Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: A genius and a saint

A genius and a saint - The Hindu

R. Ramdas Thampuran ()
31 August 1997

Title: A genius and a saint
Author: R. Ramdas Thampuran
Publication: The Hindu
Date: August 31, 1997

Narayana Guru was the initiator of a non-violent social revolution in the
late 19th century. R. Ramdas Thampuran outlines the life and teaching of
the guru on his 143rd birth anniversary

Sri Narayana Guru was an extraordinary phenomenon who strode over the
spiritual firmament of Kerala like a collosus during the late 19th century
and early 20th century. He left an indelible impression on those who met
him including luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. He
was a yogi, visionary, poet and a social reformer. While trying to uplift
the downtrodden by fighting against the entrenched caste system, he was
simultaneously pursuing truth by delving into the depth of vedic lore.
While he had his feet firmly planted on earth to ensure social equality, he
had his head in the high altitudes of vedanta. He proclaimed that his ideal
and goal was Advaita propounded by Adi Sankara. He was acclaimed as a
Siddha purusha and Maharishi from the beginning of the 20th century.

Nanu, as he was known in his formative years, was born in Chempazhanthi, a
remote village near Thiruvananthapuram, on August 20, 1854. His parents
were Madan Asan and Kuthiamma. He had his elementary education in a nearby
village school. His father and maternal uncle Ayurveda which stood him in
good stead in later years. While Nanu was recognised as a good student. he
was also unorthodox much to the annoyance of his parents. Once he entered
the kitchen of a Harijan family to save the rice gruel. Also he used to
touch the so-called untouchables and then go and mingle with his family
members which was frowned upon.

Like the Buddha, the death of a relation triggered certain sentiments in
the extremely sensitive psyche of the young boy and he begun to reflect on
the evanescence of life and the riddles regarding the nature of existence,
death and the impermance of material objects. Essentialy a contemplative
lad, Nanu would visit temples, wear scared ash on his forehead, and was
known as "Nanu devotee" by his friends.

The first few steps on his journey towards God had already been taken in
his boyhood. An attack of smallpox during his teens further strengthened
his devotional attitude. The verses of "Vairagyotipadakam" written by
Melpathoor Narayana Bhattathri of Narayanceyam fame, were constantly on his
lips and this paved the way for his renunciation or sanyasa.

Nanu continued his non-formal education at the "Varanappalli house" under
the gurukula system and mastered the epics. Soon after he began training
pupils at elementary levels and earned the affectionate titles of "Nanu
Asan." He was married to his first cousin "Kaliamma" but the marriage
endded abruptly since Nanuasan became a wanderer.

His wanderings led him to the southern parts of the erstwhile Travancore
state and the Maruthuvamala hills were his favourite haunts. This region is
celebrated for its abundant plants and very soon the wandering Avadhoota
became an adept in siddha medicines and began to minister to the sick and
forlorn. He often crossed into Tamil Nadu and thus learnt Tamil and in his
later years compiled a few works in that language.

A contemporary of Nanu was Chattambe Swamigal a renowned yogi. The inherent
spirituality dormant in Nanu began to unfold in course of time and soon he
acquired the epithet Swami. Nanuswami underwent severe penance in
Maruthwamala hills confining himself in an isolated cave. He spent days in
deep meditation and obtained spiritual enlightenment. People approached him
for solace and advice. Nevertheless the so-called "higher class" did not
recognise his stature and instead ridiculed him. But he had already reached
the pinnacle of knowledge where all dualities dissolved into oneness. Man
made differences made very little impact on his yogic even mindedness.
Finally the Guru had arrived.

Sri Narayana Guru choose a beautiful location known as Aruvippuram, a
little south of Thiruvananthapuram, for his sojourn and soon it became a
pilgrim centre. In the year 1888, on the holy Sivarathri day, Narayana Guru
made the famous Sivalinga Pratishta, which signalled the death knell of the
obscurantist and demagogic caste system and there no stopping him. Another
place, a little north of Thiruvananthapuram also attracted the attention of
the guru. This was Varkala, where he established the famous Sivagiri
ashram. Starting as a humble hermitage in 1903, this centre witnessed the
building of a Siva temple in 1908 and the installation of the deity of
Sarada in 1912. Some of the famous temples consecrated by Sri Narayana
Guru include the Jagnnatha temple at Tellichery, Sreekanteswara temple at
Calicut and the one at Kalavancode near Sherthallai, where a mirror was
installed at the altar to teach humanity that every being is a reflection
of God. He also established an Advaita Ashram at Alwaye. Thus he emphasised
both the aspects of dual and non-dual or saguna and nirguna aspect of the
ultimate Brahman.

To describe the guru as a multifaceted genius, or a many splendoured
personality will be a gross understatement. At the mundane level, he was
struggling to uplift the downtrodden and give them some respectability in
society. He had to face severe personal and institutional resistance from
the ruling hierarchy and the upper castes. But he held no grudge against
his oppressors and his disarming love and catholicity slowly won the
admiration of even his worst enemies and during his later days he was
acclaimed as a Loka Guru by the entire state.

One landmark in the life of the guru was the establishment of the S.N.D.P.
(Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana) yogana on the May 15, 1903. But the
genius of the guru was not confined to the four walls of the organisation
and was so vast and transcentendal to encompass the entire humanity. He
did not want the yogana to restrict its organisation as an instrument for
social uplift but also laid emphasis on dharma paripalana (protection of
dharma) in the literal sense of the central theme of the organisation.

Two important incidents in the life of the guru are his meetings with
Gandhiji and Rabindranath Tagore. The former met him during the famous
Vaikom Satyagraha. Tagore met him in 1922. Deeply impressed and he
remarked "I have been travelling all over the world and had occassion to
meet several sages and enlightened beings. Yet I could not meet anybody to
compare with the great Sri Narayana Guru of India. This statement deserves
special mention since Sri Narayana was living contemporaneously with
spiritual giants like Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharishi.

Since all goodthings have to finally end, the guru's life also came to a
close on September 20, 1928, when he attained Mahasamadhi. However the
trail blazed by this incomparable master continues to inspire millions of
people, not only in India but all over the world.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements