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Influential Women Of Sikh History

Key Historic Female Figures In Sikhism

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Sikh women played vital roles in shaping important events which occurred in Sikh history. The wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of the Sikh gurus, were instrumental in bringing about many of Sikhism's time honored traditions. Generations of Sikh ladies selflessly served the Sikh community. Some were unassuming and quietly supportive, others courageously outspoken and fierce in battle. When faced with adversity, Sikh women showed strength of character and deep commitment to the values which they helped to establish and instill in their faith and families.

Bibi Nanaki

Kirtan With Stringed Musical Instruments
Photo © [S Khalsa]

The elder sister of Guru Nanak Dev, Bibi Nanaki was the first to recognize her brother's devout nature and accepted him as her guru. She supported her brother in his quest to know the divine. Bibi Nanaki fostered the spiritual relationship between Guru Nanak and his minstrel companion Mardana. She encouraged Guru Nanak's endeavors to spread the message of a creator who is one with all of creation through his poetry, and provided musical instruments so that Mardana might accompany Guru Nanak when he sang his devotional compositions in the style known as kirtan.

Mata Khivi

A Devout Young Girl Serves Langar
Photo © [S Khalsa]
The wife of Second Guru Angad Dev, Mata Khivi was instrumental in establishing a free kitchen within the Sikh community known as langar. From the time she met First Guru Nanak, Mata Khivi was active in the langar. She helped to provide and prepare food with her own hands for all those who came to hear the Gurus' spiritual discourse. When her husband became guru, Mata Khivi continued her efforts to provide physical nourishment while the guru provided spiritual for the congregation. Mata Khivi presided over the langar for the remainder of her lifetime, serving with Third Guru Amar Das, Guru Raam Das, and Guru Arjun Dev. The texts of the Guru Granth Sahib mention the spiritual essence imbued in the sacred sweets served from the hand of Khivi.

Bibi Bhani

Sarovar Amritsar Surrounding Golden Temple Harmandir Sahib and Akal Takhat
Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

The youngest daughter of Guru Amar Das third guru, Bibi Bhani became the wife of Fourth Guru Raam Das and the mother of the first of the Sikh gurus to be martyred, Fifth Guru Arjun Dev. The sixth through tenth gurus were her direct descendants. Bibi Bhani dedicated her life and resources to the service of the gurus and Sikh community. The city of Amritsar was founded on a tract of land bestowed to Bibi Bhani as a wedding gift where:

  • Bhani's husband Guru Raam Das began excavation of a sarovar, or sacred pool.
  • Bhani's son Guru Arjun Dev built Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, commonly known as the Golden Temple.
  • Bhani's grandson Guru Har Govind built the Akal Takhat, the foremost seat of religious authority in Sikhism.

Mata Gujri

Takhat Harmandir Sahib in Patna
Photo © [Devesh Bhatta - Courtesty GNU Free Documentation License]

Wedded at an early age, Gurjri became the wife of devout Ninth Guru Teg Bahadar. Several decades passed before Mata Gujri, became the mother of a prince who would one day be known as legendary Tenth Guru Gobind Singh. Much later in life, she became grandmother to the illustrious Sahibzadey, took an active part in raising her grandsons, and had an important leadership role in establishing the early Khalsa. Mata Gujri's unflinching faith served as strong source of stalwart support in a family systematically martyred by merciless Mughals. Mata Gujri joined her husband, and grandsons in martyrdom at Sirhind, following the December, 1705 flight from besieged Anandpur.

Mai Ji of Gurdwara Handi Sahib

Khichri (Khichdi)
Photo © [S Khalsa]
A woman whose name has been obscured over the centuries is remembered for her devotional act. Too poor for her offering of rice and daal to be accepted, Mai Ji saved and added to it until one day the guru visited her town. She cooked all she had in a handi clay kettle and fed Khichri (khichdi) to the child Gobind Rai, Guru Teg Bahadar's family and entire entourage, and continued to feed sangat for the rest of her life. Built in her memory, Gurdwara Handi Sahib of Dinapur, Bihar maintains the tradition of preparing Khichri for visitors to the shrine.

Mata Jito Ji (Ajit Kaur)

A Khalsa Initiate in an Amrit Ceremony
Photo © [Ravitej Singh Khalsa / Eugene, Oregon / USA]
A unique Sikh woman, Jito ji, the first wife of the tenth guru, also became the first Khalsa woman. Jito added puffed sugar to the Amrit prepared for the first Vaisakhi initiation ceremony of 1699. The couple submitted themselves to the original Panj Pyare for baptism. Her husband became known as Guru Gobind Singh, and she as Ajit Kaur.

Mata Sundri

Bibi Ji Women in Sikh History Float
Photo © [S Khalsa]
Mata Sundri, the second wife of Guru Gobind Singh, gave him his first son, sahibzade Ajit Singh. In later life, after the Guru's death, she took an active leadership role during turbulent times, nurturing and guiding the budding Khalsa nation encouraging the Sikh Panth to flourish.

Mata Sahib Kaur

Iron bowl used in an Amrit ceremony of rebirth Khalsa.
Photo © [Ravitej Singh Khalsa / Eugene, Oregon / USA]

The father of Sahib Devi publicly promised her in marriage to Guru Gobind Singh without the Guru's prior consent. To protect her honor, the Guru accepted the girl as his spiritual consort and gave her a place in his household. When she begged him for a child of her own to love, the Guru initiated her into the Khalsa order and promised to make her the mother of an entire spiritual nation. Sahib Devi drank the immortal nectar of Amrit and became known as Mata Sahib Kaur Khalsa. She stayed at the Guru's side for the remainder of his life. Mata Sahib Kaur is forever revered as the mother of the Khalsa. Upon drinking Amrit, all who are initiated and reborn as Khalsa are considered to be the children of Mata Sahib Kaur and Guru Gobind Singh.

Warrior Princess Mai Bhago

Warrior Princess Legacy of Mai Bhago Duel in Gatka Weaponry Demonstration
Photo © [Khalsa Panth]
Raised in a devout Amritdhari Sikh family, the indomitable Mai Bhago rallied men reluctant to face death and led them into battle and martyrdom where they became immortalized as the 40 liberated ones. Her courageous spirit and valiant deed inspired an unsurpassed warrior princess legacy proving that a woman can be more than equal to her male counterpart.

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