Dalit Hindu saints

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Himanshu Bhatt

The Dalit is a section of Hindu society generally referred as a "lower" caste that have produced several influential Hindu saints.[1][2][3] Some of the most notable Dalit Hindu saints are Ravidas, Kabir, Namdev, Chokha Mela, Sant Kanhoputra, etc.[4] Ravidas was the guru of not only saint Meerabai, but also of Queen Jali of Chittor, while Jalandhari was a Hadi or Net-holder and the guru of Queen Mainamati of Patika, Balak Das was the guru of the King Kawardha, and Rameshwara Prasad Gadhara Guru was the guru of Prince Rajkumar Dilip Singh of Jashpur. Shankaracharya adopted a Dalit as his guru, and upon doing so, he composed the Manisha Panchaka and this sholka ended with the words, "He who has learned to look on the phenomena in the light of Advaita is my true guru, be he non-caste or brahmin." Shankara bowed to his new guru.[5] Most Brahmins regularly bowed to Ravidas[6], accepting him as a true saint. Ramamanda himself embraced Ravidas.[7]

Many Dalit through their virtuous works, were given the title of Brahmin by non-Harijans. The most popular examples are Mātanga, Nandanar, Purnānanda, and Vālmiki. In one legend, Nandanar entered a fire and came out of the fire as a Brahmin.[8]

The term "Dalit" came from Hindu reformers such as the Ārya Samāj and Swami Vivekananda.[9] The Arya Samaj used the phrase 'dalitoddhara'[10] to upward social mobilization of Dalits. The term Harijan was initially coined by a Koli Adivasi saint of Gujarat named Kubera, who in his lifetime had at least twenty thousands disciples.[11] Then Narsimh Mehta picked up the phrase and began using it for the backward castes.[12] Mahatma Gandhi picked up the phrase and applied it to Dalits as well. Similarily in Ramanuja's era, the Brahmin Ramanuja gave the name Tirukulathar or "holy caste" to those who are of the Dalit caste.[13] Dalits are also known as Nirvasit Shudras, Paulkasa, Parasavas, and Pukkasas.

Some orthodox Hindu scriptures even describe God Almighty incarnating as a Śudra. An example is when Viṣṇu manifested as a Śudra and Harijan in the Śrimad Bhāgavatam where the God as the trinity of Brahma, Viṣṇu, and Śiva incarnates as a Brahmin, Śudra, and Harijan to test Rantideva.[14] Other examples are the case of Vithal taking the avatar of Vithya Mahar, or Pandhari assuming a Dalit avatar. Keshava Das wrote that Pandharinath assumed the formed of an outcaste named Vithu.

In Gujarat, Makarand Paranjape, when he was researching the Bhangi Dalits of the Swadhyaya tradition, a Bhangi member said to him the following:

   
Dalit Hindu saints
I am a Bhangi, but I also do the work of a Brahmin. A Brahmin is one who spreads knowledge, sanskārs; so I too am a Brahmin. I go on Bhakti pheris to spread the liberating message of Svādhyāya. So I am a Bhangi-Brahmin.[15]
   
Dalit Hindu saints

Saints

Of the irrelevance of caste, especially in terms of religion Basava Swami said the following:[16] In the Bhakti Era, saints from menial occupations continued work in their menial positions while also challenging barriers and worship God. The Varkari sect Sant Eknath writes of the non-Dwija saints:[17]
   
Dalit Hindu saints
Sankhya was a sweeper;
Agastya, a huntsman;
Durvasa, a cobbler;
Dadhici, a locksmith;
Kasyapa, a blacksmith;
Romaja, a coppersmith;
Kaundilya, a barber;
So, why should you then,
In ignorance of this,
Insist on caste?
   
Dalit Hindu saints
   
Dalit Hindu saints
God baked pots with Gora,
Drove cattle with Chokha,
Cut grass with Savata,
Wove garments with Kabir,
Colored hide with Rohidas,
Sold meat with the butcher Sajana,
Melted gold with Narahari
Carried cow-dung with Janabai,
and even became a Pariah messenger for Damaji.
   
Dalit Hindu saints

List of prominent historical saints

Sant Ghasidas stamp
Sant Ravidas stamp
Sant Vallavur stamp
Sant Vallavur statue at Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu
Name Ethnicity Caste Sect Compositions Other significance
Anayar Tamil Śaiva One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints
Andal Tamil Unknown/adopted Vaiṣnava
(devotee or Kṛṣṇa)
Nachiyar Thirumozhi, 143 verses; Thiruppavai, 30 verses. One of the 12 Alwar saints.
Arunagiri Tamil Kaumara (devotee of Murugan) Mahanatakasuktisudhanidhi, Ramabhyudaya Kavya, Prahasana, Thiruppukaz In total he wrote 1360 verses dedicated to Murugan.
Atipattar Tamil Śaiva One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints.
Avvaiyar Tamil Pana
(Musical bard)
Ganpatya She was the royal saint of Chera Dynasty's Prince of Thekadur, and re-converted her brother Marunikku who had converted to Jainism.
Bahiram Chokhamela Marathi Mahar Vaiṣnava Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Viṭhal.
Balak Das Marathi Mahar[18] Śaiva Wrote the Mahar Mahatmya declaring Samaji as the patriarch of the Maharṣi and Śiva as the God of the Mahars.
Balinath Buntinath Marwari Bhangi Vaiṣnava (Buntinath Panthi) Gangji was his successor.
Banka Mahar Marathi Mahar Vaiṣnava
(devotee of Vithoba)
Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Viṭhal.
Bappa Swamy Tulu
Bhagu Marathi Mahar Vaiṣnava
(devotee of Vithoba)
Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Viṭhal.
Binu[19] Bengali Tantrik
Birbhan Hindi Chāmar Satnami
Channayya Marathi Mahar[20] Śaiva (Lingayat) A disciple of Basava.[21]
Chikkayya Marathi Mahar Śaiva (Lingayat[22]) A disciple of Basava.
Chokha Mela Marathi Mahar Vaiṣnava Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Kṛṣṇa.
Dapa Muchi Hindi Chemlir (Cobbler) Darpa Narayani (Vaiṣnava) Founded the Darpa Nārāyani Vaiṣnava sect.
Damajipanth Marathi Mahar Vaiṣnava Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Viṭhal.
Dasrath Gajbhiye[23] Marathi (Musical bard) Vaiṣnava
(Kabir Panthi)
Debendranath Tagore Bengali Brahmo Samaji He was very well versed in Sanskrit and was an extremely important leader of the Brahmo Samaj. His Brahmo Samaji faction became known as the Adi Dharm.
Devi Das Hindi Chāmar Satnami A disciple of Jagjivan Das.
Dohar Kakkaya Kannada Leather-tanner Śaiva (Lingayat[24]) A disciple of Basava.
Dhanna Hindi Chamar Vaiṣnava
Ghasi Das Hindi Chāmar Satnami A prominent achiever of 'Saty' and aided the Satnami movement in Chhattisgarh India. His son, Balak Das was his successor (his memorable historical Jaistambh is in Giroud Puri Dham Disst, Raipur, Chhattisgarh.)
Ghisa Das Hindi Ghisa[25]
(Weaver)
Vaiṣnava
(Kabir Panthi)
Gopalanand Maharaj Marwari Sweeper Ārya Samāji Studied Vedanta from Pandit Bodhanandji. He composed several songs and poems. His father was Pandit Sanwalram.
Guruchand Thakur Bengali Namasudra Vaiṣnava
(Matua sect devotee of Vishnu)
Son of Sri Harichand Thakur, helped organize the Vaiṣnava Matua sect
Harahliah[26] Kannada Shoemaker Śaiva
(Lingayat)
Haran Ksepa Bengali Kshepa Tantric He was called "Buda Śiva" by Saint Jaganbandhu.
Haribava Gujarati Mahyavanshi Vaiṣnava He was a mendicant and had become a saint through his asceticism.
Harichand Thakur Bengali Namsudra Vaiṣnavism
(Matua devotee of Viṣṇu)
Founded Vaiṣnava Matua sect to worship Hari and preach Harinam[27] and a few of their songs even recognize Harichand as an avatār of Viṣnu[28]
Jagjivan Ram Hindi Aprisya Chamar Satnami
(devotee of Kṛṣṇa)
Who went to Calcuttta to become initiated as a Hindu saint, and is very well known as a major Dalit and Indian political leader
Jambrish Marathi Mang or Channayya[29]
Jitau Jeetbahadur (also Sadhu) Chāmar Vaiṣnava (Ravidasi) He was a dsiciple of Mohandasji of Kamalpur, and he preached Ravidas' teachings.
Jiwan Das Hindi Satnami He was a saint of the Satnami sect.
Jivan Das Gujarati Vaiṣnava
(Kabir Panthi)[30]
Kartanand[31] Punjabi
Kaliar Tamil Oil-presser[32] Śaiva Tamil one of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints
Kanho or Kanhopatra Marathi Mahar courtesan dancer Vaiṣnava
(devotee of Kṛṣṇa)
Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Kṛṣṇa.
Kangal Kshepa Bengali Kshepa Tantric On his grave clay horses are offered.
Kapinjalada According to Mahābhārata (Anushāsana Parvan 53.13–19) he became a Brahmin by his penances.
Karmamelam Marathi Mahar Vaiṣnava Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Vithal.
Kurippu Tondar[32] Tamil One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints
Kurma Das Vaiṣnava
Lalgir Hindi Sansi Śaiva
(Alakhgir)
Founded the Alakhgir Śaiva sect that worships Lord Śiva as Alakh or Formless.
Madara Channayya Kannada Cobbler Śaiva (Lingayat[33]) A disciple of Basava.
Madara Dhulayya Kannada Cobbler Śaiva
(Lingayat)
A disciple of Basava.
Mahatma Mohandasji Marwari Chāmar Vaiṣanva (Ravidasi)
Malamat Shah Satnami
Malisai[34] Tamil Vaiṣnava One of the 12 Alwar saints.
Mankai
(also Nilan)
Tamil Kalvar
(Robber)[35]
Vaiṣnava He was one of the 12 Alwar saints. He debated against Buddhists, Jains, and Śaivas, and was made King of Mankai (Tiruvalinatu) by a Chola monarch.
Malicai Alvar Tamil Adopted Vaiṣnava He was one of the 12 Alvar saints.
Mohini Devi Hindi Chāmar[36] Satnami Organized many Chamars.
Munibanan Tamil Sweeper Vaishnava
Namdeo Punjabi Dhobi
Nabha Das Hindi Dom Vaishnava Sant Ramanand's disciple.
Nalai Povar[37] Tamil One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints.
Nandanar
(also Nanthanaar)
Tamil Athanuur Shaiva One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints. Chidambaram, the main place where Nandanar practiced austerities is now a place where backward castes have their own ashrams and recite the Upanishads in Sanskrit[38]
Nandaram Das Bengali Unknown/adopted Vaiṣnava
(Gaudiya)
He was adopted by Kasiram Das (a Kāyastha) and he contributed to the Bengali Mahabharata written by Kasiram Das.
Nilakanta Tamil Potter[39] Śaiva One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints
Nilakanta Yazhpanar Tamil Pana[40]
(Musical bard)
Śaiva One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints
Nirmala Marathi Mahar Vaiṣnava Wrote many Abhangas devoted to Vithal.
Nulka Chandayya Kannada Mang[41] Śaiva
(Lingayat)
He was a disciple of Basava.
Pambatti Cittar Tamil Śaiva A well-known siddhar.
Panazhwar
(also Panalwar)
Tamil Pana[42]
(Musical bard)
Vaiṣnava One of the Alvar saints and considered an avatar from the mole on Lord Viṣṇu's chest.
Parshuram Hindi Chāmar Vaiṣnava
(Ramnami)
Founder of the Ramnami sect in Chhattisgarh
Prasanna Bengali Śakta
(devotee of Durga Ma)
Disciple of Kalachand.
Pipal Dass Punjabi Chāmar[43] Vaiṣnava
(Ravidasi)
Ram Das Punjabi Chāmar[44] Disciple of Lakhmir.
Ram Das Punjabi Dhed Ramdeo Panth (Vaishnava)
Ram Das Punjabi Ramdeo Panth (Vaiṣnava) He was the disciple of the Ramdeo Panth founder, also named Ramdas.
Ram Naval Hindi Bhangi[45] Vaiṣnava
(Naval Panthi)
His successors were Daya Ram Maharaj (his son), Ram Baksh Maharaj and the present-day Badri Ram Maharaj.
Rameshwara Prasad Gadhara Guru Hindi Sanatana Sant Samaji He was the guru of Prince Rajkumar Dilip Singh of Jashpur.
Ramsaran Pal Bengali Pal Vaiṣnava
(Kartabhaja)
Claimed to be a reincarnation of Kṛṣṇa.
Ravidas Hindi Chāmar Vaiṣnava
(Ravidasi)
The Guru of Mirabai. He is said to have taken up his family job of shoe-making and supplied shoes top ascetics. "My caste is low, my lineage is low, and mean is my birth. I have taken shelter, King Rama, says Ravidas the cobbler" (p. 659, Guru Granth Sahib). His disciples are the Ravidasis. He was a disciple of Ramananda, claimed by Harijans to be their master.[46]
Sadna Marathi Butcher
Sakhubai Marathi Vaiṣnava
Sarwan Das Punjabi Chāmar[43] Follower of Ravi Das and son of Sant Pipal Dass
Satya Kam Jabali[47] Servant There is a legend that in Puranic times, Jabali rishi had his ashram in Utkantheshwar, and this is how the city originated.
Shatakopa Tamil Kanjar[48] or Bhiton Alwar devotee, Yamuna Muni declared, "I touch my feet at the holy feet of Shatakopa"
Shobhi Ram Hindi Chāmar Vaiṣnava
(Śiva Narayani)
He was a close disciple of Śiva Narayan converted hundreds to the Śiva Narayani sect. From his faith was influenced his son was Jagjivan Das the Satnami saint.
Sooli Cholakka Kannada Concubine[49] Śaiva
(Lingayat)
She was a disciple of Basava.
Soyarabai Marathi Mahar[50] Sant Chokha Mela's wife
Supach[51] Vaiṣnava
(devotee of Krishna)
Tejananda Gujarati He was known by title "Swami" (priest) and being he is greatly revered and an inspiration, the Dalits of Gujarat have named institutions after him such as the Shri Tejanand Swami Karmakand.
Thykad Ayyavu Swamy Tamil Pariah[52] Kaumara
(devotee of Muruga)
Trikam Das Gujarati Vaiṣnava
(Kabir Panthi)[30]
Umaid Ram Maharaj Hindi Bhangi[53] Vaiṣnava He was a mendicant. His successors were Sukaram Maharaj, Deepa Ram Maharaj and the present-day Mangi Ram Maharaj.
Vakhna Mirasi[54]
(Sweeper)
Vaiṣnava
(Dadu Panthi)
He was a disciple of Dadu Dayal.
Vandi Tamil Roadside Hawker Śaiva
Valluvar[55] Tamil Sambhavan
(Corpse-burrier)
Śaiva Tirukkural One of 63 Nayanar Śaivite saints, whose Tirukkural is held in high esteem even in modern times.
Vishvanath Maharaj Marwari Dhanak Tadvi
Vithal Ramji Shinde Marathi Chāmar[56] Prartna Samaji A member of the Prathna Samaj and founder of the Depressed Classes Mission organization for the upliftment of backward-caste Hindus.

Mixed Dalit-Brahmin saints

Other respected sages in Hindu society

  • Arjun Lal, disciple of Ravidas, wrote several bhajans
  • Namdev Mahar, Mahar,[59] devotee of Sai, lived in Kharagpur
  • Bhagubai, wife of Namdev Mahar,[59] devotee of Sai
  • Mumbaji Gossain, follower of Tukaram

See also

References

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