Gurbani metaphors and Feminist oppression


Gurbani employs numerous mythological notions and metaphors to explain reality to us Sikhs and instruct us on the Sikh way of life. Feminist notions collide head-on with many of the metaphors in SGGS. This post is a bit detailed because it’s important to set the stage properly for the question asked at the end.

Some of the metaphors in Gurbani are based on mythology and some are based on our experience. It is usually easy to distinguish between them because mythology based metaphors are specific while those based on life experience are usually generic.

For example, in the sixteenth pauri of Japji Sahib (SGGS p. 3), we have the metaphor of the mythical ox supporting the universe on its horns:

    dhaul dharam daya ka puut|| 

Prof. Sahib Singh explains it thus: Righteousness blooms in those hearts that have compassion in them.

Here, it’s clear that the mythological ox is the metaphor employed by Guru sahib to explain to us what sustains the universe: compassion. The ox is not real. It’s an ancient myth from Indian subcontinent. It’s a specific story from the cultural heritage of that part of the world.

An example of metaphor based on real life experience of ordinary people can be found in Maajh M.5 (SGGS p. 131) :


This is a generic reference to a mountain as a shelter and shield from wind. There is no story or myth involved here.

Gurbani is full of other similar metaphors, including those of human relationships (father, mother, relatives, siblings).

The important thing about these metaphors is that the quality or phenomenon being addressed is true for the original elements of the metaphor. A mountain truly does provide shelter from wind. The metaphors are valid and are based on real situations and observable real phenomena.


Let us now consider the metaphor of a husband and his bride or wife – one of the most frequent metaphors in Gurbani. The example I’ve picked, to “sharpen the contradiction” with Feminism is Saloks 26-127 of Sheikh Farid ji (SGGS p. 1384):


This translation could probably be tightened with the following three replacements:

  1. Control     instead of captivate (vass aavai).
  2. Submission     instead of humility (nivan).
  3. Patient tolerance     instead of forgiveness (khavan).

This is an interesting metaphor of the second kind as defined in Part I of this post. It is based on a common real life relationship: husband and wife. Guru sahib is advising us to practise submission to God, patient tolerance and pleasant disposition towards others. It’s doubtful anyone is going to disagree here (if you do, comment below).

Here is the elephant in the room for Feminists: Is this metaphor valid?

To Sikhs, of course, it is valid. Why wouldn’t it be? Why would we doubt the validity of Gurbani and the devices it employs to teach the Sikh Way of Life to us fools?

Getting into the details of the metaphor, what wife doesn’t want her husband to do her bidding (vas aavai kantt)? The modern world is replete with wives who are determined in their quest for controlling their husbands. Sometimes it is out in the open, but most of the time men do not see the part of the iceberg below the water line. It’s commonly euphemized as feminine wiles. The typical husband gives his wife the most extreme benefit of doubt possible. Often this is convenient self-deception. But it is not a pleasant state of things and the wife is still not happy despite things going her way.

The answer in the metaphor is to focus on her own behaviors: submit to her husband, speak sweetly and patiently bear the frequent small indignities of married life (real sometimes but more often imagined).

How many wives in Generations X and Y practise this advice of Gurbani? It seems much of this mature Sikh behavior went out the window 20 years ago. Perhaps your grandma remembers a time when women were well-versed in their feminine roles as wives and were a lot happier than the wives of today.

With the rampant Feminism in society seeping into the Sikh community in the western countries, there are few mature, tolerant, patient and pleasant wives to be found in Sikh families. Sure, the women are doing a fantastic job of putting up a great appearance, but the husbands know in each case.

Given the Feminist mantra of “the personal is political” how can anyone claim to be a Sikh and a Feminist at the same time? Let us see the Feminists rationalize their way out of Saloks 126-127.

To go a bit further, it is very likely that a few more readers besides Feminists are outraged by the commentary above.

Ask yourself: what is so bad about a well-behaved, contented and beloved wife as described in Saloks 126-127 that this commentary upsets you? Is it possible that things have become so skewed and men have been beaten so well into submission by Feminism and its enforcers that a simple metaphor in Gurbani is causing them intense cognitive dissonance?

(Graphic credit: iSikhi for iOS)



  1. I think the question is – is the metaphor literal? The answer is both. It is as valid for men as it is for women. It is for men and women to foster a relationship with the Guru based on humility, forgiveness, and patience.

    Are you limiting Baba Farid Ji to some “Dear Abby” giving relationship advice?

    There is no dissonance, except that a misogynist is trying to twist Gurbani for some male-fantasy.

    [Ed: Metaphors are by definition not literal. Congrats on launching the ‘misogynist’ slander with your first comment.]

  2. Sorry, you don’t like it. Again, you miss the content of the reply.

  3. “Kaur”,

    Are you, or are you not in agreement with the applicability of “humility, forgiveness and patience” on the part of wife towards her husband in the same manner as it is valid on the part of humans towards God?

    I.e. Human : God :: Wife : Husband

    The content of your post does not address this whole point of the post.

  4. Except that if a woman actually acted submissive, the first thing her husband would do would cheat on her. Men want a companion, not a housekeeper/doormat/slave. They can pay for those.

  5. Neena,

    You’re asserting something that’s a non-sequitur. There’s nothing backing up your assertion. It could equally well be asserted that a man would much more easily get sick of a competitive or dominant wife and go on to cheat on her.

    Have you asked men what they’d like their wives to do for them?

    What is the role of a ‘companion’ of a man?

  6. If you ask that question, it will differ with every man. The men who think they want a doormat quickly find out – it’s not for them. Because it’s not for anyone. Just as a woman wouldn’t want a doormat for a man. When you take your laavaan, it’s about being two souls in 1 body. Not a meek soul, and a strong soul – two equal souls. So yes, a domineering spouse wouldn’t work either. If your focus is control, your focus is wrong.

  7. Jimmy Carter may have said it best here:

  8. Thanks for the link. Carter didn’t say anything specific about SGGS or other Sikh sources. Nor does he address of the state of things under the current feminist political-legal-government-cultural regime beyond his decision to leave his own denomination which is itself up for genuine debate.

    There are legitimate issues of systemic mistreatment of women in some parts of the world but that doesn’t really apply to the western countries where feminism already rules supreme. The best proof is that even Carter himself is serving the feminist authority with this essay, extrapolating legitimate issues of some parts of the world to everywhere in order to aid the feminist agenda in these lands.

    The jury is still out on the long-term outcome of the supremacy of feminism in life. The Sikh Anti-Feminist camp is of the opinion that it will not be a pretty one.

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