Narayana Guru was a great Indian seer of 20th century who visualized the ultimate reality in himself. The Guru was born in Chempazhanthi, Kerala in 1854. A great philosopher-poet of modern India, the Guru, an erudite scholar of Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil, be longed to the great Indian philosophical tradition of Advaita. As the force behind the social reform movement, the Guru paved the way for a progressive Kerala society. A close study of the evil of asterism from the vantage point of the highest spiritual insight. This volume brings together all the original writings of Narayana Guru in English translation for the first time in a single volume.
Swami Muni Narayana Prasad is the Guru and Head of the Narayana Gurukula, Varkala, Kerala, Widely travelled Swami taught Indian philosophy, with special emphasis on the Upanishads. Author of many works, Swami’s other major works in English include Basic Lesson on India’s Wisdom, Karma and Commentaries on the Katha, Kena, Mundaka, Prashna, Taittiriya, Chandogya and Aitarcya Upanishads.
Narayana Guru was a seer who visualized the Ultimate Reality in Himself. A seer is one who lives realizing that one Ultimate Reality underlies the being of everything phenomenal, that the apparent world, humans included, is but part of that one Reality manifesting Itself creatively, that one alone is the 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. The one who visualize Reality (satya-darsin), therefore, will naturally be the one who sees the same in all (sama-darsin). Narayana Guru belongs to the long line of such visionaries, its 20th Century link.
Such seers are known as rsis in India, and all of them are satya-darsins and sama-darsins at the same time . Deeply immersed in Indian culture though they are, they transcend Inndianness and show themselves to be tiny evanescent phenomena appearing and disappearing as part of human race itself, a part of the cosmic system. Only that this vision of equalness and oneness , in each rsi, finds expression, as is naturally to be expected, coloured by the historical, geographical, linguistic and other civilization characteristics.
The style in which each rsi expresses him also could vary depending mainly on his cultural background, historical exigencies, and the contemporaneous development of thought, scientific or otherwise, his own poetic talents, the languages with which he is familiar, and the like. In spite of all such variances, the Truth expounded by them always remain the same because the underlying Reality that visualize always remains immutable. Thus seen, it would be evident to anyone that Narayana Guru was re-introducing the essential content of the wisdom imparted in the ancient Upanishads and other scriptural texts, in a way that readily appeals to the modern mind. In Narayana Guru’s vision of Reality of the Upanisads and the scientific precision of the 20th Century mind. Narayana Guru stands apart from many of the spiritual masters, seers and prophets, at least in one respect: that he commanded the respect of the entire South India while he was still in his physical abode. Not that this recognition and honour came from people who fully appreciated the sublimity and depth of his thinking and visualization of Reality, for such were not many. To him, philosophical speculation and perception was not a topic for intellectual exercise, but a guideline for leading human life along its rightful path. Coming to know of his thinking and visualization of Reality, for such were not many. To him, philosophical speculation and perception was not a topic for intellectual exercise, but a guideline for leading human life along its rightful path. Coming to know of his inclination and spiritual enlightenment, people approached him with their problems, both personal and social, and the willingly helped them solve them in his own original absolutist way. If his philosophical perception could be compared to a coin, then correct and scientific speculation, not without its own mystical touch, and its application in actual human affairs, rendering it as of high human value, were its two sides.
The solutions Guru 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 an unprecedented socisl upheaval in Kerala causing tremendous change in the way of man’s dealings with fellow humans, and it found its legitimate place in the history of Kerala and to a certain extent in that of the Nation, Movement that was gaining momentum then. It was rather this aspect that made him well-known while still living.
Guru once half-jokely said, “If someone likes to treat us (me) as a god- incarnate (avatar), it could trather be as the one born to kill the demon called jati (casteism)”. Casteism, in India, s a despicable social evil, supposedly having the assent of spiritual tradition, causing social separation of man from brother-humans. This phenomenon, though not dominant in city areas, is even now prevalent in village- life allover India. Kerala is the one state in India where casteism has lost much of its teeth, thanks to Narayana Guru.
A few admires of Guru feel that his main concern was casteism, and that he was attempting to draw the support from spirituality to eradicate it. But a close study of his life and works reveals that he basically was a spiritual master and he remained so till the end. And casteism was the demon he sought to destroy in the fire of wisdom- enlightment.
A Brief Life History
Onam is the national festival of keralites. A mythological legend has it that Onam is when Mahabali who had ruled Kerala long, long ago, makes his annual visit to see his subjects. “Everyone lives as equals when Mahaali rules the country” is the adage. This equality, in modern times, is something that remains merely as a sweet dream in the minds of Keralites, recalled as the Onam festival approaches. The birth of Narayana Guru, who did more than anyone else to eradicate social inequality, during Onam seasons was correctly destined.
Even as he sees to live the life of a real intelligent human being, man is oblivious of the equality of human being a, for he lacks atma-vidya (self-knowledge). In Narayana Guru’s own words:
(As self –knowledge shrinks, there looms ignorance frightful, and it, assuming the form of names and forms, appears ghost like (Darsanamala 1.8). The demon of casteism is evidently a product of human ignorance, and the god who was born to kill this demon also took birth during the Onam festival. This suggests also that Onam symbloises the brightness of wisdom that eradicates the darkness of ignorance.
Narayana Guru was born on third Onam day, in 1854 at Chempazhanthi, a suburb of Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the erstwhile state of Tracancore. His family was Vayalvaram-locality of paddy fields-a traditional low –caste family, which practiced both agriculture and Ayurveda. His father Madan Asn Krishna Vaidyar, a physician (vaidyar means’physucuan’). Guru’s mother was Kutti. Even the birth of the child was quite an unusual phenomenon in that the new-born infant did not cry. People around became scared, but for no reason. It was the advance intimation of the arrival of the child destined to wipe off the tears of millions. The child was named Narayanan, and was endearingly called Nanu.
Two traits of character were manifest in Nanu from early childhood- a love for spirituality and an aversion toward any kind of inequality and discrimination among humans.
His initiation into formal education was performed by the eldest member of the well-known family of Chempazhathi Pollaos, and the primary education was in the one- man –school of the village. Nanu used to reveal his innate nature very often by reacting to affairs related to religious rituals and casteism, in his own naughty way.
The primary education naturally was Sanskrit-based. By the time Nanu completed learing the primary textbooks of the Sanskrit language, his uncle noticed that he had a taste for composing songs and poems and to sing tem when alone. The uncle, therefore, decided to send him for higher education in Sanskrit. The school selected was the one run by Kummampilli Raman Pillai Asan near Kayamkulam, now in the Alleppey District of Kerala. He lived as a boarder at the Varanappally Family. When starting for Kayakulam the uncle offered him some money. His immediate reaction was, “No, you should not part with your money and nephew together.”
To have debating societies was part of the education at kayamkulam, but Nanua was not alively participant in such. Still, when some heated debates remained inconclusive, the classmates used to approach Nanu for his final opinion which usually put an end to the debate. Those days he was considered to e a worshipper of Visnu. Once he had a vision os Sri Krsna and fell unconscious. His teacher could guess that something had happened to him.Asked about it, Nanu’s reply was in the form of the single verse knnnown as Sri krsna Darsanam (Vision of Sri kesna), the earliest of his literary works now available. The other hymns composed by him possibly in those days are Vasudeva Astakam (Eight Verses on Vasudeva) and Visnu Astakam (Eight Verses onVisnu). He could not complete his higher education as he fell ill with severe dysentery and had to return home.
Nanu had become a fully grown youth by the time he returned to Chempazhanthi and recovered from the illness. Acceding to the pressure from the senior family members, he started a one- man school of his own at the coastal village Ancuthengu, where after he came to be known as Nanu Asan.
Members of the family desired to see Nanu married. In fact, only on account of them he was sent to Ancentengu where one of his cousins of marriageable age was then living in the nearest village Nedunganda. The marriage did finally take place, though the groom was not himself present. His sister, by proxy, gave a set of clothes to the bride formalizing the ceremony, and brought the girl home. Such marriages were in vogue in those days. Nothing all is known about their wedded life. And of course, he did not beget any issue. Nanu finally bid farewell to Kali, the girl, saying, “Everyone 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!”
This marked the beginning of his life as a mendicant, which lasted over a decade. Not much is known other than that he had traversed the entire South India during this period. Those who met him liked to call him Nanu Bhakta (Nanu, the devout). During this time Chattampi Swami and Narayana Guru became intimate friends. This long lasting friendship also brought the close to the well known yogi Thaikkattu Ayyavu who taught them the techniques of yoga.
People soon began noticed him sitting absorbed in meditation in the caves of the hll Maruthvamalai, at the souther tip of the Western Ghats. The topmost cave that he mostly occupied, Pillattadam, is now preserved as a place of worship.
Lost in mediation, he, one day, did not notice the passing of time, It was almost midnight when he woke up. He felt very hungry, but there was nothing for him to eat. Helpless, he sat there looking blankly at the vast expanse of the land’s end extending to the limitless ocean in the moonlight. Soon he noticed someone climbing up the hills towards him. He asked the Guru, “Don’t’ you feel hungry? Here is some pounded rice and water as well. I am also hungry.” They sat together and had the meal in the loneliness of midnight. The meal over, the man just got up and disappeared in the wildernesss. This mysterious phenomenon was later recounted by the Guru’s devotees as Siva himself visiting the Guru to bless him. Those days, Guru was an ardent devote of Siva. Later he had himself stated that Sivasatakam(One Hundred Verses on Siva) was composed by him during that period.
Dvout people of the surroundings, on hearing of the presence of a siddha (man of spiritual attainments) began to visit him off and on soaking solution to their worries in life. Sensing that the solitude he sought was at stake, he disappeared from the hills all of a sudden. Later he was found absorbed in austere self-seeking in a cave at Aruvippuram on the left bank of the river Neyyar near Neyyatttinkara Town. It was a densely forested area with wild animals and snakes. The nearby hill Kiditookkimala and a cave on its slopes were also frequented by him.
His unceasing journey and the undecaying austere self-discipline were in search of the ultimate Reality that underlies and governs life and the world all together. It is generally taken for granted that this search attained fulfillment while he was staying at Aruvippuram. This attainment is described by himself as follows:
“Like ten thousand suns
Rising all at once
Dawn to one, this Discriminateive enlightenment.”
The Atmopadesa Sataka, Ome Hundred Verses of Self Instruction) in which these lines appear, was written later by him at Aruvippuram itself.
At Aruvippuram also ordinary devout people began to visit him and it gradually gained momentum. Some had their own personal worries and a few approached him seeking solution to social problems. Some of the latter group omen told him,” Swami we are not permitted to enter and offer worship in the existing orthodox temples for the reason that wea belong to the lower stratum in the caste system. Don’t we also need a common place of worship?”
Guru, realizing how serious the problem was, pondered on it, and finally decided to start a new temple open to all with no caste-discrimination, at Aruvippuiam itself. The fixed was the next Sivaratri night. The day came. No temple was built there; no idol was made ready either. On the day Guru asked those who gathered there, to erect a temporary roof over a flat piece of rock on the river bank. That formed the temporary temple. As the time for installing the idol was approaching, Guru jumped into the depths of the flowing river and just disappeared. He did not surface back for a long time. People began to become scared of an untoward event. Finally the Guru rose to the surface with a Sivalinga-like piece of stone in hand. He silently got to the bank, and, fully drenched, stood meditating for a long time, tears flowing from his eyes. Then he slowly fixed the piece of stone over the flat roc already roofed over. That was how the historical temple installation at Aruvippuram took place.
The installation of this temple started a new revolution in South India, in respect of temple culture and removal of casteism. It was always accepted those days the Brahmin priests non- Brahmin, that too from a backward community, showed that je could perform the job, on his strength of spiritual wisdom. The priestly clan felt uncomfortable and there were a few protests. Undaunted, Narayana Guru responded “It was not a Nambutiri Siva that we installed.”
The new temple there after became a permanent one and was recognized as one of repute, open to all with no discrimination of caste or religious following. Requests for establishing similar temples came from different parts of Travancore, Cochin, Madras and Mysore. Guru acceded to most of these, himself or his chief disciples installing the idols in renovated temples or now ones. The need for priests arose and this was met by training and anointing new priests cutting across caste barrier. This practice continued beyond Guru’s days. Eighty temples were set up in this manner. This new temple culture was also one of the factors which influenced the king to sign the legendary Temple Entry Proclamation in 1934, throwing open the doors of the temples to all Hindus irrespective of caste and creed.
Guru’s many poems on Siva were written while he was at Aruvippuram around the time he installed the temple there. An organized effort was afoot then, under the dedicated and inspired leadership of Dr. P. palpu-serving then in Mysore, having been denied a government job in Travancore, merely on account of caste prejudice-to usher in social justice for the downtrodden. Dr. Palpu, when he had sought Swami Vivekananda’s advice , was told that such a movement would person. Dr. Palpu immediately realised that such a leader could only be Narayana Guru, who himself belonged to such a community. Dr. Palpu thereafter approached Guru and placed before him the issue for consideration. Guru whole heartedly blessed the proposals and suggested that the administration of the newly set up temple could be transformed into such a body with a broader base and writ. Thus was born Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam(S.n.D.P. Yogam for short). Guru’s desire was that it should be a social organization striving for the community. Guru severed his connections with the Yogam grew very fast, but it remained the organization of the community. Guru severed his connections with the Yogam later in his life. It still maintains its role as the largest and the most influential social organization in the state.
Aruvippuram soon became a busy place with people tending more to temple worship and related matters. Noticing the loss of solitude which he cherished, Guru left the place and moved over to Varkala. Which he made his abode naming the particular hill he chose ‘Sivagiri’. Her also people thronged and Sivagiri became a regular ashram and the Headquarters of Guru’s spiritual movement. Here he gave discourses in Vedanta to disciples and a result of that exercise was the beautiful text Vedanta Sutras, a complete and precise restatement of Vedanta in sutra pattern, the only sutra text on Vedanta composed after Badarayana. It was in Sivagiri that Mahatma Gandhi and Gurudev Tagore called on Guru.
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