Bhagat Ravidas Ji (Born 1399)

Apr 30, 2019
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Shri Ravidas is one of the most influential and inspiring sages of medieval India. His teachings are sublime and eternal, as is the story of his life. There is general consensus that Sant Ravidas was born on February 1399 in Kashi (Benares). He was borm in the leather worker (Chamaar) caste and his family were very well off, yet their caste made them untouchables by the degenerate caste structure which has plagued Hindu society for so long.

It is held that Ramananda (1366-1467 AD), the founder of the Ramanandin order which was one of the pioneering movements of the Hindu renaissance in medieval India and so central to its survival through Muslim rule, visited the house of Ravidas’s family when Bhagat Ravidas was aged 5, and blessed the young boy. Later Sant Ravidas became one of the most noted and prolific of Ramananda’s followers.

Sant Ravidas did not enter the family business. He erected a thatched house, and took on shoemaking for a living. He would bestow shoes on barefoot ascetics, and finance the needy. He composed hymns of devotion, and his message of equality before God, and that God was accessible to all, not just certain individuals like a prophet or a certain class, like a priestly class, captured the people's imagination. He built a small clay walled temple, and installed a leather idol of Lord Rama. Through his noble conduct and intense spiritual practices he became God-realised. His direct knowledge of God, which fuelled his sublime teachings induced hundreds of people of all castes to join him in worship.

Bhagat Ravidas had faced discrimination from the beginning of his life, as are reflected in his moving hymns. As his popularity grew, many pundits began to be jealous of him and fumed with rage. They even petitioned the Kashi king. "Who perceives God better, and knows the path to redemption?" was to be decided. The king organised a debate between the saint and select Kashi pundits. Bhagat 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.

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 Bhagat 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 Sant Ravidas. The bewildered priests repented and collapsed at Ravidas' feet, asking for forgiveness. The king declared Sant Ravidas his guru.

Bhagat Ravidas stayed on in Chittor longer, and the Chittor princess Meera Bai became his disciple. Meera Bai today is famed throughout the entire India as a great saint, and is one of the most inspiring figures of medieval Hindu history.

Verses composed by Sant Ravidas got incorporated into the sacred literature of the Sikhs. Indeed, the 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. Punjab, like most of north/central/western India has flourished by living the thoughts of Ravidas.

Bhagat Ravidas is respected saint in the entire Hindu society of North India. It is to the credit to Hindu society that although plagued by such inequities, great saints who are respected by all have arosen from all sections of society. It is for this reason that despite untold attempts to bring them out of the religion, Hindu society has weathered the test of time. Understandably Guru Ravidas has a position of great pride and honour among many of the untouchable communities of North India, and his teachings are practised with great devotion. Yet this is not how it should be so. The saint’s teachings are for the liberation of all of humanity.

Bhagat Ravidas expresses uprightness and boldness about his identity:

O people of the city, everyone knows I am, a cobbler by trade and tanner by caste.One of the low-caste, and yet within my heart I meditate upon God.
He expresses his devotion:

O God! the Lord of the Universe! O Life of me! Forget me not. I am ever Thy slave.
He expresses in simple terms the deepest mysteries of Hindu spirituality. He hymns to God:

Thou art me, I am Thou, What is the difference. The same as between gold and its bracelet, And between water and its ripple.
He places in front of us a very inspiring ideal of the human life and its intimate relationship with God:

Grant me, O Lord that my body may be Thy Shrine