10 facts about Dera Sachkhand Ballan, and why politicians woo it

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Mar 16, 2016 00:19 IST
Guru Ravidass was born in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh (Photo courtesy-Facebook)

While Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener Arvind Kejriwal visited Dera Sachkhand Balan on Tuesday in an attempt to woo Dalit voters, we bring to you some facts about the dera and the legacy of the Ravidassias.

1.Dera Sachkhand is one of the most powerful religious temples of Ravidassias in the village of Ballan near Jalandhar, which has been flourishing since 1980s.

2.It is based on the teachings of Indian guru Ravidass.The dera was founded in the 21st century. However, some say that the first Ravidassia dera was formed in colonial British India in early 20th century.

3.Dera Ballan has been known as the Mecca of the Ravidassia Dalits dominant in Doaba region. It is widely believed that the dera — situated around 7km from Jalandhar — has emerged as the prime ‘protector’ of Ravidassias in recent times, particularly after the murder of its deputy leader at Vienna (Austria).

4.The Ravidassia organisation has many other deras in India and overseas. In 2009, Sant Niranjan Das and Sant Rama Nand were wounded in Vienna, Austria after some armed assailants had attacked the Guru Ravidass temple. Sant Rama Nand had succumbed to injuries, which had led to violence in Jalandhar district.

5. This had triggered the followers to establish a new religion different from Sikhism altogether. The Dera Ballan compiled their own holy book-the Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji-based on the teachings of their guru. The announcement of the new religion was made by present sect head Niranjan Dass in January 2010 from the birthplace temple of Guru Ravidass in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. That temple is considered a physical milestone in the sect’s journey to its present-day stature and significance.Their new holy book was installed in Jalandhar temple on the birth anniversary of Guru Ravidass on February 1, 2012. The book contains 240 hymns of the guru. However, some say that only a small fraction of Ravidassia families decided to adopt Amrit Bani (separate holy book).The rest still respect only Guru Granth Sahib.

6. Dalits constitute about 32% of the population in Punjab, which is the highest, percentage-wise, among all states. Of this, over one-third (12% of Punjab’s population) identify as Ravidassias, followers of Ravidass, a poet-saint of the Bhakti movement from the 15th century who is particularly revered as a Dalit icon.

7.. Most of the Dalit or Scheduled Castes (SC) population is concentrated in Doaba region, taking the SC proportion here to around 45%. The region sends 23 representatives to the state assembly of 117, and the dera has direct influence on at least 19 seats, where Ravidassia community’s vote-share ranges from 20% to 50%.

8. Dera Ballan had a following among non-Ravidassia Dalits too, though that has declined after it made a separate religion. Also, unlike some other sects Dera Ballan has not made its politics public so far. Its followers, however, are largely seen as divided between the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), an arithmetic that has sometimes even given as advantage to the SAD-BJP since opposition votes are divided.

9.When Kanshi Ram started a struggle which later became the BSP, the dera grew close to its leaders, so much so that the foundation stone of Guru Ravidass Gate at Varanasi was laid by Kanshi Ram on May 25, 1997. It was inaugurated by the then President KR Narayanan on July 16, 1998. In later years, however, it was largely seen as favouring the Congress as its leader Chaudhary Jagjit Singh, who died last year, remained close to the sect’s top leaders.

10.The heads of the religion are known as the sadhus, or the Sant Samaj. The leader of the religion is known as the Gaddi Nashin. Sant Niranjan Dass is the current Gaddi Nashin. The fifth and current head of Dera Sachkhand Ballan is Niranjan Dass, who was offered by his parents to the dera as per its ‘Chadhava’ convention. As per the dera rules, only those get the chance to be Gaddi-Nashin (holders of the chair) who come through the convention in childhood.

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