Thus, armed with hymns supporting their claims the reformers insisted that what they were advocating was very much in line with the original designs of the Sikh Gurus. Further, they increasingly presented the degradation of the Sikh tradition as a direct result of the derogatory influence of Hinduism, upon which the blame for all ills within Sikh society was heaped. It is the principle of accommodation that has characterized almost all subsequent engagement with regard to women and the Sikh tradition. Passages from the Granth which show positive regard for women as integral to the very core of the Sikh tradition are quoted and re-quoted, as are a few choice anecdotes from the lives of the Gurus with regard to the condemnation ofsati, pollution, purdah and female infanticide. This 3 0 J.S. Grewal, Guru Nanak in History Chandigarh: Publication Bureau, Panjab University, 1979, pp. 13 interpretation of Sikh history can perhaps best be captured by Eric Hobsbawm's understanding of'invented tradition'. He notes that "insofar as there is such reference to a historic past, the peculiarity of'invented' traditions is that the continuity with it is largely factitious. In short, they are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations..."31 In the case of the Sikh reformers, historical and theological 'inventions' with regard to the status of women must invariably be understood as innovative responses to the rapidly changing cultural and socio-economic world within which they had achieved hegemony. Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh is also very much in line with this principle of accommodation in her analysis of the goddess Durga in the writings of Guru Gobind Singh.32 She critiques the way many Sikh historians and writers have attempted to distance the Guru from passages celebrating the goddess Durga, striving to show that they were not actually written by Gobind Singh but by 'Hindu' elements within his entourage. 139-140. 3 1 Eric Hobsbawm, "Introduction: Inventing Tradition," Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 2. Hobsbawm adds that "[m]ore interesting, from our point of view, is the use of ancient materials to construct invented traditions of a novel type for quite novel purposes. A large store of such materials is accumulated in the past of any society, and an elaborate language of symbolic practice and communications is always available. Sometimes new traditions could be grafted on old ones, sometimes they could be devised by borrowing from the well-supplied warehouses of official ritual, symbolism and moral exhortation...". Ibid., p. 6. 3 2 The writings of Guru Gobind Singh, including his odes to the Goddess Durga were by popular account compiled by Bhai Mani Singh, the celebrated head of Harimandir in 1712-34. There is a great deal of controversy regarding this anthology, given the fact that Sikh theology is avowedly monotheistic, whereas in the Dasam Granth there is an unabashed celebration of the goddess as well as the erotic. Khushwant Singh, the noted Sikh writer states that "the lofty character and the value [Gobind Singh] set on spartan living do not go with prurience of the kind found in some of the passages of the Dasam Granth." Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume I: 1469-1839 Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991, Appendix 4, pp. 314-316. Yet Harjot Oberoi has shown that the Dasam Granth was held on par with the Adi Granth during the nineteenth century, its displacement as sacred scripture being a fairly recent development. See Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries, p. 99. 14 Nikki Singh decries this as a "not fully conscious fear of 'female power'.. " 3 3 Instead she insists that Guru Gobind Singh's incorporation of the deity is indicative of the positive Sikh attitude towards the ferninine, though these instances cannot be understood as goddess worship. Accentuating the continuity of the Gurus within the Sikh tradition Singh attempts to accommodate the writings of the tenth Guru and the clear rejection of the earlier Gurus of the goddess within the Sikh sacred scripture, particularly with regard to the following verse: Whoever worships the Great Mother Shall though man, be incarnate as woman.34 Singh maintains that Durga's great literary merit was upheld by Guru Gobind Singh who utilized the symbolism to "renovate and regenerate an effete society."35 Contrary to being a devotee of the great goddess Guru Gobind Singh is posited as an insightful artist. Yet one must wonder where literary license ends and veneration begins. In what appears to be an uncompromising tribute to Durga, the Dasam Granth states: The sovereign deity on earth Enwrapped in all the regal pomp To you be the victory, O you of mighty arms.36 Historical research has indicated that remnants of the feminine, the goddess, are present in all traditions that are indubitably monotheistic and androcentric. According to one such historian, the question that needs to be answered is: "Why did monotheism attempt to get rid of the goddess? Could it have anything to do with androcentrism and 3 3 Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh, The feminine principle, p. 123. 34 AG, p. 874. 3 5 Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh, The feminine principle, p. 131. 3 6 Akal Ustati, Dasam Granth Sahib, Vol. I, p. 44. 15 patriarchy? Feminist studies of the Ancient Near East make it overwhelrningly obvious that such is the case."37 In the Durga mythology of the Dasam Granth, Sikhs have the goddess in their midst. To draw an unrealistically rigid line between the recognition of Durga's literary merit and actual homage to the goddess is to miss an opportunity to explore how and why a system did away with the feminine which was so obviously and critically integrated into early Sikh society. Indeed, Singh's selective endorsement of the writings of Guru Gobind Singh adheres well to the principle of accommodation outlined above. She attempts to reinterpret aspects of the female goddess tradition in a manner reflecting its emancipatory qualities for women, while not fully exploring the implications of Durga mythology for the Sikh tradition. The Principle of Idealization: The fourth principle utilized in Sikh history with regard to women is that of idealization. Similar to the principle of accommodation, idealization is an extension of the former, with important differences. Namely, while the positive strains of scripture too are upheld as normative and of ultimate authority, the dorninant need is not so much to reform the tradition as to idealize aspects of history and scripture as they pertain to women. Glorified examples of Sikh women who lived exceptional lives, mainly as warrior-figures -Mai Bhago in Guru Gobind Singh's retinue,38 Sada Kaur, the mother-in-law of Maharajah 3 7 Rita M. Gross, "Studying Women and Religion: Conclusions Twenty-Five Years Later," in Arvind Sharma, ed., Today's Woman in World Religions Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 355. 3 8 Mai Bhago is a much celebrated woman warrior who is held up by Sikhs as an example of the honour and bravery of Sikh women. Tradition tells of forty Sikh men who had staunchly remained with the Guru 16 Ranjit Singh39 and Bibi Sahib Kaur,40 are presented as women whose illustrious deeds are the result of the "transformation... of Guru Nanak's philosophy in action that preaches equality among the human beings irrespective of caste, creed, or sex."41 Similarly, M.K. Gill in her treatment of the Guru Mahals notes with regard to a particular gurdwara bearing Mata Sundri's name: [It] is not merely a historical monument...It is rather, a cherished haven of refuge where the devotee finds inner peace and his sense of emptiness is washed away...Mata Sundri has a place among the few who are immortal, ever living. For hundreds of people today it is a matter of a daily relationship with her memory.42 Given that Gill remonstrates earlier that few Sikhs are even knowledgeable about the basic facts of Mata Sundri's life, this effort to uplift the name and contributions of Mata Sundri must be understood in light of the principle of idealization. through the last days at Anandpur, yet finally fearing for their lives, left the battlefield and returned home. Mai Bhago is presented as taunting them for their cowardice, and then taking them under her command to return to fight at the side of Guru Gobind Singh in the battle of Muktsar. Macauliffe adds that she donned male attire and "fought heroically in their ranks, disposed of several of her Muhammadan opponents, and transmitted her name as an Indian heroine for the admiration of future generations." Max Arthur Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion. It's Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, Volume V, Delhi: Low Price Publications, 1990, p. 213. 3 9 Sada Kaur is distinguished as the chief architect of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's remarkable rise to power, as well as having considerable influence over the young Maharaja in niling the rather volatile region. Upon her husband Gurbakhsh Singh's demise, she masterminded the alliance of her own Kanhaya Misl with that of the Sukerchukias Misl, that of young Ranjit, through his union with her infant daughter Mehtab. After the death of his father this alliance left Ranjit in a potentially powerful position. Furthermore, Sada Kaur was not about to give up her predominant position with the maturing of Ranjit Singh. It was she who ventured against the Afghans in battle, alongside Ranjit Singh. "She is remembered as one of the greatest generals of her time even in the Afghan records." Joginder Singh, "The Illustrious Women of Punjab," in Yash Kohli, ed., The Women of Punjab, p. 7. 4 0 Bibi Sahib Kaur has been memorialized through the words of General George Thomas, who noted that "she was a better man than her brother," in defending the capital city of Patiala during Thomas' expedition of 1798. On another occasion this "woman of masculine and intrepid spirit" again defied the wishes of her brother [Raja Sahib Singh] and countered George Thomas in the invasion of Jind. With Kaur's rallying of the previously beleaguered Sikh troops, the historian Gupta notes that "this proved to be a turning point in the course of the siege." Hari Ram Gupta, History of the Sikhs, Volume 3, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1980, pp. 293, 300, 301. 4 1 Gulcharan Singh, "Women's Lib in Sikh Scriptures & Sociology," The Sikh Review Vol. XXXVI (Mar. 1988), No. 411, p. 43. 17 Rita Gross maintains that in traditional historical accounts, when women are mentioned in the annals of history it is only because they deviate from the norm. In other words, exceptional women are uplifted when they play a part in what is considered to be 'normative history'. [A]ndrocentric thmking deals with them [exceptional women] only as objects exterior to humankind, needing to be explained and fitted in somewhere, having the same epistemological and ontological status as trees, unicorns, deities, and other objects that must be discussed to make experience intelligible.43 In the paradigms representing Sikh women's history outlined above, specifically that of the principle of idealization, but accommodation as well, unicorns are presented as normative and indicative of the romanticizing tendencies of the Singh Sabhas and those who unquestioningly follow in their footsteps. Further, the occasional woman of note was generally situated in the uppermost echelon of society. As wives and sisters of Rajas they certainly did not lead lives which were very much akin to their contemporaries. In many ways then, they conjure up false images as to the roles and status of women in Sikh society. Returning once again to Clarence McMullen's observations, there is a vast divide between that which is normative and that which is operative in traditional Sikh history as it pertains to women. In the examples noted above, it is specifically Nikki Singh who situates herself squarely within western fenunist theological traditions. And yet, many feminist scholars within the study of religion insist that the central challenge in religious studies, as in other fields, is its delineation and critique of androcentrism. This is something Singh has not 4 2 G i l l , The Role and Status of Women, pp. 51-52. 18 done. In other words, she has not delved into the ambiguous aspects within the tradition in relation to scripture. As pointed out earlier, while there are women-affirming tendencies within the Adi Granth, there are also those which support the subordination of women. The feminist theologians that Nikki Singh pays tribute to in her volume insist that to expose androcentrism within religious traditions includes a move beyond sheer affirmation, which in Singh's case is achieved through the unearthing of female principles within Sikh scripture and literature. It involves, ultimately, invoking a 'hermeneutic of suspicion' following the model of Paul Ricoeur;44 for there is a complex interplay between religion and social change. Nancy Falk has noted that "religion is among the foremost of institutions which conserve society, encoding stabilizing worldviews and values, and transmitting these from generation to generation."45 It is only upon a process of unmasking the androcentric presumptions of writers and their writings, including sacred scripture, only upon a suspicious reading entailing a thorough evaluation of the inherent sexist attitudes and practices within religious and historical works that one is enabled to understand the sources and symbols within the tradition which sustain the subordination of women throughout history. 4 3 Gross, "Studying Women and Religion: Conclusions Twenty-Five Years Later," Arvind Sharma, ed., Today's Woman in World Religions, p. 333. 4 4 Paul Ricoeur defines the hermeneutic of suspicion as "sett[ing] out from an original negation, advanc[ing] through a work of deciphering and ...struggl[ing] against masks, and finally...put in the quest of a new affirmation." Charles E. Reagan and David Stewart, eds., The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. An Anthology of His Work Boston: Beacon Press, 1978, p. 217. 4 5 Nancy Falk, "Introduction," in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Ellison Banks Findly, eds., Women, Religion, and Social Change Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, p. xv. 19 Conclusion: Moving Beyond Description Much of what has been presented as the construction of women within Sikh history and religion fits largely into what ferninist historians have characterized as a descriptive approach, or 'her-story' approach to the history of women.46 This first wave of feminist history, namely, the resurrection of lost women, as well as a reassessment of activities which have traditionally been deemed as unworthy of fulfilling the requirements of important or 'real' history has been a critical aspect of the rewriting of history. Yet, while 'her-story' is fundamental in addressing the paucity of historical knowledge about women, it does not confront the issue of how the hierarchy of male/female, dominant/subordinate are constructed and legitimated throughout history. As historian Joan Wallach Scott insists, a more radical feminist epistemology is necessary in the study of history.47 The emphasis on "how" suggests a study of processes, not of origins, of multiple rather than single causes, of rhetoric rather than ideology or consciousness. It does not abandon attention to structures and institutions, but it does insist that we need to understand what these organizations mean in order to understand how they work.48 4 6 Joan Wallach Scott notes with regard to the 'her-story' approach to feminist history: "As the play on the word "history" implied, the point was to give value to an experience that had been ignored (hence devalued) and to insist on female agency in the making of history. Men were but one group of actors; whether their experiences were similar or different, women had to be taken explicidy into account by historians." Gender and the Politics of History Gender and Culture Series, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988, p. 18. 4 7 Scott advocates a post-structuralist approach to history. She purports that "[p]recisely because it addresses questions of epistemology, relativizes the status of all knowledge, links knowledge and power, and theorizes these in terms of the operations of difference, I think post-structuralism (or at least some of the approaches generally associated with Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida) can offer feminism a powerful analytic perspective. I am not suggesting the dogmatic application of any particular philosopher's teachings and I am aware of feminist critiques of them... [yet] the openings they provide to new intellectual directions have proved not only promising but frritful." Ibid., p. 4. 4 8 Ibid., p. 4. 20 Michel Foucault's analysis of the domain of the private, and by implication, the feminine is based on an understanding of power as dispersed constellations of unequal relationships discursively constituted in social 'fields of force.' His understanding is particularly useful in coming to an understanding of how unequal relations are created and sustained.49 Advocating a different perspective, Pierre Bourdieu emphasizes another source of power that he defines as "symbolic relations of power," which "tend to reproduce and to reinforce the power relations that constitute the structure of social space."50 These go beyond, though they are not exclusive of economic and political spheres but include power located within language, religion, education, art, and ideology, areas where women's participation is more readily accessible.51 Ultimately, it is imperative that historical research move beyond descriptions of Sikh history as it pertains exclusively to women. Without doubt, historical records have traditionally been written within the patriarchal framework; 'man' is normative, the object of study, his habits, his contributions, his worldview. 'Woman' is generally the contradiction, the outsider, the passive onlooker in the process of history. In attempting to construct a truer, more encompassing perspective of history, one inclusive of both male and female realities, feminist historians have necessarily re-written and reinterpreted many events covered in the annals of history from the perspective of women. This has also involved a transformation of the notions of time and space to include not only those within which women act, but has also shifted to domains normatively considered exclusively 4 9 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction New York: Vintage, 1980, pp. 97-98. 5 0 Pierre Bourdieu, "Social Space and Symbolic Power," Sociological Theory 111 (Spring 1989), p. 21. 21 'male space' to include a new, wider range of activity. It has called for a retrunking of historiography as a whole, often necessitating a pushing against the well-established boundaries of disciplines.52 This process has been characterized by Nita Kumar as finding the "fault-lines" in the larger patriarchal structures;53 positioning a spot-light on areas where inconsistencies or surface cleavages with regard to gender activity occur. While this is a necessary aspect of this particular study, another equally important aspect necessitates movement beyond the unveiling of women's activity in history to understanding how gender is actually constructed throughout historical time. Thus views of gender identity as 'natural' and primordial are challenged. Scott for instance, advocates an understanding that gender as constructed for both women and men has significant consequences. She notes: The term "gender" suggests that relations between the sexes are a primary aspect of social organization (rather than following from, say, economic or demographic pressures); that the terms of male and female identities are in large part culturally determined (not produced by individuals or collectivities entirely on their own); and that differences between the sexes constitute and are constituted by hierarchical social structures.54 5 1 See Fatma Miige Gocek and Shiva Balaghi, "Reconstructing Gender in the Middle East Through Voice and Experience," in Fatma Miige Gflcek and Shiva Balaghi, eds., Reconstructing Gender in the Middle East. Tradition, Identity, and Power New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, pp. 8-9. 5 2 Nita Kumar summarizes the process as such: "At the broadest level, our latest concerns included unveiling the covered, listening to the muted, looking for hidden meanings - all discovering a separate, parallel discourse for women within the larger context of a normative, more familiar male-centred discourse...The goal...was to move forward from the previous discussion of women as 'paradox' - the benevolent-malevolent model - to see latent models in the parallel, subversive use of symbols by actors in hidden ways; indeed, to see actors where none had been acknowledged as existing." "Introduction," Women as Subjects. South Asian Histories Nita Kumar, ed., Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, p. 2-3. 5 3 Ibid., p. 6. 5 4 Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, p. 25. Cautiously supportive of the understanding of gender as opposed to 'women', Ruth Behar notes that "[a]cademic feminism has reached an interesting crossroads...Now "gender" is the burning issue. Have we lost the courage to speak of women, plain and simple? I hope not. I want to think that studying gender is part of the new feminist desire to understand how the construction of identity, for women and men, has crucial consequences. At last, we are realizing that we all are in this together. On the female side...there is a lingering fear of betrayal. But gender embodies hope: the hope that opening up feminism 22 This then inexorably involves an understanding that each aspect of reality is gendered and that the historical process invites a deliberate investigation into the ways and means of gender construction. In speaking specifically about Sikh history, what is the process whereby the category of woman, the category of man is constructed? How have these categories changed over time? Were there specific instances, moments in history where this construction process assumed vital importance to the self-understanding of the developing Sikh community? This study attempts to pursue questions regarding the correlation between historical knowledge and gender relations on a broader scale, particularly during the era of colonization when the Singh Sabha movement came to the fore. While the object of this study focuses on the construction of gender in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a more substantial understanding of those events also necessitates an overview of gender in the early and later guru periods. Further, what role did gender constructs play in the milieu of colonialism, both on the part of the colonizers and in the corresponding responses of the indigenous elites leading the reform endeavours of the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Punjab? As opposed to a detailing of the roles and status of specific players of the colonial realm, this study will attempt an analysis of the political, social, and religious structures of the colonial realm from the perspective of gender construction. To move from a descriptive approach in an attempt to resolve these and other questions will necessarily result in moving beyond existing histories and engender the rewriting of history. With regard to the construction of women in Sikh history and to include men will not, once again, make women invisible." Ruth Behar, "Gender, Identity, and 23 religion, alternative approaches are more likely to scrutinize all aspects of past, without the need to idealize on one hand, or relegate to silence on the other. Anthropology," Gocek and Balaghi, eds., Reconstructing Gender in the Middle East, p. 81. 24 Chapter Two: The Development of the Early Sikh Tradition: A Gendered Perspective How does one acquire a story? The culture in which one is horn already has an image of time, of the self, of heroism, of ambition, offulfillment. It burns its heroes and archetypes deeply into one's psyche.' The Milieu: While examining traditional historical accounts of the Sikhs, there is little evidence that women were in any way active participants in the developing community. Born in the fifteenth century in northern India with the birth of Guru Nanak, a Hindu from the Khatri caste, sources have inevitably focused on the exploits of this first guru. In the milieu surrounding Guru Nanak, Islam had become the dominant religion with the conquering of India by the Mughals. And yet, Islam in fifteenth century India had a very different constitution than the Islam in many other parts of the world. Few could go on pilgrimage to Mecca; instead, local shrines became the focus of pilgrimage and devotion. J.S. Grewal has pointed out that the mental culture of the average Muslim was filled with magic, folklore and superstition. In the Punjab, the most important forms of Muslim life were represented by various sects within Sufism. Sufism was increasingly chronicled in the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries as having penetrated all echelons of Indo-Muslim society. Within the Sufi worldview, both women and men were called into a life of mystical devotion to God.2 Alongside the Muslim religious culture, and perhaps more importantly in terms of numbers and religious forms, the indigenous orders of medieval Hinduism flourished. These were largely regional outgrowths of the Bhakti movement (devotion toward a divine being) which started in Tamil country in the 7th century. Three 1 Michael Novak, Ascent of the Mountain, Flight of the Dove. An Invitation to Religious Studies New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1971, p. 49. 26 major sects of the time were the Shaivites, Vaishnavites, and Shaktas. In all three sects, gender and caste affiliation did not stand in the way of discipleship. Furthermore, varied forms of popular religion were practiced in combination with 'higher' forms of religion. For the common villager, worship of the sun, moon, rivers, godlings, and ancestors was customary; the appeasement of malevolent spirits was part of daily ritual activity.3 Given the multiplicity of religious forms in medieval India, it is hardly surprising that ideas, rituals and practices were often adopted from the prevailing milieu, their meanings merging into one another adding to the richness of the religious culture. More importantly for the purposes of this study, caste and gender were on the whole no longer considered valid obstacles to the attainment of liberation.4 And significantly, this was the atmosphere that Guru Nanak, born in 1469, lived and breathed. The Early Guru Period: Guru Nanak has been characterized as fitting squarely within the sant tradition of Northern India, the sant parampara which rejected all worship of incarnations and Hindu forms of professional asceticism, discarded the authority of the Vedas and other scriptures and opposed the ritual barriers between high and low castes. Further, the sants stressed the use of vernacular languages in their rejection of orthodoxy. Central to their doctrines and binding them were their ethical ideals and the notion of interiority - rituals, pilgrimages and idols were worthless in the quest for liberation. Loving adoration to the Ultimate was 2 J.S. Grewal, Guru Nanak in History Chandigarh: Publication Bureau, Panjab University, 1979, p. 103. 3 Ibid., p. 136. 4 Ibid., pp. 139-140. 27 what mattered. The overwhelming similarities between the various sects who lived by these ideals has been characterized by W. H. McLeod as the sant synthesis, a combination of the Vaisnava tradition and the Nath tradition, with possible elements of Sufism as well.5 What the sants also had in common was a stress on the necessity of devotion and practice, repetition of the Divine Name, devotion to the divine Guru (satguru) and the need for the company of the sants (satsang). To understand Guru Nanak's attitude toward women and gender in general, it is useful to compare his theological underpinnings with that of Kabir, the "fountainhead" of the sant synthesis.6 Particularly with regard to Kabir's attitude toward women, there appears to be a subtle break in the similarities between the two. J. S. Grewal explains this in terms of their relative standing in the sant tradition of northern India. It would appear that one of the strands of the sant synthesis, hathyoga, was much less important to Guru Nanak than to Kabir. The woman in hathyoga is the tigress of the night, the great temptress in the path of the yogi who aims at subduing and sublimating all sexual desire. She is the greatest obstacle in his path. His denunciation of the woman is in direct proportion to the perceived threat. Kabir goes a long way with the yogis in sharing this attitude. Guru Nanak, by contrast, denounces the yogis for their strict renunciation, including their ideal of subduing sexual desire. He has great appreciation for the house-holder.7 5 W.H. McLeod, The Sikhs. History, Religion, and Society New York: Columbia University Press, 1098. p. 25. 6 Karine Schomer characterizes Kabir as the "fountainhead" of the sant synthesis. Though living 150 years earlier than Guru Nanak, the similarity of their teaching is striking, and as Schomer points out, it is precisely this aspect as opposed to historical connection or institutional foci that closely binds Guru Nanak and Kabir. Certainly, in the sacred scriptures of the Sikhs, the Adi Granth, the compositions of Kabir figure largely. Karine Schomer and W.H. McLeod, eds., The Sants. Studies in a Devotional Tradition in India Berkeley and Delhi: Berkeley Religious Studies Series and Motilal Banarsidass, 1987, p. 5. 7 J.S. Grewal, "A gender perspective of Guru Nanak," in Kiran Pawar, ed., Women in Indian History. Social, Economic, Political and Cultural Perspectives New Delhi: Vision & Venture, 1996, p. 150. Karine Schomer has pointed out that one basic difference between the writings of Kabir selected and compiled in the Adi Granth and the Kabir Granthavali lies in their treatment of the feminine. Kabir's tirades against women, found in the Kabir Granthavali, are totally absent in the Adi Granth. Schomer notes, "This absence must be related to the fact that the GG [Guru Granth] was compiled for a religious 28 In Guru Nanak's writings and for subsequent gurus, "there is a range of views - positive, negative, and ambivalent - suggesting a tension between an inward psychological struggle and an outward social decorum."8 Clearly, the message of Nanak maintains that women and members of the lower castes were not in any way barred from attaining enlightenment, the highest purpose of human life.9 However, procreation and specifically the procreation of sons is an important element of Nanak's vision for the ideal woman. An oft quoted verse, supposedly indicative of Guru Nanak's positive evaluation of womanhood, points instead to an appreciation of woman given their pivotal role in the procreative process. We are conceived in the woman's womb and we grow in it. We are engaged to women and we wed them. Through the woman's cooperation new generations are born. If one woman dies, we seek another; without the woman there can be no bond. Why call her bad who gives birth to rajas'} The woman herself is born of the woman, and none comes into this world without the woman; Nanak, the true one alone is independent of the woman.10 community of householders rather than solitary spiritual seekers." Karine Schomer, "Kabir in the Guru Granth Sahib: An Exploratory Essay," Mark Juergensmeyer and N. Gerald Barrier, eds., Sikh Studies. Comparative Pe