By Prabhath P April 2007 One religion, one caste, one god for humanity, was Sree Narayana guru’s rallying cry. Narayana Guru’s sayings• ‘One religion, one caste, one God for humanity.’• ‘Acts that one performs for one’s own sake, should also aim the good of others.• ‘Whichever the religion, it suffices if it makes a better man.’• ‘Ask not, say not, think not caste.’• ‘The Self and the world are not two.’• ‘Liquor is poison; make it not; sell it not; drink it not.’ • ‘Giving and receiving dowry is equal to selling and buying one’s own sons and daughters.’ Swami Vivekananda was horrified by Kerala’s oppressive caste structure and he termed it a “lunatic asylum.” However, Kerala is now the topmost Indian state in social and human development. The source of this miraculous transformation was Sree Narayana Guru, the spiritual revolutionary, who brought the transcendental nondualist advaita vedanta down-to-earth and applied it practically for social and spiritual reform and upliftment of the underprivileged. Liberator of the Downtrodden“He was, one might say, a Jnanin of action, a grand religious intellectual, who had a keen living sense of the people and of social necessities. He has contributed greatly to the elevation of the oppressed classes in South India..,” said the French writer, Romain Rolland about the guru. When Narayana Guru incarnated, Kerala, then encompassing the regions of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar, was reeling under unbelievable caste oppression. Kerala’s caste structure was not exactly like the fourfold varna system. Only Brahmins, Nairs and temple attendant castes were privileged. Other backward castes like Ezhava/Thiyya and Dalit castes were branded avarnas (outcastes), lower than even the lowest varna, Sudra. Heinous practices like unsociability, unsuitability and unshadowability prevailed. An avarna caste person’s shadow itself was supposed to pollute the upper castes. Some lowest castes were considered so inauspicious that even their very sighting would defile upper caste purity. Backward and lower caste women were forced to go bare-breasted. Temples, education and government jobs were off-limits to the under castes. Violation of the caste taboos meant death penalty for the oppressed castes. Dr. K.I. Vasu, writes in his essay, The Apostle of Social Equality, “The guru belongs to this last grass-root level class of reformers, and he alone in India belonged to this down-to-earth category. It is only his work that has so far given immediate and permanent effects without denouncing or denigrating anybody in the process; so much so, that communal harmony and national integration are always maintained in the process of bringing about social equality.” A Life ExtarordinaryNarayana Guru was born as Nanu in 1854 in the backward Ezhava caste, at Chempazanthi, near Thiruvanantha-puram, Kerala’s capital. His parents were Madan Asan and Kuttiamma. Nanu learnt Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam from his father. Nanu was further educated by a scholar, Kummampilli Raman Pillai Asan. An arranged marriage was done by proxy for Nanu without his consent. Though Nanu never showed displeasure, he had no physical relation with her and she lived with her parents till her death. Nanu left his family and wandered on a spiritual search. Writes Dr. S. Omana, the guru’s biographer, “He had a very high critical acumen and did not accept anything at its face value without experiencing and experimenting with instructions in his own life to prove their verity to himself.” Nanu and his spiritual collaborator, Chattampi Swami, studied yoga with the yogi Thycattu Ayyavu. Narayana Guru did not consider himself to be anyone’s disciple and said his guru was God and man. The last phase of Nanu’s spiritual penance and awakening were in the Marutvamalai cave near Kanyakumari. His all-inclusive vision of unity on realizing the Transcendental Absolute did not cause withdrawal from the world. He returned to the world for uplifting the oppressed. Narayana Guru’s disciple, Nataraja Guru, writes in his book, The Word of the Guru, “The hunger of a simple villager who came to visit him became a matter of greater concern to him than theological disputation or the establishment of a new religion…” Narayana Guru initiated his spiritual revolution by installing a Sivalinga in Aruvippuram on the Sivaratri of 1888, defying the 3,000-years-old rule that only Brahmins could consecrate idols. He made two untouchable boys sit on either side of him. Near the Aruvippuram temple, the guru inscribed:Devoid of dividing wallsof caste or raceor hatred of rival faith,we all live herein Brotherhood.Such, know this place to be!This model foundation! He established about 60 temples. The purpose of these temples was: “Illumination in the heart of devotees”. He declared, “Temples should not be built in an expensive manner…No money should be spent for elaborate festivals and its pomp… Adjacent to the temple should be schools and reading rooms. Small-scale industrial training schools should also be attached to temples. The offertory at the temple should be used for the welfare of the poor people.” Narayana Guru introduced iconoclastic ideas. In the Kaaramukku temple, Trichur, in 1920, he consecrated a lamp. In 1922, at Murukkumpuzha, he consecrated an inscription ‘Truth, dharma, love, mercy’. The pinnacle of his temple reform was the mirror installation inscribed with OM, symbolic of Self-realisation, in the Kalavankode temple. In 1903, with the guru’s blessings, Dr. Palpu and Kumaran Asan founded Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) for social reform. In 1907, Narayana Guru made Sivagiri, Varkala, his abode. The guru established Advaita Ashram in Alwaye in 1913. He founded a monastery and two temples in Sivagiri, including the temple of Sharada, goddess of wisdom. He founded a sannyasin order, Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham in 1926, which had monks from all castes. He attained mahasamadhi in Sivagiri in 1928 and his body lies in state in the Mahasamadhi Mandir on Mount Sivagiri. A Universal Philosophy“Universality of outlook constitutes the striking feature of the great life and thought of Sree Narayana Guru,” said Swami Sivananda. Narayana Guru integrated Dravidian siddhanta with Aryan vedanta. Bhakti, karma and jnana yoga streams merged in him. His writings in Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil include many mystical/devotional, metaphysical, socio-ethical and aesthetic works. Atmopadesa Satakam (One Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction) and Advaita Deepika explain philosophical principles in Malayalam. Darsanamala is his Sanskrit philosophical treatise. Jati Meemamasa (The Critique of Caste) questions caste. He revered the Divine Feminine in hymns to the goddess like Devistavam, Kali Natakam, Janani Navaratna Manjari, Bhadrakali Ashtakam and Kundalini Pattu. Hymns to God include Daiva Dasakam, Siva Ashtakam and Subrahmanya Ashtakam. He translated the Tamil classic Thirukural into Malayalam. Prof. M. K. Sanu, eminent writer and former head, Sree Narayana Study Centre, Kerala University, says, “Narayana Guru’s philosophy asserts that the essence of all religions is the same. He did not emphasize external rituals. He created a philosophical system and applied it in human life.” According to Dr. T. Bhaskaran, syndicate member, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, and former Honorary Director,Sree Narayana Study Centre for Social Change, Kerala University, “The philosophy of Sree Narayana Guru recognizes that every man in pristine purity is essentially equal to God and there is no room for inequality. The distinction of caste is superimposed on man by tradition and there is no logical or moral justification for it…Adi Sankara did not consider the world to be absolutely an illusion. He held that the world was an illusion compared to the Supreme Truth (Brahman). The world is transitory whereas the Supreme is eternal. This fact was not recognized by the advaita followers and they neglected worldly affairs. Sree Narayana Guru set this straight by categorically stating that material and spiritual aspects are not contradictory because both strive for the attainment of happiness… The ultimate is in fact identical with one’s own Self.” Teitsworth, Portland Gurukula, US, of Narayana Gurukula, explains, “The essence of Narayana Guru’s philosophy is stated in his dictum: one caste, one religion and one God for man. On the surface we appear as different individuals, but the inner reality is that everything is created the same way from one common material. Social arrangements tend to serve a few manipulators at the expense of the majority, who are assigned a servile role. Awareness of the oneness of humanity effortlessly topples this arbitrary construct. Your heart recoils at the possibility of oppressing others, so you are very careful to give each person their due.” He adds that for human unity, “ the guru’s suggestion, in the light of the Gita, is to attune first to the Absolute and then you will see its light in the hearts of all.” 1924, Rabindranath Tagore visited Narayana Guru. They were both above narrow nationalism, and were open to all traditions, religions and races. Said Tagore, “I have frankly to admit that I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Swami Sree Narayana Guru of Malayalam.” Gandhi met Narayana Guru at Sivagiri in 1925. While Gandhiji tried to abolish untouchability from within the varna system, Narayana Guru condemned chaturvarnya as against the advaita spirit. The meeting with Narayana G
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