Guru Ravidass ji

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A symbol of socio-religious revolt

Sanjay K Bhasin , A symbol of socio-religious revolt "Daily Excelsior" 22/2/2016

There are very few examples in the Indian history when there was revolt against the inhumane caste system prevalent in India since antiquity. This is beyond doubt that Guru Ravidass ji along with Sadguru Kabir ji was probably the first one after Gautam Buddha who dared to revolt against the inhuman system of social exclusion and untouchability practiced for ages in India. However, what made him different was his method of revolt. Bhakti or religious practices dominated in his mode of expression against the system of social exclusion. In other words we can say that he adopted religious methods for social revolution. His Bhakti-based method was not only unique but also a befitting reply to the subtle mechanizations deployed by so called upper class to keep the downtrodden out of the mainstream. Bhakti or worshipping God and entering temple was a privilege reserved for the upper castes, especially the priests. Whereas, untouchables were not allowed to practice Bhakti, they were being considered as polluted. It is in this context that that the adoption of Bhakti by Guru Ravidass as a method of social protest assumes special importance.

Guru Ravidass ji’s movement was neither in the form of conventional prayers & petitions nor a violent revolt. It was a revolt through poetry for making caste ridden Indian society an egalitarian society with concept of Liberty! Equality!!Fraternity!!!. It was both novel and daring. Novel in the sense that Guru ji put emphasis on compassion for all and absolute faith in God. The principle of compassion for all reflected the egalitarian traits of his social philosophy and struggle. His concept of the absolute faith in the formless God showed the apathy of the elites of his times towards the plights of the downtrodden for whose emancipation he had to seek refuge in no one else but God. He vehemently opposed the hero worship/symbol worship. Couplet spoken by Guru ji, “Mero Ram Dasrath Ka Suut Nahi”, reveals that Guru ji was not a symbol worshipper. His method was daring in the sense that he chooses to imitate the Brahmins in order to symbolize his revolt which was not only highly objectionable but was equally deadly for an outcaste of his times. Guru ji wore Dhoti (cloth wrapped around the waist), Janeue (sacred thread) and Tilak (sacred red mark on forehead) that were forbidden for the outcaste people, and thus challenged the tyranny/hegemony of the Brahmins. But it does not mean that Guru ji ever tried to hide his own caste. Guru ji repeatedly used the word, “Kahye Ravidass Khalsa Chamara” in his couplets, Shabds, Vansi etc. there is a school of thought that Guru ji continued with his hereditary occupation of making/mending shoes. So Guru ji at the same time adopted the prohibited life style as well as kept the identity of his cult/caste intact. Thus Guru Ravidass provided an alternative model for the emancipation of the Dalits much (six centuries) before the articulation of the concept of sanskritisation – a model of Dalit social mobility based on an emulation of the cultural world of upper castes.

Guru ji’s couplet speaks volumes of his vision and peaceful revolt against inequality prevalent in the Indian society, “Aaisee lal tujh binu kaunu karai; Gareeb niwaaju guseea meraa maathai chhatar dharai… neecho uooch karai meraa govind kaahoo te na darai.” If we go into depth of the line it appears as if Guru ji wants to rectify this menace of inequality through god only. Because it was a concept prevalent in the Indian society that Brahmins took birth from the mouth of the God, Kshtriyas from the Chest, Vashya from the Abdomen and Shudras from the feet. Guru Ravidass ji tried to prove that his God was not humble at all in the typical sense of the term. He was graceful. He was not indifferent to the downtrodden. His God was rather bold who was not afraid of anyone that is why he elevated and purified the so-called untouchable (Guru Ravidass). In fact, Guru Ravidass’s life and poetry not only provided a vision to the downtrodden to struggle for their human rights and civic liberties but to the whole society. The concept of Liberty! Equality!!Fraternity!!! reflected in the poetry very well justify this opinion.

Guru Ravidass envisioned an egalitarian model of state for ensuring human rights and civil liberties for all alike. He called his ideal state as Begumpura (free from sorrows). In his ideal state no one would be discriminated against on the basis of caste and religion and everyone would be free from the burden of taxes and worries of food. His ideal state would be free from the graded system of caste hierarchy. There would be no segregated colonies for the downtrodden and they would be free to move around without caste prejudice. In other words, in Begumpura the evil of untouchability would cease to exist. Though Begumpura was an ideal state as visualized by Ravidass, it was not a mere figment of his mind. In fact, its articulation was based on in-depth understanding of the socio-economic and political conditions prevailing during his lifetime. He lived during the period when Shudras were doubly oppressed by their political masters along with the members of higher castes; and by the Brahmins, the custodians of Hindu religion.

Guru Ravidass ji had no hope from any quarter regarding the improvement of the conditions of the downtrodden. In one of his hymns he thus articulated “Dardu dekh sab ko hasai, aaisee dasaa hamaaree-Ast dasaa sidi kar talai, sab kirpa tumhari”. In fact, his entire poetry echoed a loud protest against slavery on the one hand and boundless love and devotion to the formless God on the other. He believed that God created all human beings and resided in all of them. If the same God pervaded the entire humanity, then it is foolish to divide the society on the basis of caste. He thus condemned the division of mankind on the basis of caste. Guru ji advocated the philosophy of fraternity/universal brotherhood when he said, “Jo ham shehri so meetu hamara”. It is in this context that the egalitarian social philosophy of Ravidass expressed in the mode of poetry became the manifesto of the Dalit consciousness not only in his birth place but whole of North, Central and Western part of India.

Another couplet of Guru ji is the master piece and describes concept of Liberty! Equality!! Fraternity!!! in one line, “Aaysa Chaun Raaj main Jahan Milaye Saban ko Aan-Shoot Bado Saab Sam Basaye Ravidass Rahaye Prasan.” After reading Buddha and Guru Ravidass ji’s concepts of society based on Liberty, Equality & Fraternity, the Father of Indian Constitution Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar enshrined these three principles of humanity into the Pre-emble to constitution of India. Hence Guru Ravidass ji’s socio-religious revolt in the Bhakti Period not only showed its impact in the post-Independence but his methods of making India an egalitarian society became beacon of light through constitutional provisions.

A saint reformer

D.R.Bhagat , Guru Ravidass: A saint reformer "Daily Excelsior" 31/1/2018

India is regarded as the Land of Saints. From time to time many spiritual personalities have taken birth on this land. The message of these saints was almost the same i.e. righteousness and universal brotherhood. The medieval period from 13th century to 17th century saw many such saints who spread the message of Bhakti of God and this period came to be known as Bhakti Movement period. Guru Ravidas descended on this earth during this period as emissary of God to guide humanity on right path.He was a mystic poet whose devotional songs and verses made a lasting impact on the Bhakti movement and the society as a whole. His verses are sufficient to demonstrate his spiritual knowledge. He was born on a day of MaghPurnima in 1377 CE in a village near Varanasi. Being born in a caste which was treated as a low caste, he had to bear the brunt of orthodox Brahmins but he countered all this with his spiritual knowledge.He preached the oneness of God who is formless yet he gives form to all. He has given a variety of social and spiritual messages through his poetry to the people to reform their minds and show their boundless love towards God. His bani is simple, sweet and understandable by common man and it is far from the rigidity of religion. He said that one is known by his Karma (actions) and not by his caste. He said that karma and the religion are the same. In one of the couplets he said, “dharamkaram dui ekhai”.

Ravidas was blessed with super natural power from his very childhood. This came to be known to the people when he gave lease of life to his friend who died all of a sudden. As per a legend, once a Brahmin came to Ravidas while going to have a bath in Ganga. He got his shoe repaired from RavidasJi and gave him a coin (Damri) as his labour and insisted him also to accompany him to have a holy bath in Ganga. RavidasJi said, I daily have darshan of Gangamai because I know, “man changa kathoti mein ganga.”But if you are going there please take this Damri and offer the same to Ganga on my behalf”. The Brahmin after taking the bath in Ganga offered that coin to Ganga. It is said that Ganga accepted the coin by stretching her hands and in turn gave a golden bangle to the Brahmin to be offered to RavidasJi. Brahmin was surprised at this but became greedy at the sight of this beautiful and costly bangle. So instead of handing over this bangle to Ravidas, sold it in the market. As the bangle was very beautiful and rare in look, the news reached the king. The king ordered his men to bring the bangle from the goldsmith. The bangle was brought to the king and was offered to the queen. The queen was delighted to have such a rare bangle and insisted the king to get one more similar to that. The king called for the blacksmith and asked him to give one more similar bangle. The blacksmith expressed his inability to bring another similar bangle and told the king that he has purchased it from a Brahmin. The king called for the Brahmin who told him how he has got the same. The king along with the Brahmin went to RavidasJi. The Brahmin explained the whole truth to RavidasJi and begged pardon for his misadventure. The king begged for another similar bangle from Guru Ravidas. Guru obliging the king put his hands in the kathoti and brought out a bangle which was quite similar to the one offered by Ganga. The king and the brahmin were highly surprised to see this miracle and became his disciples.

As per one more legend, Guru Ravidas used to distribute water from his earthen pot asPrashad after his religious discourses. One day a seth (rich man) also came to listen the discourses. After the satsang, the Prashad was distributed. The seth took the water as Prashad but considering it as polluted water threw it inside his shirt. He became infected with leprosy. After sometime he realized his mistake and went to Guru Ravidasand apologized for his disrespect shown to the Guru. Guru Ji was very kind to forgive him. Ravidas blessed him and his leprosy was cured.

Mirabai, a prominent saint of bhakti movement was the disciple of Guru Ravidas. It is said that she admired the teachings of Ravidas from her very childhood when she used to attend his sermons along with her grandfather Dudaji who was a follower of the Guru. After her marriage, she accepted him as her Guru. She continued attending the sermons of her Guru which influenced her towards divinity and she started writing in praise of God and her Guru. In one of her hymns she writes

“Guru raidas mile mohepoore, dhur se kalambhiri”

The message of Guru Ravidas was the equality of all human beings. He said that God has created the men and he has created all of them equal. To say that one is great by his caste or status has no sense. In one of his hymns he says,

“Ravidassabhupjeneknoor ten, bahminmullaseikh,

Sabhkokartaekhai, sabhkoek hi bhekh”

In another couplet he says,

“Ravidasbaminnapujiye, jo hove gun heen

Pujencharanchandalke,jo hove gun parveen”

He said that the real bhakti is from within. Some people wear Tilakon the fore head and put clothes to look like a hermit but they have no love for God from inside. Such people are not holy men but cheaters. For such people Guru Ravidas says,

“mathetilakhaathjapmala, jag thagneko swag banaya,

Margchhadikamaragdekhen, sanchipreet bin ram napaya”

In his writings, he idealized a city to be known as Begumpura where everybody lived without pain, fear or suffering and all people are equal without any discrimination. While compiling the Guru Granth Sahib, a holy book of Sikhism Guru ArjunDevJi included his forty hymns along with the bani of other saints.

Guru Ravidas visited many places to spread his philosophy. Some of the places visited by him are Haridwar, Kurukshetra, Nagpur, Bhopal, Jodhpur, Gorakhpur, Hyderabad and Gujrat. He also visited Punjab and met with Guru Nanak at SultanpurLodhi where both of them exchanged their views on spirituality and social system.Along with common people of the society, his disciples included some rich persons and princes and princesses of states. Rani Jhali of Chittor was one among them. During last days of his life, Guru Ravidas went to Chittor on the request of Rani Jhali. He was received warmly by the people and the princess. A grand Satsang was organized which was attended by a large number of people. A feast was organized but some of the Brahmins refused to dine with Guru Ravidas and they decided to sit separately. But when they started eating they saw Guru Ravidas sitting between every two Brahmins. They were surprised to see this miracle and were ashamed on their action. While staying there at Chittor, one day after the satsang, he showed a Jeneu intensely shining from inside his body. The Brahmins were surprised to see this divine power in the Guru and all of them bowed before him. It is said that after some period staying there, Guru Ravidas left his mortal body at Chittor where his footprints are still preserved. He came as a light for mankind on the earth and left with a message of peace, love, brotherhood and universality. A temple has been constructed on his birth place Seer Goverdhanpur near Varanasi where thousands of his followers along with other people visit to have blessings of this great Guru of the world.

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