Kids Corner


Three Paintings I Would Like to See:
Letters from Espanola





These days, you can find just about anything on the Internet. Type the words "Guru Nanak" in Google, click on the "Images" tab, and there you have hundreds of images of Guru Nanak taken from websites all over the world.

If it exists, you can probably find it somewhere online.

If it exists.

For years now, I have had three images in my mind. Three paintings that capture the power and beauty of the Sikh spiritual woman. These paintings have never been created, but I wish they had been.

This week, I’ve decided to write about these paintings.

Sikh art that "could have been" or "may one day be."



The story of Mai Bhago and the 40 Muktry -- Liberated Ones -  is one that we all remember every time we recite or hear the ardaas. We honor the memory of how this one courageous women led 40 Sikhs who had deserted Guru Gobind Singh, back into battle. A battle which ultimately liberated the souls of those who fought.

But have we ever stopped to consider what Mai Bhago's life was like before that moment of destiny? How hard she must have trained herself to be capable of such a military feat? How much her family and social circle may have misunderstood her longing to study the sword? I cannot imagine that her path to develop herself as a warrior was easy.

And so, in my mind's eye, I see Mai Bhago in the forest somewhere. Away from prying eyes and clucking tongues. With her steel swords, concentrated in training. Sweating, developing the strength of her body and the steadiness of her mind. A woman wholly focused on the intense joy of driving herself to her own excellence. Alone. Because, as a woman, how much support would she really have had in this endeavor?

That is the first painting I wish existed. A painting of Mai Bhago, on her own, practicing Gatka.



Bibi Bhani is one of the most honored women, not only in Sikh history, but in all of human history.

She had a strong spiritual discipline. She lived as the daughter of a Guru and the wife of a Guru.

She became the mother, grandmother, the great and great-great grandmother of  Gurus.

She married Jetha, and loved and supported him as his wife long before Guru Amar Das passed the Guruship to him. On their wedding day, young orphan Jetha became part of the Guru's personal family through his marriage to Guru Amar Das's daughter.

Bibi Bhani was the princess, and he - the future King.

I can only imagine the happiness on that day for the both of them. Basking in a love that they shared for Guru Amar Das and for the Sikh path. I dearly wish there was a painting that captured this moment. A humble wedding that began a spiritual lineage.



In one of the histories I have read, it is said that Guru Tegh Bahadar entrusted the task of teaching young Gobind Rai how to do simran -- to meditate -- to his wife and child's mother, Mata Gujjri.

For many years, Tegh Bahadar had lived -- long before he was proclaimed Guru -- a deeply meditative life in Bakala. He spent time in deep contemplation in the cellar of his home.

His wife lived that stark discipline with him throughout.

And so, while Tegh Bahadar -- now as Guru -- traveled and visited various communities, the task of teaching meditation and Sikh spirituality to their young spiritual prince fell to her.

This is the third painting that I wish existed. A painting of Mata Gujjri teaching Gobind Rai how to meditate. I have no doubt Gobind Rai was a quick study. But still, like all children, he needed to be trained and taught. He needed a touch to nurture the divine gifts within him.

There would be no Spiritual Nation without the contributions of these women. Yet, we have so few images celebrating and remembering what they have done. We have so few paintings to inspire today's young women, to help them envision what their lives could be. Become an expert in martial arts. Project divinity into your environments. Practice meditation and teach your children how to merge with the divine in their hearts.

Why not? Women of that caliber nurtured the very first seeds of the Sikhs.

If I had the skill to paint, I would create these works myself. But while I am an artist with the word, in all honesty, I cannot draw a straight line to save my life. If I had earthly wealth, I would hold a contest and give a wonderful prize for the best version of these paintings.

But I am a woman with a vast spiritual treasure, living in a humble home. The best I could offer is to cook someone dinner if they made the effort.

Still, I have a longing for these paintings to come to life one day. Perhaps someone reading this will get inspired to create these works.

I have a space on my wall waiting for them.


November 14, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Nav Kaur (Australia), November 14, 2013, 5:30 AM.

Such a pleasant read! Well, you certainly managed to paint a picture of these incredible Sikh women in my mind. Thank you.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), November 14, 2013, 6:45 AM.

Sikh female iconic figures need to be exalted like this more often to ween the brahmanical men amidst us off misogyny and male child preference. We owe our freedoms to human beings like these three extraordinary Sikh women.

3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 14, 2013, 2:57 PM.

Ek Ong Kaar jio, you have painted the best paintings ever. Your pen is your brush ... and keep at it.

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Letters from Espanola"

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