Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sree Narayana Guru – The Apostle of Oneness

“This is the model abode, where all men live in brotherhood without any caste distinctions or religious animosities,” Sree Narayana Guru.

Sree Narayana Guru was born on August 20, 1854 at Chempazhanthy in the suburb of the city of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala of Madan Asan, one of the eight feudal chiefs who were politically powerful and opposed to the ruling prince Maharaja Marthanda Varma, and Kutti Amma. He was his parents’ only son and was affectionately called Nanu by them. He learnt Tamil, Malayalam and Sanskrit from his father. One can learn about the life of this great saint and social reformer from the culmination of the exhaustive research undertook by Dr S Omana of the University of Kerala. Here the author says that Sree Narayana Guru was born at a time in Kerala when the state was under the grip of several castes, each claiming lordship over the other. Besides them, were also the untouchables and least touchable as the author says, “No rational sociological norm is implied in this classification”. Such was the caste distinction in Kerala then that not only Hindus, Christians and Muslims led exclusive communities of their own but even among the Brahmins there were sharp divisions based on their linguistic forms. These castes have evolved ‘according to hereditary traders and work opportunities’. To enquire about each other castes was a general norm in the society whereas the caste system was such that each people were looked upon with a particular sect based on their nature of work. Perhaps in India there has never been such classified caste distinction as in Kerala then, known as the princely state of Travancore of which Thiruvananthapuram was the capital. Looking at the despicable caste system in Kerala, Swami Vivekananda, after wandering the length and breadth of his country, later termed it a ‘lunatic asylum’.
Amidst this caste system, Sree Narayana Guru was born as a messiah in the Ezhava caste. He had his basic education in Chempazhanthy Pillai. He had a natural sense of understanding and sharp memory. Nanu had a natural ingenuity about the prevailing casteism and would always do his bit to further what was right since his childhood. As was the practice then in his state, his elders would always try and enforce the customary convention of caste distinction but young Nanu would run around and embrace all who were branded untouchables and isolated. His kindness and love for mankind can be gauged from a childhood incident when he started crying while on his way to school when some villagers pelted stones at a mendicant with long matted hair clad in rags. Nanu walked behind the mendicant who started moving on being stoned, crying. The mendicant asked him why he was crying to which he replied that he is unable to prevent the villagers from attacking a good man. The mendicant lifted the young boy and took him to his parents with blessings that he would be a ‘Mahatma’ one day.

A consistent facet of Narayana Guru’s life was that he always protested against injustice. He would clash with people for their crude and unhygienic life patterns. He was not very attracted to family life. He was very sensitive to moral ascetic values of a profound and universal order, similar to Lord Krishna. Nanu was mostly seen grazing his cows, like Lord Krishna of Vrindavan, in the green pastures, perched on branches of trees by the riverside. He would compose hymns and sing melodiously. Hearing his natural affinity, he was later sent to the family of Varanapally for higher education under the tutelage of Kummampilli Raman Pillai Asan, by his parents. Raman Pillai at once recognized the amazing ability of the child to grasp and understand Sanskrit classics and allowed him to be with him when he was imparting lessons to other students. Young Nanu’s strong perception skills made it so that he became a teacher and a student at the same time. He would spend more time in seclusion engaging in deep meditation and self-discipline. Raman Pillai had even instructed the chief of Varanapally household to arrange for his separate living to foster his way of life. He had a very critical and analytical mind and would not merely give up to mere logics. His heart would always melt for the deprived be it an animal or human. He used to feed a young puppy, which lived in the same house, every day from his meal. On most occasions a big dog would come and eat away its morsel, chasing away the small pup. But Nanu would not hurt the big dog but looking at the little one he said, “We are sorry. What can we do when its heart is evil?” writes Dr Omana. Similarly he had profound sympathy and compassion for the ill-treated and less-favoured members of the society. “Ask not, say not, think not caste,” he preached.
Next the family members of Nanu arranged for his marriage with Kaliyamma. Due to lack of any concrete details the married life of Nanu is not well known except to that of “The Word of the Guru” by Natraja Guru. Their married life can at best be described as a spiritual marriage the examples of which are seen in the lives of many great men and women in India. Nanu spent his time mostly in wandering the coastlines of Kerala or in the interior villages of Tamil Nadu away from the life of a householder. He had also come in contact with Raman Maharshi, one of the outstanding Gurus of modern times. “Sree Narayana Guru had not much to talk to me, for he was the “Mahatma” of high intellectual supremacy. Sree Narayana is a Perfect Mahatma. Circumstances made him to engage in action. He is an omniscient perfectionist,” said Ramana Maharshi after his contact with him at Tiruvannamalai in 1916. Nanu also learnt Yoga and Tantra from his friend Swami Chattampi and later from a Yoga teacher Thycadu Ayya.
His teachings have a universal appeal and a perennial value. The Guru’s most famous saying, “One Caste, One Religion and One God” is a call to all mankind to transcend the limits of formal religion and to work on a spiritual level towards evolving a close-knit world community. Dr Omana writes that Nanu was only concerned with two things in life – the in-dwelling absolute godhead that shines within all of us and the other is the woes of life to which men is exposed everywhere. Narayana Guru had a great awakening about the vision of unity which is believed to be bestowed upon him. He experienced this vision in the form of a godhead which is pervading in all mankind but it occurs to us, as if, it is away, a disbanded member of the society. But Narayana Guru here says that it is with contacts with people with tears in their eyes and reverence in their heart, paying homage to the absolute that it can be realized. And for this reason he took the plunge on his own and decided to return to the world from which he had withdrawn and seek the mystery of life. To start with, he confined himself in forests and jungles, on the side of Neyyar River to remain undisturbed where he was slowly shaping up into a Guru. He resented the presence of any passerby as the red hot divine knowledge engulfed him.
As Swami Vivekananda said during his visit to Travancore that the redemptions of the toiling millions of Kerala will come only through a Guru, his prophesized words proved to be true. Dr Palpu, head of Public Health Department, Travancore, who dedicated his life to the cause of Narayana Guru – who took up the challenge of redeeming India from the scourge of casteism and untouchability. The Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam was thus formed at Aruvippuram. His hermitage from where the SNDP was functioning became a powerful mouthpiece of unity of all socially and economically oppressed people of Travancore and such was its current that it not only flowed in Kerala but in the entire southern region. He travelled from one place to another with the SNDP mission which attracted millions of people to his personal contact. The temple entry proclamation by Narayana Guru for one and all eliminating the gulf between the “classes and the masses”, as Swami Ranganathananda, a monk of Ramakrishna Order, writes “deep-seated stains on the society and the province was wiped away”. An advocate of non-violence and human rights Acharya Vinoba Bhave said, “Sree Narayana Guru is considered one of the five or ten Avatars that have appeared in India during the last hundred years. I had an opportunity of meeting Him in the year in 1925 when I had been to Kerala for Vaikkom Satyagraha.” The Vaikkom Satyagraha was a movement for the rights of backward classes to enter temples. From Aruvippuram, Narayana Guru later shifted his headquarters to Varkala, in 1907 eighteen years after the founding of SNDP Yogam where he consecrated a temple at Sivagiri and dedicated it to the goddess of wisdom, Sharada.
Mahatma Gandhi, on his meeting with the Narayana Guru even got a lesson from him. He was once sitting with him and saw a mango tree with many sizes of leafs on it and asked him why it is so? “The shape and colour may be different but the essence is same. And so all religion is one and same and if it can make a better human being,” replied the Guru to the Father of the Nation. But absurdly, Gandhi was not convinced of Narayana Guru’s “One Caste, One Religion and One God” who rather saw it as a big political advantage to include it in the Indian National Congress (INC) towards abolishing untouchability. Nonetheless this inclusion in INC was moved by some followers of Narayana Guru. The greatness of Narayana Guru can be sensed from a meeting discussion between Gandhi and Narayana Guru on the issue of low caste Hindus getting converted to Christianity. Gandhi, who was looked upon more as someone espousing Christianity and Islam, said that caste-Hindus and low caste-Hindus are the sons of Hinduism, where the former is elder brother enjoying certain privileges and the latter being younger brother is to be cared for. But if the elder brother turns aggressive then that should not make the younger brother run away from Hinduism.
To this Narayana Guru replied in the words of Dr Omana, “If a Hindu has no belief in his religion and has belief in another religion, it is good that he embraces the religion in which he believes. Such a conversion will help Hinduism in getting rid of a non-believer, and the religion to which the man gets converted will have the benefit of adding one more believer to it. Moreover the man will be benefited with love and sympathy which he will get from his fellow-believers.” His reply had an attitudinal change in Gandhi later. Swami Ranganathananda in “Sri Narayana Guru – An Appreciation” writes, “Romain Rolland, in his well-known work “The Life of Ramakrishna” speaking about the Great Shepherds of Modern India, refers also to numerous less known spiritual leaders, and introduces Sri Narayana as the ‘Great Guru’ whose beneficent spiritual activity was exercised for more than forty years in the State of Travancore over some million faithful souls. He preached, if one may say so, a Jnana of action, a great intellectual religion, having a very lively sense of the people, and their social needs. It has greatly contributed to the uplifting of the oppressed classes in Southern India and its activities have in a measure been allied to those of Gandhi.”
The meeting between Nobel Laureate Rabindrananth Tagore and Narayana Guru was the meet of two great humanists who loved mankind more than geographies. Tagore on his visit to this Southern Indian state said, “I have been touring different parts of the world. During these travels, I have had a good fortune to come in contact with several saints and maharishis, but I have frankly to admit that I have never seen one who is spiritually greater than Swami Narayana Guru of Malayalam. I shall never forget that radiant face illuminated by the self effulgent light of divine glory and those mystic eyes fixing their gaze on a far remote point in the distant horizon.” To millions of his devotees, Sree Narayana Guru is an incarnation of God and in his statement of abounding faith Deenabandhu CF Andrews adores, “I had a vision of God in human form, Sree Narayana Guru who was well known in the southernmost part of India was that Supreme Being.”
Sree Narayana Guru came of a section of India’s population which possessed no rights and privileges and which consequently received the name of depressed classes of India constituted the basis of economic prosperity and well being of the country. In 1924, a conference of all religions was held at Aluva where he said that the congregation has not gathered here to argue but to know and be known to each other. Jawaharlal Nehru after visiting Guru’s place at Sivagiri said, “The message of Guru is still very much needed in these days. In order to get casteless, classless society what are we to do? Many things have to be done. But the general approach which I presume is Sree Narayana Guru’s approach.” Sree Narayana Guru brought about social reformations in Kerala and other parts of Southern India and was responsible for eradication of evils of caste distinction and superstitions. This unbelievable aspect of Narayana Guru’s life was the incomparable effort he made in delinking Kerala from its caste years of yore to one ethnic unit. He transformed Kerala into a homogeneous entity, as is seen today. But it is indeed an irony, as Dr Omana says, “... that the man who dedicated his entire life for the cause of abolition of caste is today pinned down to the name of a particular caste group of Kerala as their benefactor...” However different organizations are working all over the world to spread the message and teachings of Sree Narayana Guru. Sree Narayana Guru who started schools for needy and destitute has now several renowned educational institutions and other organizations in his name that is at the service of humanity.

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Writers Column


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