The First Khalsa Women’s Training Camp in 1976
This is an article from a 1976 issue of Beads of Truth, written by Hari Har Kaur Khalsa, describing the first Khalsa Women’s Training Camp.
Before the beginning of the summer, I couldn’t understand why we didn’t name our women’s camp “Camp Green-trees” or “Camp Cottonwood.” These aesthetic names seemed to perfectly depict the idyllic setting and peaceful vibration of an all-woman summer camp in a grove of trees, under the sunny bright skies of northern New Mexico. “Camp Greentrees” evoked in my mind, pictures of turbaned women playing and frolicking over grassy lawns, and sitting in twos and threes, deep in discussion, kindly shaded from the noonday sun by the protective Cottonwood trees encircling the Gold House.
As it turned out, the Guru had quite a different picture of our women’s camp, and He is a much more accurate artist than any earth-bound soul.
The Siri Singh Sahib named it the “Women’s Training Camp” and this was truly a name to be lived up to. The “training” was in learning to be a Khalsa Woman — a fearless, living divinity; strong in sadhana as well as in physical manifestation.
Every second of the day in camp was utilized. We ended our sadhana with a mile run. We breakfasted fast and dashed off to swimming and tennis. We tilled the land in the garden that provided our food. We clambered over the five foot wall and crawled on our bellies through the dirt of our obstacle course. We learned the noble art of Gatka (Indian sword fighting). At the sound of the bell, we raced to our karate class. Muscles that hadn’t even been thought of in years were restrengthened. We were tested at every turn. The initial trauma of learning to fire the five rounds of bullets turned into a feeling of confidence and power, respect and poise.
After our physical activities, we had intensive Gurmukhi classes; each day we read our Bhanis with more speed, accuracy, and comprehension. Our daily Gurbani classes gave us time to sing and chant together. We lived together, stood together and marched in formation together, through the streets of Espanola while the populous looked on in awe and wonder. We daily marched under the rising sun, learning to command each other as well as to be commanded by each other.
Everything was done as a unit. Bunk 1 made the meals. Bunk 2 cleaned the showers, Bunk 3 guarded the camp and the “bunk leaders” looked after all their bunk members. We formed a sub-structure, applying the social and spiritual mores of the 3HO way of life.
This was an experiment; a unique opportunity to practically apply the teachings we had been blessed with on a day-to-day basis. We came to camp equipped with our blenders, irons, leak-proof super tents, stoves, Posturepedic foams, perfect running suits, immaculate sports turbans, and a sincere desire to cast off the scarred garb of our past and emerge as the New Woman, the Sikh woman with the consciousness of her own virtue and strength and commitment to live/to die for each other.
Living took on a new meaning. To live became living positively, gracefully, hopefully, strongly, meditatively. To live as one with the sisterhood of the Khalsa; to carry your sister on your back and never stagger, never fall. It became a reinforced way of living, to encourage each other to surmount every negative obstacle on the path to dignity, security and righteousness
To live as a Sikh woman requires tools, and Siri Singh Sahib, Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji was there every day, handing us the tools and giving us the techniques required for growth. “You should never miss on opportunity when you can learn to really be a woman,” the Siri Singh Sahib advised, and he provided daily opportunities with his lecture series: “The Living Woman.” His lectures covered every aspect of the female, from her psyche to her physical, to her spiritual being.
“Here 100 women are getting together,” he pointed out, “there are 200 million women in America. The percentage is very small, but the ant is moving to the mountain, and the moment will come when the mountain trembles before that ant. It is the moment of righteousness.” And we listened and moved as an inseparable group toward that moment. We each vowed within ourselves never to fall, for when a woman falls, generations fall.
Here and now, we wanted “to become honest, disciplined people who have virtues, who can give up negativity and share the virtues.” The Siri Singh Sahib daily reminded us of why we had come:
“Here we make an honest effort to be a self-disciplined person. A person who cannot look at himself, that person cannot look at God. We want each person to learn every facet of life . . . We want you to learn how you can make amends to be positive” (July 27 lecture).
It was a re-making of our psychology as women. The mysterious sensitive intuitive female character was defined and explained to us by the Siri Singh Sahib. This re-education enabled us to dig deep into our mental faculties, to throw out the garbage and replace it with new habits and values. We were being readied to take on the load of the world.
Women’s Camp was our first such opportunity as women of the Khalsa, to become what we wanted to become. It was a mutually exclusive environment, wherein the males did not set foot. As ancient history records the superiority of women warriors over men, our own history will remark on the powerful positive organizational skills exhibited by this all-female community. By dealing with all aspects of life ourselves, by overcoming all problems, an incredible camaraderie developed which left no one out. Helping hands and helpful hearts were extended to all who entered the confines of Women’s Camp and no one left without experiencing that blissful radiance which can only emanate from the power of the female energy, undisturbed by any male polarity.
Now the summer is over and the question comes to our minds: “How did we do?” What did it mean to see those long lines of turbaned ladies-in-training at the corner store, enthusiastically eating ice cream sandwiches on wheat berry day? Were those our ‘‘Graces of God” piling into the local ice cream parlor, sun-burned cheeks exploding with laughter after a day spent swimming and playing at a desert dam? Just what was this training all about?
“In many ways our thanks will be unspoken. But we pray that through our actions, we shall tell of our growth. And grow we did. We grew to inordinately universal height. We soared.”
And we did it together, as one body, determinedly falling heavily and regaining balance as gracefully as possible. This summer we performed a small miracle and everyone lived it for eight hard-working, hard-playing weeks. We arrived in Espanola, wondering, not knowing, looking at this vast, red, desolate land, looking at each other, thinking: “Where are we going and how do we get there?”
And we left, arm in arm, hearts full of unspeakable love for our God and Guru who have provided us with this glorious life, this blessed family, this wonder of creation and this path to walk on. We left whole women, able to carry on against any odds with grace and strength, as a backbone to our husbands and brothers. We became Khalsa Women.
Will you know me
When I come home again?
On this soil, I’ve been growing
Into a living woman.
I have no words to tell you
Where I have been
No picture, no story could give that description!
Only my life, our life, will show
As I serve you, I shall deserve you
And so shall we grow.”
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