The Concept of a Human Being in Ravidasbani
Dr. Gurbachan Singh
Along with the hymns of other saint poets, the hymns of Bhagat Ravidas too have been incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This makes it very clear that the compiler of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, transcending the boundaries of the hymns written in the Guru-tradition, gives a place of honour to the hymns of those richly experienced saints in his compilation. On the one hand these hymns become an integral part of the compilation as they are in the same strain as the Gurus’ hymns, and on the other, they help to further develop the high ideals set forth therein. All this means that Bhagat Bani gets fully integrated with the literary style and format adopted by the Gurus. This leads us to conclude that the centre point of its study should appropriately be in the context of the entire bani contained in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
As we are busy in preparing such a background for our study, we come to know that Gurbani creates a deep awareness in the minds of common man about medieval Mogul feudalism and traditional brahminical hegemony which reduce him to the level of a slave.
In the context of human freedom and traditional cultural values, it is revealed that man is greatly conscious about his slavery. This brings to the fore the role of the slave which exposes how the ruling class exploits the masses under the force of its cultural ethos.
Viewed in the context of the teachings of Gurbani, a relationship like that of master-slave is at work from the beginning to the end. To explain this further we quote very popular lines by Sri Guru Arjan Dev:
Toon thakur tum peh ardaas.
Jio-pind sabh teri raas.
Tum mat-pita ham barik terai.
Tumri kripa te sookh ghanerai.
Koyee na janai tumra ant
Oochai te oocha bhagant.
Sagar samagri tumrai sutar dhari
Tum te hoye so agyakari.
Tumri gat mitt um he jaani
Nanak das sada qurbaani. (SGGS, 268)
We pray before Thee, our Master.
Everyone is sustained by Thee.
Thou art our father and mother,
And we art Thy Own children.
We get all the comforts of life
With thy Grace, Almighty Lord.
No one knows Thy vastness indeed
Highest of all art Thee, O God.
All creation is controlled by Thee
All that happens is under Thy Will.
Thou knows Thy expanse and extent
The slave, Nanak, sacrifices himself unto Thee.
A careful reading of this hymn would show that the supplication and the journey of the supplicant reaches the Highest One, the Almighty and at every step of this journey man is presented as a humble and helpless being. Thus man is under God’s will in everything that he does. The Master sustains his life, protects him physically, is both his father and mother, showers His blessings upon him and He is Infinite. The ignorant human mind cannot fathom Him. He keeps the entire creation in balance. It thus becomes clear that the role of the master as a sustainer or his being both father and mother or the greatness of the Almighty gets highlighted if man’s frailty is presented in bold relief. This presentation is seen everywhere in Gurbani and it has been expressed in different contexts of life. The master-servant duality based relationship has been used extensively but its transformation has been shown in many other contexts too. For example, in the entire Bani, the husband-wife relationship is depicted accordingly. When we read Farid, we find him saying:
Kavan su akhar kavan gun kavan su mania mant.
Kavan su vaisao hau kari jit vas avai kant.
Nivan su akhar khavan gun, jihba mania mant
Ehi trai bhanai vesh kari, ta vas avai kant.
(Saloka Farid, SGGS, 1384)
In these lines, the wife is seen to be greatly desirous of winning over her spouse. It is worth noting there that the spouse is independent and separate from her. The woman has to please him. This is a position which is even lower than that of a slave. In Guru Nanak’s words:
Eyanariai manra kaye kareh.
Apanarai ghat Hari rango ki na mannai.
Sahu nerai dhan kamliai bahar kya dhoondai.
Bhai kiya dehi salayeeaan naini
Bhav ka kar sigarahu.
Taan suhagin janiai lagi ja sahu dharai piyarau.
Eyani bali kya karai ja dhan kant na bhavai.
Karan palah karia bahuterai sa dhan mahil na pavai.
Vin karma kichh paiyai nahin, je bhutera dhavai.
Lab lobh ahankar ki mati maya mahi samani.
Ini bati sahu paiyai nahi bhayee kamin eyani.
Jaye puchhahu suhagini vahai kini bati sahu paiai.
Jo kich kahai, sa bhala kar maniai,
hikmat hukam chukaiyai.
Ja kai prem padarath paiai, tau charni chit laiai
Sahu kahe so kijai, tan man dijai, aisa parmal laiai.
Ev kahai suhagini bhainai, ini bati sahu paiai.
Aap gavaiai ta sahu paiai avar kaisi chaturayee.
Sahu nadar kar dekahi so din lekhai,
kamin nau nidhi payee.
Apnai kant pyari sa suhagini, Nanak sa sabhrayee.
Aisae rang rati sehaj ki mati, ahnis bhai samani.
Sundar sai saroop bichakhan, kahiai sa siyani.
Why do you feel proud, O ignorant one?
You are not enjoying the bliss of
The spouse who is with you.
Your spouse is with you and
You are looking for him elsewhere.
Let your make up be the
collyrium of love in your eyes
And his fear in your mind.
Only then can you be called
A blissfully wedded wife
Worthy of conjugal love.
But what can an ignorant lass do
If she is not liked by the spouse
However hard she goes on trying
She is unable to reach his place.
Can’t succeed without good deeds.
Ever inebriated with greed and desire
And absorbed in the lust for money
These things do not help you
To reach him, O ignorant one.
Go and ask the blessed ones
How to become worthy of him.
Do, as he says, and feel happy
Doing so in total obedience.
Whose love bestows all blessings
His lotus feet should be worshipped
Do as the spouse desires
Offer yourself, body and soul
Regard his words full of fragrance
Say so the happily wedded sisters
This is how the spouse is pleased.
One has to give up self to attain Him
And in no other clever ways.
That day becomes auspicious when
The spouse looks at you with love
Such a one becomes dear to him
And she enjoys conjugal bliss
Enjoying such a bliss in all comfort
She’s always lost in his love.
She alone is beautiful and wise.
The above hymn explains the journey of an ignorant one to the one who has acquired wisdom and it states that if a woman wants to make her life a success and desires to experience conjugal bliss, this can’t be achieved by becoming beautiful with make up, but by giving up the ego, wiles, ordering about; indeed everything. To be a wedded wife worthy of the love of her spouse depends on the kindness of the spouse, just as the fulfillment of a servant’s desire depends on his master. In this way, taking the example of the relationship between the husband and the wife, the transformation of meanings in vogue in the Gurbani tradition is, in fact, the transformation of the feudal culture in which one has to become a slave – humble and helpless. Farid has defined a bhagat (devotee) in this way:
Mat hondi hoye eyana.
Tan hondai hoye nitana.
Anhondai aap wandaye
Ko aisa bhagat sadaye. (SGGS, 1384)
Should become ignorant, though wise
Should become powerless, though strong.
Should make oneself of no consequence
Only such a one can be called a devotee.
The depiction of this system clearly shows that Gurbani talks of the slavery of human beings in various aspects of life and makes him aware of this, and from this, essentially, is born the desire in him to rise against the establishment. As a matter of fact, Gurbani and Bhagatbani explain the pathetic conditions of slavery that obtain in society in their own characteristic manner, but still there are some pointers wherein this has been critically examined. The feeling of slavery assumes a quiet form when expressed mildly but when it is given through sharp comment it feels the pulse of the hidden malady and rouses it to a high pitch. It also becomes clear in Bhagatbani and Gurbani that the entire Gurbani culture aims at building a man in whom can be instilled a fiery spirit so that he becomes aware of his slavery and raises his voice against the establishment. The entire journey of Bhagat Ravidasbani seems to be passing through this process. Like the other bhagats having come from the Dalit class, Bhagat Ravidas is fully conscious of the Dalit psyche. That is why at every step he calls himself a menial, a poor and insignificant person and tries to bring to the fore the miserable state of the depressed classes and in this context he takes shelter under Raja Ram’s protection. In fact this is an attempt to highlight the insignificance of a low caste person when he enters the realm of Rama. Bhagat Ravidas has written many hymns with this end in view so as to present a special type of mannerism. Let’s take for example:
Meri sangat poch soch din rati
Mera karam kutilta janam kubhati
Ram Gusaiyaan jia ke jivna
Mohe na bisarhu main jan tera. Rahau.
Meri harhu bipat jan karhu subhayee.
Charan na chhadou sarir kal jayee.
Kahu Ravidas parau teri sambha.
Beg milho jan, kar na bilamba. (SGGS, 345)
I remain day and night in the
Company of low class people
I indulge in vices, am of low birth
O Rama, my master, don’t forsake me
I am thy most humble servant.
Remove my misery, give me dignity
I will not leave thy lotus feet even if
I may have to give up my life
Sayeth Ravidas, I seek your support
Come meet me now, without delay.
The poetic way of expressing the pain of slavery is a unique feature of his hymn. When this feeling reaches a peak, the devotion of Ravidas seems to experience such a high sense of ecstasy which has no equal. He writes:
Ghat avghat doogar Ghana
Ik nirgun bail hamaar.
Ramaiyai sio ik benti
Meri poonji rakh muraar.1
Ko banjaro Ram ko
Mera tanda ladya jaye reh. Rahau
Hau banjaro Ram kou sehaj karau vypaar.
Mai Ram Nam dhan ladya bikh ladi sansaar.
Urvar par ke dania likh lehu aal pataal.
Mohe jamdand na lagyee tajilai sarab janjal.3
Jaisa rang kasumbh ka taisa ehu sansar.
Merai Ramiyai rang majith ka
kahu Ravidas chamar. (SGGS, 345)
This journey through a difficult terrain
Is like that of a bull wandering aimlessly.
I pray to God to protect me (the wealth of my life)
Is there any one dealing in divine virtues
Who can join my caravan moving ahead?
I am a trader of His Name, trading equipoise.
I have laden the merchandise of Ram’s Name
But the world is engaged in loading evils.
O, The Benevolent One of this world and next!
Record fully all my actions devoid of wisdom
My assets would not be liable to any tax of Yama as I have declared and given up all my vices.
The world is of the hue of kasumb (carthamus tinctorius) which fades in no time.
But my Ramaiya’s colour is fast like majith (rubia munjista),
Sayeth Ravidas, the cobbler.
It is clear from the above hymn that when a slave, because of all his doings, becomes worthy of His Grace, he rises above the level of the world. This is the high ideal of devotion with its heavy gain. But from the point of view of human freedom, what is significant is that the actual existence of slavery of the depressed sections in medieval society is clearly described. Thus from this poetic thought emerges a devotion which gets transformed into political awareness. Thus through the metonymy of spiritualism, Bhagat Ravidas has created a metaphor, the paradigm of which has been highlighted through his hymns. Many instances of this kind can be found. But what is so wonderful is that along with his spiritual devotion, Ravidas has also presented his political awareness. It clearly goes to show that, first of all, Ravidas brings slavery, poverty and humility in a poetic way up to that paradigm which shows social slavery and helplessness at all levels. But along with this, he also builds the meaningful relevance of this paradigm.
Begampura seha ko nao.
Dookh andoh nahi teh thao.
Na taswis khiraj na mal.
Khauf na khata na taras jawal. 1
Ab mohe khoob watan gahe payee.
Oohan khair sada merai bhai. Rahau.
Qayam dayam sada patishahi.
Dom na sem eik so aahi.
Abadan sada mashoor.
Oohan gani baseh mamoor. 2
Tio tio sail kareh jio bhavai.
Mehram mehal na ko atkavai.
Kahe Ravidas khalas chamara.
Jo ham sehri so meet hamara. (SGGS, 345)
Begampura is the name of the town
Where there is no cause for worry or pain
There is no distress, no taxes or revenue
No fear, guilt, need for mercy or decline.
I have become fully conversant
With this homeland of mine now.
There is peace and prosperity, my brother.
There is complete stability of rule
None is secondary or third, all are equal.
The benevolent Lord there is well known
The affluent ones are the residents there.
One can move about there at one’s will
No one stops anyone from going anywhere
Says so, Ravidas, the humble chamar
Whosoever is a fellow-citizen is my friend.
At a conscious level this hymn can be explained very clearly. In other words, Ravidas has built a world of his own ideal. But the depth of meanings cannot be limited at this level. The question that arises is as to how Ravidas was able to construct this text. Firstly, in the entire process of the text the onward march is negative and in this negative stance, all the material used by him is dangerous for the individual in contemporary administration. To understand the full political import of this, we will have to devote special attention to the following:
The Begampura City in which there is no pain or fear is, in fact, the town of Ravidas’s imagination which he builds in opposition to Ghampura which is full of pain and worry. There is distress in this town and there is taxation and revenue collection as well. There is fear; there is no stability of governance. There is no peace or prosperity of any kind. There are levels – high, middle and low. No one is permitted to enter the royal palace. Thus Ravidas not only transforms the situational reality, he also brings the clever politics of the ruling class to the fore, which has turned human slavery into a permanent and deep-rooted reality. This manifests in Gurbani in the form of devotional love transformed in the poetic style, the social and political meanings of which lie hidden deep therein. These need to be highlighted to understand the awakening created in man who otherwise seems to be helpless about his slavery. The human concept of Ravidasbani can be seen in this direction.