Rāmānanda

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Rāmānanda (?1360–?1470). Founder of the Vaiṣṇavite Rāmānandī sect. A saṃnyāsin who was originally a devotee of Rāmānuja, he was offended by his fellow-disciples when, after years of preaching throughout India, they forced him to sit apart at meals for fear of the pollution he might have acquired through eating with others during his journeys. As a result of this he established his own sect, preaching against caste and urging the equality of all people in the sight of God (thereby admitting women to his order). His first twelve disciples were of varied castes, and included the Muslim Kabīr, and a woman. Rāmānanda urged worship of one deity, Rāma, with Sītā, his consort, through bhakti. His teachings spread widely and gave rise to a religious fervour which is still alive today. Later disciples of note were Mīrābāi and Tulsīdās, as well as the poets Malukdās and Nābhāji. His followers are devoted to Sītā and Rāma, sometimes wearing women's clothes and jewellery to indicate the indifference of gender. When they become members, they may burn the name of Rāma into their skin, and often add dāsa (‘slave’) to their names. Their main centre is Ayodhyā, where their devotion to Rāma is intense.