ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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From Bhakti to Buddhism: Ravidas and Ambedkar

Kanpur holds special importance for the dalit movement since it was the cradle of the Adi Hindu movement in Uttar Pradesh. This movement had a strong impact on dalits, especially in the years following Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism. This article examines how Ravidas became the most popular saint among the dalits in Kanpur and how the dalits accepted Buddhism in the 1980s. It also explains the emergence of Navayana Buddhism, which was conceptualised as the total rejection of Hinduism and was institutionalised with a temple and a Buddhist monk, a governing body of lay persons and a canon of public and private rites.

E very year in January/February jhankis (floats) are carried through the streets of many towns of Uttar Pradesh in honour of Sant Ravidas, a Bhakti saint of the 15th century. Not only that, special trains full of pilgrims start from Jalandhar in Punjab and go to Varanasi to celebrate the Ravidas jayanti (birth anniversary) there at the temple in Seer Goberdhan with prayers, speeches, music and communal meals for which all the poor and needy of Varanasi are invited. Sant Ravidas, the humble chamar shoemaker of the 15th century, has become the most popular saint in northern India. He was so pious and god-loving that even mother Ganga herself came to his aid. Born in the city of Varanasi and pursuing a polluting occupation he had such a great spiritual acumen that he became the guru of princess Mirabai of Chittorgarh.1 Repeatedly he came in conflict with the brahmins but withstood all ploys and pursued his trade and his teachings.

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