Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Dalit Bahujan Adivasi History

Guru Ravidas Jayanti- The dream of Be-Gham-Pura

On the occasion of Guru Ravidas Jayanti on February 9, 2020, we remember the patron saint of the Dalit community, the man who inspired love, grace, Bhakti, and revolution.

Ishmeet Nagpal 09 Feb 2020

ravidas

Guru Ravidas ji was one of the most prominent poets of the Bhakti Movement in 15th century. Born into an Untouchable Chamar caste family, he retained his caste occupation as a cobbler and inspired social reform through his Bhakti poetry, using it as a middle path of social protest against caste-based exclusion and oppression. His protest was novel, understated, yet dangerous, as he challenged upper caste Hindus even in the way he dressed- wearing dhoti, janeu, and tilak- which were forbidden for the Untouchables.

According to the Hindu Calendar, Guru Ravidas ji was born in Govardhanpur near Varanasi, on the full moon (Purnima) of the month of Magh in the late 14th century. There is no consensus on the exact year of his birth. Even as a child, he was inclined towards Bhakti and spiritualism, but at the same time he was a firm believer in dignity of labour. As dictated by social and caste norms, the Chamar caste would work with leather and animal hide. This was considered “dirty work” as the Chamar caste would work with animal carcasses. Unfazed, Guru Ravidas ji maintained a small shop making and repairing shoes, and is said to have built an idol out of leather to pray to. 

It was this knack for subverting caste norms that placed him in a position where he was revered by people of all castes and religions, and made the upper caste enforcers of caste oppression decidedly uncomfortable and jealous.

He challenged Brahminical hegemony with his poetry and one of his most popular dohas states- 

रैदास बांभन मत पूजिए जो होवे गुन हीन.

पूजिए चरन चंडाल के जो हो ज्ञान प्रवीन.

Loosely translated, it appeals to the people to stop worshipping Brahmins who have no enlightenment/knowledge, but rather worship a Chandaal who is enlightened. In these two simple lines he questioned the entire logic of caste system and how people were treated by the virtue of the coincidence of birth rather than their intellectual abilities. 

His doha- 'रैदास जन्म के कारने होत कोई नीच, नर कूं नीच कर डारि है, ओछे करम की नीच', was a direct attack on the caste system as he expounded that no one could be born “low”, what makes anyone a lowly person are their lowly deeds. 

Guru Ravidas’s devotional songs and poems were included Guru Granth Saheb (Sikhism) and PanchVani (Dadupanthi tradition- Hinduism). In addition, hagiographers over the centuries following his death have contributed to connecting the dots of his poetry and protest, his life and legacy. 

Modern-day followers of Guru Ravidas ji are known as Ravidasias (est. 21st century) and have made a distinct cultural and religious identity with their own temples and practices. Though they revere the Guru Granth Saheb of Sikhs as it contains 40 poems by Guru Ravidas ji, Ravidasias do not consider themselves as Sikhs or Hindus, but rather a separate religion. Most of them are residents of Punjab or have migrated to countries like Canada and USA. Even today, in Punjab, the word “Ravidasi” has caste undertones and discrimination is rampant, perpetrated by both Hindus and Sikhs. The caste system is so ingrained in our history that neither logic, nor modernization, seem to shake the centuries of suppression. 

With political and communal turmoil reaching a boiling point in present day India, Guru Ravidas’s vision of an equal and just land called Be-Gham-Pura (the city without sorrows) seems like a point on the horizon- visible, yet just out of reach-

“Where there is no affliction or suffering

Neither anxiety nor fear, taxes nor capital

No menace, no terror, no humiliation…

Says Ravidas the emancipated Chamar:

One who shares with me that city is my friend.” *

 

*(This unpublished translation by Joel Lee appears in Arundhati Roy’s “The Doctor and The Saint”)

Guru Ravidas ji pictured a world free of caste oppression, of divisions, of communal hatred. This is the world we want to leave behind for our future generations. Whatever steps we take in this life, they must all lead to Be-Gham-Pura, in honour of Guru Ravidas, for the sake of humanity.

**Note: The use of the words “Chamar”, “Untouchables”, and “Untouchability” in this article is in a historical context of the self-identified terminology pertaining to the time when these events took place. 

Guru Ravidas Jayanti- The dream of Be-Gham-Pura

On the occasion of Guru Ravidas Jayanti on February 9, 2020, we remember the patron saint of the Dalit community, the man who inspired love, grace, Bhakti, and revolution.

ravidas

Guru Ravidas ji was one of the most prominent poets of the Bhakti Movement in 15th century. Born into an Untouchable Chamar caste family, he retained his caste occupation as a cobbler and inspired social reform through his Bhakti poetry, using it as a middle path of social protest against caste-based exclusion and oppression. His protest was novel, understated, yet dangerous, as he challenged upper caste Hindus even in the way he dressed- wearing dhoti, janeu, and tilak- which were forbidden for the Untouchables.

According to the Hindu Calendar, Guru Ravidas ji was born in Govardhanpur near Varanasi, on the full moon (Purnima) of the month of Magh in the late 14th century. There is no consensus on the exact year of his birth. Even as a child, he was inclined towards Bhakti and spiritualism, but at the same time he was a firm believer in dignity of labour. As dictated by social and caste norms, the Chamar caste would work with leather and animal hide. This was considered “dirty work” as the Chamar caste would work with animal carcasses. Unfazed, Guru Ravidas ji maintained a small shop making and repairing shoes, and is said to have built an idol out of leather to pray to. 

It was this knack for subverting caste norms that placed him in a position where he was revered by people of all castes and religions, and made the upper caste enforcers of caste oppression decidedly uncomfortable and jealous.

He challenged Brahminical hegemony with his poetry and one of his most popular dohas states- 

रैदास बांभन मत पूजिए जो होवे गुन हीन.

पूजिए चरन चंडाल के जो हो ज्ञान प्रवीन.

Loosely translated, it appeals to the people to stop worshipping Brahmins who have no enlightenment/knowledge, but rather worship a Chandaal who is enlightened. In these two simple lines he questioned the entire logic of caste system and how people were treated by the virtue of the coincidence of birth rather than their intellectual abilities. 

His doha- 'रैदास जन्म के कारने होत कोई नीच, नर कूं नीच कर डारि है, ओछे करम की नीच', was a direct attack on the caste system as he expounded that no one could be born “low”, what makes anyone a lowly person are their lowly deeds. 

Guru Ravidas’s devotional songs and poems were included Guru Granth Saheb (Sikhism) and PanchVani (Dadupanthi tradition- Hinduism). In addition, hagiographers over the centuries following his death have contributed to connecting the dots of his poetry and protest, his life and legacy. 

Modern-day followers of Guru Ravidas ji are known as Ravidasias (est. 21st century) and have made a distinct cultural and religious identity with their own temples and practices. Though they revere the Guru Granth Saheb of Sikhs as it contains 40 poems by Guru Ravidas ji, Ravidasias do not consider themselves as Sikhs or Hindus, but rather a separate religion. Most of them are residents of Punjab or have migrated to countries like Canada and USA. Even today, in Punjab, the word “Ravidasi” has caste undertones and discrimination is rampant, perpetrated by both Hindus and Sikhs. The caste system is so ingrained in our history that neither logic, nor modernization, seem to shake the centuries of suppression. 

With political and communal turmoil reaching a boiling point in present day India, Guru Ravidas’s vision of an equal and just land called Be-Gham-Pura (the city without sorrows) seems like a point on the horizon- visible, yet just out of reach-

“Where there is no affliction or suffering

Neither anxiety nor fear, taxes nor capital

No menace, no terror, no humiliation…

Says Ravidas the emancipated Chamar:

One who shares with me that city is my friend.” *

 

*(This unpublished translation by Joel Lee appears in Arundhati Roy’s “The Doctor and The Saint”)

Guru Ravidas ji pictured a world free of caste oppression, of divisions, of communal hatred. This is the world we want to leave behind for our future generations. Whatever steps we take in this life, they must all lead to Be-Gham-Pura, in honour of Guru Ravidas, for the sake of humanity.

**Note: The use of the words “Chamar”, “Untouchables”, and “Untouchability” in this article is in a historical context of the self-identified terminology pertaining to the time when these events took place. 

Related Articles

Monday

13

Jan

Nationwide

Saturday

04

Jan

Karve Statue, Kothrud, Pune

Theme

Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.
khoj

Teaching Without Prejudice

Report of the CABE Committee on 'Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools Outside the Government System

Campaigns

Monday

13

Jan

Nationwide

Saturday

04

Jan

Karve Statue, Kothrud, Pune

Videos

Culture

Watch: Sufism and its influence on Indian music

In this SabrangIndia exclusive video, Pandit Anindya Banerjee, classical musician Kallol Ghoshal and folk researcher Niladri Sekhar DasSharma talk about the Influence of Islam on Indian Music and how the Sufis, known for their great love for music and acceptance of many indigenous customs, allowed Syncretism to flourish in Bengal.

Culture

Watch: Sufism and its influence on Indian music

In this SabrangIndia exclusive video, Pandit Anindya Banerjee, classical musician Kallol Ghoshal and folk researcher Niladri Sekhar DasSharma talk about the Influence of Islam on Indian Music and how the Sufis, known for their great love for music and acceptance of many indigenous customs, allowed Syncretism to flourish in Bengal.

Analysis

Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.
khoj

Teaching Without Prejudice

Report of the CABE Committee on 'Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools Outside the Government System

Archives