A Glimpse Inside the Darbar Sahib and the Role of Women

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This video, part of a longer version produced for the Discovery Channel, invites viewers inside the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar [via Gurumustuk Singh]. It’s a rare opportunity to see some remarkable moments inside the complex and apparently this is the first time it has been televised. I believe it was recently shown in India and will be shown worldwide soon.

Some thoughts after the jump…

I was so grateful and happy to see the images of seva occurring inside the Darbar Sahib – it’s quite inspiring. However, I find it unfortunate that the images are all of men. As far as I understand, women are currently not allowed to do ishnaan(early morning)seva in that space – some say the reason is because it is not Maryada, others say it is because it has always been this way – since the time of our Gurus.

I recognize that Gurdwaras across the globe are negotiating the role of women as committee members, granthis etc. I also recognize that this process may be hindered by the issue of safety of women within these situations – because as unfortunate as it is, we know that individuals (many women) are often harassed in these spaces. We may want to blame the political climate that intrudes on the sanctity of the Darbar Sahib – however, how often do we see women in these roles in Gurdwaras outside of Panjab?

There are also cultural considerations to determine how women can be integrated into the daily seva that occurs at the Darbar Sahib. So perhaps, then, women can be given the opportunity to do this seva along with other women, at a time separate from their brothers? We sit on seperate sides at the Gurdwara, out of respect, and perhaps this is a way for women to share in this seva?

Nevertheless, it is clear that serious reforms are needed and to make appropriate changes (that will be sustainable) may take some effort and some time – but to uphold our Guru’s teachings of equality – I’d say it is worth it.

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16 Responses to “A Glimpse Inside the Darbar Sahib and the Role of Women”

  1. rmsingh says:

    The video itself is a beautiful production. But, it's frustrating and disappointing to see the steadfast refusal to have women perform seva or kirtan in an equal capacity to men at Darbar Sahib of all places, which ideally should set the example. This hypocritical state of affairs has gone on far too long and undermines the Guru's message. It's an embarrassing reflection upon us as Sikhs, but we obviously deserve it.

    You mention some common sense approaches to make this right, but the will has to be there. Sadly, it just isn't.

  2. Kaur says:

    Thank you for bringing this up. I felt the exactly as you when I watched the video. We, as a community, should go return to the principles on which our faith was found. This means re-assessing and re-forming practices of our faith to include women at all stages. Whenever I see images that Exclude women of these practices, it is hurtful. We are all Guru's children and by continuing these practices in the name of maryada only divide us further.

  3. kantay says:

    Link up with Catholics so that the next pope will be a woman and then link up with evangelicals were many of the most influential figures are men and women are told to submit to the rule of their husbands. And then link up with the Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities and share common struggle.

  4. kantay says:

    For that matter, what is the current understanding on female monks in Buddhism and can women be in the Universal House of Justice in the Bahai Faith? And how about female pundits? I don't know the answers to these but wonder if the way that seva is restricted in our "community" is uniquely bad.

  5. JSingh says:

    What is with washing the floor with milk so as to 'purify' it? I thought we are supposed to shun rituals that are devoid of logic much like the whole deal with the brahmins trying to quench the thirst of their ancestors by offering them water.

    Anyhow, I'm sure some apologist here will try to think of some way to justify it instead of calling it a farce as it well should be. Either way I'd be interested to hear it.

  6. kantay says:

    I'd personally guess that female participation in leadership is highest in some of the protestant denominations including Unitarians and I think Episcopalians and in reform judaism. It would be awesome if we can be like them because they are some of the most affluent groups in the US

  7. B.K. says:

    Wow, definitely a great insight watching this video. The amount of passion and dedication that goes into this Seva every single day is simply amazing. But along with previous comments I also wonder about the absence of women, and the usage of milk.

    The reasoning I’ve often heard is about the unhygienic nature of women due to monthly periods. Which amazes me, because the very concept of woman giving birth is praised in gurbani. As much as we feel that as Sikhs we preach but don’t practice gender equality, it exists in our everyday lives. We simply live in a male dominated society. I hope in coming generations women continue to fight to do Seva and perform kirtan and not simply give up and let things continue this way just because it’s always been this way. Especially because maybe it was never actually intended for women to be forbidden from this Seva, but has since become the practice.

    In terms of using milk to clean and purify, many North American gurdwaras have long abandoned the practice. Simply because in a time of famine and poverty, using extreme amounts of milk isn’t justified. However, the mentality that the gurdwara deserves only the best of the best will always continue. Which is why most gurdwaras serve fatty, fried yet very tasty foods and sweets. Cha made only of whole milk, and langer made with more butter and oils than we would ever consume in our homes. Once again I hope coming generations make sangat realize that cleaning with lysol and serving fruits and using less butter and lower fat milk is just as “rich” and acceptable.

  8. Is there kantay says:

    Re using milk, I don’t have a particular stand but leave some room for symbolic acts, unless you want to get rid of all such things down to elimination of roses or other symbolic tokens of affection or feeling. Why do chaur sahib seva? Thoughtful use of symbolic acts isn’t something progressive activists necessarily need to make backwards members of the community feel shamed about. You have many other issues you can use for that.

  9. rmsingh says:

    As we are soon to celebrate the birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur, we're also reminded of the role of the women of Amritsar who had the doors of Darbar Sahib opened to him when he became Guru. The masands who managed Darbar Sahib had locked out Guru Tegh Bahadur because they refused to recognize him as Guru.

    And now, we see that the women of Amritsar who were blessed by Guru Tegh Bahadur are now themselves are being locked out in many ways.

  10. kantay says:

    also keep in mind the symbolic act can allow one to perform an action that otherwise makes little logical sense, Charging into an army of thousands with one other compatriot is a symbolic act that will never be rationally justified as such. Neither is a pledge to enter a city even if one has to hold one's head in one's palm. Or for that matter going to a crossing with a friend and leveling a tax on those who pass at a time when Sikhs were hunted.

    One of the reasons we are a "spirit born people" is the sense of the power behind symbolic acts.

  11. Tajinder says:

    For my own knowledge can anyone here point me to any written document/law from management at Darbar Sahib which states that women can not perform seva/kirtan etc. Is there such a thing?

  12. gary says:

    I totally object to the showing Golden Temple being shown almost 99% of the time as lit up in Las Vegas style commercial lighting. The serene beauty of this magnificent place has been diminished by this portrayal.

  13. Sandeep singh says:

    Sgpc is the culprit for the plight of women in Punjab.

  14. Nancee says:

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  15. Jasmeen kaur says:

    I want to perform kirtan in golden temple
    I m Sikh girl from Punjab
    I have 10 year experience in kirtan seva.
    Please help me for perform kirtan in golden temple.
    Its my right