Jagadguru Ramanandacharya: The “Ramavatar” who fought caste system

Jagadguru Ramanandacharya

जात पात पूछे नही कोय
जो हरि को भजे सो हरि का होय

jāta pāta pūche nahī koya
jo hari ko bhaje so hari kā hoya

– Jagadguru Ramanandacharya

Here (in Ramanandi sect), nobody asks for your caste. Whoever worships Ram, becomes His own.

It was another day in Vikram Samvat 1356 when residents of Bharat were fighting odds within and without. We were suffering from atrocities of Islamic rule. The varna system, due to misinterpretation of scriptures, prevented countless souls to accept the devotion of Shri Ram. The religious classification of varna turned into staunch belief system of caste due to such misinterpretations and it further broke the backbone our society. As each and every Hindu started suffering, no religious stalwart could help.

When all eyes had tears in Bharat, Lord Himself decided to fulfill His promise yet again!

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge

As per scriptures like Agastya Samhita, Bhavishya puran, Vaishvanar Samhita, Lord Ram decided to re-appear in Bharatvarsha yet again to personally hug and deliver every crying soul from sufferings.

            māghe kṛṣṇe ca saptamyāṃ citrānakṣatra saṃyute।

kumbhalagne siddhi yoge susapta daṇḍage ravau।
rāmānandaḥ svayaṃ rāmaḥ prādurbhūto mahītale।

-Vaiśvānara saṃhitā

āvirbhūto mahāyogī dvitīya iva bhāskaraḥ।
rāmānanda iti khyāto lokoddharaṇa kāraṇaḥ॥

-Agastya saṃhitā

Shri Ram appeared in his Guru avatar of Jagadguru Ramanandacharya, exactly today as per the Hindu calendar 718 years ago, in Shri Ramananda sampraday. This doctrine should not be a surprise, almost all sampradays saw the re-appearance of their benevolent Lord. Lord Shiva appeared as Shankaracharya, Lord Krishna appeared as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Adishesha appeared as Ramanujacharya etc.

It was Jagadguru Ramanandacharya ji who began accepting disciples from all sects of the society. Despite of any varna, religion, he considered everyone eligible to take refuge of Shri Ram. The renowned list of disciples include Kabirdas (Muslim), Raidas (who worked as a cobbler), Dhanna (from jaat community), Sena (a barber), Pinara merchant (Vaishy community), Pipa (Kshatriya). Further in disciplic succession are Goswami Tulsidas ji (the saint was picked by Ramanandacharya ji’s disciple when he was a five year old orphan and his caste was not known), Meerabai (a Kshatriya and a disciple of cobbler saint Raidas), Nabhadas (the child saint was picked by disciple of Ramanandacharya when his caste was not known).  

He was the first brave Guru witnessed by Bharat who gave this unprecedented declaration:

sarve prapatteradhikāriṇaḥ matāḥ śaktā aśaktā padayorjagatprabhoḥ |
apekṣyate tatra kulaṃ balaṃ ca no na cāpi kālo na ca śuddhatāpi vai ||

-Śloka 110, Śrī Vaiṣṇava Matābja Bhāskara

Irrespective of one’s age, gender, caste, social status, physique etc. everyone is rightfully eligible for taking refuge of Lord Ram’s lotus feet. Whether a soul is competent, strong or weak, rich or poor, of higher or lower class, pure or impure, in all states he is rightfully eligible to take refuge of Shri Ram’s lotus feet. Nothing is expected from souls for surrendering into lotus feet of Lord Ram.

History scripted these words of Svami ji in golden letters. Due to this announcement, a lot of people, who were earlier regarded as low castes, got courage to visit Svami ji’s hermitage to attend spiritual discourses. Just like the sun dispels darkness, Svami ji single handedly took up the task to remove the social evils of untouchability and discrimination from the society and provided devout souls a path to accept Lord’s refuge.

To bring Bharat out of shackles of caste discrimination, he initiated all sects in Ram bhakti and brought them to a level where they became self-sufficient to preach the nectar of devotion within their communities. He gave Raidas, Kabirdas, Tulsidas, Meerabai, Narsi Mehta the right to preach all sections of the society in vernacular language as every section couldn’t understand Sanskrit and need of hour was to keep Hindu dharma safe from Islamic conversions and bring back those who were converted.

Accepting people from all castes as disciples:

Saint Raidas: Raidas or Ravidas was born to Ragghu and Divya in a family of cobblers and dealt in making footwear using leather. He was very much inclined towards worshipping Shri Ram. Ramanandacharya ji became one of the very first saints who personally entered the locality of cobblers when Raidas was born to bless him. Seeing his devotion and thirst for getting a refuge as he grew up, Jagadguru Ramanandacharya ji accepted Raidas ji as his disciple and motivated him to write verses in vernacular language. Some of the most famous being ‘Prabhuji tum chandan hum paani’, ‘Man changaa, to kathaute mein Ganga (if the heart is pure, river Ganga appears in your own vessel’).

Jagadguru Ramanandacharya
Sant Raidas

Today, his teachings have become so prominent that a separate branch Ravidassia has high visibility in Punjab, United Kingdom. Almost all the cobblers still start their day with worshipping Guru Raidas.

Sen Nai: Sen was born to Ugra and Yashoda in a family of barbers. He was highly learned and used to attend the discourses of Jagadguru Ramanandacharya ji. Once he entered in a philosophical debate with a follower of Advaita sect on whether one should keep a shikha (hair tuft at the back of head) or not. Noticing his inclination and knowledge, he was initiated by Ramanandacharya ji in Ram bhakti. He is considered as one of the most prominent disciples of the sect.

Bhakt Bhaajan: A group of cobblers used to live in outskirts of Kashi. A cobbler named Bhaajan was extremely devoted to Shri Ram and had developed a taste for chanting Ram naam. Jagadguru Ramanandacharya ji personally walked in their locality and hugged Bhaajan. The cobblers had seen a saint for the very first time amongst their society and their joy knew no bounds.

Dhanna Jaat: Dhanna was born to Pannalal and Revabai in family of jaats (now classified as OBCs in India). He used to worship Shaligraam shila from childhood days and was very devoted. After seeing his love for Lord, he was initiated into Vaishnavism by Ramanandacharya ji.

Jagadguru Ramanandacharya ji led by example to fight caste system. He initiated anyone who had love for Ram despite of their varna. He took disciples of all varnas on spiritual processions and allowed them to worship Lord in temple, defeating anyone and everyone in philosophical debates who tried to stop people of particular varna. He uplifted them to a level where they themselves rose to fight the evils creeping in society.

As the varna system today has become a monster of caste and we are being exploited by politicians to further break into pieces, it is a right time to identify our true heroes who had spent their lifetime in uniting the society.