Punjab Research Group

Exploring Ravidas By Daljit Ami

Posted in Articles by Pippa on November 10, 2009

© Tasveer Ghar: A Digital Archive of South Asian Popular Visual Culture

Ravidas was a prominent figure in the bhakti movement and a renowned poet of the nirgun bhakti tradition that valued the worship of a formless God (Fig. 01). He lived near Banaras (also known as Varanasi or Kashi), already a major centre of spiritual learning in the 14th and 15th centuries. Belonging as he did to one of the lowest castes of Hindu society, the Chamar or tanner, the spiritual status he attained was profoundly troubling for orthodox Hindus of his time. His ancestral profession was the making and mending of shoes. Members of the Chamar caste were considered physically and ritually impure on account of their occupational contact with carcasses, and were deemed to be ‘untouchables’ in medieval Hindu society which operated according to normative values determined according to one’s place in the caste hierarchy. The reading of Sanskrit scriptures was prohibited to lower castes, and direct access to the deities of the upper castes was restricted. In such an environment, Ravidas chose to defy the priestly caste, and to worship a formless God who could be envisioned without the mediation of human intermediaries.

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