For centuries the Sikh women have been asking the wrong questions when it comes to doing seva at Harmandir Sahib. As long as they keep asking why, they will always be told that’s the way it is and has been. It’s time for the Sikh women to ask, “Since when is women not doing seva at Harmandir Sahib a tradition?” and most importantly, “Since when is it okay to follow tradition without a second thought?” If tradition is okay to follow, has the time come to shut one of the four doors to Harmandir Sahib?
The defense for not allowing women to do seva at Harmandir Sahib has always been tradition. Women simply never do seva at Harmandir Sahib Ji. Did this tradition start before or after Guru Amar Das Ji sent both men and women to be masands and lead Sikhs? If it started from the time of Guru Amar Das Ji, who started the work on Harmandir Sahib, why would he elevate the women to the same status as men, only to drop them back down? The tradition of women not doing seva at Harmandir Sahib is contradictory to the teachings of Guru Amar Das Ji. Guru Amar Das Ji was the first Sikh Guru to go out of his way to bring equality amongst men and women. He asked for women not to be “sati” (burned at the pyre with their husbands), women to forgo the “purdah” (the veil) and advocated widow remarriage. Then Guru Ji went one step farther and made women masands, also to show that in his eyes men and women are equal. There is no greater insult to the memory of Guru Amar Das Ji than to say women can’t do seva at Harmandir Sahib because that’s tradition.
Did this tradition start before or after Guru Arjun Dev Ji asked Hazrat Mian Mir Ji to lay the foundation of Harmandir Sahib? Guru Arjun Dev Ji asked a Muslim to lay the foundation of Harmandir Sahib to show that in the House of God one is not judged by caste, creed or religion. By forbidding women to join in Seva at Harmandir Sahib Ji, it’s like saying Guru Arjun Dev Ji taught us people are not judged by caste, creed or religion in the House of God but by sex. That men no matter what religion, caste or creed are equal, but women are second class citizens. For Guru Arjun Dev Ji to think like that he would have to disrespect his grandfather Guru Amar Das Ji and his teachings, which is unimaginable for any Sikh. But since Guru Arjun Dev Ji believed in and agreed with his grandfather’s teachings he kept four doors to Harmandir Sahib.
Harmandir Sahib has four doors so any person, regardless of caste, creed, religion or sex can enter. By saying that women are not allowed to partake in the seva at Harmandir Sahib, the fourth door that is opening for a person of any sex to enter is being shut. Since the door is being shut in the minds of Sikhs and non-Sikhs around the world, I challenge people that don’t believe women should be allowed to do seva at Harmandir Sahib to physically close the door also. No explanation of Harmandir Sahib is complete without the explanation of the four entrances into Harmandir Sahib. If the four doors no longer stand for what Guru Arjun Dev Ji wanted them to stand for, is it right to have four doors?
The people that are advocating women not be allowed to do seva at Harmandir Sahib should think back to the punishment of Satta and Balvand. They were punished by Guru Arjun Dev Ji when they claimed that Guru would lose followers without their kirtan. Satta and Balvand were Kirtania in the House of God since the times of Guru Angad Dev Ji and served through the time of Guru Arjun Dev Ji, at which time they became greedy and egotistic. They had requested Guru Ji to allow them all the money earned one day so they could have money for a marriage in the family. Guru Ji agreed but when the collection was less than usual, the two asked for money from Guru Ji, who refused saying it was the money of the sangat, and they had to ask the sangat. At that point they boasted all that money was theirs anyways because without them singing beautiful kirtan nobody would donate. They were banished from the court of Guru Arjun Dev Ji and from that day on anyone from the sangat could do kirtan. Guru Arjun Dev Ji did not say only the men could do kirtan, he said anyone. Satta and Balvand suffered terribly for their ignorance, till one man blacken his face (as required by Guru Arjun Dev Ji for anyone that bought the two back to be forgiven) and bought the two back to Guru Arjun Dev Ji to apologize. Oh, foolish man, which woman will blacken her face to bring you to the true lord for you to be forgiven your sin for thinking seva is only your birth right?
Many men in Sikh history have thought they had certain rights just for being born in the home of the Gurus. One such man was Prithi Chand, the brother of Guru Arjun Dev Ji and son of Guru Amar Das; he had thought being born into the home Guru Amar Das Ji automatically made him the 5th Guru. He did not know that the title of Guru came to those with great hearts, with great deeds, with love; the very things he lacked. And when Guru Ram Das Ji passed him over and gave the Gurship to his younger brother, Prithi Chand was filled with great hatred. Over the years he would try many a techniques to become Guru and be unsuccessful at each one till the time period of Guru Teg Bahudar Ji. During the time between Guru Harkrishan Ji leaving to be with Waheguru, and Guru Teg Bahudar being declared Guru, Prithi Chand’s grandson, Sodhi Harji, saw an opportunity to declare himself Guru. Sodhi Harji led the members of Sodhi family (the family in which the Gurship was passed down after the time Guru Amar Das Ji) and the greedy masands (over time the masands became greedy seeing the dasvand sent to the Gurus) to take over the control of Harmandir Sahib. Prithi Chand’s followers declared his grandson, Sodhi Harji, Guru and closed the doors on the true Guru, Guru Teg Bahudar Ji.
It was the women of Amritsar who realized that Guru Teg Bahudar Ji was the true Guru, not Prithi Chand, and led the way to Guru Teg Bahudar Ji singing Gurbani to ask for forgiveness. Guru Ji saw the courage and devotion they had to have to go against the men of Amritsar to come to the true Guru and ask for forgiveness for a sin they didn’t commit. Seeing their courage and devotion Guru Ji said “Ever blessed by God be the women of Amritsar”. The false Guru was not happy that the women went against the men to the true Guru and received his blessings. The blessings made the false Guru angry, and he took his anger out on the women by punishing them. What can be more of a punishment for a true gurusikh then being kept away from doing seva of the Guru? The women believed that Guru Teg Bahudar Ji was the true guru. And when the true Guru can be kept away from Harmandir Sahib and Adi Granth, why can’t the women? The True Guru had always preached equality. But all the false Guru cared about was being called Guru. They punished those that stood in their way of being Guru, whether it was by creating trouble for the Guru’s using the Mogul rulers, by trying to kill Guru Hargobind as a child, by keeping Guru Teg Bahudar Ji from Harmandir Sahib or by stopping the women from doing seva in Harmandir Sahib. The women were stopped because they didn’t believe Prithi Chand was the true Guru and at the moment he was in control of Harmandir Sahib. Why would Prithi Chand or his followers allow for someone that didn’t believe in him to do seva for something he had control over? It is only logical this tradition of only men doing seva was started by Prithi Chand and his followers. By stopping the women from seva, you become a Sikh of Prithi Chand, not that of the true ten Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
Women’s not doing seva is a false Sikh tradition started by Prithi Chand and his followers to punish the Sikh women for being blessed by the True Guru. But even if it was not, it does not make it right. When the only explanation you can come up with for something is that it’s tradition, something is not right. Tradition does not make it an acceptable practice and by saying it does, we are saying we don’t believe in the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first Sikh Guru and his primary purpose was to stop meaningless traditions, in the process helping us get closer to Waheguru. In the life stories of Guru Nanak Dev Ji you’ll see many examples of Guru Ji ending traditions and practices that made no sense or made one person better than another. One such popular story is that of Guru Nanak Dev Ji going to the Ganga River, watching the Hindus throw water towards the sun to their ancestors, he turns around and starts throwing it to his fields. If the water couldn’t reach his fields, how could it reach the sun and the ancestors? Thus Guru Nanak Dev Ji broke a century old tradition within a few minutes. If our Gurus didn’t believe that traditions meant something is right, then why do we their Sikhs believe that.
Why don’t we listen to Guru Granth Sahib Ji, our hearts and our minds and make the right decision. For centuries the men at Harmandir Sahib have been following the traditions of Prithi Chand and punishing the women of Amritsar and the women of the world for believing that Guru Teg Bahudar Ji was the true Guru. The fight to end this punishment will continue till finally the women are once again blessed with the right to do seva. But the question needs to be changed from why to since when. Only then will our fight bear fruit, and we will once again have the right to serve our true Guru to the fullest.