Narayana Guru was a seer who realised that the Ultimate Reality underlies the being of everything phenomenal; that the apparent world of humans included is but as a part of the one Reality manifesting itself creatively; that one alone is the reality in the being of himself and others; that himself has no being apart from the being of that Reality.
Narayana Guru was a rishi of the 20th century and a satya-darsins (Reality) and sama-darsins (sees same in all). He stands apart from many of the spiritual masters, seers and prophets because he commanded the respect of entire South India while he was in his ?physical abode?. For him philosophical speculation and perception was not a topic for intellectual exercise, but a guideline for leading human life along its right path. On knowing of his inclination and spiritual enlightenment, people approached him with their problems, both personal and social, and he willingly helped to solve them in his own original and absolutist way. The solutions he prescribed to personal problems are less recorded than the manner in which he handled social issues. The suggestions and incentives he gave to activists resulted in unprecedented social upheavals in Kerala, causing tremendous changes in the way man dealt with fellow humans and it found a legitimate place in the history of Kerala and to a certain extent in that of the nation, especially in making the problem of casteism as a part of the national movement that had gained momentum then. It was this aspect that made him well known while still alive. He once half-jokingly said, ?If someone likes to treat us (me) as a god incarnate (avatar), it would rather be the one hour to kill the demon called jati (casteism).?
Narayana Guru was born in the third Onam day in 1854 at Chempazhanthi, a suburb of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the erstwhile state of Travancore. He belonged to a low-caste family, which practiced both agriculture and Ayurveda. It is said that even as a new-born infant, he did not cry. He was endearingly called Nanu. He displayed two characteristics from early childhood and these were?a love for spirituality and an aversion towards any kind of inequality and discrimination among humans.
As soon as Nanu learned the primary textbooks of Sanskrit, he began composing songs and poems and sing them when alone. On going for higher education to Kayamkulam, his uncle offered him money, but Nanu refused, ?No, you should not part with your money and nephew together.?
Once, in his class, Nanu had a vision of Sri Krisna and fell unconscious. When asked what had happened, he replied in one single verse, ?Sri Krisna darsanam (vision of Sri Krisna). The other hymns composed by him in those days were Vasudevaastakam (eight verses on Vasudeva). Due to suffering from severe dysentery he had to return home.
On recovering from illness he started a one-man school of his own at the coastal village Ancuthengu, where he came to be known as Nanu Asan.
His marriage was fixed but he did not attend it. He formally bid farewell to Kali, the girl, saying, ?Eeveryone is born in this world with a definite purpose. I have my own goal in life. Let me live my own life, and you live your own. I wish you the best.?
He began his life as a mendicant and this lasted over a decade. Not much is known about it except that he traversed all over South India. He became a close friend with Yogi Thaikkaattu Ayyavu who taught Nanu the techniques of yoga.
He took up meditation in a cave in Maruthvamalai where he is reported to have seen Shiva and written subsequently the Sivasatakam (one hundred verses on Shiva). Devout people began to visit him and one day he disappeared and was later seen at Aruvippuram, a densely forested area infested with animals and snakes. He also wrote Atmopadesa Satakam (one hundred verses of self-instruction) and started a temple which was to be open to all, with no caste discrimination. At the time of installing the idol, Guru jumped into the flowing river and disappeared. Finally he appeared one day with a Shivalinga and fixed the stone over a flat rock. The much-desired temple was constructed and Guru moved on to another place called Varkala. His 60th birthday was celebrated all over and on 21st September 1928 his body was interred in an underground cell at Sivagiri.
This book is a compilation and English translation of the verses that Narayana Guru composed during his life.
(National Book Trust, A-5 Green Park, New Delhi-110016.)