I was born into a Sikh family outside of Panjab, India, but every year when April rolled around there was much buzz about Vaisakhi. The only Gurduara in Japan held an Akhand Path for the celebration. There was usually a special raagi jatha in town and langar was a little more special than usual. We wore our newest suits, always looking out for Blue and Kaisri. My parents always took part in the reading of the Akhand Paath. One of the three days of Akhand Paath langar was Thai food- curry and noodles usually. Somehow I never remembered what the kirtan was or whether there was any katha on Vaisakhi.
To us Vaisakhi was always known as the day Guru Gobind Singh ji created the Panj Piare, the Khalsa. It was never the celebration of harvest. We listened to stories of how so many of Guru ji’s Sikhs came from across the country and sat outdoors in Guru Sahib’s darbar at Anandpur. Guru Sahib asked for a head and then there was confusion, but one brave man, Daya Ram stood up and came forward. Guru Sahib escorted him to a tent in the back and came back with a blood stricken kirpan. The sangat was watching intently. Guru Sahib asked for another head and then another and then another and then finally one more and did the same each time.
Then he brought them all out dressed in beautiful bana standing tall. He had a prepared bata of water. He asked Mata Sahib Kaur (or Mata Jeeto) to pour patasey into the water. He recited and completed Bani as he mixed the patasey in the water with the Khanda. He gave the Ammrit to the 5 men standing in front of him and he named them- Daya Singh, Dharam Singh, Himmat Singh, Mohkham Singh, and Sahib Singh. He knelt down and asked them to make him the Guru’s Sikh and transform him from Gobind Rai to Gobind Singh. The sangat looked on and many and many of them had the internal thirst for this same Ammrit. They wanted this strength within them. They come forth! They too give their heads- Their selves to the Guru!.
As a child, I never questioned why the Panj Piare were only men. In fact, I never questioned or answered it until a young girl asked a question on the last divan of one camp almost 20 years ago. There were many answers that floated around from “Oh it was the circumstance of the time, Guru Sahib was very progressive, but he knew how people would react.”,to “We don’t know.” to “Perhaps the women were busy making langar and they didn’t hear Guru Sahib’s call” to “They just weren’t one of the first 5 who gave their heads.”
I started thinking “Oh no! Is she going to keep thinking why why why?” Suddenly, I raised my hand and I stated it didn’t matter if they were men or women. We had to remember that Guru Sahib’s instruction to all who gave their heads would have been the same and the ideals are the same.
All the Gurus empowered us! Always reminding us that there is a jot within us that we need to look inward to see it glowing in all. We need to decorate ourselves with complete love that develops the responsibility of compassion, truthful living, justice, and strength. They never said that the men have a brighter jot than women, they never said that compassion, faith, strength, leadership and sovereignty was gender specific. They said “man tu jot saroop hai, apna mul pachan.” ¾ recognize your true origin! Maybe, we haven’t been able to recognize or awaken that jot within us. We are able to talk about it, but practicing it is our next step. We are able to feel it, but not heed it. Our spring has not sprung, our seeds have not harvested. Vaisakh after all is the month when seeds blossom.
There is hope!
Conversations make individuals accountable. Through our faith, we slowly start realizing that we must start acting. Perhaps we have to reevaluate how we are doing things. Each one of us has the potential within us to make the change, sometimes all we need is a little help from each other. A little reminder from the forces around us, the Divine within us and then we might be ready to adorn ourselves with virtues that will bring beauty everywhere. It doesn’t matter whether we are ‘Singh’ or ‘Kaur’.
It doesn’t matter what the true story/version of the Vaisakhi of 1699 was, but what does matter is that Guru Sahib gave every individual the opportunity to destroy our bonds with our caste and family origin, with previous religious traditions, with past bad deeds, with so-called non-prestigious profession, and with doubts, so that we can decorate ourselves with pure love. That immersion in love will then guide our every action.
Immersion in true love comes in many forms. No one can judge whether you are acting out of love except for you. Once you have clarity of what being in ‘true love’ is it automatically comes forth.
Over two years ago a young writer and mother heard a silence of Sikh women voices. Meeta Kaur embarked upon a journey to find those voices. She set up the ‘Sikh Love Stories Project’. This project culminated in a book of 25 stories by Sikh American women writing about who they are and what they have become. Each of the stories goes deep inside an individual to bring forth their love, faith, courage – their Sikhi Sidak!
Her Name is Kaur: Sikh American Women Write About Love, Courage, And Faith published by She Writes Pressis a book where Sikh American women share stories about what has carved them into the human beings they are today. It is clear from their stories that each of these Kaurs is honing their values because of their faith in Vahiguru. As we hold on to our values, we start building our ideals. We start making sure that no matter what our circumstance or challenge we know what to stand by and with who. Our every action will become guided. My hope is when I told that little girl why there were no women panj piare, she will one day live up to the ideals of our Gurus without thinking of them as gender specific. Perhaps there was another child in the sangat- a boy or a girl who may do the same. Her Name is Kaur is a glimpse into the life of that little girl’s future who could be any one of those 25 women.
I had the privilege of reading the book before it was printed. Every story’s uniqueness highlights the intuitiveness of each writer in their given or created circumstances. Yet there is purposefulness behind their awakening that stems from Anakh– Living with dignity, Himmat-courage, Sehaj-graceful acceptance, Sanjog– unity and Dharam– path of righteousness. The book is divided into these five sections and it helps the reader pick a story depending on what mood they are in, depending on the circumstance they may be at any given time. As a reader, I was able to relate to so many of them. As I recognized authors who were my acquaintance or friends, I wondered- ‘I didn’t know what she had gone through.’
There were two that affected me the most, left me wanting to know if these authors were OK. Is there someone there for them? Do they have help? Spark of Life by Gurpreet Kaur was one of them. A mother of 7-year old boy and girl twins becomes pregnant with twin boys and the story of what happens next. This story shook the very core of me. As a mother of twins myself, I wondered- How was Gurpreet Kaur able to deal with her loss? As a mother how was she going to console her son and daughter and find time to console herself too? Was she doing ok? I was tearing up reading her story and thinking about it for days. Was she thinking of it every moment? How is she right now? And then I reread it and very early on she said whatever happens she knew was happening in Hukam. I knew she knew that, but how difficult was it? I can’t even imagine it.
Similarly, Jalmeen Kaur talks about a sudden loss and the journey she goes through to come to terms with it. She shares her journey not with her reader, but with her child. The reader just happens to be a fly on the wall listening and feeling intently.
23 more stories of Kaurs throughout the book keep you reading and re-reading.
A couple of years ago we were planning for a conference and I suggested that we focus on ‘Kaurs’ as they constitute half of our population with very little discussion happening around them. I was told and quickly agreed that our community was not ready for it. For the past 2 years, the Jakara Movement holds a much needed retreat for young girls called Bhujangan. Sikh Feminist Research Institute creeps up as an organization supporting Sikh feminist research, praxis and activism. The Surat Initiative did a conference that highlighted Sikh women and their work. Sikh Research Institute is conducting a gender discrimination study and just recently The Sikh Coalition held a Sikh Women’s panel. The ‘Kaur Thoughts’ blog is now becoming an online e-magazine of sorts called ‘Kaur life’. Sikhnet is talking about the mother of the panth and the Sikh Love Stories Project is bringing its first publication to fruition. This is all progress and there is hope for change and more importantly the “in your face talks” and publications are going to serve as reminders to work towards a world in which our Gurus saw no difference between a man and a woman.
What appropriate timing for ‘Her Name is Kaur‘ to be celebrated this April!.
As I read each story, I couldn’t help but relate to each one in some way or the other. Whether it was a mother writing about her child or a young girl questioning why the world wasn’t consoling her after a tragedy, soon realizing that, without her physical identity/her crown, no one saw her as a Sikh. In another story, I couldn’t help think back to ten years back when I was looking for my life partner and to my decision to marry my husband making sure we would move forward in Sikhi. I couldn’t help wanting to go back to Amritsar and try to look at it through the eyes of one of the writers. Every story was unique, yet similar.
‘Her Name is Kaur‘ is a special book for Sikh women, yet necessary for a Sikh man. For the Sikh woman it gives a glimpse into your own life, yet transports you into someone else’s in an instant. For a Sikh man, it reminds him that the story of the Kaur stands shoulder to shoulder with his own and reminds him that he is not alone in the journey to live up to his ideals. Both Kaurs and Singhs, women and men of all races and creed share the same jot – Guru Sahib happen to give Kaurs and Singhs the responsibility to recognize it in ourselves and in others. We can do this with a simple step of working towards bringing the qualities of the Divine within. Very aptly, the beautiful cover of Her Name is Kaur has the mul mantar written on it reminding us of these divine qualities. Her Name is Kaur is an important collection for every Sikh home, it is sure to capture a non Sikh audience, as well.
To reserve a copy of Her Name Is Kaur, please visit:
Jasmine Kaur, a mother of 2-year-old twins, has worked in the education field for over 18 years. Jasmine has designed and coordinated Sikh curriculums and teacher trainings using the curriculum to increase classroom confidence and maximize the resources in content areas of Boli and Virsa, as well as classroom management and teaching techniques, personally training over 750 teachers and administrators. Her passion is developing creative and interactive activities for all ages, especially young children.
This review originally appeared on SikhNet on April 18, 2014.