The Legacy of Guru Ravidas on his birthday (Gurpurb), 7th February
Chaudan saai tetees ki magh sudi pandras,
Dukhion ke kalyan hit pargte Guru Ravidas
As per this couplet Guru Ravidas was born on 15th of Magh Saudi, full-moon day of 1433 at Seer Govardhanpur at Kashi (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh). His father’s name was Santokh Das and mother’s Kalsa Devi. Guru Ravidas married to Mata Loona, a very humble woman who supported him throughout his life.
During the times of Guru, the large section of society was tottering heavily under brutal enforcement of caste system and untouchability practices, the then Untouchables bearing the most. Socially ostracized and put under strict caste-based restrictions they were living a life worse than animals.
In such environment, Guru Ravidas, a cobbler and an untouchable himself, emerged as a formidable challenge to Brahminical hegemony and spoke for the rights of downtrodden. He openly denounced all he brahminical scriptures like Vedas, Puranas, Smritis, Upanishads etc as these promoted the hegemony of Brahmins and justified the social inequality and exploitation of masses. As he says -
Charon ved kiya khandoti, Jan Ravidas kare dandoti
(I, Ravidas, proclaim all Vedas are worthless)
His was the direct attack on the spiritual hegemony of Brahmins that sprang from their claims of Vedas and other brahminical scriptures being infallible and repositories of Truth and Knowledge. While exposing the fallacies of the brahminical propaganda, Guru Ravidas made enormous efforts to provide a simple socio-religious alternative to the labouring masses that would seek equality for all human beings and require no religious rituals.
Guru Ravidas is one of the country’s foremost socio-religious revolutionary who not only attacked the socio-religious inequalities but also preached for liberty, equality and fraternity for all. He was a great poet whose couplets still reverberate among the toiling masses of this country.
He is also known as the one who invented Gurumukhi language against Sanskrit that was monopolized by Brahmins and declared as taboo even for other caste-Hindus. The impact of Guru Ravidas on the Indian society can be well understood by the fact that the entire Sikh Bani (Sikh teachings) are written in Gurumukhi.
We all are well aware of how Babasaheb Ambedkar exhorted us to “Educate” likewise, many centuries before, Guru Ravidas was saying -
Avidya ahit keen, taatay vivek deep bhava maleen
(Ignorance, no education has done much damage; it has eclipsed our rationale)
If you want to destroy a society, destroy its history and the society will get destroyed automatically. – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
Hindu fundamentalists have always taken a keen interest in destroying Dalit-Bahujans history so as to make them disable mentally. Historians as usual here also played with the truth and misled the people for centuries. As Buddha is projected as 10th avatar of Vishnu, same way Brahminical forces tried their best to project Guru Ravidas as one of their 33 crores fake gods. Many scholars tried to show Swami Ramanand as Guru Ravidas’s Guru. We all need to think logically, how could it have been possible for Swami Ramanand to accept Guru Ravidas as one of his student? Shudra rishi Shambuk was murdered by king Rama just on doing meditation/worshiping god. Daronacharya had forced Eklavaya to cut thumb of his right hand as ‘Guru Dakshina’. Time when Casteism, discrimination was on peak, when Dalits were murdered, their ears were cut down if they ever tried to hear praise of god, or they tried to worship, when the touch or even a shadow could impure so called upper caste people, how could it have been possible for Swami Ramanand (who was follower of king Rama’s ideas) to accept Guru Ravidas?
Some others tried to show Guru Ravidas as a Brahmin or Brahmin in his previous life, because they were not able to digest the humiliation of being thrashed by Guru Ravidas’s open challenge to caste system. They could have tolerated this shame if any Brahmin would have been talking against the caste system or challenging their supremacy as they had tolerated Char-wak. Many so called scholars have given false claims that Guru Ravidas was Brahmin in previous life and he ate meat so couldn’t reach the god (attain truth) and he was born in lower caste in next life.
If we wish to be free, we must fight. Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death. – Patrick Henry (March, 1775)
History of India is nothing but the struggle between untouchables and so called upper castes. However the Indian historians have always misled us by not showing the true face of Indian History.
The glorious victory of few hundred untouchable soldiers over numerically superior Peshwas army in the battle of Koregaon, fought on 1st January, 1818, is one such chapter in Indian history whose significance has been carefully hidden.
On that day, when many were busy celebrating the new year, a small force of 500 mahar (an untouchable caste in Maharashtra) soldiers in the British army were preparing for a war against the most brutal Indian state of that times – Brahmin Peshwa rulers of Pune, Maharashtra.
In the history books, this battle is considered an important one and is known as second Anglo-Maratha war that resulted in the total destruction of Peshwa kingdom and sealed the victory of British Empire in India. However, there is a different historical dimension to this war that all of us need to be aware of.
This war was also between the Indian untouchables (who were condemned to live a life so miserable that you might not find any parallels in the world history) and Brahminism (manifested through brahmin rulers from Pune).
For mahar soldiers, this was not just another battle but it was their battle for self-respect, dignity and against the supremacy of Manusmriti. And these soldiers, just 500 of them, defeated the Peshwa army of over 30,000 in just one day. Their victory against a mighty force is perhaps unparallel in Indian history.
Maharashtrian society under brahmin’s rule followed worst form of social discrimination based on caste wherein the lower strata of society such as untouchables were confined to the stringent Brahmanical laws and subsequently their mobility and development were impaired.
The untouchables had to carry a broom stick attached to their backs so that when they enter into city, their footprints would not pollute the path. They were forced to put a pot around their neck to carry their spit in the pot. They were not allowed to hold any arms and education was completely barred. Untouchables were killed if they did not follow these restrictions. Bhima-Koregaon battle was the answer of the untouchables to the brahmin ruling class of the country.
Shahu was born on 26 June 1874 as Yeshwantrao Ghatge, eldest son of Appasaheb Ghatge, chief of Kagal (senior) by his wife Radhabai, a daughter of the Raja of Mudhol [Maharashtra]. He was adopted by Anandibai, widow of Raja Shivaji IV, in March 1884. Several generations of inter-marriage had ensured that Shahu’s family was connected intimately with the ruling dynasty of Kolhapur, which is apparently what rendered him a suitable candidate for adoption, despite his not being a male-line member of the Bhonsle dynasty. A council of regency was appointed by the British government of India to oversee affairs of state during Shahu’s minority and during that time he was tutored in administrative affairs by Sir Stuart Fraser. Shahu was invested with ruling powers upon coming of age in 1894. There is one college named Rajaram college built by Shahu Maharaja.
Shahu Maharaj is credited with doing much to further the lot of the lower castes. He did much to make education and employment available to all: he not only subsidized education in his state, eventually providing free education to all, but also opened several hostels in Kolhapur thereby facilitating the education of the rural and low-castes. He also ensured suitable employment for students thus educated, thereby creating one of the earliest known Affirmative action programs in history of India. Many of these measures were effected in the year 1902.
Shahu’s other initiatives included restricting Child marriage in his state and the encouragement of intercaste marriage and widow remarriage. He long patronized the Satya Shodhak Samaj but later moved towards the Arya Samaj. Under the influence of these social-reform movements, Shahu arranged for several non-brahmin youths to be trained to function as priests, in defiance of timeless convention which reserved the priesthood for those of the brahmin caste. However, he faced opposition from many, including Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the very famous patriot of that time. There are many instances of Shahuji Maharaj and Dr. Ambedkar where they shared a common bond and is well evident in Mooknayak (weekly publication by Dr. Ambedkar).Shahuji Maharaj during his address in the depressed classes conference Kolhapur said described Dr. Ambedkar as the future national leader and shocked orthodox society by dining with Dr. Ambedkar. .
Chhatrapati Shahu was very fond of wrestling and encouraged it in his kingdom. Many wrestlers from all over India came to Kolhapur, as wrestling enjoyed royal patronage in Kolhapur.
The government of India hails Shahu as “A social revolutionary, a true democrat, a visionary, a patron of the theatre, music and sports and a prince of the masses. Chhatrapati Shahu was a many-splendoured personality who thought and acted far ahead of his times.”
Full name and titles
During his life he acquired the following titles and honorific names:
§ 1874-1884: Meherban Shrimant Yeshwantrao Sarjerao Ghatge
§ 1900-1903: His Highness Kshatriya-Kulawatasana Sinhasanadhishwar, Shrimant Rajarshi Sir Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaj Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja of Kolhapur, GCSI
§ 1903-1911: His Highness Kshatriya-Kulawatasana Sinhasanadhishwar, Shrimant Rajarshi Sir Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaj Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja of Kolhapur, GCSI, GCVO
§ 1911-1915: His Highness Kshatriya-Kulawatasana Sinhasanadhishwar, Shrimant Rajarshi Sir Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaj Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja of Kolhapur, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO
§ 1915-1922: Colonel His Highness Kshatriya-Kulawatasana Sinhasanadhishwar, Shrimant Rajarshi Sir Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaj Sahib Bahadur, Maharaja of Kolhapur, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO
§ Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India (GCSI)-1895
§ Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO)-1903
§ Delhi Durbar Gold Medal-1903
§ Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (GCIE)-1911
§ Delhi Durbar Gold Medal-1911
Once the late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Dams are not just constructions of cement and concrete, but in fact are places of pilgrimage in the modern India.” This was not the first vision towards this development as Kolhapur’s King Shahu Maharaj realized it almost 100 years before and decided to construct Radhanagari Dam, which is considered the second dam in India (next to Kallanai by Karikala Chola), on 18 February 1907. The place of the dam was decided and construction of houses for labourers and officials was started which took almost two years, so the foundation stone for the dam was laid down in 1909. In those days, there were neither engineering experts nor the availability of a skilled labor force; hence work progressed at a very slow rate. There is a story about the shortage of funds also in air but King Shahu Maharaj was determined to complete the project so that the water for irrigation would be available in abundance so it would add to the per capita income of Kolhapurkars.
Radhanagari Dam was completed in 1935 and since 1938 has been working at full capacity. Normally it is said that Indian kings and rulers overlooked the problems of common citizens but Radhanagari Dam is the living illustration of Shahu Maharaj’s vision towards the development and welfare of common citizens.