For the Love of God: Remembering the Mystic, Ravidas

If we’re asked to name any mystic poet-saints, most of us would probably only be able to name one or two – perhaps Rumi, Meera bai or Kabir would come to mind. However, throughout history, there have actually been many (though they may not be as widely known) who have walked the path of bhakti or devotion and communicated their ecstatic experience of the Divine through soulful and subtle poetic expressions. One such saint from around the 16th century in India, was Ravidas.

Ravidas lived in Varanasi and belonged to a very poor class of society, one that was involved in working with animal skins/hides, an occupation considered ‘unclean’ by orthodox standards. His guru was the Brahman saint Ramananda. Coming from a low caste himself, Ravidas was not only a spiritual figure but also a social reformer who urged the upliftment of the poorer sections of society. He continues to be revered in India today by both the Hindu and Sikh communities and noted as a figure who spread the spirit of unity among people.

Here is one of his sublime poems, translated into English by Nirmal Dass (source: onetruename.com).

 

THE CITY OF GOD

Grieve not is the name of my town.
Pain and fear cannot enter there,
Free from possessions, free from life’s taxes,
Free from fear of disease and death
After much wandering I have come back home
Where the wheel of time and change turns not,
And my Emperor rules, without a second or third,
In Abadan, filled with love and wisdom.
Where the natives are rich in the wealth of the heart,
Where all live ever free in the City of God,
Listen to Ravidas, just a cobbler:
All who live here are my true friends.

When I existed,
You did not.
Now You exist
and I do not:
as a storm lifts waves
from water —
still they are water
within water.
O Madho,
how can we describe
this illusion?
What we believe does not exist.
A mighty king sleeps
on his throne
and in his dream
becomes a beggar.
Seeing his kingdom vanish
before him
he greatly mourns —
such is our condition.
Like the tale
of the serpent
and the rope —
I know a little
of the secret.
Seeing many bracelets
we think gold has many forms —
but it is always forever gold.
In all things exists the Lord,
assuming countless shapes;
in each pore he plays and sports.
Ravi Dass say,
He is nearer than my hand.
All that comes to pass
is by His will alone.

Upon seeing poverty
people laugh and jeer,
and such was my plight.
But now I hold the powers
of creation
in the palm of my hand —
all because of Your mercy.
You know I am nothing,
O Ram, Destroyer of fear.
All creatures seek Your refuge,
O Prabhu, Fulfiller of desires.
Those who find Your refuge
suffer no more afflictions.
Because of You,
the high and the low —
all have gone across,
escaping from the prison
of this world.
Ravi Dass says,
The tale cannot be told,
so why speak further?
You are what You are.
What metaphor
can I possibly use
to describe You?

If You are a mountain,
then I am a peacock.
If You are the moon,
then I am a partridge.
O Madho, if You break from me,
then I shall break with You.
And if I break from You,
to whom shall I then go?
If You are the lamp,
then I am the wick.
If You are the shrine,
then I am the pilgrim.
My love for You
is true and real.
When I fell in love with You,
I gave up my love for others.
Wherever I go,
there I seek to serve You.
No other god
can be a Master like You.
By praising You,
I cut Yama’s noose.
Yearning for love
Ravi Dass loudly sings.

 

You may also like: The Yoga of Poets

 

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