In its recent demands of edits to the Instructional Quality Commission (which acts as an advisory body to the State Board of Education. California), the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) sought that the Bhakti saints like [Guru] Ravidas and the Alvars be added to the list of examples. As per HEF, this was suggested so that all communities in Hinduism were given proper representation in textbooks. [HEF named him as only 'Ravidas' in its article, but as a Dalit from Punjab, I/we as a community prefer to call him Guru Ravidas. I will explain the reasons behind that later in the article.]
So-called upper castes have been trying since decades to include Guru Ravidas in the list of their own numerous Gods. Many attempts - such as depicting Guru Ravidas on the foot of a cow, dressing Guru Ravidas in saffron garments, putting brahma-vishnu tilak on Guru Ravidas's forehead, showing him as being blessed by some Hindu Gods etc. (please see pictures pictures posted through this article) - have been made, when he was against all such customs. A few years back, in Punjab School Education Board's books, the names of Guru Ravidas' parents, his date of birth and even his name were wrongly published. Such mischief is being done by so-called upper castes to show Guru Ravidas was one of their Gods. Dalit academics from Punjab, especially, have been actively condemning the process of Brahminization of Guru Ravidas.
HEF's projection of Guru Ravidas as a part of Hinduism and the Hindu Bhakti Movement (as HEF puts forward in its article) in the name representation of all communities is as illogical as it can be.
Further to its suggestions on changes, HEF article wants the current text be changed as -
Current text: "Bhakti grew more popular, thanks to saints such as Meera Bai and Ramananda."
HEF Suggested change: "Bhakti grew more popular, thanks to saints such as Meera Bai, Ravidas, Alvars, and Ramananda."
Alvars, as per Wikipedia, are considered to have lived between 4200 BCE - 2700 BCE and worshipped Vishnu or Krishna. Guru Ravidas lived in the 15th Century and rejected Brahma-Vishnu - so how much sense does it make to include them in the same list when, first, they lived thousands of years apart and were in opposition to each other? Including Guru Ravidas among Vishnu worshippers is mischievous and another desperate attempt to appropriate Guru Ravidas.
Further, Ramananda, who being upper caste rejected Guru Kabir from being his disciple; and Guru Ravidas stood throughout his life against injustice. If anything, the Bhakti movement was close to Sikhism and emerged in 15th century in an opposition to Brahminical practices that had denied rights to lower castes. Guru Ravidas, Guru Kabir, Guru Namdev etc - all rejected those Brahminical practices and Brahmin supremacy. Guru Kabir didn't even hesitate to call Brahmins as wretched criminals of all 4 yugas. He said, 'Charon yug Brahman khote.'
To call the revolt of these untouchable Gurus as Hindu Bhakti Movement is ridiculous. Does including Ramananda also make sense to you in the list of bhakti movement while ignoring Guru Kabir, Guru Tukaram and Guru Namdev who were at the forefront of bhakti movement and fought and stood against injustice? Sri Guru Granth Sahib places Guru Namdev above Brahmins. On page 733, it is written,
Naam Dayv loved the Lord; the people called him a fabric dyer.
The Lord turned His back on the high-class Kshatriyas and Brahmins, and showed His face to Naam Dayv.
Further in its articles, HEF writes, "His [Guru Ravidas's] Bhajans (devotional songs) brought the greatest of spiritual ideas from the Vedas and Upanishads to the common masses."
This is just another blatant lie spread by so-called upper castes and organisations like HEF. The best way to understand Guru Ravidas is from his writings where he rejects all vedas. During the time of the Guru, the largest section of society was tottering heavily under brutal enforcement of the caste system and untouchability practices, the then Untouchables bearing the most. Socially ostracized and put under strict caste-based restrictions they were living a life worse than animals.
In such an environment, Guru Ravidas, a cobbler and an untouchable himself, emerged as a formidable challenge to Brahminical hegemony and spoke for the rights of the downtrodden. He openly denounced all the brahminical scriptures like the Vedas, Puranas, Smritis, Upanishads etc., as these promote the hegemony of Brahmins and justify social inequality and exploitation of masses. As he says –
Charon ved kiya khandoti, Jan Ravidas kare dandoti
(I, Ravidas, proclaim all Vedas are worthless)
His was a direct attack on the spiritual hegemony of Brahmins that sprang from their claims of Vedas and other brahminical scriptures being infallible and repositories of Truth and Knowledge. While exposing the fallacies of the brahminical propaganda, Guru Ravidas made enormous efforts to provide a simple socio-religious alternative to the labouring masses that would seek equality for all human beings and require no religious rituals. Guru Ravidas is one of the country's foremost socio-religious revolutionaries who not only attacked socio-religious inequalities but also preached liberty, equality and fraternity for all who were denied those rights by Brahminism/Hinduism.
Vedas and Upanishads were written with the objective of maintaining brahminical supremacy and placing Brahmins at the top of Varna system. The notion of upper and lower castes was rejected by Guru Ravidas at numerous places in his writings.
Ravidas upjaye eik bund tai ka Bahmann ka Sood, Murakh jan na janye sabh Mah God Majood
(All Brahmans and untouchables have taken birth from one drop but the foolish persons do not know that the omnipresent God is present in every person, says Ravidas.)
(Page 205, Guru Ravidas Amritbani, published by Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Public Charitable Trust, Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi)
Unchai kul kai karnai Brahmann koyai na hoyai, jayun janah braham atma Ravidas Brahmann soyai.
(By taking birth in a so called upper caste Brahman family, no one becomes Brahman. Ravidass says, only he is a Brahman who knows that the Creator is living in every person.)
Guru Ravidas had even rejected worshipping Brahmins just because they are Brahmins and had placed labourers (lower castes) above Brahmins.
Ravidas Brahmann mat pujiaye jo hovai gunheen. Pujihin charan Chandhal ki jayo hovai gun parbin.
(Ravidass says, O man! You should not worship a Brahman who is devoid of virtues, but you should worship the Chandal who is virtuous, talented and a skilled person.)
Dharam karam janai nahin mann mah jaat abhimann, aisyo Brahmann soun bhalo Ravidas sarmak hun jan.
(One who does not perform pious and good deeds according to his faith but always boasts about his high caste, Ravidass says, a labourer who does manual labour to earn
his livelihood is better than such a Brahman.)
(Page 221-222, Guru Ravidas Amritbani, published by Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan Public Charitable Trust, Seer Goverdhanpur, Varanasi)
Further in one of his couplets, Guru Ravidas says if a man bathes at sixty-eight places of pilgrimage, if he worships the twelve Lingams, if he dedicates a well but practises slander, defames others, puts others down, then all shall be in vain.
Guru Ravidas who came from an untouchable community wrote at many places that he is a chamar (Kutbandhla, a sub-caste in Uttar Pradesh). He was demonized throughout life for being born an untouchable. Isn't HEF ashamed to claim him as a part of Hinduism when untouchables were never a part of the varna system?
At one place, he introduces himself as:
Kahi Ravidas khalaas chamaaa,
(Says Ravidas, the emancipated shoe maker)
In a hymn Guru Ravidas writes:
Meri jaat(i) Kutbandhla dhor dhowanta nith(i) baanaarsi aas paasaa,
(My caste is Kutbandhla; I deal with leather and live near Banaras)
In one another hymn Guru Ravidas says:
Meri Sangat poch soch din (u) raati,
Mera karamu kutilta janam kubanti,
(It keeps him in anxiety that his associates are low; my actions are considered evil and birth is lowly)
In its article, HEF included one devotional bhajan of Guru Ravidas, which starts with some pictures of Krishna, Rama and a few other Hindu Gods. This is another shameful act to accommodate Guru Ravidas in the Hindu fold. Guru Ravidas rejected all of them and was against idol worship. Such attempts only show how desperate HEF or so-called upper castes are to appropriate Guru Ravidas.
Murder of Guru Ravidas
Torture of Dalit-Bahujans is not new, Manuwadi people have always tried to suppress, torture, tried to kill and loot Dalit-Bahujans. Whosoever had tried to raise his voice against the cruelty, evils of Brahmanism was either murdered or burnt alive. Guru Namdev was tortured and forced to leave Maharashtra; Guru Tukaram, Sant Chokha Mal were murdered, Sant Nandanar was burnt alive. Brahmins tried to kill Mahatma Phule; in the same way, Guru Ravidas was murdered at Chittorgarh by people who opposed him all the time. (Reference: 'Guru Ravidas Ki Hatya Ke Parmanik Dastawez' by Satnam Singh)
Who is a 'Bhakt' and who is a 'Guru'?
Till the time a person is worshipping/meditating/trying to achieve the state of perfection, is in search of the truth of life, till the time a person hasn't got 'gyan', up-to that time you can say a person is a 'Bhakt'. But when he has realised the truth of life, got 'gyan' and starts giving sermons, starts preaching, then he becomes a 'Guru' and he isn't Bhakt anymore. A large number of kings and queens became Guru Ravidas' disciples and they accepted him as a 'Guru', not only a Guru but as 'Raj-Guru'. Prominent among them were Raja Pipa, Raja Nagar Mal, Rewa Naresh, Rani Jhalan Bai, and Meera Bai (it's wrongly projected by people that she was an admirer of king Krishna, but in reality she was a follower of Guru Ravidas).
Meera ne gobind milya ji,
Gur milya Radas.
(Meera Padawali – 4)
Many kings had built temples dedicated to Guru Ravidas but they were later either demolished or converted into Hindu places of worship.
Even Brahmins accepted Guru Ravidas as Guru.
It is my occupation to prepare and cut leather; each day, I carry the carcasses out of the city. Now, the important Brahmins of the city bow down before me; Ravi Daas, Your slave, seeks the Sanctuary of Your Name.
And all the leather-workers in those families still go around Benares removing the dead cattle - the ritualistic Brahmins bow in reverence before their son Ravi Daas, the slave of the Lord's slaves.
(Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 1293)
Would Brahmins accept Guru Ravidas as Guru without any hidden motive? I would also like to ask HEF, which ideas Guru Ravidas took from Vedas and Upanishads, provide some examples; and how many of Brahmin/Hindu religious Gurus were killed by Brahmins? If after reading this, HEF or its members still think Guru Ravidas was inspired by Vedas and Upanishads, then ignorance is bliss for them!
Pardeep Attri blogs at http://drambedkarbooks.com/ and tweets at @AmbedkarCaravan