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Bhagat Ravidas of The Guru Granth




Today, January 30, is the birth anniversary of Bhagat Ravidas ji [1450 - 1520, estimated]


Ravidās, poet and mystic, was born to Raghū and Ghurbiniā, who lived near the city of Vārāṇasī, in present day Uttar Pradesh, India.

Not much biographical information about him is available but, from what can be made out of his own compositions, he belonged to a hindu 'low-caste' (chamār - leather worker/ cobbler ) family. He followed the family profession of tanning hides and making shoes.

Gradually he started spending most of his time in the company of saints and sādhūs and built himself a thatched hut wherein he received and entertained wandering ascetics. Many stories became knownt about his simplicity and piety of nature. He became famous as a Vaiṣṇava saint in the tradition of Rāmānand.

In the course of his spiritual quest, he reached a stage when he discarded images and idols and turned to the worship of the Supreme Being. He wrote deeply impassioned devotional verses and left his mark on Hindi literature for the fusion of religious sentiment with the vernacular medium.

Forty of his hymns have been incorporated in the Sikh Scripture, the GurÅ« Granth Sāhib. Accordingly, he is accorded deep respect by Sikhs as his compositions form part of our Living Guru. He is therefore accorded the high honorofic of "Bhagat" - literally, God's Devotee - by Sikhs, as are the other non-Guru contributors to the Guru Granth Sahib. 

The sect of Bhagat Ravidas Panthis that follows him honour him as "Guru Ravidas".

He travelled fairly widely and visited Rājasthān, Gujarāt, Āndhra Pradesh, Mahārāshṭra, besides a number of places in the northern India such as Prayāg, Mathurā, Vrindāvan, Haridvār, Guṛgāoṅ and Multān. At most of these places, there are monuments honouring his memory. In his lifetime, he had thousands of followers, including members of the higher castes, among them being Mīrābāī, the Rājput princess.

The hymns of Ravidās included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib fall under rāga - Sirī (1), Gauṛī (5), Āsā (6), Gūjarī (1), Soraṭhi (7), Dhanāsarī (3), Jaitsarī (1), Suhī (3), Bilāval (2), Gauṇḍ (2), Rāmkalī (1), Mārū (2); Kedārā (1), Bhairau (1), Basant (1) and Malhār (3). One of the hymns in rāga Mārū is the same (with a few minor changes) as included in rāga Soraṭhi.

Ravidās acknowledged the unicity and omnipresence and omnipotence of God. According to him, the human soul is only a particle of the Divine : the difference between the two is like the difference between the gold and the ornament, the water and the wave (GGS:93).

He rejects distinctions between man and man on the basis of caste or creed, for, as he says, in the world beyond no such differentiations will be acknowledged (GGS: 345). To realize God, which is the ultimate end of human life, man should concentrate on His Name, giving up mere forms and ritualism (GGS: 658, 1106). Birth in a 'low caste' is no hindrance in the way to spiritual development. The only condition required is freedom from duality; all else including pilgrimage to and bathing in the sixty-eight hindu centres is in vain (GGS: 875).




In view of the recent tension between Sikhs and the followers of Bhagat Ravidas I want to clarify the position between us Sikhs and the followers of Bhagat Ravidas. Forty sabads of Ravidas are included in the Guru Granth.

‘Guru' Ravidas

The followers of Ravidas call him Guru, which means ‘teacher' or ‘bringer of light into darkness'. For Sikhs the word Guru has a specific meaning, but we should not pick a fight with those who use the term in the more general Indian way. The shabads of Ravidas that are included in the Guru Granth are part of our eternal Guru, and as such Ravidas is part of the Sikh Guru.

The teachings of Ravidas are perfectly in tune with those of the Guru Granth Sahib. 

Sudras & Jutts

The followers of Ravidas and Kabir tend be people of low caste. When I visited a friend of mine in a village near Hoshiarpur whose family were of so-called 'low caste', the Sikhs from the local gurdwara dominated by 'jutts' would not greet me, as I was staying with Ravidas panthis, who were deemed to be of a 'low caste'.

Saying to each other that our Guru teaches unity of mankind is not relevant for the Ravidas panthis, as long as Sikhs do not practice what the Guru teaches. When we start practicing the Guru's teachings we can reach out to the Ravidas panthis and share the sabads of our eternal Guru.

Guru Granth Sahib

Because of our ‘respect for the Guru Granth' Sikhs love to fight with those groups that do not give the same importance to the Guru Granth Sahib as we do. Instead of being happy that non-Sikhs read the Guru Granth and see it as an important source of teaching and inspiration, we want to take the Guru Granth away from Ravidas or Námdhari Gurdwaré / temples.

I am very happy that we do not set out to convert others in the way that Christians and Muslims do. But the attitude of many Sikhs is not very open-minded either. The Guru speaks to everybody, the Guru considers everybody who is a serious student of the Guru to be a Sikh. The way of life set out in the Guru Granth Sahib can be followed by all of all ‘dharams'.    

Think about these three definitions : 1) a ‘Sikh' is someone who is a serious student of God. 2) A ‘Sikh' is someone who recognises the leadership of the Guru Granth and Guru Panth as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh. 3) A ‘Khalsa' is someone who is totally committed to Guru's teachings and as a sign of that commitment has taken amrit and wears the 5 Ks.

I have been trying to find out what exactly happened in the Ravi Das Gurdwara in Vienna, but neither I nor the people charged to do this by a meeting at the Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Southall, London, U.K.,  succeeded in this. It is clear that people were wounded and killed, but it is not clear whether the ‘men of violence' were Sikhs, Ravidas panthis or both.

Babé, our common problem

The baba involved is controversial amongst the followers of Ravidas. I heard that the majority of the Ravidas Gurdwaré in the U.K. do not like this baba (which of course is no excuse for killing or wounding him or his cronies).

We have to recognise that we have common problems. Fake holy men can be found amongst all traditions in South Asia, even amongst Muslims in West Panjab or amongst Syrian Christians of Kerala.   

I do not want to start a rant about sants, but I do think that Ravidas panthis and Sikhs of good will should join forces and take a stand against the plague of the fake saints.

Caste, the scourge of the sub-continent

I was disappointed by most of the Sikh reactions to the news from Vienna. It is true that a Ravidas Gurdwara is not a mainstream Sikh place of worship, and caste is not part of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. But Sikhs do not fully realise that Ravidas is part of the Sikh Guru and do not want to admit that caste still plays an important negative part in the ‘Sikh' community.

Caste in some shape or form is practiced amongst followers of almost all religious traditions on the subcontinent. Many of our brothers and sisters of Punjabi background fail to translate ‘seeing God's presence in all' in treating all as equals. 

Equality is also a problem in the U.K., where we struggle with the legacy of its rigid class structures and with the present situation where many people are doing quite well, but where there is a growing ‘underclass'.

Sikhs, in the light of Guru's teachings, should see people of low caste, from sink estates, gypsies and travellers or any other group as their sisters and brothers.

If we really practice this we will become better Sikhs and there would be no more need for Ramgarhia or Ravidas Gurdwaré. It is now more than five hundred years after Guru Nanak taught us about One God and One Humanity, are we actually going to adopt these teachings in 2009 ? 

[Courtesy: The Encylopaedia of Sikhism and The Man in Blue]

January 30, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Karamveer (Jalandhar, Punjab), January 30, 2010, 9:18 AM.

I want to know why Ravidas Panthis are not considered Sikhs. Are they non-Sikhs? There is no room for brahman-vaad and casteism in Sikhi. Why do any Sikhs delve in such prejudice? - I simply do not understand.

2: Gur (Boston, U.S.A.), January 30, 2010, 1:26 PM.

As far as I know, it could be argued that the status of a 'Bhagat' is higher than a Guru's, because a bhagat is determined by his/her proximity to God, while a Guru is measured vis-a-vis disciples. So, when I see some one saying Bhagat Ravidas ji is Guru Ravidas, I feel sad over his ignorance because our gurus have given Ravidas's bani an equal status to theirs by including it in the Guru Granth and a higher stature to him by calling him Bhagat.

3: Gurpal Singh (Wolverhampton, United Kingdom), January 31, 2010, 4:02 PM.

Karamveer: Ravidass Panthis are not Sikhs by their own definition. Part of the reason lies in the discrimination they have had to endure over the last two centuries in social, religious and economic spheres. In the U.K. census, they have always declared themselves as Ravidassias, not Sikhs, and prefer to attend their own Guru Ravidass Bhawans or temples (they will even call them mandirs, but rarely gurdwaras) where they are amongst their own. They believe in the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, but regard Ravidass ji as their supreme Guru or satguru. They believe that they made a lot of sacrifices for Sikhism during the days of the Gurus, e.g., Bhai Sangat Singh who swapped dastars with Guru Gobind Singh; they also claim to have enjoyed equality during the times of the Misls but they were marginalized during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, where caste, superstitions and other un-Sikh practices crept in, to the extent that they were refused parshad at the Golden Temple up till about 1925. They recite an amended version of the Sikh Ardaas (like the Sindhis) and include all the Sikh martyrs, but they don't regard themselves as Khalsa anymore nor follow the Rehat, and they regard themselves as a separate Quom, neither Hindu nor Sikh but with elements of both. Most of the Ravidassias in Europe have removed Guru Granth Sahib from their places of worship, taking a lead from the Ballan Dera. They insist that Ravidass ji is a Guru not a Bhagat and they provide some justification for this.

4: Gurpal Singh (Wolverhampton, U.K.), February 01, 2010, 3:24 PM.

Sometimes news trickles through that appears insignificant but has far-reaching effects in the distant future. For instance, I had known for a good two years that a film on the life of Indira Gandhi was to be made, most people have just found out. I guess its dependant on how much time and inclination to research an individual has. The latest (from two days ago) is that the Ravidassia sect has made a complete break with Sikhism and has rejected Guru Granth Sahib in favour of a newly written text 'Amar Bani Sri Guru Ravidass' that contains 140 odd hymns of Guru Ravidass (41 of which are in SGGS and the rest are unauthenticated). They are currently formulating a code on how it should be kept or treated. Their worldwide religious centre is in Kashi (Benaras), their Nishan Sahib is the symbol of 'Har' in Gurmukhi and their slogan or greeting is 'Jai Gurdev'. The last two have been popular amongst Ravidassia communities for many years now. It remains to be seen how they will conduct their marriage ceremonies (they have always had Anand Karaj) and death ceremonies. They count a following of 20 crore throughout North India. The loss to the Sikh community is considerable, when considered alongside widespread dalit support to controversial Deras. The media and research highlights Congress Party approval of the move.

5: Raj (Canadan), February 01, 2010, 10:43 PM.

Our narrow mindedness and unethical leadership has caused another blow to the Sikh religion. Thanks to our great Gurus, they kept every Bhagat by their side to guide us. We're too busy calling ourselves superior - jutts, chamaars, kamin ramgarhias, etc. - we're basically killing our own religion, blow by blow. Why blame others?

6: amardeep (U.S.A.), February 02, 2010, 2:45 PM.

I do not think it is our leadership alone at fault. Outside mischievous forces are doing it again, divide and rule.

7: Ashok Heer (Willenhall, United Kingdom), February 27, 2010, 1:21 PM.

The Ravidass communities feel very marginalized by some so-called Sikhs. At present, this group - dominated by jutts - has no right to point fault at other castes, and should concentrate on living their lives according to the teachings of their Guru and Guru Granth Sahib. I go ti the guru ravidass gurwaras all the time and it is news to me that the ravidass community wants to denounce the Guru Granth Sahib and replace it with there own version containing guru ravidass ji's bani. This is false propaganda being put out. Yes, there is a very very small section that wants this but rest assured that 99.9% of ravidassias rever the Guru Granth Sahib as the only path to God. Guru Ravidass is not worshipped as a god by the ravidassias, but because he has shown the whole world that reaching a high level in God's eyes will not come from your caste but from your devotion to God, he is held in high esteem ... just like all the gurus and saints in the Guru Granth.

8: H.G. (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), August 30, 2010, 1:55 AM.

A Sikh is a Sikh is a Sikh. Beyond that, nothing should matter. We are all one. I was raised in a jutt family and have grown up listening to "so and so is kamboh / tarkhaan / chamaar," or whatever. My daughter will not be raised with the same prejudices.

9: Nagindar Singh (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), January 07, 2011, 8:38 PM.

I think that we jutts have done irreparable loss to Sikhi by ignoring the teachings of our great Gurus, and not recognizing the Ravidasis as equals. Bhagat Ravidas is as important for us as our other Gurus. Soon this will be realized by us as walls of castes are crumbling in the present industrial era. Education and economic uplift of the downtrodden is mark of this change.

10: M..Sahota (Wolverhampton, United Kingdom), September 05, 2011, 6:21 PM.

I belong to what is termed a 'jutt; background. I think those who propagate themselves as "jutts" are the biggest losers. They spread hatred, not unlike the extremists amongst the Muslims. They are dividing the community. I respect Bhagat Ravidas as well as Guru Nanak. Those who claim they have taken amrit and yet treat "chamaars", for example, as if they are "low", will rot in hell for doing this.

11: Mahavir Singh (Kurukshetra, Haryana), January 25, 2013, 10:58 AM.

Hindus refer to me as a low-caste chamaar. For Sikhs, I'm a Sikh ... equal to every Sikh, and no less than any one else in the world!

12: Indy Singh (Wolverhampton, United Kingdom), February 26, 2013, 6:07 AM.

I Agree with Ashok Heer, Mahavir Singh and Nagindet Singh ... it is all propaganda. I agree that it is only a minority who have thus drifted away from Sikhism. As Sikhs we should not follow or believe in the evil caste system. We should all be proud of all the bhagats in our Guru Granth Sahib, they are all of equal status. We Sikhs need to buckle our ideas and start showing respect to every saint as equal. The Guru Ravidas Gurdwars are Sikh gurdwaras, they have not renounced the Guru Granth Sahib, it's only a few who have because they are followers of dera ballan and similar charlatans. We need to show respect to each other and stop discriminating against one another, otherwise we will segregate our community into segments. The ravidasis ho have separated are our loss but one day they will return if our Sikh leaders start uniting everyone together like our Sikh Gurus did. Otherwise the young and future generations will move away from us. We are all Sikhs. The day discrimination from so called high-caste pakhandis stop then that will be the day when caste-based gurdwaras will end. Let's start to respect one another, lets all understand that Sikhi does not belong to any specific group, jutt or rangarhia or bhapa, etc., it beongs to everyone. In our gurdwaras we should try to promote and encourage all Sikh communities to unite, let's not mention caste, we are Sikhs, each and everyone.

13: Harbans Lal Badhan (Hoshiarpur, Punjab), April 15, 2015, 12:39 AM.

The Untouchables (Dalits) of India want economic, social, political, religious and educational equality in society, not in the eyes of God.

14: Tinku Singh (Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India), June 23, 2015, 8:50 PM.

Yadi Guru Granth Sahib nahi hote to shayad kisi ko pata hi nahi hota ki duniya me ek mahaan sant Ravidaas ji bhi hue hain.

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