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Who are the Ravidassis and why is Punjab burning?

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: May 26, 2009 17:55 IST
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Punjab and Haryana have been rocked by violence in the wake of the death of Sant Rama Nand, a leader of the Ravidassi sect, at the Guru Ravidass Gurudwara in Vienna. The protests have virtually brought life to a complete halt in Jalandhar, Amritsar and Jagadhri.

Sant Niranjan Das, another senior leader of the sect, was injured during the clash inside the gurudwara, but his condition is reportedly stable.

According to reports, some members of the Sikh community objected to the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib during the preaching by Sant Niranjan Das at the gurudwara. The enraged Sikhs opened fire on the Sant, and this led to the ensuing clashes. The followers of the Ravidassi sect have now taken to the streets, protesting against the death of their leader.

The Ravidassi sect is made up of followers from the lower strata of society, and it has established several gurdwaras across Austria, Canada, Europe and the United States. Read on to find out more about the community that has imbibed many practices of Sikhism over the years.

Who are Ravidassis?

Followers of Bhagat Ravidas are known as Ravidassis. They believe that Bhagat Ravidas is their spiritual master or the satguru. Their places of worships are known as gurudwaras, where the Shri Guru Sikhya Sahib or the Shri Guru Granth Sahib is kept in the main worship room.

Who was Ravidass?

Born in 1377, he was one of the best known spiritual poets. He was born in a family of cobblers and mended shoes to earn his living. He was a resident of Varanasi and was famous for his poems dedicated to the praise of the Almighty.

What was his aim in life?

Like Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, Bhagat Ravidass rejected the caste system prevalent in the Hindu community, and both believed in the presence of one omnipresent God.

What is his significance in Sikhism?

Guru Arjan Devji, the fifth spiritual leader of the Sikh community, included the preachings of Ravidass in the Guru Granth Sahib. This is why Ravidassis respect the Guru Granth Sahib as well as the other Sikh gurus.

If both members of the Sikh community and the Ravidassias believe in achieving the same goals, why are the two groups clashing?

Though there is no official information available on the reason behind the shootout in the Vienna gurudwara, reports indicate that those who fired on Guru Rama Nand may have been members of a rival faction. In spite of the efforts by Sikh gurus and Ravidass himself, the caste system is still prevalent among Sikhs.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi