GURU RAVI DASS KASHI SECURED
NOW FOR THE ATLANTIC
By Chandra Bhan Prasad
How could Maya do it, without the cow-belt having undergone a cultural
revolution?” the ecstatic D Shyam Babu, a new age Dalit scholar,
exclaimed. We were analysing the BSP’s triumph in the UP Assembly
elections and, sitting glued to the news channels, watching
Brahman/Rajput/Bania MLAs pay obeisance to Kanshi and Maya, by falling
at their feet.
“Shyam, the cow-belt underwent a cultural
revolution 500 years ago,” I told him. Shyam thought I was joking. I
said, “Don’t you know, the Dalits disciplined cow-belt Brahmans in the
16th Century itself. Rajput kings and queens postulated before an
Untouchable at the time, and a religious Order practicing diversity
adopted a Dalit voice in its main spiritual system 300 years ago.” I had begun with, “The cultural revolution was led by Saint Ravidas,
greatest of all the saints. The revolution sprung up in Kashi, cradle
of the Varnashram Order, headquarters of Hindu religiosity, and the
seat of Brahman learning.”
Ravidas was born in 1378 AD in Kashi, to prosperous Untouchable
parents, who traded in leather. Young Ravidas revolted against his
parents’ desire to make the trade his career, and left home. He erected
a thatched house, and took on shoemaking for a living. He would bestow
shoes on barefoot ascetics, and finance the needy. His messages of
equality before God, and that God was accessible to all, captured the
people’s imagination. He built a small clay walled temple, and
installed a leather idol of God. God thus, for the first time, stood
liberated from a Brahmanical prison.
Kashi’s Brahmans fumed in rage, and petitioned the Kashi king. “Who
perceives God better, and knows the path to redemption?” was to be
decided. The king organised a shastrartha between the saint and select
Kashi pundits. Ravidas’ genius found no match. The pundits turned colourless, bending
before the saint. The saint rode the royal chariot through the lanes of
Kashi, the king standing by his side. That was the Dalits’ first war of
independence, Kashi was secured. Cow-belt Brahmans never recovered from
the shock, and were reconciled to the Dalits’ cerebral deftness.
Chittor’s Queen Jhally Bai was on a pilgrimage to Kashi, and hearing of
the saint’s glory, desired to visit him. The royal priests accompanying
her resisted the move, but the indomitable queen went ahead. The spellbound queen was able to feel the difference between the barren
minded pundits and the profound Ravidas. She was now a disciple of the
saint. Back home in Chittor, her husband was furious. How could a
Rajputana kingdom accept an Untouchable as its guru? But the maharani
remained unfazed. She reasoned with her husband, and presented him a
few the saint’s hymns. But the King insisted on a test, and invited
Ravidas over for dinner to his exalted palace. The Brahman priests
refused to dine with the saint, and sat separately. To the priests’
disbelief, the people serving them food all turned into Ravidas. The
bewildered priests repented and collapsed at Ravidas’ feet, asking for
forgiveness. The king declared Ravidas his guru.
That must certainly have been the first occasion when an Untouchable
raided the walls of untouchabilty, by dining with a royal family.
Chittor, the cradle of Rajput dominance, had fallen. Ravidas stayed on
longer, with princess Meera Bai becoming his disciple. The wonderful religious system of the Sikhs would be incomplete without
the saint’s thoughts, as 41 of Ravidas’ hymns form the main body of the
Guru Granth Sahib. This is the only instance where a Dalit voice forms
part of the spirituality of a religious system. Punjab, like most of
north/central/western India has flourished by living the thoughts of
Ravidas, the first ever Dalit revolutionary.
Now his followers have settled across the Atlantic, and are organising
a mega event at Vancouver, which could unleash a new diversity campaign
in north America, requiring MNCs in India to honour diversity for the
Dalits. While talking of revolution in 18th century Europe, Frederick
Engels wrote: “Every struggle against feudalism, at the time had to
take on a religious disguise.” Saint Ravidas, while fighting caste, did exactly that in India.
B R E A K I N G THE MOULD
Reformers have come and gone, but taboo against Dalits have remained.
Chandra Bhan Prasad
Coerced by Brahmin-piloted history, Dalits are
demographically segregated and situated at the outskirt on the varna-village-society.
Should they remain so forever? Condemned by the Brahmin scripted social value system, none should dine with
Dalits, leave alone marrying them. Should that value system remain so forever?
Minced by Brahmin predestined political power system, Dalits can't be
of the society, leave alone being rulers. Should that system remain so
forever? To borrow a term from Kerner Commission's report dealing with US'
race riots, Dalits are "separate and unequal". Should Dalits remain
What if, irrespective of social or political conditioning or compulsions, the
Brahmin himself reaches out to the Dalit? What if, irrespective of social or political conditions or compulsions, the
Brahmin agrees to be led by the Dalit? What if, irrespective of social or political conditions or compulsions, the
Brahmin touches the feet of the Dalit in reverence? What if, irrespective of social or political conditions, the Brahmin sings
songs in glory of Dalits?
All these seem to have happened in the just-concluded UP election. Did all the
Brahmins do so, one might ask? Not really. But, even if a section of them did
so, it's one of the greatest social revolutions witnessed in India. So when a Brahmin in a village begins dinning with a Dalit, will the reputation
of that family go down, or go up? And what if one fourth of Brahmins of that
village begins dining with the Dalits?
Will non-Brahmins of that village begin boycotting that family where Brahmins
are going? Or, they too once invited, will begin dining with Dalits? One need
not be a great sociologist to find the answer. The question we must ponder over is: Will that kind of social situation be a
"revolution" or "counter-revolution"?
Despite all the hatred directed against the Brahmins for legitimate reasons
though, and despite the decline they have undergone due to their own social
scripts, they still remain a positive point of reference. The allegedly
intelligence deficient shudra understood Brahmin power better than the
In the land of the anti-Brahmin movement, temples headed by Brahmins have
become a cottage industry. The devotees are often those who fought against
Brahmins. Should a Shankaracharya visit Karunanidhi's house - the symbol of shudra/OBC
upsurge - the entire family will fall on his feet.
In north India
too, Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh symbols of shudra/OBC upsurge, are
more Brahmin-feet friendly than even empowered Brahmins. Even the Muslim and
Christian clergy respect Brahmins. Whenever it comes to social legitimacy, all castes and religious blocks, seek
blessings from Brahmins. But, they keep instigating Dalits to fight the
Today, Brahmins are touching Mayawatiji's feet. The culturally
traumatised elite Brahmins attack Mayawati for practising this new brand of
Brahminism. Arguably, touching feet is one of the ugliest methods of reverence. Hitherto,
only Brahmins or the Dwijas were entitled for this form of reverence. Now, the
form remains but the subjects and objects changing.
The Brahmins are now touching Dalits' feet. Is this changed social scenario a
new Brahminism or counter-Brahminism? Will the self-esteem of the Dalit whose
feet is being touched by the Brahmin go down? Or, will he become a celebrity? For ages, Dalits have suffered social taboo.
These Brahmin authored taboo can be eradicated only if Brahmins themselves
reverse them and begin dining with Dalits.
Reformers have come and gone, but taboo against Dalits have remained.
Through her Dalit-Brahmin thesis Mayawati has unleashed a new social
in the cow belt. The Brahmin has fallen in line all other castes will
follow. Not that the cow belt has turned into any special social
democracy zone, but
the ice has been broken.
Ronki Ram (Dr.), Panjab University, Chandigarh (India), Cell:+91 987 286 1290
Poted on May 14, 2007