Why do Dalits of Punjab celebrate Ravidas Jayanti in Varanasi?

Ground Report | New Delhi: Why Dalits celebrate Ravidas Jayanti; Ravidas Jayanti on Wednesday amid UP and Punjab elections will once again turn into a Dalit outreach program for political parties such as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and the Aam Adami party MP Sanjay Singh will arrive at Ravidas temple to pay respects on the occasion.

The Electoral Commission decided on Monday to postpone the Punjab Assembly elections to February 20 from the February 14 scheduled earlier. The decision was taken following requests from several political parties in view of the Guru Ravidas Jayanti.

The annual three-day fair, held in the town of Govardhanpur in Varanasi, marks the anniversary of the birth of Sant Ravidas, a 15th and 16th-century mystical poet-saint of the Bhakti movement. As he chops onions outside a tent where langar is served, Kulwant Singh, 45, is happy to be able to travel to Varanasi for Ravidas Jayanti and can still return to Punjab to vote.

Who is the Ravidassia?

The Ravidassias are a Dalit community, who regards Saint Ravidas as their guru. Ravidas is a 15th-century poet, saint, and philosopher, who founded the Ravidassia religion. The Dera Sachkhand Ballan began replacing the Guru Ganth Sahib with Amritbani – its own Granth which includes 200 hymns by Guru Ravidas – from 2010, according to a report by The Indian Express.

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The Dera Sachkhand Ballan is the largest Dera of the Ravidassias with around 20 lakh followers worldwide. Of these, about 15 lakh live in Punjab in the Doaba region. The region has 23 of the 117 total Assembly seats in the state. The word Dera derives from the Persian word Derah or Dirah, which literally means a camp, abode, monastery, or nunnery. It is the traditional term used for a Hindu equivalent of mathematics.

Dalits constitute almost 32% of the population of Punjab. According to The Indian Express report, the highest concentration of Dalits in Punjab is in Doaba. The region has 37% of the total Dalit population in the state. Of the entire Dalit population in Doaba, approximately 61% are Ravidassia.

“Of the 39 SC castes in Punjab, the four main castes of Chamar (23.45%), Ad-dharmi (11.48%), Balmiki (9.78%) and Mazhabi (29.72%) constitute 74, 44% of the total SC population,” said Professor Ronki Ram of Panjab University, Chandigarh..

The postponement of the election shows the importance of the Ravidassia community in Punjab. The Ravidasiyas are a Dalit community, most of whom live in the Doaba region. Of the 20 million followers of Sashkhand worldwide, about 1.5 million live in Punjab. Most live in the Doaba region, which has 23 assembly seats (total assembly seats in Punjab – 117). About 61% (11.88 lakh) Dalits of Doaba belong to the Ravidasiya community.

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Spread over 20 acres, the venue for this fair is adjacent to the Hindu University of Benares. There are two days left for the festival to begin, but from the very Monday people’s mood is festive as the birthplace, Sant Ravidas memorial, food, toys, photographs and symbol idols Dalits are found around the stalls. There are also tents dispensing langar and other things that serve as resting places for pilgrims.

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