Topics: Hinduism, Caste system in India, Caste Pages: 5 (1639 words) Published: February 14, 2013
The details of Guru Ravidas's life are controversial. According to some he was born in 1376/7 or else 1399. According to history he was born in a village named Seer Govardhanpur, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India. His father Baba Santokh Das was a Chamar leather merchant and Mata Kalsa Devi was his mother. His father got him married to Mata Lona Devi at early age and they had a son named Vijaydas. Saint Ravidas was the disciple of the famous Swami Ramanand of Varanasi. He was a close friend of saint Kabir and was also the spiritual guide or ‘Guru’ to famous saint Mira Bai. Ravidas was a prominent figure in the bhakti movement and a renowned poet of the nirguna bhakti tradition that valued the worship of a formless God. Belonging as he did to one of the lowest castes of Hindu society, the Chamar or tanner, the spiritual status he attained was profoundly troubling for orthodox Hindus of his time. His ancestral profession was the making and mending of shoes. Members of the Chamar caste were considered physically and ritually impure on account of their occupational contact with carcasses, and were deemed to be ‘untouchables’ in medieval Hindu society which operated according to normative values determined according to one's place in the caste hierarchy. The reading of Sanskrit scriptures was prohibited to lower castes, and direct access to the deities of the upper castes was restricted. In such an environment, Ravidas chose to defy the priestly caste, and to worship a formless God who could be envisioned without the mediation of human intermediaries i.e. the Brahmins. The main motto of his poetry serves to uphold the equality of all mankind saying that a man’s action rather than his birth credentials determines his moral nobility. Ravidass' teachings represent an offshoot of the bhakti movement of the fifteenth century, a religious renaissance in India. The main tenets of Ravidas’s teachings state that there is only one God who is omnipresent and omnipotent, the human soul is a particle of the Divine(the differrence between the two being like the difference between water and the wave, the rejection of caste, to realize God, which is the goal of human life, man should concentrate on God, giving up rituals and the only way to liberation (moksha) is to free the mind from duality. Ravidas questioned the established binaries of caste, religion, morality and God through his poetry and way of life. He could successfully take on issues previously confined to the upper caste Hindu clergy. Breaking established barriers, Ravidas could start a dialogue among members of the broader society. This dialogue questioned the concepts of caste, religion, god, love, morality, ethics and social relations (AG 29): “A family that has a true follower of the Lord

Is neither high caste nor low caste, lordly or poor.
The world will know it by its fragrance. Priests or merchants, laborers or warriors, halfbreeds, outcastes, and those who tend cremation fires—
their hearts are all the same. He who becomes
pure through love of the Lord
In this poem, Ravidas at first says that caste is not and should not be prerequisite for anyone to have true devotion to God and the world will recognize such people by their actions not their biological background. Ravidas goes on to poke fun at the caste system by acknowledging groups, ‘half breeds, outcastes etc.’, which are not represented in the echelons of the traditional Hindu caste system and implies that there is no clear social standing for them. Ravidas constructed a utopia of egalitarian society free of exploitation and discrimination and in his poetry; he questioned caste hegemony and valued labor of all sorts, as well as a life of simplicity and morality. He imagined an egalitarian society where there would be no discrimination or exploitation. He called such a society Begumpura, "land without sorrow." Through his poetry he questioned established norms and hierarchies. He also initiated...
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