I have great pleasure to introduce to the innumerable admirers and devotees of Sri Sadguru Maharshi Sri Malayalaswami the present work of Dr. P. Munikrishnaiah of Sri Venkateswara University.
The present work which is the result of several years of reading, thinking and writing, is the first recognised research publication in English on the contributions of the Swami ji to contemporary Indian thought.
In point of profundity Sri Malayalaswami is second to no thinker in recent Indian Philosophy, though in point of popularity he is little known outside the Telugu speaking areas. All the publications of his discourses, teachings and writings were in Telugu and no sustained efforts were ever made either to translate them into English or other major languages of the country or write independent works on him in English so as to enable the contributions of this saint of Yerpedu reach other parts of the country or overseas.
The Swami ji rightly called “Yatindra” or “the king among saints” is an uncompromising champion of Sanatana Dharma. He carried on a relentless fight against all forms of evil perpetrated in the name of dharma and mata. The Swami ji made real and meaningful efforts to carry the message of Sanatana Dharma to the vast populace of the rural parts of Andhra Pradesh. His discourses on the Gita, the Upanishads and Vedanta had a tremendous impact on the people in the villages and helped the cultivation of spiritual values in them.
Through his discourses and writings in ‘Yathartha Bharati’ the Swami ji tried to effect a revolutionary change in the people’s thinking on vital social issues such as caste system, religious harmony, women education,and popularization of the Sanskrit language.
Like Gautama Buddha, the Swami ji is not so much a Metaphysician as he is a moralist. Not that he has no metaphysics. His is the metaphysics of Vedanta. But the whole burden of the Swamiji’s teachings is on the enunciation, enlightenment and education of the ethical teachings that the rich Indian heritage could offer. The ethics of the Swami ji is the ethics of humanism. For him, the goal of all religious inquiry, and the terminus of all philosophical investigations is the attainment of eternal Bliss and spiritual glory.
I am happy that Dr. P. Munikrishnaiah asked me to write the Foreword to this valuable work. I wish that Dr. Munikrishnaiah writes many more books of this kind and makes Indian Philosophy and spiritualism richer.
Since I was a native of Srikalahasti, I used to hear a lot about the Vyasasramam of Yerpedu, and its founder His Holiness Sri Malayalaswami from my younger days. Sri Malayalaswami was held in high esteem by the people of the area. The people deified him and worshipped him. Though he was a Malayalee, he came to Andhra and practised penance on the sacred hills of Tirumala and attained enlightenment. He founded an Asramam named after the sage Vyasa in betw.een Tirupati and Srikalahasti, the famous pilgrim centres of Vaishnavism and Saivism respectively. He rendered invaluable services to Andhra desa. Despite an apparent spiritual outlook, all his efforts and contributions were pregnant with social concern and social upliftment.
The Swami ji never entertained a blind belief in the teachings of Sanatana Dharma. He maintained a harmonious balance between the claims of reason and revelation. While on the one hand placing due reliance on the authenticity of the Sastras, he used to examine the truth or falsity of their import from a critical stand point, on the other. This is the reason why he happened to express on many an occasion to express views very much different from the fundamentalists. In this respect, he can be ranked with the great Vedantins like Swami Vivekananda, Ramatirtha, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sri Dayananda Saraswati.
“Sushka Vedanta Tamo Bhaskaram” his magnum opus, which he wrote in 1 91 9 while he was practising penance at Tirumala hills effected a revolutionary change in the attitudes of the people, spiritually and socially. While on the one hand proving his reformatory and welfare conceptions and doctrines with illustrations, he has expounded in this epoch-making book his bold and revolutionary ideas on caste system, women education and their competence to receive Brahrna Vidya. The traditionalists reacted to his views very sharply. But the enlightened people could discern and appreciate the truths and validity in Swamiji’s arguments. This is the reason why the Book has received immense popularity and converted thousands of people as his devotees. Even after 70 years since its publication, the book has as much relevance as it had those days.
His works in Telugu run into thousands of pages and they are all published by the Vyasasramam. An attempt is being made to publish his works in an organised manner under the caption ‘The complete works of Malayalaswami’. There is immense scope for Research Scholars to take up studies in his works which will be a source of inspiration for the people in the spiritual field. I have touched in my thesis only some aspects.
India is said to be the land of Religion. There are various branches even in the Hinduism. Other religions also entered into this country and established their positions firmly. What is required today is an integration of all these religions by which the country will prosper in peace and- happiness. Sri Malayalaswami ji has shown the path to achieve the unity and integrity of various paths of religions by his teachings and practices. It is indeed a god-given opportunity to me to write this thesis on the great Mahatma and I will consider of my efforts to be more than compensated if the teachings of the Swami ji are appreciated and practised.
The last part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century has seen many social reformers and philosophers. As told by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, whenever there is a danger to Dharma, God himself came down to protect. We must take true measure of India from the poets of the Vedas, the sages of the Upanishads, the founders of the Vedanta and Samkhya philosophies and the authors of the oldest law books. and not from the millions of people who have never for one moment been roused out of their drowsy dream of life. We had Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the sun that ablazed the whole religious sky through his beloved disciple Swami Vivekananda. Similarly, in south India. Sri Ramana Maharshi of Tiruvannamalai, Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry, Sri Narayana Guru of Kerala, Sri Malayalaswami of Andhra Pradesh are the most famous. Sri Ramana Maharshi attuned the Jnanins and Sri Malayalaswami chistled and shaped the uneducated women in Andhra Pradesh. Thousands of women were made to recite and get byheart the Slokas of Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads. They all have come down with strong determination to spell the dark clouds of ignorance in the minds of thousands of people. They led a life of purity and discipline and set an example of ideal living and paved the way for many to tread their path.
Kerala State has a historical significance in ancient Hindu tradition of philosophy as well as its natural scenes. Sri Sankara, the greatest exponent of Advaita philosophy was born in Kerala. Sri Narayana Guru, a great social reformer and a religious leader was also born in Kerala, He was a teacher of Siddha Sivalinga Guruswami, the teacher of Sri Malayalaswami.
The whole Andhra Desa, had become spiritually vibrant by the very presence of Sri Malayalaswami, His teachings of compassion, fraternity, and equality made the people realise the greatness of Hinduism and the significance of Sanatana Dharma. By his well versed knowledge of the scriptures, he dispelled ignorance and educated the Telugu people in the perennial Hindu philosophy and brought about a general climate of spiritual values of life among them, besides giving personal guidance to individuals who required it from him. Owing to his compassion and piety, the women and downtrodden people were given an opportunity to study the Bhagavad Gita. Swami Sivananda, commented “His personal life was a living commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.”
Sadguru Maharshi Sri Malayalaswami was born in a middle class family in Engandiyur village near Guruvayur, a famous pilgrim centre in Kerala State on 27th March, 1885. His parents were Nottiyamma and Kariyappa. His original name was Velappa. Nottiyamma was a strict disciplinarian. Under her care, from the early boyhood, Velappa was ‘stressed on good behaviour. Velappa’s greatness was witnessed even during his boyhood. Unlike other children, he would obstain from playful acts and spend much of his time alone. Aggressiveness so natural to children was almost absent in Velappa.
At the age of five, his parents sent him to a school. There he learnt Sanskrit and Malayalam. Classical Sanskrit literature was the main subject taught. There Velappa started his education with ‘OM’ a syllable used by every teacher in the beginning. He used to practice meditation for hours in a secluded place, without food. He used to be very receptive to talks on Ramayana and Mahabharata. He would seek the blessings of ciders and mendicants visiting the village. This boy was filled with pity even for small birds and insects. Velappa’s daily activities used to be prayer and participation in Bhajans. He would never believe what others said but would discern and discriminate. Thus from his childhood, he was a keen observer and exercised his discretion. While observing the yogic practices of Velappa, Nottiyamma felt that her son would one day or the other leave the house in search of Truth. Her prediction came true. After finishing elementary education, Velappa had the opportunity of prosecuting Sanskrit education. This greatly helped him in his later life. Sri Narayana Guru exercised a tremendous influence on the later life and activities of Velappa.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Kerala society was pregnant with social imbalances and caste prejudices. The so called middle a-Id rich classes treated low castes as untouchables and exploited them in every way. As a consequence millions of Hindus got converted into either Christianity or Islam and it gained for them many favours. The atrocities perpetrated by the higher castes on the lower in Kerala, were totally inhuman, a phenomenon that prompted Swami Vivekananda to call it a “lunatic asylum”. Narayana Guru has tried to canalise the caste feelings and achieved solidarity and strength of the downtrodden’ people through his poems and verses in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil.
Narayana Guru was a social reformer and a truly ‘Jivanmukta Karma Yogi’. He gave orientation to the ancient wisdom and culture of India, to make them broad based and applicable to the whole world. He was well versed in Vedas and the scriptures. His studies and meditations had led him to conclude that there was absolutely no difference between man and man. Today, the conditions in Kerala are totally different. Though casteism still exists, untouchability has been mostly eradicated. Narayana Guru’s teachings and works have contributed a great deal towards the making of modern Kerala. Sri Narayana Guru established three Institutions each in Aruvippuram, Sivagiri and Alwaye - an eloquent testimony to Swamiji’s love for natural beauty. He also established an ‘Advaita Ashram’ in Alwaye on the banks of Alwaye river. There he opened a residential Sanskrit School for students of all castes. He did not build a temple or install an idol at ‘Advaita Ashram’. Arangements were made only for conducting prayers and reading strictly in accordance with Advaita. Aruvippuram was the centre of all his activities. His philosophy was firmly rooted in Sankara’s Advaita and carried it to its logical conclusions. He therefore, opposed caste system as well as other systems that segregated human beings. The Guru also established the Dharma Sangham, which was purely meant for his Sanyasin followers: Narayana gurukula at Nilagiri ceaselessly continues till today the propagation of ‘Brahma Vidya’.
Swamiji established an organisation known as “Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam” (S.N.D.P. Yogam) in 1903 with the aim of improving the religious and social conditions of the low caste people. Many educated young men were enlightened and became Swamiji’s disciples and monks. Swamiji used to propogate his thoughts through leaflets and public speeches. Their slogan is “One caste, one religion and one God for men”. Each man did not have a separate caste, a separate creed or separate God, since all men belong to the same species. Whatever be their religion, dress, language, etc. there is no objection to their marriages or taking food together. His actions proclaimed his love for the lower classes. He always laid special stress on the noble values of life in all his directives. The S.N.D.P. Yogam’s motto was “Strength through organisation. Freedom through education. Fight for social justice.” The organisation propagated the message of Narayana Guru to the people that caste has to be eschewed. Otherwise, there is no salvation. Caste should be abandoned to maintain the state. Men should live as one caste. They should maintain purity in thought, word and deed. Whatever be the creed, man should be good. This opinion should be universally accepted.
His message of “One caste, one religion and one God” has effected improvement in the social and religious sphere. As a religious leader, he was respected throughout India. As a social reformer, he was looked up to by the down-trodden people and the benefits they derived were immeasurable. He did not want man to be tied to any particular religion. For him man was more important than religion. In his own words, “Whatever be the religion, man must be good”. The aim of all religions is the same. Religions are there only to provide in the individual soul an attitude in favour of progress. What distinguished Narayana Guru were his noble qualities such as his unparalled religious faith, deep scholarship in the philosophy of Advaita, spirituality, compassion and unassuming concern for the welfare of the world.
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