Lives of Saints: Sri Guru Ravidas

Guru Ravidas is known in other regions of India as Sant Rohidas or Raidas. His name is famous in Maharashtra (especially Pandharpur), Rajasthan and Varanasi, which indicates that he must have been travelling to those places and spending a substantial amount of time there. It is believed that his life span was extraordinarily long. Indeed, we see his name mentioned already in Mahipati’s Bhaktivijaya, where he is addressed as a contemporary of Sant Dnyaneshwar – while many, many years later, the same saint is addressed as the guru of Mirabai. This puzzles the historians and makes it difficult to conclude what was his date of birth. Yet, one thing we know for sure: Ravidas was an extraordinary saint.

 

Written by: Achala

Born in a humble family of cobblers, untouchables, and earned his living by making shoes, he was also a fully God-realised soul, detached from this world from the very moment of his birth. He was reborn in such circumstances, as he happened to disobey the order of his guru, Swami Ramanand, in a previous lifetime. As a result, he was cursed to be born in a family of cobblers. The merciful Swami Ramanand, who was still in the body when Ravidas was reborn again, found his disciple in his next birth. His love for his disciple was so boundless that he waited patiently for the disciple to be reborn again.

When Swami Ramanand met Ravidas, the latter recognised his guru immediately. Swami Ramanand instructed Ravidas to learn his family’s profession and make shoes for the pilgrims while keeping his mind always firmly focused on God.

Ravidas, overjoyed by receiving adesh from his guru, followed it instantly, to the great delight of his father. From that day on he started to make the shoes for pilgrims and Vaishnavas, while continuously chanting the name of the Lord.

Even though he fulfilled the order given by his guru and his father so faithfully, due to his natural detachment to the material world, he would often give pilgrims shoes for free and frequently donate the money that he earned to the poor. This eventually angered his father so much, he kicked Ravidas out of the house. The humble saint praised the Lord for this opportunity because now, living alone, he could sing the glories of the Lord freely. He built a small hut just outside Pandharpur, where he sang the name of the Lord day and night, while sewing shoes.

Sometime later, the king needed to prepare for war. As he was preparing all the necessary utensils for his soldiers, he also needed many pairs of shoes. The king asked every cobbler in the area to make 1000 shoes within a week’s time. All the shoemakers were overjoyed hearing that, as it was an opportunity to earn a lot of money. But how could such a task be possible for a devotee, such as Ravidas, to make 1000 shoes within a week when he would often spend so much of his time lost in his thoughts about the Lord and singing His praise? Usually, he would make only a few pairs of shoes per week, which was just enough for him to sustain his life.

When six days had already passed by, poor Ravidas had not even finished cutting all the leather required for 1000 pairs of shoes. He knew that if he didn’t finish his task he would be punished by the king. Realising that everything in life happens according to the will of the Lord, he continued doing his best and singing his bhajans.

And how could the merciful Lord leave his devotee helpless in this situation?

In the evening a young man came to Ravidas. He told him that he heard from other cobblers that Ravidas is looking for a person that could help him with his work. ‘Where are you from, young man? What is your name?’ the saint inquired. The man replied, ‘My name is Rangan. I come from Pandhari.’

Ravidas was overjoyed and invited the man into his shop, convinced that he came as help from God. He said, ‘Let us do whatever we can this night, even if we cannot complete 1000 pairs of shoes.’ The young man told him not to worry and assured him that he was very experienced and capable to complete the work in a night. Ravidas then asked him to stitch while he cut the material.

Before they started to work, Rangan noticed a tanpura in the corner of the shop. He asked Ravidas, ‘Do you sing?’ Ravidas replied that he loved singing the name of the Lord, but he is afraid that if he starts singing, it will only slow down their work. Rangan encouraged him to sing anyway, saying that when he hears bhajans, his work goes faster. Ravidas happily agreed.

And the work began. Ravidas, joyfully singing the glories of Lord Krishna and cutting the leather, and Rangan stitching the shoes. The saint was surprised to see that when he finished his first song, the young man had finished several pairs of shoes. Ragan said that he can only work so fast because he hears the songs of the Lord, which fill his heart with joy. He reassured Ravidas, that if he continued singing, they would surely finish 1000 shoes by morning.

Late into the night, Ravidas began to feel as if Rangan was Panduranga Himself. He could swear that he could see the image of Panduranga in this young man.

‘Are you Panduranga?” he finally asked.

Rangan just smiled and replied: “You are so absorbed in the name of the Lord that you see Him everywhere, even in me!” They both laughed and continued to work.

When the sun had risen, after an entire night of singing and working in the joyful atmosphere, Rangan had completed all 1000 pairs of shoes, as he promised. Ravidas praised Rangan for his excellent work. Rangan then said to him that after an entire night of work he needed to take a bath – so he went to the river. Ravidas invited him to return after his ablutions for an oil bath, clothes, a meal, and whatever money the king would give for the shoes. Ravidas was not even slightly concerned about the material goods. He just wanted to do his duty, happy to renounce the fruits of his actions and give it all to Rangan. The young man agreed and went to the river to take his bath.

Meanwhile, the king’s soldiers visited the shop to collect the shoes. Seeing their extraordinary quality, they rewarded Ravidas with a lot of money. Even after they left, Rangan hadn’t returned. A bit worried, Ravidas locked his shop and went to the river to look for his young friend. Rangan was not there. He inquired with the people there about Rangan and understood that no one had seen him this morning. He returned to his shop and began looking for him in the bazaar and other places but could not find him anywhere.

Eventually, it dawned on him. Rangan of Pandhari was none other than Lord Panduranga Himself! Of course. He came in the evening, after the doors of the temple were closed, and went back to Pandharpur before dawn, so the priests didn't notice His disappearance!

When Ravidas realised this, he fainted instantly. How merciful and humble is this dark Lord, who came to help him in the middle of the night, just so the saint could continue chanting his sweet songs.

When Ravidas became conscious again, He took the oil, dress and the food that he earlier prepared for Rangan, as well as all the money given by the king, and rushed to Pandharpur. When he reached the temple, he explained to the priests what happened and gave them all the gifts, so the Lord can be bathed in oil and receive a new dress from him, along with all the money.

And that was just the beginning of the miracles that happened later in the life of the great Guru Ravidas. This saint later became a guide and guru for such great souls as King Pipa and Mirabai herself. He wrote many touching poems praising the Lord, such as this one

Upon seeing poverty
people laugh and jeer,
and such was my plight.
But now I hold the powers
of creation in the palm of my hand -
all because of Your mercy.
You know I am nothing,
O Ram, Destroyer of fear.

Sri Guru Ravidas

After an extraordinary life span on this earthly plane, Saint Ravidas completed his life journey in Chittorgarh. He was cremated close to Mirabai’s Krishna temple. There, in front of Mira’s temple, is a small umbrella (chhatri), known as Sant Raidas ki Chhatri, under which one can find an engraved footprint of Sant Ravidas until today.

Paramahamsa Vishwananda has Sri Guru Ravidas’ relics in His vast collection at Shree Peetha Nilaya’s Saints of India Museum so that people can venerate them, learn from each saint, and by doing so, come closer to God.