Allahabad, present day Uttar Pradesh, India
Varanasi, present day Uttar Pradesh, India
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Ramananda (1299–1410), also referred to as Saint Ramanand or Swami Ramanand, was a Vaishnava saint. He is considered to be the reviver of the Ramanandi sect. Ramananda for the most part of his life lived in the holy city of Varanasi, and was a pioneer of the Bhakti movement, as well as a social reformer in Northern India. He was known for communicating in vernacular Hindi, and accepting disciples of all castes. His 12 disciples are very famous-Anantananda, Bhavananda, Dhanna Bhagat, Kabir, Nabha, Naraharyanda, Pipa, Ravidas (also known as Guru Ravidas), Bhagat Sain, Sukhanada, Ranka and Tulsidas (not to be confused with Tulsidas the author of the Ramcharitmanas, who was in turn adopted by Narharidas, a Vaishnava ascetic of Ramananda's monastic order who is believed to be the fourth disciple of Ramananda and a direct disciple of Anantacharya).
Saint Ramananda is generally considered to have been born around AD 1400; some say that he was born in 1366 CE. Although there is disagreement on the exact date and place of birth, due to the few texts regarding his early life. The birthplace has been suggested to be Triveni Sangam Allahabad, Prayaga. He was born to an upper-caste Brahmin family, and his parents were probably named Sushila and Punyasadan Sharma. He was spiritually inclined right from his childhood. Acharya Raghavanand who is also known as Dakshinayat Rishi (as he lived in Jagannath Puri which is always considered a southern city in Hindu scriptures) included him in the Ramavat sect. Ramananda spent most of his life in Kashi (Banaras / Varanasi), where, as a mark of respect, people built a memorial that stands there to this day.
When Ramananda was a child, he studied the Hindu scriptures and showed great interest in spiritual thoughts. He received his early education in Kasi. A renowned philosopher and the prophet of the new Vaishnava religion, known for his downplaying the role of caste, Ramananda was particularly known for worshipping Lord Rama and his wife Goddess Sita.  Ramanuja and Ramananda both believed that the human soul is distinct from the Supreme Spirit and retains its identity and separate consciousness.
When Ramananda was as young as twelve, he left home and became a sannyasi (ascetic) and lived at Varanasi.
There is much controversy concerning the place and date of Saint Ramananda’s death due to the lack of information available about his life. Many historians believe that Ramananda died around AD 1470-80, yet there is no unanimity regarding the date. Ramananda’s name is read on the list of predecessors during the time of a religious dispute between Sikandar Lodi and his religious teacher, Sheikh Taki. From this information, Ramananda’s date of death can be fixed as sometime around the late 15th century. However, there is a story about Ramananda which claims he escaped death altogether by entering a Samadhi state, a meditative state and remaining alive, where his Charan paduka is still visible at Srimath in Kashi.
Disciples of Ramananda
Ramananda's disciples include:
- Dhanna Bhagat
- Pipa Bairagi (Of Rajputana Clan)
- Tulsidas (not the author of Ramcharitmanas)
- Vitthal Kulkarni (Father of Dnyaneshwar, who is founder of the Varkari movement)(Sant Dnyaneshwar, son of Vitthal Kulkarni as per wikipedia lived in the 2nd half of 13th century whereas Ramanandji lived in the 14th century, so it is unlikely that Vitthal Kulkarni could have been his disciple.)
Kabirpanthi claims that In Real Kabirdas is Disciple of Ramanad ji, But the original Knowledge(About God) to ramanad is Given by Kabir.
By legend, Kabir originally hesitated to ask Ramanand to adopt him as his disciple due to the rigid caste system of the Hindus. Ramananda stayed in his cottage all day and only left it at about 3 o'clock in the morning to go down to the Ganges River to have a bath and perform his rites. Kabir had a knowledge of Ramananda’s daily habits and so he waited one night for Ramananda by lying on the steps of Panchganga ghat. When Ramananda accidentally stepped on Kabir on his way to bathe, he uttered “Utho! Ram ko Ram bolo!” (Rise up! Say Ram to Ram!). This became, for Kabir, the sacred mantra. Ramananda later gave him formal Diksha. Kabir grew among the ranks of important religious reformers in India.
Ramananda was an influential social reformer of Northern India. Ramananda played an important role in reviving a religious sect that provided a spiritual pathway to people of all castes.
Revolution Against Casteism
Ramananda realised that God can be worshiped by everyone because Lord Rama himself has never stopped the people of any caste from reaching Him.Instead, the Ramayan is full of stories about Shabri, Kevat,etc. who all were Lower castes, but Rama gave them equal respect, the way he respected Brahmins. Ramananda believed that in spiritual pursuit, the caste system of India is redundant. He believed that to truly devote yourself to Lord Rama, one must forget one's caste identity and social status. Ramananda is quoted as saying, “Let no one ask a man’s caste or with whom he eats. If a man is devoted to Hari, he becomes Hari’s own.” Ramananda had disciples of all castes.
He took a very radical approach to teaching and preaching through the inclusion of the poor and the people of low castes. After Ramananda’s death, the members of the Ramanandi sect led a social revolution in the Ganges basin by recruiting women and members of low castes into their sect. In addition, Saint Ramananda was the driving force of the popularization of the devotion of Lord Rama.
Contribution towards Hindi
Ramanandi sect also played a significant role in the development of Hindi literature, because Ramananda generally spoke and wrote in Hindi. The study of modern Hindi literature as it is taught in the colleges of India today, generally starts with the telling of devotional stories and poems written by spiritual descendants of Ramananda. These men include the great saints Tulsi Das, Mira Bai, and Kabir.
The institutional centrality of Ramananda has long been reflected in the 'guru parampara' that connects every Ramanandi through an unbroken succession of gurus with Ramanand himself and, eventually, Ramchandra.
Ramananda defined his own studies with his dedication and self-surrender to the Supreme Soul, 'Paramatma'. According to Saint Ramananda, Lord Rama was the Supreme Spirit and the human race was simply one large family, 'Vasudaiva Kutumbakam'. He was a skilled and impressive preacher, who drew large crowds wherever he traveled, yet most of Ramananda’s poems and sayings were not preserved. The result is the lack of texts that modern scholars and historians can use to unearth the life of Ramananda.
Ramananda was a learned man. Many of the books which are supposed to have been written by him such as Sri Vaishnava, Matanbuj Bhaskar and Sri Ramarachan Padhti are still available. He is also said to have authored a commentary called AnandabhAShya. In Sri Vaishnava, Matanbuj Bhaskar, Vaishnav Ramananda gave his profound philosophy and declared everyone has right to take refuge of Rama, a person can take refuge of Shri Rama in any mood (either Shanta, or Dasya, or Sakhya, or Vatsalya or Kanta Bhava). He further writes relation between Param-Brahman Rama and individual soul (Jiva) is like that of two friends, or father (Ram) and son (Jiva), or Husband (Ram) and wife (Jiva), or master and servant, etc.
Shabad of Ramananda in Guru Granth Sahib
- Where should I go?
- My home is filled with bliss.
- My consciousness does not go out wandering.
- My mind has become crippled. || 1 || Pause ||
- One day, a desire welled up in my mind.
- I ground up sandalwood, along with several fragrant oils.
- I went to God’s place, and worshipped Him there.
- That God showed me the Guru, within my own mind. || 1 ||
- Wherever I go, I find water and stones.
- You are totally pervading and permeating in all.
- I have searched through all the Vedas and the Puraanas.
- I would go there, only if the Lord were not here. || 2 ||
- I am a sacrifice to You, O my True Guru.
- You have cut through all my confusion and doubt.
- Raamanand’s Lord and Master is the All-pervading Lord God.
- The Word of the Guru’s Shabad eradicates the karma of millions of past actions. || 3 || 1 ||
One poem of Swami Ramanand is recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. This poem, called the Raga Basant, describes Ramananda’s profound philosophy. This poem, originally written in Hindi, professes Ramananda’s great teaching of the giving up of caste for Ram, or the, “true guru”, who remains, “all-pervasive and forever unchanging. However, As per the great Hindi scholar Acharya Ramchandra Shukl, the above Pada (verses) found in Guru Granth Sahib can't be attributed to VaishNav Ramananda who is reviver of Ramanandi sect, it can be of any other Ramananda, but not the writer of Shri Vaishnav-Matanbuj-Bhaskar as Vaishnav Ramananda wrote his heart takes refuge of Raghava (Shri Ram) alone, non else.
Historical sources and controversies
Controversy about Birth and Death Year - Controversy about Birth and Residence Place - Many southern scholars tried to prove him to be of Tamil origin.
Controversy about his importance - Much about the life of Ramananda and his contributions to India are disputed between scholars. Dearth of information has led to disputes about the birthplace, life, and death of Ramananda. More significantly, while texts written by his disciples indicate that Ramananda was significant in the lives of people in Northern India while he was living, modern scholars argue whether he was in fact as influential as he is described to be. Given the historical importance of the Ramanandi sect, many scholars find it hard to believe that there is such little information in the sectarian literature on the events which led to its formation. Scholars have tried to reconstruct the early history of the Ramanandi sect, yet there is such a scarcity of information that scholars reach different conclusions. Some scholars believe that Ramananda truly was a great Hindu saint, yet others feel that from the lack of information provided, that Ramananda was not a historically important enough saint to have caused others to write details of his life. It seems to many scholars, that the life of Ramananda is far inferior to the accounts of the lives of his disciples who have extensive biographies written about them.
Controversy about his literary works - Of the few books written by Ramananda himself, some may have been written by his followers and then accredited to Ramananda.
Just after the death of Swami Ramananda, Swami Chetan-Dasji composed a book called Prasang Paarijaat in Paishachi language in the year 1574 AD. This was a long poem containing the major events of Ramananda's life. Due to some curse and some predictions given in the book the book couldn't be published before 30 January 1948. After 1948, the book was first published by Shri Ram MangalDas Ji, Gokul Bhavan. Its manuscript was brought by Saint Balakram Vinayak from Sarnath and for many years it was kept at Ayodhya before publishing.
- "Ashtapadi" a book written in Paishachi language by the immediate disciples of Ramanand.
- "Kashi Martand" (Sun of Kashi), The book to understand Jagadguru Ramanandacharya as GOD avatar.
- Burghard, Richard. The Founding of the Ramanandi Sect. London: London School of Economics and Political Science, 1978.
- Granger, M. Ivan. “Ramananda.” Poetry Chaikhana: Sacred Poetry from Around the World. Ed. Nirmal Dass. 03, December 2008 
- Kamat, Jyotsna. “Saint Ramananda.” The Path of Devotion. September 7, 2008. Kamat’s Potpourri. 03, December 2008 
- Ramananda. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008.
- Ramananda. Biographies of Indian Saints. August 15, 1996. GeoCities. 28 Nov. 2008
- Oman, C. John. The Mystics, Ascetics, and Saints of India. London: Elibron Classics, 2005.
- Dr.Dayakrishna Vijayvargiya 'vijay'"Payashpayee", Jagadguru Ramanandacharya Smarak nyas, SRIMATH, Kashi,"2008.
- (This is incorrect, he did not worship King Ram, if this were true he would have taught this his disciples, of which Kabir is most famous. In fact they taught to worship the formeless Creator. To learn more visit http://mysimran.info/live-simran-course/ and check out lectures 68-70)
- 1. Ramanand Sampradaya tatha Hindi Sahitya Pe Uska Prabhav - Dr. Badrinarayan Srivastava, Page 140. 2. Hindi Sahitya Ka Itihas - Ramchandra Shukl, Page 119-20.