Kids Corner


Women Who Inspire Me






A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to play Sada Kaur (a Sikh warrior Queen from the late 1700s and early 1800s)  in a 52-episode serial on Maharaja Ranjit Singh, produced by Raj Babbar and Doordarshan TV.

While preparing for that role, I researched Sada Kaur and was pleasantly surprised to find a powerful woman actually going into battle as a warrior, and as clever as her son-in-law and protege, Ranjit Singh -- taking major political decisions of her times.

She was the one to train the Sikh Emperor in martial arts and in realpolitik. It was very encouraging to discover such an extraordinary woman in our recent history.

This prompted me to dig further and look for more women “of substance” in our past. I found many historical characters, but when I read about the women in the life of the Sikh Gurus, I was mesmerized by their upright approach and very modern lifestyle.

For example Bibi Bhani took loving care of her father, Guru Amar Das, even after getting married (her husband later became Guru Ram Das), and Mata Khivi, wife of Guru Angad -- she helped establish the great Sikh tradition of Langar out of sheer love for serving the needy and the stranger.

Even though Guru Angad had a court full of followers, Mata Khivi herself worked in the kitchen to prepare langar. The tradition she helped build and continued in all her life, inculcated good ecological and environmental practices, hygiene, selflessness and, above all, humility. Her warmth and hospitality have been emulated since and have become part of the identity of Sikhs everywhere. 

Then, there was Mai Bhago who showed courage and prudence to awaken the ones who, out of fear of the enemy -- a conspiracy between Mughals and the Hindu hill rajas -- had deserted the Guru (the Tenth Master).

All these and many more women -- such as Bibi Sulakhni, wife of Guru Nanak, for example -- were so evolved in their thinking, had high self esteem and freely exercised freedom of thought and action in the 15-16th centuries, that they remain rich inspiration for our generations of women even today.

When I decided to work on this subject, I was shocked to find that there were no prevalent images of any of these unsung heroes. I decided to use my imagination, available literature, as well as technological resources, to create my own vision of these extraordinary women.

Acting being my forte, I studied the character of each one of them and enacted like them, got photo shoots done for each role, and using various graphic techniques, painted and created the present series.

I have named the exhibition ‘Prithamnian”, after the term ‘prithmani‘ -- creator, nurturer, warrior -- which is one of the words used by the Gurus for women in recognition of the equal and important role of women in society.

The following personages are featured in the series:


Mother of Guru Nanak who had the privilege of nurturing the Guru into a young man.


Sister of Guru Nanak is reputed to be the first one to recognize the divinity of her brother and became the first Sikh.


Wife of the Second Master, Guru Angad. She is one of the architects of the Sikh tradition of Langar. She won mention in the Guru Granth Sahib (p 967) and had the honour of serving five successive Gurus. Guru Arjan himself presided over her funeral.


Daughter of Guru Amar Das and Mansa Devi, she married Bhai Jettha (later, the Fourth Master, Guru Ram Das). The Mughal Emperor Akbar, having partaken in the langar in Guru Amar Das’ court, gifted a jagir (estate) to her; it was on this very land that Guru Ram Das later established the nascent community of Amritsar and built the Harmandar Sahib.


Wife of Guru Tegh Bahadar, the Ninth Master, and mother of Guru Gobind Singh. She was martyred in Sirhind along with her two grandsons, Sahibzadas Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, aged 9 & 7 respectively.


A renowned Sikh warrior, she is best remembered as the inspiration behind the sacrifices of the Chaali Muktey (the Forty Liberated Ones). She served Guru Gobind Singh as his body-guard till his death.


Wife of Guru Gobind Singh, she participated in the first Amrit ceremony on Vaisakhi in 1699, and became one of the earliest to be initiated into the Khalsa after the Punj Pyarey (the Five Beloved Ones) and Guru Gobind Singh himself. She is the one who added the patashas (sugar cakes) to the Amrit, making it a permanent part of the ceremony representing the Khalsa’s duty to be humble (’sweet’) while being brave and courageous.  

March 16, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), March 16, 2015, 5:39 PM.

Neeta ji, what an inspiring post. Indeed, Mata Khivi's name is immortalized by name in the shabad on Ang 967. May I add Principal Satbir Singh ji's excellent talk on 'Beti'. Please check the following site:

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Women Who Inspire Me"

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