RAVIDAS, poet and mystic, was born to Raghu and Ghurbinia, who lived near the city of Varanasi. Not much biographical information about him is available, but, from what can be made out of his own compositions, he belonged to a lowcaste (Chamdr) family. He followed the family profession of tanning hides and making shoes. Gradually he started spending most of his time in the company of saints and sadhus and built himself a thatched hut wherein he received and entertained wandering ascetics. Many stories became current about his simplicity and piety of nature.He became famous as a Vaisnava saint in the tradition of Ramanand.

In the course of his spiritual quest, he reached a stage when he discarded images and idols and turned to the worship of the Supreme Being. He wrote deeply impassioned devotional verses and left his mark on Hindi literature for the fusion of religious sentiment with the vernacular medium. Forty of his hymns have been incorporated in the Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. He travelled fairly widely and visited Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, besides a number of places in the northern India such as Prayag, Mathura, Vrindavan, Haridvar. Gurgaon and Multan.At most of these places, there are monuments honouring his memory. In his lifetime, he had thousands of followers, including members of the higher castes, among them being Mirabai, the Rajput princess.

The hymns of Ravidas included in the Guru Granth Sahib fall under rdga Siri (1), Gauri (5),Asa (6), Gujari (l),Sorathi (7). Dhanasari (3),Jaitsari (1), Suhl (3), Bilaval (2), Gaund (2), Ramkali (1), Maru (2), Kedara (1), Bhairau (1), Basant (1) and Malhar (3). One of the hymns in rdga Maru is the same (with a few minor changes) as included in rdga Sorathi.Ravidas acknowledged the unicity and omnipresence and omnipotence of God. According to him, the human soul is only a particle of the Divine: the difference between the two is like the difference between the gold and the ornament, the water and the wave (GG, 93).

He rejects distinctions between man and man on the basis of caste or creed, for, as he says, in the world beyond no such differentiations will be acknowledged (GG, 345). To realize God, which is the ultimate end of human life, man should concentrate on His Name, giving up mere forms and ritualism (GG, 658,1106).Birth in a low caste is no hindrance in the way to spiritual development. The only condition required is freedom from duality; all else including pilgrimage to and bathing in the sixty-eight centres is in vain (GG, 875).

References :

1. Gurdit Singh, Giani, Itihas Sri Guru Granth Sahib. (Bhagat Barn Bhag). Chandigarh, 1990
2. Pratap Singh, Giani, Bhagat Darshan. Amritsar, n.d.
3. Taran Singh, ed.. Guru Granth Ratnavali. Patiala, n.d.