The segregation of people into different castes, creeds and religions isn’t something new in India. It might hurt to admit, but the truth is that it has been a part and parcel of India’s culture since time immemorial, though there have been prophets who have, time and again, tried to lead people in the right path, away from differentiation and immoral distinctions.
One such enlightened being was Guru Ravidass Ji of the 15th century.
Widely known as Raidas, Guru Ravidas was an eminent figure in the Bhakti Movement which started in North India around the 15th century.
Born in the pious land of Varanasi, he was the son of a cobbler, and hence, one among the subalterns who were seen as nothing more than filth by the common mass.
He opposed the myth that caste plays a very important role in establishing the relation with God. On the contrary, he was of the belief that God is omnipresent, and anyone with a clear conscience and “bhakti” can reach God through simple prayers.
He went on to say that it’s people’s “karma” that helps them to attain salvation, and that reading Holy texts was the birth right of everyone.
He openly denounced the notion of a Brahminical society (where the Brahmins are perceived as the supreme beings) and even established Begumpura, a state sans any hierarchical system of caste and creed.
He is a called a “sant” because of being a thinker, a socio-cultural reformer, a traveller, a spiritual figure, and, most important of all, a humanist who dedicated his whole life for the banishment of the treacherous caste-system.
Guru Ravidas said, “If God actually resides in every human being, then it’s quite futile to segregate persons on the basis of castes, creeds and other such hierarchical social orders.”
Guru Ravidasji’s poems portray all his feelings and teachings about an egalitarian society in pure words. In fact, these teachings, found in his poems, became the manifesto of the Dalit’s in Punjab. More and more people are resorting to the teachings of Guru Ravidasji and becoming self-professed Ravidasias.
His belief in one God and his unbiased religious poems won him numerous followers. In fact, around 41 of his poems were included in the religious text of the Sikhs, “Adi Granth” or “Guru Granth Sahib”. Those poems were compiled by the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev.
Post the murder of Ramanand Das ji in Vienna in 2009, the association of Guru Ravidasji and the Sikhs broke, and the movement declared themselves as a different religion, known as the Ravidasia religion.
Apart from the Sikhs, Meera bai, a revered figure in Hindu spiritualism, too, is said to have considered Guru Ravidasji as her spiritual Guru.
One of the most astonishing things about Guru Ravidas ji was that in spite of becoming a revered figure in his lifetime, he didn’t give up on his filial job of a “chamar” — a cobbler. It is said that once he was asked by his followers to accompany them for a holy dip in the Ganges the next day, but he declined by saying that he has a pair of shoes to be delivered the same day to a client.
No matter how much we read about him, we won’t be able to understand the true principles of the great leader without a look at one of his poems.
So, here’s one for you—
“तोही मोही मोही तोही अंतरु कैसा ॥ कनक कटिक जल तरंग जैसा ॥१॥
जउ पै हम न पाप करंता अहे अनंता ॥ पतित पावन नामु कैसे हुंता ॥१॥ रहाउ ॥
तुम्ह जु नाइक आछहु अंतरजामी ॥ प्रभ ते जनु जानीजै जन ते सुआमी ॥२॥
सरीरु आराधै मो कउ बीचारु देहू ॥ रविदास सम दल समझावै कोऊ ॥३॥“
“You are me, and I am You-what is the difference between us? We are like gold and the bracelet, or water and the waves.
If I did not commit any sins, O Infinite Lord, how would You have acquired the name, Patit-Pavan (Redeemer of sinners)?
You are my Master, the Inner-knower, Searcher of hearts. The servant is known by his God, and the Lord and Master is known by His servant.
Grant me the wisdom to worship and adore You with my body.
O Ravi Das, one who understands that the Lord is equally in all, is very rare.”