'Women play a special role in religious life.' How far is this true in relation to any religion you have studied?

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Chance Divinity Essay 2004                                         Jaspreet Kular L5a

‘Women play a special role in religious life.’ How far is this true in relation to any religion you have studied?

This essay will be examining the role and status of women in Sikhism and whether they do indeed play a special role in religious life. I personally believe that women do play a special and even important role within religious life, from my own experience at least within my own religion (Sikhism).

Nevertheless the role and status of women in Indian society has been somewhat ambivalent. While women enjoyed a high status in Vedic society as equal partner of man in all walks of life, her position deteriorated in the years to come. In later Vedic periods women were relegated to the background and came to be treated as inferior to man with her role confined to the four walls of the household. Manu, the first codifier of the Hindu law, wrote:

“From cradle to grave, a woman is dependant on man- in childhood on her father, in youth on her husband and in old age on her son.”

Her position suffered a further setback as a result of frequent invasions and subsequent establishment of Muslim rule in India and the introduction of Purdah and other rituals.

However, it goes to the credit of Guru Nanak Ji and the successive Gurus who not only restored to Indian women the position and dignity which they had lost over the centuries but also condemned those who described them as inferior to man. In the Asa Di (a long composition) Guru Nanak Ji observed:

“It is from women, the condemned ones, which we are conceived and it is from her that we are born…Then why denounce her from whom even kings and great men are born?” He also gave singular honour to his sister Bebe Nanaki to become his first woman disciple, and accepting his path, the first to adopt Sikhism. This was a great tribute to women by Guru Nanak Ji.

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Guru Amardas Ji blessed woman kind with so much respect that he considered them worth preaching his religion, and for that he established the Manjis and Cradles. Such respect was not granted to any women in medieval times by any other religion. He also forbid women to attend the religious assembly in veil (pardah). He had vehemently opposed Sati, the immolation of women upon their husbands’ funeral pyres, and also condemned the dowry system and female infanticide.

Guru Amar Das Ji appointed women to be preachers and missionaries, realising, no doubt, that in Muslim influenced areas of the Punjab ...

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