Bhagat Ravidas Ji

Bhagat Ravidas Ji was pious and religious minded right from the beginning and thus came in contact with many spiritual men and adopted Swami Ramanand Ji as his Guru. Bhagat Ravidas Ji made his living as a cobbler. He distributed a major part of his income among the poor and needly. Once Queen Jallibai presented him with costly clothes and ornaments as depicted above. He enlightened her by saying that the name of God was more precious than the ornaments. By the turn of the fourteenth century, the Muslim rule had been comfortably established in India. When Bhagat Ramanand (1366 - 1467 A.D.) came to Northern India and made Kashi/Benares as his home, he noted that the Muslim religion had penetrated: a considerable number of Hindus had 'been converted, and they had adopted Islam as their religion. Ramanand was an orthodox devotee of Shiva. He was, no doubt, impressed with the Islamic theory of Oneness of God and Feeling of Equality in social set up, except Ruling Feudal Elite, the Muslims of all classes mingled indistinctivety in every aspect of life - living, eating, religious ceremonies, marriages, etc. But he was very much distressed to observe that these criteria were enhancing the conversion of Hindus, particularly of low-caste, into Islam. He forsook the Shivaite austere practices endowed to him by his Guru, Ramanuj, and initiated the veneration of the Unjversal Brotherhood. He accepted Hindus of low-caste and Muslims to join him in worship, and become his followers. Among his most noted disciples were Kabir - a Muslim weaver, Sam - a barber, Dhanna - a cultivator, and Ravidas, a cobbler.

There is consensus that Bhagat Ravidas was born on Maghushudhi 14 Pooranmashi in Smt. 1456, i.e. February 1399 in Kashi. His parents were in the leather trade, and were very well off. He was barely five days old when Bhagat Ramanand visited his house and blessed the child. When he reached the age of discretion, his father inspired him to join the family business. But Ravidas was imbued with with celestial and humane values. The money he received from his father for business, he spent in the welfare of the Saints and needy. His father was extremely perturbed and banished him from the house. By thAs time, Ravidas was already married. He did not resent, quietly left the house, started living in a make-shift hut with his wife, and set up a small wayside shop of menthng shoes.

He did not abandon his love for the God and built a Temple of clay walls and thatched roof. He installed an idol made out of hide in the Temple. His extreme devotion and universal love induced hundreds of people of all castes to join him in worship. This resulted in enviousness among the Brahmin priests who raised the matter in the Court of Muslim Nawab of Kashi. The Nawab was a man of righteousness, and put the matter to a miraculous test. Bhagat Ravidas went into meditation and recited one of his hymns (Gauri Purbi P.346) and requested the Almighty "Take pity on me that my. doubts may be dispelled." His prayer was answered, and his adoration acclaimed the triumph in the miraculous test. To express his gratitude he sang his hymn (Asa P. 1606), "Thou art sandal and I am the poor castor-plant, dwelling close to thee. From a mean tree I have become sublime and Thine fragrance, exquisite fragrance, now, abides in me."

A rich man tried to allure him with the charm of wealth. He gave the Bhagat a philosopher's stone by the touch of which one could change any article into gold. In spite of Bhagat's refusal the rich man left the stone hung under the ceiling. When he came back after one year, the stone was still hanging there. The rich man announced to the world the indisputable godliness of Bhagat Ravidas. This episode is considered to be an ecclesiastic test to judge Bhagat Ravida's endurance towards the worldly love. But some accounts associate this to the devious manipulation of the Brahmin priests to discredit Ravidas, which, rather, ended in the triumph of the Bhagat.

Ravidas's selfless devotion and casteless love for humanity spread far and wide. Maharani Jhally of Chitaur was a noble woman of benevolence and piety. Her ardency brought her to Benares on a pilgrimage. In spite of the disapproval of the Brahmin priests, she straight-away went to the Temple of Bhagat Ravidas. Ravidas was in h:s ecclesiastic benediction at the time, and was reciting his hymns (Rag Sorath P.658-59). Maharani was captivated. Eventually she became his disciple and abandoned all her luxurious set up. Her husband, the Maharana, had been instigated against her adopting a cobble as her Guru. He was full of rage when she returned. H~ was pacified by listening to some of the hymns of Bhagat Ravidas but still wanted to put the Bhagat through a test to invalidate the allegations of the Brahmins. The Bhagat was invited to Chitaur and and requested to participate in an oblation. The Brahmin priests refused to eat while a cobbler was seated in the same column of rows. Bhagat Ravidas voluntarily moved away. But, miraculously every person distributing food looked like Bhagat Ravidas to the Brahmins (Another account states when the Brahmins sat down to eat, they saw Ravidas seated between every two of them). They complained to Maharana. Maharana comprehended the hidden meaning of this marvel, and himself became an ardent devotee. Bhagat Ravidas remained in Chitaur for a long time. It is said that Mira Bai became his disciple as well during that period. As per some accounts he died at a ripe old age of nearly 120 years, in Benaras.

There are 41 verses of Bhagat Ravidas in the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib. Most of them are in very clear Hindi. His poetry is brimming with ardent love for God, Universe, Nature, GurU, and the Name. His sarcasm and pique shows his closeness with God.

Bhagat Ravidas neither ever laments nor complains to God on his low-caste lineage:

O people of the city, everyone knows

I am, a cobbler by trade and tanner by caste

One of the low-caste, and yet within my heart

I meditate upon God.

The only grievance he expresses to God is his mistreatment by the high-caste priests:

I am haunted day and night by the thought of my low birth, society and deeds. But all he want is:

O God! the Lord of the Universe! O Life of me! Forget me not. I am ever thy slave.

Through his simplicity, piety, and worship he seeks celestial amalgamation with God:

Thou art me, I am thou What is the difference.

The same as between gold and its bracelet, And between water and its ripple. And his hymn, Beghumpura, in the Rag Gauri is the most visionary, romantic and eternal:

Griefness' is the name of my town, Where abide not either pain or care:

No anguish there of tax on goods, Neither fear, nor error, nor dread, nor decline.

Oh! how wondrous is my fatherland, Where there is always peace, and CaIrn, 0 Friend!

And there is not a second nor a third there, by my only Lord.

Populous as ever, its repute is eternal, Yea, there abide only the Rich and Content, And there men go about as and where they wish.

They know the Mansion of their Lord, so no one preventeth (them).

Ravidas, a mere tanner, hath been emancipated in this land, and he who's his fellow citizen is also his friend.

by: Pritpal Singh Bindra