India has been the home to enlightened saints and sages since time immemorial. It has been mentioned in our scriptures that whenever morality or social life of people shows signs of decline, some saint or prophet incarnates on earth to show mankind the path of Truth and enlightenment. Saint Ravidas was one such saint who infused new life and vitality into the fabric of Hindu society. He lived during the 15th century and is also known as Raidas, famous for his songs and poems of devotion towards God. His verses were included in the Sikh Holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. He was a monotheist, that is, he believed in the existence of one God. His teachings included the promotion of unity amongst all, which is achieved by the pursuit of spirituality. He also taught freedom from divisions prevalent in society, like caste and gender.
Saint Ravidas was born in Seer Goverdhanpur, a village near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state of India. His family made leather goods and belonged to the untouchable community. His parents wanted him to be educated, for which they sent him to school. Unfortunately, there he met with unfriendly behaviour from others because he was the son of a cobbler. In such a hostile atmosphere, little Ravidas could not put his heart into studies and was soon out of school. The experience of school life made him realise the ills prevalent in the society. Saint Ravidas learnt that a child born into the lower caste was not treated well in society. It made him unhappy and often he would sit alone and think deeply.
Saint Ravidas was spiritually inclined from the beginning and began to spend most of his time in spiritual pursuits at the banks of river Ganges. He liked to spend time in the company of Sufi saints and ascetics. He had no interest in material things. He was only interested in matters related to the spirit. He wanted to gain Spiritual Knowledge, for which he was in search of the spiritual teacher who could show him the right path. He felt the lack of such a Master in his life, for which he had to struggle, but soon found Swami Ramanand and became his disciple.
Saint Ravidas stayed with Swami Ramanand for some time, which led to a complete change in his life. Swami Ramanand’s teachings left a deep impression on his young mind. He understood the true meaning of life. He became aware of the ancient Indian wisdom and culture. A true Spiritual Master prepares the field in the heart of his disciples and sows the seed of Spiritual Knowledge for the crop of flourish. Swami Ramanand did exactly that. Soon, the field was ready, the seed was sown and the crop did not take long to ripen. When Swami Ramanand was satisfied that the spiritual flame had been kindled permanently in Ravidas’ heart, he asked Ravidas to return home and live his life.
Saint Ravidas, the enlightened disciple, now felt that he had a divine mission to live for. He felt that his training in spiritual life was not yet complete. He had a desire to evolve more spiritually. For this, he decided to beautify an area of the forest where he could meditate in peace. One day while meditating, he was disturbed by a sudden movement in the bushes. Saint Ravidas got up and looked around. A doe (she-deer) had been caught in a net laid by a hunter. The poor animal was struggling to free itself. As the hunter approached her, she looked at Saint Ravidas with pleading eyes. It was as if she was begging for mercy. It was time for her to feed her young ones and her three fawns came jumping to her joyfully, but they were shocked when they saw their mother in such a difficult state. The young family were a painful picture of misery and helplessness. Their silent prayers and sad eyes could have melted even a heart of stone.
Saint Ravidas felt a strong affiliation and pity for them but the cruel hunter remained unmoved. His eyes showed no trace of pity or kindness. He stepped forward to capture the animal and her young ones. Saint Ravidas felt his duty to save the helpless animals from death. He went up to the hunter and told him that we are all children of the same God and He is our loving father. It is His divine essence that runs in the human heart as love. It is the same divine essence that fills the rose with fragrance and fills the rainbow with colourful beauty. It is the divine essence that fills the birds with joy, the apples with juice and the voice with sweetness. So, we should love every creature living on this earth. All forms of life are sacred. It is man’s most sacred duty to bring peace to a troubled heart. We should never cause pain, suffering or death to any living being. We should love all things – great or small. Even a tiny insect in the grass is as sacred as a human child.
The hunter listened to the kind words of Saint Ravidas and felt deep respect for him. The charm of the Saint’s personality and his words of wisdom washed away all thoughts of harming the deer and her young ones. It was a miracle for the hunter. A short meeting with the great Saint had changed him completely. The killer’s heart was filled with love for God and all His creation. The hunter promised to lead a compassionate life and never to cause harm to anyone.
Life and Teachings
Saint Ravidas was always very humble. He lived a simple life as a cobbler, which to him was his Sewa or service towards God that was assigned to him. He was different from most of the scholars and religious men of his time. He never boasted of his knowledge and wisdom. His divine knowledge came from within. His spiritual message appealed to every heart. People listened to him spellbound. He spoke in a simple and clear manner. Saint Ravidas told people that all are equal in the eyes of God. The distinctions of caste, colour and creed are meaningless. They are all man-made.
Saint Ravidas brought great hope for those who were poor and weak. He filled their hearts with hope, courage and confidence. He inspired them not to bow to the unjust demands of the high-caste people and recognise the strength of the spirit within them. He asked them to stay away from all weak thoughts. He always said that untouchability is a sin against humanity.
Saint Ravidas continued to work towards reforming the society all his life. His unwavering devotion towards the Almighty and love towards all induced hundreds of people of all castes to join him in worship. It is believed that even in his old age, he had the divine glow on his face and his mental faculties remained as strong as ever. His spirit remained untouched by the stresses and strains of the material world. Saint Ravidas’s selfless devotion towards God and immense love for humanity spread far and wide.
Saint Ravidas always taught his followers about the oneness, omnipresence and omnipotence of God and that the human soul is a particle of God, all being equal. Human life cannot, therefore, be meant for only the pursuit of worldly pleasures. The deeper meaning of life is that it is the gateway to freedom and provides a golden opportunity for each and every person to strive for the discovery of God. Every human being is entitled to have the experience of the Divine if one truly seeks it. As mentioned in the Bible, ‘Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.’ Just like Saint Ravidas, we all should be the seeker of a true Spiritual Master who can impart us with the Spiritual Knowledge, practicing which we can realise the oneness of the entire creation.