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Guru Ravidass

Guru Ravidass Ji

Sri Guru Ravidass Maharaj (also Raidas, Rohidas[1] and Ruhidas in eastern India) was a North Indian Sant mystic of the bhakti movement who was active in the 15th century CE. Venerated in the region of Uttar Pradesh as well as the Indian state of Maharashtra, his devotional songs and verses made a lasting impact upon the bhakti movement. He is often given the honorific “Bhagat” or “Sant”. Guru Ravidass was also founder of the Ravidassia Religion. He was a suave socio-religious reformer, a thinker, a theosophist, a humanist, a poet, a traveller, a pacifist and above all a towering spiritual figure before whom even head-priests of Benaras lay prostrate to pay homage.[2]

He was a shoemaker of the Chamar caste Kutbandhla. All of his devotional songs were included in the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev.[3] There is also a larger body of hymns passed on independently that is claimed and attributed to ravidas by some. Ravidas was subversive in that his devotionalism implied a levelling of the social divisions of caste and gender, yet ecumenical in that it tended to promote crossing of sectarian divides in the name of a higher spiritual unity.[4] He taught that one is distinguished not by one’s caste (jāti) but by one’s actions (karma) and that every person has the right to worship God and read holy texts. 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 labour by emphasizing on the fact that honest labour is empowering.


The details of Guru Ravidass’ life are controversial. According to some he was born in 1376/7 or else 1399 CE but many scholars offer later dates. Schaller estimates his lifespan as 1450-1520[4] while the Encyclopædia Britannica contents itself with a floreat of 15th-16th century CE.[5] Partly this is due to traditions that make him, the guru of Meera (according to a song attributed to her:[6] “guru miliyaa raidasjee”). However, as Schaller points out, the importance of such claims lies in their establishing the authority of a lineage of gurus (parampara). One may count oneself a disciple of a master without having actually met him.

His origin and parents are also given differently. According to history he was born in a village named Seer Govardhanpur, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India: his father Baba Santokh Das was a leather merchant (chamar) and Mata Kalsa Devi was his mother. His father got him married to Mata Lona Devi at early age and according to the Ravidas Purana he had a son named Vijaydas. A region between Ahmednagar and Benares is named after him.

The queen of Chittorgarh is said to have been a disciple (this may be connected with Meera, who was married to the ruler of Chittorgarh). It is said that the conservative Brahmins of Kashi could not stand the popularity of this “untouchable saint”. A complaint was made to the king that he was working against age-old norms of social order (varnashrama dharma) – a cobbler was not supposed to talk of God or do work of advising or teaching. The ruler arranged for an assembly of learned men. Ravidas was also invited and was felicitated publicly. A procession was arranged (shobha yatra) and the king himself participated.

Begumpura Shehr

Begumpura (“land without sorrow”) is a term coined in a poem by Guru Ravidass. Begampura is the name of an idealized city where there is no suffering or fear, and all are equal[7]. The verse is seen as reflecting both a sense of poverty and caste humiliation, and a desire to find a utopia without suffering:

The regal realm with the sorrowless name they call it Begumpura, a place with no pain, no taxes or cares, none owns property there, no wrongdoing, worry, terror, or torture. Oh my brother, I’ve come to take it as my own, my distant home, where everything is right… They do this or that, they walk where they wish, they stroll through fabled palaces unchallenged. Oh, says Ravidas, a tanner now set free, those who walk beside me are my friends.

Guru Ravidass & Meera Bai

Meera Bai considered Guru Ravidass as her spiritual Guru. Meera Bai was a queen of Chittor and a daughter of the king of Rajasthan and she used to follow the teachings of Guru Ravidass which teaches about that one’s fate of the future lies on his karmas (doings) rather than on his caste or creed’s.

Guru Ravidass incidence of life has become the inspiration for the people of today and in one such incident when Guru Ravidass’s disciples were going to take holy dip in the sacred river ganges and wanted Guru Ravidass to accompany them and Guru replied that he has promised to deliver shoes to his customer on that particular day and will not be able to join them due to this particular reason and when one of his disciple urges then Guru Ravidass uttered his belief saying that: “Man changa tow kathoti mein Ganga“ i.e. That is if your heart is pious then the holy river is right in your tub and you need not go anywhere else to take a dip. There is a small chhatri (umbrella) in front of Meera’s temple in Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan. It has guru Ravidass’ engraved foot print also. As a respect to her guru, Meera Bai once wrote:

“Guru Milyaa Raidaasji …”[8]

Guru Ravidass & Kabir

Guru Ravidass is also associated with other great north Indian Saints. And one among them is Sant Kabir. Both of them sung poems relating to elimination of caste and elimination of Brahminism and in a great story where a great debate between them is represented as a saguna versus nirguna (without qualities) devotion debate.[9] The Dohas and Bhakti songs written by Guru Ravidass have always taught to spread love and care among the people’s hearts. Also tried to bring the Hindus and Muslims together and this is evident from his thoughts which have been expressed in his songs. Guru Ravidass uttered his belief saying that:

“Ka Mathura, Ka Dwarika, Ka Kashi Haridwar,Raidas Khoja Dil Aapna, Teh Miliya Dildar”, That is one can meet God in his own heart even if he does not go on any pilgrimage.

Splitting from Sikhism

Guru Ravidass fulfilled Guru Nanak Dev‘s request by donating old manuscripts, which contained a collection of Guru Ravidass’ verses and poems. The earliest collection of these poems are available in the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book). It was complied by Arjan Dev, the fifth guru of the Sikhs. It contains 41 verses by Guru Ravidass. However, after the conflict between Ravidassias and Sikhs, the Ravidassias split from Sikhism, forming the Ravidassia religion with a new holy book, Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji. Based entirely on the writings and teaching of Guru Ravidass, it contains 240 hymns[10] and all Ravidassias temples utilize it.

Songs and teachings

A picturesque of Sri Guru Ravidass Park, Varanasi

Guru Ravidass is regarded as a major figure in the Bhakti Movement, a Hindu religious movement which opposed caste considerations. Guru Ravidass taught in times dominated by the rigidity and narrow-mindedness of the caste system, but he upheld the equality of all mankind saying, “the deed, not the creed, makes man high or low”. He emphasized the fundamental tenets underlying all religions. As a proponent of the Bhakti Movement, his contribution was truly great, spreading the philosophy of spiritual self-realization through Bhakti, and dispelling the darkness of “ajnana”, with “jnana” (wisdom). Born in humble surroundings in the house of a cobbler, Guru Ravidass emerged as a great philosopher-poet and social reformer of his age. It is said that when his father gave him money to establish himself in the family business, Guru Ravidass instead spent the money to help the poor and needy. Guru Ravidass, being a ‘charmkar’ by birth was denied entry into temples. The maharaja and rani of Chittor became his disciples, and the poetess-saint Meera adopted him as her spiritual guru. In his teachings, Guru Ravidass says: “God is everywhere, in you and me.”

How to escape? I recite the name Ram.
Lord, if you are sandalwood, I am water;
With the fragrance in all parts of my body.
Lord, if you are a cloud, I am a peacock;
Looking for you like a chakora for the moon.
Lord, if you are a lamp, I am the wick;
With a light burning day and night.
Lord, if you are a pearl, I am the thread;
Together like gold and bracelet.
Lord, you are the master and I servant;
thus is the devotion of Raidas.[11]

This song demonstrates several key facets of Guru Ravidass overall work. His similes for the divine – water, cloud, light, and gold, suggest the “one god”, and state that he himself is inseparable from that formlessness, yet that he is the one who gives it form.[citation needed]

Today he is respected, as when Bangaru Laxman (Organiser, 6-8-1995) accused Congress leader Sitaram Kesri of showing “disrespect to Dalit saints like Ravidas, Satyakam Jabali, Sadhna Kasai, Banka Mahar, Dhanna Chamar and others who protected Hindus against foreign onslaughts.[12]


  1. ^ Saint Rohidas
  2. ^
  3. ^ Callewaert and Friedlander, The Life and Works of Raidas, Manohar, Delhi, 1992, quoted in Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge 1996.
  4. ^ a b Joseph Schaller in Phyllis G. Jestice Holy people of the World: A Cross-cultural Encyclopedia , ABC-CLIO, 2004, p727-8, ISBN 1576073556, 978157607355 [1]
  5. ^ “Ravidas (Indian mystic and poet) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia”. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
  6. ^ Mirabai, V.K. Subramanian Mystic Songs of Meera Abhinav Publications, 2006 ISBN 8170174589, 9788170174585 [2]
  7. ^
  8. ^ Meera’s thought on Guru Ravidass Ji
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Guru Ravidass Marg, Harnam Singh Lakha, Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha UK undated.
  12. ^ “Dr. Koenraad Elst?”. Retrieved 2009-08-10.

Further reading



Guru Ravidass – an advocate of Human Rights

(Arun Kumar, Bedford)


Guru Ravidass was one of the most celebrated saints of his time. In various states, he was known as Raidas, Ruhidas, Ruidas, Rohidas, Ramdas etc. His following was not restricted to a particular place or caste but kings and queens; princes and princesses of various states were also his disciples. It reflects that he had his following all over India from the diverse sections of society. Unfortunately in India a person is not judged from his/her deeds but from his/her birth. Had Guru Ravidass been born in a so called high caste, he would have been worshipped in every Hindu house hold and was equated with status of their other gods. As he came from an Untouchable family, nobody bothered to record the events in his life and preserve his writings. Now it has become very difficult to find authenticated literature on his life. Guru Ravidass lived a long life. During his life time he went to various places to preach his gospel. It is not believable that he authored only forty one hymns available in the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Saheb.He must have written ample literature which was either destroyed or kept hidden. Still there is lot literature available.  Unfortunately the followers of Guru Ravidass are not prepared to accept this literature. There is a need of the time to compile such literature and accept as authentic.


Guru Ravidass was born in late 14th century and died in the late 15th century. The exact dates of birth and death are not agreed by all historians. In a matter of fact these dates are insignificant to ascertain the importance of his philosophy and actual work he done for the whole of humanity. The dates are only important to know the economic, political and social system of the period in which he had gone through and influenced his life.


During this period a great conflict between Hindus and Muslims were going on. With the invasion of Muslims and indifferent attitude of Hindus, the influence of Buddhism declined drastically. Buddha’s teachings of equality, liberty and toleration disappeared. Hindu society was badly divided into castes. From time immemorial, Hindus were already divided into four castes- priestly caste (Brahmins), warrior class (kshatryas), traders (vaishyas) and servants (shudras). Theory of Varna dharma Shastra propounded by the Vedas and sanctioned later on by other Hindu scriptures took a firm foothold in the society. But by the medieval period, the fifth caste of Untouchables had already been established. These were the people considered inherently so low and inferior that their mere shadow was polluting caste Hindus. So they were not allowed to walk or sit along caste Hindus. They were not permitted to enter into a temple and prey to God. As the education was provided in the religious places, the doors for religious and any other educational activity were virtually shut for them. Profitable professions were prohibited and they were entrusted with only menial work from where they were not able to earn any profit to improve their lives. Cleaning latrines and work associated with leather were considered dirty and polluting and such professions were assigned to them.  Because of this type of hatred by the caste Hindus, the Untouchables were forced to live outside the villages doing menial work and depending upon these exploiting castes.


There is a saying if you want to kill a community, kill their self respect and it will vanish. That was what exactly happened to the lower castes. Whole of the society was riddled with idle worship and false ceremonies and rituals which were further degrading and enslaving the downtrodden and worsening their economic well being.  If somebody dared to cross over to the task which was not prescribed to their caste was punished severely. Even in Ramayana, a Dalit Shambuk was beheaded by Rama himself for defying the code of caste as he started worshiping God. Similarly in Mahabharata the right hand thumb of Eklavya was cut as he was indulging in archery which was the profession of warrior caste.


These were the conditions when Guru Ravidass was born. He not only witnessed the social system very closely but was also a victim of this cruel system as well. He was greatly influenced by such environment. He was touched by inhuman conditions of his people. His conscious did not allow him to flow with tide. Right from his childhood, he started to feel a craving for equality and began to rebel against the prevailing social system. He wanted to do something and didn’t want to be a silent spectator. He endeavored to bring consciousness amongst his people and encourage them to fight for equality. He also wanted to change the mind set of caste Hindus so that they start treating the downtrodden people as par with others.


Brahmins were the custodians of Hindu religion and regulating the society. To demolish the hold of Brahmins, Guru Ravidass started challenging them by imitating their life styles. First thing he did was to dress like Brahmins and started worshiping God. He started condemning idle worship instead he worshiped his tools of work. He dressed like them not because he believed in their philosophy but to show that an untouchable has the same right of worship and dress as others. Outraged by the violation of caste duties, Hindus complained against him to the king. The king summoned him to the court and asked for his explanation about his views about idle worship. He stated that his piece of stone where he mended shoes for his and his family’s livelihood was more useful than their stone idles. Service of mankind irrespective of their caste is more important than worshiping idles. When asked about his defiance to wear dress and sacred thread, he made a small cut to his shoulder. Pointing at the flow of blood, he advocated that if his blood was not different from others, then how come he was different. Clothes, dresses, rituals and ceremonies were all man made not by God. If God didn’t create an untouchable different from others, why he was treated differently? He told the king that he always wore the sacred thread of truthfulness, honesty, equality, liberty, fraternity and equal justice. The false philosophy of Brahmanism got exposed. Convinced by his argument, the king let him free and himself started following his path of truthfulness. Clearly Guru Ravidass advocated freedom to profess any religion, freedom of speech, freedom of choice to wear clothing of one’s choice. Freedom is everybody’s birth right and he/she should not be stopped to enjoy it.


Encouraged by the outcome of the court case, Guru Ravidass began spreading the message of love and peace more vigorously and people were following him everywhere he went. Following his popularity, Hindu priests wanted to discredit him by giving him bribe. They offered him a philosopher’s stone (Paras which turns everything to gold when touched) telling him that they didn’t want to see him a poor person. But Guru Ravidass declined their offer. Even then they left that stone with him. After sometimes they came to see if Guru Ravidass had taken that stone or not. But to their astonishment, Guru Ravidass was still mending shoes and living in that hut. Enquiring about his poverty and cause of not taking the philosopher’s stone, Guru Ravidass explained that he believed in the dignity of labour. Instead of depending upon others, he advocated self reliance by self help. No work was good or bad. It was the people who made them so. He preferred to earn his livelihood by fair and honest means rather than indulging in nefarious activities. Similarly when Dr. Ambedkar was offered millions of Rupees by various religious leaders and asked him to convert to their religions, he flatly refused to accept their offer and told them, “Our struggle is not for wealth or for power. Our struggle is for freedom. Our’s is a struggle for the reclamation of Human personality’.


Guru Ravidass reminded people that they should know that nobody loves a slave. He termed slavery as a sin. He tried to awaken them and make them realize about the cause of their sufferings. They were suffering not because of their past deeds but because they were forced to lead a life of slaves. Guru Ravidass knew that self realization always leads to change. That was the only way to remove the stigma of Untouchablity which was another name of slavery.


Self realization comes through proper education. Guru Ravidass firmly believed that without education one’s faculty of rational thinking is lost. To make right decisions education is must. He advised his followers to gain education if they want to progress in their lives. That is why Dr. Ambedkar declared that education is the only key to success and progress.


Guru Ravidass was not only fighting for the rights of his people but also developed a philosophy of a welfare state. Marx propounded such theory of socialism only in the late19th century and most of the poor countries tried to establish socialism. Even the capitalist countries did not escape from this philosophy and started working towards creating welfare states by providing people with health care facilities and adequately housing the homeless. Guru Ravidass had a dream of establishing such society in the medieval period. In one of his hymns, he talks about Begumpura meaning a state where all people live happily without sufferings. Everybody had house to live in and food to eat. They are not burdened with heavy taxes. In that very state, there was nobody high and low, rich and poor and everybody lived in peace and harmony with equal rights. It shows that Guru Ravidass was a philosopher with a vision to reform the society.


In actual fact, Guru Ravidass’ whole life is a manifestation of struggle to gain the basic human rights of equality, liberty and fraternity and equal justice. He lived and suffered at the hands of high castes to set up a fare society and also died for the suppressed people so that they were able to live with dignity. Now we will have to see whether the dream of Guru Ravidass is fulfilled. In spite of many centuries have passed by, the Dalits are facing the same fate. Though many laws and regulations have been enacted to remove the caste discriminations but the conditions of Dalits have remained same. A recent study conducted by Mr. Sukhdeo Thorat, Chairman, University Grants Commission and his associates on the status of Dalits especially on the prevalence of Untouchability practices  in the rural India, covering 565 villages in 11 States, found that


  •       Public health workers refused to visit Dalit homes in 33% of villages,


  •       Dalits were prevented from entering police stations in 27.6% of villages,


  •       Dalit children had to sit separately while eating in 37.8% of government schools,


  •       Dalits did not get mail delivered to their homes in 23.5% of villages’


  •       Dalits were denied access to water sources in 48.4% of villages because of  segregation and untouchability practices.
  •       Police statistics averaged over the past 5 years show that 13 Dalits are murdered every week, 5 Dalits’ homes or           possessions are burnt every week


  •        6 Dalits are kidnapped or abducted every week,


  •        3 Dalit women are raped every day,


  •        11 Dalits are beaten every day


  •         A crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes.


  •         70% of the Rural Dalits are Land less


  •          Dalits are in majority in migrating for want of Job


  •          Displacement affects Dalits mostly than other caste groups.

(Bheem Patrika Dated March 2007)


( Mr. Arun Khote, National   Secretary -  National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights ,  Action 2007 by email on10/03/07)

Today there are millions of Guru Ravidass’ followers who are engaged in propagating his teachings and philosophy. They are building big temples and other monuments on his name but hardly campaigning against the atrocities committed on these unfortunate people. To put him on pedestal and worship could be a beneficial for mental satisfaction but no way to improve the conditions of the downtrodden people. Longer this situation goes on harder it is becoming to succeed and have our self respect, dignity and equality restored.