Shree Narayana Guru was a great saint, scholar, philosopher, poet, and the forerunner of social renaissance in southern part of Bharat. He is revered for his Vedic knowledge, poetic proficiency, and quality of having unrelenting resolution for setting social wrongs right. Narayana Guru was instrumental in setting the spiritual foundations for social reform in Kerala and was one of the most successful social reformers to trigger a reset against caste system in India. He demonstrated a path to social emancipation without invoking the dualism of the oppressed and the oppressor. He was a respecter of the order in which physical nature and social nature interacts. Narayana Guru was social reformer with a difference — who always offered holistic solution in which he never labeled one group of people against another.
Narayana Guru’s Sayings
- Have the objects for which the temples were created been realized in practice? The worship of Ishwara should not go on only in the temples. It should fill every heart and every home.
- All living beings form one brotherhood. This ought to be the law of life. This being so, how can we sacrifice animals? How can we eat animals without mercy?
- All are of one Self-fraternity-such being the dictum to avow, In such a light how can we take life and devoid of least pity go on to eat
- God may be worshipped anywhere. Idols are not always necessary. It is the ideal that counts.
- Declare truth and love as well as dutifulness in all your temples. Put them into action in your lives too.
The Evil of Liquor
- Liquor is as evil as poison. It should not be manufactured at all. One should neither offer it to others nor drink it.
- Education is a means for anyone who desires progress in this world. Therefore, it has to be given to all. Like men, women also should be educated.
- Progress through education. Strengthen through organisation.
- The wealth of a country cannot increase if the people do not engage themselves in the industry. Our children should be trained in Industrial Schools.
- One Jati (Caste) One Religion, One God for Man
- Ask not, Say not, Think not the caste
- Acts that one performs for one’s own sake should also aim for the good of other men
On love for mankind
Love of others is my happiness, Love that is mine is happiness for others. And so, truly, deeds that benefit a man Must be a cause for other’s happiness too.
Grace, Love, Mercy -all the three – Stand for one same reality- Life’s Star. He who loves is who really lives.
- Whatever may be the difference in men’s creed, dress, and language etc. because they all belong to the same kind of creation, there is no harm at all in their dining together or having marital relation withone another.
- Devoid of dividing walls of caste or race or hatred of rival faith ,We all live here in Brotherhood
- Our fingers, hands, and feet should always find work. They are like restless horses. If we do not keep them engaged in sufficient work, we shall fall ill.
Shree Narayana Guru was born on 20th August, 1856 to Madan Asan and his wife Kuttiyamma in Chempazhanthy, a village near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala in the erstwhile state of Travancore, in British India. A farmer’s family called ‘Vyallvaram’ on the twentieth of August in 1856, was named ‘Nanu’ (which means Narayana).
His father Madan got surname “Asan” because he was not only a farmer but an ‘Asan’ also. The term ‘Asan’-a Malayalam word derived from Sanskrit means ‘Acharyan’ – a teacher. He knew Sanskrit and had studied Astrology and Ayurveda. The people of the village highly respected him. He used to help people by advising them on many matters. His dress was simple. He wore a piece of cloth to wrap around the waist, and a piece of cloth to cover the upper part of the body.
He carried with him a palm- leaf umbrella, when-ever he left home. That was the custom in those days in Kerala.
As Madan was learned in Sanskrit, he knew well the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He used to give talks on them in simple language once a week, sitting in the verandah of his house. The people of the village used to gather and listen to him with great interest. Nanu too would listen with interest. Some times when Madan was not present, he had to give the talks himself.
Nanu’s mother was true to her name ‘Kutti’ – i.e., a child without a blemish. She was intelligent and full of kindness. She was ever calm in her work. His early education was in the gurukula way under Chempazhanthi Mootha Pillai during which time his mother died when he was 15. At the age of 21, he went to central Travancore to learn from Raman Pillai Asan, a Sanskrit scholar who taught him Vedas, Upanishads and the literature and logical rhetoric of Sanskrit. He returned to his village in 1881 when his father was seriously ill, and started a village school where he taught local children which earned him the name Nanu Asan. A year later, he married Kaliamma. His wife passed away after a few years.
After the death of his father and his wife Nanu Asan continued his life of a wandering Sannyasi.
He became a ‘Parivrajaka’ (one who wanders from place to place in quest of Truth). During his travels, he came in contact with two Gurus, who left a deep impression on him. One of them was called Kunjan Pillai. He was also famous as Chettambi Swami. Thikkad Ayyavu was the other Guru. Chettambi Swami was a great scholar. He understood the innate powers of Nanu Asan and encouraged Nanu to compose poems in Sanskrit. ThikkadAyyavuwas a master of the Science of Yoga.
Inspired by his Guru ,Nanu Asan wrote ‘Nava Manjari’ – a string of nine stanzas. He dedicated his poems to Chettambi Swami.
During his wanderings he reached the Pillathadam cave at Maruthwamala where he set up a hermitage and practiced meditation and yoga. In 1888, he consecrated a piece of rock taken from the river, as the idol of Shiva, which has since become the Aruvippuram Shiva Temple. On 15 May 1903, Dr. Padmanabhan Palpu established the Shree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam at this temple with inspiration of Narayan guru. In 1904 , he shifted his base to Sivagiri, near Varkala, where he opened a school for children from the lower strata of the society and provided free education to them without considering their caste. He built a temple , there too, popularly known as Sharada Mutt by 1912. He built several temples in other places such as Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu, Thalassery, Kozhikode, and Mangalore. After long journey of spreading love and humanity, he returned to Sarada Mutt and it was here, he left his body on 20 September 1928, at the age of 73.
Since his childhood he had strong abhorrence towards the caste distinctions and untouchability and he always protested against injustice. “Ask not, say not and think not caste” was his motto. The first revolutionary step of him was consecration of a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Aruvippuram in 1888. He proclaimed that everyone irrespective of his caste or religion has the right to realize God.
In subsequent years he consecrated several temples in different parts of Kerala with revolutionary changes. In one temple at Kalavancode in Sherthallai, instead of deities, he installed a mirror for worship, revealing the truth that God is within oneself and one should find salvation by the development of inner self. In another temple at Murikkumpuzha near Trivandrum, in place of a deity, there was a bright light that revealed the words “Truth, Duty, Kindness, Love”. His temples were open to all without any discrimination of caste or creed.
He taught equality but felt the inequalities should not be exploited to carry out conversions and therefore generate strife in society. Narayana Guru organized an All-Region Conference in 1923 with a slogan “Not to argue and win but to know and to make known” at Alwaye Advaita Ashram, which was reported to be the first such event in India. This was an effort to counter the religious conversions Ezhava community was susceptible to. 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 Shree Narayana Guru at Sivagiri Ashram and they 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 Shree Narayana Guru.
The 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 Shree Narayana Guru”.
He emphasized the practice of ideals of cleanliness, promotion of education, agriculture, trade, handicrafts and technical training.
Shree Narayana Guru’s Adyaropadarsanam (Darsanamala) explains the creation of the universe.
Daivadasakam and Atmopadesasatakam are a few examples of how the mystic reflections and insights closely resemble recent advances in physics.
Narayana Guru was a great scholar in Sanskrit. He wrote a number of books both in Sanskrit and in Malayalam. ‘JatiMimamsa’ (an inquiry into caste), a poem in five stanzas is of great significance. It gives in a nut-shell the Guru’s philosophy of life. The first stanza is in Samskrita.Hepublished 45 works in Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil languages which include AtmopadesaŚatakam, a hundred-verse spiritual poem and DaivaDasakam, a universal prayer in ten verses. He also translated three major texts, Thirukural of Valluvar, Ishavasya Upanishad and OzhivilOdukkam of KannudaiyaVallalaar.It was he who propagated the motto, One Caste, One Religion, One God for All (OruJathi, OruMatham, OruDaivam, Manushyanu) which has become popular as a saying in Kerala. He furthered the non-dualistic philosophy of Adi Shankara by bringing it into practice by adding the concepts of social equality and universal brotherhood.
Shree Narayana Guru biography is not just a story of a saint; it is an epic of a crusade against social evils and awakening of social resurgence. 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 suggested that the goals of the pilgrimage should be the promotion of education, cleanliness, devotion to God, organization, agriculture, trade, handicrafts, and technical training. 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.
He was an author of many beautiful and inspirational works in these languages. His words and deeds ignited sparks of a revolution that led to a remarkable cultural renaissance in the profligate society of Kerala. He was one of the greatest Hindu reformers to come out to Bharat since Adi Shankara.
G.K.Sasidharan(2014) Shree Narayana Gurudev – the Maharshi who made Advaita a Science – Many Worlds Publications, Kollam, Kerala
Nataraja Guru (2003) The Word of the Guru : The Life and Teaching of Guru Narayana D.K. Printworld, New Delhi
Swami Muni Narayana Prasad (2003) The Philosophy of Narayana Guru, D.K. Printworld, New Delhi
T. Bhaskaran (year Unknown), BrahmarshiShree Narayana Guru, Sahitya Akademi