Thursday, August 17, 2006

Rakhri day story...Shabash!

Rakhri day was last week. Many of you may have read about how this festival is demeaning to women. I wanted to share with you a story about what happened at Dixie Gurduara (Toronto) on Rakhri day.

It is usual, unfortunately, for ladies to go up to the railings that decorate the takht of Guru Granth Sahib in gurduaras and tie the rakhris onto the railing. I guess they consider the railings the arm of the Guru whom they consider their brother and maybe are seeking protection. Interesting concept...but NOT! Anyway, I saw a blog with pictures of that can't find it now, but hope you know what I mean.

Anyway, at Dixie Gurduara there are no railings around the Guru's takht so women just placed the rakhris right on top of the golak where other sangat members were placing money. By the end of evening divan, the whole golak was covered with rakhris.

During the divan, one Singhni from the sangat got up, picked up all the rakhris from the golak of the Guru, walked towards a garbage can and threw all the rakhris into the garbage. This was in clear view of all the women who had placed the rakhri.

1. When I heard this story, I said "Shabash!!".
2. The Singh who told it to me said "Do you know who the Singhni was?" Then he smiled and looked towards his wife.
3. I said "Vah vah! Good job". So it was a good friend of ours from the Toronto gang.
4. Apparently she got funny looks from the women in the sangat when she did that, but many Singhs came over and congratulated her for her thoughtful and courageous act after ardas.

I don't want to give out her name "Good job N. Kaur!!"

Next year during rakhri day, I suggest we (all like minded Singhs and Kaurs) take turns at the Gurduara and every hour on the hour we take all the rakhris that have been left in front of the Guru's takht (or tied to the railings) and throw them in the garbage - preferably in front of the women that leave it there. In addition we hand out essays like the one below. It may hurt some women's feelings, but if we explain why we are doing it, then it may be worth it.



Rakhri - A Symbol of Oppression Against Women
by Harpreet Singh (Sat Aug 04, 2001

Since times immemorial, minorities all over the world have sought comfort through conformism. They have often adopted practices that are antithetical to their own beliefs. We need not go very far for examples. Guru Nanak, for instance, in the Asa Kee Vaar shows the conformism and resulting hypocrisy of Brahmins as they attempt to please their masters and maintain their caste hierarchy.

…They wear their loin cloths, apply ritual frontal marks to their foreheads, and carry their rosaries, but they eat food with the Muslims. O Siblings of Destiny, you perform devotional worship indoors, but read the Islamic sacred texts, and adopt the Muslim way of life. Renounce your hypocrisy. Embrace the true Lord, and attain salvation.

The man-eaters say their prayers. Those who wield the knife wear the sacred thread around their necks . . . Wearing blue robes, they seek the approval of the Muslim rulers. Accepting bread from the Muslim rulers, they still worship the [Hindu] Puraanas. They eat the meat of the goats, killed after the Muslim prayers are read over them, but they do not allow anyone else to enter their kitchen areas. They draw lines around them, plastering the ground with cow-dung. The false come and sit within them. They cry out, "Do not touch our food, or it will be polluted!" But with their polluted bodies, they commit evil deeds. With filthy minds, they try to cleanse their mouths. Says Nanak, meditate on the True Lord. If you are pure, you will obtain the True Lord.

Raag Asa, M. 1, SGGS, p. 471-72

Clearly, conformism is unacceptable to Guru Nanak, who created a sovereign and a defiant race of human beings through his revolution. Unfortunately, some Sikhs today under the influence of Brahminism have become conformists. As a compelling example, let's examine the festival of Rakhri that is celebrated today by many Sikhs who are ignorant of its significance. First, some background grounded in its hoary mythology is in order.

One of the two festivals celebrated during the bright fortnight during the Hindu month of Shravan is Raksha Bandhan, better known as Rakhri among Punjabi Hindus. It is a tradition with ancient roots. Bhavishya Purana refers to a fierce battle that raged between the gods and the demons. From news received from the battlefield it appeared that the demons were getting the upper hand and would gain victory.

Indra, the supreme Hindu deity, summoned his teacher Vrihaspati to his court for advice. Indra's wife Indrani was also present. Before the teacher could speak, Indrani rose and said, "I know how to assure the victory of the gods. I give you my word that we will win." The next day was full moon night of the month Shravan. Indrani had a charm prepared as prescribed by the sacred texts and tied it on the wrist of her husband. And no sooner did Indra appear on the battlefield with the charm on his hand the demons scattered and fled. The demons bit the dust and the gods were victorious.

It would appear that the Raksha Bandhan of today is derived from this belief. It is held that if a chord made according to the prescriptions of the holy texts is tied round the wrist of a person on the full moon day of Shravan it will ensure him good health, success and happiness for the year that follows.

Rakhri has become a sacred festival for Hindus. Sisters tie amulets to brothers. Brahmin Priests tie them to the men of their congregations. Also on this day, it is noteworthy that the Brahmins change their sacred thread, janeoo, which Guru Nanak rejected at a young age because it symbolizes apartheid though its stratification of society. In Bombay, it is an occasion for Hindus for offering coconuts to the sea.

Today Rakhri (literally meaning protection) has become popularized as an annual event in Hindu religion where sisters tie amulets to their brothers and seek the male's protection in exchange. The woman conducting aarti before her brother, a ritual Guru Nanak repudiates in the Kirtan Sohila, sometimes precedes the thread-tying ceremony. This is to the accompaniment of her enunciation or chanting of the following mantra in Sanskrit. Yena baddho balee raajaa daanavendro mahaabalah. Tena twaam anubadhnaami rakshey maa chala maa chala. "I am tying on your hand this Raksha, with which the most powerful and generous King Bali himself was bound; O Raksha, don't go away; don't go away."

From a Sikh perspective, Rakhri is undoubtedly another expression of a patriarchal culture, however well intentioned. It is, after all, the brother who extends his protection to his sister, and the woman who agrees to place herself under the protection of her brother. She is devoid of power and must turn to a male for protection. While this is true in Hinduism, where the law giver Manu gives her a place next to animals, it is not the case in Sikhism. Guru Nanak, in his Asa Kee Var, raised the status of woman, making her equal to man long before Europe gave her the right to suffrage. Guru Amar Dass, the third Nanak, made her the head of entire congregations, giving her authority and power unknown even to the Occident at the time. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Nanak, gave her initiation of the Double-edged sword and made it mandatory for her to don a kirpan, an unlicensed arm asserting her sovereignty in a male-dominated world where the regime was willing to kill her for this defiant act.

How do we reconcile the celebration of a festival so antithetical to Sikhism by Sikhs ? Five hundred years of work by the Sikh Gurus to give women their basic human rights is undercut through such demeaning rituals imbued in Brahminism. Does not the tenth Nanak declare, "When the Khalsa adopts Brahminical ways, it shall lose my trust", jab eh gahe bipran kee reet, mai na karoo in kee parteet?

Guru Nanak demands complete sovereignty through actions. There is no room for conformism and compromises. Sikh women worldwide should resolve to boycott festivals such as Rakhri that dilute the egalitarian message of Sikhism. What could be a better tribute that can be offered to our Ten Masters who fought to give women equal rights when the rest of the world turned a blind eye to oppression against them ?

Harpreet Singh is an information technology professional and a committed, active Sikh. He is the founder of the successful Sikh Heresy Regulation Board that spearheads active campaigns to prevent lapses in the practice of the Sikh faith.


  1. very nice post
    congratulate N kaur from my side
    by the way post you are probably talking about rakhies on railing is
    it was at gurdwara Bangla Sahib New Delhi

  2. " Guru Nanak demands complete sovereignty through actions. There is no room for conformism and compromises. Sikh women worldwide should resolve to boycott festivals such as Rakhri that dilute the egalitarian message of Sikhism. What could be a better tribute that can be offered to our Ten Masters who fought to give women equal rights when the rest of the world turned a blind eye to oppression against them ?"
    Well Said!

    Though I am not sure about the idea of putting singh/singhnis in duty to throw rakhris into the garbage. Where the Guru shunned extremism of thoughts and action, he also taught humility and love. For the same reasons we bow down to the banni of various bhagats too, cause their lifestyle was different than of us though they all shared the love for the akaal.
    Education and educating people should be done out of love and respect and knowing that not every one was priviledged enough with the gyaan that some of the Gursikhs have.
    Though a question for you, isn't it extremism when instead of focusing on akaal ustad at the Gurudwara or educating people out of love of god, we are in way using the guru's matt to offend people?

    At some point education of man or woman should bring simplicity in life, yet you see so many sikhs who call themselves liberal doing the same thing that they were taught to hate...!

  3. Picking up rakhris which were placed on the Guru's golak and putting them in the garbage is far from extremism. What would be extreme is if we made a bonfire out of them!! :-)

    When a disease becomes so acute medicines and chicken soup or rest do not help. You eventually have to go to the operation room and have the malady removed under the doctor's scalpel. Similarly, the only way to get some demeaning ritualistic ideas out of the minds of the people is to take decisive action. Throwing rakhris into the garbage will not necessarily change people's mindsets, but atleast it will make them think about their actions. Atleast we can ensure that Rakhri has nothing to do with Sikhi. If at all you want to partake in it, do it in your private homes.

    Trust me, the people (or sangat) that comes to Dixie will fall asleep during a lecture on the insignificance of Rakhri...but when N. Kaur got up and threw the stuff into the garbage, people noticed!

  4. I'm sure N. Kaur got noticed. However, from personal experience, I know that people who are 'not very religious' consider 'religious' people fanatics when they hurt their sentiments. There is no need to do a lecture which people will fall asleep in. N. Kaur could have simply gotten up and said to the sangat:
    "Rakhri is demeaning to women and is a ritual similar to the janeoo, which Guru Nanak clearly rejected. It is insulting to bring this practice in front of the Guru. If you would like to learn more about the implications of this misguided practice, please ask me later. The Rakhri in front of the Guru will be removed and the sangat is requested not to place it there any more."

    I'm not saying what N. Kaur did was wrong, I'm just saying a more loving approach, with a simple explanation might work better.

    On another topic, I appreciate Harpreet Singh's article, but I really have a hard time believing there is a "Sikh Heresy Regulation Board."
    I'm sure thier goals and intentions are noble, but that's really a bit much. Which of us can regulate heresy amongst others when our own mistakes exist?
    I think it's total heresy to deny Rag Mala, but trying to regulate the people who believe this would put us all into a world of hurt.
    If heresy is to be defined as 'against the Sikh practice' then we all commit heresy when we act from the five thieves. I appreciate zeal and passion for righteousness. I can also get fired up into action, however, what is our goal? To shame people and exhort our superiority, or teach people with love and humility so that they truly understand by having an elevating experience?
    I appreciate all the efforts of the Sikhs of the panth. We all have different perspectives, I humbly submit mine and thank the sangat for sharing.
    Sat Naam.

  5. Prabhu Singh

    Comment about N. Kaur - I understand your perspective. I truly feel that contextual facts would clarify the position and action of N. Kaur. I was reading your blog and seems like you had a great learning experience in DC. If you visited Toronto and especially the Sikh and Panjabi community, you would get a chance to learn the nuances of the community functioning, and I can guarantee you that her silent yet powerful action was a loud heard message and a "humble" plea would have landed on deaf ears.

    Regarding SHRB - it was indeed a group. Its came into existence for the sole purpose of protesting and stopping the outrageous attempt of the SGPC to "sell" Akhand Paths on the Internet. It was either 1999 or 2000 when we got together (I was involved but primarily Harpreet Singh took the lead) and created an online petition and flooded the email box of the SGPC office in protest of this "heresy". Indeed, they shutdown the practice and sent a formal apology. I think we got about 5000 signatures (and emails into the SGPC box).

    SHRB remained as a yahoogroup/egroup for a while and indeed has died down now. However, we learnt a valuable lesson. With dedicated focus, community support and action we can even tame a corrupt and mighty institution like the Badal controlled, money mongering, vested interest infested current SGPC.

    Then on the other hand, Harpreet Singh has gone on to bigger and brighter things, and I am at the point of giving up with the SGPC! :-(

    Carhdi kala!

  6. Inderpreet Singh Ji,
    I've been curious of the "nuances" of the Toronto sangat for a while. I've wanted to visit for a while as well. I have a ticket and by God's grace I will be in Toronto for the Labor Day weekend.
    I want to enjoy the sangat there, but I'm also curious to learn a little more about the sangat and some of the 'jethas' that are there. My experience of Toronto has thus far been through the internet. I want to see in person how the sangat of Toronto is and what motivates some of 'their ways' on the internet.
    I'm glad to learn the history of the SHRB and what they accomplished. I still find the name to be a bit much. If the group's intention was to regulate the internal heresy of each Sikh, I'm sure I would love the meetings (I'm picturing singing gurbani, practicing simran, etc. :-)
    Thanks for the info Bhai Ji.
    WaheGuru Ji Ka Khalsa, WaheGuru Ji Ki Fateh!