Guru Ghasidas was a Hindu saint who founded the city of Khadke near Shahapur in 1852. He died on 20 February 1903 at the age of ninety-nine. The birth and death dates are often given as 1853 and 1904 but these have not been corroborated with historical evidence.
Guru Ghasidas was born about 170 years ago to a family which had its roots in Benares, now known as Varanasi. His father’s name was Raghunath Das and his mother’s name is unknown though she is believed to be from Bihar. Guru Ghasidas image is also not available. He belonged to a low caste but was self-taught and became a Hindu Saint.
Little is known about his early life but he served as a priest in an Arya Samaj Mandir, which was set up by the Hindu reformer Swami Dayanand Saraswati at Agra. The Arya Samaj movement sought to reform Hinduism by returning to its Vedic values, rejecting idol worship and “godmen”. A strong supporter of the Arya Samaj movement, he left Agra and traveled throughout India as a preacher with his wife Golab Devi from 1850–53.
1. When did the Arya Samaj movement start?
According to a plaque at the Gurudwara at Shahapur, his mission was: “To wipe out caste distinctions and establish equality between men of all castes.” He preached against caste distinctions, untouchability and the varna system, whilst emphasizing the need for all Hindus to worship one god. He condemned godmen who allegedly claimed to be able to perform miracles and cure people magically.
2. What was the purpose of the Arya Samaj movement?
Guru Ghasidas traveled throughout India from 1850-53. This was called his “nabakau tehsil” or “bakau jagran”. He agreed with the goals and ideals of the Arya Samajists and also thought he had to offer a solution, as he did not agree with their methods. As a result, he created his own organization, an attempt to take out “the robe from all men of different castes,” and preserve Hinduism by preaching against caste distinction. He went from village to village preaching, denouncing godmen and urging people to adopt simple lifestyles in order to keep them pure. He did not wear any clothing or footwear and ate with the lowest caste.
Guru Ghasidas stayed at Vaishno Devi at 12,000 feet above sea level and married a woman from the village of Pandaria. He had a vision of God on the night of 15 December 1851, where he had a feeling of peace and joy. It is not known if this was a coincidence or if he was expecting this to be the best moment for preaching his message. Guru Ghasidas spent one year and three days there before returning to his home in Shahpur.
3. How did he become a saint?
Guru Ghasidas used Girdhar (guava) wood instead of sticks for the worship of God. He was also present at the site of Adi Shankaracharya’s Samadhi at Ujjain and made frequent visits to Jagannath Temple near Puri.
During his stay in Bihar, he received a vision. It was that one day, all will come to him and take part in his worship (puja). On his return to Shahapur, he began conducting puja and the people followed him in ever greater numbers. The local people thought of this as an attempt by their priest to crack down on caste distinctions, which they opposed wholeheartedly.
The Maharaja of the state, who was a devotee of the godman Sai Baba, and was also his powerful adviser, succeeded in getting Guru Ghasidas arrested and sent to prison. Guru Ghasidas was in prison for over two years. It is said that he survived by eating leaves which were thrown into his cell. After two years, the Maharaja released him without charge and asked him to leave Shahapur. On 7 January 1852, he established Khadke (the founding day is celebrated on 10 January as Gurunanak Jayanti).
4. When did he establish Khadke?
It was in 1852 that the founding of Khadke took place. The Maharaja of the area stopped Guru Ghasidas from entering Shahpur while he was on foot and sent his police officers to arrest him. It is believed that the Maharaja said, “Guru Ghasidas, you are a saint and we are devotees, why must we fight like this?” The reason for this is not clearly known but it is believed that they had a political rivalry going on. Maharaja Bahadur Singh also had a dispute with his own brother, who lived right opposite Khadke. When Guru Ghasidas succeeded in establishing himself in Khadke, the tensions still existed.
5. How was Khadke established?
The Maharaja of Shahapur and his officers were unhappy that Guru Ghasidas had established the city and that it was opposed to caste distinctions. Having taken over the temple, he had changed its image from that of a goddess to one of a god and had installed a Panchakshari (five-coloured stone) instead of the usual one stone. The village was thus renamed as Khadki. He also reduced his servants and followers’ number drastically, which is believed to be another reason for resentment in the Maharaja and his army.