Rāmānandī Saṁpradāya


1. Rāmānandī Saṁpradāya

The Rāmānandī, also known as the Rāmāyats or the Rāmāvats, are a branch of the Śrī Vaiśṇavism Saṁpradāya of Hinduism.

2. Denomination

The Rāmānandī Saṁpradāya is one of the largest and most egalitarian Hindu sects India, around the Ganges Plain, and Nepal today:

It mainly emphasizes the worship of Rāma, as well as Viṣṇu directly and other incarnations.

Their main prayer is mantra Sītā Rām.

While considered Vaiṣṇava, the Rāmānandī are the largest ascetic group that celebrates the Śivarātri festival, which is dedicated to Śiva.

Rāmānandī ascetics rely upon meditation and strict ascetic practices, but also believe that the grace of God is required for them to achieve Liberation. They believe that only Viṣṇu or Rāma can grant Liberation.

Most Rāmānandīs consider themselves to be the followers of Rāmānanda (c. 1400-1475), a Vaiṣṇava saint in medieval India. Philosophically, they are in the Viśiṣṭādvaita tradition.

Its ascetic wing constitutes the largest Vaiṣṇava monastic order and may possibly be the largest monastic order in all of India.

There are 2 major subgroups of Rāmānandī ascetics:

a) Tyāgi, who use ash for initiation,
b) Nāga, who are the militant wing.

3. History

Bhaktamāl, a gigantic hagiographic work on Hindu saints and devotees written by Rāghavādas in 1660, was a core text for all Vaiṣṇavas including Rāmānandīs:

This text lists Rāmānuja, expounder of Viśiṣṭādvaita school of Vedanta, and Rāmānanda as saints of the Rāmānuja Saṁpradāya.

Many localized commentaries of Bhaktamāl were taught to young Vaiṣṇavas across India.

In the 19th century in North India various commentaries of the text appeared. Of these, Bhagavān Prasad's Śrī Bhaktamāl: Tika, Tilāk, aur Nāmāvali Sahit was considered to be the most authoritative:

In this text, Bhagavān Prasad lists 108 prominent Vaiṣṇavas starting with Rāmānuja and ending with Rāmānanda.

Rāmānanda's guru Rāghavānanda is described as an egalitarian guru who taught students of all castes.

Rāmānanda himself is described as an Avatār of Rāma, a humble student with great yogic talents who was asked to form his own Saṁpradāya as a punishment by his guru. The text located his birth in Prayāga in c. 1300 CE.

Indologists credit Rāmānanda (c. 1400–1470 CE) and his followers as the origin of the North Indian practice of using Rāma to refer to the Absolute.

Based on the textual evidence and similarity of sect marks between Rāmānandīs and Śrī Vaiṣṇavas, it is believed that Rāmānanda migrated to Benares from Tamil Nadu. Rāmānanda accepted disciples from all castes and did not observe the restrictions in matters of food.

Others represent Rāmānanda as saint who tried to transcend caste divisions of medieval India through the message of love and equality.

Rāmānanda Saṁpradāya is believed to be an offshoot of the Śrī Vaiśṇavism of Rāmānuja.

Up to the 19th century, many of the Trade Routes in Northern India were guarded by groups of warrior-ascetics, including the Nāga sections of the Rāmānandīs, who were feared because of their strength and fearlessness. The British took steps to disarm these militant groups of ascetics, but even today the sects still retain their heroic traditions.

4. Geography

Rāmānandīs live mostly in the Northern part of India:

Rāmānandī monasteries are found throughout western and central India, the Ganges basin, the Nepal and the Himalayan foothills. Rāmānandīs are spread across India, mainly in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The majority of Hindu immigrants to Trinidad and Tobago belonged to Vaiṣṇava sects such as the Rāmānandī. Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago currently practice based on the teachings of Rāmānanda.

The poet-saint Tulsīdās, who composed the Rāma-carita-mānasa, was a member of this sect:

His writings made Viṣṇu and Śiva devotees of each other and thereby bridged the gap between Vaiṣṇavas and Śaivas.

Some sources say that Kabīr was a disciple of Rāmānanda.
Kabīr also founded a separate sect that is now known as the Kabīrpanthi.