Prophet of Hindu revival Sree Narayana Guru
By VN Gopalakrishnan
The curse of untouchability has been practiced in Kerala, for which it had earned the name of lunatic asylum from Swami Vivekananda. The thoughts of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi mingled with the silent and steady work of Sree Narayana Guru, led to the great act of expiation in the famous Travancore Temple-entry Proclamation. At one stroke, it bridged the gulf that separated the privileged classes from the masses in religion, and wiped away one of the deep-seated stains on the society. In this great achievement, Sree Narayana Guru’s contribution has been immense. The ideals and methods of the Guru are bound to be an unfailing source of inspiration and he stands as the supreme symbol of hope and redemption to the depressed classes of India.
Sree Narayana Guru is one of those rare men whose greatness was recognised while he was alive. No better testimony is needed for this than the fact that Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi had visited and paid respects to him. Tagore, when he visited Kerala in 1922, interviewed the Guru and was deeply impressed that he remarked: “Among the ‘Paramahamsas’ alive in India now, there is none who has lived such a life of purity as Sree Narayana”. When Mahatma Gandhi visited Sree Narayana Guru in 1923, there was a heart-to-heart exchange of ideas between them.
Narayana Guru (1856 – 1928), also known as Sree Narayana Guru Swami, was a prophet, saint, sage and social reformer. He was born into an Ezhava family in Chempazhanthi in Kerala as the son of Madan Asan, a farmer and Kutti Amma. Nanu Asan married Kaliamma, the daughter of a traditional village doctor and the bride remained with her parents, since Nanu Asan became a wanderer. After the demise of his father and wife, Nanu Asan continued his life of a wandering Sanyasin. He became a ‘Parivrajaka’ (one who wanders from place to place in quest of Truth). It was during one of these days that Nanu Asan met Kunjan Pillai, who later came to be known as Chattampi Swamikal, a social reformer. Narayana Guru’s literary and philosophical masterpiece Atmopadesa Satakam written in Malayalam in 1897 is considered a fertile poetic expression, encapsulating the philosophy of egalitarianism.
Gurudevan, as he is fondly called, revolted against casteism and worked on propagating new values of freedom in spirituality and of social equality, thereby transforming the society. His devotees the world over are observing his Mahasamadhi on September, 20 this year.
Sree Narayana Guru is revered for his Vedic knowledge, poetic proficiency, openness to the views of others and his philosophy of non-violence. He was instrumental in setting the spiritual foundations for social reform. He stressed the need for the spiritual and social upliftment of the downtrodden by their own efforts through the establishment of temples and educational institutions. In the process, he brushed aside the Hindu religious conventions based on Chaturvarna.
Guru’s philosophy is fundamentally of Advaitic and non-dual wisdom in principles. His philosophy strongly denounced discrimination in the name of caste or religion. He was tolerant towards all philosophies that stood for the progress of mankind. Guru’s literary works in Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil are of a conceptual and aesthetic quality at par with the Upanishads.
Concerning the caste system, Gandhi told to Sree Narayana Guru: “The caste-Hindus and the low caste-Hindus are both the sons of Hinduism. The caste-Hindu is the elder brother who shoulders responsibility, and he therefore exercises certain privileges. The low caste-Hindu is his younger brother who is to be cared for. If the elder brother turns out to be somewhat rough and aggressive that should not make the younger brother a runaway from his mother Hinduism.” Narayana Guru, however, disagreed, and voiced his tolerance for those who converted to other religions. He also questioned the logic of Gandhi’s argument, emphasising that caste in India was a socio-economic issue.
Some of his teachings are summarized as follows: One caste, One religion, One God for the Man. Ask not, say not, and think not caste; Love that is mine is happiness for others. Deeds that benefit a man must be a cause for other’s happiness too; Grace, Love, and Mercy – all the three stand for one same reality. He who loves really lives; Liquor is poison. Make it not, sell it not and drink it not; Devoid of dividing walls of caste or race or hatred of rival faith, we all live here in Brotherhood.
On the Guru’s Mahasamadhi on September 20, 1928, Mahakavi G. Sankara Kurup paid tribute to Narayana Guru by writing a verse venerating the Guru as ‘The Second Buddha’. Sree Narayana Guru’s legacy continues to be revered for generations to come.