Sree Narayana Guru – Social Reformer of Kerala

September 11, 2011, is the birthday, this year, of Sree Narayana Guru, the great social reformer of Kerala who brought a transformation resulting in the social equality that we see now and Kerala is proud of. This article concisely gives the life and work of Sree Narayana Guru who accomplished a silent revolution, devoid of bloodshed and hatred and was an inspiration to Gandhiji.

Who is Sree Narayana Guru

Sree Narayana Guru
The originator of the golden slogan "One caste,One religion, One God to mankind" was SreeNarayanaGuru , silent-revolutionary sanyasi, who transformed a society ridden with social inequalities to a society which stands in front in equality and literacy in the country now. The Karma Yogi,who Sree Narayana Guru was accomplished this without causing hatred, without breaking any idol, but installing idols, without challenges caste or god, but standing within a temple, accepting the caste- but still making equality and eradicating discrimination with a silent revolution of forty years.
Though he led a great social transformation, he was leading a simplistic, austere life of sanyasi throughout.

Short biography of Sreenarayana guru

Sree Narayana Guru was born to parents Madan Aasaan and Kutti Amma in August 1856 (on the star Chathayam, third day after the famous Onam in the Malayalam month Chingam of Malayalam Era 1032) in a small village Chempazhanthi near Thiruvananthapuram in a middle class family of 'Ezhava'caste. Though named Narayana, he was fondly called Nanu. After undergoing initial education in traditional gurukula way, he came under a Sanskrit scholar 'Raman Pillai Aasaan' and from him learned Sanskrit. He then gained vast knowledge in Vedic books. As Nanu himself taught students of lower level, he was also called Nanu Aasaan. Nanu had always an inner urge of spirituality and to be an ascetic. He learned yoga from one Ayyavu.

Unattracted to the normal family life, Nanu left his home, and traveled and wandered as a mendicant sanyasi. He sat in mediation at a place called Aruvippuram. People hear about him and came to him. He started imparting spiritual learning to them. His journey of social reforms started from there.

From then it was social awakening as his mission which he carried on till he attained Samadhi on Sept 20.1928(Malayalam month Kanni, 5 th)

Sree NarayanaGuru's journey to spread the awakening

That was the time when there were certain social inequalities. Untouchability was also practiced. Certain sections of the society had to keep a certain distance from others. The distance went far or near as per the unwritten hierarchy. His own Ezhava caste was also practicing same. They were somewhere in the middle, that means there were some 'above' them and some 'below 'them. His own caste people discouraged him from mingling with 'untouchables'. Though he wanted to be a teacher, his own family did not want him to teach the lower castes. The Ezhava caste was a sizable percentage of the population. Hence Sree Narayana Guru started the reforms from his own caste. His awakening teachings made him a 'Guru".

Consecration of an 'Ezhava Siva" temple – start of a silent revolution

It was a norm in those days that temples should be consecrated by only Brahmins. All were not allowed entry to inside temple also. The ezhavs complained this to Guru. They wanted entry to the Brahmins' temples. Narayana Guru advised them to have their own temple and not to go and fight for entry into other's temples. When everybody got wondered Narayana Guru dipped him into the river, took a shapely stone, kept it below a tree and told them, now this is your temple. He told his on caste people that they also commit the sin of not allowing the other lower castes near them. They should first start equality among them and then start for equality with higher castes. Reluctant at first, his caste people yielded to this. He told that the idol was to be treated as Siva. That was in 1888. When the upper castes heard this, they came to him and objected. But very patiently Guru said he had consecrated an Ezhava Siva. With this he blunted any opposition, but won over them also. That was the beginning of a silent, no-hate revolution.

There was lot of requests from many places for temples. Though he obliged them all, he also took steps to remove the darkness of ignorance in the people. In Murukkumpzha he just placed a lamp and above it inscribed the words 'Satyam, Dharmam, Daya, Sneham"- Truth, Virtue, Kindness, Love. His message was that the ignorance is to be removed first and anybody who can practice the four qualities, can realise god.

The last of his temple installations was at Kalavamcode. He was to consecrate and install a pre prepared idol. But there was a dispute between two sections of people, one wanting idol installation and other opposing that. After hearing both, Guru asked for a mirror. Writing "Om" on it he installed it at the demarked place.
He symbolically told the world that, one should reform self by seeing himself in a mirror. It was a great teaching of Advaitha delivered in simple way that ultimate salvation is to be found in oneself.

Narayana Guru made his people to keep the temple for worship by all –even the 'lowest of the lowest.' These temples were open to anyone. Ultimately in 1936, the Maharaja of Travancore made the Temple Entry Proclamation removing all discrimination and allowing all Hindus to enter any temple.

Sree Narayana Guru's teachings and messages

In 1921, at a conference of all fraternity he proclaimed a mssage "Oru Jaati, Oru Matam Oru Daivam, Manushyanu"- One Caste,One religion, One God for mankind. It is here that one of the two ashrams founded by Sree NarayanGuru stand. The other is at Varkala. In 1924, at Alwaye a conference of All relgions participated by eminent representatives from all religions was conducted. In that conference Guru said that the conference was convened "Not to argue and win but to know and to make known". He added in a message that 'This great Parliament of religions makes it abundantly clear that the ultimate goal of all religions is same and so there is no need for followers of different religions to indulge in mutual conflict."

Guru's teachings were very simple. He did not resort to hard-to-crack philosophy or hair splitting explanations. He was against all inequalities and discrimination.
He explained his principles through informal exchanges tinged with satire.

Sree Narayana Guru was a vegetarian himself and supported vegetarian ways. Once a person asked Guru, why he was not eating meat, though he was drinking milk. Guru questioned whether his mother was live. When the man replied in negative, Guru asked him if he had buried her or eaten her meat. That was enough to hit the nail.
He advocated against drinking. Though the ezhava caste was traditionally engaged in toddy-tapping, Guru advised, 'Liquor is poison hence don't make it, don't give it, don't drink it'.

Guru did not approve polygamy and polyandry. He discouraged some unnecessary traditions in marriage.
He considered all religions to be a way for man's goodness and welfare and thus are equal. Hence he did not want to enter into any dispute.

In the Aruvippuram temple he inscribed " Jaati bhedam matadwesham ethumillate saravrum sodratwena vaazhunna maatrukaa sthaanamaanithu"- This is the place where all live in equality, like brothers, without any differences of cast, any hatred of religion

Narayana Guru's written works

Sree Narayana Guru had proficiency in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil and had written by way of hymns of prayer to different gods in all three languages, translations, philosophy and teachings. Some of the notable ones are "Atmopadesa Sathakam" and "Darsanamala" which give in condensed way the moral and spiritual principles. Sree Narayana Guru was a follower of Advaitha philosophy and his works have the same in them. With his good knowledge in Tamil, he had translated Tamil works like "Thirukkural" into Malayalam. Guru has also written simple hymns and prayers for the benefit of common man.

Tributes by Gandhi and Tagore

Rabindra natah Tagore visited Sree Narayana Guru and was very much charmed by Guru. He expressed "Among the 'Paramahamsas' alive in India now, there is none who has lived such a life of purity as Swami Sree Narayana". ....... I have had the good fortune to come into contact with several saints and Maharshis (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 Malayalam...."
Mahatma Gandhi visited Guru in 1923 and they had a very mutual one-to-one exchange. Guru emphasized the need to eradicate the caste system. Gandhiji intensified his campaign to eradicate untouchability and to make harijan upliftment getting inspiration from this meeting.

Uniqueness of Sree Narayana Gurus' revolution

Sree Narayana Guru's revolution is unique that it was totally bloodless. It did not preach hatred. He did not abhor religion or spirituality. He did not question religious texts or epics. But his aim was to bring equality and end discrimination. For this he did not target any one. He did not cross anybody's path. He took his own path, and made others also join him. Though he was convinced of advaitha, he did not fall for the 'Maya' theory, but believed I practical action. He gave thrust to awakening by education. He was a Karma Yogi. He could convince and win the opponents also to his side. Atheists, Rationalists agnostics, idol worshippers all respected him.

In 1905, guru started evening school for the lowest castes. In 1914 started Adwaitha Ashram in Alwaye and founded a Sanskrit school there in 1916.

Contemporary significance of Sree NarayanaGuru's teachings

If Kerala is an exemplary state in literacy, caste equality, and lack of social evils found in other parts of the country, it is only because, Sree Narayana Guru has made a silent revolution, without any blood shed or hatred, but with evoking respect and co-operation from all concerned. His own Ezhava caste is now enjoying an economical and political position, having a say in the state's social, political and educational scene. Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) the community organisation is in the forefront in spreading the teachings of Sree Narayana Guru.

Though in many other aspects, the state has followed Sree Narayana Guru, Kerala has discarded his advice on liquor, and the state has earned a top rank in drinking liquor. Hence his teachings still need relevance to be followed in action.
Sreenarayana Guru stamp

(Sree Narayana Guru Commemoration Stamp released on August 21st, 1967)
(imgs thanks to &sndp)

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