In 1560 AD, the third Guru Amar Dass set up a system of spreading the teachings of Guru Nanak by appointing local community heads. He appointed 94 men and 52 women in these positions; the communities headed by men were called manji and those headed by women were called piri. Both manji and piri denote humble wooden cots, for the community leaders to sit on and provide guidance.

The role of these community leaders was akin to a bishop, to manage the local place of worship, and provide guidance that aids in living a pious life. The base principles were to earn an honest living, share your good fortune, and meditate on His name. With honest labor and hard work, the communities progressed economically. The role of mayor was added to that of the bishop overtime. It is a testimony to the gender sensitive and egalitarian nature of Guru Nanak’s teaching that both men and women were appointed Bishop-Mayors.

Bibi Bhag Bhari was the first Bishop-Mayor for the Kashmir region. The Guru tasked her with keeping the community strong and cohesive. She was responsible for social and economic affairs, and to ensure that the community in Kashmir brought honesty and piety into their daily life. Bibi Bhag Bhari performed her role very well.

She longed to see the Guru again, and present him with an embroidered coat that she had herself made over the years. In Amritsar, the passing of time saw the anointing of the sixth Guru Har Gobind, and he travelled to Kashmir to meet the first woman Bishop-Mayor. It is said that the elderly Bibi had by then lost her eyesight. But as she presented the coat to the Guru, she could see him, and shortly thereafter, she breathed her last. Her last rites were performed by Guru Har Gobind, who stayed in Kashmir for three months.

At the crossing of the Hazratbal and Kathi Darwaza roads in Srinagar, Kashmir, the Chatti Patshahi gurudwara commemorates these sacred memories.

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