Ravidass Jayanti: The man who puts karma above caste
The full moon day or Magh Purnima in the month of Magh is celebrated as Guru Ravidass Jayanti across the country. The day is marked as the birthday of Guru Ravidass, who is acknowledged as one of the greatest saints of Bhakti movement whose teachings focused on equality of mankind and universal brotherhood.
Among the several other principles of Guru Ravidas, the important one was to end all discrimination based on caste, colour and creed which are a source of inspiration for all of us to create a humane society. This year the Ravidass Jayanti would be celebrated across the county on 14 February.
Guru Ravidass was active in the 15th century. Venerated in the region of Uttar Pradesh as well as in Maharashtra, his devotional songs and verses made a lasting impact upon the Bhakti movement. He is often given the honorific Bhagat or Sant. He was a socio-religious reformer, a thinker, a theosophist, a humanist, a poet, a traveller, a pacifist and a spiritual figure before whom even head-priests of Benaras lay prostrate to pay homage. He was a shoemaker of the Kutbandhla Chamar caste.
His devotional songs were included in the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. There is also a larger body of hymns passed on independently that is claimed and attributed to Ravidas by some. Ravidass was subversive in that his devotionalism implied a leveling 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.
Guru Ravidass taught that one is distinguished not by one’s caste 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 emphasising on the fact that honest labour is empowering.
The legend has it that 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.
Guru Ravidass incidence of life has become the inspiration for the people of today and in one such incident when Guru Ravidass’ 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: ‘Mann 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.
In the 20th century, syncretic followers of Ravidass’s teachings, who may have identified as Sikh, Hindu, or simply ‘Ravidasi’ began to coalesce. Following the murder of their cleric Ramanand Dass in Vienna in 2009, this movement declared itself to be a religion fully separated from Sikhism, and now known as the Ravidassia religion. The Ravidassia religion compiled a new holy book, Amritbani Guru Ravidass. Based entirely on the writings and teaching of Guru Ravidass, it contains 240 hymns and all Ravidassias temples utilise it.
The day is the annual focal point for Ravidassia religion. On the day Guru Granth Sahib ji read, the nishaan is changed ceremonially, and there is a special aarti and a Nagar Kirtan procession bearing the guru's portrait are taken out to the accompaniment of music through the streets of the temple locality.
Also devotees take holy dip in the river to perform rites. In the bhawans, his image is worshiped. Every year, a grand celebration at Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Mandir, Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi takes place to mark the occasion along with lakhs of devotees who come from all over the world to celebrate the occasion.