Navdha Bhakti, as expounded in Ramcharit-manas, originally consists in the nine ways of devotion to God. But, as the medieval period approached there came to be added in this Navdha Bhakti another cult in virtue of Ramanand Swami. Known as Madhurya Bhakti, in this tenth cult Bhakta[devotee], having no other desire, loves God only for the love'ssake.
Later, when the devotees of the cult swelled to a sizeable number, they formed their own separate sect, Rasik Sampradaya. Born in 1399 AD near Mughalsarai, Ravidas, a cobbler by caste, was one of the great saints belonging to the Rasik Sampradaya; others being Kabir, Dahnna, Sain, Pipa, Padmavati, etc.?all from depressed class, and initiated by Ramanand Swami.
It is believed that since Ravidas'sparents were in close proximity of Ramananda Swami and held him on high esteem, he graced them with the child Ravidas by the power of his tapa [austerity]. And, as the time passed, the influence of Ramanand Swami on the family manifested more and more in Ravidas, who began to incline towards bhakti; so much so that his parents grew concerned of his future. And, they deputed him in the family business and even married him, thinking it might divert his mind to physical world. Yet, not deflecting from the chosen goal, Ravidas continued to earn the knowledge of Vedas, Upanishads and so on in the divine proximity of Ramananda, along with doing the ancestral profession of footwear. Whenever he would get a chance he accompanied Swamiji in participating religious polemics then held from place to place. Then, a time also came when even the greatest of contemporary sages began to surrender themselves before Ravidas in such polemics.
The tales of Ravidas'sspiritual wisdom soon spread all around, and when they reached the ears of the king of Kashi, he invited him to his palace. So mesmerised the king got to be to encounter the splendour in the bhakti of Ravidas that he offered him the highest honour of royal priest, one privileged with performing of ceremonial worship of Sri Rama of royal temple. But, this unprecedented step led to deep discontentment and jealousy among the orthodox Brahmins, as none other than Brahmin could have ascended to this supreme holy seat till then. There goes a very interesting legend regarding this episode: Seeing that the Brahmins would not so easily be pacified, Ravidas offered them a challenge that whoever by virtue of his bhakti would be able to call Thakur [statue of Sri Ram] near himself from the temple he would have the privilege to be seated on the palanquin and be taken around the Kashi by others giving their shoulders to the palanquin. And, when one by one all the Brahmins tried and failed to do so, Ravidas through the sheer miracle of his intense bhakti appeased Sri Ram and had him sit on his lap. Thus, according to the bet, the Brahmins,all their ego drained off, gave their shoulders to the palanquin, with Ravidas seated majestically on it, and took it around the city.
Ravidas by now had attained that divine state that the people of all the hues began to throng from far flung places to hear his religious discourses. Far ahead of his contemporaries in knowledge and outlook, he laid great emphasis on removing all kind of distinctions in religious and social affairs in his discourses. Rejecting the exclusivist approach to Dharma, he preached that moksha could be attained through either of the paths, Sakara or Nirakara. Being spiritual, he was, as a matter of fact, above the worldly bondage, yet he was not averse to the national exigencies of his time. Deeply hurt with the plight of Hindus then, he unequivocally condemned Mughals for treating them [Hindus] as ?Kafirs?. So also, adoring the value of freedom, he called the slavery as a sin.
It was the time when Rana Sangha was the king of Chittorgarh. Once, with his wife, Ratnakuwari Jhali, visited Kashi to have holy dip of Ganga. Coming to know of Ravidas from the folk there, they approached to his hut to join the satsang [religious congregation]. Divine bliss which they realised in virtue of satsang left such a deep impression on them that they accepted Ravidas as their Guru, and invited him to Chittorgarh as the royal guest. And, later, there came many occasions when Ravidas kept visiting them. And, from these visits born the great devotee of Sri Krishna, Mirabai?the daughter-in-law of Rani Jhali. It is said that Ravidas was the first to lay the seed of devotion in Mirabai. Ravidas made Chittorgarh his permanent home on the request of Rani Jhali. And, there one day this great soul departed to heavenly abode.
(The writer can be contacted at D-327, Nehru Nagar Bhopal, MP)