Shri Guru Ravidas Ji

Life of Shri Guru Ravidas Ji

Guru Ravidas Ji

It is said that the merciful CREATOR of the world never neglects HIS CREATION, and continually sends HIS MESSENGERS to the world on missions of mercy to save HIS seekers and devotees. These Messengers, carrying the message from the ALMIGHTY GOD, come in the form of Saints and Mystics, impart the message of love and devotion for GOD, and take their disciples and devotees back to the ALMIGHTY Lord. Guru Ravidass ji (Ravi=Sun) was such a MESSENGER who came to this world from the ALMIGHTY GOD in the year 1471 of the Vikram era (1414 A.D.) on the Full-Moon (Puran Mashi) day of the month Magh, which was a Sunday. In the village of Seer Goberdhanpur, Kanshi, Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, Northern State of India. This is the traditionally celebrated birthday of Guru Ravidass ji among the adherents of his religion. Guru Ravidass ji mother's name was Mata Kalsi and father's name was Baba Santokh Dass ji, who was working as a Sarpanch (clan leader), in the Kingdom of Raja Nagar Mal.

It is said that it was God himself, in the guise of a holy man, had come either to relieve Guru Ravidass ji of his poverty or to test his contentment. Guru Ravidass ji's attitude in this regard is well expressed in the following verses:

Not the slightest liking have I for the philosopher's stone, it causes entanglement in the world. Giving up all craving, I fix my mind in the holy feet of the Lord alone, says Guru Ravidass ji. If thou aspirest to the highest bless, then contentment in mind thou must inculcate. Where there is contentment, no blemish can stand, says Guru Ravidass ji.

True happiness lies in realizing true holiness, no happiness is there in accumulating wealth. The accumulation of wealth is a storehouse of miseries, realize this fact in thy mind, O Guru Ravidass.

For Guru Ravidass ji, the Real Philosopher's stone is the Name of God, which transforms Sinners into Saints, and makes Mortals Immortal. As Guruji puts it:

How Can Iron (Human Life) be transformed into Gold,
If the Philosopher's stone touched it not?
Men understand not, sayeth Guru Ravidass.
Like mad men they have lost their way.
God's Name alone is my Support,
It alone is my Life, my Vital-Breath and Wealth

Guru Ravidass ji's fame as a Devotee of God enraged the Brahmins of Kanshi. It is evident that Guruji met with frequent opposition from the priestly classes. Yet Guruji had a tremendous impact on the Society. Having been born in a low-caste family, Guru Ravidass ji was looked down upon by the Brahmins who considered him unqualified for practising devotion to God. For a low-caste Cobbler to Preach and Practice Holiness was a sacrilege in their eyes.

Stone floating in the river.

The Brahmins of Kanshi made a challenge to Guru Ravidass ji when they asked Guruji to prove the power of his 'Shaligram' (a spherical stone idol traditionally worshipped by Brahmin priests) by making it float on the River Ganges. Guru Ravidass ji gently replied that he did not worship any Shaligram. But on the insistence of the Brahmins, Guruji said that the stone upon which he repaired his shoes was his only Shaligram. Accordingly, the Brahmins first threw their Shaligrams into the river. They ALL sank at once. Guru Ravidass ji then threw in his stone, and to the Brahmins surprise and dismay, it remained floating on the water. Thus the Brahmins, in trying to humiliate Guru Ravidass ji, were themselves humiliated. Guru Ravidass ji alludes to this boastful challenge of the Brahmins in the following verse:

Guru Ravidass ji, the humble one, tells the Truth.
Reflecting on the True Knowledge,
Let thou fix thy mind in the Holy Feet of the Lord
And let thou take shelter under Him.

They (priests) pluck leaves and perform worship,
And call the idol the One who takes men across the ocean of the World.
If God resides in the Idol. Then they say, it should surely float on water.

On another occasion, the Brahmins of Kanshi approached King Nagar Mal with a request to prevent this lowly born Shudra from worshipping God. In the court of the King, Guru Ravidass ji was challenged to explain the outrageous presumption of offering devotion to God while only a cobbler by birth. Guru Ravidass ji humbly explained that CASTE AND CREED are MAN-MADE distinctions that constitute NO-BARRIERS in offering devotion to God. At last the King left the decision to God Himself.

An image of God was placed in the middle of the Royal court; the Brahmin priests and Guru Ravidass ji were asked by turn to draw the image to them through the power of their devotion. The priests tried their best to attract the image of God through recitation and chanting, but it was No-avail. When Guru Ravidass ji's turn came, Guruji fervently prayed to God as follows:

Act not in such a way, O my Load,
That my work may go wrong,
And Thou may merely watch,
Sitting at a distance…………
Kanshi is crowded with a multitude of people
Who have come to witness the assembly of devotees;
Keep up or give up Thy reputation of being the Saviour of the poor and the lowly
Prays Guru Ravidass the cobbler.
I have come to Thy shelter, O God of all gods,
Have mercy on me, thinking me Thine own……
With confidence in Thy Name, I have given up hope of others,
My mind finds no comfort in worldly observances,
Accept the service of Guru Ravidass, Thy Slave O Lord,
And manifest Thy Name, the purifier of the fallen ones.

At this moving prayer, it is said, that the image of God was seen seated in the lap of Guru Ravidass ji. It is added that the Brahmins, boastful of wearing sacred threads, were further humiliated when Guru Ravidass ji tore open the skin on his chest and showed them his gold shining sacred thread (or his Inner Light). They were dazzled by its intense brightness and were virtually blinded for a few moments. At this point King Nagar Mal was so delighted and convinced with the decision of God Himself, that from thereon he become a disciple of Guru Ravidass ji the cobbler, as well as all the Brahmins that were present at that time, (approx. 18,000).

Then King Nagar Mal reminded the Brahmins of the condition they had attached to this trial of devotion (with a view to humiliating Guru Ravidass in public) that the defeated party was to carry the victorious person in a Palanquin through the main streets of the city. In accordance with this condition, the Brahmins had to carry Guru Ravidass ji in a Palanquin through the main streets of Kanshi-Banaras amidst the people's applause for Guru Ravidass ji.

The following verse of Guru Ravidass ji seems to indicate this incident.

Ragu Maru Bani

Who other than Thee can do such a thing, O my Lord?
Merciful to the poor is my Lord,
Who had put the canopy (of Spiritual Sovereignty) over my head.
He whose touch defiles the world, On such a one as me
Thou alone can bestow Thy Grace.
My Lord turns the lowliest into the highest, And fears not anyone.
Namdev, Kabir, Trilochan, Sadana and Sain were saved by Him.
Listen, O holy men, says Guru Ravidass,
Everything is accomplished by my Lord.

-Sri Adi Granth, p1106, poem 33

It is well known that some of the disciples of Guru Ravidass ji came from the Royal families, but Guru Ravidass ji never accepted any gifts from them to improve his financial situation. Guruji continued to carry on his ancestral profession of mending shoes, remaining ever so cheerful and contented with whatever little he could honestly earn through his profession.

Guru Ravidas Ji and Mirabai

King Ratan Singh of Merta was the father of Princess Mirabai who was amongst one of the famous disciples of Guru Ravidass ji. It is said that Mirabai was often ridiculed and taunted for having a poor cobbler as her Guru. Being tired of such taunts, Mirabai decided to give a Valuable Diamond (Nowadays known as the 'Kohinoor' Diamond or the Jewel in the Crown, which is worn by Her Majesty the Queen of England, and kept at the Tower of London, UK. England) to her Satguru Ravidass ji so that Guruji might sell it and lead a more comfortable life. She fervently urged her Satguru to accept this gift. This, she said, would please her immeasurably and would relieve her of ridicule and taunts from others. Guru Ravidass ji, still bending over the shoes he was mending, lovingly replied:

My dear child, I don't need it.Whatever I have attained, has been attained through
my humble work.If it is below you dignity to come to me or if people are harassing you for coming to
me, you may stay at home and do your devotion."

Mirabai, however insistently begged her Satguru to accept the diamond (Kohinoor) and despite Guru Ravidass ji's refusal, she put it in the thatched roof of Guruji's hut for his use any time later. When Mirabai returned after a few months, she was surprised to see that her Satguru was still working as a cobbler and was as poor as before. Guruji had not even touched the diamond, and Mirabai found it in the thatched roof where she had left it. On being asked why Guruji did not make use of this gift, which was given in all love and sincerity, Guru Ravidass ji replied that he already had such immeasurably wealth that he needed no gifts. People of his community though, having no idea of his wealth, laughed at his apparent poverty. The following verses by Guru Ravidass ji reflect his sentiments:

All men laugh, seeing my poverty
Such, indeed is my condition.
But the eighteen divine treasures and powers
Are under my palm.
This is all Thy grace, O Lord.

Sri Adi Granth, p858, poem 28
He who has God as his Custodian, what want has he?
The wish-granting Lord himself is there to fulfil his wishes,
How can anyone count his treasure of Bliss?
He who is in constant love with God, O Guru Ravidass
He indeed is ever in glee

Many people remain deprived of the spiritual gifts of the seemingly poor Saints, owing to their preoccupation with worldly possessions or pride in their high-born status. Raja Pipa, a wealthy Kshatriya monarch, had heard of Guru Ravidass ji's fame, but owing to pride in his high caste and royal status, he was ashamed to visit publicly the humble hut of this low-caste Saint.

One day, all the people in King Pipa's city had gone to a great fair held outside the city. King Pipa utilised this opportunity to visit Guru Ravidass ji's hut unnoticed by his subjects, and without losing time, he begged Guru Ravidass ji for the gift of initiation. At the time, Guru Ravidass ji was soaking leather in a vessel filled with water. Seeing the King at his door and pleased even with his limited humility, Guru Ravidass ji wanted to bestow a special favour on the King,

Guruji took some water from the vessel in which he was soaking the leather and asked the King to drink it. The King found himself in a predicament. Being a Kshatriya King, he hesitated to drink water from the hands of a shoemaker. Particularly when it had been used for soaking leather; and yet it was hard for him to decline openly. So he pretended to drink the water, but in fact let it slowly run through the long sleeves of his shirt. Although none of this remained hidden from the inner eye of Guru Ravidass ji, but Guruji did not expose the King.

The King returned home and felt relieved that he had narrowly escaped being polluted by drinking the shoemaker's water. He at once sent for his launderette man and asked him to wash the shirt carefully and remove the stains. As the launderette man had to make the necessary preparations for doing the laundry, he asked his daughter to chew the stained parts of the shirt in the meantime so that the stains might be more easily removed. The girl, while chewing the stained sleeves, swallowed some of the water Guru Ravidass ji poured for the King. As a result, her inner vision opened up and she was transformed from an ordinary girl into a devotee.

Soon word spread of her Spirituality. King Pipa also heard about her, and as there was a Spiritual longing in his heart. He secretly managed to visit her. The girl stood up reverently before him, but the King said that he had come to her only as a beggar and not as a ruler. The girl thereupon replied that whatever she had obtained was on account of him. She explained how chewing the stained parts of his shirt had opened her inner vision.

On hearing this, King Pipa felt great remorse, and discarding ALL worldly pride and shame, rushed to Guru Ravidass ji's hut. He humbly begged Guru Ravidass ji to bestow the grace of that special water. But the king had lost that rare opportunity when Guru Ravidass ji had bestowed on him a special favour.

After a pause, Guru Ravidass ji said, "When you first came to me, O King, and begged for initiation, I thought of bestowing upon you a special favour for the humility you showed in coming to a poor cobbler's door. The water that I offered you was not the water with which I was washing my leather. It was the Ambrosial Nectar from Sach Khand. But due to your misfortune, you did not drink it, and thus the launderette man's daughter received the gift. But do not worry, brother. I will now initiate you into the secrets of "NAM", and through devotion to it, you will gain everything."

The above clearly illustrates how the vanity of high birth and the pride of wealth stand as hindrances in obtaining "NAM" and in practising devotion to God. Guru Ravidass ji expresses his views in this regard in unmistakable terms:

Such is the nature of devotion, O Brother,
When devotion appears, then vanity disappears…
True devotion is far from thee, says Guru Ravidass,
It is the highly fortunate ones who attain it.
Give up egotism, efface the distinction of 'mine' and 'thine',
And be (humble and discriminating) like a little ant;
Then alone shall thou be able to pick up and eat
The sweet grains of sugar (spirituality) out of the dirt ( of the world).

Thou know nothing, O man, Thou art puffed up at the sight of thy robes.
It is not the place for the proud. Over thy neck one day the crow will caw…
If you seek the protection of a Saint, Corers and corers of your sins are erased.
He who repeats God's Name, says Guru Ravidass,
Has no concern with caste, or birth, or transmigration.

-Sri Adi Granth, p1196. poem 36

Another disciple who received initiation from Guru Ravidass ji was the Jhali Queen of Chittor. Guru Ravidass ji went to Chittor at the invitation of the Jhali Queen and was accorded a warm welcome there. The Queen in Guru ji's honour arranged a great feast, but the Brahmins of Chittor would not agree to eat with a cobbler Guru. The Brahmins were therefore given a raw provision so that they might prepare and eat their food in their own separate group. But when the food was ready and the Brahmins, sitting in their own separate row, starting to eat, they found Guru Ravidass ji sitting between every pair of Brahmins. This put the Brahmins to shame and exposed the absurdity of their proclaimed caste superiority.

Guru Ravidass ji was not an academic scholar, as Guruji does not seem to have received any formal education. But Guruji's poems indicate a good knowledge of Hindi, Urdu, Persian and many regional languages of India. In his poems, Guruji speaks of the futility of book learning and aspires to learn the 'Letter of Wisdom' in the School of God. Guruji's knowledge was based on his profound inner experience. Guruji conveyed his esoteric message, however in a simple, unassuming and straightforward manner. Guruji was essentially a lover and devotee of God. Guruji's poems are surcharged with an intense longing and a deep feeling of love and devotion for God. They echo a sense of complete surrender and utter dedication of Him. One requires a loving heart rather than an analytical mind to appreciate their appeal and beauty. The message contained in them is meant for actual practice in life rather than for mere intellectual exercise.

The tremendous impact made by Guru Ravidass ji on the ritual-oriented and class-ridden society is evident from the reverence with which contemporary and subsequent spiritual teachers refer to him. Among those who respectfully to Guru Ravidass ji are such Saints and devotees as Kabir, Guru Nanak, Ekanath, Haridas, Dadu, Tukaram, Dayabai, Paltu, Sevadas, Sundardas and Darshandas.

As Nabhadas puts it in his Bhaktamal:

So Purifying is Guru Ravidass.
That the dust of his Holy Feet is worshipped by all,
Discarding the pride of castes and stations in life;
And his blameless words are efficacious
In cutting knots of doubt.

Guru Ravidass ji visited North India twice during his pilgrimages. For the first time, Guru Ravidass ji met Guru Nanak Dev ji was in 'Chuharkana' now known as 'Nankana Sahib'. Where Guru Ravidass ji along with four other Saints were served with meals worth twenty rupees, given to Guru Nanak Dev ji by his father, Shri Mehta Kalu ji, for the purpose of investing it in a truthful business (Sacha Soda). Guru Ravidass ji was so pleased with the humility showed by Guru Nanak Dev ji towards the Saints that Guru Ravidass ji Initiated Guru Nanak Dev ji into the secrets of 'NAM' (Sacha Soda) by bestowing the Mool Mantar shabad, and Said to Guru Nanak Dev ji, that through devotion to it, you will gain everything. In an INITIATION CEREMONY, the Initiator becomes the 'GURU' and the person to be initiated becomes his 'DISCIPLE'.

Guru Ravidas and Guru Nanak Dev

During Guru Ravidass ji's second visit to the Punjab, Guruji met Guru Nanak Dev ji at SANT GHAT of Kali Bein (rivulet) in Sultanpur Lodhi, District Kapurthala, in a mammoth Sant Samagam held for three days.

Guru Ravidass ji travelled quite widely, as his poems indicate a good knowledge of Hindi, Urdu, Persian and many regional languages of India. Guruji's followers are found in many states of India such as Uttar Pardesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Guru Nanak Dev ji, was born in 1469 A.D. and started his extensive travel at the age of 26 (1495 A.D.). By this time Guru Ravidass ji's fame had already reached the Punjab and Guru Ravidass ji's verses had gained popularity, as Guru Nanak Dev ji used to sing the verses of Guru Ravidass ji.

Guru Nanak Dev ji met Guru Ravidass Ji, for the third time, at "GURU KA BAGH" temple in Banaras in 1498 A.D. At this meeting Guru Nanak Dev ji asked Guru Ravidass ji to bless the Punjab earth and bestow the flavour of 'NAM' on the people of the Punjab so that they can also live in peace and harmony in a casteless and classless society. Guru Ravidass ji fulfilled Guru Nanak Dev ji's request by donating old manuscripts, which contained a collection of Guru Ravidass ji's verses and poems.

The earliest collection of Guru Ravidass ji's poems are available in the Sri Adi Granth. It was compiled by Guru Arjun Dev ji, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, and was completed in 1604 A.D. Sri Adi Granth contains 40-Hymns (one of which is a repetition) and One-Couplet of Guru Ravidass ji. The 40-Hymns are in represented in 16-different RAAG's (Musicals Modes) as follows:

Name of Raag; No of Hymns; Name of Raag; No of Hymns;
Siri 1 Gauri 5
Asa 6 Gujari 1
Sorathi 7 Dhanasari 3
Jaitsari 1 Suhi 3
Bilaval 2 Gaund 2
Ramkali 1 Maru 2
Kedara 1 Bhairau 1
Basant 1 Malhar 3

One of the Hymns in Raag Maru is the same (with a few minor changes) as includes in Raag Sorathi.

It is said that Guru Ravidass ji disappeared from the world, leaving behind only his footprints, which are still preserved at Chittor, covered by a sacred canopy called 'Guru Ravidass ki Chhatri'. Some believe that Guru Ravidass ji lived in Banaras during his last days, dying a natural death in 1540 A.D. at the age of 126 years. Other memorials to Guru Ravidass ji are found in many places, including south India near the Tirupati Temple at the foot of Balaji Hill. There is a tank in Mandur near Kanshi and a Guru Ravidass ji Kund (pool) in Ellora in Hyderabad. Another Guru Ravidass ji Kund is found in Junagadh in Kathiawar.

Thus Guru Ravidass ji, who came from the lowest caste, rose to the pinnacle of spiritual glory and preached his message fearlessly to men of all castes and creeds. The Brahmins who initially opposed him came to realize Guruji's greatness, and many of the Brahmin chiefs bowed before Guru Ravidass ji in reverence.

As Guru Ravidass ji himself puts it:-

I belong to the Kutabandhala caste ( a subcaste of the Chamar),
And men of my caste still carry carcasses on the outskirts of Banaras.
But now, before me, even the Brahmin Chiefs fall prostrate,
Because Guru Ravidass, Thy Slave, hath taken refuge in Thy Name.

-Sri Adi Granth, p1293, poem 37.

God is Light; in him there is no darkness at all.
For God, who said, "Let Light shine out of darkness,"
Made his Light shine in our hearts to give us the Light
Of the Knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of
Guru Ravidass ji
The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going
What do righteousness and wickedness have in common?
Or what fellowship can Light have with darkness?
The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
Shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
The rising SUN (Ravi) came to us from the heaven
To shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the path of peace.
Guru Ravidass ji is the SUN Light of the world.
So put your trust in the Light…
So that you may become the sons of Light
And will never have to walk in darkness.

In the Sri Adi Granth, Guru Ramdas ji also refers to Guru Ravidass ji in one of his poems:

Guru Ravidass ji the cobbler offereth prayer;
By singing such a prayer to God, for a single moment
He has turned from a lowly caste into an exalted one,
And all the four castes come to bow down at his feet.

By Virender Singh Gill.