Life Sketch of Shri Guru Ravidass Ji
Guru Ravidass Ji is one of the most famous untouchable Sant-poets of the 15th century India. He is known as a leading star of the North Indian Bhakti movement, especially the nirguna sampradaya or sant parampara (sect or tradition of devotees of a formless God). He was a cobbler, Sant, poet, philosopher and social reformer all rolled into one. He expressed his spiritual and social philosophy in poetry, which is full of radical fervor and boundless love for the formless God.
His poetry reflected his vision of the social and spiritual needs of the downtrodden and underlined the urgency of their emancipation. He, therefore, is regarded as a messiah of the downtrodden. They revere him as devoutly as Hindus revered their Gods and Goddesses, and Sikhs their Gurus. They worship his image and showed their faith in his spiritual power. His hymns were recited every morning and night, and his birthday is celebrated as a religious event. They raise slogans like "Ravidass Shakti Amar Rahe" (the spiritual power of Guru Ravidass Ji live forever)
during his birth anniversaries
Shri Guru Ravidass Ji
was born in the year 1377 AD i.e. Bikrami Samvat 1433 (widely accepted by most scholars & institutions) to father Shri Santokh Dass Ji
and Mother Kalsa Devi Ji in Chamar caste, also known as Kutbandhla, one of the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh. Scheduled Castes were oppressed and their touch and sight were considered polluting by the upper castes. Ravidass revolted against this inhuman system of untouchability. He adopted Bhakti as a mode of expression for his revolt. His Bhakti-based method of revolt was very novel and daring. It was novel because of its emphasis on compassion for all and absolute faith in God; daring in the sense that he did not give damn to rituals of the Brahmins. He challenged the tyranny of Brahmins and defied them by wearing Dhoti (cloth wrapped around the waist), Janeue (sacred thread) and Tilak (sacred red mark on forehead) that were forbidden for the untouchables. Though he attired himself like an upper caste, he did not hide his caste
. He continued with his hereditary occupation of making/mending shoes. What made the image of Ravidass a catalyst in the emergence of Dalit consciousness was his being a Shudra and at the same time a saint of very high repute.
Guru Ravidass Ji gave a new meaning to Bhakti by projecting it as a method of social protest against the centuries-old entrenched structures of Brahminical domination. He rejected all forms of religious rituals and sectarian formalities. He also commented graphically on the cursed and abject living conditions of millions of fellow downtrodden. His Bhakti approach was a non-violent struggle for the emancipation and empowerment of the Shudras. Though he combined humility with Bhakti, his concept of formless God reflected an altogether different picture. God of Guru Ravidass Ji was not humble but graceful. He was kind to the downtrodden. He elevated and purified the so-called untouchables. Aaisee lal tujh binu kaunu karai. Gareeb niwaaju guseea meraa maathai chhatar dharai… neecho uooch karai meraa govind kaahoo te na darai [refrain My Beloved, besides you who acts like this? Protector of the poor, my Master. You hold a royal umbrella over my head].
Guru Ravidass Ji Maharaj
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
firmly 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
. He said Jo ham shehri so meet hamara [whoever is my fellow citizen, is my friend].
It is in this context that the egalitarian social philosophy of Guru Ravidass Ji expressed in the mode of poetry became the manifesto of the Dalit consciousness in Punjab. The establishment of a large number of Ravidass Deras by the Dalits in Punjab and overseas over the last few years is vivid testimony to worldwide popularity of Guru Ravidass Ji Maharaj.