RAMANANDA (1300-1410?), promoter of Vaisnav Bhakti in North India and founder of the Bairagi sect of anchorites, was born at Prayaga (Allahabad) in a Kanyakubja Brahman family. He studied in Kasi (Banaras), the ancient seat of learning, and it was here that he became a disciple of Raghavananda, the fourth dchdrya (teacher, preacher, head of a sect) in the line of Ramanuja, the founder of Vasistadvaita. He was, however, more liberal than his guru with regard to the caste system in general and untouchability in particular. He initiated a separate sect of his own, the Ramavat or Ramanandl Sampradaya, with Lord Rama and Sita as its Supreme Deity instead of Chaturbhuja Narayana and Laksami worshipped by followers of Sri Sampradaya.
Ramananda established himself as a teacher at Kasi, where to this day Parichgariga Ghat is associated with his name. From there his disciples, the Ramanandi Bairagis, spread his message of Ramaworship all over the country, but mostly in the central Gangetic plain. It is perhaps his liberal views regarding caste distinctions that has led to a well established tradition that a number of low caste saints of the Bhakti movement, such as the weaver Kabir, leather worker Ravidas, the barber Sain and the Jat peasant Dhanna were his disciples, chronological impossibilities notwithstanding. Many works in Sanskrit and Hindi are ascribed to Ramananda by his followers, but modern scholars accept only two, Vaisnavamatabja Bhdskar and Rdmdrchand Paddhati as authentic.
Two Hindi padas (hymns) attributed to him are found in the Sarbdngi compiled by Rajjab. One of them which duplicates his single hymn included in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, points to his nearness to the Sant tradition of nirgunabhakti (worship of the Transcendent One). In this hymn (GG, 1195) idol worship is clearly rejected, the supreme Deity, Brahman, is conceived as all pervading, revealed to the mind only through the sabda of the True Guru, whereas Vedas and Purdnas avail nothing.
1. Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909
2. Nabhadas, Bhaktamald, ed. S.B. Prasad. Lucknow, 1951
3. Barathwal, P.O., Ramananda hi Hindi Rachdnaen. Varanasi, 1955