There are more Kaurs out there doing Kirtan than I can mention, but not in the most celebrated Gurdwara of the Sikh faith, the Akaal Takht or Immortal Throne, Sri Harmandir Sahib.
The SGPC, the organisation appointed to manage Gurdwaras in India, has prohibited women from performing Gurbani Kirtan – which is singing praise to music from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji – at Sri Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, Punjab.
The SGPC has not made it clear why it has outlawed Kirtan for our sisters. An article published on 27th July 2017 in the Times of India reported that Sikh scholars have appealed to the Jathedar (Commander) of the Akal Takht to ensure that women are afforded the right to perform Kirtan in the Darbar Sahib (main hall).
Jathedar of Akal Takht Giani Gurbachan Singh brushed off the newspaper and said: “I have no opinion on this issue.” Yet women have still not been allowed by the SGPC to perform Kirtan inside Darbar Sahib.
This is a problem shared by Nihang Singhs, particularly those of India. One Kirtan group, Akali Jatha, are prohibited from performing Kirtan due to their Dastar Bunga Dumallas, a style of turban prescribed for the Khalsa by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Tenth Master. The Dumalla style was created by Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s youngest son, who was martyred at 4 years old, Baba Fateh Singh Ji.
An Akali Nihang Singh did actually help an African-American Sikh lady to perform Kirtan on the roof of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, nearly 40 years ago.
According to Sikh news website Daily Sikh Updates, Baba Nihal Singh Ji (pictured right), Jathedar Panth Akali Tarna Dal, Misl Shaheedan (a Sikh Khalsa Battalion) in Harian Vela, Punjab, assisted Krishna Kaur, who wished to engage in Kirtan with a group atop the roof at Harmandir Sahib in 1980.
Krishan Kaur’s performance at Harmandir Sahib took place on the roof of the Gurdwara, when a Kirtani named Vikram Singh was performing. He motioned to Krishna Kaur to come join him and perform a shabad.
As she got up, SGPC sevadars attempted to stop her, but Baba Nihal Singh Ji and his Singhs stood in their way, protecting Krishan Kaur’s right to perform Kirtan within the confines of Sri Harmandir Sahib.
It happened at the Parkash Utsav (Anniversary of Guruship) of Guru Ram Das Ji, the fourth Sikh Guru, who actually wrote in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji:
ਸਭਿ ਘਟ ਆਪੇ ਭੋਗਵੈ ਪਿਆਰਾ ਵਿਚਿ ਨਾਰੀ ਪੁਰਖ ਸਭੁ ਸੋਇ ॥
The Beloved Himself enjoys every heart; He is contained within every woman and man.
The article also recalls an instance from the same year when White-American Sikh women were allowed to join men in performing Kirtan at Sri Harmandir Sahib. Sikhs from the USA came to Harmandir Sahib in 1979 and again in 1980, and were the first Sikhs from their country to perform in Darbar Sahib. They did so in a group consisting of men and women.
And in Gurbani, the message is consistently clear; to treat all with equal reverence, without discrimination.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji writes:
ਭੰਡਿ ਜੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਨਿੰਮੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਮੰਗਣੁ ਵੀਆਹੁ ॥
From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married.
ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਦੋਸਤੀ ਭੰਡਹੁ ਚਲੈ ਰਾਹੁ ॥
Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come.
ਭੰਡੁ ਮੁਆ ਭੰਡੁ ਭਾਲੀਐ ਭੰਡਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਬੰਧਾਨੁ ॥
When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound.
ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ ॥
So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.
ਭੰਡਹੁ ਹੀ ਭੰਡੁ ਊਪਜੈ ਭੰਡੈ ਬਾਝੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all.
It is particularly a shame that women are prohibited from performing Kirtan on the biggest stage of them all, when some of the brightest talents performing Kirtan today are women.
I said there were too many too mention, but I’ll name a few nonetheless and link to a couple of videos below, in the hope that it might inspire some of you to discover more Kirtan and seek clarity over this decision made by the SGPC.
If you know of more, please feel free to share in the comments.
As Guru Granth Sahib Ji states:
Gauree Maajh, Fourth Mehl:
ਆਉ ਸਖੀ ਗੁਣ ਕਾਮਣ ਕਰੀਹਾ ਜੀਉ ॥
Come, O sisters – let’s make virtue our charms.
ਮਿਲਿ ਸੰਤ ਜਨਾ ਰੰਗੁ ਮਾਣਿਹ ਰਲੀਆ ਜੀਉ ॥
Let’s join the Saints, and enjoy the pleasure of the Lord’s Love.
ਗੁਰ ਦੀਪਕੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਸਦਾ ਮਨਿ ਬਲੀਆ ਜੀਉ ॥
The lamp of the Guru’s spiritual wisdom burns steadily in my mind.
ਹਰਿ ਤੁਠੈ ਢੁਲਿ ਢੁਲਿ ਮਿਲੀਆ ਜੀਉ ॥੧॥
The Lord, being pleased and moved by pity, has led me to meet Him. ||1||
Source for translations: SriGranth.Org