by Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: April 07, 2006
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014
The Cobbler-Saint of Kashi (c 1530 CE)
India has had a deeply developed caste system for centuries. Artificial social
differences between humans has existed in the country as of higher and
lower castes. But people at large, believed that certain persons who
led a pure and virtuous life and constantly engaged in the supreme
effort of realization of God were above the caste and creed. These were
venerated as saints and highly respected. Temples were built in the
memory of holy men who belonged to so called "untouchable"
castes. Tiruppani Alvar in Tamilnadu, Chokha Mela in
Maharashtra, Madara Dhulayya in Karnataka were examples of such
saints. Guru Ravidas, who lived near Kashi in middle of 15th century
was another such saint who has left behind a great legacy. Kashi is as
holy for Hindus as it is for Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.
Ravidas (a.k.a. Raidas) was born in the village of Sear Goverdhanpur, very close
to the Holy city of Kashi or Varanasi, in the cobbler
community. Only the name of mother of Ravidas is known to us; it was Kalasi.
From early childhood, Ravidas developed spiritual tendencies while
attending to his family vocation of repairing shoes. To drive his
attention to worldly affairs he was married early. But it did not
help. His wife was a pious and God-fearing woman who turned out to be a right
partner in Ravidas' quest for self-realization. They spent meager savings of their humble profession in serving
holy men and in contemplation.
Ravidas composed and sang songs in praise of the Supreme. He did not
worship any one deity. He believed in one and only omniscient and
Slowly, news about this self taught seer began to spread. People
started thronging the humble abode of the guru seeking solace and
advice. Conservative Brahmins of Kashi could not stand the popularity
of this "untouchable saint". A complaint was made to the king
that here was a person working against age old norms of social order
(varnashrama dharma). A cobbler was not supposed to talk of God or do
work of advising or teaching. It was only the Brahmins who were to do
K.L. Kamat/Kamat's Potpourri
Detail from a First Day Envelope
The ruler arranged for an assembly of learned men. Ravidas was also
invited. No one present had reached the height of spiritual knowledge
of Guru Ravidas. He was felicitated publicly. A procession was arranged
to felicitate the guru (shobhayatra) in which the king himself
participated. One legend describes Ravidas as saint Mirabai's guru. There is her composition dedicated to Ravidas:
Sadguru sant mile Ravidas
Mira devaki kare vandana aas
Jin chetan kahya dhann Bhagavan Ravidas
-- "I got a guru in the form of sant Ravidas, there by
obtaining life's fulfillment."
Fame and honors did not affect Ravidas. He firmly believed and taught
that a person is honored not by his caste (jati) but by his action (karam
or karma). Every person had right to worship God and read holy texts.
There was pressure on Ravidas to convert to Islam. Muslim rule was
prevalent and this guru had numerous Muslim disciples as well. But
Guru Ravidas did not believe in outside rituals of any religion. He had
worked out his own way for salvation.
Not many compositions of Ravidas are available. But forty one of his compositions find place in Guru Granth
Saheb (a.k.a. Adi Granth), the sacred book of Sikhs,
along with those other famous Hindu saints of India, and have survived. In the village
Goverdhanpur, his birthplace, a spacious temple is built with a
large choultry in memory of this great Guru. Devotees from all castes
flock to pay respects to the saint who rose to such great heights
even in oppressive medieval ages.
Introduction | Important
Proponents | Pictures
Alvars | Shankara |Bridal Devotion | The
Alvars | Ramanuja | Madhva | Ravidas
Meerabai | Guru Nanak | Chaitanya | Purandaradas
Ramananda | Kabir | Tukaram | Kanakadas