Guru Ravidas

Monday, 23 January 2017 06:33 Written by

Guru or Bhagat Ravidas (also Raidas) was a north Indian Sant mystic of the bhakti movement who was active in the 15th century CE. Venerated in northern India and in the Indian state of Maharashtra, he is the Satguru of the Ravidasi sect and one of the fifteen Bhagats of the Sikhs. His devotional songs and verses made a lasting impact upon the bhakti movement.

A poor shoemaker, forty of his earliest songs were to be included in the Sikh anthology Adi Granth. [1] There is also a larger body of hymns passed on independently. Ravidas was subversive in that his devotionalism implied a levelling of the social divisions of caste and gender, yet ecumenical in that it tended to promote crossing of sectarian divides in the name of a higher spiritual unity.[2] He taught that one is distinguished not by ones caste (jati) but by ones actions (karma) and that every person has the right to worship God and read holy texts.

In the 19th and 20th centuries there emerged a distinct sect, the Ravidasis, for whom he is the chief guru. A temple was built at his birthplace. Ravidas Jayanti is celebrated with a procession, bearing the portrait of the great ascetic in the main streets and bazaars of the city with music. Special pujas and feasts are arranged in temples dedicated to Guru Ravidas.

Background

The details of Guru Ravidas' life are controversial. According to some he was born in 1376/7 or else 1399 CE but many scholars offer later dates. Schaller estimates his lifespan as 1450-1520[3] while the Encyclopedia Brittanica contents itself with a floreat of 15th-16th century CE.[4]. Partly this is due to traditions that make him, one one hand, like his contemporary Kabir the disciple of Ramananda (he is mentioned as such c.1600 CE in Nabhadas' Bhaktamal) but also, on the other, the guru of Meera (according to a song attributed to her:[5] "guru miliyaa raidasjee"). However, as Schaller points out, the importance of such claims lies in their establishing the authority of a lineage of gurus (parampara). One may count oneself a disciple of a master without having actually met him.

His origin and parents are likewise given differently. According to one account he was born in a village named Sri Govardhan, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India: his father Baba Santokh Das was a leather merchant (chamar) and Mata Kalsa Devi was his mother. His father got him married to Mata Lona Devi at early age and according to the Ravidas Purana he had a son named Vijaydas. A region between Ahmednagar and Benares is named after him.

The queen of Chittorgarh is said to have been a disciple (this may be connected with Meera, who was married to the ruler of Chittorgarh). It is said that the conservative Brahmins of Kashi could not stand the popularity of this "untouchable saint". A complaint was made to the king that he was working against age-old norms of social order (varnashrama dharma) - a cobbler was not supposed to talk of God or do work of advising or teaching. The ruler arranged for an assembly of learned men. Ravidas was also invited and was felicitated publicly. A procession was arranged (shobha yatra) and the king himself participated.

Today he is respected, as when Bangaru Laxman (Organiser, 6-8-1995) accused Congress leader Sitaram Kesri of showing "disrespect to Dalit saints like Ravidas, Satyakam Jabali, Sadhna Kasai, Banka Mahar, Dhanna Chamar and others who protected Hindus against foreign onslaughts." [6]

 

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