In the communities I grew up in Sikh woman take very active roles within the community. Many of the woman coming from a western background made a point to get involved equally (or more) than their male counterparts. I think having grown up in western society there was the drive for equality for woman’s rights.
Siri Singh Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi ji was instrumental in teaching and guiding the Sikh woman in our communities. He was a champion of women’s rights, and believed that it is women who are the backbone of society, and since 1972 when he inaugurated the first of annual ‘Khalsa Woman’s Training Camp’, he taught technology to turn ‘chicks into eagles.‘ which has been going since then and still is happening today. (You can buy some of the KWTC books/lectures here or read a few online) In a world where woman are still not treated well, or even close to equals, it is important that woman (and men) join together to help make changes in society, in their homes and families.
Many of you have heard about issues of Sikh woman not being allowed to do Gurbani Kirtan in Harmandir Sahib or do certain sevas. One of the other things which to me seems like another ‘no-brainer’ is Panj Piare. Growing up, I have always been used to woman being a part of the Panj Piaray…but as I went to India and traveled around I never saw woman (outside of my community) representing the Panj Piaray. I didn’t really notice anything or think of it till I posted some pictures from Vaisakhi here in Espanola when we had a Nagar Kirtan with the Panj Piaray. I got a few comments from people saying ‘There were no woman as the panj…so you can’t have woman in the panj’. I didn’t realize people had thought like this. I grew up learning about Sikhi as Genderless. I don’t recall Guru Gobind Singh saying, ‘If there are five MEN together then I will be present…’. I have always understood it as if there are ‘five Sikhs’… (whatever the gender) then Guru Gobind Singh is present. Somehow this understanding has slipped some people’s mind and they tend to look at things in a very narrow viewpoint. In any case I think this is one thing that should change. Sikhs need to stop descriminating against woman. Gender equality is such a core point of the Sikh way of life that it is absurd to see some things go on. I think these practiced are more cultural than faith based.
I am curious to know if any of you who are reading this have woman who participate as the Panj Piaray. If not, have you ever thought of woman being a part of the panj? I wonder if people just don’t care, or is it that people are just used to it one way so don’t do anything different. Guru Nanak used to travel around and question so many different religious practices which had become empty rituals. I think it is important that we not loose sight of the reason why we do things…and also understand that there are major differences of the current age…from 400 years ago. You can’t look at things with a narrow viewpoint and have to open up wide and take many things into consideration. Some other interesting points of view relating to woman and Panj Piaray can be read at SikhWomen.com
I remember when Arjan (my wife) took Amrit some years ago at the Summer Solstice camp. It was such an inspiring day. I remember sitting in Gurdwara the morning after the Amrit Ceremony. At the end of the ceremony the huge door to the Gurdwara opens for the full morning Gurdwara and the sangat then got to see all the Sikhs who had just taken Amrit. They all sat there in peace with the Panj Piaray on the other side of the Guru Granth Sahib. I remember shedding tears of joy and emotion at the sight of them. My mother and father were part of the Panj Piaray so it was like a family thing. I always look forward to the mornings after people take Amrit and see the glow in their faces.
This past Baisakhi the first Amrit Ceremony ever conducted in Eugene, Oregon took place, and three Sikhs took Amrit that morning. As is normally the case in our communities, the Panj Piaray was comprised of both Singhs and Singhnis (men and woman).
Here are some beautiful pictures taken by Ravitej Singh Khalsa from Eugene, Oregon – USA.