Ravidas...A Saint among Saints
One of the best known among the Alwar saints who hailed front the South of India and propagated the Bhakti cult of devotion to Lord Vishnu was Ramanujacharya (1017-1137 AD). Others who belonged to this tradition include Devacharya, Haryanand, Raghavanand and Swami Ramanand (1346-1467 VS).
Ramanand followed the path of Dashadha bhakti. He propagated tolerance and equality. He did not bind his followers in a rigid external code. We are told in the Bhaktamal of Nabhadas that Swami Ramanand had 12 major disciples. Of these, the most exalted were Kabir and Ravidas (also known as Raidas) who were hailed as saints among saints.
The book “Tajikiratul Fukra” written by Ramanand’s contemporary Faqir Moulana Rashiduddin lists over Eve hundred of Ramanand’s disciples. Among these are Peepa, Dhana, Sen, and of course Kabir and Raidas. All of them came from different walks of life and strata of society. Ravidas emerged as a voice against social evils like untouchability, and other demeaning facets of life he saw around him. Kabir admired him greatly.
Ravidas was older than Kabir, but it was under Kabir’s influence that Ravidas evolved from a believer of the Saguna philosophy to the Nirguna approach. Thus Ravidas revered Kabir as an elder Ravidas’s date of birth is traditionally believed to he in the year 1433 V, on a Sunday, the full moon day of the month of Magh. His father’s name was Raghu and his mother was Ghurbiniya. His wife was named Lona. Ravidas was proud of his hereditary occupation of leather crafting and extols it through his verses.
Born in the village of Mandur near Varanasi, Ravidas imbibed the spirit of devotion to God from his parents as well as the holy precincts of Varanasi. The subtle influences he absorbed in this atmosphere constituted his education. When he was 18 he became devoted to Lord Rama. Initially, Ravidas could not keep his attention on his profession of shoemaking. Whatever he earned he would spend in the service of ascetics and those whose life was consecrated to God.
Distraught by his lack of interest in the trade, Ravidas’ father sent him out of the family fold. Then Ravidas set up a hut in the backyard of the family home. Stitching shoes for a living, he would spend his earnings on puja and in the service of wandering ascetics, His physical condition was one of dire poverty, but his unwavering faith buoyed him up and he was unfazed by the taunts of those about him.
“People mock at the lowly born, such is my state
My crime is my poverty, even my kith and kin laugh at me,” he recounts.
Born into a lowly caste traditionally denied access to the knowledge of the Vedas, Ravidas propagated the creed of Swami Ramanand, who declared that a person’s caste should be decided according to deeds, not according to birth, since this is the Vedic way. The Brahmins of Varanasi did not take kindly to this interpretation of the Vedas. They felt threatened by Ravidas challenging the right of those born into the Brahmin caste to be called Brahmins and declaring that Shudras whose deeds merited it were on par with Brahmins.
“No one can be called lowly by virtue of his birth,” sang Ravidas. “The doer of low deeds alone shall be denigrated so.”
The quarrel reached the ears of King Vir Singh Dev Baghela, who summoned Ravidas and his opponents for a hearing. Hearing the arguments on both sides, the king was greatly pleased with Ravidas’ practical philosophy and pithy presentation. He honoured him as a gum. Following suit, others in Varanasi belonging to wealthy classes and upper castes began to sing Ravidas’ praises. Ravidas recounts this episode too in one of his verses.
“With all courtesy the twice-born bow at the feet of Ravidas, servant of servants.”
All saints extol manual work as no less exalted than devotion and the pursuit of knowledge. Ravidas too considered his hereditary profession of leather crafting as his religion. It was through his work that he treaded the path of salvation.
“Ravidas will always hold his cobblers’ tools in his hands.
Honest work is my religion. It will always enable me to cross the ocean of the world,” he sings.
Honest and good deeds are what the Bhagevad Gita too holds up as the tools with which to gain salvation. The way to cross the ocean that is this world of the senses is through works of truth, kindness, service to humanity, love and compassion. If life is lived in such a way, Ravidas says, where is the need to make pilgrimages to temples or mosques?
“I have no plaint with the mosque, I am not drawn to the temple, Not Allah nor Rama are to be found there, of that alone Ravidas is sure.”
Not Allah nor Rama are to be found there, of that alone Ravidas is sure.”
Thus, for Ravidas, one’s work is the path to God realisation, and he exhorts us to worship it night and day. This is the way to attain happiness and peace in this world. This is the essential teaching of Ravidas. Through the medium of work as worship he propounds lessons of concentration, mindfulness and meditation, and of satsang holy company. That wealth alone is worthy, he teaches us, which is earned by working herd. And if immersed in one’s duty and in performing service, a devotee need never renounce the world and go searching for enlightenment. Lord Rama Himself comes knocking at the door of such a seeker. The cause of all sorrows and troubles is to be found in the unchecked influence of what are known as the five vikaars or distortions. These are kama, krodha, mada, lobha and ahankar: sensory desires, anger, delusion, greed and pride. The desire for riches and status imprisons human beings in a cage of materialism. Befuddled by these desires, people fall prey to tension. A world of clashes and struggles is the result. Unlimited desires lead further to manifold distortions. Reminding us of this situation into which we allow ourselves to be dragged, is the verse that says:
“Saints, contentment and good conduct these are the basis of life.
Ravidas calls those godly, who leave behind them the five distortions.”
Therefore, truth, good conduct and contentment can bring to life the light of happiness and peace. Faith in Rama as the Nirguna Supreme Being free of attributes and omniscient and the path to salvation through labour, these are as Ravidas’ life breath. He addresses Rama saying:
“Were You to cut me off, yet would I never stir.
Abandoning You, where indeed can I go?
Not for me fasting or pilgrimages, at Your feet alone lies my salvation.
Wherever I go I find You being worshiped
There is no God equal to you
Your being pervades the universe.
All bonds have I broken, just to bind myself to You.
My desire is only to attain You.
You have suffused my heart,
My every word.”
Ravidas considered the repetition of the Lord’s name Rama naam as the balm to heal all the wounds inflicted by worldly existence. The Name, he said, is the basis of all the world:
“Any work done without remembering Rama is merely delusion.”
But to render meaningful the act of repeating the name of Rama is no easy task. The greatest hurdle that comes in the way of accomplishing it is Maya the delusion caused by the illusory world. This is why the poet appeals to Rama Himself to control the Maya He has Himself created.
“Oh Vitthal, cease this Maya. It has usurped this world, such is its insidious attraction.
Caught up in its irresistible allure, gods, men, ascetics have fallen.”
Maya flows from Rama, He alone has the power to stop it. It is only due to the influence of Maya that tendencies like pride are generated. Under the delusion caused by pride, devotion is not possible, and salvation is out of the question. Therefore, it is imperative to give up pride. Once a person gives up pride, it is possible to sublimate the limited perception of a human being into the limitless perception of Rama.
To merge the perception of the human self which leads to pride or ego into the contemplation of the Supreme Self that is God, Ravidas considers it essential to keep the company of good souls and pursue spiritual practice. His approach is simple. Instead of being proud of great knowledge, intellectual ability, lineage and the like, a seeker would do well to become immersed in the service of the Lord’s creatures and to welcome holy souls. Service and the company of other spiritual seekers cause ones sins to be washed away. The heart and the home, both are purified.
Like Namdav and Kabir, Ravidas too penned verses extolling the significance of holy company:
“The beloved of Lord Rama has come to my house,
Raidas sings, I have met one of my own, the shackles of a million births have been loosed.”
Tales of miracles abound in Ravidas’ life story. It is said that King Sikandar Lodi tried to get him trampled by an elephant. Such was the holy aura of the saint that the elephant, instead of crushing him, stopped and bowed its head before him. Mother Ganga. pleased with Ravidas’ devotion, bestowed upon him a golden bracelet. Once during the Kumbha celebration, Ravidas went to Prayag (Allahabad). Engaging in scriptural debate with the pundits there, he came out victorious. The defeated priests then set up a challenge. They declared that only that person could be seen to be a true devotee whose Shaligram, a stone relic, when set upon the river, should float instead of sinking. The saint poet was vindicated when the Shaligram he placed in the Ganga began floating. These and many similar stories and his disputes with irate Brahmins ensured that Ravidas’ fame as an enlightened soul spread far. Meera Bai looked up to him as her guru. Other great saints Guru Nanak, Ekanath, Dadu, Sen, Tukaram, Dayabai among them too spoke of him with great reverence. Ravidas’ verses are included in the Guru Granth Saheb. This fact, besides his travels through Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan only added to his glorious reputation.
Ravidas’ followers believe that he lived for 151 years before disappearing into a divine light. Although it is accepted that he attained liberation from the body in Varanasi, his devotees tend to believe that it was at Chittor in 1584 VS. Chittor is a pilgrimage spot where his followers go to have a glimpse of “Ravidas ki Chatri” his ‘umbrella’ and “Ravidas ji ke Charan Chinh” his footprints.
Kala Kunj Presents
Script: Dr. Lakshmi Narayan Lal
Music Direction: Ved Sethi
Choreography: Ravi Jain
Singer: Chatursen and Ramesh Chopra
In this song, Ravidas compares the human and animal birth, explaining the difference. The poet addresses human beings, saying that if after being gifted a human birth, you do not fill your heart with the name of the Lord, there is no difference between you and an animal. It is just as if an animal had taken the form of a man. You are enmeshed in a web woven by the five senses and held there. The only difference is that the man-animal is provided with the best of food, while the animal in the jungle has to forage for food in the wild. Thus, the animal is born, lives and dies as an animal. But if a man, despite being equipped to look after all his needs, does not use his human life to chant the name of God and rise spiritually, then such a life can only be called that of an animal.
In this song Ravidas addresses the Lord, saying, “O Lord, even if I am a lowly-born leather worker despised by society, do I not belong still to You?” Then the poet consoles himself, declaring that he should not feel defeated even if society looks down upon him. The Holy Word has infused his physical body with uplifting thoughts. The path of the Yogi has been shown to him by his gum. “So do not give up, heart. It matters not whether I am a dealer of animal skins. What matters is, I am a devotee of none other than Rama.”
In this song Ravidas addresses the guru as seller of the intoxicant that is the Lord’s name, “Give me a cupful of this elixir, O kalarin (liquour seller), so that I may drink it and become intoxicated with His name. Let me forget the world.” In answer the kalarin says, “I will indeed serve you a cup, but in exchange I will have your head,” Then the seeker says, “O kalarin, what drink is this, pungent lice vinegar? My head is too great a price for this bitter cup.” The kalarin explains, “One who drinks from this cup filled with the intoxicating name of Rama will be as the sun and moon, leave behind the fear of death, leave behind death itself. The brewery whence comes this brew is the realm of cosmic silence, the beginning and end of creation. Flowing thence, it comes to the guru, who in compassion pours out the potent drops to the disciple. Drinking it, the disciple attains immortality.”
Singer: Vandana Vajpayee
In this song, Ravidas is happy at the arrival of a fellow devotee whom he places on pas with his guru. He sings in ecstasy that the arrival of such a guest has rendered his home blessed and pure. Because the devotee of Hari shall fill it with praises of the Lord. He will relate stories of Had and the two of them will while away the time sharing thoughts that arise from these stories. This is how the devotees of the Lord cross the ocean of life, guiding others along with them.
In this song Ravidas erases the difference between the matter and the alt pervading Universal Soul. He says Hari dwells in every spec and everything dwells in Hari.
Ravidas believes that true devotion rests in the heart. God is omnipresent. If the heart is filled with true devotion, God’s presence can be felt anywhere.
This song of Ravidas is full of pathos. He is unable to go near Mother Ganga, as he is restricted by the society, which does not allow low born Ravidas to offer his pooja to the mother.
Singer: Chatursen and Ramesh Chopra
Here Sant Ravidas talks of the greatness of the attitude of service the dasya bhava that binds the devotee to the Lord in a relationship like that of servant and master. His inner being is forever immersed in chanting the name of Rama, and that will never change. Because he has discovered the unbroken link between his soul and the Supreme Soul. There is no more duality. If the Lord is chandan (sandal paste), then he the seeker is the water into which the sandal paste dissolves, imbuing every drop with its fragrance. Can the two be separated? “If the Lord is a dense jungle, I am the peacock dancing in ecstasy amidst the foliage. The Lord is the moon at which I, the chakora bird, gaze raptly. The Lord is the oil lamp and I the wick, steeped perennially in His thoughts and effulgent with His light. The Lord is a peari, and I the thread that runs through this precious necklace, Together we shine with an unfathomable brilliance.” In the end Ravidas declares that devotion through dasya bhava is indeed the path that enables the seeker to heroine one with the Sought.
Song from Chayan
Music Bhajan Sopori
Singer: Sujeet Chaudhary
O Lord! My mind wavers all the time. I cannot concentrate on the path of devotion. How cant I remain immersed in worship of You? When I think of You, and You think of me, only then our love grow mutually. But if you look ,after my needs, yet I ignore you, do not spend my time in devotion, then my mind goes to pieces my knowledge is of no use. These feelings of 'I' and 'you' of mine and your these feelings of separation and duality are all born of a lack of understanding. Liberation is not possible this way. Sant Ravidas says that Krishna is full of compassion. He is even compassionate to those afflicted with such lack of perception. Krishna is the basis of the universe. That is why He is hailed by all.
Sant Ravidas uses a unique metaphor to describe the human body: he calls it a pillar of breath that supports a wall of water held together by the concrete of flesh and bones. This flesh and bones body is a cage in which the soul is kept imprisoned and prevented from taking flight. Thus Ravidas reminds us of the transience of human life. And by likening the human soul to a bird that dwells in the trees, he brings to mind the impermanence of the sensory world. No matter how much we may adore our beautiful black tresses or take pride in the noble turban on our head, ultimately, this body will die and be reduced to a pile of dust.
He is the Soul. The Truth, the Light. He is free from desires and does not seek worldly pleasures. The five senses are distraught at this lack of gratification. In this song, Raidas has described the state of a person who has realised non-duality. All creatures may look different, but within them all dwells the Supreme Soul. The idea of creation, preservation, destruction all is delusion. In such a state of realisation, the fear of old age or death disappears. The Truth becomes a living reality. This is the secret of Advaita the philosophy of non-duality.
Introduced by: Dr.Baldev Vanshi
Translated by: Anjana Rajan
Project Director: Navin Kumar
Devised & Designed by: Kmalini Dutt
Associates: Ved M Rao & Kali Prasad