RĀMĀNANDA (1300-1410), promoter of Vaiṣṇav Bhakti in North India and founder of the Bairāgī sect of anchorites, was born at Prayāga (Allāhābād) in a Kānyakuba Brāhmaṇ family. He studied in Kāśī (Banāras), the ancient seat of learning, and it was here that he became 'a disciple of Rāghavānanda, the fourth āchārya (teacher, preacher, head of a sect) in the line of Rāmānuja, the founder of Vaśiṣṭādvaita. He was, however, more liberal than his gurū with regard to the caste system in general and untouchability in particular. He initiated a separate sect of his own, the Rāmāvat or Rāmānandī Sampradāya, with Lord Rāma and Sītā as its Supreme Deity instead of Chaturbhuja Nārāyaṇa and Lakṣamī worshipped by followers of Srī Sampradāya. Rāmānanda established himself as a teacher at Kāṣī, where to this day Pañchgaṅgā Ghāṭ is associated with his name. From there his disciples, the Rāmānandī Bairāgīs, spread his message of Rāma-worship all over the country, but mostly in the central Gangetic plain. It is perhaps his liberal views regarding caste distinctions that has led to a well-established tradition that a number of low caste saints of the Bhakti movement, such as the weaver Kabīr, leather worker Ravidās, the barber Sain and the Jāṭ peasant Dhannā were his disciples, chronological impossibilities notwithstanding.
Many works in Sanskrit and Hindi are ascribed to Rāmānanda by his followers, but modern scholars accept only two, Vaiṣnavamatabja Bhāskar and Rāmāchanā Paddhatī as authentic. Two Hindi padas (hymns) attributed to him are found in the Sarbāṅgī compiled by Rajjab. One of them which duplicates his single hymn included in Sikh Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib, points to his nearness to the Sant tradition of nirguṇa-bhakti (worship of the Transcendent One). In this hymn (GG, 1195) idol-worship is clearly rejected, the supreme Deity, Brāhmaṇ, is conceived as all-pervading, revealed to the mind only through the śabda of the True Gurū, whereas Vedas and purāṇas avail nothing.
Rām Siṅgh Tomar