Sree Narayana Guru – (1856 -1928)
“Enlighten through education; strengthen through organization”. These are the words of a saint who was an embodiment of all virtues, values and rare qualities seldom found in human race. Yes, the personality is Sree Narayana Guru. Gurudevan, as he was fondly known to his followers, was instrumental in setting the spiritual foundations for social reform in today’s Kerala and was one of the most successful social reformers who tackled caste issues in India. He demonstrated a path to social emancipation without invoking the dualism of the oppressed and the oppressor.
Sree Narayana Guru was born under the star ‘Chathayam’ in the month of Chingam in 1856 in the village of Chempazhanthi in Trivandrum as the son of Madan Asan, a farmer and Kutti Amma. The boy was dotingly called Nanu. The Guru was born into an Ezhava family, in an era when people from backward communities like the Ezhavas faced much social injustices in the caste-ridden Kerala society. Madan was also a teacher who was learned in Sanskrit and proficient in Astrology and Ayurveda. As a boy, Nanu would listen to his father’s teachings and he was initiated into the traditional formal education (Ezhuthiniruthal) by Chempazhanthy Pillai, a local schoolmaster. Besides schooling, young Nanu continued to be educated at home, under the guidance of both his father and uncle Krishnan Vaidyan who was a reputed Ayurvedic physician and Sanskrit scholar.
Nanu found the life affected by an intolerable spiritual restlessness. One of his friends took him to Chattampi Swamikal. The two were attracted to each other and Nanu’s keen interest and imperturbability astonished Chattambi Swami who took him to Guru Thycaud Ayyavu Swamikal. Nanu became his disciple and got training in yogic practices. Later Nanu moved to his hermitage deep inside the hilly forests of Maruthwamala, where he led an austere life immersed in meditative thought. This phase of solitude lasted for 8 long years and Guru is believed to have attained Enlightenment here.
Learning from the sacred books and the practice of yoga did not quench the thirst of Nanu. He continued his wanderings and reached Aruvippuram. Devotees began to gather around him and they participated in his prayers and spiritual learning. Sree Narayana Guru’s first revolutionary act was the consecration of temples. The first in this line was the temple dedicated to Shiva in Aruvippuram in 1888.
A new phase began in the Guru’s life in 1904. He decided to give up his wandering life and settle down in a place to continue his sadhana. He chose Sivagiri, twenty miles north of Thiruvananthapuram. Next, he started a Sanskrit school in Varkala. Poor boys and orphans were taken under his care and they were given education regardless of caste distinctions. Temples were built at different places Thrissur, Kannur, Calicut, Mangalore etc. In 1913, he founded the Advaita Ashram at Aluva. This ashram was dedicated to a great principle Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra ( all men are equal in the eyes of God). In 1903, Dr. P. Palpu, a devotee of Sree Narayana, founded a social organization called S.N.D.P Yogam (Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam), the organization to promote the Dharma of Sree Narayana. In 1921 an All Kerala Fraternity conference was held at Alwaye, and in this conference Gurudevan delivered his eternal massage “One Caste, One Religion, One God for Mankind” In 1928 Gurudevan took part in the special meeting of the Sree Narayan Dharma Paripalana Yogam at Kottayam and gave away registration certificates to the branch organizations. On January 16, 1928 Gurudevan granted permission to the Sivagiri pilgrimage which was conceived by Vallabhasseri Govindan Vaidyar and T.K. Kittan Writer. The first pilgrimage started from the village of Elavumthitta in Pathanamthitta. A team led by Kitten Writer and Govindan Vaidyar from Kottayam reached Sivagiri on January 1, 1933. This pilgrimage started from Nagampadom temple in Kottayam.
Sree Narayana Guru was a mystic, a teacher, a Philosopher , a visionary, a scientist, a saint, a social reformer, a great nation builder and a poet, all blinded into one. He was a saintly contemplative man who could impart wisdom and give enlightenment to a seeker of truth. His teachings are straightforward and simple, bringing out spiritual, moral and material revolution.
The great Narayana Guru attained Samadhi on September 20, 1928.