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Gendered Translations of Gurbani

PARTAP

Writer
SPNer
May 15, 2020
6
4
19
San José, California
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

I am a young college student from California. I can read Gurmukhi fairly well, but I have a hard time understanding what the Gurbani means. Because of this, I use English translations when reading Gurbani.

My question is regarding the use of gendered pronouns such as “He”, Him”, “His” etc. From what little wisdom Waheguru has gifted me with, I understand that in Gurmukhi, the One is always referred to as “You” rather than the masculine “He”. Is this correct? If so, why do most translations use masculine pronouns? I always get annoyed by this, as I see it everywhere, in Gurdwaras on projectors, in Gurbani apps. I consider myself a feminist, so this has really had an impact when I read Gurbani.

Is the heavy use of masculine pronouns a result of Abrahamic influences on translators of Gurbani? For example, in Abrahamic faiths, the One is almost always regarded as the Father in Heaven. Thus, they use “He”.

In Sikhi, however, the One is referred to in many ways, including Mother and Father. In fact, feminism is bred into Sikhi. Do translators of Gurbani use “He” because of the Husband-Lord analogy, which is just one of the many analogies used in Gurbani?

It is also very important to note that the analogies and metaphors used by Guru Ji reflect the prevailing attitudes of the times, where women were considered much lower than men. Guru Ji used analogies in a way that not only resonated with the masses, but also exposed the darkest issues of the times. In no way was Guru Ji supporting male domination over women. In fact, Guru Ji placed women as second to the One. Guru Ji considered women as the essence of Divine Love.

So then, when analyzing English translations of Gurbani, why is it always “He”? Can we not use “She”, “Her”, and “Hers” to refer to the Universal One? Can we not refer to the One as “Queen”, in addition to “King” (Maharaj)? This has always bothered me, as I cannot understand Gurbani from Gurmukhi alone, and because I feel very deeply for our fellow sisters in the Panth, who have yet to be fully recognized as true equals in our world.

I feel very awkward whenever I say something like “Always remember and love Waheguru! She’s in your heart. She’s always with you. You are her and she is you!”. I always get confused looks from others, as if I’ve done something wrong. It breaks my heart to see our society like this.

What should translators do, so that we can have the true meaning of Gurbani in other languages? What can we do as Sikhs to further uplift women?

I apologize for any mistakes I may have made. I am just trying to share my thoughts and seek a better understanding. Much Love.❤

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
 
Last edited:

swarn bains

Poet
SPNer
Apr 9, 2012
582
151
God is genderless. spirituality is genderless, but over the ages male had been dominant. so the word he is used sometimes unintentionally the other time intententially. I translated sggs. in the beginning i started to use he or she both turn by turn in the translation but it was objected to by the masses. then i also used he most of the places but did use she as well to remind people that godliness does not give preference to the gender. it only gives preference to , humility, dedication, love and guru's teaching, no matter the guru is he or she if so.
 

Logical Sikh

Writer
SPNer
Sep 22, 2018
192
51
22
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

I am a young college student from California. I can read Gurmukhi fairly well, but I have a hard time understanding what the Gurbani means. Because of this, I use English translations when reading Gurbani.

My question is regarding the use of gendered pronouns such as “He”, Him”, “His” etc. From what little wisdom Waheguru has gifted me with, I understand that in Gurmukhi, the One is always referred to as “You” rather than the masculine “He”. Is this correct? If so, why do most translations use masculine pronouns? I always get annoyed by this, as I see it everywhere, in Gurdwaras on projectors, in Gurbani apps. I consider myself a feminist, so this has really had an impact when I read Gurbani.

Is the heavy use of masculine pronouns a result of Abrahamic influences on translators of Gurbani? For example, in Abrahamic faiths, the One is almost always regarded as the Father in Heaven. Thus, they use “He”.

In Sikhi, however, the One is referred to in many ways, including Mother and Father. In fact, feminism is bred into Sikhi. Do translators of Gurbani use “He” because of the Husband-Lord analogy, which is just one of the many analogies used in Gurbani?

It is also very important to note that the analogies and metaphors used by Guru Ji reflect the prevailing attitudes of the times, where women were considered much lower than men. Guru Ji used analogies in a way that not only resonated with the masses, but also exposed the darkest issues of the times. In no way was Guru Ji supporting male domination over women. In fact, Guru Ji placed women as second to the One. Guru Ji considered women as the essence of Divine Love.

So then, when analyzing English translations of Gurbani, why is it always “He”? Can we not use “She”, “Her”, and “Hers” to refer to the Universal One? Can we not refer to the One as “Queen”, in addition to “King” (Maharaj)? This has always bothered me, as I cannot understand Gurbani from Gurmukhi alone, and because I feel very deeply for our fellow sisters in the Panth, who have yet to be fully recognized as true equals in our world.

I feel very awkward whenever I say something like “Always remember and love Waheguru! She’s in your heart. She’s always with you. You are her and she is you!”. I always get confused looks from others, as if I’ve done something wrong. It breaks my heart to see our society like this.

What should translators do, so that we can have the true meaning of Gurbani in other languages? What can we do as Sikhs to further uplift women?

I apologize for any mistakes I may have made. I am just trying to share my thoughts and seek a better understanding. Much Love.❤

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
As Someone mentioned in this forum before, SGGS ji first translated in English by Britishers and other english scholars and they interpreted the "One God concept" of SGGS ji as same as that of Abrahamic philosophies.
As there was a lack of People in the sikh community who had knowledge of both SGGS ji as well as Good reader and writer of English language.... Therefore there wasn't really people who could challenge the English translation done by English scholars which had a lot of abrahamic philosophy's influence.
Coming back to topic, Many of scholars are currently translating SGGS ji in English as a philosophy with zero influence of any other philosophy, but as it takes alot of time to Translate SGGS ji itself in its true essence.... We have to wait patiently....
 

Logical Sikh

Writer
SPNer
Sep 22, 2018
192
51
22
I dont remeber the names of people doing the works.... But i have read Dr. Davinder singh chahal's Book on Japji Sahib where he has tried to Translate Japji Sahib in its true sense..... With No outside influence 'course...
So i'd recommend to check that out for a start...
Hope my replies makes sense 🙈
 

gjsingh

SPNer
Oct 29, 2013
53
25
In English, Spanish, etc. the grammatically correct way to refer to an person in the abstract historically has been to use "he", "him", and so on. Going back to Old English, "Waepman" meant a human with male genitalia, "Woman" meant a human with female genitalia, and "Man" was used to refer to either category. This has all been forgotten as the west descends into the madness of identity politics and meaningless virtue signalling. But I digress...
 

PARTAP

Writer
SPNer
May 15, 2020
6
4
19
San José, California
In English, Spanish, etc. the grammatically correct way to refer to an person in the abstract historically has been to use "he", "him", and so on. Going back to Old English, "Waepman" meant a human with male genitalia, "Woman" meant a human with female genitalia, and "Man" was used to refer to either category. This has all been forgotten as the west descends into the madness of identity politics and meaningless virtue signalling. But I digress...
In response to your claims about pronouns used historically, it’s important to note that the Guru Granth Sahib Ji was written in a very patriarchal, male-centered time period. This is no longer the case today, as more and more are beginning to accept the equality and oneness of all human beings, regardless of gender, religion, or skin color. For this reason, it would be ideal to use “they” to refer to an individual in the abstract.

For example, when we greet a group of people, it is socially acceptable to say “Hi guys” even if the group is entirely female. If you flip the scenario, would it be ok to say “Hi ladies” to a group of entirely males? No, it wouldn’t be. It would be better to say “Hi everyone”. These are all remnants of male-dominated society. It’s become so ingrained in our heads, that we don’t even realize it’s wrong. Not everything in history and modern society is necessarily good or right. Just because something is a “tradition” or socially acceptable, doesn’t mean it’s morally right.

In response to your claims about Old English gender words, I believe it was “wifman” for woman, and “werman” for man. If we are to truly live by Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings about gender equality, I believe we should adopt gender neutral words. For example, instead of “mankind“, we should use ”humankind” or “humanity”. We should use words that are unisex and more inclusive, and avoid using gender pronouns unnecessarily. What are your thoughts about this?

 

PARTAP

Writer
SPNer
May 15, 2020
6
4
19
San José, California
And it’s no secret that the English translations of Gurbani are very inaccurate. Yet, we see them all the time in our gurdwaras and online. I have discussed this issue with several others, and they all agree that using “he” is a mere product of patriarchy. If “he” can be used, then “she” can be used in every instance where “he” appears in translations. There are many analogies for Waheguru, including mother, father, brother, sister, and husband. Believe it or not, there is one analogy where we are all males, and Waheguru is the supreme bride. Again, these are just analogies used to describe the various possible relationships we can have with Waheguru.

Just because one occurs more often than another, does not mean “he” is true. For these reasons, we should use both “he” and “she” together, as this would reflect the gender equality taught by Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Or we should simply use “they”, as this is the most respectful way to refer to Waheguru.

When we always see “he” in Gurdwaras, it gives the impression that men are superior to women. This has very much to do with the unequal treatment of women, female infanticide, desire for male children, and inequality in a marriage between wife and husband. For example, man always leads, woman has to keep quiet and just blindly follow his orders. This happens very often in Punjabi communities. I have encountered this countless times in life, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

A big part of this is because men aren’t willing to accept women as true equals in all aspects of life. This hurts their ego and their belief that they have authority over women. They can’t imagine the thought of Waheguru being called a “she”. Let’s imagine if our society was dominated by women instead. Would we still only use “he” to refer to the Waheguru? There lies the answer.

Some even go as far as to say that men have more spiritual power and that religion is a man’s duty, because all of our Gurus were males in human form. If that’s the case, then what about our current Guru, which will be true for eternity? Gurbani is feminine. Guru Ji could have called it Guru Vak, but they chose to call it Gurbani. One can say that our everlasting Guru is in feminine form.

Many believe that “Western Feminism” has no place in Sikhi. I would argue that Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first feminist. If you call yourself a Sikh, then you are automatically a feminist. You automatically have a duty to uplift the women in our lives and break the chains of the patriarchy, which has oppressed and held back women for centuries.

The inequality that exists between men and women is contrary to Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s messages. There is a big difference between Sikhi and Punjabi culture. I have yet to find an English translation of Gurbani that is gender neutral. This is possibly because all of them are written by men, who were influenced by patriarchal society.

If we don’t address this issue now, when will we? When will the non-Punjabi community finally get to connect with the true essence of Gurbani? When will the women and men of our world finally stand side-by-side as true equals in every aspect of life? Remember, Sikhi may have originated in Punjab, but it doesn’t belong to just Punjabi people. It is a universal message that will help the whole world, especially in these dark times we are all facing.
 
Last edited:

ravneet_sb

Writer
SPNer
Nov 5, 2010
739
316
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Sat Sri Akaal,

We need not use any gender while translating.

Use ONE it has both and is I terospecting to both. Try it is applicable.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
 

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