Navdha-Bhakti, as expounded in Ramcharitmanas, originally consisted of the nine ways of devotion to God. But during medieval period there came to be added in this Navdha Bhakti one more cult of devotion 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’s sake. Later on, when the devotees of the cult swelled to a sizeable numbers, they formed their own separate sect RasikSampradaya.
SantRavidas also belonged to the RasikSampradaya.The details of Ravidas’s life are not well known. Most scholars state he was born in the year1450 and died in the year 1520. According to some he was born in 1376/7 or else 1399 CE.He was born in a village named Seer Goverdhanpur, near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Kalsa was his mother, and his father was Santokh Das. His parents belonged to a leather-workingcommunity, whose profession involved processing dead animals and their skins, which made them untouchables.
He was one of the great saints belonging to the Rasik-Sampradaya; others were Kabir, Dhanna, Sain, Pipa, Padmavati etc. , all from depressed class, and initiated by Ramanand Swami.It is believed that since Ravidas’s parents were in close proximity of Ramananda Swami and held him in 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 especially onRavidas, who began to incline toward Bhakti, so much so that the parents got worried about the future of their son. They deputed him in the family business and even got him married, thinkingthat marriage might divert his mind to physical world. But that too didn’t work andRavidas continued to learn the Vedas, Upanishads and so on in the divine proximity of Ramananda, while doing the ancestral profession of footwear with that. Whenever he would get a chance he accompanied Ramananda in religious discourses held in various places.A time came when even the greatest of the sages began to surrender themselves before Ravidas.
The tales of Ravidas’s spiritual wisdom soon spread all around, and when the king of Kashi heard about Ravidas, he invited him to his palace. The king got so impressed
with the Bhakti of Ravidas that he offered him the highest honour of royal-priest, one privileged with performing of ceremonial worship of Sri Ram’s royal-temple. But this unprecedented step led to deep discontentment and jealousy among the orthodox Brahmins, as none other than Brahmin could have ascendancy 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 Ram] near himself from the temple would have the privilege to be seated on the palanquin and be taken around the Kashi by others. One by one all the Brahmins tried but all of them failed to do so.Ravidas through the sheer miracle of his intense Bhakti appeased Sri Ram and made 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 both, he laid great emphasis on removing all kind of distinctions in religious and socialaffairs 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, above the worldly bondage, yet he was not detached to the national exigencies of his time. Deeply hurt with the plight of Hindus then, he unequivocally condemned Mughals for treating the Hindus as ‘Kafirs’. Adoring the value of freedom, he treated slavery assin.He propagated the message that caste has no meaning and its one’s own karmas that decide one’s fate.
When Rana Sanga was the king of Chittorgarh once he along with his wife, RatnakuwariJhali, visited Kashi to have holy dip in the Ganga. When he came to know of Ravidasfrom the folks there, he and his wife joined the satsang (religious congregation) held by Ravidas. 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 a royal guest. And, later on, there came many occasions when Ravidas visited Chittorgarh. And from these visits was born the great devotee of Krishna, Mirabai—the daughter-in-law of Rani Jhali. It is said that Ravidas was the first to lay the seeds of devotion in Mirabai.
Ravidas made Chittorgarhhis permanent home on the request of Rani Jhali. And there one day this great soul departed to heavenly abode.