Explained: The Ravidassias of Punjab

What is the news?

Recently, the Punjab elections have been postponed to 20th February from the earlier 14th February. This was done because of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti, an annual occasion during which Ravidassias travel to Varanasi in large numbers.

Who is Guru Ravidas and who are considered as Ravidassias?

Guru Ravidas was a mystic poet-saint of the Bhakti Movement from the 15th and 16th centuries. He founded the Ravidassia religion. It is believed that he was born in Varanasi in a cobbler’s family. He gained prominence due to his belief in one God and his unbiased religious poems. His devotional songs made an instant impact on the Bhakti Movement. Around 41 of his poems were included in ‘Guru Granth Sahib’, the religious text of the Sikhs.

Read more: About Guru Ravidas

Ravidassias are a dalit community, mostly live in the doaba region of Punjab. The Dera Sachkhand Ballan, is their largest dera with 20 lakh followers worldwide.

Why do devotees visit Varanasi to celebrate Guru Ravidas Jayanti?

After identifying the birthplace of Guru Ravidas at Seer Goverdhanpur village near Banaras Hindu University, the dera established the temple there.

Since then, several followers started visiting the temple and, gradually, it became a practice to celebrate Guru Ravidas Jayanti in Varanasi.

How did the Dera Sachkhand Ballan establish?

It was founded in the early 20th century by Baba Sant Pipal Das. After the death of Sant Pipal Das, his son Sant Sarwan Das headed the dera from 1928 to 1972. There have been three more heads Sant Hari Das, Sant Garib Das and Sant Niranjan Das after that and none was chosen by heredity.

The dera severed their decades-old ties with Sikhism in 2010 and announced to follow the Ravidassia religion. It replaced Guru Granth Sahib with its own granth, Amritbani, carrying 200 hymns of Guru Ravidas, in Ravidassia temples and gurdwaras.

What was the reason behind severing ties with Sikhism?

There had been a deadly attack by fundamentalists on Shri Guru Ravidas Temple in Vienna in 2009. They killed the Dera Sachkhand Ballan’s then second-in-command, Sant Ramanand, and injured 30 people.

The Vienna attack triggered riots in doaba, mainly in Jalandhar, where a curfew was imposed for 15 days. This event led to severing Ravidas community ties with Sikhism. Ravidassias even demanded a separate column for their religion in the 2021 Census.

Source: This post is based on the article “Explained: The Ravidassias of Punjab” published in the Indian Express on 19th January 2022.

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