Varanasi's Ravidassia sect shocks Sikh community

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New Delhi, Feb.4 (ANI): The establishment of the Ravidassia Sect in Varanasi last weekend has shocked the world's 23 million-strong Sikh community.

Founded by a radical Sikh sect called Dera Sachkhand Ballan, the Ravidassia Sect, which consists mainly of "Untouchables", or Dalits, has claimed its own pilgrimage site to be a rival to the Sikhs' Golden Temple in Amritsar, and has said that it has its own book of holy verses to replace the Sikhs' Guru Granth Sahib, besides its own symbol, known as the Har (which it translates as Almighty).

"We aim to respect all religions, love mankind and live a virtuous life," C. R. Suman, a Radivassia spokesman, told The Times.

He added that the religion had hundreds of thousands of devotees, with followers across the diaspora, including in Britain.

Ravidassia already has temples in Southall, Coventry and Toronto, as well as several web sites and Facebook pages.

The split from Sikhism seems to be a reaction to the killing of Guru Sant Rama Nand, the sect's deputy leader, by fundamentalist Sikhs in a gunfight at a temple in Vienna last year, which caused rioting across Punjab.

Sikhs do not officially believe in the caste system, which has its origins in Hinduism, and divides society into hundreds of groups that define where one lives, who one marries and what job one does.

Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the 16th century, partly to rebel against the system. But the concept of caste remains deeply rooted in Indian society, even among Sikhs, Christians and Muslims.

Dera Sachkhand Ballan claims to represent lower castes who felt that they were still suffering discrimination, especially at the hands of Jat Sikhs, who have traditionally owned most of the farmland in Punjab.

It differs from mainstream Sikhism on several religious issues, including worshipping living gurus, which is considered blasphemous by most Sikhs. It also focuses predominantly on the teachings of Guru Ravidass, who was born in Varanasi in the 14th century and taught that people should be judged according to their merits, rather than their caste or social status.

"Our objective is to propagate the writing and teachings of Sant Guru Ravidass and other gurus who belonged to suppressed classes," said Suman. (ANI)

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