Narayana Guru social reforms
Sri Narayana Guru was a prophet, sage and Hindu saint and also a social reformer of India. He was born in the family of Ezhavas, in a period when people from backward communities, like, the Ezhavas faced much social injustices in the caste-ridden Kerala society. Gurudevan, as he was fondly known to his followers, revolted against casteism and worked on propagating new values of freedom in spirituality and of social equality, thereby transforming the Kerala society and as such he is adored as a prophet. India as a whole may have produced its Gandhi, but Keralites are inclined to take more pride in their own great spiritual and social leader, the contemporary of Gandhi, the low-caste sage Sri Narayana Guru, with his tireless preaching of the doctrine of ‘One Caste, One Religion, One God.’ He preached for moral and religious universalism.
Life of Sri Narayana Guru
Narayana Guru was born in the 20th of August, 1856, in a village called Chempazhanthi which is situated close to Thiruvananthapuram. He was the son of a farmer called, Madan Asan and mother Kutti Amma. The boy was called Nanu. His father was also a teacher, educated in Sanskrit and well-versed in Ayurveda and astrology. Nanu had three sisters. He used to listen to his father with much interest while he narrates the tales from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana to the common village folks. Nanu was introduced into traditional education pattern Ezhuthinirithal, by a local school master and also a village officer called Chempazhanthi Pillai. He carried on his studies at home under the guidance of his uncle Krishnan Vaidyan, a famous Ayurvedic physician and a scholar of Sanskrit and his father, where he was trained with the basics of the Sanskrit and Tamil languages and traditional subjects like Balaprobhodhanam, Siddharupam and Amarakosam.
At a young age, Nanu possessed a sharp mind and admitted in the reputed school, Kummampilli Raman Pillai Asan at a village called Karunagapalli, which was fifty miles from his home, when he was only twenty one years old. He stayed as a guest in the family home Varanapally close to Kayamkulam. Nanu, with other students, was given teachings on Sanskrit language and drama, poetry and literary criticism, along with logical rhetoric. He learned the Upanishad and the Vedas. He started teaching in a nearby school and his knowledge earned him the name ‘Nanu Asan’.
Due to pressure from his family, Nanu got married to a traditional village doctor’s daughter called Kaliamma. His marriage was very simple with the sisters of the groom investing the bride along with the ‘Thaali’ (wedding knot) on his behalf. The bride stayed with her parents because Nanu Asan soon after became a wanderer. After the death of his wife and father, Nanu Asan carried on his life as a wandering Sanyasi and became a ‘Parivrajaka’ (who wanders one place to another in the pursuit of Truth). During those days Nanu came across Kunjan Pillai, who was later called Chattampi Swamikal. Kunjan Pillai, who discovered and apprized the philosophy of Nanu Asan and his passion towards Yoga, acquainted him to a Hatha yogi, Thycaud Ayyavu. Under the guidance of the Yogi, Nanu learned several Yogic practices like Hatha Yoga and this experience had a deep impact in the later parts of the life of Narayana Guru.
Sri Narayana Guru went to his hermitage in the hilly forest regions of Maruthwamala, where he practiced an austere life by undertaking yoga and meditative thought and followed severe sustenance rituals. This period lasted for eight years. After completing a modest life of more than 30 years thriving in knowledge and rough experiences, this epoch is regarded as the completion of the meditative recluse; the period at which Sri Narayana Guru is believed to have got Enlightenment.
Reform Work of Sri Narayana Guru
Subdued for centuries by the Brahmin and the Nayar castes, regarded as outside the fourfold structure of the caste system, the Ezhavas, nevertheless, retained a pride even in their position as the leading caste of the outcastes, and during the nineteenth century developed a great will to rise above the limitations which society had laid upon them, a will personified most dynamically in the teachings of Sri Narayana Guru, who was himself an Ezhava. Revolution was motivated and catalyzed by a most unbelievable revolutionary, a conventional Shaivite vedantin, an ascetic and monk who wrote a number of devotional songs in Tamil, Sanskrit and Malayalam and he was Sri Narayana Guru.
When one discusses about Sri Narayana Guru, one uses superlatives in order to compare the great saint with a list of notables. Guru was the famous reformer in Hinduism to come out to the southern parts of India since the incomparable Adi Sankara. Narayana Guru was the champion of the rights of lower caste oppressed Hindus in the twentieth century, and was more flourishing than the better known Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. He overturned the social system of entire Kerala, while following simple means unlike the works of EV Ramaswamy Naicker in the state of Tamil Nadu. The revolutionary reformer, whose call for self improvement and self reliance touched delicately the heart of the oppressed class all over the world.
Similarities are there with regard to the blacks struggling in the United States, led by Dr. Martin Luther King to that of Sri Narayana Guru of India. Narayana Guru brought to the underprivileged Kerala class the realization that they are also human beings and are also subject to get respect. The reason today that in the state of Kerala, there prevail a self-asserting egalitarianism is mainly due to the intellectual and spiritual revival brought by Sri Narayana Guru. The fact that Sri Guru did this wholly in the fabric of Hinduism is noteworthy.
One of the major strengths of Hinduism is its capacity for renaissance, renewal and reform and in this case, the authority of personality of a great saint was sufficient to cleanse the Hinduism of Kerala of the amassed dross of about a millennium. Guru gave much importance to the requirement for the social and spiritual upliftment of the unfortunate with the help of their own efforts by the institution of educational institutions and temples.
Advaita Ashram at Aluva
Sri Narayana Guru founded an Ashram at Aluva in the year 1913, which was called the Advaita Ashram. This event was vital in the life of Sri Guru. The concerned Ashram was devoted to the great principle – ‘Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra’ (it means, each and very unman being is equal in the eyes of God). In the year 1921, a Conference of Universal Brotherhood organised at Alwaye and in the year 1924, an all religion conference was organized there. The Guru gave importance to the requirement for a Brahma Vidyalayam for comparative study of several religious faiths. Narayana Gurukulam is the name of an institution which was founded in the Nilgiri Hillsof Tamil Nadu by Bodhananda Swamikal and afterwards given over to Nataraja Guru.
Books by Sri Narayana Guru
Some of the works of Sri Narayana Guru in Sanskrit are Darsana Mala, Brahmavidya Panchakam, Slokathrayi, Nirvruthi Panchakam, Vedantha Suthram, Municharya Panchakam, Homa Manthram, Asramam, Charama Slokangal, Dharmam, Chidambarashtakam, Bhadrakaliashtakam,Sree Vasudeva Ashtakam, Guhashtakam, Vinayaka Ashtakam and Genani Navamanjari. His works in Malayalam include Swanubavageethi, Advaitha Deepika, Atmopadesa Satakam, Arivu, Jeevakarunya Panchakam, Daiva Dasakam, Anukamba Dasakam, Daiva Chintanam – 1 & 2, Jathi Lakshanam, Chijanda Chinthakam, Jathi Nirnayam, Athma Vilasam and Shiva Satakam Thevarappathinkanga is one of his works in Tamil language.
Sri Narayana Guru became severely ill in the month of September, 1928 and stayed bedridden for a certain period. His devotees flocked in huge numbers to have a look of their Gurudevan. The same year, the birthday of Gurudevan was observed in several places, mainly in Mangalore, Kerala, Chennai, Sri Lanka and Europe. On the 20th of September, 1928 Sri Narayana Guru died.
Narayana Guru is idolized for his knowledge of the Vedas, openness to other’s views, poetic proficiency, non-violent philosophy and his persistent resolve to correct the social wrongs. Narayana Guru was involved in fixing the spiritual bases for social reform in the state of Kerala and was also among the most-renowned social reformers who dealt with the caste system in India. He established a path leading to social emancipation while not fuelling the dualism of the oppressor and the oppressed.
Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore
In 1925 Guru supported the famous Vaikom Satyagraha movement, which demanded entry for lower caste people in the Shiva temple at Vaikom and all temples in Kerala. Mahatma Gandhi visited Kerala during this time to support the Vaikom Satyagraha and met the Guru at Sivagiri Ashram and the two sages had interesting discussions on the issues of caste and untouchability. Gandhiji expressed that it was a great privilege in his life to have the darshan of an esteemed sage like Sree Narayana Guru.
The great Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore met Guru in 1922. About his warm meeting with Guru, Tagore later said: “I have been touring different parts of the world. But I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Sree Narayana Guru”.
The Guru was aware that spirituality cannot be fed to starving millions. He believed that other than the freedom from the curse of untouchability, the downtrodden classes needed education and wealth. They needed opportunities to improve like others. He was a real Karma Yogi and his whole life was dedicated for the betterment of the suppressed. He was an innate poet and a great scholar in Malayalam, Tamil and Sanskrit. His words and deeds ignited sparks of revolution that led to a remarkable cultural renaissance in the profligate society of Kerala
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