Dr Satish K Kapoor
Guru Ravidas, also called Rohidas, Ruhidas and Raidas (15th-16th century) was a prominent sant of the Indian Bhakti tradition. A cobbler by profession, he became a disciple of Swami Ramananda of Varanasi, and is said to have a direct intuitive vision of the Supreme self. He came to be followed both by common people and members of royal families, like Rao Pipa, queen Jhali and Mira Bai. Kabir described him as a sant par excellence (Santan mein Ravidas sant hain).
Just as, in religious lore, god provides succor to his ardent devotees, going as far as preparing clay pots with Gora, sowing plants with Savata mali, selling meat with Sadana, and guarding fields of Tukaram, the image of god lies in Ravidas’ lap when he is challenged by the priestly class to prove his spiritual prowess.
Ravidas was a votary of ananya bhakti (ardent devotion) in which the sense of duality between the worshipper and his object of worship comes to an end. He held that bhakti can be cultivated by purifying antahkarna (the inner being), living in conformity with the will of god, and remaining in noble company. He disapproved of ritualistic worship and advocated internal bhakti that entails meditation on nam (the holy name). In his view, fasts, pilgrimages and penances were not the right means to realise god. Salvation or deliverance from transmigration, could not be attained by shaving hair (bhagta na mund mundai), counting beads (bhagat na mala dikhai), becoming a vairagi (bhagta na bairag bandhein), or a yogi (bhagat na jog sadhein), or by digging a cave in a forest for meditation (bhagat na ban mein gufa khudai), but by constant nam-simran (remembrance of the nature and being of god) and soliciting divine grace.
‘Thy Name is the lamp,
Thy Name, the wick,
Thy Name is the oil which I pour therein.
With Thy Name I have kindled the light.
Finding god and guru
Ravidas believed in the formless, all-encompassing, Supreme Reality that pervaded all beings. ‘Perform arati in the inner sky by merging the self into shabd or the Word.’ The true guru could guide how to control the vagaries of the mind, transcend the illusory power of maya, and open the third eye. But he observed that a genuine guru could be found with god’s grace alone (Gur prasad niranjan pavau).
Ravidas was so imbued with the divine spirit that he could proclaim oneness with god. The self is experienced as the ultimate reality in the state of turiya (the fourth dimension of being). In one of his compositions, Ravidas asks: Tohi mohi, mohi tohi antar kaisa; kanak katik jal tarang jaisa. ‘Where is the difference between you and me or me and you? ‘If you are gold, I am a bangle made of it. If you are water, I am a current of it. And again: jau tum diwra tau ham bati - ‘If you are a lamp, I am the wick.’ He was convinced that the ego stood as a barrier between man and god, and hence needs to be sublimated on the spiritual journey.
Ravidas rejected caste-based distinctions and pleaded for social and religious harmony. ‘If the world has arisen from the same Flame, how can anyone discriminate between high and low, brahmin and cobbler?’ he asked. He regarded the killing of living creatures either for religious sacrifice or for food, as inhuman, because the Lord resides in them too. He was opposed to the consumption of wine and psychoactive plants like cannabis and datura as they polluted the mind.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib has forty life-changing hymns of Ravidas that are sung reverentially to this day. ‘Let the tongue always repeat the Lord’s name; and let the hands be ever engaged in work,’ was his advice to all.
Dr Kapoor is a noted educationist, historian and spiritualist
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