In This Article Ravidās

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Early Sources for the Study of Ravidās from Before 1800
  • Ravidās in Sources from Post-1800
  • Post-Independence Developments in Critical Studies of Ravidās
  • Early Modern Ravidāsī Works and Their Context
  • Post-Independence Punjabi Scholarship about Ravidās
  • Ravidās and the Ravidassia Movement and Ravidās Shrines
  • Ravidās and the Followers of Ambedkar
  • Ravidās and Mīrābāī
  • Ravidās and Kabīr
  • Scholarship Associated with Śukdev Siṃh and the Ravidās Temple at Rajghat
  • Multiple Perspectives on Ravidās
  • Visual Narratives of Ravidās’s life

Hinduism Ravidās
by
Peter Friedlander
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0228

Introduction

Ravidās (also known as Raidās or Rohidās) was a North Indian poet-saint from an untouchable leather-working community who lived during the 16th century. He is remembered in India as an outstanding poet-saint whose religious devotion was expressed in verses and who lived a life dedicated to his devotion to the religious rights of his community. The precise dates and exact locations of his birth and death are uncertain, and suggested dates range from around 1376 for his birth to as late as 1540 for his death. However, there is general agreement that he lived most of his life in or around the city of Varanasi in North India, and there is universal agreement that he was a leading figure among the untouchable leather-working communities of that era. He is particularly renowned for having attained fame as a devotee of the divine who argued that birth in a low community had no bearing on the right to freely practice religion, and that a low-status birth was no impediment to attaining spiritual liberation. The songs and verses he composed became part of North Indian oral traditions by the middle of the 16th century and were then written down in various canons of vernacular works by poet-saints in North India. The earliest written versions of his compositions were collected by followers of the Sikh tradition in roughly the 1570s in the Punjab, along with the works of other famous poet-saints and incorporated into the Adi Granth in 1603–1604. In Rajasthan his compositions were also written down from the early 17th century in a variety of devotional traditions and often formed part of collections of verses by Dādū, Kabīr, Nāmdev, Ravidās, and Haridās. It was also at this time that accounts of the lives of famous saints began to be composed, including Ravidās along with other poet-saints. In a renaissance of the followers of Ravidās in the early 20th century, numerous print traditions related to Ravidās began to appear. Prominent among these works were narrative accounts of his life called Ravidās Rāmāyaṇa and a succession of new anthologies of his compositions, as well as studies of his life and his social significance. This development has continued to this day and now includes works in not only vernaculars such as Hindi and Punjabi and other languages, but also an increasing number of English-language studies of his life and works.

Overviews

Succinct introductions to Ravidās can be found in a number of sources, which give an impression of the relationship between his life and works and Indian society, religion, and politics. Hawley and Juergensmeyer 1988 has a chapter on Ravidās that provides a good entry point into understanding his life and works. Several modern encyclopedia entries also provide accessible ways of understanding different approaches to understanding the relationship between Ravidās as a historical figure and his impact on contemporary India. Schaller 2018 provides a good overview of the followers of Ravidās, while Friedlander 2018 outlines the development of his life stories. Juergensmeyer 2018 provides a perspective on the relationship between Ravidās’s teachings and one of the major movements that developed around his followers in the 20th century. Lochtefeld 2005 provides a good introduction to understanding how Ravidās’s life and works relate to protests against caste. Omvedt 2003 includes a short introduction to Ravidās seen from the viewpoint of low-caste Indian and anti-Brahminical traditions, including Buddhist traditions.

  • Friedlander, Peter. “Ravidās/Raidās” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2018.

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    This short article provides an entry point into studies of the life of Ravidās and shows how stories of his life developed from their origins up to the 21st century. It provides an overview of the main early Hindi and Punjabi sources and gives an account of the new features of his life story that began to appear in a range of sources written by followers of Ravidās from the early 20th century onward. Available online by subscription.

  • Hawley, John Stratton, and Mark Juergensmeyer. Songs of the Saints of India. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    A very popular introduction to the life and works of six North Indian poets and saints, including Ravidās, which allows readers to understand one important way of contextualizing his life and works.

  • Juergensmeyer, Mark. “Ad Dharm.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2018.

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    This is an excellent introduction to the study of the Ad Dharm movement and its relationship to Ravidās and his followers. Available online by subscription.

  • Lochtefeld, James, G. “The Saintly Chamar: Perspectives on the Life of Ravidas.” In Untouchable Saints: An Indian Phenomenon. Edited by Eleanor Zelliot and Rohini Mokashi-Punekar, 201–220. Delhi: Manohar, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    A useful introduction to the ways in which Dalit authors have sought to counter what they see as Brahminical appropriation of Ravidās.

  • Omvedt, Gail. Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste. New Delhi: SAGE, 2003.

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    This book is a history of Buddhism in India that spans from its origins to the present day and shows how Ravidās can be seen as a part of an alternative history of anti-Brahmin movements in India. See pp. 191–193.

  • Schaller, Joseph. “Ravidāsīs.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2018.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article provides a good entry point to understanding the relationship between the Ad Dharm movement and the followers of Ravidās in Varanasi. Available online by subscription.

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