The Sanskrit word for woman is "Stree". Its modified form in Punjabi is "Istree". To understand the significance and the importance of the role woman plays in the human society, it is essential to understand the underlying meaning of this Sanskrit word. In nutshell, "Stree" simply means "expansion".
In truth, woman never stops from expanding throughout her entire life! First, when a woman is born, she expands her parents' family. Upon becoming an adult, she gets married into another family; thus expanding her husband's family. Further, by bearing children, she expands her own family. In turn, her children repeat the same process. She, thus, keeps the family or human flame going.
Looking at it from a different angle, by bodily union of the man and woman their qualities are expanded. For example, children born of parents are expansions of the parents' personal qualities and qualifications, good or otherwise (genes, DNA, habit patterns, etc.).
As alluded to in the Gurbani, without woman both the husband's family and the parents' family are zero. The practical implication is that without woman, there would be no one at all. Because she is the source of man's physical existence. Hence, she is sometimes called the mother of the universe. The name "Stree" thus signifies her empowerment, courage, patience, devotion, dignity, and strength.
In addition to many noble qualities such as selfless love, humility, gentleness, kindness, shyness, simplicity, calmness, compassion, generosity and coyness, name "Stree" denotes the sacrifices she makes throughout her life. For example, during pregnancy she has to suffer for several months. As she bears the child, it gives her pain and discomfort while growing in her womb. She not only undergoes pain and trouble, but she also sacrifices everything including her blood for the child. At the time of delivery there is also sometimes severe danger and complications. After birth, she pays her entire attention to see the child's comfort and progress.
Many might be unaware of the fact that woman also has been praised throughout the ancient Vedic scriptures as Satyavati, Angavati, Anyavati and Nidanavati. In fact the well known Gayatri Mantra of Vedas — which is considered the very source of Vedas — is said to be the embodiment of woman. Satyavati means the same One God is present in every particle of the universe as the unseen butter in milk. Angavati represents the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and sky) as an aspect of God. Anyavati symbolizes different types of service and worship (Araadhanaa). Nidanavati represents the nine different forms of devotion. Woman is exalted as Aadi Shakti in the Vedic texts — different names given to her in this context include Sabada Brahmamayi, Charaacharamayi, Jyotirmayi, Vaangmayi, Nithyanandamayi, Paraatparamayi, Maayaamayi, Sreemayi, and so on. Mentioned in the Vedic texts are several godly qualities having feminine attributes — fame or glory (Keertee), prosperity (Sree), illuminating fine speech (Vach), remembrance or memory (Smriti), discriminating intelligence (Medhaa), intuition or fixity of the mind (Dhriti), steadfastness of patience or forbearance (Kshamaa), and so on. Some of the other godly qualities having feminine attributes are Sathya (truth), Dharma (truthfulness-righteousness), Shaanti (peace), Prema (love), Ahimsa (nonviolence), Dayiaa (mercy or compassion), etc.
In fact, all souls (man and woman alike) are bestowed with these spiritual qualities. Therefore, all of us have the ability to negate or enhance their positive effects in our lives. For example, if someone is famous as a righteous man, that makes him glorious. Sweet speech is derived from the vibratory sound of the Shabad. Memory is the power of continuity of awareness. Through the power of discriminating intelligence (Bibek-Budhi), the ignorant man gains intuitive wisdom. Intuition is the fixity of the mind in Truth or its "Joti-Svaroopa". The ability to overcome unsteadiness is steadfastness, and the ability to remain intuitively balanced amidst the feelings of "likes" and "dislikes" is patience. Whatever we do from a heart filled with selfless love is Truth, Dharma, peace, wisdom and compassions.
These glorious feminine attributes can be tapped in. Once they are awakened in the bosom from their dormant condition, the life has to become glorious. When their mystery is so unlocked within, the light of these attributes must illumine the entire body-mind-intellect apparatus.
Ironically, in one hand the man wants to awaken these spiritual ideals and virtues in his bosom so that he can link with God, his Pure Self. But the same time he wants to denigrate the woman by calling her "the doorway leading to the most rigorous hell" ("Narak ghor kaa dwaaraa or Duaaraa "), "Pair kee jootee" (equal to footwear), "slave", and so on! The Gurbani condemns such hypocrisy.
In India, in addition to dowry system, woman for centuries have been systematically downgraded by many ways by the religion and priest class (Pujaaree Group). For example, they were falsely labeled by the priest class as spiritually "impure" due to menstruation; they were forced to burn in the pyre of their husbands (Satee); they were deprived of education (material and spiritual) and equal rights for property and inheritance; they were considered unfit for spiritual advancement or salvation; they were subjected to economic, social, and cultural oppression; they were regarded as a source of sin, vice or dishonor to man and thus labeled as bad influence on him; they were considered hurdle to man's spiritual journey; they were declared as not very intelligent and trustworthy; some went to the extent to suggest women being alike animals in meaning or significance; and so on. This sort of attitude towards woman has promoted social degradation of the status of women as well as social inequality between man and woman. As a result, the attitude towards women as subordinate remains not only in India but throughout the world. In some cultures and religions it's worse than others. In the western cultures, the woman is generally looked at as a sex symbol — she is praised only if she has good looks. In the middle eastern cultures, the woman is virtually treated as a slave, accentuating social, economic and cultural inequalities.
Thus, the woman who is full of spiritual qualities as the man is today considered something very small, insignificant, unintelligent, weak, lowly and is relegated a backward place and neglected. Not only discriminated against, women are also denied the freedom and opportunity to develop their full potentials. They are considered inferior to man in all respects.
Organized or institutionalized religion is a powerful thing in that it can mold and shape the psyche, thinking, mindset, attitudes, conduct and behavior of its people. Misunderstanding, misinterpretation or misuse of the scriptural statements by the selfish and crafty priest class has been the main factor responsible for many ills in the human society including the woman's sorry plight.
The Gurbani's (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) perspective is the Sikh perspective. To reawaken women and uplift their status in the society, plenty of feminine symbols have been used in the Gurbani.
At the time of the Gurus, Satee Praathaa was prevalent in the Indian society. The Satee Prathaa involved the woman burning herself alive on the funeral pyre of her husband, either willingly or thrown forcefully into the pyre without her consent. The third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Das Sahib, strongly crusaded against this evil practice of this Satee Praathaa and paid special attention to improve the status of women in the society.
In Sikh thought, man and woman do not enter into matrimony for bestial reasons, but rather for spiritual advancement. Therefore, in Sikh thought marriage based on true love, mutual respect, understanding, trust, fidelity, chastity, loyalty and friendship is considered an essential part of physical life. With the example of a worldly marriage performed on a material plane between a man and a woman, the Gurbani explains in the four "Laavaan" as to how we can join (marry or link) the Higher Consciousness Within. Thus, marriage in the Sikh Way of life is supposed to be an unbreakable spiritual union of two souls into one. It is a mean to learn helping each other and attain together a balanced life, self-fulfillment, spiritual unfoldment and Divine Knowledge leading to spiritual perfection in life ("Jeevan Padvee").
As we can see, the Sikh Masters condemn practices and restrictions which serve to keep woman in a state of backwardness. It is shame that the practice of sex prejudices as preference for a male child exist not only amongst Sikhs and Hindus, but also in many other countries; making people bent on sex preselection techniques and female infanticide.
If mankind as a whole wants to bring harmony, prosperity and peace to the world, then, as indicated in the Gurbani, man and woman must walk together on the path of Truth with selfless love, faith, mutual respect, determination and courage. For this to prevail, both man and woman have to live fully in his or her own unique nature or respective realm, in uplifting and positive spiritual vibration. In other words, to improve, both man and woman need conducting and behaving virtuously, respecting each other's sentiments, avoiding areas of conflict, ruthlessly shunning all their differences, and treating each other with honor and dignity.
If the both man and woman are deluded, then both forget their True Nature (Pure Consciousness) and thus drown in the shoreless ocean of worldliness. But if one of them is endowed with spiritual qualities, he or she will lead the other toward Higher Consciousness.
In the final analysis, as one ascends towards Higher Consciousness, one must transcend all labels including the one of "man" or "woman". Because — from the standpoint of Higher Consciousness — as indicated in the Gurbani there is no male or female (or duality)! It's just One mass of homogeneous Consciousness there. Distinctions, differences, conflicts, divisions, and duality exist only so long the mind's conditioning persists (Haume or false ego-sense, attachments, self-limitation etc.). The Gurbani asks us to abandon the mind's defects and seek that Higher Consciousness (the Source) Within, where there is no differences — no wife or husband, no man or woman, no lover or beloved, no this or that. In the following verses, Baabaa Nanak points to this state of Higher Consciousness that we must realize Within by becoming Gurmukh or Brahm-Giaanee. Because, before the rise of the phantom called mind, that's what we all were!
— T. Singh
Updated on Thursday, March 28, 2013 4:17 PM (PST)
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