Sri Guru Ravidass Maharaj (also Raidas, Rohidas and Ruhidas in eastern India) was a North Indian Sant mystic of the bhakti movement who was active in the 15th century CE. Venerated in the region of Uttar Pradesh as well as the Indian state of Maharashtra, his devotional songs and verses made a lasting impact upon the bhakti movement. He is often given the honorific “Bhagat” or “Sant”. Guru Ravidass was also founder of the Ravidassia Religion. He was a suave socio-religious reformer, a thinker, a theosophist, a humanist, a poet, a traveller, a pacifist and above all a towering spiritual figure before whom even head-priests of Benaras lay prostrate to pay homage
He was a shoemaker of the Chamar caste Kutbandhla. All of his devotional songs were included in the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. There is also a larger body of hymns passed on independently that is claimed and attributed to ravidas by some. Ravidas was subversive in that his devotionalism implied a levelling of the social divisions of caste and gender, yet ecumenical in that it tended to promote crossing of sectarian divides in the name of a higher spiritual unity. He taught that one is distinguished not by one’s caste (jāti) but by one’s actions (karma) and that every person has the right to worship God and read holy texts. He opened a frontal attack against the system of Untouchability. He rejected the tradition of Brahmin mediator to reach the Supreme Being. He also said that one need not to hide his caste or leave his low profession to reach God. He became a model for his fellow beings to overcome the hierarchical barriers of Brahminical Social Order and to establish Begumpura – a state without fear and sorrows. Guru Ravidass elevated the status of the labour by emphasizing on the fact that honest labour is empowering.
The details of Guru Ravidass’ life are controversial. According to some he was born in 1376/7 or else 1399 CE but many scholars offer later dates. Schaller estimates his lifespan as 1450-1520 while the Encyclopaedia Britannica contents itself with a floreat of 15th-16th century CE. Partly this is due to traditions that make him, the guru of Meera (according to a song attributed to her: “guru miliyaa raidasjee”). However, as Schaller points out, the importance of such claims lies in their establishing the authority of a lineage of gurus (parampara). One may count oneself a disciple of a master without having actually met him.