Pipaji, a saint devoted to social awakening
MALWA HAD been under the influence of renowned seers who, from time to time, awakened its people from dogmatic rituals and showed them the true path of religion.
Aside from the king turned saint Bhartrahari and Adi Shankarachaya who weeded out unwanted elements from Hinduism at a time when worship was reduced to folk gods, the contribution of saint Pipaji in social, cultural and religious awakening of Malwa, Rajasthan and Gujarat during 14th century is no less significant.
A ruler of Gagron (Rajasthan), Maharaj Pipaji Khichi Chouhan (1323-1384 AD) gave up his kingdom at the age of 34 along with his queen Sita Solankini and saved Western India from the influence of Tuglaq Islamisation. He united the scattered sections of the society into a cohesive whole.
After receiving ‘diskha’ from his guru Swami Ramanand at Varanasi and spending some time with his brother-disciples Kabir and Raidas, he returned to Gagron to propagate ‘bhakti’ (devotional worship) while throwing his doors open to shudras and Muslims.
Born on Chaitra Purnima, the day Simhastha begins in Ujjain on May 5, a peep into Pipaji’s life offers an insight into the role saints play in building society when religion, social conscience and cultural identity are lost to foreign invasion. Pipaji did not profess a new faith but brought the fundamentals of religion into focus.
By the end of 12th century, Brahmin priests had turned to recitation of scriptures instead of raising militia against foreign invasion. A man or woman, who had passed single night in the captivity of Turks, was treated as an outcast. There was hopelessness all around as untouchability, superstition and polytheism peaked. It made social reforms imperative.
Even as people struggled to gain socio-cultural identity, Pipaji’s principles of truth, non-violence, love and labour instilled confidence in them to regain their lost identity. He raised a fifth class of the society (apart from Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras), which consisted of workers whom he trained in various skills.
Instead of hitting hard on caste system, it was a positive step to involve low class society into life’s mainstream. They were self-employed as tailors, dyers and textile block printers. History has it that he taught people to prepare dyes from the bark of a tree near Gagron. They began to call themselves Pipavanshis. Indore has about 6000 Pipavanshis who are dholis, cobblers, washermen, tailors and dyers.
His concept of ‘bhakti’ was not unproductive. He himself took to tailoring and was against saints depending on the society for sustenance. Opposed to the begging bowl, maths and math heads, he propounded, ‘Pipa tinku na ginu jinke math aur thath’ (Those with maths and luxuries cannot be considered saints).
He believed that gurus should be put to test before being conferred the status. He remarks ‘Pela guru ku parakh lu, pachche puju jaye, Pipo kacho khevato, ulte sab ree nav’ (Let me test the person before accepting him as a guru because an incapable boatman always topples the boat).
Opposed to idol worship and ‘sanyas’ (renunciation), he propounded ‘bhakti’ while remaining a householder. He said ‘Jo brahmande soi pinde, jo khoje soi pave’ (If searched one can experience the entire cosmos/divinity within himself). His Lord Ram was not idolatry but the supreme being present everywhere. It is because of this philosophy that his preaching finds place as ‘Pipavani’ in ‘Guru Granth Saheb’. Prominent Sikh guru Shri Arjan Dev included the preaching of Bhakt Pipa while compiling the holy book.
He recognised the significance of women’s role in social awakening. He was first saint in medieval India to make women step out of the veil and perform a constructive, participatory role in society building. This was the beginning of a revolutionary movement that was to place women on equal pedestal in the coming centuries.
The fact that he kept his queen Sitaji along with him after taking renunciation was a major step in an age infested with social evils. A prolific poet and musician, his available verses have been compiled as 153 ‘sakhees’, 45 ‘pad’, two ‘chintawani’, ‘kakhara jog granth’ and ‘padavalis’ that can be attuned in the Indian classical ragas. There are temples dedicated to Pipaji in various parts of Western India where fairs and special ‘puja’ are held on ‘Chaitra Purnima’ every year.