Bibi Bhani Ji holds a unique place in Sikh history. She was the mother of the first Sikh martyr, Guru Arjan Dev Ji (the fifth Guru of the Sikhs). She was also the daughter of the third Guru, Guru Amar Das Ji and the wife of fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji. As such, she was blessed to be surrounded by Naam (prayers) and Sangat (the congregation) for much of her life.
She is recognised as a symbol of Seva (service) and female strength amongst Sikhs today.
A Strong, Selfless Daughter
Typically in 16th century Punjabi culture, the birth of a boy was celebrated as it signified an extension of the family’s lineage and reassured parents that they would be cared for in their old age, whereas the birth of a girl was lamented. A girl was considered to be a temporary member of the household who would only bring dowry and wedding costs to her parents before becoming part of a new family’s household.
Bibi Bhani Ji did not conform to such low expectations of her gender. In fact, in spite of having two brothers, she took it upon herself to serve her father and the entire Sikh panth, continuing to dedicate her life to Waheguru as much after marriage as she did before.
She would comb Guru Ji’s hair, feed him and prepare him for bed, always ensuring that he had whatever he needed to remain in a state of Anand (bliss). From Bibi Bhani Ji we can learn the lesson that one can continue to honour their worldly duties in addition to daily religious service and worship: the two things do not need to be mutually exclusive.
Bibi Bhani Ji particularly enjoyed sitting by Guru Amar Das Ji whenever he was reciting prayers or meditating and would stay close by to prevent anyone from disturbing him. One day Guru Ji was in deep meditation, sitting on a large wooden stool with four legs. Bibi Bhani Ji suddenly noticed one of the legs starting to give way and so she rushed over to hold it up, adamant that she would not allow Guru Ji to fall.
Guru Ji continued to meditate, undisturbed, all through the night. Meanwhile Bibi Bhani Ji held her position, even as the wooden splinters began to cut deeper and deeper into her hand. Eventually Guru Ji came out of Samadhi (a state of deep meditation) and asked Bibi Bhani Ji what she was doing. She smiled showing him her bleeding hand and said that she did not want his prayers to be disturbed. Guru Ji was saddened by the pain she was in and began to slowly remove the splinters one by one, cleaning and bandaging his daughter’s hand.
As he looked down at Bibi Bhani Ji, he was filled with pride at her steadfast endurance. Guru Ji told her that he would grant her anything she desired. She replied that she already had everything she needed: Guru Amar Das Ji as her father, a husband who was a great devotee of Sikhi and three beautiful sons. But Guru Ji insisted that she express her innermost desire to him. Thus, Bibi Bhani Ji requested for she and her heirs to remain firmly rooted in the service of the Sikhs and to stay absorbed in the divine.
Bibi Bhani Ji’s wish was granted and the Gurgadi (Guruship) remained within the Sodhi lineage up to the 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji (creator of the Khalsa Panth in 1699) who was Bibi Bhani Ji’s great, great grandson. During the course of the Gurgadi, seven members of that divine lineage became martyrs for the Sikh panth.
No Attachment to Material Things
After her marriage to Bhai Jetha Ji (who later became the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji) the Sangat (congregation) noticed that Bibi Bhani Ji was still wearing plain clothes, not the traditional bright colours and heavy jewellery that were typically associated with a new bride. And so they bought some embroidered clothes and jewellery and offered them to Guru Amar Das Ji. Guru Ji looked at the gifts and summoned Bibi Bhani Ji.
Upon seeing the fine garments and jewels laid out before her, Bibi Bhani Ji put her hands together and told Guru Ji that she had no need for these material things. All she wanted to do was Seva (service) of the less fortunate. Fancy clothes and gold bangles would not help her to do that, instead they would only get in the way. She requested that the money the Sikhs had put together should instead be used for the communal kitchen that they ran to provide food for vulnerable people who were in most need of it.
The truth of Bani (prayer) that glowed on her face is what made Bibi Bhani Ji beautiful, not expensive clothes or jewels.
An Exemplary Mother
Bibi Bhani Ji set an extraordinary example for her three sons in the way that she dedicated her life to Sikhi and made it the centre-point of everything she did.
Her youngest son, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, grew up to be an exemplary Gursikh. As the fifth Guru, he completed construction of Sri Harmandir Sahib (popularly known as the Golden Temple), compiled the Adi Granth (holy scriptures) and then sowed the seed of martyrdom in to the faith which would become the backbone of the Sikhs for generations to come.
An Unforgettable Legacy
Bibi Bhani Ji left this world serving lepers in Tarn Taran, Punjab, where Guru Arjan Dev Ji later constructed a well in her memory.
She was an exceptional daughter, wife and mother because her faith in Waheguru and in the key principles of Sikhi were unwavering. As a result, she was able to inspire strength and kindness in everyone around her, including Sikhs in the 21st century who continue to read Sakhis (stories) of her life today.
Please forgive any mistakes I may have made in re-telling these stories. And thank you for taking the time to read this post. 🙂