A MINORITY WITHIN A MINORITY: THE RAVIDASSIAS
On the 24th of May, 2009, six men armed with daggers and a gun entered the Shri Guru Ravidass Gurdwara (Temple) in Vienna, and started shooting, aiming at the two visiting sants (holymen) from India who were giving a sermon at the time. The ensuing bloodshed resulted in thedeath of Sant Ramanand Ji, who died of gun wounds, and the serious injury of Sant NiranjanDass Ji, the spiritual head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan, a religious centre in the Punjab devoted toGuru Ravidass Ji, a fourteenth century untouchable saint. Thirty devotees were injured, eleven ofthem seriously. Hours after news of the death Sant Ramanand Ji spread, the Punjab erupted inviolence, a state curfew was imposed, and the army was called in to restore order. Who werethese men, and what motivated them to kill? And why did this terrible incidence of violence occur in a temple run by a low-caste group known as Ravidassias? This article willattempt to explain the context and history behind an attack that has shocked and confused many.The attack on Sant Niranjan Dass Ji and Sant Ramanand Ji did not just spontaneouslyoccur, but rather is the outcome of longstanding and long simmering tension between orthodox Sikhs and lower castethe Chamar caste (a caste that has historically worked withleather), in the Punjab, a state located in northern India. The state of Punjab is unique in India,because it is the only state that boasts a Sikh majority. It is also unique in having the highestpercentage of Dalits or untouchables of any state in India – 30% state-wide, a percentage thatreaches 40% in some areas. Sikhism is a minority faith in India, practiced by some 24 millionpeople worldwide. It was founded in 1469 in the Punjab, in response to and protest against manyof the rituals and institutions of Hinduism, the dominant faith tradition of India. In particular, theten Gurus of Sikhism preached against untouchability and the caste system, and encouragedinter-dining (though not intermarriage), by instituting the religious practice of langar, in which alldevotees, regardless of caste or religion, eat side by side to symbolize equality. However, despitethe reforming efforts of the Sikh gurus, the casteist mentality that permeated Punjabi societycontinued unabated and also influenced the development of the new faith. Punjabi Sikhs, like Punjabi Hindus, remain divided along cast lines, and the vast majority of marriages are carried outaccording to caste norms. In contemporary Sikhism, the most important religious institutions arewithin the hands of Jatt Sikhs, a dominant caste composed of agriculturalists and landowners.Socially, most Punjabi villages remain segregated along caste lines, with even separate cemeteriesfor lower and upper caste Sikhs. In response to their exclusion and lack of full participation in Sikh religious institutions and in Punjab society in general, lower caste Sikhs have founded theirown temples (gurdwaras), and have gravitated in large numbers towards deras, or religious centres,devoted to Guru Ravidass Ji. For lower caste Sikhs, Ravidass Ji is equally as important as the ten Sikh Gurus are to orthodox Sikhs, for Ravidass Ji, a fellow “untouchable”, was the first personfrom their caste to rise to a position of spiritual leadership despite his humble origins. Indeed,forty-one of his bani, or religious poems, are included in the Sikh holy book. With the rise ineconomic power of the Chamar caste, these deras and Ravidassia gurdwaras throughout Punjabas well as overseas have grown in number and size. In recent years, beyond establishing their own Sikh temples, Ravidassias have increasingly been asserting an independent, heterodox religiousidentity, with their own religious symbol, flag, and religious chant (known as Jai Kara), which alldiffer from orthodox Sikh norms. In addition, many Ravidassias follow the sants (saints) of derasdevoted to Guru Ravidass Ji as human gurus, which is strictly forbidden by orthodox Sikhism (Sikhs believe that according to the orders of the tenth and final Guru, the guruship passed to the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, who is now Eternal Guru). The unorthodox religiousidentity and practices of the Ravidassias are deeply offensive to a section of the orthodox Sikh community, who see in them beadbi, or “disrespect” towards the Sikh holy book. In particular,they are incensed when dera saints sit at the level of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Sikh holy book),and are bowed before, a privilege, which in their eyes, is reserved exclusively for the eternal Guru,the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Ravidassias, in response, allege that upper caste Sikhs (particularly Jats)treat Sikhism as if it were their own, do not acknowledge the contribution of lower caste saints tothe Sikh tradition, and do not accord due respect to Guru Ravidass Ji, reflected in their refusal tocall him Guru (for orthodox Sikhs Ravidss Ji is called a bhagat, or student, but not a Guru).Furthermore, Ravidassias argue that they have the right to freedom of religious expression. In theaftermath of this tragic incident, an increasing number of Ravidassias are affirming that “we arenot Sikhs”.
Thus, when a group of armed men broke into the Ravidassia Gurdwara in Vienna duringthe European tour of the two most important spiritual leaders of the Ravidassia movement,religious, cultural and economic factors were at play. Religiously, Ravidassia religious practices areseen to be an affront to the Rahit Maryada, or the Sikh code of conduct, that is enforced by theSGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee), the highest governing body of Sikhism.Ravidassias were therefore being punished for their religious non-conformity. Culturally,Ravidassia attempts at asserting an independent religious identity threatens the symbolicdominance of Sikhism and its symbols. In establishing separate religious institutions, low-caste Ravidassias are also simultaneously asserting a separate cultural identity that reflects their growingconfidence as a group. Although perhaps less evident, the Ravidassia movement also haseconomic implications. Each time that a Ravidassia community in the Punjab or abroad decidesto set up its own autonomous gurdwara, the mainstream gurdwara in that locality loses devoteesand consequently the substantial donations that they bring. In the diaspora context, donations areeven more lucrative. Ravidassia gurdwaras do not send a part of their proceeds to the SGPC, asother gurdwaras do. Thus, although religious motives are predominant in the orthodoxSikh/Ravidassia dispute, the growing economic and social strength of the Ravidassia movementis also a key. Although it is not uncommon for orthodox Sikhs to deny the importance of caste in Sikhism, the multiplication of Ravidassia deras, along with Ravidassia gurdwaras, reveals a morecomplex reality, in which a long-discriminated and stigmatized caste group has chosen a religiousstrategy for their social and cultural assertion. It is through worship of Guru Ravidass Ji and thereligious symbols of the Ravidassia movement that many members of the Chamar caste areseeking social equality and respect in the Punjab.
Why Should We Pray?
Prayer can be described as a person’s ability to converse with and have faith in God; and many of us do not realize the importance of praying. Many of us only remember God in unfortunate times. And many of us don’t acknowledge his presence at all.
Prayer is powerful and very important. It is necessary not only in times of grief, but also in times of happiness. The reason why we are able to live and breathe, and even read this article, is because of God. Because of God’s blessings we are able to become educated and to perform good deeds for the betterment of our families and community. Praying could be seen as important as the bones in our body. Our bones give us support, just as God gives us support in our everyday endeavors. Without our bones we are nothing, just as we are nothing without God. Whatever happens, happens for the best, and it is crucial to remember that God has something in store for all of us. Praying can even serve as therapy, a method used to relieve stress and an outlet to release our emotions. A strong level of religious belief has proven level of health benefits, including living a longer and healthier life.
Life is full of many struggles, or as we may call it, “ups and downs”. There will be times in which we find ourselves in stressful situations, and unable to see a way out. However, God is immortal and has sovereign power; He is the source of ultimate hope. Having faith in and praying to God can enable us to concentrate on the more essential things in life. To believe in God is not just to unquestioningly accept and acknowledge his presence, but also to fully commit your heart to Him and trust that He will relieve you of the pains and obstacles in your life. Praying doesn’t have to be just reciting from the Guru Granth Sahib, prayer can simply be thanking God, asking Him for help, appreciating him, or even just speaking to Him about your troubles. Although He already is aware of everything that goes on in His Creation, he is interested in knowing what His People have to say to him.
There should be no excuses made when it comes to prayer, because when there is a will, there also is a way. If people have time for leisurely activities, they also can take out a few minutes each day to remember God. Even if you can’t read Punjabi, or Gurmukhi, the language in which the Guru Granth Sahib is written in, here is a useful website which has English translations and pronunciations:
We are indebted to the many miracles performed by Shri Guru Ravidass Ji, actions which aided the realization of equality and human rights of our community. Here is one of his many stories in which he proved that all human beings are equal:
In Guru Ravidass Ji’s time, Brahmins (people of high caste) believed that if a person of the Untouchable caste listens intentionally to a recitation of the Veda (holy book), his ears shall be filled with molten tin; if he recites the Veda text himself then his tongue shall be cut off. Guru Ravidass Ji refused to submissively tolerate these injustices, for he believed that it was completely against human rights. Therefore, he began to act like a Brahmin; he wore a Janju (a thick thread worn over shoulders and around the back) and he also began blowing the conch shell, all of which were actions only Brahmins were allowed to do. When the Brahmins became aware of Guru Ravidass Ji’s endeavors, they became envious. They told Guru Ravidass Ji’s father to stop him because in their eyes, the Untouchables were not, under any circumstances, to behave like Brahmins. They believed that those of the low caste were not worthy of worshipping God and did not have a right to do so either. However, Guru Ravidass Ji replied that he had every right to worship God and that nobody could stop him. So when the Pandits, Brahmin priests, found they really were unable to stop him, they began complaining to the King, Raja Nagar Mall. The King therefore ordered Guru Ravidass Ji to come to his court. Guru Ravidass Ji, still dressed as a Brahmin, arrived at the court where the King told him to stop acting as though he was a Brahmin, and especially to stop wearing the Janju. The King also reinforced the belief that only the Brahmins were allowed to wear them. Guru Ravidass Ji replied to the King that he had been wearing Janju for ages, and that in this century he happened to belong to a so called “low caste”; however, despite this fact he still had every right to wear the Janju. He told the King that worshipping God was a right that all human beings had and that all human beings are equal, which was proven by the fact that “every man’s blood is red”. He explained to the King that the true Janjus were inside all human beings and not wrapped around their bodies as the Brahmins had believed. He also told the King that he would stop only on one condition, and that was if the Pandits could show him what he was about to show to the King. Guru Ravidass Ji inserted a “rambie”, a small knife, into his chest and red blood began flowing out, as expected. Guru Ravidass Ji then pulled out the four real Janju threads (gold, silver, bronze and cotton) from his body and explained that these were inside his chest for the four ages of Satjug, Traite, Doapper and Kaljug. As he realized the greatness and remarkable powers Guru Ravidass Ji possessed, King Nagar Mall fell upon Guru Ravidass Ji’s feet, begged for forgiveness, and became one of Guru Ravidass Ji’s devoted followers.
Like Guru Ravidass Ji, may God also grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Shri Guru Ravidass Ji has made innumerable sacrifices for the well-being of our community and humankind. So why not take at least a few minutes out of twenty four hours each day to express our gratitude?
HAR KO HEERA SHAAD KE KARE AAN KI AAS, TEH NAR DOJHIK JAYENGE SATBAKHE RAVIDASS
(Human beings may forget God and may began to expect materialistic things, but only those who remember God’s name go on to heaven)
Guru or Bhagat?
Ever since Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji was recognized as a supreme being, many people have asked themselves one simple but compelling question: Is Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji a Guru or a Bhagat? This controversial question has conquered the minds of even the most devoted followers.
What is the difference between the true meaning of a Guru and a Bhagat? A Bhagat refers to a holy person who leads humanity towards God, and a Guru is a spiritual teacher. And what does the content of the teachings of a Guru consist of? They consist of the correct standard of living & requirements in order to one day unite with God, which is a similar concept to which a Bhagat would lead. The only potential difference is that a Guru leads a Sangat, while on the other hand a Bhagat does not usually preach to attract supporters. A Bhagat preaches to highlight injustices in the practices of the world. A Bhagat may also be a Guru if he has a Sangat, like Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji has today.
Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji once wrote in one of his 41 shabads, “Tumre Bhajan, Kahte Jamh Phasa, Bhagat Heth, Gaave Ravidassa”. There are many meanings of the term ‘Bhagat’ in different contexts. ‘Bhagat’ in the Hindi dictionary defines a ‘slave’, meaning Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji in his shabad listed above was portraying himself as a ‘slave’ of God. From my understanding of my faith, the Ravidassia community regards Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji as their Guru because he had lead a significant role in setting an example of the importance and reality in believing in God. He showed us how an individual by himself can go through so much of a harsh reality to believe in God, and how much we should appreciate our freedom to worship God, so that we may have a secure place in his kingdom of heaven.
The reality of calling Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji a Guru is that many “lower caste” Sikhs had been left out by “higher caste” Sikhs. In return, the lower class had opened Gurdwaras proclaiming Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji, who was born into a “lower caste”, as their patron and leader, their Guru. As a result of Guru Ravidass Ji being a low caste (Chamar) he faced unbearable castism and unfair prejudice. Therefore he was not permitted to follow any faith or worship God. However, his powers and divinity with God would not stop him from doing anything. He proved to all the discriminators that nothing could stop a man from acquiring the devotion and presence of God within himself by performing numerous amazing miracles. The Hindu caste system has plagued our people; let us not let it blur our vision of people any longer. Every soul on this planet is equal.
Some people argue Guru or Bhagat, but I would say it does not make a difference. If you are spiritual and a follower of the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, then you will know that Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji’s shabads are in there. He had no ego and never called or represented himself as a master even for his spiritual teachings. He followed an egoless, honest and true path of devotion. Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ji denied the caste system and did not have any religion but one God, also known as Ek Onkar.
We, the Ravidassia community, class him as a Guru because we are followers of his teachings of humanity, equality, universal brotherhood, and more. He set an example for his followers to break the barriers set up by so called upper castes and set a philosophical and armed path for freedom. He taught us how to respect all religious pathways and the power of tolerance. To some he was a Bhagat, and to some he was a Guru, but it does not matter, his accomplishments far outweigh anything that a mortal could achieve today.
Guru Ravidass Ji
Guru Ravidass Ji Maharaj, whose 632nd birth anniversary is being celebrated throughout the world, was a great saint of medieval Bhakti movement of North India. He belonged to the lowest of the low castes in India whose touch used to be considered polluting to the Savarnas. He opened a frontal attack against the system of untouchability. He rejected the tradition of Brahmin mediator to reach the Supreme Being. He also said that one need not to hide his caste or leave his low profession to reach God. He became a model for his fellow beings to overcome the hierarchical barriers of Brahminical Social Order and to establish Begumpura – a state without fear and sorrows. Guru Ravidass elevated the status of the labor by emphasizing on the fact that honest labor is empowering. He completely rejected the concept of living on charity or miraculous wealth obtained by Paras.
By defeating the famous Kashi Pundits in a formally organized Shastrartha, Guru Ravidass proved that merit is not the fiefdom of so called upper castes alone. Everybody is capable of worshipping Him. The fourfold division of Hindu society is a big lie and a trick to make and keep a large section of the Indian society under the cruelty and control of the few in the name of purity-pollution principle made by the so-called Brahmins. It is against this very system of religiously sanctified social differentiation that Guru Ravidass envisioned establishing a state where there would be no place for untouchability and social oppression.
For the social transformation of the society, Guru Ravidass laid emphasis on labor, compassion, virtue, prohibition of alcohol and all bad deeds. He also reiterated on the urgent need of remembering the formless God whom he addressed by varied names. Some scholars are of the view that Guru Ravidass did not form an organization nor he launched any consistent and systematic agitation against the system of untouchability. This is true. But to raise a loud voice at his times was no less than a clarion call to dismantle the unjust system of Brahminical social order. It is also true that the path told by him has become the beacon light for the Dalit movement in the country and abroad.
-Prem Kumar Chumber
Satguru Patshah Ravidass Jio 1377-1520
Like Satguru Namdev, Satguru Ravidass worshipped the same lord and gave the new concept of Satnam and wrote the Aarti, Mool-gian, Mokti-marg. Following in his footsteps he forwarded the mission which was the equality to raise the poor people and a head collision with the extremists. He overcomes the fear by introducing 3 forms, physical, mental and religious. Together with Satguru Kabir they started to preach from Varanasi Benares the orthodox centre of Brahmins. The saints also preached widely against caste system like Namdev and did not worship any idols or outsider rituals. They travelled from Uttar Pardesh Rajastan,, Gujrat Maharashtra to, Punjab ( Including old India ), Kashmir, Afghanistan, Himachal, Behar, Orisa Bengal. His shrine is still preserved in India in the village of Ghuman in Punjab distt Gurdaspur. 41 hyms of Satguru Ravidas’s are compiled in (SGGS). The declaration of Independence the city of heaven without any fear.
Baygumpura, ‘the city without sorrow’, is the name of the town. There is no suffering or anxiety there. There are no troubles or taxes on commodities there. There is no fear, blemish or downfall there. ||1|| Now, I have found this most excellent city. There is lasting peace and safety there, O Siblings of Destiny.||1|| Pause || God’s Kingdom is steady, stable and eternal. There is no second or third status; all are equal there. That city is populous and eternally famous. Those who live there are wealthy and contented. ||2|| They stroll about freely, just as they please. They know the Mansion of the Lord’s Presence, and no one blocks their way. Says Ravidass, the emancipated shoemaker: whoever is a citizen there, is a friend of mine. || 3 || 2 ||
Namdev the printer, and Kabir the weaver, obtained salvation through the Perfect Guru. Those who know God and recognize His Shabad lose their ego and class-consciousness. Their Banis are sung by the angelic beings, and no one can erase them, O Siblings of Destiny! P 67 SGGS
Once they became Sikh of the perfect Guru and the followed the instructions and achieved salvation by mediating on God.
Blessed, blessed is the Lord’s Bhagat, devotee, my True Guru;
Blessed, blessed is the True Being, my True Guru; meeting Him, I have found peace. Blessed, blessed is the True Being, my True Guru; meeting Him, I have attained the Lord’s devotional worship. Blessed, blessed is the Lord’sBhagat, devotee, my True Guru; serving Him, I have come to enshrine love for the Name of the Lord. Blessed, blessed is the Knower of the Lord, my True Guru; He has taught me to look upon friend and foe alike. Blessed, blessed is the True Guru, my best friend; He has led me to embrace love for the Name of the Lord. || 19 P 594 SGGS
The Words of the Bhagats, devotees are Ambrosial Nectar, O my soul; hear them in the mind, and embrace loving affection for the Lord P 538 SGGS
This is how it is declared in Guru Granth O mind, do not even associate with those who have turned their backs on the Lord.The Naam, the Name of the Lord, is a jewel, a ruby. It brings Truth, contentment and spiritual wisdom. The Lord entrusts the treasures of peace, intuition and kindness to His devotees. ||1|| this is the treasure of my Lord. Consuming and expending it, it is never used up. The Lord has no end or limitation. ||1|| Pause|| The Kirtan of the Lord’s Praise is a priceless diamond. It is the ocean of bliss and virtue. In the Word of the Guru’s Bani is the wealth of the unstruck sound current. The Saints hold the key to it in their hands. ||2|| They sit there, in the cave of deep Samaadhi; the unique, perfect Lord God dwells there. God holds conversations with His devotees. There is no pleasure or pain, no birth or death there. ||3|| One whom the Lord Himself blesses with His Mercy, obtains the Lord’s wealth in the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy. Nanak prays to the merciful Primal Lord; the Lord is my merchandise, and the Lord is my capital. || 4 || 24 || 35 || P893-4
Listen to the stories of the devotees, O my mind, and meditate with love. Ajaamal uttered the Lord’s Name once, and was saved. Baalmeek found the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy. The Lord definitely met Dhroo.||1|| I beg for the dust of the feet of Your Saints. Please bless me with Your Mercy, Lord, that I may apply it to my forehead.||1||Pause || Ganika the prostitute was saved, when her parrot uttered the Lord’s Name. The elephant meditated on the Lord, and was saved. He delivered the poor Brahmin Sudama out of poverty. O my mind, you too must meditate and vibrate on the Lord of the Universe. ||2|| Even the hunter who shot an arrow at Krishna was saved. Kubija the hunchback was saved, when God placed His Feet on her thumb. Bidar was saved by his attitude of humility. O my mind, you too must meditate on the Lord. ||3||The Lord Himself saved the honor of Prahlaad. Even when she was being disrobed in court, Dropatee’s honor was preserved. Those who have served the Lord, even at the very last instant of their lives, are saved. O my mind, serve Him, and you shall be carried across to the other side. ||4|| Dhanna served the Lord, with the innocence of a child. Meeting with the Guru, Trilochan attained the perfection of the Siddhas. The Guru blessed Baynee with His Divine Illumination. O my mind, you too must be the Lord’s slave. ||5|| Jai Dayv gave up his egotism. Sain the barber was saved through his selfless service. Do not let your mind waver or wander; do not let it go anywhere. O my mind, you too shall cross over; seek the Sanctuary of God. ||6|| O my Lord and Master, You have shown Your Mercy to them. You saved those devotees. You do not take their merits and demerits into account. Seeing these ways of Yours, I have dedicated my mind to your service. ||7|| Kabeer meditated on the One Lord with love. Naam Dayv lived with the Dear Lord. Ravi Daas meditated on God, the Incomparably Beautiful. Nanak Dayv’s Guru is the Embodiment of the Lord of the Universe. ||8 |1|| P1192 SGGS
Remembering Him in meditation, one abides in peace; one becomes happy, and suffering is ended.||1|| Celebrate, make merry, and sing God’s Glories. Forever and ever, surrender to the True Guru. ||1||Pause|| Act in accordance with the Shabad, the True Word of the True Guru. Remain steady and stable within the home of your own self, and find God. ||2|| Do not harbor evil intentions against others in your mind, and you shall not be troubled, O Siblings of Destiny, O friends. ||3|| The Name of the Lord, Har, Har, is the Tantric exercise, and the Mantra, given by the Guru. Nanak knows this peace alone, night and day.||4||11||62||
That wretched being, whom no one knows – chanting the Naam, the Name of the Lord, he is honored in the four directions. ||1|| I beg for the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan; please, give it to me, O Beloved! Serving You, who, who has not been saved? ||1|| Pause|| That person, whom no one wants to be near – the whole world comes to wash the dirt of his feet. ||2|| That mortal, who is of no use to anyone at all – by the Grace of the Saints, he meditates on the Naam. ||3|| In the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, the sleeping mind awakens. Then, O Nanak, God seems sweet. ||4||12|| 63|| 386 SGGS
All pains, diseases and fears are erased, for one who comes to the Sanctuary of the Lord’s Saints. He Himself chants, and inspires others, and me to chant the Naam, the Name of the Lord. He is Utterly All-Powerful; He carries us across to the other side ||1|| His Mantra drives out cynicism, and totally fills the empty one. Those who obey the Order of the Lord’s slaves, do not enter into the womb of reincarnation ever again. ||2|| Whoever works for the Lord’s devotees and sings His Praises – his pains of birth and death are taken away. Those unto whom my Beloved becomes Merciful, endure the Unendurable Ecstasy of the Lord, Har, Har.||3|| Those who are satisfied by the Sublime Essence of the Lord, merge intuitively into the Lord; no mouth can describe their state. By Guru’s Grace, O Nanak, they are content; chanting and meditating on God’s Name, they are saved.||4|13|
Gazing upon the Blessed Vision, the Darshan of God’s Bhagata, devotees :I sing, O I sing the Songs of Joy of my Lord, the Treasure of Virtue. Fortunate is the time, fortunate is the day and the moment, when I become pleasing to the Lord of the World.||1|| Pause || I touch my forehead to the Feet of the Saints. The Saints have placed their hands on my forehead.||1|| My mind is filled with the Mantra of the Holy Saints, and I have risen above the three qualities ||2||Gazing upon the Blessed Vision, the Darshan of God’s Bhagata, devotees, my eyes are filled with love. Greed and attachment are gone, along with doubt.||3|| Says Nanak, I have found intuitive peace, poise and bliss. Tearing down the wall, I have met the Lord, the Embodiment of Supreme Bliss. || 4 || 14 ||1206 SGGS
Furthermore, I am a sacrifice to that occasion. Twenty-four hours a day, I meditate in remembrance on my God; by great good fortune, I have found the Lord.||1||Pause|| Kabir is good, the slave of the Lord’s slaves; the humble barber Sain is sublime. Highest of the high is Namdev, who looked upon all alike; Ravidass was incarnation of the Lord. ||1|| My soul, body and wealth belong to the Saints; my mind longs for the dust of the Saints. And by the radiant Grace of the Saints, all my doubts have been erased. Seyth Nanak, I have met the Lord. || 2 || 4 || 18 || P 1207 SGGS.
And finally, The Lord has sanctified the sinners and made them His own; all bow in reverence to Him. No one asks about their ancestry and social status; instead, they yearn for the dust of their feet. ||1|| O Lord Master, such is Your Name. You are called the Lord of all creation; You give Your unique support to Your servant. ||1|| Pause || In the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, Nanak has obtained understanding; singing the Kirtan of the Lord’s Praises is his only support. The Lord’s servants, Naam Dayv, Trilochan, Kabeer and Ravi Daas the shoe-maker have been liberated. ||2||1||10|| 498 SGGS
Divine Saints Satguru Ravi Daas said: Now the important Brahmins of the city bow down before me.Ravi Daas, Chamar, praised the Lord, and sang the Kirtan of His Praises each and every instant. Although he was of low social status, he was exalted and elevated, and people of all four castes came and bowed at his feetNight and day, morning and night, I sing to You, Lord. All beings and creatures meditate on Your Name. You are the Giver, the Great Giver; we eat whatever you give us. In the congregation of the devotees, sins are eradicated. Servant Nanak is forever a sacrifice, a sacrifice, a sacrifice, O Lord. That Saint, that devotee, is acceptable, who is loved by God. Those beings are wise, who meditate on the Lord. They eat the food, the treasure of the Ambrosial Naam, the Name of the Lord. They apply the dust of the feet of the Saints to their foreheads. Searching, the mortal stumbles like a blind person, and does not recognize the Saint. Says Naam Dayv, how can one obtain the Lord God, without His Bhagat, devotee?
Sant Ravidas (1376-1527)
The revivalist movement in mediaeval India was pioneered by Ramanand and furthered by other equally great teachers all over India. The movement accomplished its supreme achievement when in the beginning of the 15th century; it gave birth to Ravidas. Being a cobbler by caste, he was outcaste among the Hindus.
Sant Ravidas hailed from Varanasi and flourished during the earlier period of 15th century. He was a devout worshipper of Lord Rama. His father was displeased with him and turned him out of the house. After leaving the house he took up shoemaking, his family business, and made it a practice to supply shoes to all mendicant ascetics whom he came across. Ravi Das was always immersed in his devotion and this led to the closure of his business and this reduced him to poverty.
Ravidas was never interested in worldly pleasures. One day when he found five gold coins from among his usual articles of worship, he was worried. Then God ordered him, in a dream, to keep the coins with him. But he spent the gold coins in building a rest house for travellers and a temple for his God.
Ravidas was a monotheist and held that the soul differs from God in that it is encumbered with a body; God is everything, is gracious to all and is accessible to all. He alone can save men from evil passions and should be worshipped with all devotion that man is capable of.
Ravidas’ compositions have relevance even today. Taking its name from him, there is an important Vaishnava sect, the Rai-dasis. The sect has no particular sacred book, although it has orally preserved a number of hymns attributed to its founder. Several of these have been included in The Adi Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs. It is said, “his conversation and poetry were like the Sun that dispels darkness of doubt and infidelity”. The spiritual power of the saint had been known far and wide so much so that the queen of the Chittore touched his feet and got her initiation from him. Meera Bai also completed her spiritual discipleship under his guidance. Ravidas’ followers believe that he died at the age of 120 years.
Love and Happiness: Universal Fellowship Through Bhakti Marga
Bhakti is founded in a spirit of universal fellowship and poetry is one more expression of this same fellowship. The verses of Mirabai, Tulsidas, Kabir, Ravidas and Tukaram are quoted frequently by people from all strata of life. Their poetry expresses concern about life: its difficulties, the loneliness, hypocrisy and pain. The bhakti poets seek God’s help to sustain them on this difficult journey. So even today, through their poetry, the bhakti saints continue to influence our daily lives.
“Who could long for anything but you? My master, you are merciful to the poor; you have shielded my head with a regal parasol” sang Ravidas. A cobbler by profession, Ravidas was scorned at by members of the upper castes. Not that Kabir, a weaver by profession, received any better treatment at the hands of the powerful Brahmin community of Benaras. Extremely generous by nature, Kabir is known to have gone out of his way to help the needy. The result was that there was never enough money for his family, much to the chagrin of his mother and wife.
“I’m born a weaver, so what? I’ve got the Lord in my heart. Kabir Secure in the arms of Ram free from every snare,” cried Kabir. Even today, Mirabai’s songs are sung throughout India. Yet her life was one long struggle. Mira lost both her husband and father by the time she reached the age of 30. As a childless widow, she felt a tremendous sense of isolation. The Jodhpur branch of the family succeeded in sidelining the branch to which Mirabai’s family belonged, only adding to her woes. She then turned to her “Giridhar Gopala” to rescue her from her problems.
“Life without Hari is no life, friend And though my mother-in-law fights, My sister-in-law teases, the Rana is angered, A guard is stationed outside Mira’s Lord is the clever Mountain Lifter; Why should I want anyone else?” asked Mirabai.
The city of Benaras also produced Tulsidas, the author of Ramcharitmanas. As a young child, he faced tremendous odds and yet went on to affirm in his writing both the nirguna and saguna faces of the Lord. “I recognise Only one relationship: devotion…Devotion is like a cloud without water”, he sang.
Nanak preached the truth of God and the inadequacy of human institutions to capture his essence. Nanak’s poems exude a deep tranquillity as he speaks about the Divine. Nanak says: “If the True Guru is gracious trust becomes complete. If the True Guru is gracious no one ever wastes away. If the True Guru is gracious trouble is something unknown. If the True Guru is gracious one is painted with God’s hue.”
The poet-saints were looking to achieve an inner emancipation so compelling and generous in scope that all other concerns and for-ms of freedom must be reconsidered in relationship with it. Each of them longed for liberation. They longed to be free from the fetters forged by ignorance.
These liberated souls freed themselves from the shackles of the mind, from the incessant pull of the senses and severed themselves from the attachment that binds us to egoistic concepts. Every one of them was filled with a burning liberation to know God.
Swami Chidvilasananda of the Gurudev Siddha Peeth, Ganeshpuri, is no mean poet herself. Writing in the bhakti tradition, she says: “The purest love of all the feeling called devotion, is even more brilliant than the millions of stars scattered across the soft night sky.”
The love of God, these poets maintain, helps tie the universe to its creation. No wonder the bhakti poets keep returning to this source of divine love for solace and to give expression to their strong egalitarian sentiments.
By Rashme Sehgal
Kashi Secured, Now for the Atlantic
How could Maya do it, without the cow-belt having undergone a cultural revolution?” the ecstatic D Shyam Babu, a new age Dalit scholar, exclaimed. We were analysing the BSP’s triumph in the UP Assembly elections and, sitting glued to the news channels, watching Brahman/Rajput/Bania MLAs pay obeisance to Kanshi and Maya, by falling at their feet. “Shyam, the cow-belt underwent a cultural revolution 500 years ago,” I told him. Shyam thought I was joking. I said, “Don’t you know, the Dalits disciplined cow-belt Brahmans in the 16th Century itself. Rajput kings and queens postulated before an Untouchable at the time, and a religious Order practicing diversity adopted a Dalit voice in its main spiritual system 300 years ago.”
I had begun with, “The cultural revolution was led by Saint Ravidas, greatest of all the saints. The revolution sprung up in Kashi, cradle of the Varnashram Order, headquarters of Hindu religiosity, and the seat of Brahman learning.”
Ravidas was born in 1378 AD in Kashi, to prosperous Untouchable parents, who traded in leather. Young Ravidas revolted against his parents’ desire to make the trade his career, and left home. He erected a thatched house, and took on shoemaking for a living. He would bestow shoes on barefoot ascetics, and finance the needy. His messages of equality before God, and that God was accessible to all, captured the people’s imagination. He built a small clay walled temple, and installed a leather idol of God. God thus, for the first time, stood liberated from a Brahmanical prison.
Kashi’s Brahmans fumed in rage, and petitioned the Kashi king. “Who perceives God better, and knows the path to redemption?” was to be decided. The king organised a shastrartha between the saint and select Kashi pundits.
Ravidas’ genius found no match. The pundits turned colourless, bending before the saint. The saint rode the royal chariot through the lanes of Kashi, the king standing by his side. That was the Dalits’ first war of independence, Kashi was secured. Cow-belt Brahmans never recovered from the shock, and were reconciled to the Dalits’ cerebral deftness.
Chittor’s Queen Jhally Bai was on a pilgrimage to Kashi, and hearing of the saint’s glory, desired to visit him. The royal priests accompanying her resisted the move, but the indomitable queen went ahead.
The spellbound queen was able to feel the difference between the barren minded pundits and the profound Ravidas. She was now a disciple of the saint. Back home in Chittor, her husband was furious. How could a Rajputana kingdom accept an Untouchable as its guru? But the maharani remained unfazed. She reasoned with her husband, and presented him a few the saint’s hymns. But the King insisted on a test, and invited Ravidas over for dinner to his exalted palace. The Brahman priests refused to dine with the saint, and sat separately. To the priests’ disbelief, the people serving them food all turned into Ravidas. The bewildered priests repented and collapsed at Ravidas’ feet, asking for forgiveness. The king declared Ravidas his guru.
That must certainly have been the first occasion when an Untouchable raided the walls of untouchabilty, by dining with a royal family. Chittor, the cradle of Rajput dominance, had fallen. Ravidas stayed on longer, with princess Meera Bai becoming his disciple.
The wonderful religious system of the Sikhs would be incomplete without the saint’s thoughts, as 41 of Ravidas’ hymns form the main body of the Guru Granth Sahib. This is the only instance where a Dalit voice forms part of the spirituality of a religious system. Punjab, like most of north/central/western India has flourished by living the thoughts of Ravidas, the first ever Dalit revolutionary.
Now his followers have settled across the Atlantic, and are organising a mega event at Vancouver, which could unleash a new diversity campaign in north America, requiring MNCs in India to honour diversity for the Dalits. While talking of revolution in 18th century Europe, Frederick Engels wrote: “Every struggle against feudalism, at the time had to take on a religious disguise.”
Saint Ravidas, while fighting caste, did exactly that in India.
By Chandrabhan Prasad
Guru Ravidass – The Patron Saint of Humanity
India is known worldwide as a country of saints, sacred people, gods and goddesses. They commanded highest respect in society. Besides preaching, they were also instrumental in giving social order to the society for ages, which had to be scrupulously followed by the society. Priesthood was mightier than the Kings and whatever religious or social commands they gave was abided by the then Kings and the people. The social order given to ancient Hindu society by the Rishi bn Muniswas responsible for introduction of untouchability in society.
Shri Guru Ravidass Ji was born in Varanasi in UP, India in the 14th century in a humble family, which was considered untouchable as per the social order prevailing at that time in Hindu society. This social order called Chaturavarna was the outcome of religious sanctity attached to it through Hindu scriptures namely Rigveda and Manu Samriti. The early Aryans were not known to be practicing caste system strictly. They had divided the society into four classes on the basis of profession / duties they were supposed to perform. One could change one’s duties over to the other. But soon the division on the basis of work became rigid. The original principle of division of labour soon gave way to rigid division into caste classification according to which the three upper castes Brahmin, Kashatriya and Vaish were considered superior and the fourth cast, the Shudras were given an ignoble place. They were barred from acquiring knowledge i.e. education, have any kind of property and were considered untouchables in the sense that not only physical contact with them, even their shadow was considered to pollute the bodies of people of higher castes. These conditions prevailed in the Hindu society for more than three thousand years.
Guru Ravidass was born in family condemned to such miserable conditions in Varanasi, then known as “Kanshi” in the year 1376 AD (Bikrami Samvat 1433, widely accepted by most of the scholars & institutions) to father Santhok Dass Ji and mother Kalsi Devi Ji. From childhood itself, Guru Ravidass Ji had spiritual traits and soon came to be known as a highly enlightened saint. He started propagating these spiritual ideas among the people. His popularity increased day by day and soon Kings and Queens of different princely states became his disciples. Raja Nager Mal of Banaras, Rani Jhalanbai and Miranbai of Chittaur were some of the well known disciples of Guru Ji.
This irked the Brahmin priests who took popularity of Guru Ravidass Ji and his becoming an imperial Guru, a challenge to their monopoly as religious preachers. They also considered it as a threat to their bread and butter. The Brahmin priests considered to check Guru Ravidass Ji’s popularity. They approached the kings and instigated them to ask Guru Ravidass Ji to prove his powers as a Godly man. Shri Guru Ravidass Ji turned victorious in all these tests & the Brahmin priests had to eat humble pie on each & every occasion. Then Guru Ravidass Ji devoted his attention to preach equality & brotherhood of mankind. “Every human being has the equal rights including the right to worship his God”. His efforts were coupled by the contemporary saints. Prominent among them were Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Bhagat Kabir Ji, Rama Nand Ji and many others. They all preached the gospel of brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God to break the inhuman shackles of untouchability and discrimination. That was the time of Bhagti Movement, a period of renaissance which gave new light to the people.
Shri Guru Ravidass Ji wrote Bani religious discourses, out of which forty shabads and one shaloka are enshrined in Shri Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Sikh scripture.
The Raja-Maharaja’s built many a temple devoted to Shri Guru Ravidass Ji. But in later years, the temples were owned by the Brahmnical preachers. No trace of any place accredited to the memory of Guru Ji was left. Despite the efforts of saints and social reformers the conditions of the untouchables continued to remain the same i.e. of hatred, abhorrence, poverty, drudgery and squalor.
By Sita Ram Mahe