Imagine being born into a world where everything has been decided for you. For generations, the Indian caste system dictated and influenced almost every aspect of Hindu religious, political and social lives. Upper and lower caste
This paper is going to examine the religious origins of caste permeates
Caste hierarchy is maintained by Ravidas not having to challenge the caste system. Ravidas never tried to change the social system and accepted his outcaste status and all prejudices.
The caste system or varna in Sanskrit, originates back to The Rig Veda, one of the four vital sacred text collections that constitutes the Vedas. The Rig Veda is an ancient text that contains sacred hymns of more than a thousand chants to Aryan gods. It is also considered as one of the most important out of the four collections because it contains an account of the origins of the universe. The universe is said to have emerged by sacrificing a cosmic being with supernatural powers named Purusha, to create all life. “When they divided Purusha the first person, a superbeing, in how many different portions did they arrange him? What became of his mouth, what of his two arms? What were his two thighs and his two feet called? His mouth became the brahman priest; his two arms were made into the rajanya warrior-noble; his two thighs the vaishyas merchants; from his two feet the shudra peasant was born.” (Molloy 88).
The caste system divides people into four castes -Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. At the top of the social order are the Brahmins. The Brahmins is made up of priests who conducts Vedic rituals. Following the Brahmins are the Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas take on all forms of public service. This includes warriors, rulers and administrators who serve the country, while the mercantile and business people in society are categorized under the Vaishyas. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the Shudras, which consists of labourers and service providers who traditionally serve the higher class. Outside of this Hindu caste system were the Dalits or the untouchables. Dalits worked as labourers like the Shudras, but they were more exposed to unsanitary working conditions. This includes cleaning up after dead animals, tanning animal hides and dealing with both human and animal waste. For these reasons, the Dalits experienced discrimination and hate from upper caste.
The story of Ravidas’s life is both unusual and controversial. According to the article, “A Dalit Poet-Saint: Ravidas” by J.S. Hawley, Ravidas lived in Hinduism’s oldest city, Benares. He was a shoemaker, a member of the camar subcaste, that constantly worked with dead animal skins to produce leather products. Daily contact with the hides of dead animals were deemed to be polluting and impure so people like Ravidas was considered “untouchables” in the society. Even though Ravidas was considered as a Dalit
Ravidas was a prominent figure in the bhakti movement. With bhakti or sometimes called loving devotion, caste and gender issues became more democratic. This meant that a member of any caste could be acknowledge as holy and be respected by all. Belonging as he did to one of the lowest castes of Hindu society, the spiritual status he attained as being recognized as a bhakti poet saint was greatly troubling for traditional Hindus of his time.