Sree Narayana Guru was a great saint of India whose teachings have a universal appeal and a perennial value. The Guru's most famous saying, 'One caste, one religion, one God for man,' is a call to all mankind to transcend the limits of formal religion and to work on the spiritual level towards evolving a close-knit world community. Written lucidly, this book shows how the life of the Guru could well serve as a model for the uplift of suffering humanity anywhere, any time.
Murkot Kunhappa, the author of this book, has a grand-stand view of the activities of the Guru since his childhood. He supplemented them by a close study of the works of the saint. He has written both in English and in Malayalam as a freelance journalist and author.
"I have been touring different parts of the world. During these travels I have had the good fortune to come into contact with several saints and Maharishis (great saints). But I have frankly to admit that I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Swami Sree Narayana Guru of Kerala - nay, a person who is on par with him in spiritual attainments.
I am sure I shall never forget that radiant face, illuminated by self-effulgent light of divine glory and those yogic eyes fixing their gaze on a remote point on the distant horizon."
- Rabindranath Tagore That was the impression which Tagore gathered when he met the Guru in 1922.
Romain Rolland sums up his observations by recording: The great Guru Sree Narayana's teaching was permeated with the philosophy of Sankara ... He was, one might say, Jnanin (one who has knowledge of Self) inaction, a grand religious intellectual, who had a living sense of the people and of social necessities. He has contributed greatly to the elevation of the oppressed classes (there were two million of them) in South India and his work had been associated at certain times with that of Gandhi.
Gandhiji always referred to the Guru as his Holiness Sree Narayana Guru and accepted the Guru's points of view in intensifying Harijan uplift activities.
Today, Sree Narayana Guru's life, his message and his activities have urgent and specific relevance to India in particular and the world at large in general.
The Guru was an Advaitin (believer in non-dualism) in the sense in which Sankaracharya was, but with a difference. In his sixteen years of preaching Advaita (non-dualism) philosophy and establishing it as the sublime contribution of India to the world of metaphysical thought, the Acharya had created an elite who were to carry on his tradition. The Guru carries on the tradition, but in doing so extends it so as to become a Jnanin (follower of the path of knowledge of self) in action incarnated for the benefit of the suffering multitudes.
Within a period of less than half a century, he had metamorphosed the depressed castes of Kerala from dust into men who could stand on their own legs as self-respecting human beings. Thanks to his activities, they could walk on the public roads with complete freedom. The roads around temples were thrown open to them in 1925 and the temple authorities were forbidden by law in 1936 to refuse entry to the untouchables into the temples, years before anything like it happened in other parts of India.
Where once they were not admitted into schools, they were freely granted admission within two or three decades and before 1947, the untouchables had established on their own, a dozen colleges along with high schools and other educational institutions. When the Swamiji started his mission in 1895, there was not a single employee among the lower castes in government service, not even an employee drawing a salary of rupees five. By 1947, there was a significant number of them working as government servants, some of them holding the highest posts.
This impetus, combined with the other factors too no doubt, brought out the literary, artistic and academic talents latent in the lower castes. Poets, editors, essayists, novelists, short-story writers, professors, and principals arose and provided them with a respectable status in the land as a whole.
The Guru based the foundation of all progress in the reformation of religious practices, social customs, and the daily habits of the people. All roads lead to the same summit, so say the Advaitins. The Guru added a practical rider to it, saying that each man has to start the journey from the point at which he finds himself. The longest journey, says a Chinese proverb, starts with the first step. He began with that first step and lighted the way for his followers along the entire journey, by messages, by reform of social customs, by provision of different types of houses of worship and, above all, by metaphysical writings shorn of all irrelevant embellishments.
In wresting the rights from people with age-old vested interests, he never uttered a single word against them. He advised his followers not to say anything that would hurt the feelings of other religionists or condemn anybody. The result was that the broad -minded leaders of the higher castes respected him and co-operated in the movements for the uplift of the depressed classes. Some of them even went to jail for that cause and once, thousands went in procession on foot, walking over a hundred kilometers to plead with the Maharajah of Travancore to grant them freedom of the roads around the temples to all castes. Several of his most important sanyasi (ascetic) disciples belonged to higher castes including Brahmins.
It was a bloodless revolution which he achieved.
Wherever there are down-trodden, underprivileged groups in the world, message of Sree Narayana Guru, "Educate that you may be free; organise that you may be strong; industrialise that your financial status may improve" - has relevance at all times and in all climes.
All these programmes have, however, to be based on deep religious faith that the supreme ONE alone exists and all that we see, are only its variegated manifestations. Every man's face is different bfrom that of every other man and yet no one ever doubts that we are all human beings and therefore sons of the same Father heaven.
Advaita philosophy of the Guru will prevent mutual cooperation and professions of oneness from deteriorating into a carnal philosophy of human pragmatism.
The message of 'One caste, One religion, One God for man" should not have a commercial mentality behind it, if the United Nations Organisation and other world bodies are to succeed in their mission. Sree Narayana Guru's message has a universal significance and relevance for all times.
The entire narrative portion of the life and works of the Guru is a summary of the definitive biography of Sree Narayana Guru, (in two volumes) written by Murkot Kumaran, the father of the present author. The book has served as source material for many a salient point in the 40-odd biographies of the Guru.
Murkot Kumaran was a teacher and a writer who gave shape to modern Malayalam prose, having written innumerable articles and over twenty-five books that helped in modernising the thoughts of readers from drawing-rooms to the kitchens of Kerala- a land where even domestic servants are avid readers of papers and magazines.
He was the most devout follower of the Guru, having known him personally and intimately for years on end. As a leader who propagated the teachings of the Guru, his thoughts and ideas on the Guru's way of revolutionising society has had such a tremendous impact on the present writer's mind that it is very difficult, even for me, to sort out his thoughts from my own ideas.
This book is dedicated to his revered memory.
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