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The Ravidassia religion (i//; also Ravidassia Dharam; Punjabi: ਰਵਿਦਾਸੀ ਧਰਮ, Hindi: रविदास्सिया धर्म, Urdu: راویدسسیہ دھرم) is a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of the 14th century Indian guru Ravidass, revered as a satguru and prophet by his followers. Ravidass, a Chamar by birth, taught monotheistic spirituality and a message of equality and emancipation from the Indian caste system.
Historically Ravidassia represented a range of beliefs in South Asia, with some devotees of Ravidass counting themselves as Ravidasia Sikhs, others considering themselves a separate group from Hinduism and Sikhism. The Ravidassia community began to take on more cohesion following 1947, and the establishment of successful Ravidassia communities in the diaspora.
Ravidassias believe that since Ravidas lived before the 1st Sikh Guru and his teachings were studied by the Sikh Gurus and influenced them, he is just as much a saint as them. This has caused conflict with hardline orthodox Sikhs which culminated in the 2009 murder of Ravidassia cleric Ramanand Dass by Sikh extremists in Vienna. This has led to a more decisive break from the orthodox Sikh structure. Initially the Ravidassia revered the Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs, which was the only repository of Ravidass' devotional poetry. However, following their schism from mainstream Sikhs, the Ravidassi compiled their own holy book of Ravidass' teachings, the Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji, and many Ravidassia temples now use this book in place of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Ravidass was born on 15 January 1377 CE, (Indian calendar Sunday Sukhal Falgin Parvithta 1433) to the Kutvandla Shudra community. His birthplace was a locality known as Mandhuadhe in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh state, India. The birthplace is now marked by the Shri Guru Ravidass Janam Asthan (Begampura), and is a major place of pilgrimage for the followers of Guru Ravidass today. Ravidassia believe that Ravidass died in Benares at the age of 126.
The holy book Amritbani contains 240 teachings by Guru Ravidass, expressing such thoughts as:
My caste is low, my lineage is low, and mean is my birth. I have sought Rama's refuge, says Guru Ravidass Ji the cobbler.
Ravidass' teachings represent an offshoot of the bhakti movement of the fifteenth century, a religious renaissance in India. Ravidass taught the following principles:
- The oneness, omnipresence and omnipotence of God
- The human soul is a particle of God; the difference between the two being like the difference between gold and the bangle, water and the wave.
- The rejection of the notion that God cannot be met by lower castes.
- To realize God, which is the goal of human life, man should concentrate on God during all rituals of life.
- The only way of meeting with God (moksha) is to free the mind from duality.
The Shri Guru Ravidas Mission states that the conditions on being a member of the community are:
- That one who preaches Guru Ravidass's philosophy is a Ravidassia.
- It is not a condition that one should have been born in the Ravidassia community to become or initiated as one.
- To celebrate Shri Guru Ravidass Jayanti according to the Punjabi calendar, Sunday, Sukhal Falgin Parvithta.
Dera Sach Khand Ballan of Jallandhar, Punjab on 30 January 2010 at the 633rd birth anniversary of Ravidass announced the objectives of Ravidassia religion as:
- "To propagate the Bani and teachings of Satguru Ravidass Ji. Besides, the teachings and thought of Maharishi Bhagwan Balmiki Ji, Satguru Namdev Ji, Satguru Kabir Ji, Satguru Trilochan Ji, Satguru Sain Ji and Satguru Sadna Ji would also be propagated".
- "To respect all religions, love mankind and lead virtuous lives".
Sri Guru Ravidass International Organisation for Human Rights believes in protecting the rights of Ravidassia and is a registered charity organisation in UK.
Places of worship
The Ravidassia place of worship is called a bhawan or Gurughar. Other Ravidassias call their place of worship by the Sikh term gurudwara or the Hindu term mandir. A Ravidassia can meditate and reflect on God anywhere, as Guru Ravidass stated that "God dwells within the heart and is always around us." Shoes are removed on entering, and hands washed. Outside a bhawan there is a flag upon which is written Hari, and above it a lamp symbolising enlightenment from Guru Ravidass' teachings. Langar, a communal lunch, takes place inside the bhawan and all are free to partake of it. Inside the bhawan, hymns from the Amritbani are recited daily, and the guru's image is worshipped.
Worship service (Arti)
Ravidassia Arti takes place daily in the bhawan at the closing of the day's formal services. This consists of the Arti written by Ravidass in which he tells God that only his name is sufficient. Whilst the Arti is sung, devotees wave trays with small flames made from Camphor in front of an image of Guru Ravidas. The Ravidassia Arti is included in the religious holy book Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji. Arti is a ceremony of adoration which consists of waving round the head of an idol on a platter containing a conch-shell and rattle gong.
The Arti includes the declaration:
Your name is my arti and ablution, o Lord. Without God’s name all religious paraphernalia are false. Your name is my prayer-mat, your name my saffron-grater, and your name is the saffron, which i sprinkle on you. Your name is the water, your name the sandal-wood, and the repetition of the name is the rubbing thereof; this is the sandal paste, which i take to anoint you. Your name is the lamp, your name the wick, your name is the oil, which i pour therein. With your name i have kindled the light, with its illumination my entire home is bright. Your name is the string, your name the garland of flowers, defiled are all the eighteen loads of leaves, offerings of ours. Why should i offer thee what you yourself has created? Your name is the fly-whisk which i wave over you. The whole world is involved in the eighteen Puranas, and the sixty-eight places of pilgrimage, it rotates within the four forms of species. Your name is the arti, says Ravidass, and your true name itself is offered, o Lord, as the ceremonial food to you.
The Ravidassia temples "Bhawan" contain the holy book "Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji" which contains all the hymns by Guru Ravidass. This book contains the following hymns: Raga – Siri(1), Gauri (5), Asa(6), Gujari(1), Sorath(7), Dhanasari(3), Jaitsari(1), Suhi(3), Bilaval(2), Gaund(2), Ramkali(1), Maru(2), Kedara(1), Bhairau(1), Basant(1), and Malhar(3). The book contains 140 shabads, 40 pade, and 231 salok. There are 177 pages in all of the book.
A version of the holy book granth containing 240 hymns of Guru Ravidass ji was installed at the Guru Ravidass temple in Jalandhar Punjab on 1 February 2012 on the occasion of birth anniversary of Guru Ravidass. The Dera Sach Khand Ballan religious community had announced the formation of the new Ravidassia religion and separation from Sikhism at Varanasi. The split from Sikhism was triggered after the killing of its deputy head Sant Ramanand Dass in May 2009 at a temple in Vienna by some Sikh radicals.
President of newly formed Begumpura Lok Party and a supporter of the new religion, Satish Bharti, said that the copies of the new granth were put on display during the religious processions in order to assert that the community members are firm believers of the new religion.
Ravidassias are aligned with a sant who mentors them on their spiritual path, providing personalised mantras and advice. The head of the Ravidassia Dharam, known as the sadhus are present mainly in Punjab and the Dera Sach Khand Ballan consists of sadhus, also known as Sant Samaj who in turn lead and are heads of all Ravidassias deras around the world. The leader of the Ravidassia religion, known as the Gaddi Nashin is Sant Niranjan Dass alongside Sant Surinder Dass Bawa Ji . Former leaders include Sant Hari Dass, Sant Sarwan Dass, Sant Garib Dass and Sant Baba Pippal Dass.
The Ravidassia employ the greeting "ਜੈ ਗੁਰੂਦੇਵ" (Jai Gurdev) "जय गुरुदेव " the motto of the religion.
The religion is also represented by a flag, containing:
- A bigger circle with 40 rays of sunlight signifying forty hymns of Guru Ravidass.
- In between the bigger and smaller circles is written a couplet: ਨਾਮ ਤੇਰੇ ਕਿ ਜੋਤੀ ਲਗਾਈ, ਭੇਈਓ ਭੇਈਓ ਭਵਣ ਸਗਲਈ (Naam tere kee jot lagayi, Bhaio Ujiaaro Bhawan saglaare, "Your Name is the flame I light; it has illuminated the entire world")
- A star
- A flame representing the naam (word) that would illuminate the entire world.
- A circle depicting the whole universe, which is contained and run in God's order.
- Har (हरि, ਹਰਿ) and flame over it. Har represents Ravidass and his teachings. The insignia Har is chosen after the name of their Guru, as ravi means "illumination" and dass "servant of god".
Relationship with Sikhism
Ravidasis claim that their religion was created after they were excluded from Sikh gurdwaras in Punjab. There are many similarities with mainstream Sikhism and indeed temple worship is almost identical, except for the Ravidasi use of Aarti using the words of Ravidas' Aarti hymn. The primary difference is the reveration of Ravidas as their main prophet or teacher.
The Ravidasi community insists they are separate from Sikhism as Guru Ravidass and not the Guru Granth Sahib is their spiritual Satguru.
The birthday of Guru Ravidass is celebrated every year at the Seer Gowardhapur village temple in the state of Uttar Pradesh in January or February and the government of India has declared it a gazetted holiday.
Every year more than 1 million devotees from India and abroad visit the Seer Goverdhanpur temple. In India, devotees pour in from Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, MP, Bihar, UP and Uttarakhand while foreign devotees from the US, Canada and UK throng the village.
On the day there is a Path of Amritbani Guru Ravidass read, the Harr(i) nishaan sahib is changed ceremonially, and there is a special Ravidassia Arti and a Nagar Kirtan procession bearing Shri Guru Ravidass' portrait are taken out to the accompaniment of music through the streets of the temple locality.
Special pilgrim trains have been run to and from Varanasi for the last 12 years on the occasion of Parkash Ustav of Guru Ravi Dass. A special train is run from Jalandhar to Varanasi and back every year on Guru Ravidass Jyanti Purb for the convenience of the pilgrims since 2000.
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