India – History and Society – for those who wish to think and learn for themselves
Bilaspur is a town in the central Indian state of Chattisgarh with a population of about 350,000. It lies north of the city of Raipur (the capital of Chattisgarh). Bilaspur was a small outpost of the central Maratha states of the Bhosales. Falling the collapse of the Marathas and the defeat of the Bhosales in 1820, the British took over Bilaspur, bringing it under a larger organised administration. During the 1800s, Bilaspur faced many droughts and famines which led to much suffering. The British were not in a position to do much. Finally the railways reached Bilaspur in 1890 bringing prosperity as well as stability to the lives of the local population.
Guru Ghasi Das was born in a rural setting in the district of Bilaspur. He belonged to the lower caste, the Camar, that formed a substantial but marginalised minority of the population. Ghasi Das became a farmer and then a devout practitioner and preacher of the Satnami sect of Hinduism.
The Satnami sect had been founded by Birbhan in Eastern Punjab at the time of Aurangzeb but had been quickly crushed by the Mughal administration. Later variants were preached by Jagjivandas in Uttar Pradesh. However, the most famous and enduring branch of the sect took root in Bilaspur. Ghasi Das preached that the true representation of God was truth and truth was the path to God. The Satnami faith also preached that god did not reside in idols but was formless and existed in spirit alone. This was perhaps in part due to the exclusion of the lower castes from the Hindu temples administered by the upper castes. Ghasi Das also prohibited the drinking of alcohol and the eating of meat.
The Satnami faith became popular among members of the lower castes (scheduled castes) in the 1820s to 1840s. After Guru Ghasi Das’s death, his son Balakdas took over the leadership of the community.
Today the local university in Bilaspur is named after Guru Ghasi Das.