NARAYANA GURU (A Biography) By M K Sanoo

Translated by:  Madhavan Ayyappath



A Prolegomenon



  1. 1. A Meeting and a Discovery
  2. 2. Dr. Palpu.
  3. 3. On the Yogam.
  4. 4. Stepsthat Never Faltered.
  5. 5. Sivagiri.
  6. 6. A Temple in Tellicherry.
  7. 7. Alwaye Advaita Ashram.
  8. 8. Social Uplift.
  9. 9. The Friend of the poor.
  10. 10. Intimations of Scepticism.
  11. 11. Sahodaran Ayyappan.
  12. 12. C. Krishnan.
  13. 13. On Marriage, Obsequies etc.
  14. 14. Hectic Activities.
  15. 15. Sixty Years of Age.


  1. 1. Sixtieth Birth Anniversary Celebrations.
  2. 2. One Caste, One Religion.
  3. 3. On Proselytizing.
  4. 4. Visits to Sri Lanka.
  5. 5. Satyavratan.
  6. 6. All Religions Conference.
  7. 7. T.K.Madhavan.
  8. 8. Some Aspects of the Vaikom Satyagraha.
  9. 9. A. Conversation.
  10. 10. Tagore and Gandhiji.
  11. 11. A Ceremony of Anointment.
  12. 12. The Evening Sun.
  13. 13. A Dialogue.
  14. 14. Swami’s Will, Sivagiri Pilgrimage.
  15. 15. Towards Peace.


  1. Swami’s Poetry.
  2. Swami’s Works.
  3. Swami’s Dialogues
  4. General Notes.
  5. Notes on Persons Mentioned In the Book.


First published in 1975 the original Malayalam edition of this volume had a good reception at the hands of the reading public. Discerning critics like the late Pro. Joseph Mundassery, Shri. K.P.S.Menon, Justice Shri. V.R.Krishna Iyer and others were generous enough to say a few good words about and it naturally well-meaning friends were soon demanding that an English version should be brought out without delay. Hence this venture.

People of kerala hold Narayana Guru in high esteem as a great Acharya who authored a new chapter in the socio-cultural history of Kerala. Much less are they adequately acquainted with his teachings, thoughts or the far reaching social reforms he had launched.

Narayana Guru was a Rishi, genuinely so, in the ancient Indian Tradition. His philosophy was firmly rooted in Shri. Sankara’s Advaita. More than that, he was truly a “Jnanin of Action” as observed by no less a person than Romain Rolland. His life was mostly devoted to up-lifting, to modernity and higher levels of humanism, this small part of the Indian sub-continent, Kerala, then hopelessly steeped in the quagmire of social taboos and superstitions to an extent that provoked Swami Vivekananda to condemn it as a ‘lunatic  asylum’.

Narayana Guru is revered and remembered in Kerala as great savant and seer, an exemplary model of human compassion, totally detached from desires and ambitions, and yet ever active in the tasks he had set before him ; a truly Jeevan Mukta Karma yogi. This book tries to portray the life and work of such a person, in as full a measure as possible, so that the universal mission of the Guru will be easily within the access of those who live away from the conditions under which he lived and worked, geographically, culturally and in time. And it is my sincere hope that my efforts in this direction will at least open up the way for attaining such an understanding or awareness among them.

I am greatefully indebted to Shri. Madhavan Ayyappath who has so painstakingly done the English rendering of this book, and to Shri. K.K.Vishwanathan  for the introduction. I also owe my thanks to Shri. M.Govindan, Dr.Ayyappa Panicker, Shri. P.K. Balakrishnan and A.N.Nambiar for their invaluable help in editing and toning up the work within the limited time available to them. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan naturally deserves our gratitude- and that of all  Keralites – for cheerfully agreeing to take up the entire burden of publishing this volume. May this be a forerunner to many more and brighter enlightening works on all aspects of Narayana Guru in the years to come. ….



Seldom do we find a spiritual leader who is also a successful social reformer. Sree Narayana Guru was such a rare saint, who used his spiritual attainments for the creation of a new man and a new social order. He made an indelible impression on Rabindranath Tagore, who has recorded his feelings thus : “ 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 Maharshis. But I have frankly to admit that I have never seen one who is spiritually greater than Swami Narayana Guru of Malayalam- nay, a person who is on par with him  in spiritual attainment. I am sure, 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”.

Kerala in the days of Sree Narayana Guru was a hot- bed of casteism and untouchability, unparalleled in other parts of India. Hence it is that Swami Vivekananda called the place a lunatic asylum. Sree Narayana Guru, a non-Brahmin, made a decisive onslaught on caste system by performing a ceremony regarded as the exclusive prerogative of Brahmins. That was the consecration by him of his first Siva Temple at Aruvippuram in Kerala. The words he inscribed on the temple wall eloquently declare his vision of the oneness of man:

“This is the model abode
Where all men live in brotherhood
Without any caste distinction
Or religious animosities.”

Today the conditions in Kerala are totally different .Though casteism still exists, untouchability has  been mostly eradicated. The Guru’s teachings and work have contributed a great deal towaeds the making of modern Kerala.

Sree Narayana Guru was a man of few words. His conversations were full of wit and wisdom. He never held discourses. Through poems and verses in Sanskrit, Malayalam, and Tamil and through messages and conversations, he expressed his ideas on the problems facing man and society. He gave orientation to the ancient wisdom and culture of India., to make them broad-based and applicable to the whole world. His crusade against superstitions and evil practices, his stress on the cleanliness of body, mind and environment, the importance he attached to education and the establishment of Industries and his unconventional ways to consecrating temples, all these were part of his efforts to bring about the regeneration of man and society.

Sree Narayana Guru was a sanyasin and jnanayogi with a deep insight into problems mundane and supra-mundane. He was also a social reformer who helped people suffering from socio-economic oppression in order to achieve unity and equality among men. He was well versed in the Vedas, Upanishads and the scriptures and attached importance to them. However,  he discarded everything that was based on superstition or which offended the dignity of man. He therefore opposed the practice of determining the status of man by his caste, religion, race or class. Today we talk of the rights of man. We have the Declaration of the Human Rights by the United Nations Organization. The Indian Constitution also envisages the creation of a secular, casteless and classless society. The fundamental ideas inspiring these documents were given to the people three quarters of a century ago by Sree Narayana Guru.

Subscribing to the Advaita philosophy of Sri Sankara, the Guru carried it to its logical conclusion. Acceptance of the non-duality of the individual self and the divine self, according to him, naturally led to the assertion of non-duality of individual selves. He therefore opposed caste system as well as other systems that segregated human beings. Chaturvarnya, a system peculiar to India, was based on the division of people according to their traditional family occupations. In the course of time, it had degenerated into the caste system and its direct offshoot untouchability, which has brought untold miseries to a section of our people. Sree Narayana rightly maintained that Chaturvarnya was contrary to the very spirit of Advaita. His simple and succinct message of “one caste, one religion, one God for man” was an outcome of his reinterpretation of Sankara’s Advaita. The message has great relevance for us today, when the traditional family occupations have broken down and people belonging to different social groups have been taking up occupations that are alien to their class. Sree Narayana’s teachings enable us to fight vigorously the caste system and untouchability  which still persist in our country.

There was a significant difference between Sree Narayana Guru and other great sages and seers. While the later did not try to dispel the impression that they belonged to a particular caste or religion, the Guru, true to his teachings, declared in unmistakable terms that he did not belong to any caste or religion. He was not opposed to religion as such. His opposition was to the shrubs and weeds that grew around the religions. According to him the goal of all the religions was the same , and hence there was only one religion. He did not want man to be tied down to any particular religion. For him man was more important than religion. As he said, “Whatever be his religion, man must be good”. 

Professor M.K.Sanoo has made an earnest effort to present the personality of the Guru in its totality in a style that is at once clear and readable. His account of the life and teachings of the Guru is free from any embellishments, which are likely to creep in when dealing with the life of a saintly person. The book should be of considerable value for both spiritual men and laymen. It is mainly meant for those who do not know the Malayalam language, in which almost all the biographies of the Guru have been written. I sincerely hope, Professor Sanoo’s work will enable a large number of people to know about the life, teachings and work of Sree Narayana Guru, which would inspire them to make their contribution to the creation of a new man, a new society, and a new world…

K. K. Viswanathan,
Sree Narayana Cultural Mission,


We live in an age where the global order and the national level social orders are undergoing transformation more profound and disruptive than any since the accumulation of wealth and escalation of technology extinguished the cultural values and traditional mores which are integral to the moral moorings of humanity. The rate, complexity and variety of change in our time are without precedent. The wheels that whirl us restlessly about the earth, the technological innovations that produce exploitative commercial control over the globe under guise of development , and the spiritual of plural vulgarity of sex and malignant ubiquity of violence as well as the ethnic, racial and communal conflicts showing up in organized confrontations, are producing universal disillusionments, aggravation of clashes and passions. The right to be human is denied to numberless people. They are deprived or decimated as Unpeople!  Indeed, a subtle,  intangible, invisible dictatorship of the human mind is in operation far beyond what Aldous Huxley had envisioned in the Brave New World. We have lost our spiritual anchorage and value-based stability under the various challenges of ultra-modernity. From this confusion and turbulence, the mature minds must rise, rebel against the heady, hedonist pleasures of  the moment and be able to contemplate the whole. What we have lost is a holistic perspective and cosmic vision which is the quintessence of the Upanishadic sages. We have ceased to be humanity and become mere individuals and micro-nuclear families. There are few who are concerned to survey life in its entirety and our leaders are consumed by corruption, money-manic temptations and the pernicious politics of power. Analysis leads and synthesis lags, specilaities and technologies flourish but sensitivity and simplicity are a casualty. Life itself, by the paradox of technological development, has become vain, meaningless and ethically empty. At a time when science, with its arrogant march forward, boasts of omniscience and omnipotence, our future as Will Durant points out, ‘is superficial today and our knowledge dangerous, because we are rich in mechanisms  and poor in purposes’, abundant in material goods, but bankrupt in the fundamental noesis of life.  Science has raped morality and passion for pleasure and craze for five star life reflect the fragmentation of our character and rebarbarization of our being. There is chaos in the cosmos. “We move about the earth with unprecedented speed, but we do not know, and have not thought, where we are going, or whether we shall find any happiness there for our harassed souls. We are being destroyed by our knowledge, which has made us drunk with our power. And we shall not be saved without wisdom”. This new looney mentality expresses itself as globalization, liberalization, privatization and other euphemisms, exceeding in duplicity and double-speak Orwellian connotations. Oft I quote I S Eliot :

“Where is the life we have lost in living ?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge ?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

As the world is reeling without feeling or sense of fraternity and finer values, men and women with great concern about the grave crisis of the human race are hungry for a higher message and search for some new messenger who will restore the ague of the soul and abolish the race to share the glory of the glitterati which has incarnated as the New World Order. In this poignant background, the supreme significance of a frail soul who walked southern part of India-His name is Sree Narayana Guru- needs to be studied as an emphatic reassertion of the soul that has been lost but must be regained if humanity is to survive. The suppressed and the oppressed, the outcast and the down-cast, the Unpeople and the non-persons, were his global constituency and obliteration of the aberrations of casteism, over-religiosity, obdurate obscurantism and restoration of the world  communityin its divinity and egalite, weaving a creative synthesis of materialism and spiritualism through a divine fusion of values-these were his manifesto de profundis, his revolutionary thesis of dynamic unitive philosophy of action. Where, in eloquent silence and sanyasin’s attire he moved and spread radiant light, he worked a matchless miracle of rousing the under privileged, raising their material, moral and spiritual status and masterminding a new social order of justice, equity and good conscience where the lowliest, the lost and the last mattered.

The taciturn wonder of Sree Narayana Guru’s impact on the human community is almost comparable to the thunderous oratory of Swami Vivekananda.In essence, both were Advaitins and both stressed socio-spiritual action beyond religious worship and ritual rubbish and caste-religion bigotry. A radical synthesis of material well-being and spiritual values is the only way by which the human race can shape a happy future and overcome the present manifestations of decadence. The symbiotic development of harmonious personality, whereby temporal and divine perspectives elevate the human race is a rare therapy for mankind’s current moral deficiency syndrome. Technology, if not guided by higher morality and humanist dimensions, may surrender to thanatos (lord of death). Otherwise, ‘ethical culture’, to use Einstein’s phrase may be destroyed by predatory instincts, fertilized by grab-as-much-as- you- may ethos. Ennoblement of social and individual life is the high priority item on the agenda of our post-industrial epoch. The timeless message of the great Guru is, perhaps, the principal panacea for the deeper ailment of the world gone awry with no ‘certitude, nor peace,nor help for pain’, where the ‘madding crowd’s ignoble strife’ suggests a scenario ‘as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night’ (Mathew Arnold).

What is that alchemic message of the Guru? Who was the Guru in the social hierarchy of his time? What was the milieu in which he worked, and what the saga of this mahatma?  What is the heritage of hope we gain from that temporal-spiritual testament? I approach the sublime subject of Narayana Guru in the spirit of Cardinal Newman: “Lead Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on!’.

These prolegomenonic words are inadequate to introduce the odyssey of the Guru. The author of the work is a literary light of cultural eminence and peerless intimacy of information about the great soul. His perspective is fine-tuned to the Guru’s philosophy and field of Karma. His wealth of inside knowledge which makes the book unique adds value to the pages of that rarest of rare pilgrim’s progress.

This is my preface to the real forward expressing my evaluation of the extra-ordinary ascetic, visionary and Karmayogi who moved from place to place and, by his mellow presence, transformed Kerala and presented to the world a unitive mission, transcendental yet pragmatic course of action thro’ sayings and doings worthy of a Jesus, Gandhi or other Maharshi.

‘Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth’. This sublime tribute to Gandhiji by Einstein is indubitably apt about Sree Narayana Guru as well. This is obvious from the profound expression of admiration of the Guru couched in chiseled simplicity of diction by Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore after meeting this great, yet frail, figure who was a beautiful blend of Sankara, Ramakrishna and the Mahatma. Read Tagore before we take off.

“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 maharshis.

“But I have frankly to admit that I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than  Swami Sree Narayana Guru of Malayalam –nay, a person who is on a par with him in spiritual attainment.

“I am sure, I shall never forget that radiant face illumined by the self-effulgent  light of divine glory and those yogic eyes fixing their gaze on a far remote point in the distant horizon”.

Born in Travancore during the last century (19th century)  in a social order afflicted by lunatic superstitions, oppressed by caste-creed-sect bedlam and victimized by illiteracy, primitive praxis and feudal serfdom, the community in which Narayana Guru found himself needed revolutionary social and spiritual surgery and economic egalite.  ‘The eternal tenants of an extortionate system’, to borrow Tagore’s traumatic thought, could not battle for deliverance by the bullet. But the power of spiritual transformation of seer, the invisible operational skill of a social super-activist and the transcendence which synthesizes, by a holistic vision and unitive understanding, the material and higher values, presenting them in profound, yet penetrating, truths, all-inclusive of all religious teachings and universally valid principles- only such an instrumentality had a chance to reach and touch the awareness of the people at all levels and stir up the spirit and revolutionize  the conscience of Kerala humanity wherefrom Adi Sankara sprang to spread his vedantic mission but the supervening decadence of feudal vulgarity overran the undying values which he radiantly spread. When society sinks into putrifying cultural depths the dialectical thesis – antithesis forces produce a creative Colossus to restore a progressive balance and nobler human order. That Promethean fire, incarnating to salvage and set free mankind, within and beyond Kerala or India, as a cosmic laser light beaming from the small corner of Kerala, that divinity that dwells in us all, in ‘leaves of grass’ and ‘the journey work of the stars’, in the blossoms that dance in the breeze and the butterflies that flit from flower to flower, that cosmic being in human frame was Narayana Guru. From a coy boy he gently grew into a power -packed but silent thunderbolt, a saintly messenger of a Higher Power and Ambassador of an Upanishadic vintage wisdom delivered to a more distant and darker generation in the grip of socio-economic structures, charged with moral degeneracies and religious bigotries. In this bizaare milieu, only the rarest of rare human-divine incarnations  can operate a value-militant coup which was to defeat the brahminical cultural stranglehold cocooned by Nambudiries and the ignorant, stagnant victim status of the vast masses who were alienated from Hindu temples and refined ways of life and sullied by toxic habits and customs and blocked from educational avenues. The Guru, if we make a dialectical analysis of Kerala of light and shade, was born unobtrusively in an obscure segment of community, to meet the challenges and guide the world, not by the sword nor agitational campaigns but by a mystic strategy and universal vision invincibly innocent and impregnably fortified. The world’s most invasive weapon is not the atom bomb but the atmic awakening. Hiroshima killed a peaceful city and, instead of ending war and violence, the nuclear bomb intimidates humanity with Globoshima, since more bombs sufficient to wipe out the biosphere have been the competitive consequence and current arsenal.  But a pair of radiant eyes, soft speech, rich with revolutionary truths and seeping into the soul of society, can arrest the tumult, trauma and mental-moral debasement now terrorizing humankind. Such figure was the Guru about whom Romain Rolland penetratingly observed that ‘the great Guru, Sree Narayana, whose beneficent spiritual activity’ cast a spell on a few million humans. ‘His teaching, permeated with the philosophy of Sankara’ went beyond the bhakti movement of Bengal. ‘ He was one might say, a Jnanin  of action, a grand religious intellectual, who had a keen living sense of the people and of social necessities’. 

It is the life story of this human marvel that Prof. Sanoo sets out in this splendid work. It is luminous, though not voluminous; it is a history of the times and the encounters with obdurate obscurantisms one is confronted with in the Guruera. It is stimulating saga of enlightenment not only of Kerala but of India. It is the divine odyssey of a sadu too epic to be compressed into a slim volume . Narayana Guru – the sublime wanderer with a torch which emited light but not heat- revived dharmic values of ‘the purest ray serene’ and synthesized plural religions reducing their essentials into single, simple sentences, deprived the divisive dragon’s teeth from all religions and uplifted the larger, lower layers of the masses and transformed Kerala as a social reformer’s theatre of action, a spiritual wonder in constant lucent locomotion as a half- naked fakir whose mission was human liberation and passion leading humankind from darkness to light. The Guru thro’ devotional poems and imperishable parables, conversational communication of values too deep to learn from books and too straight to miss their piercing sense, performed a super-surgery of the soul of a community spiritually slumbering and materially backward. Every method, pure and austere, free from pomp and glamour, was available to him because his very touch made sublime the process and the goal. For instance, the Guru, belonging to a ‘backward’ caste, if viewed from a communal angle ( tho’ in sublime vision, he excelled many saintly beings), adopted an extraordinary strategy of installing idols, a function traditionally the exclusive preserve of Brahmins. This master-stroke of Narayana Guru was a radical challenge to the status quo ante. The entire edifice of Brahmanism and the caste structure suffered a collapse when, by installing Siva in a temple built by him, Narayana Guru worked a miracle of spiritual  transmutation and social reformation. What was at stake was not an Ezhava Siva installed by an Ezhava Sadhu with access to all regardless of caste, creed or religion or sect but an irreverent subversion of an obscurantist order which dominated and blinded the masses of Hindus. It was like lightning in the dense darkness. Indeed, the great Guru thro’ every deity and temple, conveyed the universal truth that the supreme Being was beyond the orthodox monopoly of higher caste but an omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient radiance which knew no barriers of community, no difference of caste and no confinement to crude godist ritualism.  His temples were hallowed by Swami’s founding faith of Advaita and culminated in the installation of a mirror as a deity. The obvious celestial message, when the votary looked at the mirror deity, was to see himself as God, know himself as divine and realize himself in the Vedic teaching”Thou Art That”. So humble, so humane, and so holy was he that one might well say: Where he walked was hallowed ground; where he sat was shrine. 

Narayana Guru was a vistaramic  in his vision as Creation itself. Material happiness, agricultural advance and industrial prosperity, health and well-being were a necessary part of life even as godward meditation and self realization. The Guru was a Karma Yogi, visionary and adhyatmic plenipotentiary.

In Adi Sankara tradition, he was an advaitin. The inner meaning of the Universe inspired him to compose the Atmopadesa Satakam and a wealth of lucid poems in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil that Brahman could be better understood thro’ these texts than thro’ laborious esoteric literature. Narayana Guru was Adi Sankara in his philosophical quintessence. He was one who could, with William Blake, whisper to humanity.

“To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour”.

He was casteless and could not be assigned to any particular religion. He stood for women and their dignity and for the Pariah and his equality. In the words of Walt Whitman, one could see the embodiment of song in the Guru’s personality. I quote :

“I have said that the soul is not more than the body, And I have said that the body is not more than the soul, And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is”.

“In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where there they are, for I know that whereso’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.” 

He raised the higher consciousness of man but, in symbiosis, also promoted sobriety, industrious and thrifty ways of life, learning and light. He defeated with disarming ease all vices, weaknesses, drink evils and like tamasic tendencies and insisted on temples becoming the vibrant centers at festivals.

It is interesting to recall, at this stage, a conversation between Swami and Gandhi which is a glowing tribute to Narayana Guru’s  divinized humanism and eclectic  philosophy. Gandhiji came to Sivagiri in 1925.

Gandhiji : Has Swamiji come across any command in the Hindu Scriptures for observing untouchability?

Swami :  No.

Gandhiji : Has Swamiji any difference of opinion regarding the Satyagraha that is being held at Vaikom to remove untouchability?

Swami : No.

Gandhiji : What should be  done other than removing unsociability to improve the lot of the depressed people?

Swami : They should have education and wealth. I do not think that inter-caste dinners and  inter-caste marriages should be practiced immediately. They should have the opportunity for advancement as everybody else.

Gandhiji : Some consider that non-violent Satyagraha is ineffectual and use of force is required to establish rights. What is Swamiji’s opinion?

Swami : I do not consider force as good. Gandhiji ; There is a view that people should change their religion and that is the right means for achieving freedom. Does Swamiji permit this.?

Swami : We see people who got converted enjoying freedom. People cannot therefore be blamed if they hold such a view.

Gandhiji : Does Swamiji consider the Hindu religion sufficient for spiritual salvation ?

Swami : There are means of salvation in other religions also.

Gandhiji : Leave the other religions for the time being. Is Swamiji is of the opinion that Hinduism is enough for salvation?

Swami : Hinduism is sufficient for spiritual freedom. But people are more after worldly  freedom.

Gandhiji : That is about the prohibitions like untouchability. But does Swamiji think that conversion is necessary for spiritual freedom?

Swami : No. Conversion is not needed for spiritual salvation.

Gandhiji :  Untouchability is practiced even among the depressed classes. Is entry allowed to everyone in Swamiji’s temples?

Swami : Entry has been allowed to everyone. Pulaya and Pariah  children live and study with other children at Sivagiri and they join others in worship.

In his speech at a public meeting at Trivandrum Gandhiji said that he considered it his greatest fortune to have visited the beautiful land of Travancore and met the holy Swami”.

The answers of Swami in thoughtful brevity reveal how he could compress in one word or sentence the universe of meanings and how he tremendously transcended and facilely turned militant to drive his views on  social problems, banish scripturally petrified dogmas and illumine his people with farsighted wisdom. His sight searched for the infinite, his speech abbreviated the infinite, his silence was deep as eternity, even as his smile was eloquent communication. His poetry was profound philosophy, his prose was practical, the best words weighed and arranged in the best order. A divine artist divinizes every tool, every talk, every walk, every work. Narayana Guru belonged to the rarest of that rare group.

M.K.Sanoo is the biographer, a scholar, writer and public speaker whose familiarity with the Sree Narayana Guru’s times and thoughts, travels and talks, institutions and disciples are unbeatable. His narrative in easy style is charming in Malayalam and agreeably readable in English. When the subject is sublime, the true biographer produces instructive literature. Sanoo’s pen possesses professional skill and encompasses a great man’s long span of life with accuracy, presentability and faithful transmission of the message and the man. Chempazhanti, where  the Guru was born, its sylvan milieu and communal pluralism, is now a memorable place. Sivagiri sanctified  by his samadhi, is now a pilgrim centre, a spot of glory where the Guru spoke softly ‘I experience peace’ – the peace of the deep ocean far below the surface turbulence, the peace of the mountain peak high above darkling clouds. His last days , like those of Ramakrishna or Ramana were striken with bodily pain; but a moment comes at the parting point, when the atman masters the pain and beholds ‘the peace that passeth understanding’,the calm That conquers agony of the flesh and moves from one dimention to another when the assigned mission is done. The serene face of a saintly soul, the index of an infinite perception, has left behind a testament of human deliverance and vision of the Supreme Absolute that paints the relativity of worldliness on the canvas of the Universe. The mortal brevity of Narayana Guru is gone but the immortal glory of the Guru Spirit and the Dharma heritage can never go into oblivion. That treasure is already shining all over India, in London and New York, Hawai, and wherever human hunger for the unbounded wisdom which helps us realize the divinity latent in us presses on to celestial heights. For generations to come this Light will need to drive darkness away. “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. Little we see in nature that is ours”-wrote Wordsworth, hardly anticipating the gluttonous generation suffering from ‘affluenza’ syndrome. Martin Luther King diagonised the disease more perceptively. He said :

The means by which we live have out-distanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” 
Martin Luther King Jr.,1963.

The human condition worldwide is so corrupt that the Guru’s healing universalism alone holds out a hopeful prognosis. “ The madding crowd’s  ignoble strife ‘ cannot be cured by the insatiable pursuit of pleasure and pelf. A new World Human Order is the urgent desideratum. The finer spirit of all knowledge is the recipe to save humanity. Prof. Sanoo deals with an epoch and the single soul who by silence and speech, poetry and prose, institutions and disciples, temples and devotees, and above all , by his radiant presence and scintillating  discourses, creatively regenerated the Sankara gospel, the Ambedkar thrust and egalitarian march towards human destiny. M.K.Sanoo is an instrument in fulfilling this dynamic mission by writing this noble work. “ the reward of a thing well done, is to have done it’. M.K.Sanoo is a purposefull author. Creative writers like him rise equal to the cause they espouse.

The finest institution in the east that wings its way to the west and radiates universal wisdom, ancient and modern, with a creative passion for the fulfillment of a magnificent mission, is the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.  Justly, therefore, has the Bhavan readily consented to bring out the second edition of Narayana Guru by Prof. M.K.Sanoo. The first edition, which burst into the English-speaking world, is, of course, by the Bhavan. Never,  in the modern world , have so many lovers of learning owed so much to so few as the world readership does to the Bhavan. Therefore, Bharat and Kerala must be grateful to the Bhavan which is the store-house of wisdom and publishes the most precious thoughts ever expressed by Indians. I am sure, now that the book in its second edition is being published by the Bhavan, the inspirational teachings of that Karma Yogi, Narayana Guru, who is a sublime bridge between the ancient Indian past and the modern Indian present, will affect the human spirit worldwide.

There are two kinds of books. Some books leave us free and some books make us free(Emerson). Prof. M.K.Sanoo’s book is a liberative work in every dimention because the subject, Sree Narayana Guru is among the greatest  liberators of our time in body, mind and spirit.

V R Krishna Iyer

Part 1


1. Chempazhanti.
2. The Age and the Arena.
3. The Thoughtful Boy.
4. Shadows of the Road.
5. Nanu at School.
6. Waves and Shadows.
7. Where is the Hitch?
8. Marriage.
9. Farewell to Worldly Ties.
10.Travel, Yogavidya.
11. At Maruthwa Malai
12. All Men are Brothers.
13. The Mission
14.The Background of a Great Movement.
15. The Charm of a smile.


The Village of Chempazhanti lies six miles to the north of Trivandrum. The extensive fields with scatterings of clustered jungles make up the topography. Holding sway over the region in the first half of the nineteenth century were the Pillais of the House of Chempazhanti – the foremost among the traditionally famous Eight Houses of Pillais. They were supposed to have had even the right to kill. Besides Nairs, there were many Ezhavas and Pulayas .  They lived in peace observing the customary obligations. They had no complaints on that score. Caste was not an evil for them. For, the large masses of the people accepted caste distinctions as part of the order of things. They never felt anything unbecoming in it . Each in his own set place, moving along the orbit of caste, as if it was nature. The men of those days could not even dream that any change in it was possible or desirable. Everything proceeded according to the divine dispensation.

Krishnan Vaidyar was a product of this order. He was going to see a patient. He was a leading physician and he belonged to a highly respected family. Physicians did not accept fees in those days. The practice of medicine was service. Recognition was the reward. After examining the patient and prescribing medicines, Krishnan Vaidyar chewed the offered pan, spent some time chatting with the people and started home. When he reached the vast open fields, the moon was at the zenith. Vaidyar could see even from that distance the light still burning in his house. He understood its import. Rhythmic sounds produced by jubilant throats proclaimed a happy event, the birth of a child. By the time Vaidyar reached the temple ground on the southern side of his house a messenger met him with the happy tidings. That night in Vayalvarath House was born the youngest child of Vaidyar’s sister Kutty and her husband Madan Asan. It was the day of Chatayam(Satabhisha) star in the month of Chingam (August-September) of 1032 M.E., corresponding to 1856 A.D. This child later became famous as Sree Narayana Guru Swami.

At the time of Narayana Guru’s birth, Chempazhanti aws part of forest tract abounding in bushy jungles and woods infested with wild animals. It was a choice spot for shikaris. In his book on hunting Keralavarma Valiya  Koyi Thampuran, one of the luminaries of Malayalam literature, has made mention of an adventurous hunting journey to Chempazhanti forest. The poet specially mentions the help rendered to him by an aged hunter. “ He was past seventy but age had not withered his physique, nor made his spirits weak. I was sweating in the scorching sun, but he stood there declining even a refreshing sip. There was not a drop of sweat on his body. I know that he lived for another fifteen years.” This old man was Narayanan’s maternal grandfather. The caste-wise ‘topography’ of Chempazhanti was composed mainly of three castes-Nairs, Ezhavas and Pulayas.

The three castes maintained their existence on three planes, almost three different worlds. Life at Chempazhanti was also like its landscape-a dark forest dense with superstitions where evil customs roamed about like wild animals. There was nobody to hunt them down. In fact there was none who could even recognize these wild beasts. 

It was in 1966 that the present writer visited the birth-place of Swami. A hundred yards away from the temple was the small house with three rooms. We entered through a low side-door. The floor was washed with cowdung. Walls were mud. Doors were narrow. There were no windows. According to one biographer the hut was but a shade better than the cow-shed. “This small house more than a century old, this cramped and stuffy room where was born the man whose fame enveloped the entore world – none can watch it except with a mind charged with emotion.” Such comments could be made on a comparison with conditions, but viewed as the northern apartment of an ezhava house a century ago it clearly showed a fairly affluent family. We came out on the other side through another narrow low door. Green, thick green, greeted the eye everywhere. The expanse of paddy fields lay there undisturbed, like a green sari spread out to dry. 

“Previously the entire region was covered with paddy fields” said an official of the temple. The house even got its name because it stood on the fringe of a paddy field. I could imagine the two tender feet running about in the courtyard and the boy who was in complete harmony with the scene; a fair and bright boy full of childish pranks, the treasure of fond parends and the pride of the family. 

He was indeed the pride of the family for he looked like a replica in miniature of his grandfather, Kochan Asan. It was Kochan Asan who raised the status of Vayalvarath house. A bachelor and saintly soul, he was accepted by the local people as their spiritual guide, irrespective of caste or creed. It aws Kochan Asan who installed the idol in the adjoining temple built and run jointly by Nairs and Ezhavas. A rare recognition indeed! He was an iseal man, a teacher, a practitioner of Ayurveda and a spiritual guide. No wonder he was held in high esteem by everyone. Kochan Asan became the object of adoration of all his fellow mwn by his spiritual greatness. He raised the prestige of Vayalvarath house. This child too, they believed, would grow up to be a great man. He was their pride and the object of all attention. In every action of the child they found something special, in every lisping word a meaning.

We came back to the temple. There were two platforms in the front yard. One of them belonged to the Nair Chiefs and the other to the Ezhava chiefs. The chiefs used to sit on their respective platforms during temple festivals. Perhaps they used to conduct the affairs of the temple in those distant days on the basis of a friendly understanding about the distances to be kept. But there was no need for a special understanding. Nobody felt that anything was wrong with it till the child with the bright face who used to play in the yard grew up to be a mighty force to storm the citadel of orthodoxy.


Uttram Tirunal Marthanda Varma (1847-1860) was the Maharaja of Travancore at that time. The reign of his predecessor, Swati Tirunal (1829-1847), was the golden era of Travancore history which saw the first dawn of social reforms. Men of all castes gradually began to be recognized as human beings. As early as the time of Gowri Parvati Bai (1815-1829) a proclamation had been issued recognizing the right of Nairs and Ezhavas to use gold and silver ornaments.

The teaching of English was introduced in Travancore during the reign of Swati Tirunal.The first English school was started in Trivandrum in 1834. In 1836 were started the Observatory and free Hospital. The influence of Englishmen was marked, but there was an air of radical change throughout Travancore. Social justice was part of this new awareness. The practice of a suspect dipping his hand in boiling ghee to prove his innocence , was stopped during this period. But it had not yet been recognized that this new sense of justice could cover the castes lower than Ezhavas. They continued to be bound by the old customs and conventions. The restrictions were quite severe; it required mass agitation to bring out a royal proclamation recognizing the right of ladies of lower castes to cover the upper parts of their body. The inducement for this actually came from the Englishmen. There were in Travancore and Cochin several such barbarous customs totally repugnant to the spirit  and civilization of the age. The conditions in Malabar were no different.

The extreme backwardness of the prevalent social attitude may be seen in the fact that paper was not being used for communication. A royal communication addressed to the pope was written on palmyrah leaves. Paper was avoided as an unclean material that might cause pollution by contact! It was only in 1872 that a proclamation was issued making the use of paper obligatory in corresponding with the government.

The conventions prevalent in Hindu society  even in the early years of the twentieth century were rather primitive. V. Madhavan, a former minister of Travancore-Cochin , in his memoirs has given a detailed account of the conditions at the time.

“Hindu men of Kerala used to grow fore-tufts. Ladies rarely covered their breasts. Shirts for men were uncommon. The matrilineal system of inheritance prevalent among the Nairs and Ezhavas who formed the major part of the population of the area had not completely disappeared. In Kali temples men used to dance carrying decorated idols of mythological characters. Such dances were often accompanied by vulgar songs. They are not still out of vogue. The main centers were Kodungallur and Shertalai. Animal sacrifice had an important place in these rituals. 

Hindus were divided into many sects. There were two broad divisions. The four castes of Brahmins, Kshatriyas , Vaisyas and Sudras constituted the division known as caste Hindus. The rest were non-caste Hindus. Among them the Ezhavas formed the major part. Sudras formed the fourth tier among caste Hindus. The label ‘Sudra’ lost currency and the later nomenclature ‘Nair’ came to stay. Sudras should keep a little away from the Namboodiri. A Namboodiri had to take a bath to become clean if he touched a Nair. An Ezhava could not go near a caste Hindu. He had to keep quite a considerable distance from a Brahmin. The distance had to be observed according to the status of the person in the caste hierarchy. Pulayas were in the lowest in the caste system. They were classified as Chandalas. In a Brahmin’s eye those below Sudras were all Chandalas. In the report on temple entry Ezhavas have been referred to as the chief among the the Chandalas. The Ezhavas could not be approached by Pulayas and Pariahs. If they went near him, an Ezhava got polluted. Pollution due to proximity was known as ‘teendal’. Members of certain castes got polluted only by physical contact with those of certain other castes. This was ‘todeel’. These were more or less technical terms. The use of the word ‘theendapad’ is still not uncommon to denote a unit of space. These terms were used even in the courts by witnesses while giving evidence.

“There were fixed rules relating to the distances to be observed by the people of different castes and any violation was punishable with physical assault. The right of the men of superior castes to mete out such immediate corporal punishments was commonly recognized as the unquestionable normal process of justice. Any transgression in this regard was considered an act of sin even by those of the lower castes. A polluted man had to take a bath before he entered his house, lest the house he entered should become polluted! A low caste man should not go near a tank in which a caste Hindu was bathing, nor should he board a public ferry boat in which a caste Hindu was traveling. A Namboodiri walking through a road used to be preceded by a Nair giving out a peculiar shout, hearing which the non-caste Hindus were expected to keep clear of the path. If a non-caste hindu wanted to give some oil to light the temple lamps he had to give it through a Christian- the oil would not be accepted directly from him. Pulayas and Pariahswere also expected to make a peculiar sound while using the public pathways as a warning of their presence.

Only caste Hindus could get into Government service. Even Ezhavas were not allowed inside schools. Mannath Padmanabhan bemoans this in these words. :

“Ignorance and deplorable practices had entrenched themselves in the temples of the almighty and omnipresent God. Hindu believerswere first divided into two. Those who were permitted inside the temple walls had to stand for offering worship in accordance with their place in the caste hierarchy.The forms of worship prescribed for them were different from those of the upper castes. The Nairs were the last in the line. The ezhavas stood first by their numerical strength and social status among those who were not permitted inside. They had to stand 12feet away from the outer walls of the temple. The distance prescribed for Harijans was sixty-four feet. The intermediate castes had their own prescribed distances. They were all quite satisfied with the regulations and were even proud of their relative importance. These non-caste Hindus could not even use the roads around the temples whereas those belonging to other religions could. Government had erected warning notices at the approach roads to big temples prohibiting entry by non-caste Hindus. But a Harijan who embraced Christianity or Islam could freely use these restricted roads and walk near the temple walls. He could stand at the gate and even partially enter the precincts by stretching his hands.

The conditions thatprevailed in Tranvancore could be better understood from the description given by the foreign missionary Rev.S.Mateer. He has written that the use of public roads was denied to non-caste Hindus. A Nair would cut to pieces any non-caste Hindu who polluted him by violating the prescribed distance. The lower castes were prohibited from covering their trunks so that they could easily be marked out. They should not wear chappals, costly garments or  ornaments. Only the Brahmins had the right to hold the umbrellas during festive occasions. Others should simply get drenched if it was raining. To show respect to one belonging to the higher caste a lady was expected to remove the upper garment.

Strict punishments were prescribed on the basis of caste. Brahmins were exempt from corporal punishment even for murder. Fine, confinement and excommunication were considered enough for them. Sudras and non-Hindus were beheaded. Non-caste Hindus were subjected to death by slow torture. The delinquent was tied to a pillar and a rod was driven from the bottom upto the neck. In some cases life lingered on for as long as three days. Even for minor offences punishments such as amputation of hand and feet were awardedto non-caste Hindus.

The Ezhavas constituted the major part of the non-caste Hindus. About their mode of worship Edgar Thurston has said : “Badrakali was the deity they commonly worshipped….. To propitiate this Godess they used to conduct animal sacrifices.” Other objects of their worship were the dark deities. They practiced many ignorant customs respecting marriages and deaths. They had no conception that unsociability was an evil.


The adage ‘man is free’ sounds pleasant to the ear. But it does not represent the reality. The son of man is the most helpless of newborns. It takes years of protective care before he can stand on his own. Similarly man begins his life as a slave in matters of customs and beliefs. The formative period of his mind is conditioned by the concepts his elders force upon him. He is heavily subjected to these influences. The most extra-ordinary among the men grow up to discover through their intellectual power and passion for good the gross impurities in the atmosphere in which they grew up and launch a campaign against them. They are the engineers of change and progress. Their liberation from the conventions and circumstances that controlled them so long is the result of conscious employment of their intellect. Here we come upon a basic expression of the new awareness. Intellect and integrity give strength to the pursuit of freedom. Two factors are essential for exposing the evils of the very circumstances whose creatures we are –keen intellect and unshakable strength. In great men we see the manifest development of these twin qualities.

There are indeed few among the great men who are born free. What I mean here is the demonstration by some men even in their formative age of independent attitudes unsullied by the prevailing influences. Their minds are the fountainheads of deep and forceful humanity. Let me make this clear by an example. Suppose you were born and brought up in a powerful feudal manor house, you have quite number of serfs. Those half-starved men and women do all the work in your fields. To extract work and obedience your elders employ just one single means-corporal punishment. You grow up witnessing these acts of correction almost every day. Later, when you get educated about human rights and human freedom you might realize the cruelty involved in these acts. (Even this realization is no mean achievement).But in your childhood you take it as a matter of no consequence- in fact as a routine in every day life. But it is different for those whom I referred to above as ‘born free’ – even in their untutored childhood they react strongly to such situations. Their souls writhe in pain every time the whip bites into the poor man’s flesh. Young children who have no clear idea about human rights or freedom revolt at the inhuman behavior, at the instance of a sublime consciousness. These are the buds which blossom forth as Mahatmas. And  Narayana Guru Swami was one such.

We know precious little about Swami’s boyhood. It was unfortunate that even his admirers and disciples among his contemporaries did not take care of this aspect. In the biography which Kumaran Asan began in 1915 in the Vivekodayam Swami’s boyhood is dealt with very briefly. “Swami was not a quiet boy. He was very smart –even mischievous in certain respects. He showed keen pleasure in eating away the fruit and other offerings meant for worship even before worship even before the rites were over. He used to say that God would be pleased if he could be made happy and used to get the better of those who tried to forestall him. It was his favourite prank to ‘pollute’ the orthodox elders and womenfolk by touching them  immediately after touching an untouchable “. It has been recorded that even at the age of five Swami showed signs of budding spirituality. Swami’s native equanimity, his love for all creatures and his devotion to truth have been stressed. Such qualities are not inconsistent with the ‘mischief’ mentioned by Asan, for such mischiefs were but the natural expressions of the humanity we have defined. K. Damodaran has given an instance of this in his biography of Narayana Guru : “Once Swami saw a rice pot boiling over in a Pulaya’s hut. Since nobody was there in the hut Swami went in and removed the pot from the fire. When he heard about this Swami’s father was about to thrash him. Then Swami told him that a whole family would have had to starve that day, had he not acted the way he did”. One has to view these incidents against the social background of those days when  untouchability  was the reigning factor that decided social relationship. These incidents clearly show that even at that young age when education and conscious thinking had little influence on his actions, there was in Swami a distinct love of humanity that went beyond the customs and beliefs dividing men into separate compartments. There was another aspect in Swami’s mental make-up that he could discerned even in his early childhood. Viz. rationality. For every occasion he had a ready answer that could satisfy an un-prejudiced mind- whether it was tasting the snacks before they were offered to the deity or for touching the rice pot of an untouchable.

A disciple of  Narayana Guru has mentioned a totally different point relating to his childhood : Narayana Guru never wept. (The writer got this information from Ponnan Asan, a Kathakali master, who was a close friend of Swami’s father). He writes : “Even after his birth the baby’s cry was not heard outside. He lay there without any movement. His father was informed that the child was still- born. Then movement started limb by limb. The father was informed that the child was not dead. Even after that the cry of the child was not heard. It was suspected that something was wrong with the cry even when he was bathed. The umbilical cord was cut, still he did not cry. This strange state of affairs continued for some time. He took the nourishment when nursed, otherwise he would lie quiet. He never cried even when hungry or for any other reason. None has ever seen him cry. The facts in this narrative may have been, in all probability , a little exaggerated due to personal prejudices. It is my submission that one’s discretion be his guide in evaluating these statements. But a grain of truth lies hidden in the disciple’s narrative: Narayana Guru’s inborn self-control. It was this same very quality that was a source of wonder to all when he later appeared on the social arena as the cynosure of all eyes. Times might be tumultuous, events might cyclonic, but his equanimity could never be disturbed.

You lend your ears to arguments,
Religious intrigues you witness,
Yet keep your cool and stay resolute,
Like a mountain.

When the poet wrote these words he was touching upon this speciality in Swami’s  mental make-up. Note the comparison to a mountain. The quality was inborn ant not cultivated. This is amply borne out by the disciple’s account.

Poets are born, so are Sanyasins. Anyone can wear saffron robes for a variety of reasons, or grow his hair and have a flowing beard and put on the external ensigns of one who has renounced everything. But to be a true Sanyasin, it takes a man with an instinct for it. Such a man cannot continue his being except as a sanyasin. That is what the story of the Buddha tells us. The lives of Shri. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Vivekananda reaffirm the same truth. To their clan belonged Sree Narayana who remained unperturbed like a mountain even though he was the central figure of a period of Kerala history riven with crisis and conflicts. It is but inevitable that his inclination should find expression even from the time of his birth. 

Aggressiveness so natural to children was almost absent in this boy. A biographer has recorded an incident where Swami buried his sister in mud upto her neck. Elders had to rescue her. This boy who was filled with pity even for small insects! Whether he was responsible for such an act and if he was, what prompted him to it- these are questions one cannot answer. Such pranks cannot be ruled out if the child’s inclinations are rooted firmly in the Satvic plane. More such isolated incidents might be there. But on the whole he was mild and gentle and on that account dear to the elderly folk.

Sree Narayana exhibited another tendency from his childhood : that of spending much of his time alone. This tendency became strongly marked as he grew up. He was always a lover of solitude. He was ever ready with briefs for the willing and to inspire them to action, but he was never for posing as an idol for the masses to worship. The boy used to walk the meadows or roam about in the groves all alone for hours together. He would stand and gaze at the green paddy fields. He was particularly attracted by the sky, and the clouds that traversed its expanse. The boy’s face beamed with deep joy in those hours of solitude filled with a million mystic thoughts. 

Another incident of his boyhood deserves mention here. There was a death in his house when he was about six. Kannok was a custom to be observed  in the house of the dead person. Kannok is a ritual  where friends and relatives weep aloud recounting the memories relating to the dead person. In some places neighbors used to join in. Even stones would be moved to tear to hear them weep over the dead body. But at the end of the appointed time they come out of the room, chew pan, crack jokes and disperse.

There was certain relatives who had the prerogative to participate in this ritual which used to be performed with much pomp and ado. According to this accepted custom, friends and relatives gathered in Swami’s house and their heart-rendering cries reached a crescendo at the time of cremation. After the cremation ceremony  was over the scene became quiet, people had their food and the elders gathered round the pan vase. The scene was transformed into that of a joyous gathering. But Nanu (Swami’s pet name) was not to be seen anywhere. Search parties set out in different directions. The search was turning frantic when a laborer reported that he found the boy sitting alone in a thorny jungle. When questioned Nanu said : “Yesterday when there was death here everyone was crying his heart out. But after a while I saw them full of mirth.  Seeing this I came away to this jungle”. “Seeing this” –seeing what? The impermanence of life? The fickleness of human behavior ? The hallowness of rituals? We do not need to go deep into this. For, the mind of a six-year-old could not have raised such problems. But the point is that the mind had started on its journey. It knocked at the door of a profound problem of human existence. The seed was already sown. It needed time to sprout.


Chempazhanti was a children’s paradise. Plenty of open space to run about. Trees waiting to be climbed. Jungles abounding in stories of spirits and demons. In fact it had everything romantic fancy could wish for. There could be no dull moment for any child. But one boy used to be missing from their midst-Nanu. As we saw in the last chapter his performance was lonely spots. Not that he disliked company. He loved to play games with his companions  But he never spent much time with them. He would share hearty laugh or two and quietly depart. Later his friends would see him sitting quietly under the shade of a tree or on its branch.

He spent many an hour in his house immersed in his studies. Schooling under a tutor was over. He did not think his education complete. He memorized a few short epics and studied them with the help of commentaries. He read some books on medicine; Krishnan Vaidyar, his uncle, had a good collection of books on Ayurvedic medicine including some rare works. His library reportedly contained some books on Vedanta. Nanu took pains to master some of them. He used to approach his uncle to clear his doubts. The uncle, though of serious temperament, used to be gentle towards his nephew. Nanu’s family being an old one, he had many relatives in and around Trivandruam and he used to visit their houses quite often. Whenever he visited these places he made it a point to visit the local temples. He was very strict about bathing twice a day. After the bath he would smear his brow with holy ashes on sandel paste and spend some time in meditation. This earned him the name ‘Nanubhaktan’ (Nanu the pious). His friends and relatives always used to make fun of him on this score. But Nanu would be the first to laugh at their jokes about himself.

Moving from one place to another became a habit with him. Even in his own house he found it impossible to stay on continuously for more than a fortnight. He must move on. Those were the days when one had to cover distances on foot. But Nanu was never weary of walking.

Attempts were not wanting to get him married when he was just on the threshold of youth. It was usual in those days for youths to marry at the age of twenty. But Nanu was not for it. And his uncle, Krishnan Vaidyar, did not press him either. It has been recorded that Nanu had an attack of small pox at this time. It began with a severe headache when he was at his prayer in the temple one morning. Nanu knew that he was in for an attack of small pox. He decided not to worry his people. The temple was a deserted one and no one visited it off season So he decided to stay in the temple till he got over his disease. His people thought nothing of his absence from home. They thought he had gone  on one of his usual visits to his relatives. He spent the days reciting verses from rare Sanskrit work containing devotional poems. It took him eighteen days to recover from his illness. On one or two occasions he went at night to a neighbouring house to get food. Did  he experiment on himself some treatment he had studied? Was the cure the outcome of his own will and confidence? Or was it the blessings of the Goddess? On the nineteenth day he bathed and returned home. Krishnan Vaidyar noticed the dark spots on his nephew’s face. He was shocked to learn that Nanu spent eighteen days alone in the temple. “Who treated you? “ he asked. “The Goddess”, was the confident reply. The spontaneity of Nanu’s woeds and the ardent faith they implied made him desist from further queries. He was appalled. Fear gave way to growing astonishment. Nanu was no ordinary boy. There was in him something abnormal, hence his growth may not be of the common kind. What course would it take? He could get no clear picture. No longer could he be kept idle. He had to be sent for higher learning. 

Krishnan Vaidyar was a busy man and his decision to send Nanu for higher studies had to undergo a period of hibernation. One day he received a letter from a friend, a great scholar. The letter was in Sanskrit verse. Vaidyar could not get the correct import of the epistle. He asked Nanu to have a try at it. Nanu had no difficulty in explaining the verses in clear terms. The uncle’s reaction was instant. “Nanu, get ready to leave for Pudupalli”, he told his nephew the very next morning. “We are going to the house of  Raman Pillai Asan. He is a great scholar. You can study under him. You can stay at Varanapalli”.

Thus in 1876, Nanu set out from his house in quest of higher learning. His father Madan Asan and uncle Krishnan Vaidyar stood at the threshold of the house. He got their blessings and took leave of everyone. Taking leave of people posed no problem for him at any time. He could simply walk away. The house one was born in- the environment one had become one with- parting with them would touch any heart. The ladies said that he was simply hiding his emotions. Some of the men thought that he had no attachment towards anything. The truth is that none could understand this strange boy and his real character.

When Nanu was about to start on his journey, Vaidyar offered him some money. But Nanu declined it saying he had no use for it. Later, when somebody asked him about his refusal to take money, he replied : “ I felt that he should not part with both.” “Both?” “Yes, me and the money”.


To be able to study under Kummampilli Raman Pillai Asan- that was a rare privilege any scholar could wish for. His fame as a teacher had reached every corner of Travancore. He lived in a style that reminded one of anscient sages- a life dedicated to his disciples. He was the embodiment of the ancient ideal of simple living and high thinking. He studied the special tastes and talents of each of his disciples and encouraged each in his own special sphere. His constant advice was that obstacles should never be a concern. Fixing the target is the trying task in life. Once the objective is defined one must perforce show the courage to reach the desired end. Life is only for the courageous.

Raman pillai Asan’s own life was a realization of this percept. He was born in 1845 in Kummampilli. In his early years Kathakali caught his attention more than his books. In a short while he became an accomplished Kathakali actor. He committed some mistakes in one performance due to his lack of knowledge of Sanskrit. He became the butt of redicule of his fellow actors. His pride was touched to the quick. He took a vow that he would never wear make-up again till he had mastered the language. That was at the age of fifteen.

Kailasa Sastri, a famous Sanskrit scholar, used to teach Sanskrit at Kayamkulam. He hailed from Veerasikhamani village near Kadayanallur, Tamil Nadu and was a teacher endowed with extraordinary skill. He had the magic to turn the obstruse into the simple and could help his pupils master the subject in an incredibly short time. Raman Pillai spent five years under him- five years of undivided attention to his studies. The professor was so pleased with his ward that he singled him out for his special attention. Raman Pillai wrote many books and not one of them begins without a mention of this esteemed teacher. Such was the depth of his devotion to his mentor.

A scholar in Sanskrit at the age of twenty, Raman Pillai studied astrology under Mathur Panicker, medicine under Kattachira Champakasseri Potti and Vedanta under Sridhara Yogi. The study of Vedanta turned his mind to the path of renunciation and it took much pressure from his relatives to make him give up his thought of Sanyasa. He returned home and devoted the rest of his life –thirty two years- to teaching and writing.

Among Raman Pillai writings a work in verse glorifying Varkala ( Varkala stalamahtmyam Kilipattu) and the Malayalam version of a Sanskrit play, Prabodha Chandrodayam, deserve special mention.These names may prompt us to link them with Sree Narayana.

In later years the centre of Sree Narayana Dharma activities was Varkala whose glories Raman Pillai had sung in his major epic work. Likewise, one of the early literary exercises of Kumaran Asan, Swami’s disciple, was a translation of Krishna Mishra’s Prabhodha Chandrodayam; a Sanskrit work expounding Advaita Philosophy in a dramatic form. I presume that Swami’s was the inspiring force behind this translation. (It may be remembered that Asan was engaged in this work before he went to Bangalore for continuing his studies.) Advaita was Swami’s declared charter of faith. The influence of Raman Pillai should have been a deciding influence in Swami’s progress to Advaita philosophy. Pillai was an Advaitin of the highest order and that was why he chose to translate that particularly difficult play so as to make it accessible to those not well versed in Sanskrit.

The students under Pillai numbered more than sixty when Nanu joined. Pupils studying different subjects gathered before Pillai  after their morning routine. Classical Sanskrit literature was the main subject taught. Some were instructed in logic and grammar . Nanu started with Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa. Only two stanzas a day were taught in the beginning. Nanu made a submission, “Sir, if I go at such a slow pace …..” The teacher suggested that Nanu should attend the instruction being given to others also. “Let us see how quick you are”.

The teacher had not long to wait. When Raghuvamsa was finished and the next epic in the syllabus was taken up it was found that Nanu already knew all the stanzas. In fact he had learnt everything that had actually been taught to the other scholars. He could even excel the teacher himself at times in clarifying the sense of certain verses. In a short time Nanu had attained a high degree of proficiency even in grammar, Poetics and Logic. But he was never bookworm. Gentle by disposition and silent in the class, he never kept himself aloof from the gaiety of his companions. He enjoyed every chance for innocent laughter and was even eger to create scenes for such mirth. His intelligence, discipline and sense of humor made him dear to the teacher who made him the leader (Chattampi) of the class. His fellow scholars started calling him ‘Nanu Chattampi’ , some of them not without a touch of redicule. But Nanu’s disposition of complete detachment could disarm the severest redicule and those who came to scorn stayed to admire.

Raman Pillai was a good astrologer. One day he called Nanu to his side, almost stared at his face for a while and enquired:

“Nanu, under what star were you born?”
“The month?”
The teacher was silent for a while making some mental calculations.

“Nanu, yours is no ordinary birth. You are to be a man of history, a saintly figure. Shall we take up the study of Vedanta also from tomorrow?”

“I am all eagerness to study Vedanta”.

“I knew that. Your quest for truth is limitless. ‘Vidya’ bestowed on you will never go waste. It will sprout and grow into a spreading peepal tree affording refuge to many. So, we shall begin Vedanta tomorrow”.

Nanu was all smiles.


Among Nanu’s fellow students were some who laterbecame well known throughout Kerala : Velutheri Kesavan Vaidyar, Pudukat Madathil Krishnan Asan, Perunelli Krishnan Vaidyar- all men of fine aesthetic sensibility.

They were also lodging at Varanapalli along with Nanu. The rich Ezhava gentlemen of the place considered it part of their responsibility to offer free hospitality to Ezhava students coming from distant villages. Varanapalli house was in the forefront in this respect. The head of the house, Kochukrishna Panickar, was a literary enthusiast. There used to be a literary meet in his house every week when they read and discussed poems, both ancient and contemporary. Some used to read their own works. Thus the atmosphere in Varanapalliwas highly congenial to scholastic pursuits.

The skill of these gentlemen in the field of literature, both critical and creative, earned them the appreciation of all literary men. They did achievefame in their later years through their literary efforts. Visakhsvilasam (an epic in Sanskrit), Bali Sugriva Sambhav (a Malayalam boat song), Arthalankara and Prasanna Raghavam (a play in Malayalam) are Velutheri Kesavan Vaidyar’s  works. The last mentioned is a translation  of a Sanskrit play by Jayadeva. Peruneli Krishnan Vaidyars works include Kachacharita, Kukutsu Vijayam (Attakkatha used for Kathakali-dance  drama ), Aruvippuram sthalamahatmiam, and Subhadraharanan (play). Besides these he had translated into Malayalan Ashtanga hridayam upto Rogotpadanam and parts of Tirukkral.

Nanu was in the company of such men; he was functioning as the leader of such pupils.

Literary appreciation in those days was more or less synonymous with enjoyment of the erotic. Kesavan Vaidyar and Krishnan Vaidyar  were well versed in this field and all other students who stayed in Varanapalli liked them for that, except one-Nanu.

Nanu used to get up early , go for a walk and take his bath before sunrise. His friends coming out of their beds would see him at prayers, often with the temple marks on his forehead. He would open his eyes to drink in the divine beauty of the dawn. Sunrise had always been a time of supreme exhilaration in his life. So also sun-set. But circumstances often prevented him from losing himself in those moments of profound tranquility.

“When you get up late you are losing a rare chance of your life “, Swami is reported to have remarked , years later to a disciple. The disciple could not get the sense. Swami smiled. “There is no time of the day to surpass the beauty of a sunrise. That glorious procession of Divinity has to be seen and enjoyed. It will also help in the dawn of wisdom.”

Whether the disciple understood their meaning or not, these words tell us how precious the auspicious time of sunrise was to Swami. And Swami’s very such words must have provided the inspiration for Asan’s description of dawn in part five of his Buddhacharitam. At the end of a long description Asan is desperate at the insufficiency of words to capture the glory of the phenomenon. The divine beauty of the time was indeed beyond the scope of descriptions.

This attitude of reverence for sunrise gradually becoming explicit in those days was something his friends, who acknowledged the supremacy of the erotic, could not understand. They were of that age when blood was on fire. They were after all, ordinary men. They used to tease Nanu and even made verses about his ascetic tendencies. But Nanu was unperturbed. He even joined in wholeheartedly to enjoy the digs at himself. Nanu used to read Bhagavatam as a matter of daily routine. Krishna was his favourite deity at the time. On certain occasions Swami has said that in those days the form of Krishna could be seen wherever he looked.

Nanu used to wander about all over Pudupalli-over stretches of white sugar like sand, amidst the paddy fields lost in the embrace of dense coconut groves or along the banks of the Kayamkulam backwaters shining like a sheet of glass in bright sunshine. He would stand in the shade and enjoy the cool breeze that reached him across the waters. The water stirred in soft ripples as if thrilled by the gentle caresses of an unseen hand. The sky with its string of clouds would be seen mirrored in the clean water. The reflections of the coconut trees quivered in the simple rhythm of the gentle waves.

Nanu would stand there and gaze and would feel as though an inner eye had opened. What he saw were merelythe reflections of the sky and the trees. But how real they appeared to his eyes? That would mean that even shades could be substantial to human experience. Did it not signify that man cannot completely rely on the knowledge acquired through his senses? Was there not a hidden truth behind the material world known through the senses? A fineness, a Truth? The absolute Truth? The idea of the first verse in Prabhodha Chandrodayam came to his mind:

It is ignorance that sees a mirage in sunlight. I Salute the Supreme Light, the knowledge of which clears the confusion of mistaking the garland for a snake.

The supreme light! When could he experience that Light? How long was he to continue the search? How long?

Suddenly he felt that he was just dreaming. The lolling waves, the cloud-bedecked blue sky reflected in them, the coconut trees with their soft murmur-every- thing became indistinct as in a dream. Everything began to fade. Through everything a single radiance began to emanate. 


Nanu was not enthusiastic to participate in the literary discussions at Varanapalli house. Yet on some occasions he did participate in the discussion when it got heated up. Kochukrishna Panickar would ask Nanu for his views.Nanu would give his considered opinions which almost always earned the respect of both sides. Nanu could devise a common focal point for the contending opinions, first, because his approach was truly objective- others knew it and could easily be convinced of the logic of his conclusion- and secondly, because of his scholarship. His scholarship was not merely of the academic kind. He had achieved a co-ordination of his own thinking and the knowledge acquired from books and observation of life. This made his conclusions unique and readily acceptable. Gradually it became the practice to reconcile not only literary and philosophic points of dispute but even private controversies under the mediation of Nanu the Silent. He would mix with others only on such occasions. At other times he would wander about alone, or engage himself in studying books on Vedanta or lose himself in meditation. It was during this time that Nanu took to strict vegetarianism. Fish used to be a daily dish at Varanapalli and all of them were quite fond of it. Meat used to be served on special occasions. Nanu too was fond of fish in his boyhood days. After coming to Varanapalli he developed a dislike for non-vegetarian dishes. We do not know whether this has anything to do with his studies in Vedanta.

There were two pet dogs at Varanapalli. One was a strong brute, the other a weakling. Nanu was partial to the weak one. In fact he was the only one who used to pet the little dog. The poor animal was very much attached to Nanu and used to hang around him wagging his hairless tail. While Nanu sat meditating, the dog would be quietly lying near his seat. As a special favor Nanu used to give him some rice daily. Sometimes the bigger dog would drive him away and eat the rice. But Nanu would not check him. Moved with pitty he would stand there watching the scene. When the big dog moved away in all triumph he would say: “Alas! his mind is bad. This was his limit and not a syllable more was fashioned by his tongue on such occasions.

Among the Pulayas engaged to look after the cattle at Varanapalli there was one who showed special regards to Nanu. The affection was mutual. When he was tending cattle in lonely meadowsaway fro the house Nanu would call him to his side and enquire about his welfare.

He was in the beginning somewhat reluctant to come close. But Nanu’s sympathetic advances were quite irresistible and soon he beganto move with Nanu without inhibitions. Nanu could not help noticing a gathering cloud darkening the man’s countenance but he could not learn either from the cowherd or from anyone else what the trouble was. He felt that some evil fate was to overtake the poor man. Soon he ceased coming to Varanapalli.

Nanu learned from the chief of the house that the cowherd was afflicted with leprosy. He was an outcaste from the society. Not even the close relatives would dare allow him to come close to them. Alone in a dilapidated hut he lived on charity extended by compassionate souls.

“Poor man, but who can defy destiny? To prevent others from getting infected should be our care.” That was how the old man finished his narration. He was convinced that he had already shown pity and generocity in more than required measure.

That afternoon Nanu went straight to the Pulaya colony. The whole world lay bathed in the glory of the afternoon sun. Chirping birds flitted across from tree to tree . The leaves of the lofty coconut palms swayed in the gentle breeze, and trees with thick foliage joined in with their soft murmur. How sweet were the rustic frames devised by divine hands! Yet, amidst this luxuriant beauty, what was the state of man? Take those very huts, for instance. How cruel was the system that perpetrated them! How wretched was the condition of those who lived in them! Were they not human beings? Should they not also live as others did? Society which prided itself on its civilization had thrown these men into those dark holes. They don’t have even the freedom enjoyed by animals. A day’s hard labour would not earn them enough to meet their basic needs. Who was responsible for this state of affairs? Who had interpolated this ugliness in the midst of God’s beautiful creation? None but man- the customs made by him. Nanu remembered the weak dog at the house. He had lamented that the mind of the strong dog which robbed the weak one was evil. Perhaps he was wrong, for, did the dog have a mind at all? How could it discriminate between good and evil? The law that the smaller one was the food of the bigger was good enough for animals ; not for humans. Here the bigger one should be the support of the smaller. Why was it otherwise? Why did the bigger, the stronger, lord over the weak? Why did the big suppress the weak, enslave it? Was it because the minds of the overlords were bad? That could not be true. Take, for instance, the chief of Varanapalli. He was a good man. But he too kept those Pulayas at a distance. He did not realize that they too belonged to the same species as himself. Yes, there was the hitch-ignorance. Ignorance was the cause of misery, and customs that perpetrated ignorance made human life monstrous.

Heavy with these thoughts Nanu wended his lonely way across the lovely countryside that quiet afternoon to the leper’s hut.

The poor wretch was aghast with fear seeing Nanu come to his hut. He just could not imagine what would happen to him or to Nanu if someone chanced to see them together. He was trembling with fright. He could only cry out: “Oh, master! Oh master!”

“What is the matter with you, Chathan?” Nanu asked him. Chathan could no longer contain his sorrow. He burst into sobs and tears. Nanu sat beside him on the floor.

“Don’t be afraid, Chathan. See the cloth which I have brought for you. Now look here., this bottle contains a special oil. You should apply this oil daily over your body. See these leaves I have brought for you. Put some into water and boil it well. Take a bath every day with that water. You will become better. Don’t weep, Chathan. There is no use of your weeping “.

Chathan restrained his sobs and gazed at Nanu. He saw smiling effulgent face before him. Those eyes were speaking volumes to him. And he understood it all. That was the language of the heart. The language of a pure heart finds easy access to other pure hearts. For the first time in his life he experienced the emotions of a full man. His dark face lit up with a smile.


Nanu’s student life in Puduppalli was rich varied experiences. There were intimations of the unreal nature of the world of senses. There were direct experiences of the cruel law of nature that holds perpetual sway over all creatures. (Only the strongest survived there. Those who survived drew their nourishment by the pitiless destruction of the weak. The fat dog always robbed the weak one). Nanu was convinced of the holloness of many of the customs that persisted even in the world of humans who prided themselves on their unique mental faculties. Ignorance was the basis of all those evils. Man was ignorant of what was good. In other words he did not have the enlightenment. Once he was enlightened,  not only the evil customs but even his lust for sensual fulfillment would appear meaningless to him. Oh, a world that did not realize that it was chasing mere shadows!

The result of such a perspective taking root in Nanu was obvious- disinterestedness towards worldly pleasures. Disinterestedness would lead to renunciation. Nanu learnt the primary lessons of renunciation. Yet he could not simply dismiss the sufferings in this world as another set of illusions. True, the pleasures that please the senses were illusions, but what about the sufferings? Was the leprosy of Chathan an illusion? Was his pain an illusion? Was it proper for him to dismiss those scenes as illusions? Even if they were, could he do that? At this stage the philosopher in him would fail. His mind would grope in darkness. There was only one grace to pray for- a beam of light, Oh, Lord.

The inner self was always yearning for light. It yearned to be bathed in light.

Even in the midst of this spiritual unrest Nanu paid deep attention to his studies. Perhaps studies afforded him a certain measure of peace. Quest for knowledge was ever strong factor of his make-up. “ Ganapati exhibited unappeasable hunger at the breakfast table of Vaisravana. A similar gargantuan appetite for learning was visible in Nanu when he was a student under Raman Pillai Asan”, says Moorkoth Kumaran. The number of books he mastered during his three years with Raman Pillai was proof of this insatiable appetite.

In the third year Nanu had a severe attack of some stomach disorder and was taken home to Chempazhanti in an almost unconscious condition. Nanu regained his health quickly under the expert treatment of his uncle, Krishnan Vaidyar. But Nanu was not for going back to Puduppalli. He had had enough of tution from a master and his need was for something more than learning. He should find a solution for his inner problems. But how? By dedicating himself to a deep search. The quest for truth . The quest for light. He had already started on the quest. He had only to intensify it. That required freedom- freedom from worldly entanglements. He should liberate himself from the bonds that attached him to a home or a piece of land. 

The disinterestedness and the spiritual tint seen in Nanu perturbed  his elders. Here was a youth who was keen and erudite. He was to maintain the prestige of the house and even enhance it. But he was moving in a totally different direction. How could they be but anxious? They too were not keen to send him back to Puduppalli. Puduppalli had perhaps sowed the seed of renunciation in him. Let him stay back at home. His wanderlust, his meditations, solitary as well as in the temple should be restricted. They thought of two means to put him on the right road. He should immediately be engaged in some occupation suited to his taste. This was no problem. Teaching had always been to his liking and he had a way with him of conveying his ideas in a clear logical manner. He would therefore be employed as a tutor. In due time he could be got married. That was their plan of action.

As a first step they constructed a small school in their own compound. They collected a few children and engaged Nanu to instruct them from the nursery stage. This was to the satisfaction of both the elders and Nanu- the former because they could still retain Nanu and the latter because he could find a career much to his taste. During this period he came to be known as Nanu Asan (Asan meant teacher) and the honorific struck to him for quite some time.

Life as a teacher did not have much impact on Nanu’s bent of mind. He continued to be a silent and as uninterested in worldly life as ever. Leisure hours found him poring over religious books, or meditating in solitude or in prayer in the nearby temple. The wanderer in him never gave up. He could never be found in his house on holidays. He would be wandering about in the jungles or in the neighboring villages. What could he be doing in the jungles for such long spells? This was cause enough for anxiety but there was something more serious. Nanu would visit the huts of untouchables after working hours. Only Ezhava children were admitted to the school. So Nanu could not impart knowledge to the children of the lower sects. They too deserved to be taught. A teacher is obliged to light the lamp in their minds too. If they could not come to him he had to go to them. That was justification enough for him. Visiting their huts had one more advantage. He could teach the family rudiments of hygiene and cleanliness. They were living in the most unclean conditions. They had no special affinity towards dirt. They were just ignorant of clean ways. Did not the teacher have a special responsibility in this regard?

The elders were positively agitated. This boy was forswearing caste and caste purity. Besides, how could the members of Vyalvarath family look others in the face? Somehow he had to be made to desist from such dishonorable activities. They told him of their objections. Nanu met their opposition with unruffled calmness. What was wrong in imparting education to human beings? Was it not their advantage too to teach them clean habits? The elders had no answers. They were at a loss to know what to do with him. They could not rebuke him to his face or coerce him. There was some hidden power in this youth who spent his time in the study of religious books or in meditation. This made it hard for them to administer a direct admonition.

Nanu got an offer from a school in Anchuthengu. He accepted it. The elders were a bit relieved.  At least Nanu would no longer mix with Harijans under their very noses. But the more they considered the matter the more their wonder grew at Nanu’s acceptance. What could be the inducement? They found an easy answer. Matan Asan’s sister’s daughter was living in that neighborhood with her husband. They had an only daughter with one foot already on the threshold of youth. The grey-haired elders smiled within themselves. True, Nanu spent much time on his devotional activities and meditations. He was a young man nonetheless.

They closely watched Nanu at Anchuthengu but could not discover much  to encourage them. Prayers and meditations continued with unabated regularity. He spent even his sleeping  hours in the temple itself. Still they did not lose hope. After all, he was young. The routine of many years was probably restraining the natural instinct. They should do what they could to help. 

They fixed up Nanu’s marriage. The bride was the same girl mentioned above –Kaliamma. Nobody asked the bride or bridegroom for their opinion. The elders decide, the youngsters obey- that was the order of the day.

The marriage between Nanu and Kaliamma was performed in 1882. The presence of the bridegroom was not an absolute necessity for the function. The elders went to the bride’s house. Bridegroom’s sister presented clothes to the bride and took her to the groom’s house. The marriage was over.


Nanu Asan’s marriage took place at a time when he was groping for a way to contain the world and get liberated from worldly ties. This marriage was quite the opposite of what he yearned for. One could only guess what he would have felt about his own marriage; he was ever silent on the subject. He must have felt the bonds tightening about him. He could have had only one thought uppermost in his mind after the function. –to get released from an attachment that threatened to bind him for ever.

It is superfluous to dwell upon the subject of Swami’s married life.: First, because none knows anything for certain and those who claim to know have only transparent exaggerations to offer, and secondly, because it is immaterial whether the married life lasted for two days or two years since it never affected the course of his life. Still as an essential link in the chain of events in his life many readers could insist that I mention something of it in his biography. In difference to their wish I quote  from a letter received by Shri. Moorkoth Kumaran : “The bridegroom did not make the customary visit to bride’s house after marriage. From the day of marriage Nanu Asan ceased going to his own house. But after two months he yielded to the persuasions of the barber and, accompanied by him, went to huis own house. He sat for a while on the front platform. The lady brought some snacks and placed them near him. Asan went inside the house and came out with some bananas. He gave some to the barber and ate one or two himself. To the members of the house he spoke : ‘Every one is born in this world for a definite purpose; you have yours and I have mine. You mind yours, let me pursue mine’. Saying this he came away. The marriage got dissolved automatically”.

In the previous chapter, indications of Nanu’s mental state have already been given, the agitations  that choked him, the intellectual problems that troubled him, the prayers in the agony of multipronged attacks on his mental peace. There was one aspect that had been omitted- the power of worldly temptations on his young mind. One can be intellectually convinced of the utter unreality of the material world. But as long as man is bound by his senses the world and the pleasures of worldly life would continue to exert their strong attractions. In later life Swami himself has expressed this idea in many verses. Thoughts of worldly pleasures must have troubled him quite a lot. For a healthy handsome youth of twentyeight, sex could have provided most of the occasions for trial. 

There are evidences in his own works to support this presumptions. All the verses of his ‘Siva Sataka’ ought to be read carefully in this context. They reveal his inner self. Each of its verses echo the roar of the breakers of tumult that raged in his mind in those days of youth. His life was an intense battle against temptations. Thirst for enlightenment was on one side. On the other was the struggle against the forces of surging darkness. Such a struggle against worldly emotions would be fought only in the minds of a few supermen. (There is greatness even in that surrender).

I was speaking about the minority of extra-ordinary men who wage war on ignorance. Those who achieve ultimate victory over the children of darkness, the filthy emotions, could be counted on the finger tips. Narayana Guru was one among them. The supreme power to whom he sent his heart rending prayers finally chose to bless him.

He decided to bid farewell to married life, to his home and his village.


Taking a decision is easy, not so its implementation. Each of us is a crowded graveyard of pious resolutions. But great men plan to practice.

We have already seen what Nanuasan had decided –to bid farewell to his family and home, in other words to renounce all worldly attachments. At this time the circumstances of his family underwent some changes. His parents died. His uncle was too old to manage the household. Naturally, he expected the young and educated nephew to shoulder the responsibility. Nanu was in a quandary. Responsibilities were pulling him in opposite directions. The wife he married, the house he was born in, the uncle who brought him up- did he not owe them anything? Will it not be a serious lapse not to acknowledge these responsibilities? But he was convinced that these had but a temporary significance. Could he limit himself to a home, a wife and an uncle? Even if he could, was it proper? He could have glimpse of the phenomenon of life in all its endless mysteries. After that vision, what forgiveness within the four walls of a family? No, he could not do that. He had to break shell and be one with this world of endless hues. How to do that-well, he did not know.

That was the object of his quests. One day, perhaps, he could realize it. Whether he could or not, it was impossible not to embark on the quest. Every cell was straining to be dedicated to this single end. Nanu Asan just walked away from his house one day. We do not know the exact date or whether he took leave of any one. The occasion did not have anything remarkable in it. All the same, an intense struggle was going on in his soul. When he took silent leave of his dear home and relatives, his heart choked, hid feet faltered. When he came out and looked at the endless sky he felt somewhat relieved. The sky appeared full of compassion for this small man. He greeted the cool breeze as specially sent by the benign sky to soothe his suffering soul. He moved forward, at first with slow steps. As he walked on, the speed increased. He walked and walked, away from all familiar places and reached the mountains far down south. He was tired. He found a convenient place to sit down. A small rock. Besides the rock was a clear brook wending its gentle way. The water was crystal clear. Nanu scooped up a handful and splashed it on his face. And he drank of it. He felt cool and refreshed. He seated himself on that small rock.

The sky was clear. The disc of the moon came out in the east. The mosaic of light and shade spread a leopard skin over the dale. The sound of rustling dry leaves mingling with the sound of crickets and the call of jackals intensified the loneliness of the place, but the little man did not have any sense of fear. He heaved a sigh- it was a sigh of relief. He felt life having come home after a long wandering in alien lands. This moonlight, these shadows, these varied sounds, this solitude-these were all parts of himself. He was bound to them in some way. These were not alien to him. Ah, the mysterious oneness of this world! The peace it affords- one has to experience it to know its greatness.

Nanu sat atop a rock and his eyes were half- closed. In that yogic pose he was becoming one with his surroundings. Moonlight disappeared. Shadows vanished. The sounds of the jungle stopped. Rather, all these merged with his inner silence. It appeared as though hid body itself ceased to have any movement.

When he woke up the moon had already reached the western sky. He got up and started walking. Where? He did not care. The moving feet led him to a temple dedicated to Lord Subrahmanya. It was nearing the hour of dawn. It was the hour of morning ablutions and prayer.

This young stranger standing in front of the temple completely lost in devotion evoked curiosity and respect. What a glow on his face? What complexion! What perfection in the shape of his body! And what bright eyes filled with compassion and concentration! Attired in a single dhoti and a towel who could be this young man in such a deep meditation? He was a total stranger. He had not moved when the others left after this customary worship.

They brought some fruit for him when they came in the evening. He received the fruit and smiled at them. 

“Are they not from your garden?”


“We should make the temple premises more clean. We should clean these wild bushes and spread gravel over this area. In the evenings we can sit there and read some good books”

“We are ready to follow your advice”.

“Don’t you have a school here?”

“No, the nearest one is quite away”

“That won’t do. We should open a school here. These children should not be left to loaf about”

“We should educate them. Knowledge is light. So we should….”

Nanu did not complete his sentence as the people did not evince any interest.

Nanu lived in the temple premises. Some one or other would bring him some food. He would talk with them for some time. The rest of the time he would spend in reading or meditation. He always had with him some devotional books. The people cleared the bushes and spread white sand over the place. A few elders and some children would gather at the place. Nanu would read to them from his books. He would explain passages with simple illustrations. Those who came to listen went back learning something new each day. One of them asked oneday:

“Are you not afraid to spend the whole night here?”

“No. Do you know when fear arises?”


“Fear arises when we think that there are things in this world other than ourselves. When we know that everything is only ourselves, where is the cause for fear?”

They were bewildered. Nanu saw that they did not understand him. Should he explain?- No, it was not yet time for that. The process had to be gradual.

A few days of this life found him once again affected by an intolerable restlessness. He had set out on a great quest. Had it begun? The few days spent in meditation in the temple precincts-were they part of the great quest? How was he to begin? Honestly, he did not know. But this restlessness that rocked his mind was unendurable. Nanu bid farewell to the temple at the break of the day.

He walked on and on without knowing where he was going, resting when he felt tired and taking whatever food he could get when hungry. One day he happened to meet an old friend and fellow student who invited him to his house near by.

Nanu could not refuse him On the way he told his friend about the restlessness that had taken hold of him.

“It is well that we chanced to meet now. A ’mahatma’ who is a great scholar and a yogi is camping in my house. I shall introduce you to him”.

The young yogi with a handsome beard and a face beaming with self- confidence was Kunhan Pillai Chattampi. He was an ardent devotee of Subrahmanya and had assumed the name of Shanmughadas.

The two were attracted to each other at first sight. They discussed their spiritual problems and their possible solutions, and exchanged their views on Vedanta. Chattampi’s deep scholarship in Vedanta greatly impressed Nanu. Nanu’s keen intellect and imperturbability astonished Chattampi. Their relationship grew in strength through mutual respect and admiration. Together they wandered about without any care of where they went or what they ate.

Shanmughadas took Nanu to his own Guru, Thycaud Ayyavu, a devotee of Lord Subramanya, well known for his erudition in Vedanta and high attainments. He was a real yogi although he was discharging some official functions at trivandrum Residency. Nanu became his disciple and got from him advanced training in yogic practices.

Nanu felt his inner powers becoming explicit because of these practices. He decided to continue his pursuit and wandered from place to place. He visited almost all villages in Southern Travancore. He mixed with people when it was necessary. Otherwise he spent his days in solitary thought. He continued his yogic practices with strict regularity, He begged for food when hunger became intolerable. He did not care whether it was from Hindus, Muslims or Christians. He ate baked fish from fishermen’s huts. He would sleep under the canopy of the sky under the watchful eyes of myriads of stars.

The name ‘Asan’ gradually got discarded. People began to call him ‘Swami’ (Saint). He had attained high proficiency in Tamil and could understand even the most profound work in that language. In his later days he used to quote profusely from Tamil works like Tirukkural and explain them with a rare skill. During his wanderings he used to cross over to Tamil Nadu and visit places like Madurai and Tirunelveli. He mixed with the people of these places and saw their petty pleasures and great woes. He saw them quarrel over small things and forget their feuds in the face of calamities. This period of life helped him to know the people and study them. Humans-what a pack of contradictory natures! They had in them qualities that could make life beautiful. Also in them were tendencies that could make life hell. But were not these latter dominating their behavior and making their lives tales of misery? Should we not try to control those tendencies and nourish the goodness in man? But how? That was the big question. He had to delve deeper. There was much more to understand . Some deeper insight was yet to be had. More attainments were yet to be reached. A solution to these grave problems must present itself. He had to proceed further in the path of renunciation.

People began to look up to him with increasing respect and devotion. His sympathetic approach, meaningful talk and saintly aspect attracted them.

It was during this period of intense spiritual concentration that Swami’s ‘Song of the Kundalini’ was composed. It is a short poem of 22 verses that throbs with the knowledge and experience gained during this period. It is a poem which describes the waking up of the serpent like Kundalini power that lay dormant in Muladhara, through yogic exercises. It is led up to the lotus of a thousand petals in the vertex where it gets merged with the Supreme and the soul attains realization.


People began to approach Swami for relief from their many woes. Some suffered from incurable diseases. Some were childless. Some were possessed by evil spirits. Some women even wanted him to correct the excessive drunkenness of their husbands. He received them all with complete equanimity and sympathy and discussed their problems in few words. People began to regard him as super-human. They could not find anything in his behavior to mar this image. To them he seemed an incarnation of God. He could not solve all their problems. But popular faith credited him with miraculous powers. A biographer has even recorded that Swami used to perform some miracle cures.

People flocked to him from dawn to dusk and Swami missed his solitude. Many came with their personal problems; others came eager to serve him. Still others just wanted to be near him. It became impossible to get a moment of solitude and that was the one thing his nature could hardly do without. Swami saw life in all its contradictions and complexities. Scenes of good and evil in human nature passed before his eyes. He had to think about them. He had set out in quest of the secret of human misery. It was still eluding him. He had to continue the quest with renewed vigour. He was always surrounded by his devotees and he longed for solitude. He had to have it. He remembered the advice of his teacher Thycaud Ayyavu to do the penance for a time in some lonely forest. The teacher had also imparted the required training. There was no more time to lose. Once again he relinquished the company of men and walked into the heart of solitude, there to meditate on Man and Life.

Before he took to the woods Swami moved like an angel among his people. He was never troubled by thoughts of caste or creed. He received the hospitality of Christians and Muslims. He used to eat with Harijans.

The search for solitude took him to Maruthwamalai, a dense mountain forest to the east of Nagercoil. He selected a cave on top of the mount as his seat for meditation. He could get good breeze there. He could see vast expanse of the sea in front. The floor of the cave was clean sand. Swami went inside, spread grass on the sand and sat there in yogic pose. The forest lost its terror. The roar of the sea dissolved in the silence. The surroundings vanished from consciousness. In a matter of minutes he attained a state where the identities of the self and the universe merged into a single whole. It was getting dark when Swami opened his eyes. The western horizon was a glow of glory. The setting sun was just dipping into the sea like a pot of burnished gold. A blissful breeze was caressing the whole of creation. Gazing at that dance of sheer beauty Swami felt a surge of joy beyond words. What an experience of divine bliss!

He had not had any food that day. Hunger and thirst assailed him. Food was a problem in that lonely forest. He climbed down from his cave into the jungle already fading into the gathering darkness. He felt no fear. He was in the presence of some power, divine and peaceful. A herb he knew caught his attention. He knew that the juice of its leaves would solidify as a cake if left undisturbed for a few minutes. This was food. There was also a spring of pure water near by.

Swami sat in his cave regarding with idle eyes the darkness that filled the forest. Spots of blue light flitted across creating broken patterns all over. The sound of crickets mingled with the cries of animals. Jackals began to howl in chorus. In that forest darkness a terrifying drama of another life had commenced. But his discerning eyes could view this scene as a play of a different sort. Roars of beasts of prey were followed by sounds of fleeing feet. The hunted animals were fleeing to preserve their lives, the hunters to sustain theirs. What a cruel pastime of nature!

In the midst of this cruel drama Swami spent quite some time practicing meditation and yoga. In his later life Swami used to refer occasionally to this period. The knowledge of herbs he had acquired in his early days must have stood him in good stead in those days of forest life when he had to satisfy his hunger with leaves, roots and wild fruit. There were occasions when hunger could not be controlled even with such forest fare. On these occasions food used to reach him in some way. One biographer has recorded one such incident. It was midnight and forest was bathed in moonlight. Swami was assailed with irresistible hunger. Even for a drink of water he had to walk Quite some distance. Swami came out of the cave and sat on a rock. An old leper came to him with some powdered fried rice and water and invited him to share the meal. Both of them ate from the same leaf.

Swami himself is said to have told some of his close associates about such incidents. They are persons whose truthfulness is beyond doubt.

Swami used to remark that he had two friends in Maruthwamalai. Who are they? Swami was the only human being present. It is believed that he referring to beasts of prey who got friendly with him. Nobody knows how long he was there in Maruthwamali. Swami has not said anything more specific about his life there. There is no means of knowing more about his life, or his thoughts, his dreams or visions. But this much is certain. On the basis of the knowledge and experience gained so long he would have thought of a plan of action to stop the human miseries he knew so well. The course of his later life flowed directly from that. From his long and lonely life in Maruthwamalai he went straight to Aruvippuram, a village 12 miles from Trivandrum. And it was there that he inaugurated his programe of action.

It was also at Maruthwamalai that he developed a detachment from his own actions.


Before reaching Aruvippuram Swami spent some time in the midst of the common folk. Even when he was at Maruthwamalai some men from the village chanced to see him. They told others and the news that a great saint was doing penance in the wild forest of Maruthwamalai spread quickly. People came to visit Swami with offerings. A group of persons even succeeded in persuading him to visit Suchindram  where they offered him worship. When he was again discovered by people Swami came down to them. Probably he realized that there was no sense in being cut off from the people. Probably this was the truth that was revealed to him during his intense meditation in the lonely  cave. To make meaningful the attainments  of yoga, they should be utilized for the common weal.

This afforded him an opportunity to know life in depth and range. Perhaps it was a deliberate act. He lived with the poor folk and took food with them. He helped the fishermen in their chores and took with relish the fish preparations they offered him. He would sit, of nights on the sands facing the sea and meditate. He would sleep on the nets spread by the fishermen- who felt sure of a good catch if swami just touched their nets when they set out in the morning. Here is a description of Swami’s life in those days from a letter written by a gentleman to Shri. Moorkoth Kumaran : “ In the days When Swami used to wander about in Trivandrum it was mostly the Tamils and a few Nairs who honoured him. The Ezhavas, except the family of Dr. Palpu, never respected him. They even ridiculed him as an eccentric. Swami often used to take food from Dr. Palpu’s house. He used to mix with Nadars and Channans and used to be revered by Christians and Muslims. Muslims used to feast him with chicken and other special preparations. Swami himself used to say that he had taken food with them from the same plate. He used to fondle their children and even feed them himself.

He is also said to have kept in touch with certain Christian and Muslim priests. 

Some Muslim religious leaders have appreciated the explanations given by Swami to some verses in the Koran. Swami liked hold discussions with them on spiritual and moral themes. Swami used to be a listener most of the time . His words were few and were often in the form of questions deserving detailed explanations. He listened to the explanations and made them part of his own knowledge.

Through experiences in the raw, through philosophical discussions and through constant meditation Swami sought the root cause of the problems of life and their solutions. We can only venture to guess what his conclusions were, based on his words and deeds in later life. Something would still remain to be understood about his life and that itself is its greatness. Greatness will never lend itself to full comprehension. Whatever be the validity of any deduction about what Swami learnt of life, one basic fact cannot be disputed-that he laid increasing stress on the indivisibility of life .

Even during his student days he had rare and blessed moments of vision regarding the unity of life. This sense took deeper roots in course of time. No man is a separate entity by himself. All men, nay, all forms of life are irrevocably connected with each other. The same spark glows in them. As a western poet has said no is an isolated island. Each individual is an inalienable part of the wide earth. This sense became part of his essence controlling his every word and deed. Kerala had never seen till then or even since then a life which is the exposition of an eternal truth in such an adorable style. 

In the realm of application this sense can manifest itself only in one form –in seeing the whole of humanity as one family beyond sectarian dividing lines. Customs, faith and mode of worship differ from religion to religion, from sect to sect. Even the style of dress differs. These differences condemn humanity to several separate compartments denying opportunities for closer understanding. Customs serve to separate , drive people further and further away from each other. But beneath these superficial differences there is a universal stratum of noble humanity. Opportunities should be created first to awaken this innate humanity. Knowledge or education should provide the inducement. People should be enlightened through education. Enlightenment is emancipation. When enlightened they would become aware that caste and creed were but robes and that beneath them all men were the same. But certain circumstances have to be created to make it possible- circumstances for mutual co-operation. To create such a situation strong organizational work was essential. Strength should be acquired through organization.


Swami was thirty-one years of age at the time. He was extraordinarily handsome. Yogic practices had added a special luster to his countenance, beaming with compassion for fellow beings. The appearance of this young Yogi of spiritual excellence soon attracted attention and people started flocking to him with one problem or other. Those who came to him remained his ardent devotees.

They came with gifts of fruits , eatables and even gold and silver coins. Swami accepted the gifts with a smile and distributed them to those present.

Those who came with gifts had some personal gain in view. More often than not piety springs from selfish needs. Some wanted their business to flourish. Some wanted to be blessed with a child. Most of the problems were without direct solutions and needed superhuman assistance.

Swami would receive everyone with a kindly and reassuring smile and briefly enquire about their problems. He would give some simple advice along with his blessings. The devotee would return with a new-found confidence, and soon his renewed application would bear fruit. He would be convinced that his success was solely due to Swami’s blessings. Others too shared the belief. 

Nanu Swami reached Aruvippuram, nursing such practical concepts. Aruvippuram is a lovely place on the banks of Neyyar near Neyyattinkara Town in South Travancore. The river flows here over heaps of rocks between two rocky hills. On either side were jungles with no human habitation near the banks. There was a rock overhanging the bank forming a cave big enough for a man to sit in. Swami selected this place as his abode. Sometimes he would go up to the hill top and sit on a high rock overlooking the entire area. From that place he reviewed the struggles and tears of his fellow men. He was soaring high above the vales of worldly attachment flapping his wings in realms  of spiritual visions. But he could not discard the earth which gave him life and where his brethren were still struggling. Nor was it desireable. He would sit on the high rock and survey the surrounding areas. Small huts partly hidden by trees could be seen here and there. Thin coils of smoke stretched themselves out from some of them. In the distance the blue sky met the earth in an embrace. The horizon was calm , and as far as the eyes could see it was a stretch of lush green charm. Amidst these riches man alone….

Swami heaved a deep sigh.

News about the efficacy of Swami’s blessings spread quickly. Swami’s medical skill and knowledge of Ayurvedic and Tamil systems of medicine helped in strengthing people’s faith in his powers. Many were benefited from his simple prescriptions. The remedies suggested were so common that cure was attributed by the devotees solely to the superhuman powers of swami. Swami continued his simple methods of healing till the very end. 

Swami used to stress the need for personal hygiene and cleanliness of surroundings. He repeatedly told his devotees how to keep themselves and their habitations clean. 

Swami gave a banana or a bunch of grapes to couples who were longing for children. He would bless them and also prescribe some simple medicine. Many of them would come back after some time with their babies. They wanted the child to be given a name by Swami himself. 

Swami is also said to have performed certain acts during this period bordering on the realm of miracles. Some respectable gentlemen have related to this writer some of their own direct experiences in this regard. But the accounts might be exaggerated. Time might have added tones of mystery to the originals.

Some of the incidents related by direct witnesses were put on record even when Swami was alive. One such concerns a leper. Swami was camping at Aruvippuram. An old man placed a gold ring before Swami as a gift. Swami did not take it saying that he had no use of it. After Swami and the devotees went out, the old man came looking for the ring and assaulted a leper standing there, suspecting him of stealing it. When Swami came to know about it he called the old man and said :

“Why did you beat this sick man.? You had given the ring to me What does it matter to you who took the ring?

To leper he said that when they beat him up they took away his disease alaso. After a few months he was seen completely cured of his despicable disease.

Several such stories circulated among the people. Swami was confronting face to face  the problems – material, psychological and spiritual that troubled the people of Aruvippuram and its neighborhood. Through them he realized the problems that assailed Kerala and the entire human race. 

He felt convinced that he was ordained to find a solution to these problems. And he started in right earnest.


Devotees belonging to different sects visited Swami at Aruvippuram and some of them became his disciples. It became a usual practice for householders from distant places to come there with provisions and feed Swami and his followers. The place fast became a centre of pilgrimage. Swami felt the need for having a regular temple of worship there and expressed his desire to some of his regular visitors.

A centre of worship was an imperative need Only from such a centre could he direct his constructive activities. The response to the idea was as he had expected. A temple was to be raised and the installation ceremony fixed for the Sivaratri Day of that year.    

There are some who view this decision as a pragmatic one. They consider that Swami wanted to attract people by establishing a temple since the people of those days had firm faith in temples. This interpretation of Swami’s action does not appear to be correct. Swami was a firm believer in God and he appears to have believed that worship at temples was the sure means to the common folk to strengthen their faith. He himself had worshipped at many temples and had written many verses in praise of different deities. There was therefore nothing unusual about his desire to have a temple at Aruvippuram.

He had, however, a conception of his own about a temple. Temples had become breeding grounds of meaningless customs and rituals. Swami conceived temples as centers of purity and development.

Swami’s followers welcomed the idea of having a temple, but facilities for raising a building there were lacking. Swami did not think that a building was so very necessary for a temple. He decided to install a Sivalinga  on a rock on the eastern bank of the river. The devotees were very enthusiastic about the preparations. They cleared the space and erected a canopy over the rock with mango leaves and coconut leaves and decorated it with festoons. They improvised lamps with shells and arranged them in rows. They were lighted at dusk and a piper began to play devotional tunes. The whole place was soon filled with pious village folk.

A little away from the scene Swami sat completely lost in meditation, unapproachable even to his disciples. Lamps were burning bright. Music filled the air. Flowers of different scents poured forth their fragrance.

There was one question that had to be asked in all seriousness. Did anyone ask that question? Nobody knows. Only a Brahmin had the right to install an idol. Shri. Narayana was an Ezhava. Which code gave him the right? This question was raised by some people on later occasions. But none who assembled at Aruvippuram on that memorable night ever thought of putting such a question. Perhaps they could not. They had probably lost themselves in the high drama being enacted there. The personality of the yogi and the atmosphere charged with piety might have made them forget customs and religious injunctions.

It was nearing midnight. Swami woke up from his meditation and came to the river. The devotees marched behind him. His face was a glow of radiance. His eyes shone like stars. With a white cloth tied round the lions the golden figure slowly went into the river. People waited on the bank in utter silence, absorbed in prayers. The gurgle of the river flowing over rocks sounded like devotional music from another world. They waited with folded hands. The handsome body was slowly disappearing into the running water. 

If silence had music, the atmosphere was filled with it. The whole universe seemed to have come to a stand-still.

And the people stood watching with unblinking eyes.

There, ah, he was coming out. In his hands they saw a Sivalingam.

Swami came ashore. Slowly he entered the enclosure. Holding the idol in both his hands he stood lost in meditation that lasted for nearly three hours.

Tears flowed down his radiant cheeks. The overwhelmed devotees stood around him chanting aloud the panchakshara mantra. In their midst Swami remained motionless like a sea of stillness.

By about three o’clock Swami came back to the normal plane. Witnessed reverently by the sky of a million eyes and amidst the loud chanting of the panchakshara mantra by the devotees, Swami installed the Sivalinga on the prepared pedestal.

The installation did not take place at the scheduled time, yet a more auspicious hour could not have been fixed.

That moment marked the birth of a new era in the history of Kerala.

Yes, it was a great landmark. An understanding of the historical background is essential to catch the significance of this moment. Social life in this land had continued from the earliest known times without any change or movement. Society was segmented and stratified on the basis of caste- which was the deciding factor in every aspect of social life. Colossal disparities and grave injustice were perpetrated in the name of caste. These monstrous disparities continued for ages and none seemed to have felt any indignation on that score. On the other hand people found it satisfying to  maintain unbroken customs and traditions. Observance of untouchability was inconvenient  to everyone, still they vied with one another in their zeal to preserve it.

Brahmins were the dominant sect and enjoyed every privilege and respect. The unreserved praise bestowed on them by such writers as Ezhuthachan and O.Chandu Menon is a reflection of the domineering position they held in the social life of the land.

It was in a social structure that surrendered itself to Brahmin domination with a religious fervour, that Swami, a non-Brahmin, came to install an idol.

It had been accepted as a mandate from the Supreme that only a Brahmin was entitled to perform the installation of an idol. Yet when Swami performed the sacred rite it appeared so natural for him to pick up a small rock and install it as Siva Lingam.

Those who watched him with worshipful reverence did not realize at that time the explosive potentialities of his act. But there were people who did –the Brahmin priesthood whose authority had so far been unchallenged. A great scholar from among them visited Swami and questioned him about the validity of the act. No code gave an Ezhava the authority to conduct the installation ceremony. How could Swami, a mere Ezhava, perform the act in contravention of all the accepted norms? Swami’s answer has become famous: “I have installed only the Ezhava Shiva”. The revolutionary attitude that prompted this answer needs no explanation.

Swami never opposed or denied anything openly. But his actions proclaimed the man. They dealt severely with senseless customs that survived through ages as though by divine ordinance. When his disciple, Asan, wrote that for fools a mistake of the past may become the custom of the present and the law of the tomorrow, he was giving a poetic expression to his master’s thoughts. This sense of modernity brought the first day of light into the life of the people of kerala who were, for centuries, wallowing in darkness and slavery. Installation at Aruvippuram was the first step towards liberation.

It was a break with tradition in another sense too. Ezhavas of those days were somewhat uncultured  in their faith and customs. Most of them were unlettered. Their social behaviour and even their mode of worship were crude. Their deities represented uncultured and crude attitudes and they propitiated them with toddy and arrack and with animal sacrifices. Many of their social customs were in conformity with their modes of worship. It was against such a social background that Swami installed a Sivalinga which represented a vastly superior spiritual sensibility.

At the time of installation Swami wrote a verse which said:

“This is the model abode where all men shall live as brothers without caste distinctions or religious rivalries.”

Castes and subcastes had turned Kerala into a veritable madhouse. To write a verse like this at such a time required the stature of a prophet.

Soon Swami announced two important slogans for his followers:

Strength through organization.

Freedom through education.

A new wave was rising in Kerala society which had remained stagnant and still for centuries. We are to see this wave grow into a great movement of Transformation.


A larger than usual crowd used to collect at Aruvippuram an New Moon days. People in large numbers came with the customary offerings on those days to propitiate their dead ancestors. After the rituals they would visit Swami who always had a smile for them. He would ask them about their welfare, their daily life. He would sometimes talk to them on some general topic. His talk would be liberally sprinkled with humor which these simple folk would enjoy whether they fully understood the impact of his words or not.

During his talks Swami indicated the need for some sort of an organization. A league of some sort was already in evidence though it had no formal shape. The response to Swami’s suggestion was enthusiastic and soon a regular association took shape and was registered. The main aim of this body was to manage the affairs of the temple. Soom the association came to discuss more important matters affecting society in general and the urgent reforms that had to be brought about.

Life outside Aruvippuram had also started exhibiting signs of disturbances. Seeds of organized political agitation started sprouting here and there under inspiration, though of different kinds, from Dr. P.Palpu and Barrister G.P.Pillai. At the time the Aruvippuram Temple Association started discussing urgent social reforms, the whole of Kerala had started showing signs of an ideological restlessness though in a nascent stage. Causes were different and so were manifestations. A crucial stage was reached when Dr. Palpu’s ideological fervour came under the influence of Swami.

People far off places came to visit Swami. Stories of his uncommon powers and activities had penetrated to the different corners of Kerala. Among those who came to Swami were men who had much to talk on the social imbalances and injustice widely prevalent in those days.

Swami had thought of establishing an order of monks attached to the temple. He expected that through the activities of these monks people could be enlightened on true religious ways and could be made to give up mean practices such as animal sacrifice. Already a number of Ezhava temples between Paravur and Neyyattinkara had given up animal sacrifice in deference to his words. Swami used to prepare leaflets on these topics and propagate them, through public speakers. Aruvippuram gradually acquired the character of a monastery. Many educated young men came to live there as Swami’s disciples. The need was increasingly felt of establishing a regular order.

In course of time a regular sanctum and a hall were built at Aruvippuram through local efforts. The temple should have a regular income and a committee to manage it. Swami’s appeal brought in a fund of one thousand rupees by contributions. Some property was acquired and a monastery was built at the southern side of the temple. A society with eleven shareholders was registered in 1899 to manage the affairs of the temple. Swami had an idea that the society could expand its activities and become an instrument for improving the religious and social conditions of the Ezhava of Kerala. Out of this desire was born, some three years later, the S.N.D.P.Yogam (Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam).

Part II


1. A Meeting and a Discovery
2. Dr. Palpu.
3. On the Yogam.
4. Stepsthat Never Faltered.
5. Sivagiri.
6. A Temple in Tellicherry.
7. Alwaye Advaita Ashram.
8. Social Uplift.
9. The Friend of the poor.
10. Intimations of Scepticism.
11. Sahodaran Ayyappan.
12. C. Krishnan.
13. On Marriage, Obsequies etc.
14. Hectic Activities.
15. Sixty Years of Age.


There was a rare trait in Swami’s personality which converted even a casual acquaintance into a deep attachment. Even persons of high intellectual caliber could approach him only with reverence. No wonder many from different parts of kerala came to him daily just to see him and honor him.

Not everyone could come to Aruvippuram. And those who could not come often got an opportunity to see him in their midst. By temperament it was impossible for Swami to remain at the same place for long. He continued his habit of traveling from place to place. But there was a difference. He was no longer assailed by the restlessness that earlier drove him from one place to another. He had found what he had been seeking, not only for himself but for a people to whom he should provide guidance in their search for peace. They were not a few individuals, they represented mankind as a whole. He had chartered the course they should follow. He had to provide the guidance they needed. He had also to develop in them the will and skill to follow the course.

Swami’s followers were but ordinary men. They were deeply devoted to him and considered it their luck to get a chance to show their attachment. But they had their own rivalries and quarrels among themselves. This must have oained Swami. He was above all dirt; he had his being in purity and goodness. He needed solitude. But he knew that he could not sever his connection with his fellow beings. He had to cleanse them of their dirt. Once during his travels he happened to camp at Kaikara, near Trivandrum. As usual many persons came to see him. A man on the threshold of youth was led to his presence- a young man of robust health and bright eyes. Swami was told that his name was Kumaran. And that he had a talent for poetical composition.

Swami at once perceived that there was something special about him. He wanted to hear some of his compositions. Kumaran recited some verses he had composed which excited Swami’s interest. Swami wanted to see more of his works and Kumaran was all eagerness to show them to him. Swami carefully went through the poems while Kumaran waited in respectful anticipation.

Swami was silent for a while. Then he raised his eyes full of affection towards the young man and said: “Kumaran has talent and it will surely bloom forth. But….?

The young man’s heart was in flutter. What was he about to say? Avaluable piece of advice, no doubt.

Swami completed his sentence: “But avoid writing verses of an erotic nature for the present”.

Swami knew that he had met a flower in its budding stage- a flower that was to pour its fragrance into millions of hearts in future. This talent should develop on proper lines. It had to be protected from the worms of destructive tendencies.

Kumaran withdrew from Swami’s presence a changed man. His young heart completely surrendered to Swami’s influence. He turned to religion. He studied books in Sanskrit and Tamil dealing with Vedanta and started composing devotional verses.

Swami’s spiritual power turned Kumaran who was a poet and quite worldly into a Vedantin and a yogi. This was the young man who later became the famous poet, Kumaran Asan.


Asan met Swami at Kaikkara in 1891. He was only eighteen at that time. Inclination towards spirituality was part of his mental make-up. He had also begun to be troubled  by thoughts of the transient nature of worldly life. He had been attracted to Swami at their very first meeting and could not keep away from him. For long. His unquenchable spiritual thirst soon led him to Swami like a hungry child to his mother. He became Swami’s disciple. His search for eternal began and the pen that delighted in writing poems of sensuality turned to the composition of works of devotion and piety. The influence of Swami’s personality in this change, of course, needs no special mention.

Yet as far as we know, these poems of devotion, of renunciation of worldly life and aversion to material pleasures were written at Swami’s instance. Swami never gave any direction regarding those poems. He would of course read them and encourage the author. Swami never interfered in the course of life or line of thought of any of his followers. He used to leave these to the individual’s choice. But the disciples always believed that they were being guided by Swami in their choice.

Asan too believed that he took the path of renunciation due to Swami’s influence. But he was not quite correct in this belief. He chose the line because spirituality was a dominant trait in his personality.

Later on, he started choosing themes of love, predominantly platonic in nature. The love in all his poems bears the stamp of devotion. There is no basis to say that the influence of Swami, the teacher, circumscribed Asan, the poet. If he suffered from any inhibition, it could have been only of his own creation.

An uncommon sense of freedom was the most dominant factor in Swami’s character. His was a mind free from the ties that make for mental enslavement. The other side of the coin is desisting from imposing oneself upon others. Those who enjoy being free would find joy in allowing others their freedom. It does not therefore stand to logic that Swami ever tried to deny Asan his freedom.

In fact it was Swami who first realized that this disciple of his was destined for something other than Bhakti and Sanyasa. He perceived the dormant poetic genius in him and knew what would contribute to its full development. He had recognized at his first meeting itself a mind that longed to revel in the realms of higher learning.

Swami took the initiative in arranging for Asan’s higher education. The name of Dr. Palpu who held a lucrative job at Bangalore readily came to his mind and Swami entrusted his young disciple to his care. That was in 1895, four years after their first meeting. At the time of parting Asan broke down in sobs. Such was the attachment of this young man to his master.

When Asan came back after completing his education at Bangalore and Calcutta in 1900 he desired nothing more than to be associated with Swami. It was with Swami’s blessings that he took over the Secretaryship of the S.N.D.P.Yogamin 1903. His great poems of love published since 1908 earned Swami’s encouragement and appreciation. Swami saw these love poems as the genuine expressions of a natural talent.

Yet, it would appear that Asan was under the impression that Swami desired him to remain bachelor. The letter he wrote to Swami on deciding to get married strengthens this view. This was perhaps because Asan’s mind had been set to a particular pattern as a result of long study of Vedanta and his own spirituality, and not because Swami expressed any such idea either by word or deed.

On getting married Asan sent a telegram seeking Swami’s blessing. Swami remarked:
“Blessing is ever there : Does it need dispatching?


Dr. Palpu who activised  a momentous agitation during a period when great changes were taking place in the history of Kerala, was a man of strange ways. Born in 1863 in the Ezhava family of Nedungode in Trivandrum he started his traditional education at the age of five. He wanted to learn English like his brother (in later life Rao Bahadur P. Velayudham) but financial difficulties threatened to stand in the way. Palpu’s Character and keenness  impressed S.J.Fernandez, a European, who was running , an English School in Trivandrum. With the encouragement and financial support of this gentleman he studied in his school for three years and then matriculated from the Government School at Trivandrum. He had to interrupt his college education in the first year itself for want of money. He managed to earn some money by giving tution and rejoined the college. In the meantime he passed the entrance examination for the medical course, but could not secure admission in the college due to opposition from the caste Hindus. He was bent upon studying medicine. Raising some money partly by selling his mother’s jewels, he joined the Madras Medical College and took his medical degree after four years.

Dr. Palpu entered service under the Madras Government. He worked under Col. King , a European, in a special depot  manufacturing “lymph” for vaccination against smallpox. The King was pleased with his work and sense of responsibility. He got a promotion as the Senior Superintendent.  The Depot was shifted to Bangalore and Dr. Palpu had to go there. The Government of Mysore started  a lymph-manufacturing unit and Dr. Palpu joined this institution and earned another promotion. The Government decided to send him to Europe. But plague broke out in Mysore and Dr. Palpu was deputed for the anti-plague operations. The other doctors in the team left the scene on leave or otherwise, but Dr. Palpu stood his ground and plunged into the work as the Superintendent in charge of the operations. The death toll in the camp ranged between fifty and a hundred  and fifty in the midst of the dance of death Palpu stood firm like a rock with service as his sole motto.

In 1899 he left for Europe and spent a year and a half in England and other places including Paris, Rome and Germany. On his return to Bangalore he served the Government in various capacities. Throughout his service he never acted against his conscience and this led to many clashes with his superiors. He retired from Government service in 1920. This much for his official life.

Dr. Palpu used to engage himself in many other activities. One such was purely personal. He secretly helped poor but deserving students with money for their studies.

Kumaran Asan himself was staying with him at Bangalore for higher studies. During winter nights Dr. Palpu would go out with blankets bought with his own money and secrety cover the shivering poor asleep on shop platforms. He himself had a family and his own share of commitments. Probably the memory of his former benefactor was inspiring him. He used to advice everyone to try to be fools. A clever man was one who, like a bandicoot, thrived on the fruits of another’s labour. As against this , a fool was one who gave the fruits of his own labour to others. Dr. Palpu used to say that our endeavour  should always be to become such fools. In his private life he was one such.

Dr. Palpu always exhibited an untiring readiness to work for the uplift of his own community and other depressed classes. Their main handicap was lack of educational facilities. Even the Government of the enlightened State of Travancore denied them admission in Government Schools and barred their entry into service in some of the departments. A movement had started under the leadership of men like Barrister G.P.Pillai and K.P. Sankara Menon, demanding recognition of the rights of the natives to enter Government Service. Dr. Palpu joined this movement. In a memorial they submitted to the Government it was mentioned that in Travancore  Service there was not even a single Ezhava drawing more than five rupees as salary though there were talented and educated candidates in the community. In their reply Government stated that considering the social condition in the state Ezhavas were generally illiterate and that as a rule they preferred to continue in their traditional occupations like tapping and making coir yarn rather than go for higher education which would make them fit for Government service.

t has to be admitted that the Government’s reply truly reflected the prevailing state of affairs. The Ezhavas were perfectly satisfied with their lot. Only a few among them like Dr. Palpu and M.Govindan had modern ideas and there was none other than Dr. Palpu to work tirelessly with a determination never to rest till the goal was achieved. He carried on his fight for social justice through all available means –the press, meetings, letters, interviews with authorities. Social justice meant recognition of fundamental human rights. His was a lone and hazardous journey through thorny thickets of superstitions and in his efforts to transform a primitive community he accepted help from all quarters.

In 1896 Dr.Palpu came on leave to Travancore and traveled in almost all taluks not minding the hardship involved, to collect signatures from Ezhavas for a memorandum to be submitted to the Maharaja. But most of the Ezhavas refused to sign the petition out of fear and also of blind faith in tradition. Dr. Palpu clearly saw that unless this fear and conservatism were removed no effort to improve the lot of the community could be effective, and that organized work on an emergency footing was required. But he first wanted to complete the work he had begun. With much effort he collected signatures from thirteen thousand Ezhavas and presented a mammoth petition to Shri. Moolam Tirunal Maharaja.

The petition couched in the traditional and humble style recalled the services the forefathers of the present generation Ezhavas had rendered to the Crown, pledged their undivided loyalty and put forward the grievance that the benefits of many of the welfare measures the benign Government had introduced were being denied to them. Many schools were being opened throughout the state to promote education but their children were being kept away on the basis of caste, thus condemning them to unredeemed backwardness. Very few among them had English education. The reason was not the lack of facilities but of incentives as they had been barred entry into Government service. According to the census figures of 1891 there were at least twenty-five thousand educated men among them, but not one was in Government service. On a salary of at least five rupees a month. Their compatriots in Malabar were eligible to be appointed to any post a native could aspire to. Some of their own men were in good positions in the service of other Governments. Some who belonged to castes of a lower order and were converts to other religions were free to avail themselves of the educational facilities and service opportunities.

The very tone of the petition, leave alone the contents, reflected the utter helplessness of the petitioners This feeble voice came from the bravest among the community. The rest of them were quite satisfied with their traditional occupations.

The reply the Government gave to the petitioners was equally revealing. It noted that the questions raised, viz. educational facilities and employment under the Government, concerned not  the Ezhavas alone and hence Government has to be extra cautious in tackling the questions so as not to impair the structural compactness of an ancient society governed by age-old customs and traditions. As regards educational facilities Government could not go against the wishes of different sections of the people and insist on giving admissions to all children in all schools, especially in remote villages. Besides admitting all children in certain institutions Government had opened separate schools for different castes in certain places including schools for Ezhava girls. Therefore the petitioners could not have any real grievance.

Government had made a departure favourable to the petitioners in regard to service rules also, throwing certain departments open to qualified Ezhavas. It was the firm opinion that these measures which guaranteed improvement were sufficient to satisfy the aspirations of the community.

Dr. Palpu was not discouraged even with this reply. This only strengthened his opinion that the rights of the community could be realized only through agitations and propaganda. He wrote a small book in English –“Treatment of Tiyas in Travancore” – laying bare the unjust policy of the Government. The help and co-operation of progressive-minded people like G.P.Pillai enabled him to make the entire country aware of the injustice to which the community was being subjected.

Palpu had met Swami Vivekananda and had talked to him about the plight of Ezhavas. Swami had suggested that the struggle be carried on with a spiritual leader as the guiding force. This suggestion at once raised the image of a radiant face in Palpu’s mind- the face of Narayana  Guru. He smiled with a secret satisfaction.

Dr. Palpu was among those who worked for sending Swami Vivekananda to America. Through Vivekananda’s disciple Sister Nivedita and her friends in British Parliament, Dr. Palpu arranged to have questions asked in Parliament regarding the treatment of the Ezhavas in Travancore and this resulted in an enquiry into their problems. Dr. Palpu’s work on these lines contributed in a large measure to bringing about a favourable change in the Government’s policies towards Ezhavas and other communities.

One thousand five hundred rupees had to be spent for sending an emissary to London to meet Sister Nivedita and all the money except contributions amounting to three hundred rupees came from Dr. Palpu’s own pockets.

We do not know when Dr. Palpu got acquainted with Narayana guru. Swami came to have great respect and regard for him. He quickly saw that the doctor who had a straight-forward way of speaking was a men of rare purity of mind that brooked no crookedness. Occasions were there when Dr. Palpu openly, though humorously , criticized Swami, but Swami would just smile as he had no difficulty in seeing the pure mind behind the harsh words. During their many discussions about social reforms, in which poet Kumaran Asan and others also participated, emerged the idea of forming an organization to fight for reforms and social justice. Swami had his headquarters at Aruvippuram where a registered association had already started functioning. At a special meeting of the association it was decided to expand it by opening it for all members of the community and registering  it as a Joint Stock Company. The Aruvippuram Temple Association was converted into the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam in Edavam 2, 1078 M.E (1903 AD).In difference to the wishes of Swami and Dr. Palpu, Kumaran Asan agreed to be the General Secretary. It was decided that a monthly, Vivekodayam, was to be brought out as the organ of the Yogam.


We have see how Dr. Palpu, the idealist, took the initiative in the formation of the S.N.D.P.Yogam. His private life was blessed with success but in his public endeavors he had to encounter many setback. Success in private life did not make him cool towards public issues nor did reverses in public life dampen his enthusiasm.The flame of idealism ever burned bright and steady in this extra-ordinary personality. Receiving advice and blessing from Swami Vivekananda he started with missionary zeal the work of refining the dross-ridden social life of Kerala. He traveled, met people, formulated plans of action. He received active co-operation from many who mattered and turned this into good account in his efforts to organize the S.N.D.P.Yogam. Even earlier he had plans to form an organization called “Ezhava mahajanasabha” to launch a powerful movement and had even published in 1071 or 1072 M.E.(1896 AD) the bye-laws of the society. But the many meetings he and his friends organized in Mayyanad, Paravur and other places did not achieve anything tangible. Dr. Palpu had already heard of Narayana Guru and the Aruvippuram Temple Association. He realized that success was assured if an Ezhava organization could be associated with religion and saw the possibilities of  expanding the Aruvippuram Temple Committee into such an organization. He held preliminary consultations with Swami and others concerned. With the blessings of Swami and promises of  whole-hearted support from the people the S.N.D.P.Yogam was registered in 1078 M.E (1903 AD). The decision to register the Yogam was taken at a meeting of Ezhava leaders held at Trivandrum at the invitation of Kumaran Asan.

Kumaran Asan was the first General Secretary and he functioned effectively in that capacity for the next sixteen years.

It would be appropriate to notice here the foreword  Asan wrote for the bye-laws of the Yogam. Starting with a quotation from Vivekananda that religion is the grip for pulling India up or down, it recalled the work of great Indian social reformers like Ram Mohan Roy, Kesab Chandra Sen and Swami Dayananda Saraswati. An organisationfor social reforms used to function in cities like Bombay and Madras and also in some other  places. One Bharatha mahajana Sabha used to hold annual conventions in different parts of India. They were all motivated by noble ideals. But compared to the local gains from Brahmo samaj or Arya Samaj, the total achievement for India through these organizations was rather negligible.

The atrocities being committed by the higher castes on the lower in India and especially in Kerala were totally inhuman. One could imagine how much more intolerable they must have been some generations back. The Spanish marauders could not have been more cruel to the aborigines of America. People of the lowest castes in Kerala could have relinquished human company and human speech and taken to the woods and turned into animals, even reversing the theory of Darwin.

The Ezhavas were perhaps the largest community among the Hindus in Cochin and the second largest in Travancore. Even in Malabar they formed a sizable section of population. But their social condition was far from satisfactory. There were rich men among them, there were learned men too, but in the context of their total number the proportion was inconsequential. There were men among them who could be a match for the least among other communities. But there were also those who could be classed with the jungle dwellers. The community gained distinction through the former and suffered degradation because of the later. Many were the short -comings and to recount them would serve no purpose. But it was a matter of deep concern that nobody ever thought of measures to set things right.

Numbers count much, just as in a family, when a community puts forth united efforts for the common weal, but turn into a curse when that community is in disarray. The community was divided by the political boundaries of Travancore, Cochin,and Malabar.But people of different regions, when they met, were drawn to the others by a peculiar feeling of fraternity. Had this feeling been canalized properly, the community would have achieved solidarity and strength and risen to heights of prosperity. Even if a small portion of one’s activity were to be pooled for the uplift of the community, the results would have been beyond anticipation. It was just like harnessing the silently flowing water of Cauvery to move the giant wheels of prosperity.

The Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam was in effect the Congress of the Ezhavas of Kerala. But the name did not make it explicit. The name had another purpose to serve. No community in India could achieve respectability by its material prosperity alone. Here no organization, however powerful, could produce the desired results, if it were not in some way associated with religion.

The foreword to the memorandum of articles ended with a reverential mention of the great qualities of Sree Narayana Guru in whose name the Yogam was being established and gratefully remembering how fortunate the community was to have such a rare religious man for a leader.

This Foreword clearly brings out the association of Swami with the Yogam which generated a new surge of life among the depressed sections of the society. Swami established raport with the down-trodden masses without himself  ever descending from his own special sphere and this was real greatness. The foreword also revealed that the impact of  Swami’s exhortations, ‘Strength through organisation’, and ‘Freedom through education’. The inspiration for Asan’s  words were clearly Swami’s personality.

From this point onwards we can see the activities of Swami progressing on three distinct fronts. The first was his activities as a religious preceptor. This involved enriching the reservoir of his spiritual accomplishments and utilizing it for the good of the people. Swami could not do without solitude and meditation even in the midst of his hectic activities. He would often slip away from the crowd and retire to some lonely spot for meditation. His followers and admirers  firmly believed that he had the power to make himself invisible and would cite their personal experiences as proof. Meditation  and solitude formed the corner stone of his daily routine and the powers he gained through them he dedicated for the benefit of the helpless with boundless compassion. The second front of Swami’s activities concerned his personal contacts with people. He cured the sick in the body with medicines, healed the wounds of the heart by advice and brought the light of hope into desolate minds by his presence. An instance of this has been M.Govindan. At the gate of the Trivandrum General Hospital Swami met a paralytic patient who had crawled from the ward up to the gate in his extreme anxiety to reach the death-bed of his old mother. He could not move any further and on seeing Swami approaching along with a few followers he cried out for help. On learning the cause of his agony Swami asked him to get up. He stood up and, using a stick Swami put in his hands, walked away. Several such incidents have been recorded, but more of it later. The third front of his activities related to the activities of the Yogam. In other words this front showed how his influence manifested itself in organized activities.


Aruvippuram was the centre of Swami’s activities. He used to issue directions from there regarding the affairs of the  Yogam. He would also make tours on the invitation of devotees and disciples. In the course of these activities he had perforce to meet many people which really meant getting acquainted with their pettiness and frailties. No man can escape the pull of events around him, some of which forcibly demand his reacting. Such occasions were there in Swami’s life also. The monks who stayed in the monastery in Aruvippuram frequently provided such occasions and the solutions Swami found were clearly indicative of the noble aspects of his character.

Once there was a police case over the theft of a bunch of bananas from a garden and a monk was implicated in it. This roused the monks to indignation. They ferreted out the real thief along with the stolen bunch of bananas and took the issue to the Magistrate’s court. Magistrate took a serious view of it as the theft involved temple property and was reported to be thinking of ordering corporal punishment. It was at this time that Swami returned to Aruvippuram after a visit to Trivandrum. On coming to know of the incident he remarked. “What a deplorable  incident! If the monks were moved so much by emotions like love and hate, there would soon be fight and even murder here. If the poor man is to be beaten up in the temple premises he would cry out in pain and thereafter the air here would not be fit for a monk to breath. I would therefore go away.” And he left the place.

Kumaran Asan who was present at the scene appraised the magistrate of Swami’s views. The Magistrate who was also a devotee of Swami agreed to set free the culprit. Swami returned to the Ashram after the monks, along with Asan, met him and expressed their regrets.

Complaints of petty thefts from the temple garden used to reach Swami. The temple priest used to complain about the theft of jackfruit. One day the priest came with unusual excitement and told him that the thief had been identified. He had expected Swami to curse the thief. Swami listened to him and said, “ Why did you not tell him that it was dangerous to pluck the fruit at night. He might step on thorns or on a snake. It was better to do the plucking in daylight. You have no compassion. You should have some love for him and should make him see the danger at least now.”

There were several such incidents. Swami never avoided a situation. He faced all situations with the nobility characteristic of a rare mind. But the natural crookedness of human character did not escape his keen observation. He saw that the temples and the like may not necessarily bring about a change in this basic aspect. Swami once remarked that the modes of worship might come to be abandoned. Scholars might find it not to their taste and the ordinary folk might follow their lead. But the buildings could be put to some other use. Buildings would always be needed as shelter from sun and rain. One could beg for food , but not for a building. So a building could always serve a charitable purpose. “ So we have not wasted public money”- he added.

In these words can be heard the faint echo of a doubt that his efforts were not yielding the desired results. Any one working for a public cause could be assailed by such doubts. Man has a special ability to vitiate the noblest of ideals. Great men love man and serve him knowing fully well this frailty and therein lies their greatness.

Swami saw everything. He saw men in their true nature. But beneath the treachery, rivalry and cruelty he saw human element which he loved and strove to nourish. It was here that he succeeded. Misgivings were momentary and were but natural in the case of a sharp intellect.

Many were those who came to Swami with their personal problems. There was a firm belief that he was an incarnation of God. His simple prescriptions and the faith people had in him brought relief to many who came to him seeking cure for their physical ailments.

Life itself had become a chronic disease and the treatment was not simple. It called for time and extra-ordinary patience. Besides, none knew the prescription. Swami continued his journey through this region of uncertainty with patience and generous endurance.


Miraculous stories associated with Swami had reached all parts of Kerala, especially the lower strata of society. Ezhavas worshipped him as God. Demands on his time increased but as far as possible Swami tried to meet them. He accepted invitations even to distant places and utilized his visits to bring about unity among the people and propagate modern ideas among them. His very presence generated a new enthusiasm wherever he went. Yet he never directly took part in any organizational activities. In a few words he would convey his advice and quietly retire into solitude. In this sense he was always alone in a croud. Quite a few who approached Swami talking of ideals were actually after selfish ends and positions of power. They exhibited unusual solicitude and devotion. Nobody knew whether saw through them. Even those who moved with him closely could not have an inkling of what went on beneath the serene and calm exterior. He moved freely in the different planes of worldly life without getting involved in any of its complexities.

During  his travels Swami established many temp[les and performed many installation ceremonies. Siva and Subrahmania were the principle deities. These temples can be found in almost all parts of Kerala.

Beautiful landscape had an irresistible  attraction for Swami. Whenever he could, he would withdraw from the crowd of followers and quietly repair to such lovely spots. The three institutions Swami established- Aruvippuram, Sivagiri, and Alwaye – bear eloquent testimony to Swami’s love for natural beauty. 

We do not know for certain when Swami’s connection with Varkala and Sivagiri began. His visits to Varkala became more and more frequent around 1903. On one of his visits with his followers he put up a thatched  shed on the hill top and stayed there. Under Swami’s care a good garden soon came up in the courtyard. Soon people from far and near began to flock to the place which became a regular ashram. Swami acquired the ground on which the ashram stood, from the Government. He got as a gift the adjoining landed property. Efforts were soon afoot to establish a temple there. Even earlier Varkala was famous as the Kasi of the south. On the Karkataka amavasi day each year the Ezhavas used to assemble in large numbers on the Varkala beach to perform annual ceremonies. In 1904 Swami made arrangements to have the pilgrims assemble in the ashram. The religious ceremonies were duly got done through his disciples. The ashram thus became a religious centre. Within two years Swami established in the ashram a day school for the poor children of the locality and a night School for the Kuravas.

In 1907 preparations were completed for building the Siva temple at Varkala. On Swami’s birthday in Chingam 1084(August/September, 1908) the foundation stone for the Sarada Matham was laid.  The instllation ceremony was held at Sivagiri.

The vivekodayam published a vivid account of the celebrations describing in poetic terms how the desolate hilly tract was transformed overnight into a scene of gay festivity where nearly  twenty thousand men and women clad in white moved about in perfect order and amity bearing eloquent testimony to their deep devotion to Swami, their sense of unity and involvement in the affairs of their community. Never before had the community celebrated such a grand festivel, so pure in intent and so hearty and colorful in content.

Presiding over the S.N.D.P.Yogam conference C.Krishnan, Editor of Mitavadi, stated that the institution was the Sringeri for their prosperity and a holly mountain to be anxiously sought by members of the community for divine blessing in their effort to make life meaningful through knowledge and mutual love.

The Sarada Stava(Song in praise of Sarada) sung on the occasion came to be used as a daily prayer in many an Ezhava home. The song extolled the greatness of knowledge.

In Sivagiri there is a place dedicated to Siva and a place dedicated to Sarada. The later is called Sarada Matham. It is a brick construction, neat and beautiful, octagonal in shape, fitted with windows with multi-coloured  glass panes. There is an idol of Sarada in her lotus abode. The customary religious rituals, however, are not performed. Instead, facilities are provided for devotees to sing hymns and meditate. On the same hill are a school and a place where Sanskrit is taught.

On the subject of temples Swami remarked to Moorkoth Kumaran: “There is no need to build temples in the old style. Spending a lot of money. Money should not be wasted on festivals and fireworks. What temples need are spacious rooms where people can congregate and where discourses could be held. There should be schools and gardens attached to each temple. Each temple should have facilities to impart industrial training to children. The money received as offerings from devotees should be utilized for the benefit of the poor.

Swami did not approve of temple tanks. He thought that tanks could never kept clean. He was for the construction of several bathrooms near temples where people could bathe  under showers.


When Kumaran Asan visited Tellicherry in 1905 miracle stories about Swami had already started gaining currency in north Malabar. Asan met many of the Tiyya leaders of the locality and explained to them the message of Swami. He told them that Swami had recognized  temples as one of the means of rejuvenating the community. Founding a temple at Tellichery would therefore be quite relevant. The leaders were impressed and they decided to have a Siva Temple at Tellichery. But the hurdles to be crossed were many. The Tiyyas  of north Malabar were divided into two segments. Which had nothing in common. On the one side was the minority who saw the hallmark of fashion imitating the English. They had no faith in Temples. On the other was the great majority groveling in ignorance and poverty. It was a feat in those days even to think of positioning oneself between these groups and funding a temple. Yet the great public worker and organizer, Kottiyath Ramunni, came forward with complete confidence and made them accept the decisions. He persuaded them quoting Swami’s own words: “A temple will build itself”. 

Swami himself came to Tellichery in March 1906. People in their thousands were waiting to welcome him with respect and devotion. With his natural charm he conveyed his message to them.

They bowed to him as though he was an incarnation of God. The first peg to mark the base of the temple was struck during his stay in Tellichery. On his return to Travancore, Swami sent Kumaran Asan again to Tellichery. In April that year Kottiyath Ramunni laid the foundation stone for the temple in Asan’s presence. A collection box was installed at the site on the same day. Within a year the collection amounted to Rs. 7,568/-. It must be remembered that it was the paltry contributions from the half-starved poor that made up this remarkably huge amount. One aspect of Swami’s words quoted by Ramunni became clear to the leaders. The enthusiasm of several men made it possible for the work to be completed by the beginning of 1908. The instllation was done by Swami himself in that February. He suggested the name: Jagannatha Temple.

Swami hinted that it would be a good idea to throw the temple open even to the depressed classes. Progressives like Moorkoth Kumaran took the hint in all seriousness. This led to a much debated controversy and Swami himself was called upon to give the final verdict. In front of a huge gathering Swami softly announced his decision: “Pulayas can be admitted inside the temple”. At that moment Moorkoth Kumaran who never bowed his head before anyone fell prostrate at Swami’s feet. That was the first and last occasion when  he prostrated before anybody. Even several years later, those who witnessed the scene used to recount it with a thrill!

A few years later Moorkoth Kumaran spoke at a mammoth temple assembly: “ The temple as envisaged by Swami should be such as would enrich the people culturally and financially through their attached groves, libraries, lecture halls, educational institutions and industrial centers. Let the temple remain a centre of such activities. Let it be a means of social uplift both to those who have faith in idol worship and to those do not have , each according to his convictions….. Members of the depressed classes were not originally admitted inside the Jagannath Temple of Tellichery. Later they were given entry. At present if there is any section of people which does not consider the Sree Narayana  Temples as places of worship, it is only the caste Hindus.Even congressmen who are bent upon gaining for the depressed classes entry into the caste Hindu temples do not come to worship at Sree Narayana temples. Is this proof of their intentions and sincerity in the concept of temple entry?” 

Moorkoth Kumaran (1874-1941)was one who had taken it as his life’s mission to explain the precepts of Swami and to strive to bring them to the level of practical application. A beloved teacher, a reputed litterateur and a lively speaker, Kumaran could fulfill this mission effectively. It was his nature to view incidents and individuals with a critical eye. Few subjects have escaped his criticism and ridicule. Even that critical mind was overwhelmed with wonder in the presence of Swami. Nothing but devotion pervaded it. This is what he has written : “ At a time when Brahmin supremacy was at its zenith and held everyone else in serfdom, when it was universally accepted as a royal edict that none other than a Brahmin had the undisputed right to act or advise in matters spiritual, when the Vedas and other religious scriptural texts meant not a thing to the members of our community, when every non-caste Hindu sincerely believed that a temple was an institution so holy and divine that they could not even go near it, an Ezhava born and brought up in a poor home and who appeared on the scene after wondering about none knew where, established temples, conducted installation ceremonies giving room not even to the most learned Brahmin priest to say a word adversely- one is at a loss to know what to say of those whose intelligence fails to recognize this as the greatest of miracles”.

Illumination in the hearts of devotees- that was Swami’s concept about the purpose of temples. He always took care to give expression to this idea in words as well as in deeds. It was a lamp that he installed in a temple at Murukumpuzha near Trivandrum in 1922. On it were inscribed words to mean Truth, Duty, Compassion, Love. Such installations have been done in one two other places also. The mirror installed in Kalavankodam Temple at Shertallay is well known.  In fact when Swami was invited for the ceremony the intention was not to install a mirror. The organizers had actually got a conventional idol ready for installation. But when Swami arrived at the place a controversy was raging between two sections of devotees – those claiming to be progressives  denouncing idol-installation as a retrograde step and others demanding the conventional idol. Swami watched the scene with a smile and held separate discussions with both the groups. Discussion as far as Swami was concerned was mainly a session of patient listening with an occasional but searching question from his side. None could guess his reaction to the answers. His face always remained undisturbed, always calm.

Swami was always keen on listening to the views of others. He had but few words to say to them.

In this case too he listened to either side. He did not say whether the idol was to be or not to be.  He did not proclaim that idols were unnecessary, nor did he say anything to the contrary. With his natural smile he asked for a good mirror. When the article was brought he inscribed on it the sign “Om”. “Why not we install this?” he asked. Before anyone could raise a debate on this the installation was done. He did not try to explain the profound principle involved in the act. Nor did he make it appear that he had started something novel. He acted as though what he had just done was something quite common and left the place.

Controversies are for others. They did their part well and still at the game.

Many explanations about Swami’s unorthodox installations have been put forward by his contemporaries. Dr. Palpu saw these temples as great instruments for the spiritual, social and economic uplift of a backward community, as institutions which fostered friendliness and comradeship, and as trusts for the common weal. But this was only his explanation. Swami never broke his silence over this issue. 6. A TEMPLE  IN TELLICHERRY.

When Kumaran Asan visited Tellicherry in 1905 miracle stories about Swami had already started gaining currency in north Malabar. Asan met many of the Tiyya leaders of the locality and explained to them the message of Swami. He told them that Swami had recognized  temples as one of the means of rejuvenating the community. Founding a temple at Tellichery would therefore be quite relevant. The leaders were impressed and they decided to have a Siva Temple at Tellichery. But the hurdles to be crossed were many. The Tiyyas  of north Malabar were divided into two segments. Which had nothing in common. On the one side was the minority who saw the hallmark of fashion imitating the English. They had no faith in Temples. On the other was the great majority groveling in ignorance and poverty. It was a feat in those days even to think of positioning oneself between these groups and funding a temple. Yet the great public worker and organizer, Kottiyath Ramunni, came forward with complete confidence and made them accept the decisions. He persuaded them quoting Swami’s own words: “A temple will build itself”. 

Swami himself came to Tellichery in March 1906. People in their thousands were waiting to welcome him with respect and devotion. With his natural charm he conveyed his message to them.

They bowed to him as though he was an incarnation of God. The first peg to mark the base of the temple was struck during his stay in Tellichery. On his return to Travancore, Swami sent Kumaran Asan again to Tellichery. In April that year Kottiyath Ramunni laid the foundation stone for the temple in Asan’s presence. A collection box was installed at the site on the same day. Within a year the collection amounted to Rs. 7,568/-. It must be remembered that it was the paltry contributions from the half-starved poor that made up this remarkably huge amount. One aspect of Swami’s words quoted by Ramunni became clear to the leaders. The enthusiasm of several men made it possible for the work to be completed by the beginning of 1908. The instllation was done by Swami himself in that February. He suggested the name: Jagannatha Temple.

Swami hinted that it would be a good idea to throw the temple open even to the depressed classes. Progressives like Moorkoth Kumaran took the hint in all seriousness. This led to a much debated controversy and Swami himself was called upon to give the final verdict. In front of a huge gathering Swami softly announced his decision: “Pulayas can be admitted inside the temple”. At that moment Moorkoth Kumaran who never bowed his head before anyone fell prostrate at Swami’s feet. That was the first and last occasion when  he prostrated before anybody. Even several years later, those who witnessed the scene used to recount it with a thrill!

A few years later Moorkoth Kumaran spoke at a mammoth temple assembly: “ The temple as envisaged by Swami should be such as would enrich the people culturally and financially through their attached groves, libraries, lecture halls, educational institutions and industrial centers. Let the temple remain a centre of such activities. Let it be a means of social uplift both to those who have faith in idol worship and to those do not have , each according to his convictions….. Members of the depressed classes were not originally admitted inside the Jagannath Temple of Tellichery. Later they were given entry. At present if there is any section of people which does not consider the Sree Narayana  Temples as places of worship, it is only the caste Hindus.Even congressmen who are bent upon gaining for the depressed classes entry into the caste Hindu temples do not come to worship at Sree Narayana temples. Is this proof of their intentions and sincerity in the concept of temple entry?” 

Moorkoth Kumaran (1874-1941)was one who had taken it as his life’s mission to explain the precepts of Swami and to strive to bring them to the level of practical application. A beloved teacher, a reputed litterateur and a lively speaker, Kumaran could fulfill this mission effectively. It was his nature to view incidents and individuals with a critical eye. Few subjects have escaped his criticism and ridicule. Even that critical mind was overwhelmed with wonder in the presence of Swami. Nothing but devotion pervaded it. This is what he has written : “ At a time when Brahmin supremacy was at its zenith and held everyone else in serfdom, when it was universally accepted as a royal edict that none other than a Brahmin had the undisputed right to act or advise in matters spiritual, when the Vedas and other religious scriptural texts meant not a thing to the members of our community, when every non-caste Hindu sincerely believed that a temple was an institution so holy and divine that they could not even go near it, an Ezhava born and brought up in a poor home and who appeared on the scene after wondering about none knew where, established temples, conducted installation ceremonies giving room not even to the most learned Brahmin priest to say a word adversely- one is at a loss to know what to say of those whose intelligence fails to recognize this as the greatest of miracles”.

Illumination in the hearts of devotees- that was Swami’s concept about the purpose of temples. He always took care to give expression to this idea in words as well as in deeds. It was a lamp that he installed in a temple at Murukumpuzha near Trivandrum in 1922. On it were inscribed words to mean Truth, Duty, Compassion, Love. Such installations have been done in one two other places also. The mirror installed in Kalavankodam Temple at Shertallay is well known.  In fact when Swami was invited for the ceremony the intention was not to install a mirror. The organizers had actually got a conventional idol ready for installation. But when Swami arrived at the place a controversy was raging between two sections of devotees – those claiming to be progressives  denouncing idol-installation as a retrograde step and others demanding the conventional idol. Swami watched the scene with a smile and held separate discussions with both the groups. Discussion as far as Swami was concerned was mainly a session of patient listening with an occasional but searching question from his side. None could guess his reaction to the answers. His face always remained undisturbed, always calm.

Swami was always keen on listening to the views of others. He had but few words to say to them.

In this case too he listened to either side. He did not say whether the idol was to be or not to be.  He did not proclaim that idols were unnecessary, nor did he say anything to the contrary. With his natural smile he asked for a good mirror. When the article was brought he inscribed on it the sign “Om”. “Why not we install this?” he asked. Before anyone could raise a debate on this the installation was done. He did not try to explain the profound principle involved in the act. Nor did he make it appear that he had started something novel. He acted as though what he had just done was something quite common and left the place.

Controversies are for others. They did their part well and still at the game.

Many explanations about Swami’s unorthodox installations have been put forward by his contemporaries. Dr. Palpu saw these temples as great instruments for the spiritual, social and economic uplift of a backward community, as institutions which fostered friendliness and comradeship, and as trusts for the common weal. But this was only his explanation. Swami never broke his silence over this issue.


On the second day after the Sarada Installation, Swami left Sivagiri accompanied by his disciple Narayanan Asan. He went straight to the house of a devotee in Karthikapalli. After the usual preliminaries the host enquired the reason for the unscheduled visit. Swami felt that the work at Sivagiri could well be looked after by the people there.
He wanted a place for himself.

Alwaye was a good place and he liked it. When the host talked about the high price of land at Alwaye, Swami said: “Money is available everywhere. That is not a problem. Somebody to buy the place in his name is needed.”

The man agreed to fill the office and together they set out the next day.

They visited Alleppey and Shertallay. There he was given Rs.322/-. A devotee made a gift of some land. Unsought contributions poured in. Swami visited many other localities. Collecting funds for an Ashram at alwaye was the ostensible purpose. But Swami was always fond of travel. He would wander from place to place accompanied by one or two disciples. Wherever he went devotees thronged to welcome him. Eager crowds often created problems for the hosts. As he was natural not everyone was well- behaved. Swami would notice their foibles and would quietly remember how lonely he was in this wide world.

All great men are lonely even in the midst of a crowd. It is their fate to pursue their chosen path with this sense of loneliness. Are they sad? May be they are; we do not know. But there is a nobility even in that sadness. Perhaps that is a natural concomitant. When Vivekananda said that the nobler the soul the deeper the sorrow, he knew what he was saying.

But enjoyment of peace was not for Swami. Quietness is the fist casuality where people gather in large numbers.

He crossed village after village and during his sojourn collected enough money to buy a plot. Reaching Alwaye he bought in consultation with his devotees a quiet and lovely stretch of land on the banks of the Alwaye river. It is a blessed spot and even the severest summer cannot penetrate into its cool shades.

First a hut and later a monastery were built there. An Ashram which replaced the original hut was destroyed by floods and had to be rebuilt. Swami decided to open a school there and again set out for collections. This time it was not so readily forthcoming as on the earlier occasions.But he did collect the required funds and in 1914 started the Sanskrit school. Arrangements were made for students of all castes and creeds to stay there and prosecute their studies. According to Swami’s instructions, printed posters were put up on the walls of the Ashram and the monastery which stated that man had only one caste, one creed and one God, each man did not have a separate caste, a separate creed, or separate God. The Sanskrit school had six standards and the sixth  prepared students for the Sastri Examination with the syllabus followed by the Sanskrit college of Trivandrum. According to a report that appeared in Deshabhimani in 1918 twelve students were being coached for the Sastri examination that year.

Swami did not establish a temple or install an idol at the Advaita Ashram at Alwaye. Instead, arrangements were made for conducting prayers and readings strictly in accordance with Advaita traditions. Instructions were given that opportunities should be there for Hindus of all sects and non-Hindus to stay together and quench their thirst for knowledge.

At that time some gentlemen came from trichur to Alwaye to meet Swami. They requested him to establish a temple at Trichur. Swami said: “ Is an installation necessary? Later you may change sides and accuse me of installing a mere stone.”

On a subsequent visit to Trichur he clarified his views. A newspaperman was talking to him of the need for establishing a casteless association. When he said that temples were no longer necessary for man Swami said: “How can you say that ? Temples are really necessary. But they should be kept clean. Those who visit them would come clean after bath. They would think good thoughts, talk about good things, would think of God. They would preath pure air. Some would observe fasts there to purify both body and mind…. Are they not real gains? Temples are really necessary.”

The newspaperman explained that people were only opposing idol worship as it encouraged superstition. Swami further explained : “ They do not think of idols when they visit Temples. They think of God”. Swami smiled his soft smile and continued: “They think of idol only when people like you tell them about it. Everyone worships God, not idol”.

Pointing to the Trichur temple Swami added: “A good garden should be there on all sides. Good trees should be grown and platforms should be there around each. People can sit on those platforms and enjoy the breeze. Every temple should have a library where all religious books should be available. Let Sanctum Sanctorum be also there somewhere on the premises.

“If the place is clean and beautiful people would come there. Good thoughts would come to them. Their health would improve. Yes, temples are really necessary. They should be properly maintained. Many come to stay at Sivagiri and return cured of their afflictions. Personal cleanliness, meditation and pure air would themselves aid the cure. All have temples , who have them not?

“ yes, temples are necessary. They should not generate darkness in the mind. Special care is required to see that the temples built for the benefit of the common man spread light in their minds.”

It was during this period that Swami composed the prayer ‘Daivadasakam’. This is a simple hymn of ten stanzas and Swami recommended  it for recital at dusk in every home.


Meditation had become second nature with him and Swami found his natural habitat on the higher peaks of intellectual pursuits. Yet he never for a moment forgot Mother earth and the tear-soaked lives being spent on earth. The search for the source of tears and a solution have long baffled all great souls and could ever continue to disturb all noble minds. For, whatever one may say about the unreality of physical world, the fact remains that a real man can be active only in that plane. And the greatest reality is , alas, sorrow. He will always be plagued by its manifestations. Great souls may perhaps be able to watch the scene with detachment since they have become free from thoughts of pleasures for the self. Nevertheless they cannot but search for the source and seek a solution. With Swami too the story was not different.

True, Swami had realized the illusory nature of this physical world as he had a vision of the Truth through meditation. And the truth he realized, through study and meditation, has been expressed in many of his works where he has stressed the illusory nature of the world of senses. Yet no man can keep away from the world of sense-communicated experiences. Great souls always strive for the good of the world recognizing these realities. This idea has also found expression through Swami. Ever since he returned to the midst of social life filled with various activities Swami had designed and put into practice many schemes aimed at the welfare of the people. Of these we have so far talked of only the establishment of the S.N.D.P.Yogam and founding of temples. Side by side Swami was striving to free society from the strangle-hold of rituals and malpractices that had spread like thorny weeds. It was in 1904 that his effort in this regard first manifested itself in an organized form.

In that year an Ezhava conference was held at Paravur ( Quilon) under Swami’s chairmanship. It was at this conference that Swami gave a concrete shape to the steps to be followed  for putting an end to the evil practices like ‘Thalikettu’, ‘Thirandukuli’, Pulikuti’ etc., and to evolve a new code, for the conduct of marriages. Though unknown to the present generation, these customs involving huge expenditure and producing only mental perversities held complete sway over the social life of those days and has exercised the minds of all progressive thinking men. In a paper presented by C.V.Kunhiraman at the Ezhava conference at Karthikappalli in 1904 the evils perpetrated by these bad norms of social behavior have been severely criticized. What he wrote about the custom of ‘Thalikettu’ could give the modern readers an idea of the ridiculousness of the custom as well as the magnitude of the task of reformation. Thalikettu was a ceremony performed in respect of all girls before marriage. It was a sort of mock marriage in which all girls in a family below the age of 12 were seated in ceremoniously decorated sheds and a single boy or a group of boys brought to the place in a procession put the sacred thread or chain round their necks as in a real marriage. Elaborate preparations involving huge expenditure had to go into this ceremony and the family had to arrange feasts for four continuous days. At the end of the festivities the mock bridegrooms would surrender their ceremonial robes and depart with the fixed fees. They had no rights over the brides who often included sucklings.

Another senseless custom was the ‘Thirandukuli’ or the ceremonial bath on reaching puberty. This was in the nature of public proclamation that a girl had attained the age of marriage. This also involved merry and expensive feasts. The actual wedding consisted of the presentation of garment to the bride by the groom’s sister who then led her to the husband’s house. The presentation used to be done inside the house the rooms of which, unlike those of modern houses, used to be rather dark. Instances where garments were presented to the wrong girls were not rare in those days. It was Swami who changed this custom by having the ceremony performed on a platform in the open courtyard of the house.

‘Pulikuti’ was the function to be performed in the seventh month of pregnancy. The husband was to give the wife a drink in which seven different ingredients of sour taste had been mixed. As in the case of the other functions an elaborate feast was a traditional necessity.

Mrs. K.S.Sanku has given an account of how her husband, Swami’s Secretary, used to conduct a campaign against ladies moving about bare above their waists. He and other Ezhava leaders would hold meetings in different parts of the land against this uncivilized custom.Wherever he went he used to take with him ten or twenty stitched jackets and he used to describe how difficult it was to make the ladies wear them.Once he even organized a procession of about 20 jacket-clad ladies from Kottayam to Changanacherry. Mrs. Sanku led the procession. Many persons gathered on the roadside to witness this uncommon sight of ladies wearing blouses. But many of the ladies who set out wearing the blouses, removed the strange garments on the way for fear of ridicule.

It can very well be guessed how these customs rocked the financial bases of several families. This is one side. As for the other aspect one has only to quote justice Sadasivs Iyer : “ By this mock wedding society blinked at the loss of virginity of unwed girls.”

Authorised by Swami the attention of the yogam turned to these senseless customs. And the results were not long appearing.

This was not enough. The deep roots of wrong notions which sustained these evil customs for so many years had to be destroyed by the fire of knowledge. Swami entrusted this task to able speakers who were to go from place to place to enlighten the masses and help in their mental development. In his message to them in 1905 he specified four topics on which they were to speak during their lecture tours- religion, morality, education and industry. We have to note here that Swami always reminded his followers of the need for detecting the morbid influences that affected their community and adopting adequate curative measures along with their efforts to get their rights recognized. Swami gave prime importance to this process of self-purification. He always laid special stress on the noble values of life in all his directives.


Relevant portions of the directives Swami gave to the touring speakers are given below:

“Speaches should be made  on the following topics which would generally be beneficial to the society. Subjects (1) Religion (2) Morality (3) Education (4) Industry.
(1) Religion:

(a) Reject superstitions and rituals with animal sacrifices and the like meant to propitiate evil spirits.
(b) Speak about the superiority of worship done in the best form and also about the Saguna and Nirguna aspects of pure Hindu philosophy.
(c) intelligently induce people to build temples or monasteries in the required places (Decrying other religions should never be done).

(2) Morality:

(a) Speak about truth, cleanliness, fear of unrighteousness, theisms, Unity.
(b) Speak about avoiding meaningless and harmful customs and adoption of nobler codes of conduct in tune with the times ( as enunciated by Swami) and guide the people on to those lines.

(3) Education :

(a) Explain the benefits of education and the loss caused by its lack and encourage the people to see to it with pride that not a single one of either sex in the Ezhava community went without at least primary education.
(b) Enthuse and help people to open schools and libraries wherever necessary.

(4) Industry :

(a) Speak about thrift and the development of agriculture, trade and handicrafts in the best possible way. Instill enthusiasm in the community so that everyone feel it an unsocial act to lead an idle life.
(b) Induce the people to establish industrial factories wherever required and to study and popularize industries in a scientific way.

Apart from these general instructions two special rules the speakers were to observe were also laid down:

(1) No speaker should ever tell the people anything about which he had a doubt. He should get all his important doubts resolved by Swami through the Secretary of the yogam.
(2) Speeches should never be such as to hurt the feelings of the so-called lower classes or cause agitation to the so- called  higher. Care should be taken to make the people interested in the uplift of the so-called lower classes.

During this period Swami toured northern Travancore at the request of the people of those localities. He introduced his reformatory suggestions among the Ezhavas of these places.  Animal sacrifices were stopped in many of the temples there. He persuaded some of the chief families of the area to stop the practice of ‘Talikettu’ and adopt the new wedding ceremonies. Swami travelled continuously. His message had already reached every nook and corner of the land and had created quite a stir among the people. There was a constant flow of local leaders to Swamy’s presence. Among them were progressive minded people. There were also the orthodox die-hards. There were young men, there were old men. Each viewed him according to his own standard and honoured  him accordingly.The unperturbed form of Swami worthy of adoration always remained at the correct level for each to worship. Even those who were close to him for days together did not have a bitter thought about him. This was really remarkable.Everyone felt his presence as the source of unfathomable spiritual energy. Therefore they vied with each other in inviting him to their places. Swami too was eager to visit as many places as possible  and spread his message. Wherever he went he could create a new awareness and evoke new dreams. Did they grow up to yield the desired fruits? Were these dreams ever realized? These are indeed relevant questions. In the hands of clever people  even the hightest ideal turns into a means for selfish ends, for accumulation of wealth and power. This being the case let these questions remain as such for the present.

Let us come back to Swami’s efforts towards social reformation. In the same year that Swami gave detailed instructions to his touring speakers, he wrote as follows to a wealthy chief of Shertallay Taluk, Parayil Kochu Raman Vaidyar: “Since it has been felt that it is essential for the welfare of the community to effect unified and timely changes in the code of conduct of Ezhavas, the Vivekodayam monthly is bringing out with my approval, writings about the customs to be observed. It has been mentioned at my instance that since we have a regular wedding, the mock wedding ceremony “Thalikettu” is no longer necessary. I have great pleasure and satisfaction to learn that already people of different parts of this land who love me and have faith in me have accorded recognition to them. Karappuram Ezhava Samajam has informed me that you would not be convinced unless I personally give you an assurance and hence this letter. I believe that you would also follow the new procedures keeping the good of the community in view.”

Swami wrote such letters to many local chiefs. And he spoke to those whom he could meet in person.

On Swami’s instructions Vivekodayam had published in detail the procedure to be followed while conducting a wedding. The new procedure was very simple.and inexpensive and no elaborate preparations were needed.The ceremony was to be conducted on a platform. After a simple religious rite to invoke divine presence the brid’s father would give away the bride and the bridegroom would accept her proffered hand. The bride would garland the bridegroom and he in turn would tie the ceremonial thread round her neck. They would go round the platform three times and invitees would bless them. Swami was against pomp and show in marriages and he directed that not more than ten persons should be present for the function- the bride, the bridegroom,their parents, one companion for each of the new couple, one priest and one local chief.

Mere publication of the directions would not make them accepted in practice. First, many might not come to know of them. Even those who did might not care to volunteer to observe them for fear of social criticism. Second, the social condition was such that an authority which could override the existing customs was necessary to authenticate the new procedure. For this purpose Swami himself had to be present at the wedding ceremony in many houses. Such occasions were full of potential danger for the dignity of an individual like Swami. But he was not one to desist from facing such challenges. And when he faced them he maintained an easy grip over them.


An Ezhava chief of Neyyattinkara decided to celebrate the ‘Thalikettu’ of his only daughter on a grant scale and made elaborate preparations.He was in fact a great devotee of Swami.Yet he could not resist the pressure of age-old tradition and social customs.  Even now there are many who are quite sincere in their devotion to Swami but trample on his principles without batting an eyelid. That is human nature, and this Ezhava chief of Neyyattinkara was no exception.

On the appointed day a large number of invitees had gathered in his house which was agog with activities All the Important Ezhava leaders of south Travancore were there. Important persons of the locality belonging to other communities like nair, Christian and muslim had been invited and had arrived. It was a grand festival and a grand feast was being got ready.Swami arrived on the scene like Krishna in the court of Duryodhana evoking mixed feelings among the assembled crowd.Whatever their reaction, none could refrain from according him a respectful welcome. He called the girl’s father to his side and said. ; “This mock wedding is an unnecessary custom. I have informed the people several times about it. Still you do not heed to my words. I am saying this for your good. If you have faith in my words you have to stop this.”

With the whole hearted consent of the elders assembled there Swami had it announced to the waiting crowd that the function had been abandoned and that they should not thereafter indulge in such meaningless practices. He called the girl to his presence and gave her some flowers and fruit.

It has to be specially mentioned that even the mother of the girl was not disappointed at the unexpected turn of events. On the other hand she was all praise for Swami for this Act aimed at the welfare of the community.

There were many such instances where Swami personally took a hand in putting an end to evil social customs. People had not got rid of their blind faith in customary practices. They could not be turned away from the accustomed way by advice or lecture. But Swami’s presence  acted as magic ; his face beaming with divinity overcame all objections. His direction had simply to be followed.

The existence of snake parks or ‘sarpakavu’ was another item which caused a lot of trouble to people  those days. All big families had their own snake parks and they had to perform various rites there very often involving great expenditure. Superstitions were so strong that if anyone was affected by some skin trouble the cause was immediately traced to the anger of serpents. To propitiate the serpent Gods one had to spend a lot of money.  Leprosy was directly attributed to this cause  Even the bravest among men turned a coward when it came to confrontation with them. Swami entered this arena also with his characteristic equanimity. He never cared to offer  any scientific explanations. By nature he was a man of few words. Nor did he attempt to engage good speakers to dispel the current beliefs. He personally went to many important houses and supervised cleaning the parks. If anyone had to be the victim of the serpent’s wrath it was he who was responsible for destroying the parks. Swami was there ready for it.His brave face proclaimed his determination. He achieved his purpose without meeting with any objection, and with the happy  co-operation of the householders.

The Ezhavas had their own mode of worship. It was crude. From the description of Dr. Thurston, the anthropologist, one can get an idea of their system. He has said that almost everywhere the Ezhavas had their own temples and their own priests. Bhadrakali was the most common deity and worship included animal sacrifices. When there was an outbreak of smallpox in a village, special offerings were made at the Kali temple. Fowl and goats used to be sacrificed at the temple, the cooked meat placed before the idol for some time before it was consumed. Rev.S.Mateer has recorded that the traditional religious faith of the Ezhavas consisted of ghost-demon worship. They worshipped through sacrifices, offerings etc., a female demon called Bhadrakali who was a combination of terror and cruelty. Sasta, Veerabhadra and dead ancestors were other deities worshipped by them. They maintained superstitious beliefs always and in all spheres of life.

In this context it is worth noting what Dr. Thurston has recorded about the change that had begun to take place in these crude customs. In 1909 he wrote that the Bhadrakali cult was on the decline due to the exhortations of a vedic scholar, Nanu Asan, under whose directions Subrahmanya temples had been opened in many places in South and Central Travancore with daily services conducted by priests belonging to their own caste. An organization called “ Sree Narayana Dharma paripalana Yogam “ had started functioning with the aim of the uplift of the community.

In 1908 Swami sent this message to the S.N.D.P.Yogam.

“To the S.N.D.P.Yogam Secretary

The following measures aimed at improvements  concerning the faith and practices of the community should be brought to the notice of the coming general meeting and steps should be taken for their implementation through the Yogam.

Faith : Enthusiasm in the matter of construction of temples is in evidence at many places. But it has to be examined whether the temples actually fulfill their aims in full measure. God should reach every home , every heart. For this purpose arrangements should be made to propagate the principles of religion.

Wherever  possible, provision should be made to have at the temples, talks on stories and the like depicting the glory of God to make the people informed. In other places talks by competent speakers should be arranged.

Practices: Functions like ‘Tirandukuli’ and ‘pulikuti’ have almost ceased to be expensive. Advice regarding the stopping of ‘Thalikettu’ is no doubt getting accepted ; but the message has not created the same impact in all places.

This practice should be completely stopped as early as possible. It is unprincipled and unnecessary.

The new procedure for the conducting of weddings is being followed only among a few cultural people in some places. Though there may be variations in rites and details depending on status the main part of the ceremony should be common everywhere and steps should be taken to ensure this.

Along with the exchange of the garlands  during the ceremony it is good to fasten around the neck of the wife a ‘Tali’ indicative of marital status. But a widow or divorcee at the time of her remarriage should not wear anything in memory of her dead or divorced husband. Therefore a woman who gets married again should not wear during her subsequent marriage or thereafter the ‘Tali’ used at the time of the earlier marriage. Clear and detailed views on divorce and remarriage would be known on a later occasion.

Poligamy and polyandry are being practiced in some places. Steps should be considered to stop free indulgence  in these practices in future.

Where ‘Marumakkathayam ‘ system is followed in the community legal provision should be made to give to the wedded wife and children the right to a portion of man’s individual earnings . Otherwise marriages would be meaningless. Necessary steps in this direction should also be taken after careful consideration.

May the Yogam flourish for ever.

The same year Swami published a proclamation in ‘Mitavadi’ for the special attention of  Tiyyas in which he made two points. One, Tiyyas should not practice the crude forms of worship in other temples, and two, they should not indulge in wasteful expenditure of their funds in other temples. There was a special reason for making this proclamation. Tiyyas those days used to go to Trichambaram temple in north Malabar and spend lavishly on a particular type of offering in vogue there. Swami’s intention was to restrain them and induce them to go to the Jagannathe temple at Tellicherry instead.

Inspite of this some Tiyyas went to Trichambaram. Many of them were drowned in a flood and this was believed to be due to the disrespect shown to Swami. This made the people pay more attentionto observing swami’s directives.

His instructions clearly indicate how minutely Swami analysed the evils haunting the community. He could see the contemporary problems in all diversity. Though his inner being was one with eternity he never failed to feel the ripples around him.

After completing the Sivagiri monastery Swami wanted to start a Brahmachari Sangh (an organization of celibates).

They should be noble men, should be intelligent, should have the ability to discern the real problems and should have the training to find solutions for them. He wanted to send this band of dedicated men into the different strata of the community.He had this in mind when he sent a message to his disciples on the occasion of his birthday that year.

Here is the message:

(1) Inform the common public of the general principles of religion and propogate faith in God.
(2) Strive among the people to achieve external and internal cleanliness or the Threefold Cleanliness.
(3) speak to the people about non-violence, love and unity and make them observe these principles.
(4) Work for the betterment of the educational Standards of the poor.
(5) Select and train suitable young men and send out the best and willing among them as monks to work for the good of others.

The generous dream nourished by a great soul from the primitive background of a small land!


A Nayar-pulaya  clash broke out in Neyyatinkkara Taluk in 1915-1916. The cause, as usual, was petty. A few Pulayas who had heard about the benefits of education and had been moved by the exhortation of Ayyankali,  sought for their girls admission in local school.How could caste Hindus tolerate such a move? The Pulayas who brought their girls to the school were severely beaten up. This brought to the scene a few progressive minded Pulaya youths who were determined to resist the atrocities on their fellowmen. This was how the confrontation started. None could keep aloof from this and the Ezhavas  naturally jumped into the fray. They took position on the side of the Nairs with pride and dignity. They had no doubts about the need to show the misguided Pulayas  their proper place.

When events took such a turn the social reformer Ayyankali appeared on the scene. Swami was at that time camping at Aruvippuram.It was therefore easy for Ayyankali to meet him. Swami expressed deep regret at the sufferings of the Pulayas and advised him to take strong measures to put an end to it. Swami was not surprised at the action of the Ezhavas in taking sides with the Nairs; he knew them well. But he had no doubt about his own role. He summoned the Ezhava chiefs and S.N.D.P. Yogam workers , reminded them about his generous and gentle message and exhorted them to work for the protection of human values without prejudices.Swami’s advice had its effect. The Ezhavas thereafter created no obstruction to the admission of Pulaya girls in the school. Some of the Nairs also exhibited the same change of heart.

This is how the ideas work. They transit from heart to heart. Speeches and exhortations are but catalysts.

Swami had to intervene in a temple dispute in Trivandrum. There occurred a split among the Ezhava chiefs who controlled the temple and the two groups began to fight with each other bringing the working of the temple to a standstill. The dispute brought them to the brink of ruin and both the groups became frightened of the inevitable outcome of a final showdown. They decided to seek Swami’s intervention and a deputation came to Swami with the request that he should visit the temple and settle the dispute. He was reluctant to accept the invitation but finally agreed.

Swami happened to come to the temple on a specially auspicious day. There was an unusually big crowd. Many of them had come particularly to see him. Swami sat there and the leaders of the warring groups stood on either side. He was reviewing the crowd of devotees when a small group of men fresh from their bath and clad in clean cloths caught his attention.He enquired why they were keeping aloof and wanted themto come near. One of the Ezhava chiefs informed him that they were Pulayas who had no entry into the temple but had come to have a sight of Swami.

Swami : “Well, can we not admit them also into the temple? They are also human beings. They are clean and are wearing clean cloths. They are really good looking and appear to be healthy. They are very industrious. Poor fellows. Given an opportunity they would advance in life. Why can’t we admit them into the temple?

Swami put the proposition separately to the leaders of both groups, but they had no hesitation in rejecting it as impossible. Neither group was prepared to admit Pulayas inside their temple. There was nothing more to be said. After sitting there for a minute in utter silence Swami rose to go. “But you have not settled our dispute, Swami”, pleaded the leaders.

Swami smiled. He replied to them in his usual gentle way; “But there is no difference between you. You showed complete agreement on the question of admitting Pulayas into the temple”.

Swami returned to Aruvippuram with his followers who felt sad. A smile was playing on his lips. Was there a streak of sadness in that smile? Who knows?


All men are equal” , how easy to say so! But it is an ideal which could perhaps never be translated into practice. Shri. Narayanan, who could see all men as equals in his mind and heart, and all the same a sense of reality and therefore he knew this well. He would not have been surprised at Ezhavas taking the side of Nairs in the Nair Pulaya- Pulaya conflict.He knew Ezhavas well.But this incident should have made him aware of the urgent need for special attentionon a matter of extreme importance. The first step in his fight for equality for ezhavas with the higher castes was to allow the same equality with the Ezhavas for lower castes. This aspect had more importance than would meet the eye. Ezhavas  were not able to treat as their equals those who were considered traditionally lower to them. They had always taken care to keep them at a distance and to deny them freedom  Therefore, in order to make them fit to fight for human rights, they had first to be trained to allow others their fundamental rights. That was the first step towards freedom. It was at this time that a man with a revolutionary zeal raised a storm in society by working on these lines. That was Sahodaran Ayyappan.

We have already seen the attitude of the Ezhava chiefs about admitting Pulayas into their temples. Though divided over thousand issues they were one on this. Swami strove incessantly to change this attitude. Wherever he went he discussed with people about admitting Pulayas in the temples, Pulaya childrenin the schools and Pulayas into their fold. But men are men and could not yield to a change overnight.  The leaders dodged the issue and behaved as badly as ever towards the Pulayas. But the flame of idealism once lit never dies and sooner or later would be burning bright.This flame started shining in the minds of a few Ezhava  youths and thanks to their enthusiasm a few Ezhava schools stopped barring their doors against Pulaya students. Swami took care to visit such schools and encouraged their efforts.

It was for this purpose that Swami visited the Ashram of Sridharaswamy of Peringala. Swami was charmed by the atmosphere in the Ashram and stayed there for two days. A meeting had been arranged at the primary school. Before the end of the meeting Swami called to the platform the seven Pulaya children studying in the school.He gave some sugar to each of them and advised them to study well. He asked one of them to make a short speechas well as he could.The boy said: “I am very happy in being able to see Brahmashri Narayana Guru Swami.May he live long”. At the end of the meeting Swami took him along and fed him with his own hands. Swami was not used to taking food in the open. But on this occasion he had coffee and snacks brought and took them in his company. The boy was called “Kunhan” but Swami gave him a new name “Kumaran”. Before his departure Swami told all those who had assembled there that they should treat the Pulayas with love, and should, in this respect , set an example to those who consider themselves superior to the Ezhavas.

Swami took upon himself the task of educating some  Pulaya children. They were put in Advaita Ashram at Alwaye.  Pulayas were given the duty of preparing food for the inmates of the ashram and for the guests. When some Ezhava leaders came to the Ashram as guests Swami found occasion, while food was being served, to mention the community of the persons who served them. They felt resentment inwardly but had not the courage to express it in Swami’s presence.

Addressing a Pulaya assembly at Muttathara (Trivandrum)in 1916 Swami said:

“All men belonged to the same species. Among men there is difference in status but there cannot be a difference in kind. Some may be rich, educated, more clean. Others may be deficient in these respects. There could be difference in the colour of the skin. Other than these and the like there is no difference among men. Pulayas lack money and education. These deficiencies should be made up. Education is the chief thing. Once it is had, money, cleanliness etc.; would follow. It is wrong to say that you have no wealth. You are yourself wealth.You earn money every day  by your work. But you waste it – say on drinks. If you set apart one anna a day for a common fund you can achieve much without outside help. Every month you should assemble at a common place to discuss your problems and do the needful. You should stop the habit of drinking. Hereafter you should not allow your children to drink. Even elders should try to stop the habit. It is for such purposes that you should gather in assemblies. Others would certainly assist you. I wish to see you again and again”.


Temples were built. Installation ceremonies were conducted. Advice was promptly given to the followers about the temples and their administration. Appropriate indications were also given as to how the temples were to be centres  for the moral rejuvenation of the society. But the devotees were not amenable to the changes Swami envisaged. A real change was a change in the outlook and approach. The temples were new ; the idols too were new; but the devotees were their same old selves. Their actions always brought out this sad truth. We have already seen their attitudes in communal clashes and in the treatment of their lower classes. But this was no cause for wonder. No great man of this world has performed miracles of that type. It is true that they have an aura of mystery around them. It is true that they have exhibited a rare magnetism to attract their fellowmen and bring them under their influence. But none of them ever could readily raise them to a higher standard of morality as they wished. Their ideas permeate the human mind only gradually, through generation after generation.  This shows the pitiable state of human nature. It is a swan that rests on the shore a while and again slips back into the lake of evil ways. All great men would have felt sorry at this state of affairs. But this sorrow never overpowers them. They maintain their spiritual power through solitary meditation and through boundless love for the people.

The same was the case with Swami. His love for his followers did not diminish even when their behaviour smacked of unpalatable tendencies. His faith in the ideal of man’s salvation was never shaken. Even in the midst of  hectic activities he found time to mrditate. Swami considered the temples as centres useful to man for acquiring the strength of the spirit and thereby purifying themselves. Yet he had to see the very same temples being turned into centres  of superstition and evil ways. It was on such occasions that Swami spoke skeptically about temples. Swami had been expressing these doubts from the beginning of his public life. We have already noted a conversation Swami had in 1904 at Aruvippuram with Krishnan Asan.  Swami had felt that in course of time people may discard temple worship but consoled himself that public money spent on the construction of temples may not be a waste since the buildings would provide shelter for people at all times. But Swami never meant that temples should be turned into rest houses. Such an interpretation of his words stems from a lack of understanding. Even after 1904 he had encouraged his followers to build temples and had personally performed the installation ceremonies. Yet he was frequently assailed by doubts about utility of temples when he saw that the people were not reforming themselves as he wished.

Swami used to frequently discuss with his followers the various aspects of life. Krishnan Asan has described one such occasion.  Swami was talking about the possibility of life after death. He asked Asan whether he believed that dead men continued their existence in this world itself in a form invisible to our eyes but visible if looked through a kind of antimony. Swami narrated two such instances when he himself was present. Yet he had doubts whether those were not after all illusions of the mind. To the question whether the indestructibility of the soul was a principle discovered through human efforts, Swami replied that it was revealed by God through the sages.

By sages Swami did not mean those who practiced yogic exercises.  Swami once remarked to his followers that such exercises were good to expel some mucus. On another occasion a regular practitioner was explaining the merits of the exercises to Swami. Finally he said that whether or not there was spiritual and mental gains, none could doubt their utility to the body and that if certain asanas were practiced daily there would be easy motion of the bowels. Swami smiled and remarked humourously  : “ why should you take so much trouble for that. A little castor oil would do. “

Speaking at the Vignanavardhini Sabha, Cherai, in 1912 Swami said:

“ In our community only a few have higher education. During last few years members of our community have turned their attention to education. This is indeed heartening. Education leads any community to higher standerds and, therefore, if we are interested in the welfare of our community, we have to encourage it. It may not be possible for everyone to qualify in higher examinations. Therefore those who are reasonably rich should try to educate the poor students interested in higher learning by sending them to other centres. This would benefit the society as a whole.  The importance of Sanskrit education is declining gradually. The chief language now is English. Therefore our attention has to turn towards English. Women also should be educated. They should not be left in lurch”.

“ After education comes Industry. As a community we are very poor. Improvement is possible only through industry. This demands the attention of the rich. They can get from outside various types of machinery and run industries. If one cannot do it many should join as company and boldly venture out.  Though the paths to prosperity are open, men of our community do not have the courage to step out. We send out to other countries our produce like copra, coconut husk, etc and pay heavily to buy the consumer goods they manufacture out of them. We are forced to do this because we do not know the manufacturing process. We have to change this situation by sending our children to study in factories. It is the rich who have to undertake this. Apart from this everyone should have at least primary education.’

“Each village should have its own cultural societies and libraries and the community can derive much benefit from them in the matter of education. Each member of the community should do his bit in strengthening these institutions. The rich should not keep silent on these subjects. “

“ The Ezhavas of Cochin have received many concessions from the Maharaja of Cochin. It is your duty to utilize this properly. His actions proclaims his love for the lower classes. “

Here is another message issued by Swami in 1917:-

“Building of temples should not be encouraged hereafter. People are losing faith in temples. It could be a matter of regret that much money was wasted on building temples. Times have changed so much. But people may not agree if they are told now that temples are not needed. If they are particular, let them have small temples. The school should be the main temple. Efforts should be made to build schools by public contribution. A temple is good for inculcating a sense of cleanliness. Time was when it was hoped that people could be brought together in a place of worship disregarding caste. But experience has taught otherwise. Temples stress the distinction between castes. Hereafter efforts should be towards educating the people. Let them have knowledge. That is the only means of making them whole”.


“This is Ayyappan- Cherai Achutan Vaidyar’s younger brother”- that was how he was introduced- the handsome young man stepping out of adolescence who came to Alwaye Ashram to see Swami.  Swami recognized him Vaidyar was his friend. He was a good man, a scholar and interested in doing a good turn to others. Shri narayanan, Chattambi Swami and kumaran asan had enjoyed his hospitality at Cherai. All of them had a high regard for him. Asan wrote an elegy on his death.

Swami felt a special love for the youth when he knew that he was Vaidyar’s brother. Ayyappan had come back from Madras interrupting his studies. He wanted to join the Trivandrum Maharaja’s college. Swami wanted to assist him and asked him to see him on his way to Trivandrum.

Swami was in Curtallum when he came next. Ayyappan went there and received an affectionate welcome. Swami gave him two letters- one to be given to Kumaran Asan and another to Alummotil Govindan Channan. Channan whom he met first, gave him a letter for Asan. Asan received him with all kindness and made arrangements for his admission in the college, and for his lodging. He also gave him a hundred rupees.

Ayyappan was attracted to Swami’s personality at first sight. (In later years he frequently used to say that there was something superhuman in Swami). He was thrilled by Swami’s messages. During his stay at Trivandrum he kept contact with S.N.D.P.Yogam and its activities. He drew closer to Asan. Ayyappan was convinced that Kerala’s emancipation was possible only through Sree Narayana’s philosophy.

He returned home after finishing his education with a firm resolve to work with dedication to realize the ideals of Sree Narayana.  By that time he had already established himself as an eloquent speaker and a powerful writer. Naturally the mantle of youth leader fell on his shoulders. He published leaflets on the “One caste” theory of Sree Narayana. He exhorted the people that the depressed classes, an never be free unless the demon of caste was exorcised. He gave a call to his community to free itself of their own superstitions and evil customs. ‘Yuktivadi’ M.C.Joseph has described how this Ezhava graduate used to lecture  from dealwood box platforms on the roadside like Christian missionaries. His speeches were neither on spiritual nor on political subjects. He would speak with vigour about the evil customs and senseless beliefs prevalent among the Ezhavas and the depressed classes and would call upon the community to discard them. His targets were the caste system and untouchability in Hinduism. He believed that if the scourge  of untouchability was to be removed Ezhavas should identify themselves with the lower castes. Only when that was achieved could they strive to attain equality with the higher classes.

It was with this in mind that he planned his ‘inter-caste  eating’. This consisted of people of different castes sharing the same board:  It was considered taboo and a sin at that time. He decided to organise  a ‘common board’ with the help of his followers. The programme was to take food in the company of a few Pulayas and not with those of the higher caste. With much difficulty he could get two Pulaya boys to sit with them for food. As notified earlier they assembled at the venue on May 27, 1917. Ayyappan made a brilliant speech describing the demonic ways of caste system and the need for its total rejection. He reminded the audience of the supreme duty they owed to Sree Narayana Guru and his messages. “ We are about to make the beginning. Two Pulaya boys are with us. Those who want to root out the caste system should first accord  equal status to those considered lower to them. As a first step we should be prepared to take food in their company”. Those who had assembled there heard that inspired speech with rapt attention. Ayyappan then read out the oath.

“Caste differences are unprincipled, harmful and unnecessary and I wholeheartedly pledge to employ all legal means to remove it”.

Members of the audience stood up and repeated the pledge. Afterwards they participated in the dinner.

Commotion was let loose throughout the land the very next day. Here was the public violation of a custom considered sacred through the centuries. A few young men have taken food in the company of Pulaya boys.  Customs and manners have been transgressed. They were out to destroy Dharma and justice. They could not go free ……

The local Ezhava association (Vignana Vardhini Sabha) held an urgent meeting and excommunicated the families of those who took part in the inter-caste dinner. The orthodox people began to refer to Ayyappan as Pulayan Ayyappan. He was proud to receive the title.  Those who participated in the inter-caste dinner  were ridiculed as ‘pulayachovan’. This dinner produced stormy repercussions throughout Kerala. The intensity of the reaction can be gauged from the words of Kumaran Asan who wrote an editorial in Vivekodayam that  young men should not commit suicide by leaping straight from peaks of idealism to practical application. Though the editorial was generally opposed to the orthodox section its tune clearly implied that the holding of the inter-caste dinner was really foolhardy.

Some mischief-mongers started a rumour that Swami was against inter-caste dinners. So Ayyappan went to see Swami who welcomed him with his gentle smile and spoke words of appreciation. He said, “ Let not opposition baffle you. This would grow into a great movement. Always bear this in mind : forgive like Christ.’

Ayyappan started the Sahodara Sangham (Brothers’ Society) whose vigorous activities created a movement in the whole of Kerala. People began to call him respectfully ‘Sahodaran Ayyappan’ or merely ‘sahodaran’.

Ayyappan organized meetings throughout the length and breadth of the land and personally participated in as many as he could.  This handsome youth, fair-complexioned, with a long nose and sparkling eyes was an ornament to any assembly. He made inspired speeches, speeches in which ideas were marshaled with a scientific outlook and in a logical sequence, to fight against superstition and evil customs. He had to face stiff and often physical opposition. There were many instances where he was physically assaulted. But he never faltered in the face of opposition nor did he agitated. He remembered his teacher’s words : “Forgive like Christ”.

Ayyappan wished to get a message from swami for the Sahodara Sangham. It would help to blunt the opposition. That was why he went to Alwaye and made his wish known to Swami. Swami immediately ordered pen and paper to be brought and wrote the message.

“Since all men belong to same species whatever be their religion, dress, language, etc… there is no objection to their marriage or taking food together.”

Thousands of copies of this message were printed and distributed throughout the country. This made the things really easy for the Sahodara sangham.  Sahodaran decided to start a journal called “Sahodaran”. The journal saw light as a monthly  in 1917. Ayyappan took the manuscript of his first editorial to Swami and was happy to receive his approbation. The editorial said :

“This is a big institution started on a small scale by bringing together men who are prepared to speak what they believe and practice what they preach with noble intention of removing the evil of caste.  Let those who are victims of the caste system unite. Let those others also join prompted by a  sense of duty to put an end to this barbarous custom, Copies of the pledge will be sent to everyone on request.”

During his journalistic days Sahodaran used to write  a number of poems. In all of them he adopted a posture against religion and God. Yet Swami was never displeased with him. On the other hand he only praised him for having the courage of his convictions.

Swami had written “One caste, One religion, One God for man”. And how could he consider Sahodaran his follower when he wrote : “ man has no need for caste, religion and God”?.This question had troubled many minds in those days. But there was nothing so inscrutable in this. Further on Ayyappan had written that what men required was ‘Dharma’ and this ‘Dharma’ consisted of Truth, compassion, love and service to everyone. Swami himself has said on several occasions that this attitude was no different from devotion to God.

Whenever they met, Swami used to question Ayyappan on different topics. Ayyappan used to regret in his later years that he had not kept a record of those conservations on such varied subjects as science, politics and philosophy. Whatever the topic under discussion Swami had something original to contribute. Such an inquisitive mind was indeed rare. With natural ease he could penetrate into the core of any subject. That was why when he was told of the theory of evolution he immediately asked the vital question whether the spirit was also subject to evolution.

Once Sahodaran went to Alwaye ashram to see Swami. At that time Swami was at Thottumukham, about two miles from Alwaye. Sahodaran was charmed by the scenic beauty of this rustic place. Three hills covered with tall trees and low shrubs meeting at that lonely place gave it the look of a forest area. From the hill top one could have a view of Alwaye town at a distance. The river flowed along on the one side. The fields spread out like a carpet. The blue sky hung low to caress this sheer loveliness. Sahodaran felt a pervading divinity in the atmosphere. How did Swami select such a place? But all the places chosen by Swami as his centres had been blessed spots.

Sahodaran saw Swami resting on a stone under a tree. Near him was a saffron- clad disciple. There was a small hut some distance away. Swami had been coming to this secluded place for his meditations. The disciple who stood witness to these moments of supreme bliss was a barber who had been convicted for murder. He came out of jail thirsting for vengeance against society. It was a stroke of luck that he happened to meet Swami who discerned the humanity hidden beneth his grim exterior. Swami’s love and compassion turned the beast into a man and led him to the path of purity. Swami appropriately called him ‘Valmiki’. The hill belonged to him and for long was known as Valmikikunnu (The hill of Valmiki).

Sahodaran had the good fortune to spend many hours of peace on that hill in Swami’s company.  Often Swami would tell him his wishes and visions. One such was that one day a great institution would spring up in that very place, an institution dedicated to the service of humanity, an institutionthat would be a refuge for the helpless and afflicted. It would become a centre of pilgrimage for the idealists and for those who served humanity.

Sahodaran had this in mind when years later he selected this place as the Headquarters of Sree Narayana Sevika Samajam, a service organization started under the leadership of his wife Parvathy Ayyappan. The hill is now Known as Sree Narayana Giri. Centres affording refuge to orphans and helpless women function there. People interested in serving humanity visit the places and help in the activities. Swami Sree narayana Thirtha himself was there representing the S.N.D.P.Yogam at the  inauguration of the centre. This writer considers it his good fortune that he could participate as a speaker in the function presided over by Sahodaran.

Sahodaran breathed his last in 1968. His mortal remains found their final resting place in Sree Narayanagiri. When you stand there scenes of Swami and sahodaran discussing various means to mitigate the sufferings of humanity may glide across your mind. When you stand there you hear the call to strive to add beauty to life. The atmosphere there is one of purity, of dedication to service.

Once I asked sahodaran about Swami’s miraculous powers. The question evoked a smile at first. Later he became serious.  Sahodaran was convinced that Swami could read the minds of others. Once Sahodaran came to Trivandrum to see swami. He learned that Swami was camping in the house of a rich man who was noted for his lack of charity. Sahodaran felt that it Was not proper for Swami to stay there. He approached the house with these thoughts in his mind. On seeing Swami came out bidding farewell to his host. The very first words of Swami served as a reply to the thoughts uppermost in Sahodaran’s mind. Swami said that there would be some good aspects even in rich man and properly aroused these can be turned to the good of the community. Sahodaran said that on several other occasions too Swami had talked as though he read his mind accurately. He had seen in Swami the ability for mind reading, said to be possessed by Yogis. This among other factors, would have helped him to exert the  tremendous influence he did over others.

Sahodaran had heard about Swami’s various other miraculous deeds. These were reported by people with firm conviction about their truth. But it was possible that their powers of observation were not sharp enough or that they lacked a scientific bent of mind. Anyway, Swami himself spoke lightly of miracles. We have Swami suggesting castor oilin the place of yogic exercises as a laxative. Shri. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has also been reported to have made a similar remark about yogic exercises. To a hatayogi who claimed that he could walk across the river because of the powers acquired by fifteen years of yoga practice, he said that he need not have spent fifteen years for that as the ferryman would take him across in his boat for just one anna. Sahodaran said, “All great sages have generally maintained such an attitude towards super human acts. It is therefore meaningless to seek such stories to bring out Swami’s greatness.”


“ Under the spreading shade that was Sree Narayana, Dr. Palpu, N.Kumaran Asan, T.K.Madhavan and C.V. Kunhiraman in Travancore, E.K.Ayyakutti and Ayyappan in Cochin, C.Krishnan and Rarichan Mooppan in Calicut and Moorkoth Kumaran and Kottiyath Ramunni in North Malabar labored as a team for the uplift of the community. This period was indeed a golden age for the Tiyya community in modern times. C.Krishnan was the golden link between the leaders of the north and those of the south.” That was how K.R.Achuthan described Mitavadi C.Krishnan. And that was the truth.  His was a personality that was hightly idealistic and devoted to service, yet strong enough to hold bold opinions. Born in 1867 in Changaramkumarath family  he was a well-informed boy evenduring his student days. He started publishing his articles in journals about the difficulties faced by his community. His letters appeared frequently  in English papers while he was in Madras as a law student. In 1900 on the occasion of the visit of Lord Curzon to Travancore he published a lengthy article in Madras Mail detailing the pitiable plight of the people of lower castes in Travancore and commending their care to his attention. The article had a good reception and Malayala Manorama even had a news item on it. Krishnan started practicing law at Calicut in 1903. He had already formed an attachment to Dr.PALPU.

Krishnan’s outlook did not brook faith in religious observances. Yet he participated with enthusiasm in the ceremony in which Sree Narayana Guru laid the foundation for the Sreekanteswaram  temple at Calicut. What induced him to co-operate in that function was not faith or religious belief in the normal sense but his desire to associate in all activities designed for the welfare of the community. But the respect he felt for Swami on seeing him actually developed almost into piety. He agreed to be a member of the committee to raise funds for the temple and made personal contributions.  The committee worked with such enthusiasm that the installation ceremony could be held on May 10, 1910, thanks to the tireless efforts of men like Rarichan Mooppan. The installation was done by Swami himself. Krishnan took part in the mammoth procession in connection with the ceremony out of his great respect for Swami. There were two sides to this. One was alogical.  In Swami he saw spiritual qualities beyond words shining bright. He bowed before it setting aside his sense of logic. The second aspect was that of logic. The personal qualities, big and small, which Swami maintained in his daily life constituted its basis.  Once he remarked that the activities of Swami were lessons in good behavior and that he seemed to have been sent by God to be a model unto men.

With a smile Swami would often ask him whether he had faith in temples. A smile was the only reply he ever received. Swami knew that he had no faith. He also knew the nobility of the sentiment that made him participate in the temple ceremonies in Sivagiri and Tellicherry in spite of this lack of faith. Swami had so much confidence in him that he made him the ‘Dharmakarta’ of all his institutions per power of attorney on 16 May 1919.

Dr Palpu too placed much confidence in Krishnan. He insisted that Krishnan should preside over the ninth annual conference  of the S.N.D.Yogam held along with the Sarada installation at Sivagiri in May 1912. He went personally to Calicut to invete Krishnan. Krishnan accepted the invitation and participated in all the functions. In his presidential speech he referred to Swami as a man born with a mission and a teacher whose very presence was a source of inspiration.

Krishnan started publishing Mitavadi on his own in 1913. In 1921 he made it a weekly.  The call issued by Swami was taken as its motto. “ Freedom through education, Strength through organization, Fight for social justice”.

An extract from the instructions issued by the Emperor to the Governors in India had been attractively displayed in the first issue of the weekly. The extract dealt with the special instruction to promote the welfare of those of the subjects who were not in a position to organise politically for their advancement because of their inferiority in numbers or due to lack of education and worldly prosperity and to see that they are not subjected to any difficulties, disregard or harassment.

The prominent display of this extract proclaimed the attitude of Mithavadi towards the British rule. Krishnan was of the view that British rule should continue uninterruptedly for some more time in the interests of the depressed classes. On this account he was opposed to the non-co-operation and civil disobedience movements under  mahatma Gandhi’s leadership. K.P.Kesava Menon, who was so gentle by nature, found Krishnan’s criticism of the congress excessive and ascribed the policy of Mitavadi to Krishnan’s belief that India would be reduced to the state of an unguarded house if the British withdrew.  Krishnan did not apprehend anarchy here.; he felt that the depressed classes would loose a source of support. Swami himself had spoken about the British in appreciative tones. During the first world war Swami told his disciples that all of them should pray for the success of the British as the latter gave them sanyasa and were therefore their Gurus. The disciples could not grasp his sense. He explained that even during the time of Sri Rama, Sudras were not reputed to be eligible to take to sanyasa. Hindus ruled according to the Smriti.  They could take to Sanyasa because the country was under the rule of Englishmen, who should therefore be given the status of a Guru. Kumaran Asan too had shown such an attitude on various occasions.

When Vaikom Satyagraha was to be started under the leadership of congress with the permission of Mahatma Gandhi, T.K.Madhavan went to Cal;icut particularly to meet Krishnan. Krishnan promised all help in spite of its being under Congress leadership since it was an effort to gain for the lower castes freedom to use public roads. He contributed one hundred rupees to the satyagraha fund. He presided over one of the conferences in Shertallay held after the arrest of K.P.Kesava Menon and T.K.Madhavan. He also participated in the procession to the venue of satyagraha.

Krishnan held the view that the  Ezhavas should embrace Buddhism in order to be freed from their disabilities. He became a Buddhist and conducted a vigorus campaign for conversion. The annual number of Mitavadi for 1926 specially featured an article by C.V.Kunhiraman entitled  “Buddhism is best for Tiyyas’, which mentioned the names of Dr.Palpu, Judge Ayyakutty and Sahodaran Ayyappan. As Tiyya leaders who accepted Buddhism and added that C.Krishnan, the acknowledged leader of the Tiyyas of North Malabar was the protagonist for the propagation of Buddhism in Kerala.

Towards the end of his long letter to Krishnan in reply to some of his arguments Kumaran Asan wrote that it would be hard on the community if it was told to change the religion like sheaths. The shoulders still sore carrying timber for temples should not be asked to carry stones for viharams so soon. Besides,  Swami  would never agree to a change of religion and it was not fit for the followers to attempt to change the religion of their religious head. The community had the good fortune to have such a great leader and to run to Ceylon or Tibet for priests discarding such a gem of a leader who was responsible for so much progress they had already made would never be to the good of the community. Asan knew Krishnan to be a sincere and dedicated man of high ideals and held him in high esteem.

Krishnan died in 1938. Sahodaran wrote that Krishnan was a bright light of community. He had established a name for himself by his education, wealth and character. Mathrubhoomi wrote that the people of Kerala had come to regard Krishnan not as an individual but as an institution. It was hard for any individual to be active in public life for so long, in the fields of such diversity and dimensions.


“We have already mentioned the instructions Swami gave regardingsocial reformation and its activities to bring them into practice. He gave some more suggestions on the occasion of the All Religions Conference. At his instance Swami Satyavrata codified and published them.

Swami had stressed the need for contributing to charitable institutions. He held the opinion that any civilized community should have charitable institutions to afford refuge to the destitute who were victims of the evils of the social system or misfortune. Swami viewed these institutions not merely as relief centres but s for self-purification for the donors broadening their outlook and raising their minds to higher planes. Each such institution was a cultural centre and each mind associated with it would be enriched. He had predicted that such an institution would flourish at Narayana giri at Thottumukham, Alwaye. We have seen how Sahodaran Ayyappan chose that particular place to be the Headquarters of the Shri.Narayana Sevika Samajam and how his ideals of service were being translated into action under the leadership of Parvathy Ayyappan.

Here the code published by Swami Satyavrata:

" This is a period of all-round depression for the communities of the Hindu fold. The position is deplorable whether it concerned religious faith, structure of the society or the state of economy. The message of Paramahamsa (Swami0 –“One caste, One Religion, One God”- has effected some improvement in the social and religious sphere. Paramahamsa has suggested some improvement in economic field. He had directed that “ Thalikettu” should be abandoned and during the last twenty years the Tiyyas have effected a saving of ten crores of rupees by following his direction. It cannot even be estimated now many crores more could be saved by following directives now issued by him regarding wedding ceremonies and the rites connected with death.

Men are fond of pomp. They exhibit their love of pomp in various ways like dress, houses, ornaments, feasts.  The scale of celebrations used to be a measure of man’s standing in the community and countless are the families who have been ruined on this account. The new procedures would help the Hindu communities to redeem  themselves from such financial degradations.


For wedding there should not be more than ten persons- the bride, the bridegroom, their parents, one companion each for the bride and the bridegroom, one priest and one important local man. The priest should hand over the garlands, his heart filled with thoughts  of God. The function is to be held at public places like temples, prayer halls or schools. Marriages should be entered into records kept at these places for that purpose. A month before the intended day the parents should bring the prospective life companions to this place and allow them to see each other and talk to each other. However this is not relevant, where mutual love has pronounced them man and wife. Marriage should be finally decided upon only fifteen days after the interview. On the thirtieth day the ten persons mentioned above can solemnize the wedding. Some parents may wish to spend a considerable amount on the wedding. They can deposit the amount in a bank and make a present of the receipt to their children at the wedding. The money could be usefull to them and to their children. Nothing more is really required for a wedding. Those who cannot find peace unless they celebrate an occasion can do so by holding a feast on their sixtieth birthday. They have already lived for sixty years and would have saved something by that time. No other occasion should be hereafter turned into a costly celebration. Indiscreet action would finally lead to poverty.

Rites connected with death:

Relatives of the dead person should, for ten days, bathe at dawn and hold prayers according to their faith. Not more than ten annas should be spend on these ten days for buying articles like incense. More good may result from earnest prayers for the eternal peace of the dead man’s soul than by placing on the ground handfuls of soaked rice under instructions from an ignorant priest. It will be an act of great merit if the amount meant to be spent on huge feasts in the name of the dead is donated to some charitable institution”. 

In these hard days it would be well if the discerning among the community save the ignorant poor by setting them an example in following those new codes of conduct.

This proclamation should be repeatedly read at least by the devotees of Shri.Narayana.


Swami was extremely alert and active even when approaching the age of sixty. The reports of his tours that appeared in Vivekodayam (1915) show how tight were his daily schedules. They also reveal the people’s regard for him and his concern for their problems.These reports were prepared with the journalistic honesty of those days by those who actuall went with him on his tours. Collection of funds for activities was only one of the aims of the tours. The chief one was to enlighten the people in the matter of customs and beliefs. In many of the places he visited, Swami took the lead in removing evil deities. From a single temple and the adjoining street at Kottar, 31 demonic figures of evil deities were removed. Such idols were common in those days and Swami caused them to be removed without any fuss.

People were eager to invite Swami to their localities and wherever he went he was received with an enthusiastic welcome. People of all communities and creeds including Brahmins, Nairs and Christians came to him to see him, to receive his blessings, to seek solutions for their problems.He used these tours to form village assemblies, the need for which had been felt for long.

Many families of Kottukal (Neyyatinkara) were, for centuries, Christians in faith but Ezhavas by caste. They had been conducting worship at churches but had maintained their traditional connections with Hindu families.But when S.N.D.P.Yogam was established and measures aimed at reformation of  the Ezhava community was started, Ezhavas belonging to Yogam severed their connection with those who followed Christian beliefs.This led to friction between the two. Swami converted the leaders of these Ezhava Christians back to Hinduism and allowed them to live together as of old. The Pulaya leaders, Ayyankali and others , met Swami at Kottukal. Swami felt gratified to hear Ayyankali speak of the co-operation they were receiving from the S.N.D.P.Yogam workers and of their gratitude to the Ezhava leaders for their sympathy with the cause of the Pulayas. He advised the Ezhava leaders to help the Pulayas openly and actively in their efforts. Swami believed that a man of tact should strive for the prosperity of his neighbor.

Swami found occasion to reform the mode of the worship in some of the villages he visited.He stopped the crude practice of worship with meat and liquor and instituted refined ways. He removed ugly idols of demons in Kottar and stopped animal sacrifices. The young men of the area were enthusiastic and even the elders wholeheartedly  co-operated. Swami was pleased with their devotion and sense of cleanliness.


Chingam 27, 1092 M.E. (1916 A,D.). The scene was the Advaita Ashram, Alwaye. As was his practice Swami got up early and bathed in the cool waters of Alwaye river. By the time he returned to the Ashram a large crowd of men and women had collected there to see him. They brought with them presents  - candy, bananas, grapes, flowers, garlands etc. The sight of Swami who appeared on the scene with the splendor of the rising sun raised them to new heights of devotion. They vied with each other in offering their presents to Swami who viewed them with the fond eyes of father. He blessed them and arranged for the offerings to be distributed. Some of the devotees began to sing devotional songs. Among them were songs extolling his virtues his virtues and wishing him long life. Swami sat there with a quietude which was almost of another world. To his devotees he appeared a veritable image of God.

At the end Swami spoke to them soft words and distributed cloths to the poor. They were actually experiencing a state of bliss when they received the garments from Swami’s own hands.

Swami had complemented sixty years of life that day. The inmates of the Alwaye Ashram and others wished to celebrate the day in great fashion and had started making elaborate preparations. On coming to know about it Swami affectionately advised them against such celebrations. But finally agreed to their request for at least a simple function at the Ashram.

But devotees elsewhere organized grand festivals at other centres, even in many places outside Kerala like South Karnataka, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Madras Calcutta, Singapore, Colombo. The great hardships brought about by the first wirld war were not severe enough to stay the devotees from celebrating in a fitting manner the sixtieth birth anniversaryof their adored leader. Processions were taken out with large portraits of Swami and meetings were organized to explain his message. There were community entertainments and cultural programmes. Even the remote village of Kerala celebrated that day as a festive occasion. Swami’s influence had penetrated so deeply into the life of an entire people.

The practice of celebrating Swami’s Birthdays had commenced  much earlier. His fame had started pervading the atmosphere of Kerala from the day of installation of a deity at Aruvippuram years ago. Stories about him spread throughout the land with amazing speed. In his quiet way Swami toured the land bringing about a  silent but great revolution.The Universality of his message and the magnetic power of his personality carved out a niche for him in the hearts of an entire people. Joyous celebration of his birthday was but the spontaneous expression of the deep devotion the people had for him. For them it combined the solemnity of the observance of a vow and the festivity associated with the birth of a sense of freedom.

The celebration of the day in 1916 surpassed all the previous ones, yet it was only a simple function at Advaita Ashram at Alwaye   where Swami was residing at the time. He forbade all artificial pomp at the Ashram. He did not consider his sixtieth birth anniversary to such a significant event.

People of different sect met Swami on that day. With a patience rarely found in others he heartily talked with them. Looking at the river Swami remarked: “ This river is now very clear. A river stimulates both body and the mind.” He added with a smile: “Our life should also become clear likewise. It is in a muddy state now. What is to be done to make it clear?”.He knew it was not an easy task. Many a great man had striven towards the same end, dedicating the entire life for it. Still, life remained in a muddy state. Yet it was not right to desist from making an attempt. The dignity of human birth consisted in facing difficult tasks.

When the conversation turned in that direction a few devotees arrived with their offerings. He learned that they were still conducting lower forms of worship like animal sacrifices. Swami asked them why they were still continuing those practices. He suggested that the devotees could refuse to offer fowls for the rituals. Someone present suggested the use of pumpkins in the place of fowls. “No, not that. Why not the son of the priest who wields the knife?”.

The conversation did not proceed as a new set of visitors arrived at that time. They had come with a request that Swami should install a deity in the newly built temple in their village. Swami asked them what benefit could be expected of temples where bats and darkness reigned. He said that the temple should be neat and clean and asked whether as lamp could not be installed instead of an idol.

Visitor: “That may not satisfy the people. They need a deity to worship.”

Swami: “ you can place pictures of great men near the lamp. I think Siva and Sri Ram were great leaders of their times. Siva must have been a leader of forest dwellers who rose to the status of a god because of his powers and goodness.”

Swami finally decided to perform the installation. People needed a deity.

That day was spent chatting with visitors. The next day Swami went to Koorkanchery in Trichur and performed the installation ceremony in a temple of the Ezhavas . The temple allowed free entry to the carpenters, blacksmiths and goldsmiths and entry up to a point to pulayas and pariahs. Swami commended it as good beginning and hoped that soon everyone would be given the same freedom.

Some Brahmins of Kanchipuram were waiting for him at Alwaye.


The Brahmins had come from Kancheepuram (Tamil Nadu) to invite Swami to their place. They prostrated before him. Swami was quiet proficient in Tamil and found pleasure in conversing with them. He cleared their doubts in Vedanta in his natural simple way. He  was a great teacher in all respects. He had the rare skill of being able to analyse the most complex problems and explain them in a way easy to grasp. He found it interesting to help those who approached him with doubts. The expression on his face and the brightness of his eyes would arrest anybody’s attention. Listening to Swami, the Brahmins never knew the passage of time. When they left, they had Swam’s acceptance of their invitation.

Even before the Brahmins left, Justice Sadasiva Iyer and Justice Krishnan of the Madras High Court arrived at the ashram to invite Swami to Madras. Swami accepted their invitation too.

Swami set out from Alwaye on the twenty-fifth of the following month (Kanni, Malayalam Era ) accompanied by two disciples. The train journey did not seem dull to him. People of various sorts got in and got out. They came to know each other, like each other , quarrel with each other and finally went away forgetting everything. Swami thought that the train journey was life in miniature. He looked out of the window in a pensive mood and the bits of landscape moving fast as in a dream caught his attention. Everything moved away as in a dream.

He was aroused from this reverie by a man sitting next to him.

“What is your name?”
“Of  what caste are you?”
“What do you think?”
“I cannot make out seeing you”
Swami laughed : “ If you cannot know that seeing me how will you understand it hearing me?”

He explained this conversation while at Madras. There was only one caste, not many. Swami had a hearty laugh when a representative of the depressed  classes burst out with a remark that the sacred thread of Brahmins should be burst first. “Well, if we had half a dozen men fired with the same enthusiasm, the caste system will be destroyed. No special proof is required to show that all men belong to the same species. A dog can, when it sees another, easily recognize it as one of its own species. Every animal has this capacity. Only man is lacking in this respect. Only he has doubts. He is worse than beasts.”

Swami’s words opened new vistas of understanding before the listeners and they came forward to examine contemporary ideas in this light. One of them told Swami: “Mahatma Gandhi has said that varnashrama is good.”

Swami: Varna-ashram. They are different. It is not proper to use Varnashrama to denote the caste system. What is Varna according to Gandhiji?”.

Devotee: “Varna is not caste.  Gandhiji has said that there is no connection between the two.”

The devotee could not fully explain Gandhiji’s views but felt that his opinion was being taken advantage of by the orthodox people.

Swami explained that in his opinion there was no such thing as caste.  To think otherwise could only bring about evil and wondered how such illogical beliefs continued to exist. Even dividing the people into castes on the basis of trade was not good. It destroyed man’s freedom, destroyed his intelligence. How could the trade improve without freedom and intelligence? “Our carpenters and smiths have become a set of ignorant people.Caste system would only spoil the trade.  It would only reduce the skill of the people. If a man remain ignorant of what is happening around him he would not be able to do his own job well. Besides, people would not get the opportunity to engage in the trade of their inclination. One would be forced to follow a particular trade because of birth even if he had no taste for it. This is not good for the trade either.”

Devotee: “Scientists say that the son will inherit the talent to follow the father’s trade.”

Swami: “In that case there is no need for caste. The son will naturally practice the father’s trade. Nobody need use any compulsion. There can be full freedom. There cannot be any good in restricting the freedom of man. Everyone should have the freedom to learn and follow the trade of his choice.’

Devotee: “It is said that such freedom will produce stiff competition and thereby more misery than happiness.”

Swami: “ That may be the argument of those who champion the caste system. Those who derive benefit by its continuance would talk in that vein. Others should toil to make them happy.Is man to live for the sake of caste, for the sake of the world, for the sake of the happiness? It is the other way. Of what use are they if man is degraded? That is why I say that caste system should go. It degrades man. Therefore it is unnecessary. There is no caste It is fallacy to think it exists.

Swami spent most of his time in Madras and Kanchipuram in such talk. Many persons came to visit him at Kanchipuram. Swami engaged himself in conversation with them but appeared more keen to listen than to talk. He gleaned precious gems of knowledge from his talks with specialists in each field and made them part of himself.

At Kanchipuram, he inaugurated the Sree Narayana Seva Ashram as desired by his devotees and directed that it should function as a branch of the Alwaye Ashram. An Ayurveda clinic was attached to the Ashram.Swami advised that the clinic should provide free medical aid to the poor. “Our aim is to mitigate the sufferings of the people. God can be worshipped only by serving humanity.” He made arrangements for the smooth functioning of the Ashramand the clinic.

There was a large crowd of devotees to receive Swami at Madras. Visitors poured in, some were ardent devotees, some came with their own reservations. Swami received everyone with equal grace. Those who came with devotion in their hearts returned with their hearts richer. The others had their minds cleared and returned satisfied. Swami obliged his devotees by establishing one more Ashram at Chintaripet, Madras. He entrusted a committee of respectable men of different communities with the task of governing Ashram.

Swami declined to ride a horse drawn carriage. But he was not averse to travelling by rikshaw. He explained: “The man who pulls the rickshaw wants us in his rickshaw, not so the horse or the bullock.” Swami always maintained this attitude towards animals. Once he remarked that the very air in a garden he was sitting in at Coimbatore was polluted since poor bullocks were being worked hard to water the trees and plants there. He felt that great injustice was being done to the animals. He was always against harsh treatment of animals.

On the way back Swami told his disciples that Vedanta gave one knowledge to live and work for others, which required sacrifice, courage and ability to distinguish truth from falsehood.He explained that knowledge alone was real and that whatever was seen was only an illution. A piece of cloth was only a constitution of yarn itselfdisappeared when it was further disintegrated.The knowledge of it alone was permanent.

From Madras Swami proceeded to Bangalore. He spent a few days with Dr.Palpu. Swami liked his company and his straightforward ways.

“Swami, we should learn to be  fools.” Said Dr.Palpu. swami asked him why he thought so. Dr.Palpu explained that only fools lived for others. The clever people would live on the labour of others. That was why he wanted to be fool.

This explanation made him laugh heartily. Dr.Palpu added: “Swami, to laugh is not enough. We have not yet done even a fractionof what we ought to do. We have to start industries. We have to train people. We have to have educational institutions. Our community will prosper only if there are industries and competent men.The rights of the strong alone would get recognition. We can no longer be beggers.We can no longer remain satisfied with temples and reformation of customs. Otherwise Swami would also turn out to be just a priest like the old humbugs.”

The last sentence again provoked a smile in Swami. He encouraged Dr.Palpu to continue.

“Swami, what is required is action, not words. People idle away their time due to ignorance. They are not keen to do things, they have no methods. We have to rouse them.”

Swami: “we are all working for that. S.N.D.P.Yogam is also taking the initiative in this regard. What practical approach have you to suggest?” Swami asked him practical questions on a variety of topics-history, sociology, economics, science. What were the means employed by people who attained independence  in their march towards prosperity? What did the industrially developed countries have to teach them? Swami had a hundred such queries. Though Dr.Palpu could not find an answer for every question he could suggest where and how to look for them. His enthusiasm sought out experts in each field. He himself had a fund of ideas for social reconstruction. He was impatient to give them a practical shape.

Swami would calmly consider the suggestions and the means to get them accepted by the community. He held Dr. Palpu and his dedication to service in high esteem and used to remember him often in his conversations.

Swami recalled Dr.Palpu’s “ let us be fools” slogan when he was offered a gift of land priced at five thousand rupees by ‘Vignanodayam Sabha’ during his Ceylon tour. He remarked to those who offered him the gift deed that he was a champion fool and did not know what to do with the land and asked whether they could have the sky and the stars registered in his name since there could not arise any property disputes regarding them.

The sky and the stars- that was the world he really belonged to. The world where ever-bright stars shine against the background of the permanent blue of eternity- a world beyond the reach of dust and sighs and tears. The enduring quietness of the place is never broken by muffled sobs. The sky and the stars indeed! The divine realm of dreams cherished by generations amidst their countless miseries!

Part III


1. Sixtieth Birth Anniversary Celebrations.
2. One Caste, One Religion.
3. On Proselytizing.
4. Visits to Sri Lanka.
5. Satyavratan.
6. All Religions Conference.
7. T.K.Madhavan.
8. Some Aspects of the Vaikom Satyagraha.
9. A. Conversation.
10. Tagore and Gandhiji.
11. A Ceremony of Anointment.
12. The Evening Sun.
13. A Dialogue.
14. Swami’s Will, Sivagiri Pilgrimage.
15. Towards Peace.


S.N.D.P.Yogam  formed a special committee to celebrate the Shastipoorthi (Sixtieth birth anniversary) of Swami. Reports show that the day was celebrated throughout the world wherever Malayalees lived. The scale and the universality of the celebrations bore eloquent testimony to the love and the esteem the people had for Swami. In his report on the celebrations at Kaitamukku, Kumaran Asan has recorded the following conversation between two caste-hindu peasants who had come from the village.

First man: Have you seen such a grand celebration in Trivandrum before? Of course, I am not talking about the Government-sponsored ones.

Second man: Not only in Trivandrum. It is the same in all places in Travancore, throughout Kerala in fact.

First: He is really fortunate – this Nanu Asan- Narayana Guru Swami.

Second: Fortunate is too inadequate a word. He is a real Mahatma, a great soul. Even Maharajas cannot have such good fortune.

First: Maharajas are borne to their fortune. This man was born in an ordinary family like us. Was he not born somewhere in Chempazhanti?

Second:It is no flattery when people call him a man of divinity. Is it common to be so much honoured and respected by the people? It is all by the grace of God. There is perhaps none else in this world who has acquired so much merit by penance and the blessings of God.

This conversation revealed what the common people of his time thought of Swami. Asan has gone on to add that what distinguished Swami from the ordinary folk and placed him on a pedestal 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. As a religious leader he was respected throughout India. As a social reformer he was looked up to by the Tiyyas and the benefits they derived were beyond estimate.

The Shashtipoorthi memorial building built at Kaitamukku (Trivandrum) was inaugurated on that day by the Dewan of Travancore at a well- arranged function attended by celebrities like A.R.Rajaraja varma and Ulloor S.Parameswara Iyer. Kerala has not seen a celebration of such magnitude and grandeur ever before.

Verses extolling his virtues came to be used for daily chanting in the houses of devotees. But the man who was raised to the level of a God even when he was alive continued to live in his simple style.


It has been said that the brightest period of Swami’s life was the time after 1918. During this time we do not see him engaged in constant tours and vigorous activities. Yet it was during this period that belief became strong and widespread that he alone was the messiah to lead the whole of Kerala to a bright future.Again, it was during this that he issued most of his messages in the form of simple aphorisms. The messages themselves were not new. It was during this period that they were publicized in the form of terse basic statements fit for chanting. On the occasion of the birthday celebrations of 1920 Swami issued two messages- one affecting day-to-day life and another touching life in general.

The first one read ;”liquor is poison- don’t produce it, don’t vend it, don’t consume it”. A sentence was added to it to give the message poignancy and range : “The body of the tapper would stink, his house would stink, whatever he touched would stink”.

Tapping and vending of toddy was one of the traditional trades of the community which accepted Swami as its preceptor. Excessive indulgence in drink was one of the causes of its degeneration. It can therefore be assumed that this proclamation was his reaction to those circumstances. Viewed from a higher angle it could be found to have more relevance to the mental than to the physical plain of morality. This indicated the liberation from those attitudes that clouded the mind, the chief of them being religious fanaticism This message implied a call to forestall the growth of such narrow attitudes and be alert against the attendant dangers.

This made the second message of declaration of undying humaneness. The message “One Caste, One religion, One God for man” is the first line of a poem Swami wrote on caste entitled”A Critique of Caste” The poem emphasized that all men belonged to the same and there was absolutely no difference between man and man, be he a Brahmin, or a pariah. On a latter occasion Swami remarked: “ The aim of all religions is the same. When the revers merge with the ocean is there any difference? Religions are there only to produce in the individual soul an attitude in favor of progress. Once it is done they would themselves  seek out the supreme. Religions are only guides in this quest. Religion is not the authority for one who has realized the supreme. It is the other way. Did the Buddha teach Nirvana after studying Buddhism? The Buddha sought and found the path and taught it. His teachings came to be known as Buddhism. Has the Buddha anything to gain by Buddhism? When it is said that the Vedas were not man-made, it only means that nobody knows who the composers were. It can also be taken to mean that the principles enunciated in the Vedas were not man-made. This advice valid only in respect of those who have an enquiring mind. And thirst for knowledge. The common man must have a scripture as authority for his faith. The religious teachers should see that no advice contrary to righteousness has crept into such texts. Dayananda Saraswati accepts the Vedas as authority but does he not reject certain parts as interpolations? That is what all religious teachers should do.  The disputes between nations and communities would end when one overcomes the other. But religions can never take a fight to its conclusion and cannot therefore overcome the opponent. To put an end to the fight between religions, all religions should be studied without prejudice. This would reveal that there was no difference between them in basic principles. The ‘One Religion’ which we advocate is the religion that emerges after such scrutiny. The broad outlook that all religions are one is the protective shield of the mind against religious bigotry and the miseries resulting from it.”

The idea of an all-religious conference to convince the people of this occurred to Swami at this period. It took two more years to materialize. The words ‘ Not to argue and win but to know and make known’, which the conference accepted as it ideal, makes it easy  to assess the motive for organizing the conference.


Religious conversions had become very common in Kerala. Members of lower communities among the Hindus came forward in large numbers to embrace Christianity as it gained for them many favours. Swami had nothing against a man taking to a different religion. But the change should be on the basis of a conviction and not for convenience. A strong opinion had developed that Tiyyas should en masse embrace Buddhism. But Swami did not care much for it. He held that each man should have the freedom to follow the faith of his choice and it naturally followed that the freedom enjoyed by the Hindus to embrace Christianity, Islam and Buddhism should be available to all non-Hindus for conversion to Hinduism. This was difficult in those days as Hinduism was not a proselytizing religion. Besides, the castes which constituted Hinduism were not prepared to accept converts. Swami does not appear to have talked much on this subject. But he never hesitated to make his mind known when the occasion demanded it.

A Tiyya of Cannanore who went over to Christianity for some domestic reasons wanted to return to the faith of his birth, but Tiyyas refused to accept him. He approached Swami. Swami summoned the relatives of the man and the local community leaders and advised them to take him back to their fold. They accepted Swami’s advice and the reconvert. There were some Ezhava Christian families in Neyyattinkara in Southern Travancore. Many of them wished to become Hindus on seeing the reforms coming up in the community thanks to Swami. Swami gladly accepted them and those Ezhava Christians were made Ezhava Hindus. Mulur S. Padmanabha Panicker has left a description of Swami’s journey to Kaviyoor in Tiruvalla to accord Ezhava status to a few families of ‘Pichanatu Kurups’ who were thinking of embracing Christianity as their number was fast dwindling. They were happy to be Ezhavas but did not think it was possible until they were told that Swami could make them Ezhavas.


A Missionary from the west came to Varkala with the intention of converting Swami to Christianity. Swami received him with great courtesy. The priest explained at length the merits of Christianity and straightway put forth his request.

“Swami should embrace Christianity”
Swami thought it was a great joke. He asked the priest how old he was.
Priest : Thirty
Swami : Please understand that I had become a Christian even before you were born. Now, please tell me what you want me to believe.
Priest : You should believe that Jesus was born for redeeming men for sin.
Swami : In that cases it has been washed away with the birth of Christ. So everybody has been redeemed. Is that not the truth?
Priest : Yes.
Swami: Well, since you are already free, whwt difference does it make whether you have faith or not, or whether you have become a Christian or not?
Priest : No, sin of those who have not been baptized in the name of Christ has not been washed away.
Swami: You mean to say that only a few are saved by Christ’s birth?
Priest: No., everyone was saved by the birth of the Christ. That is the basic principle.
Swami: None were left out?
Priest: That is right.
Swami: If that is the truth everybody has already been saved. No need for any faith now.
Priest: That is not correct. Salvation can be had only by faith.
Swami: Everyone has not been saved by Christ’s birth. Non-believers are left out.

Swami found it futile to prolong the conversation. He tried to make the priest see the contradiction in his own statements but did not succeed.

Four Christian priests came four days later and presented him with a copy of the Bible. Swami told them that he would very much like to read it carefully and invited them to visit him at least once a week.

The leaders of the Sambava Mahajana Sangha came to see Swami at Advaita Ashram, Alwaye. They explained to Swami that Sambava were the members of the clan of Sambhu; that Siva was Sambava and that they were admitting everyone to the clan.

Swami: That is good. So there are non-Sambhava also in the Sangh now.

The Visitor: No, One becomes a Sambhava when he joins.

Swami: That is a good trick. (To an S.N.D.P member) In the Yogam it is the same. Onyou join you are an Ezhava. That is no good. Many may not join. (Looking at those assembled) There is no religion which can be said to be superior to another. Whatever be the religion it is enough if the man is good.

Visitor: I am a Christian. We have two institutions – the Sambhava Mahajana sangh and Sambhava Christian Church. Even in the Church we do not allow non-Sambhava priests. Even Europeans were asked to wait outside.

Swami: That is really smart. Was Siva a Christian? Perhaps he was. If he was alive today he would have definitely embraced Christianity. The present days are like that.( To a disciple standing near by) See how smart they are. That should be the spirit.  We do not have anyone to work like that. How I wish to establish a society without caste! I have told several men about it. Unfortunately there is none to work for it. Can you do something?

Diciple: I shall try.

Swami: I wish to do something for the mankind. So far I have not done anything. An organization where caste has no place has to be established. Everyone may join such an organization.

The conversation continued for some more time on these lines. Others had nothing more to say. Swami alone continued to express his inner thoughts in few words. A society not divided by caste or religion – that is what has to be established. A single community living in peace and co-operation. He had always been nurturing that dream. How far had his efforts succeeded? How far had his followers imbibed that ideal? Such were his thoughts when one of the touring speakers came and informed him that people of other religions were rejecting idol worship. “ What did the Gods in those idols do when Muslims broke them?” They were asking.

Swami: Do they agree that God is everywhere and is also in the hearts of all men?
Disciple: Yes, they do.
Swami: What do they say God would do when men are killed?
Disciple: They say they would be punished at the last judgement.
Swami: On the same argument one can say that the idol-breakers would also be dealt with in the same manner.

We have already seen that the Ezhava leaders were thinking of conversion as a means to escape from the miseries caused by the caste. This view was gathering strength at the period. We have seen how C.Krishnan (Editor of Mitavadi) was a strong representative of this line of thinking. He maintained that the religion they believed in created hardships and obstacles for them socially and, in addition, prevented them from practicing  good morals, and that for the sake of social and moral uplift Ezhavas should embrace Buddhism.Judge Ayyakutty and Sahodaran Ayyappan were sympathetic towards this view. But T.K.Madhavan disagreed with this opinion. He held his stand that they should fight against the evils that vitiated Hinduism. He was totally opposed to the idea of abandoning that great religion. There was a strong rumor that C.V.Kunjuraman favoured Buddhism. ( Asan cleared this misunderstanding  through a statement). It was against this background that Sahodaran Ayyappan had a discussion on this subject with Swami at alwaye.

Swami: Ayyappan, the doctor (Dr.Palpu) talks about conversion.
Sahodaran: Some people are of that view.
Swami: Is it not enough if the man changes? Is that not the real change of dreed? Are they thinking of some other change?
Sahodaran: Opportunities for improvement are more in Buddhism.
Swami: Are all Buddhists good men? I understand that there are many among them who eat fish, drink and practice inequality.
Sahodaran:It has to be said that good men are rare among the Buddhists.
Swami; Is that so? I had also heard that. Buddhist monks should eat whatever is given to them. They would gradually like the taste of meat. People would take care to give them what they liked the best. Is this good?
Sahodaran: Buddhism also became corrupt. Still the Buddha’s counsels are the best for people to better themselves.
Swami: Are not the teachings of the Christ good? The teachings of Mohammed Nabi are also quite good. But are all men among their followers good? The core of the matter is that whatever be his faith a man should continuously strive to improve himself. Otherwise he would degenerate. Deeds should be pure. So also words and thoughts. There should not be any lapse on these three counts. The mind should be so pure as not to allow any lapse on these counts. That is the state of Jeevanmukta.
Sahodaran: Buddhists call this the state of Nirvana.
Swami: May be. Caste has established its sway over men. Sankaracharya himself erred on this. Even Vyasa who wrote the Gita and the Brahmasutra has spoken of the four varnas differently in two places. Caste has to be eschewed. Otherwise there is no salvation. All men belong to the same community. Caste should be abandoned to maintain that state. What is Kumaran Asan’s opinion?
Sahodaran: Asan thinks that it would be a public insult to Swami to change the religion without consulting Swami.
Swami: Is that so?
Sahodaran: Asan says that Swami’s opinion should be sought first.
Swami: Is not my view known so far? Do you know my views on the subject?
Sahodaran: I Know. Swami has no aversion to any religion. I know that Swami wants man to live as one community whatever be the religion, apparel or language.
Swami: That is my wish. Religion is an opinion Whatever be the religion men can live together. Caste differences should not be there. That can be brought about. I am definite about it. Take Satyavrata. He does not have any caste sense, has he?
Sahodaran: No, not at all.
Swami: Probably we have not yet reached that level. I am not sure even about the Buddha in the matter of Caste. Satyavrata is a man who makes no differentiation. We can live like that. What is wrong with Hinduism? Aryasamajists and Brahmasamajists are Hindus. They have no caste.
Sahodaran: They are not Hindus. They call themselves Hindus to show strength. Aryasamajists accept the Vedas. But they take the Vedas as authorities giving them a different interpretation.
Swami: Is that so?
Sahodaran: Others are respecting Swami hearing that Tiyyas are changing their religion.
Swami: (smiling) That is good. At least they feel respectful.
Sahodaran: They are asking: “Why should we change our religion? Is not Narayana Religion not good for us?” Yet they are not happy when asked to accept the opinion of Narayana.
Swami: Let them have any religion. Each has the freedom to follow the religion of his choice.
Sahodaran: This was Swami’s earlier opinion.
Swami: I hold the same view even now. When you feel like changing the religion you should do it at once. You should have that freedom. Religion should be different with each. The son may not like his father’s faith. Man should have religious freedom. That is my opinion. Do all of you say so?

Sahodaran: We do. Recently I mentioned Buddhism as my religion in a document.
Swami: (Smiling) You did not write the caste? That was good. Caste should never be mentioned anywhere. Man should live as one caste. This opinion should be universally accepted. Well, what defect do the advocates of conversion see in Hinduism?

A disciple: They say that religious literature is vitiated. They say that the Vedas and Gita advise animal sacrifice, worship of many Gods and caste system.

Swami: The Vedas may be doing that. But there are good principles in them. The conduct of followers of a religion with a noble literature is also not good. Of what use are they if men are corrupt? Men should be good. They should maintain purity in thought, word and deed. Whatever be the creed, man should be good. That is my view.


Swami’s next journey outside Kerala was after two years. Accepting the invitation of some of his devotees there, he went to Sri Lanka in August 1918. It was during this period that Swami took to saffron clothes at the instance of his disciples. When he wore them for the first time he remarked : “Well, dust won’t show in this!”

Swami Satyavrata was among the disciples who accompanied him. The life of Satyavrata was the story of the rebirth of an orthodox Nair gentleman due to his association with Swami. Swami had once compared him to Buddha. He was a man of character and conviction and had a sense of equality of a very high order. Swami insisted that he should accompany him to Sri Lanka.

Swami received a grand welcome at the hands of the Shashtipoorthy Memorial Association of Sri Lanka. He earned the regard and respect of all sections of the people. The number of his daily visitors averaged between three and four thousand. The chief of the Buddhist monks used to call him and the two used to hold long conversations in Sanskrit. The reports carried by Sri Lankan dailies of those days showed the high esteem in which the people of the island held Swami, though he was in their midst for such a short time.

Swami travelled to different places in Sri Lanka, visited many temples and religious institutions and tried to learn their special features.

Once Swami was camping at Hindu temple  at the Mukhadwaram when he was respectfully invited by a Buddhist leader to his place. The leader received him with great honour. He was charmed at the first sight by Swami’s personality. During the conversation Swami asked: “ what is the cause of birth?”
Buddhist: Actions.
Swami: Then what caused the first birth?
After a period of silence the Buddhist leader replied that it was a difficult question.

It is the same with every religion. There is no place in them for any question of reason. In other words religion is beyond the realms of reasoning. The logic of worldly life has relevance in the world of spiritual thought only upto a point. The region beyond that is that of revelations where experience is through realization. Such religion would turn into bad rites on the practical side. There comes the rub. Buddhists who were against the idol worship showed no restraint in filling their shrines with idols. Once Swami asked a disciple who had visited  a number of Buddhist shrines during his tour from which he had just returned : “Does a Buddhist shrine have an idol?”

Disciple: There are more of them in a Buddhist shrine than are found in a Hindu temple.

Swami: It is like clipping your hair. The more you clip, the more it grows and faster. The numbers grow so much because of the prohibition.

Swami told his devotees that more should be done for the welfare of the Malayalees in Sri Lanka. He set Swami Satyavrata to this task. Ceylon Vignanodayam Yogam was established through his efforts. The activities of this Yogam, centred around night schools and prayer halls, created a new awakening in Malayalees.

An interesting incident is mentioned in a report published in Deshabhimani of Oct.05, 1918. A gentleman who came to see Swami told him that he was a Buddhist and asked Swami what his religion was. Swami: “Mine is also Buddhism”. The man thought that Swami was making fun of him and wanted to know what he meant. Swami explained. “ You must have heard of the other names of Buddha. Shadabhijna, Dasabala, Advayavadi (exponent of non-duality), Vinayaka.”

The gentleman replied that he knew these names.

Swami: I am an advayavadi and that is why I said that my religion is Buddhism.”

The man felt happy.


Swami returned to Kerala after a stay of twelve days in Sri Lanka. His second visit to the island was in 1926. This time he did not start with the intention of making a visit to Sri Lanka.His destination was Ambasamudram in Tamil Nadu.

“ It would be better not to write about the reason for this journey,” says Swami Vidyananda. We have to guess that something was rotten in the state of Sivagiri. That was natural too. It is no use closing our eyes to the truth that many of his followers did not have the same nobility. Swami was conscious of this, his mind flapped its wings in regions far above the reach of their frailties, yet there were occasions when their petty actions proved provocative even for his nerves. It was on such occasion that Swami set out for Tamil Nadu, immediately after his seventieth birthday. While camping at Tirupetakam on the banks of the river Vaigai, Swami remarked that he did not wish to go back to Kerala. This showed the agony he suffered. We do not have the clear knowledge of the circumstances that caused this agony and it is well that we leave it at that. A condensed version of a detailed account by Swami Vidyananda of Swami’s second visit to Sri Lanka is given below. Doubts have been expressed regarding the veracity of some of the incidents described. Different people view Swami in different lights and interpret them accordingly. Swami Vidyananda has given an account according to his light.  However the description is worthy of attention being an account given by one who actually travelled with Swami. Besides vigilant eyes can see in the simple narrative several hints relating to the circumstances mentioned earlier.

In his account Swami Vidyananda has recorded that Swami started from Varkala on his journey to Ambasamudram on September 4, 1926, immediately after his seventieth birthday and that it would be better not to write of the circumstances that made Swami made undertake this journey. Swami stayed on the banks of Tamraparni till the sixteenth before proceeding to Tiruppurakundram. He camped for some days in a lonely forest near Madurai and visited many places at the request of his devotees who used to come to him in great numbers. An extra-ordinary incident occurred during his visit to Kunnakkudi. There was an old neglected Vinayaka temple about which Swami made some humorous remarks. The people of the locality came to Swami and informed him about their sufferings due to water scarcity as there had been no rains in the area for long. Swami asked them whether they would break coconuts at the Vinayaka temple if it rained. They agreed. In a short while  the rain came and rained for the whole day. The people were wonder struck and broke thousands of coconuts at the temple. From that day on regular service began in the temple.

Tirupetakam, about ten miles north of Madurai, was a mere rural village on the banks of the Vaigai but a nice place to camp at. Swami started for this place on the eleventh of October. He would say half in earnest and half in fun: “We need not go back to Kerala. We can stay somewhere here. Somebody might come in search of us. Even then we should not go back. Or, who would come? Perhaps our Das. There are a few others also. But none is so loving as these Tamilians.”

The next day it so happened that Swami had to walk a long way to the railway station in pouring rain.  He refused to go by a bullock cart that was brought to him and also to change into dry cloths but proceeded on foot cutting jokes about the rain on the way. The facilities at the small railway station were nothing much to speak of.  It started raining again and Swami sought shelter in a tiny Vinayaka temple near by. He changed into dry cloths and sat there finding fault with his followers. The complaint was that they were not able to find a suitable place for resting for a few days. Several times he remarked that these incidents should not be left out by his biographers. Though a car was at his disposal, he refused it and insisted on making the journey by train.

Meanwhile A.K.Govindadas and Swami Govindananda had come from Varkala in search of him.

During his stay at Madurai he talked to a few of his visitors about founding an institution there for women. The gentlemen promised to work for it.

No previous arrangements had been made for his stay at Rameswaram. Swami was confident that he would stay in some rest house. The sole aim was to stay away from the nuisance of Kerala. Soon a zamindar placed three bungalows at Swami’s disposal and instructed his agents to look after his comforts. Swami wanted to stay in Rameswaram for one or two months but he changed his mind and decided to go to Colombo on account of an unfortunate incident.

News of the Vaikom Satyagraha had reached Rameswaram  and instructions were given that Swami should not be allowed inside the temple. Swami spent only four days at Rameswaram.

Swami reached Colombo on the morning of October 30, to receive the welcome of an unprecedented crowd that waited at the station. There were Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Singhalese. There was a large gathering of Tamilians. Malayalees of all castes had come there. All the important leaders of Colombo were at the station to welcome him. The Tamilians had made grand preparations for his camp at Colombo. They arranged feasts everyday in his honour.

Swami was moved to pity at the sad plight of the Malayalees but his efforts at reconciling the disputes among them did not bear fruit. They actually insulted the two persons whom Swami had specially deputed to try for an amicable settlement.

Swami visited many of the important Buddhist institutions in Colombo and Kandy. But he did not like the ways of the monks there.

Swami had no wish to leave Sri Lanka. He even planned to stay till the end at Neuralia or Trincomale.  He sent back to Kerala some of his disciples. It took the persuasion of several devotees to make him return to India.

In a despatch received from Sri’Lanka by the weekly Dharmam, Swami at the end of a visit to a Buddhist Vihara, is reported to have remarked: It is my opinion that several parts in the books of Buddhism were actually written by Brahmins”.


Swami Satyavrathan was one of Swami’s favourite disciples. Swami was proud of him and used to speak about him frequently. Satyavrathan was born in a good Nair family of Changanacherry in 1893. Ayyappan Pillai, as he was called in his earlier life , started his career as a teacher in a Malayalam school in 1913. He was fond of reading and was interested in the events contemporary life. It was but natural that Swami attracted his attention. A man who observed all the orthodox customs, he was inclined to scoff at the stories concerning Swami, who appeared to him no more than a conjurer. Yet the desire to see this man in person grew so strong in his mind that he went to Alwaye ashram during the Sivaratri festival. The moment he set eyes on the radiant figure in the midst of a thronging crowd he felt like prostrating before him but could not find a suitable opportunity. “ He appeared to be brimming with love and instilling confidence”, was how he recalled his first meeting with Swami.

Pillai entered the Ashram once again to have his wish fulfilled. Swami spoke to him as though he read even his wordless thoughts. When he took leave to depart Swami said: “ Well, you can come back again”.

Ayyappan Pillai returned home a different man. His inner being was saturated with Swami and his parting words. “Well, you can come again” filled his ears. He was disturbed and the disturbance grew. He made a clean break with his past and made a bee-line for the Alwaye Ashram to become Swami’s disciple.

A fair robust young man. A steady voice and unfaltering self-confidence. Swami recognized the idealism burning bright in his heart. He saw in him a courageous disciple strong enough to translate his ideals into practice. At the ashram he taught Malayalam and learnt Sanskrit. He acquired mental and physical discipline and also skill in public speaking. It was as though the man was re-born at the ashram.

Ayyappan pillai had earlier beaten up Ezhavas who came too close to Nairs. Looking at those strong hands he was filled with regret and longed to employ them in the service of the helpless.  With Swami’s blessings he came out to the field of action. He toured throughout the length and breadth of the land lecturing about the absurdity of caste and about the brotherhood of man. His speeches could rouse any audience and it has been said that he had an equal in this respect only in T.K.Madhavan.

He visited Sri Lanka in 1918 as desired by Swami. It was he who first took the message of Sree Narayana to Sri Lanka and established institutions there for propagating them. He was there when Swami himself  visited the island that year. It was during this visit that Swami gave him the name ‘Satyavrata”.

Back home from his tour he planned the activities for religious reforms under Swami’s directions. He served for a time as Secretary of the Karappuram Seva sangham. In 1923 Swami appointed him secretary  of Alwaye Advaita ashram and his agent per power of attorney. He played a leading part in planning and organizing the All Religions Conference at alwaye. Such a happy blend of sincerity, thoughtfulness, practical ability and purity was rare to find. He was ready for any service to anyone, even carrying their personal luggage to lighten their burden on a journey. This generosity in action was visible in his thoughts and outlook. The speech he made at the All religions Conference was one of the best commentaries on Sree Narayana ideals. He took part in the Vaikom Satyagraha with Swami’s blessings and added vigour to the movement.

He died a premature death, following a sudden illness in 1926. Swami said: “On hearing the news even I feel weak. He had so much to do  Those who stay alive cannot afford to sllep away the rest of their lives in dejection. Let us continue to strive to complete our assignments. Satyavrathan was perfect in the matter of purity of heart and rejection of caste. In the matter of caste he even surpassed the Buddha. Satyavrata died an adherent to Truth. His ideals should be propagated among the people.”


Swami’s decision to hold an All Religions Conference took practical shape in 1924. Swami desired that the Conference should be held at Alwaye Advaita Ashram and that the representatives from all over India should take part in it. When the principles of different religions were discussed on a common platform, the underlying unity would become easy to grasp. The differences and contradictions were rather superficial and it was meaningless to fight on those issues. The need was to see the essence that linked all of them. Swami wanted the conference to be planned in a way that would accomplish this vision. It would be well if the scholars from different religions of the world could participate and explain the cardinal tenets of their religions. All the same he was fully aware of the difficulties in organizing the conference on such a grand scale. That was why he restricted the scope of his invitations to India.

Swami Satyavrata took the lead in organizing this two-day Conference and Sahodaran Ayyappan was there to lend him support in every way. Leaders like C.V.Kunjuraman and T.K.Madhavan reached Alwaye in advance and actively associated themselves with the preparations.

Swami was touring Varkala and the neighborhood mainly to collect funds for a model school. In spite of his tight schedule he found time to give detailed instructions regarding the preparations to be made including the main theme of the welcome speech to be prepared by Swami Satyavratan. He directed the motto “Not to argue and win but to know and make known “ should be put at the main entrance.  He was confident that since Sahodaran was already at Alwaye everything would be properly done.

On reaching alwaye a few days prior to the Conference Swami made detailed enquiries and expressed satisfaction over the arrangements. He mentioned the aspects which should receive additional attention such as living quarters, dining arrangements etc; for the guests.

Sir T.sadasiva Iyer was the President of the Conference. When the conference was about to start Swami entered and took his seat. The calm and gentle face of Swami evoked universal respect and veneration. The dignity and depth of an ocean could be sensed in that presence. The president came to the rostrum along with Manjeri Rama Iyer, Manjeri Ramakrishna Iyer and Mitavadi C.Krishnan. Rishi Ram representing Arya Samaj, a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka, Swami Sivaprasad of Brahma Samaj, Mohammed Moulavi representing Islam and K.K.Kuruvila representing Christianity took their seats on either side of the president. The President opened the proceedings after first receiving Swami’s benediction.Each of the speakers explained the core of his respective religion in great detail. The assembly heard them all with attention; but Swami who kept to the background remained the focal point.

The welcome address was read by Swami Satyavratan and a vote of thanks was proposed by C.V.Kunjuraman. At the end of the two-day conference Swami blessed every one and issued a message. Swami Satyavratan read out the message.

"Since the speeches in this conference of religions have revealed that the ultimate aim of all religions is the same and that there is no need for the followers of different religions to fight among themselves, we intend to make arrangements for the study of all religions at our proposed school at Sivagiri. We hope everyone could co-operate to raise a fund of five lakh rupees for the satisfactory running of the institution.”

For the first time the idea of a dialogue between religions appeared on the Indian scene.


Swami desired that the world should know the philosophy and outlook that characterized the proclamation read out at the end of the conference. That was the reason for entrusting Swami Satyavrata  with the task of preparing the welcome speech. Swami himself briefed Satyavrata about the theme and made suitable corrections in the text. He considered that the address contained ,like fragrance in a flower , the essence of his philosophy of life. Therefore we can proceed with our narrative only after seeing the relevant parts of this speech.

The speech said that Gurudeva was born a Hindu and lived as a Hindu in the eyes of the world. Yet he had understood, to the extent possible, the principles of other religions. The vultimate aim of all religions is one and the same and each was efficient to make a man a useful citizen of the world  or yearn for release from the bondage of worldly life. The disputes only centred round the external aspects of observances. Swami preached this truth to his disciples and followers. It was on this basis that Swami formulated his doctrine: “One caste, One Creed, One God for man. “ Due to congenital defects or temptation to transgress nature’s laws, man is heir to many afflictions of the mind and the body and they are transmitted to the later generations. Those who know the basis of physical affliction and their cure are called physicians. Those who deal with the afflictions of the mind are called priests. There are many systems of medicines and the practitioners of each claim for their system supreme virtues compared to the others. Patients do not enquire into the origin of the system but take any medicine that would afford them relief. The same argument is applicable to the afflictions of the mind. Hindus were not shy to study thinkers like Socretes, Spencer, Kant and Swedenborg because they were Europeans. Similarly Europeans show no reluctance  to study Hindu authors like Badarayana or Sankara. When philosophical text of one religion could be read and understood by anyone irrespective of his religion, nothing prevents him from introducing into practice the principles he grasped from them. Texts on philosophy , science and arts are made use of by everyone and are considered the common inheritance of all men. Books on spiritual matters could also be treated the same way and utilized for the good of humanity.

Man could not keep his mind inactive. Just like a child the mind went on questioning and verifying the answers it could formulate. The most wonderful of them were those relating to God., soul, Rebirth fruits of action, heaven and hell, the world of action, Salvation etc. Many of the answers man found before he discovered the art of writing have been lost for ever. Still the inheritance was considerable. This belongs to all humanity and no one had any exclusive right on it Such exclusivism would be against the spirit of the ancestors who acquired it for posterity. Answers to spiritual problems evolved by thinkers and intellectuals of an age when philosophy, science and logic had not developed so much, are found in the treasure house of each religion. Instances are also there of accepted theories being proved wrong. Religious books abounding in stories which were basically stories of a search for meaning by the ancients in the spiritual and other fields, were magnified a thousand fold through the lens of poetic imagination so much so that they appeared absured to the modern minds. Seeds of the same mith crossed frontiers and appeared in different forms in didderent religious books. The astronomical conception that time is caused by change in the relative position of the sun became the seed of a story of the God of death  (change brought about by time ) being the child of the Sun and he became the lord of the dead. Since death was never a pleasing prospect, the God of death was made black, was given a terrible buffalo as his mount and a rope and pestle as his weapons. To complete the story he was given the powers to judge the dead according to their past actions and was made a king- Dharma Raja. An accountant was provided for him called Chitragupta (meaning ‘concealed in pictures’) by allegorisingthe idea that the mind kept a record of all actions in the form of pictures. The same myth of the Hindus assumed a different form in the books of the ancient Assyrians for whom Saturn was the God of Death. The Assyrian Saturn performed all the functions of the Hindu ‘Kala’ and the only difference was that while kala was the son of the Sun, Saturn was the son of his wife Chayya (shadow). It was natural that Saturday became an inauspicious day for them. This example shows how the same myth assumed different forms and gave rise to different customs amongst the followers of different religions. Many were inter-religious fights that stemmed from a lack of generosity to acknowledge that these stories and legends that might appear absured to modern science and logic were actually the common characteristic of all religions. It is a pitty that instead of wondering at the underlying similarity of the myths of different religions , people held aloft the apparent absurdities to ridicule one another.

No religion was free from the blemishes brought on by the wars fought in the same religions by the priest-kings of old , backed by forces of imperialism. Later when temporal and spiritual domains were separated the mode of fight changed substituting words for swords and resulted in the weak points of each religion receiving undue attention and the merits  receding into oblivion. This led to a fall in standard of the religious faith among the commoners. This style of fight had also been replaced by the method of conversion which appeared harmless but was actually productive of evil. Why should religions be crazy to swell their following even these days when philosophy and civilization have developed so much?

Everyone was agreed that religion was a spiritual affair. Every religious leader had commended religion to his followers as the means for salvation. The Buddha stressed that Salvation is only for those who have renounced every desire. Christ advised his disciples to leave everything and follow him. It was an undisputed principle with every sect of Hinduism that salvation is only for those who have renounced everything.

It was the capitalists who amassed wealth by exploiting the inventions of the scientists. In the same way a group of clever people converted the religious principles and means of salvation revealed by great souls into goods of commerce for making huge profits. They became famous throughout the world as priests. Not all of them are such, but quite a number of them. When these shrewd men found that the spiritual theories propounded by great thinkers were becoming popular they lost no time in assigning unto themselves the office of  spiritual advisers and turned it into a highly profitable profession. This was the origin of most of the rites and rituals connected with religion. Had these priests stopped with being teachers , society would not have had to undergo so much misery. But when this was commercialized the beneficiaries naturally sought to extend their empire and religions began to find strength in numbers. When the strongest religion became the chief means of salvation, the mind was barred entry into its logic. The spiritual knowledge devised by great religious founders for attaining salvation came to be used by priests for the accretion of more worldly strength. This process of religions being treated as a social affair instead of as a spiritual noe has started from the beginning of history. Just as those who wielded temporal power wanted to extent their frontiers to include the whole world , spiritual leaders also seemed to desire sway over the entire world. The empire of religion, unlike the physical one , had no mutually exclusive lines of demarcation in space and conflicts were therefore permanent and continuous. Mankind can have freedom from this state, only if religion is regarded as a purely spiritual affair. This would be possible only by adopting the position that religion was an act of faith and not an accident of birth. Men of religion, instead of striving to foster knowledge, employed their minds and means to expand their social empire and the harm that resulted was there for everyone to see.

There was only one remedy for this evil – to grant to Rama and Krishna the freedom to study and choose, instead of the prevalent method of the one deciding for the other which religion was the best. But opportunities  should be provided to make Rama and Krishna fit to make a wise choice. Institutions should be established , where every religion could be studied by anyone and where expert advice should be provided through men proficient in each religion. Sree Narayana had nursed this idea for a long time and was waiting for a suitable occasuion to make it public.

The address concluded by expressing the hope that it would have become clear to everyone why they had proclaimed that the conference was held not to argue and win but to know and make known.


This period of Madhavan’s youth witnessed one of the most extraordinary revivals, both spiritual and political Kerala. The weak and disunited Ezhava community which had suffered suppression for so long, suddenly woke up, as if by a miracle , to its spiritual tradition under the leadership of Sree narayana Guru and became one of the strongest and best organized groups among the Hindus. The S.N.D.P.Yogam established by him became the central organ of the entire community and was instrumental in achieving a social, political, spiritual and educational transformation of the group within as short  a period as a single generation. It was mainly an internal movement and did not receive any support either from the Government or from the other communities. In Kerala. The achievements of this movement formed an unparalleled chapter in the history of Kerala.” That was how Sardar K.M.Panicker described the background of the appearance of T.K.Madhavan on the public scene.

He was active in public field from the age of fifteen till his death at the age of forty five.  Born in a noble family of Komalezhath in Travancore, madhavan who entered public life because of idealistic compulsions was the greatest organizer Kerala had ever seen. He was moved by the inequalities that existed among men and felt that he could not give up the responsibility of improving the lot of the lower classes. He saw that the caste system and untouchability prevented men from knowing each other and firmly believed that unless opportunities were provided for close association between people of different castes , a society where a man was a man and not merely a member of a caste could not be established. This conviction guided all his activities in life.

He had already met Swami and had firmly grasped his message to organise and be strong. He was only seventeen years old when he worked for the formation of the Ezhava Association in Karthikappalli and Mavelikkara in 1902. He had already got acquainted with modern ideas by studying the memorable speeches of men like Bacon, Swami Vivekananda and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He could therefore unveil visions of a new horizon for the Ezhavas. He convinced The Ezhavas that it was not enough to listen to Swami. They should translate his message into action. He took a leading part in movements like civil equality, prohibition, temple entry, the Vaikom Satyagraha and activities of the S.N.D.P. organization. His leadership lent to these movements remarkable vigour and vitality.

One of the most powerful speakers Kerala has ever produced, T.K.Madhavan had the extraordinary skill of being able to take any audience with him. Many accounts have been left of his speech at Kottayam in 1917 at a public meeting held in connection with the civil equality agitation. The speech which started as a mold breeze turned into a torrent of cyclonic proportions and contributed much to the success of the movement. It was Madhavan himself who submitted to the Government, the next year, a joint representation of Ezhavas, Muslims and Christians and provided the necessary explanation. As a result, the departments of revenue and temples were separated and non-caste Hindus and non-Hindus came to be appointed to the Revenue Department. Madhavan and his family participated in all the functions held at Sivagiri in 1912 in connection with the Sarada installation when his organizing skill caught the attention of swami and other senior leaders. In 1914 he took part in the eleventh annual conference of S.N.D.P.Yogam at Alwaye. There was a proposal to appoint him as the assistant Secretary to assist Kumaran asan but it did not materialize at that time. Madhavan accompanied Swami when he toured Tiruvalla and Chengannur taluks to collect funds for the Sanskrit school. He acted as his chief aide and spoke at most of the places as Swami’s spokesman. During this tour that took about two months , contributions amounting to nearly three thousand rupees were collected.

Madhavan had his own ideas about politics and social reformation. Unlike many of the other Ezhava leaders of the time was inspired by the revival of Indian Nationalism. He too started a journal Desabhimani (meaning Patriot) in 1915 to give publicity to his own ideas. About its aims the journal said in its first issue that there was need for a journal to represent the Ezhava Community which was in the forefront in the matter of numbers but had to overcome heavy odds in other spheres. Other journals started with definite purpose of representing the Ezhava community like Sujananandini and Kerala Kaumudi had disappeared from the scene. The new journal was being started with firm faith in the strength of the community to sustain the weekly in a way that would give no room for the anxiety that the fate of the earlier journals would befall Desabhimani too. Precautions had been taken to avert the causes of earlier failures.

Madhavan visited Swami after a few issues of the weekly had come out. Swami told him that many of the features were interesting and that he should fight for human rights with added vigour.

Madhavan strove, through the journal and otherwise to remove the restraints in the daily lives of the Ezhavas. There were some schools in those days which refused admissions to Ezhavas and the lower classes on the grounds of untouchability. When the Ezhavas applied for admission to the lower grade elementary school in Chavara, the Director of education, L.D.Hodson, stated in his communication that the Ezhavas could not be admitted as the school building and the compound had not come under Government control. There was another instance where admission was denied to the Ezhavas othe grounds that the school was very close to the temple and the palace. Desabhimani reported such incidents and fought for justice.

Madhavan’s attention turned to the task of redressing the grievances of the depressed classes.  In the year 1917-1918 the Ezhavas of Cochin had to suffer much at the hands of Government officials. A Conference was held at Calicut in 1918 at which Kottiyath Ramunni presided. T.K.Madhavan participated as the representative of the S.N.D.P.Yogam. In his powerful speech he stressed three points- (1) Tiyyas should give up without any reservation the practice of untouchability in respect of those considered lower to them. (2) They should oppose the untouchability practiced by those considered above them. (3) Tiyyas should observe Satyagraha for this purpose.

The speech was so inspiring that many among the audience volunteered for satyagraha. At the conference itself a society called the Tiyya Passive Resistance League was formed. Madhavan made a donation of one hundred and one rupees.

Madhavan started an intensive campaign for temple entry and the freedom to use public roads . The Government appointed him member of the Shri Moolam Assembly in 1918. In the assembly he argued for stopping untouchability through an edict. The arguments of the Dewan that such reforms could not be brought about through Government Notification did not dull the edge of his efforts. Madhavan was a member again in 1921. He gave notice for a petition for according equal citizens’ rights with special emphasis on entry for all Hindus into public temples. The Chief Secretary informed him that since the mention of religion violated Assembly rules he could amend the subject of the petition as equality of citizens’ rights and hoped that he would not refer to the subject of temple entry.

Madhavan had by that time, been convinced that ordinary representations would lead them nowhere.He wanted to expand the range of his activities. He had been watching with growing interest the independence movement that was taking shape under the leadership of mahatma Gandhi. He had faith in the greatness of Sanatana Dharma and took pride in the traditions of the land. He decided that the efforts to destroy the caste system should be taken across the borders of Kerala into the broader arena of the whole of India. When Mahatmaji, who had accepted removal of Untouchability as the first point of his political programme, visited Tirunelveli in 1921, Madhavan met him to seek his advice. Madhavan has described this interview as a unique experience.

“ When I sat near Mahatmaji I felt a change coming over my attitudes. Exponents of Yogasastra say that those who come within the magnetic sphere of great souls would feel a sense of great exaltation. My experience had made me convinced of its truth.” He used to have the same experience in the presence of Sree Narayana Guru.

Madhavan told Gandhiji that popularization of spinning by the mahatma had greatly benefited his community. It had helped them to regain their self-respect. Toddy-tapping and weaving were their two traditional occupations. Gandhiji’s propaganda had made weaving a respectable occupation practiced even by princesses and had removed the stigma the community suffered on account of their occupation. Since weaving was their traditional trade they could serve the country well by producing enough Swadeshi cloths.

Madhavan informed Gandhiji of Swami’s message: “Liquor is poison, make it not, vent it not,drink it not”. Swami had advocated total abstinence from drinking much earlier than its inclusion in the Mahatma’s  programme. They were advising members of their community and others not to bid the shops at the time of next auction.  Effects to stop tapping had caused anxiety to the Government of Travancore and it was trying to make liquor from cereals.

Gandhiji expresses happiness at Swami’s advice on prohibition and hoped that they would work for its success.

Madhavan expressed his thanks to Gandhiji for including removal of untouchability as the first item in his programme and endorsed Gandhiji’s views that India would not deserve complete independence as long as untouchability was in practice. He explained how they in Travancore were fighting to remove untouchability by securing freedom for all Hindus to enter all public temples. They considered it an attempt to reform Hindu religion. The fight was for the benefit of the caste Hindus too who also suffered certain inequalities. Even the Maharaja of Travancore did not have full rights of worship in the temple.  

Removal of Untouchability was the general principle and tewmple entry was its gross form.It was only a part of the greater theme of removal of untouchability.

When Gandhiji suggested that they should stop the temple entry agitation for tactical reasons and first fight for the right to draw water from public wells and then turn their attention to problems such as admission in public schools, Madhavan told him that he was perhaps unwittingily comparing the conditions of Tiyyas in Kerala with that of the lower castes in their places. Tiyyas had already the right of admission except in about half a dozen schools in the state and could seek employment in all government Departments except Devaswam(Temple affairs). A good number of the men of their community adorned high places in public life and Government service. There were great poets among them, jurists, journalists, landlords, High court judges. Their leader Sree Narayana Guru was respected by Brahmins and non-Brahmins alike. The Theosophical society had qualified him an an incarnation of God. The maharaja had honoured him by exempting him from personal appearance in courts. There were many educated ladies in their community. The first lady in Kerala to take an M.A.Degree belonged to their community.Two ladies of their community were studying in London, one of them preparing to become a barrister. Gandhiji admitted that they were ripe for temple entry. Madhavan narrated the attempts he had made in this regard as a member of the Assembly and how the High Court had punished a few young men of the community for entering a temple. Then he sought Gandhiji’s advice since the Government refused to move even an inch from their stand in spite of protests and representations.

Mahatmaji: I advice you to adopt civil disobedience. If you confident of behaving with complete self-control you can enter the temples. If the courts object you should be prepared to go to jail. It is wrong to say that Hindu religion prohibits your entry into temples. You should scrupulously follow the principle of non-violance. You should not enter the temple in groups. You should go one by one. This is my advice.

At the end of the interview Gandhiji himself put his views on paper and gave it to Madhavan.

Deshabhimani published a report on the interview featuring Gandhiji’s advice on the question of temple entry. Madhavan has recorded that the interview with Gandhiji worked wonders in influencing caste Hindu opinion in favor of temple entry. Leaders like Changanacherry Parameswaran Pillai, Mannath Padmanabha Pillai, T.K.Velu Pillai, P.K.Narayana Pillai and Pattom Thanu Pillai expressed favourable opinions.  It was Madhavan who worked for it. The caste Hindu opinion was gradually coming round to favor temple entry. It was against this background that Madhavan participated in the Kokanada session of the congress in 1923 along with K.M.Panicker and K.P.Kesava Menon.He held talks with all the leaders. The subjects committee unanimously adopted a resolution that active steps should be taken for removal of untouchability. The Congress Committee authorized the provincial committees to conduct the programme in an appropriate manner. The Kerala provincial congress committee which met at Ernakulam in 1924 formed a committee for the removal of untouchability with K.Kelappan as convener and T.K.Madhavan, Kurur Namboodiripad, T.K.Krishna Swamy Iyer and K.Velayudha Menon as members. T.K.Madhavan called upon the Ezhavas to join the congress to ensure the success of the efforts to end untouchability. The committee convened a public meeting at Quilon and an action programme was evolved. The programme included propaganda for entry into temples and public roads, presentation of mass petitions to the Maharajas of Travancore and Cochin, celebrating Vishu as untouchability removal day, etc. Vaikom was the place selected as one of the model places where the programme was to be implemented in full.

A different line of thought was finding favor with certain of the Ezhava leaders. According to them religion was the cause of the humiliation Ezhavas were subjected to and therefore they should take a different religion to be freed of their shackles. Mitavadi Krishnan was for Ezhavas converting to Buddhism and he himself accepted Buddhism. Sahodaran Ayyappan was sympathetic to this view. ( Kumaran Asan’s leaflet ‘Alchemy of religious conversion’ was a forceful rejection of this view.) T.K.Madhavan was of the opinion that they should obtain all their rights without abandoning the noble Hindu religion.


 Vaikom  was quite known to T.K.Madhavan. The meeting at Vadayar presided over by Kumaran Asan and the incidents that followed were fresh in his mind. Swami Satyavratan, Sahodaran ayyappan and T.K.Madhavan were the speakers. T.K. introduced a resolution requesting the Government to remove the sign board on the main road of Vaikom prohibiting entry to non-caste Hindus. Sahodaran submitted that there was no need for such a resolution as the sign board itself was illegal. They could freely enter the road. Madhavan agreed and took a walk through the road along with Sahodaran and Satyavratan. People anxiously watched them. Nothing happened. The Government took no notice of it. The road was thus thrown open to all Hindus.

He defied the prohibitory sign board on a latter occasion too and informed the Kottayam Sub-Magistrate of it through a letter and the public through the press. Still the Government took no notice of it. The annual conference of the S.N.D.P.Yogam which met at Quilon under the presidentship of Kumaran Asan in 1923 adopted a resolution which called upon the members of the community to defy the custom of untoughability as it had no legal validity and its rejection involved no defiance of laws. The Government had shown by its own actions that this was a custom which for the common weal it was good to break. The Ezhavas should fully utilize their right to enter every public place.

(A controversy ensued between Deshabhimani and Kerala Kaumudi, the former asserting that the principle of Satyagraha was implied in this resolution and the later denying it.)

The great temple at Vaikom was known as Dakshina Kasi( Varanasi of south). So important was it, among the temples of Kerala! The temple was enclosed by high walls alongside of which ran public roads. A straight road from the boat jetty reached upto the Western gate. There were similar roads leading upto the gates on the other three sides. On all these roads there were sign boards prohibiting entry to non-caste Hindus beyond a certain point. Hindus belonging to the Ezhava community and below were not free to go beyond these sign boards. But the restrictions were not applicable to Chridtians or Muslims. Besides, untouchables were being used to pluck coconuts and do similar work in the gardens adjacent to the temple. The court refused to see these incongruities even though Kumaran Asan and T.K.Madhavantried their best to bring them to its notice. It was against this background that the anti-untouchability committee selected Vaikom to inaugurate their activities at.

Adeputation of the Provincial Congress reached Vaikom in 1924. T.K.Madhavan, K.P.Kesava Menon and others explained the aims to a large audience. The reactions were mixed. Many public meetings were held and leaflets were distributed to give vide publicity to the programme. The satyagraha was begun on 17 Meenam 1099(M.E.) and it lasted till 14 Vrischkam,1101(M.E.). Kesava Menon has given a detailed account of the Satyagraha in his book on the subject.  T.K.Madhavan was the life and soul of Satyagraha which witnessed many dramatic scenes. He travelled widely speaking about it, distributing leaflets and issuing statements. He courted arrest and went to jail. He came out with renewed vigour, like an emperor. In his speeches and messages he called upon the the Ezhavas to join the Congress and work for the emancipation of their country and themselves.

Many of the Ezhava leaders held a different view. Their policy was to co-operate with the Government to get their grievances redressed. They also felt that co-operation with caste Hindus would have relevance only after equality with them had been recognized. On the other hand T.K.Madhavan saw the path of the freedom in Hindu Dharma, and the broad Hindu nationalism. He was always for it. See part of his message to the members of his community.

“Brothers, no great achievement is possible without sacrifice…You should have love for everyone, even for your foes.  Your efforts to be free should be such as would elevate others also. Sree Narayana Paramahamsa who is responsible for our awakening and progress has himself advised us that a man of tact should strive for the prosperity of his neighbours and the efforts for one’s own welfare should bring happiness to others as well. No other teacher has tendered better advice to mankind. Satyagraha is the best means to freedom for us who try to live up to the standards set by the Guru”.

He concluded his message with a quotation from a poem written by Sahodaran Ayyappan. The poem was a call to the members of the community to wake up from their slumber and know their strength which was capable of great achievements.

Madhavan specially quoted Swami’s words and Sahodaran’s poen in his message with a definite purpose. He linked the top leaders of the Indian national Congress including Gandhiji with the liberation struggle of the depressed classes of Kerala and that was his achievement. He could thereby give a new dimention to the anti-caste campaign in Kerala. Sahodaran used to say in a humourous vein that Madhavan’s skill lay in ‘stabling ‘ the Indian National Congress at Vaikom. Yet the satyagraha could not have succeeded without the active support of the community. He used Swami’s words and Sahodaran’s poems to enlist this support.And it worked. He could get the Ezhava community involved in the movement. On his request Swami himself came to Vaikom and reviewed the satyagrha.  Swami arrived clad in Khadi and was offered a multi-coloured garland made of Khadi yarn. Swami smelled the garland and remarked : “This has no smell, probably the fragrance is within.” Arrangements were made to send thirty spinning wheels to the Alwaye Ashram and a special one for Swami himself. Swami declined to use the vehicle kept ready for him and walked the distance from the boat jetty  to the satyagraha ashram and inspected each department with special care. He was pleased with the arrangements and the work being done there and was very happy to see a small Pulaya child in the kitchen.

Deshabhimani, in its editorial of October 11,1924, stated that Swami was at the Ashram more as a mentor than a visitor. He was even prepared to don the uniform of a volunteer  and offer satyagraha. His presence at the camp instilled fresh vigour into the workers and it was a matter of gratification for the Ezhavas. Mahatma Gandhi assumed full responsibility for the conduct of the Vaikom Satyagraha and Swami visited the camp almost at the same time, and this , the editorial said, augured well for the movement.

What has been recorded in the history of Mathrubhoomi on Swami’s visit to the Satyagraha camp is also worthy of notice. It says that the blessings and whole-hearted co-operation of Sree Narayana Guru proved a boon to the Vaikom Satyagraha at every stage. He kept a box at Sivagiri Ashram for collecting Contributions. He came to the Ashram on foot and made a personal contribution of one thousand rupees. That by itself was ample proof of his interest in the movement.

Vaikom Satyagraha under the leadership of T.K.Madhavan was the first planned and organized agitation for denied rights in the history of Kerala. It is a  glorious chapter in our history. And the architect of the struggle drew his inspiration from Sree narayana Guru.

T.K.Madhavan passed away in 1930 at the age of forty five. Through intensive efforts characterized by a spirit of sacrifice he could set the S.N.D.p.Yogam on a well organized footing. The editorial Vivekodayam wrote on his death recalled his service with no touch of exaggeration . It spoke of the inestimable loss to the community in Madhavan’s early death. ‘During the last twenty years he had been shouldering heavy responsibilities relating to the Yogam. When the finances of the Yogam were at low ebb he enrolled sixty thousand new members and led it to a comfortable position. His skill as a speaker and his ability to inspire were unique. It was no exaggeration to state that the awakening found in the depressed classes in general and the Ezhavas in particular was the fruit of his efforts. Though a Sanatana Hindu he had no ill-will towards other religions. He was the prime mover of the agitations for prohibition and temple entry, especially the Vaikom Satyagraha and this would earn for him a prominent place in the social history of Kerala. The depressed classes would always remember him with gratitude just for the one act of attracting the all India leaders like Mahatmaji and the Indian National Congress to Vaikom in the cause of the removal of untouchability.’


This chapter deals with a casual conversation Swami had with a disciple during the time of Vaikom satyagraha. The satyagraha had to suffer a variety of hardships, but these painful experiences only tempered their power of endurance. Swami held the view that this power of endurance should be the medium of all transformations. That was not surrender, not inactivity. It was the heroic expression of a constructive attitude. Swami used to repeat that only such men could change the face of the earth. He always reminded his disciples to have forbearance like Christ. In this particular conversation Swami gave a call to proceed to realms of justice with such preparedness. “Enter every temple, enter every day, enter everybody”- These words reflect courage, righteous indignation and readiness to suffer. These were the words of a man who was as steady as a mountain and as deep as the sea.

Swami used to say quite often that we lacked the habit of spending on good causes. A community added grace to itself only when its members cultivated this habit. This could be included only with the awareness that wealth was not for individuals to hoard but was to be spent on good causes. Swami always encouraged earning of money through just means.

The conversation reported in Desabhimani of May 31, 1924, was between Swami and K.M.Kesavan who happened to travel by the same train. Swami visited the Vaikom Satyagraha camp about four months after this conversation.

Kesavan: Inter-caste dining as desired by Swami is being done at Vaikom on a scale not found anywhere else. Many things are being achieved in Vaikom satyagraha.

Swami asked for details regarding the dinners.

Kesavan: Food is being prepared and served by people of all castes. If an Ezhava lady grinds the spices a Nair cooks the dishes.Vegetables are cut by Namboodiris (Brahmins) and Pulayas together. Food is served by Namboodiris, Akalis, Nairs, Ezhavas and Pulayas. People of all castes sit together and eat.

Swami: Where are the different castes there? You spoke only of men.

Kesavan: That is true. I was only talking the language of the ignorant people.

Swami: That is why I said that everyone shouldhave wisdom. Is the term Ezhava a caste name? Does it not denote the inhabitants of a particular region? Since the Ezhavas have been settled in Malayalam for so long they can as well call themselves Malayalees. He who lives in the Malayalam region is a Malayalee. He who lives in England is an Englishman. Caste was not created by God. It was devised by man. If a caste is necessary let everyone be a Brahmin. To call oneself Sudra is an admission of inferiority. That should never do. What about Vaikom Satyagraha?

Kesavan: It is growing strong. They should now be soaking wet in this rain. Swami: Why should they? Could they not use umbrellas?

Kesavan: Gandhiji has said that they should obtain the sympathy of their opponents and the Government through their capacity to suffer and achieve their objective.

Swami: Capacity to suffer should be there; but not for getting drenched or for starving. Enter the places where entry is barred and suffer the consequences. Bear the blows but do not return them. But if a fence is put up , do not stay away. Cross it. It is not enough to use the road. You should enter the temples. Enter every temple, every day, everybody. If pudding is ready there , eat it. Go to feasts and occupy a seat along with the others. The Government should be promptly informed of these acts. One should not hesitate to lay down one’s life. Men who consider another’s touch polluting should never be left in peace to do anything in their so-called cleanliness. This is my view. You should give publicity to this in all papers. Let people know that I am in complete agreement with this. But there should not be any violence or scuffles. You only suffer force. Kesavan: Temple entry is the aim of the Vaikom satyagraha. It has only been postponed to the next year.

Swami: Why? Even now it is quite late.


Swami’s influence so pervaded social life, including contemporary politics that it was impossible for any public man to visit Kerala without taking notice of him. In the case of Swami, taking notice meant honouring him and respecting him. The experience of all well-known and unknown men who visited him bear witness to this. Among the well-known, the names of Tagore and Gandhiji deserve special mention.

Tagore met Swami at Sivagiri, on 22nd of Navember, 1922, as scheduled. News of Tagore’s visit had already reached the people and they came in large numbers from different parts of Kerala to witness the meeting of those two great men. In his book Swami Dharmanandaji has given a vivid description of the memorable meeting. He has stated that on the day of the interview a large crowd collected at Sivagiri. Elaborate arrangements had been made to receive the honoured guest and take him to the Ashram. Unmindful of the commotion outside, Swami sat in front of the Saradamadham talking to Kumaran Asan. All of a sudden he walked away and bolted himself inside the room. Usually, when Swami retired into a room none would knock at his door or even stand outside and talk. The guest would arrive any moment and everyone was anxious at the prospect of Tagore waiting outside for Swami to come out. An hour later Tagore arrived in a palanquin accompanied by C.F.Andrews on foot. Andrews removed hid shoes and walked with Tagore towards the room where Sawmi was sitting.Tagore placed his right foot on the verandah to step in. Exactly at the same moment the door opened and Swami put his right foot forward to step put. The two men faced each other.Followed by Andrews, Tagore bowed before Swami.The three sat down on the floormats brought by Kumaran Asan. Tagore started the conversation  saying that his heart experienced a change the moment he saw Swami. When taking leave of Swami he bowed again. Swami stood there smiling in benediction. Tagore took both his hands and kissed them.

Tagore had travelled far and wide and had occasion to come into contact with many holy men. He has stated that he had never met such a great soul amomg the religious men of India and that glance stretching on to boundless space, his face glowing with divinity and his noble qualities could never be erased from memory.


It was in 1925 that Gandhiji came to Sivagiri to meet Swami. The meeting was arranged at ‘Gandhi Ashram’, A.K.Govindadas’s house. Swami reached the place in advance. A large crowd had collected there as usual. At the appointed time a car came to Gandhi Ashram and C.Rajagopalachari got out followed by Gandhiji, clad in his single khadi dhoti. With folded hands , Gandhiji accepted the greetings of the crowd and moved towards the house. Swami was standing there to receive him with extended arms. They sat on Khadi covered grass mats. N.Kumaran acted as the interpreter.

Gandhiji: Has gandhiji come across any command in the Hindu Scriptures for observing untouchability?
Swami: No.
Gandhiji: Has Swamiji any difference of opinion regarding the Satyagraha that is being held at Vaikom to remove untouchability?
Swami: No.
Gandhiji: Does Swami think that something should be added to the movement or that some change should be affected?
Swami: My information is that it is going on well. I do not think that any change is necessary.
Gandhiji:What should be done other than removing untouchability to improve the lot of the depressed people?
Swami: they should have education and wealth. I do not think that inter-caste dinners and inter-caste marriages should be practised immediately. They should have the opportunity for advancement as everybody else.
Gandhiji: Some consider that non-violent Satyagraha is ineffectual and use of force is required to establish rights. What is Swamiji’s opinion?
Swami: I do not consider force as good.
Gandhiji: Do Hindu codes commend use of force?
Swami: It is seen in puranas that force is necessary for kings and that they have used it. But use of force would not be proper for common man.
Gandhiji: There is a view that people should change their religion and that it is the right means for achieving freedom. Does Swamiji permit this?
Swami: We see people who got converted enjoying freedom. People cannot therefore be blamed if they hold such a view.
Gandhiji: Does Swamiji consider the Hindu religion sufficient for spiritual salvation?
Swami: There are means for salvation in other religions also.
Gandhiji: Leave the other religions for the time being. Is Swamiji of the opinion that Hinduism is enough for salvation?
Swamiji: Hinduism is sufficient for spiritual freedom. But people are more after worldly freedom.
Gandhiji: That is about the prohibitions like untouchability. But does Swamiji think that conversion is necessary for spiritual freedom?
Swami: No. Conversion is not needed for spiritual salvation.
Gandhiji: We have been striving for worldly freedom. Would it prove futile?
Swami: No. It will never be fruitless. But Mahatmaji may have to take another birth to bring to fullness. The problem is so deeply rooted.
Gandhiji: (laughing) I believe that it can take place in my lifetime itself. Untouchability is even among the depressed classes. Is entry allowed to everyone in Swamiji’s temples?
Swami: Entry has been allowed to everyone. Pulaya and Pariah children live and study with other children at Sivagiri and they join others in worship.
Gandhiji: I am very happy.

So much of the conversation had been reported in the press. But Gandhiji had talked about the caste theory in Hinduism. Gandhiji had asked whether it was not according to nature to have different castes among men. He sited as an example that all the leaves on the same tree were not alike. By nature some were big and others small. Swami explained that the difference was only superficial, that the juice of every leaf was similar in quality. Likewise men may appear to belong to different kinds but were basically the manifestations of the same essence. Gandhiji said that he was convinced of the logic of the argument.

Gandhiji spent the day at sivagiri Ashram and participated in the evening prayer. He was deeply impressed by the beauty of the place and the temple and was full of genuine praise for Swami.

There was a public meeting the next day and Swami sat on the platform with Gandhiji. In his speech Gandhiji spoke about the greatness of Swami and stressed the need for the Ezhavas to wear Khadi from the yarn sun by themselves. At the end of the meeting, Swami told the audience to do as Gandhiji suggested. He accompanied Gandhiji to the car and placed a garland of roses round his neck. Swami hoped that they would have many more occasions to meet.

In his speech at a public meeting at Trivandrum Gandhiji said that he considered it his greatest fortune to have visited the beautiful land of Travancore and met the Swami.


Swami was very happy that he could give a suitable reception to Gandhiji. He was also quite gratified with the interview. He could communicate his own ideas and conceptions and Swami was confident that they would exert a healthy influence on Gandhiji’s vision and activities. The story of Gandhiji’s subsequent activities would reveal that Swami was right. Love should be the style and a deep sense of unity the basis of activities if the numerous hardships and oppressions men were made to suffer were to be removed. This was Swami’s view too and he never suggested any solution other than on this basis any problem. But men were apt to seek shortcuts and it was a herculean task to make them adopt this style of work. The task is almost impossible. But greatness always shows itself in the adventure to achieve the impossible. Great men, the world has ever seen, have all tried to break the barrier of possibility. They differ from and excel the ordinary man in this respect. That is why they remain aloof from the crowd even when they strive for the liberation of mankind. This was exactly the position of Sree Narayana Guru. He had a clear vision of the universe and clear cut line of action. We do not see him always marching through that royal road to the ideal of the realization of his vision. We see him sitting quiet and in meditation in the cave of his own loneliness. We also see him engaged in frequent travels though he always kept a calm exterior. Those travels can be taken as the actions of a disturbed soul. He experienced the disturbance when friction arose between his noble sense of the unity of life and the pettiness of his contemporaries. This made him travel constantly. There was no change for this nature even in his sixty-eighth year. A change was impossible.

Swami returned to Alwaye Ashram after Gandhiji’s departure. He planned to rest a while. But rest was not ordained for him. There were visitors, an incessant flow of devotees. Then there were the men of the organization who came to him with their problems – some serious, many commonplace. He had to attend to all of them. He had to treat everyone alike. Those who came to him for refuge and direction felt they got what they sought. They did not know that the path was not easy. It was doubtful whether they ever understood it clearly. Still they felt that Swami had made everything clear to them and believed that everything would turn out well. All this meant restless routine for Swami. Yet the smile that played on his face never faded.

The routine was the same when he visited Tellicherry. It was during this visit that the question of the entry of Pulayas to the Jagannatha temple came up. Swami had no doubt as to the correct decision to be taken. But he was also aware of the explosive possibilities. Of the situation. Therefore he gave a verdict which was moderate. He decided that on certain days of the week the temple would be open to everyone. Through this decision he was sowing the seeds of change in the minds of the a quiet way.

On his return to Sivagiri, the idea of completing the construction of the model school claimed his attention. This required money. He undertook a fund-raising tour visiting Quilon, Karunagapalli, and Chirayinkizh taluks. He felt the strain and proceeded to Aruvippuram for rest before he returned to Sivagiri. He again fell ill on his way to Neyyatinkara and had to return to Sivagiri. After a careful examination Dr.A.V.N.Panicker prescribed a course of treatment and requested him not to undertake strenuous journeys. Swami was forced to stay at Sivagiri. It was at this time that Swami Bodhananda was anointed his heir.

The simple but solemn function was held on the Vijayadasami day of 1925. All arrangements were made according to Swami’s instructions. Swami came to the place in all divine majesty accompanied by his disciples. Swami Bodhananda came and prostrated himself at his feet. Swami performed the ceremony and made him his successor.

The atmosphere was saturated with piety and devotion. Hymns were chanted. Devotional music was played. At a sign from Swami a disciple brought saffron robes which Swami distributed to his disciples. Swami Satyavratan was not given the robe. Swami knew him to be above such rituals.

Swami directed that on the same evening a meeting should be held with Swami Bodhananda presiding, for chalking out the programme for the future.

A meeting was held and its decision met with Swami’s approval. Swami saw in his imagination the picture of a band of selfless and un attached men striving to deck every thorn with buds and blooms. He felt happy.

He announced his decision to start for Cutallum the very next day. He was badly in need of rest.


The establishment of a Brahmavidyalaya attached to Sivagiri was a long cherished idea and Swami felt no more time should be lost in this regard. Swami himself laid the foundation stone for the building in 1925 at a simple function attended by devotees and inmates of the Ashram. Swami decided to stay there to see that the work was completed quickly. It was during this time that the Dewan of Travancore , Mr. Watts, paid him a visit. The Dewan was the highest authority in the state next only to the Maharaja and his visit to Sivagiri naturally was news.

Mr. Watts was camping at Varkala and sought a interview with Swami. He vkept his appointment in spite of pouring rain and apologized to Swami for being slightly behind schedule on account of bad condition of the roads. Swami hoped that the roads would receive better attention thereafter. He informed the Dewan of the institutions already functioning and the proposed Gurukula School and Brahmavidyalaya and added that the Government should also know about these institutions established for the good of the people. Pointing to a few boys A.K.Das explained that they were Pariah boys and that the ashram had turned them into human beings.  Swami corrected him saying that they were sons of man from the beginning but others had refused to recognize the truth.

Swami put a Tulasi garland around the Dewan’s neck and gave him an orange. Mr. Watts took his leave expressing his sincere thanks and the desire to meet him again.

Another honoured visitor was Swami Sradhanandaji of the Arya Samaj. One of his duties was to provide inspiration of Arya Samaj activities in different parts of India and he had come to Kerala in that connection. Arya Samaj activities had gradually permeated through the social life of Kerala though not without stiff opposition from orthodox Hindus. This opposition even created a tense situation in Kalpatti in Kerala. Swami Sradhanandji had to make a visit to Kalpatti, where he could see the mad fury of the evil customs and superstitions that had taken deep root in the Hindu Society of Kerala. In the midst of this maddening din he could hear the music of love and peace that emanated from Sivagiri and decided to pay his homage in person to the great saint who was working wonder in this land.

Sivagiri prepared itself for the visit of this distinguished guest and Swami received him with open arms. Sradhanandji told Swami how their work had been made easy because of Swami’s pioneering work and his spiritual strength and sought his blessings for their efforts to remove the evil of caste in Kerala.

Swami stayed in Sivagiri for two more months after the visit of Swami Sradhanandji.

Swami used to take long walks everyday so that he could personally study the problems of the people.

One day he heard a woman crying with unbearable grief. Swami went to her house and learnt that she had just then received information about her brother’s death. The presence of Swami gave her some relief but the grief could not be contained. When she was gradually quietening down, Swami asked his disciple :

“All of us die one day”, won’t we?
“yes”, replied the disciple.
“The dead would not come back to life however much you cry, would they?”
“Crying is not of any use. But you would get some relief”.
On hearing this conversation, the lady turned to Swami and said: “Swami, I won’t cry hereafter”.
Swami enquired whether she had children.
“Yes”, she replied.
“Look after them well. Educate them. Do not cry and make noice. You should pray to God everyday without fail.”
She was consoled and gained confidence. Swami started on his way back. It was already dark. The disciple began to keep close to Swami who understood that he was afraid.
Swami asked him, What causes fear?”
“I do not know.”
“Don’t you know? You have not thought of it . Fear is caused by the second.”
“I do not follow your meaning, Swami.”
Swami explained: “Fear comes from another man or another object.”.
“You are not afraid of yourself?”
“It follows that fear comes only if there is something other than yourself. That another is the second. If there is none other than the self whom should you be afraid of? Do you understand?”
“I understand, Swami. One should see everything as self”.
Swami concluded, “Yes, that is Advaita”.

Swami’s seventieth birthday was celebrated in 1926 with much splendor. There were grand processions, mammoth meetings and cultural shows. Devotees listened to speakers explaining the ideas of Sree Narayana Guru. They prayed for him. They conducted special worship in temples. They acclaimed him as their leader, as their teacher, as their God.

Sivagiri looked like a river in flood. Swami gave ‘darshan’ to all and blessed them. People saw in him a living God. They could stand there for ages drinking in this figure of divine peace.

Swami set out a long journey the following month. This was his second visit to Sri Lanka, the details of which were given in an earlier chapter.

Swami returned to Kerala after about three months. A special meeting of the S.N.D.P.Yogam was in progress at Alleppey. Deshabhimani T.K.Madhavan was elected the organization secretary of the Yogam at this meeting. He started his organizing activities with all the vigour of a raging storm. A special conference was held a month later at Sivagiri to discuss certain organistional matters. Swami sent a message to the conference.

"No community can achieve strength and prosperity through any means other than organization. It was on this principle that the Yogam was established twenty-five years ago. The term Ezhava does not denote caste or religion. Therefore anyone can be made a member of the Yogam. I wish that many persons would join the yogam.”

Swami’s benediction did not go waste.The genius of T.K.Madhavan took the Yogam to every nook and corner of the land. People from all walks of life took active part in it. The Yogam became a really popular organization. It was during this period that the yogam sounded the clarion call of the impending revolution. Swami took part in the S.N.D.P.Yogam conference at Pallathuruthi to personally bless this new awakening. He had not been attending the conferences for the past few years. He announced a message at this conference. It can be taken as his final message.

“ It pleases me to know that you are giving serious thought to community organization and religious reforms. But the aim of an organization should never be to create a community of a particular section of people. Efforts at reforming religion should not end in the rejection of a particular religion to embrace another. The set-up of our community should be such as would admit all men. Religion should be such as would allow freedom of faith, which would be acceptable to all cultured minds and which would lead man to a noble ideal. The Sanatana Dharma of “One caste, One creed , One god for man” is one such religion. It appears to me that it would benefit the organization to bring together everyone who believed in this Sanadhana Dharma. Those who believe that inequality and difficulties could not be removed without a change of religion can take the acceptance of Sanadhana Dharma as their conversion and proclamation of freedom.”


The insight of some men easily penetrate the outer shells and reach the core. They can easily see the hollowness of many things made much of in society and hold them in utter contempt. They are by nature incapable of hero worship and always exhibit a tendency to expose the absurdities of their times.

C.V.Kunjuraman was such a man. He was born in Pattathil family of Mayyanad village in 1871.  He had to stop his formal education after the eighth standard. Nevertheless he acquired  scholarship through his own efforts.  He read the classics thoroughly  and his study helped him to criticize strongly and with his humor the superstitions and evil practices of his time.

Kunjuraman started social work quite early in life. The writings of barrister G.P.Pillai and Dr.Palpu inspired him. He was the man behind the resolution of Mayyanad Vidyavilasini Samajam promising support of the activities of Dr.Palpu. Later he organized an Ezhava Conference at Mayyanad at which Dr.Palpu himself spoke. He worked untiringly to organize societies to modernize the community. He worked for a time as Headmaster in a school for non-caste hindus, but returned to social work in 1912. The essays he wrote on social reformation were characterized  by a deep insight into the problems.

Kunjuraman’s nature tolerated no heroes , yet he came under the spell of Sree Narayana’s powerful personality and we see him occupying an important place among Swami’s followers. The part he played, using both his tongue and pen, in quickening the pace of the social revolution in Kerala was quite considerable.

Kerala Kaumudi which he established in 1085 M.E (1909 A.D.) actively influenced the sphere of public work. His views and suggestions always received serious consideration. There was touch of originality in his words and deeds which was quite characteristic. He played a decisive role in the formation of important policies of the S.N.D.P. yogam and in the holding of the All Religions Conference.

Swami’s ideals were getting distorted in the hands of his followers bur few could perceive it. It is a joke of the History concerning all great men and requires keen eyes  to recognize the process. Kunjuraman could recognize this joke and was never slow to expose, in his own style, the  distortions Swami’s ideals about caste and liquor had to suffer at the hands of the members of his own community.

Swami used to say that talking with Kunjuraman was a refreshing experience. Whenever they met, they used to converse on a variety of subjects and C.V.Kunjuraman himself published in 1926 a collected version of some of the most important conversations.  It bears the stamp of Swami’s approval and is thus an authentic exposition of Sree Narayana’s message.

In his Forward  C.V.Kunjuraman has made it clear that he was giving not a verbatim report of the conversations but an edited version of talks held on several different occasions omitting such ideas as had already been brought out in a codified form.

Kunjuraman wanted an explanation from Swami for his advice, “One caste, One creed, One God for man”. Different persons had given different interpretations and an explanation from Swami himself would satisfy the people. The ideas “One caste” and “One God” were clear. Swami himself had explained that men are all the same on the basis of the qualities that distinguished a human being from other creations. Similarly there could not be any dispute about the concept of “One God” . Kunjuraman felt that the explanation  so far offered for the concept of a single religion had not bee fully satisfying.

Swami: Is there any dispute about ideas that the essence of all religions is the same?
C.V.K: There could be . The Essence of Theism and atheism cannot be the same.
Swami:  This confusion is created by the different meaning of the word religion. Atheism is only a body of opinions expressed by certain individuals. It has never been the creed of the people.
C.V.K : Even Buddhism is sometimes referred to as a religion of that class.
Swami: Is it so ?  You are on the side of Buddhism. Buddhism cannot be an atheistic religion. A religion of pure atheism cannot hold the faith of so large a community of people for such a long time.
About C.V.Kunjuraman’s practice of arguing both with atheists and theists Swami said: “Arguments should never be for the sake of argument. You can argue for clearing doubts and for exposition of principles”.
Swami asked whether there were  any differences in the aims of  theistic religions even though there may be differences in principles. Kunjuraman held the view that there were, since some held attainment of heaven as their ideal while for others salvation was the highest ideal.
Swami explained that anyone who experienced heaven would have the consciousnesses of a higher plane and that those religions which speak of complete salvation never denied heaven. Different planes have been conceived as steps to salvation and one who has reached one step would naturall yearn for the next.
C.V.K : But all religions do not accept these steps.
Swami: They need not. But is there any religion that advises a direction other than progression?
Swami explained that the aim of all religions was the same. They authority only to give a proper direction to the individual souls. Given the direction the individual souls would seek out the supreme Truth.Religions were mere guides in thid voyage of discovery. Religion was no authority for one who had realized the supreme. He was the authority for religions.  Did the Buddha study Buddhism? He sought and found a way and counseled it to others.  These counsels came to be known as Buddhism.
Swami: Was Buddhism of any use to the Buddha?
C.V.K : No.
Swami: Christ too had no use for Christianity. The same is true of other religions. But Buddhists need Buddhism and Christians need Christianity. The followers of each faith have use for their particular religions.
C.V.K : But Hindus give a different story.
Swami: What do they say?
C.V.K : They have the Vedas as their authority.They say, The Vedas were not the works of man. They emanated from the face of Brahma, the lord of creation. Therefore there cannot be  any human authority above the Vedas.
Swami: What do the Christians say about their ten Commandments? Do they not also say that they emanated from God?
C.V.K : Yes.
Swami: Probably Jehovah knew only Hebrew and Brahma knew only archaic Sanskrit. When it is said that Vedic hymns were not written by man, it only means that we do not know who actually wrote them.  Or it may mean that the principles enunciated in them were not man’s inventions.
C.V.K : The Buddha has denied the authority of the Vedas.  Mundakopanishad also considers the Vedas unimportant.
Swami : Nothing need to be taken as the sole authority. Each can be made an instrument in the search.  This advice, however, is valid only in respect of those who have an inquisitive mind and thirst for knowledge. For the ordinary man the scriptures of their religion should remain the authority.
C.V.K : If such texts contain unrighteous teachings people would come to have faith in them also.
Swami : The religious teachers should be careful in this. Dayananda Saraswathi accepts the authority of the Vedas but he has rejected many portions as corruptions.  This is how religious teachers should act.
C.V.K : All religious texts should be studied with discrimination. Is this the core of Swami’s advice?
Swami : Yes. I have mentioned it at the all Religions Conference at Alwaye… A study of all religions would reveal that there is no difference in their basic principles. The religion thus revealed is the “One religion.” That we advocate.
C.V.K : There is one more doubt.
Swami: Yes.
C.V.K mentioned the different opinions current in the community about conversion. Some preferred Buddhism, some Christianity and still others the arya samaj. There were also others who were against conversion.
Swami: Religion has an external and internal aspect. Which of these two is sought to be changed? If it is the external, it is not the religious conversion but social transformation. Change of internal aspects is gradually taking place in the minds of each thinking man. None can order this change, it has to come of itself along with accumulation of knowledge. If a Hindu or Christian lost faith in Hinduism or Christianity he should change his religion. To follow a religion in which one has no faith is both cowardice and a fraud. His conversion is good for himself as well as for the religion in which he has lost faith. Increasing the number of non-believers is not good for any religion.
C.V.K : Even those who want to continue in Hinduism say that Hinduism as it exists now is not good.
Swami: So conversion is advised not only for Hindus but also for Hinduism. But there is no religion as Hinduism. The inhabitants of India were called Hindus by foreigners. If it is argued that the religion of the inhabitants  of Hindustan, the religions of Christians and Muslims  who inhabit  India now should also be called Hinduism.
What is now known as Hindu religion is the common name of all religions that originated in India and excludes those which came from outside such as Christianity and Islam. That is why some include religions  like Buddhism and Jainism in the term Hinduism.  If the common name of Hinduism can cover such explicitly different religions like Dvaita, Advaita, Visishtadvaita, Saiva, Vaishnava and such reference is not considered against logic, what is illogical about the idea of  “One Religion” which can cover all the religions of the world which have a common aim and which were taught by different teachers with slight differences according to places and periods, for salvation of all mankind?
 C.V.K : Disputes due to lack of understanding is not peculiar to Hindus. Christianity has enclosed within that term the advice given by Mosses and Solomon who lived before Christ and of St.Paul who lived after him.
Swami: That is more or less what every religion has done. If the counsels of many teachers can be collected together in the name of one religious teacher and can be taken as a single religion what can be the objection in giving a common name , say human religion, to the religion that could be formed by bringing together all the religions founded by different teachers? If this is against reason all the existing religions suffer this irrationality in varying degrees.  It is really surprising that those who explain  unity in diversity and vice versa in respect of their one particular religion are incapable of extending the same understanding in respect of a common World Religion.
When Mahatmaji visited the ashram he pointed to a mango tree and said that just as the leaves of the tree were different from each other, men were bound to be different and as long as  differences existed the religions of man had to be different. What Mahatmaji said  is true. If you examine it further you will have to admit that each individual has a separate religion all his own. That would mean that Rama who is a Hindu and Krishna who is a Hindu do not follow the same religion; that the twenty crores of Hindus have as many religions.  Though this the truth, they are called followers of the same religion since there are some  common features in these twenty crores of religions.  Similarly, since there are some features common to all religions, all men belong to the same religion. No religion can exist unless it is based on an eternal truth or Dharma.  Islam stresses brotherhood, Christianity love. To argue that one of them is nobler than the other without realizing that they are mutually complimentary and that the one cannot exist without the other is but futile. Sanatana Dharmas are of equal importance. It may be necessary to give  prominence to  some according to the needs of the time and place. Teachers would stress nonviolence where violence is predominated. That was why Buddha gave prominence to the principle of nonviolence. There was probably need in Arabia in the days of Nabi to give prominence  to brotherhood. What is India’s need today? Freedom from caste compititions and religious frictions. Let men study all religions without prejudice and equal devotion and let them exchange notes with each other. They would surely come to know that the fight was not on account of religion but because of pride.  Desire for conversion would also disappear.
C.V.K : In that case Swami should accept as disciples those who believe in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
Swami : I have no objection whatsoever.

The Universal Guru

by: Satchidananda Swamy 
Translation: Smt Sathya Bai Sivadas


The world have been for ever enriched by spiritual preceptors of superhuman genius. There have been many philosophers who are capable of dialectical arguments of split-hair precision to explain the nature of the universe. But it has not been observed that they ever came down to the centre of human society and attempted social reformations by finding solutions to the burning problems  of the people through understanding human feelings and emotions. For example, Socrates, Aristotle, Adi Shankaracharya etc were wise and erudite philosophic genius, but reformation of the society was never a part of their lives.

Quite different from them, there are a set of humanistic philosophers whose hearts overflow with love and compassion for humanity. They wipe the tears of the poor, sooth the suffering and feel complacent to spend their own lives to serve other lives. But they are not known as great philosophers, or men of wisdom. For example, look at the lives of great men like Mahavir Jain and Sri Buddha. In their thoughts,  social reformation and  philosophic ideals were mixed. But philosophical thoughts and social reformation programmes were not in equal proportions in their activities.

An exception to this, is Sree Narayana Guru. He is a great boon to humanity, kindly granted by God Almighty; Let us enjoy the nectar of his biography. This Universal Guru shines as an extremely brilliant philosopher, and an exceptionally kind hearted social reformer at the same time, with equal intensity.

In the history of the world, Sree Narayana Guru glows with an incomparable individuality which has integrated dialectics and social reformation programmes in equal proportions. That is why the famous French philosophic writer Romain Rolland defines Sree Narayana Guru as “A Gnani of Action” in his book, The Life of Ramakrishna. The Guru has thoroughly studied all philosophic trends and the nature of the Universe in the light of his own experience. With his sharp intellect and insight, he had an intuitive vision of how this world is going to be in future. This intellectual exercise has evolved into a Unitive Philosophy and presented it to the world, which remains like a great tower of light emanating beams of radiance all around. Because he could integrate all abstract theories of philosophy with kindness and compassion for living beings, the Theosophical Society of India had written about him in the editorial of their magazine Sanatana Dharma.

“No one in India in the recent centuries, has earned such long standing, wide spread and glowing universal respect as Sree Narayana Guru. He has not given platform speeches or discourses. But, by his mere presence, he could radiate love and vitality. He is equal to Patanjali in Yoga, Adi Shankara in wisdom, Buddha in sacrifice, Nabi is perseverance, and Jesus Christ in humility.  This Holy Saint Narayana played the human role for 73 years, and then returned to his original abode. In future he will be worshipped as a deity, along with incarnations and Holy Saints. From this opinion of the Theosophical Society, the nature of Gurudev is clearly understood.

In the course of history, a man of superhuman virtue may emerge on the stage of the world only once in a thousand years. The emergence of these superhumans, who change the course of history and usher in  new dispensations, can be compared to the appearance of the spring season. During spring, nature wakes up in glory with a new sprit and beauty, filling the earth with greenery, sweet smell of flowers and succulent life giving fruits.  Similarly these universal Gurus emanate the beams of love, brotherhood and non-violence through their messages, establish  ‘Dharma’ and disappear behind the curtains of time. Sree Krishna, Sree Buddha, Prophet Mohammad, Jesus Christ etc, are all such universal Gurus. Sree Narayana also belongs to this series, to their tradition.

Once Gurudev had stated “During the time of Buddha, violence was the rule, therefore he gave prominence to non-violence. During the time of Nabi, the bondage of brotherhood was lacking. So he gave supreme importance to fraternity. But what is the need of our times? The Guru himself gave the answer, “Liberation from the clutches of caste and religion”. From these words one point is clear, Great Universal Gurus prescribe ‘Dharma’ (righteous duty) specially suitable for the period in which they live. Those Gurus who prescribed non-violence, love and brotherhood, had visions which can go beyond the constraints of time and place. In course of time, these prescriptions of philosophical thought metamorphosed into religions.

The objective of Sree Narayana Guru’s life was to liberate the people from the clutches of  caste and religious feelings.  The greatness of his personality is revealed to the world through his own words. He is a Universal Guru, born in the tradition of these Universal Gurus mentioned above. Buddhism emerged in the name of Buddha, Christianity in the name of Christ and Islam in the name of Prophet Mohammad. But no religion has emerged in the name of Sree Narayana Guru. He had declared, “I am not going to establish another religion”. Instead he advised, “ The world needs a unitive culture which integrates the non-violence of Buddha, the love of Christ, the brotherhood of Nabi, the wisdom of Adi Shankara, and the spirituality of ancient Indian Gurus”. The purpose behind the incarnation of Sree Narayana Guru was to generate this unified culture in this world. The Guru’s philosophy is a doctrine of integration. He could integrate all divisions of philosophical thoughts through compassion and goodwill. In his composition “Anukampadasakam” (Ten Stanzas on Compassion) this integration of all the themes  of philosophical thought can be clearly observed.

The  Hindus believe that  Adi Shankaracharya,  the exponent of Advaitha theory was the  incarnation of Lord Shiva.  There  is a story  how he was made to understand the invalidity  of caste discrimination by  an untouchable (Chandala).  One day Acharya was on his way to worship Lord Shiva, after a bath in the holy River Ganga.  On his path stood an  untouchable Chandala, blocking the passage.   Acharya believed   that the purity of his  high caste would be  polluted by the  untouchable. So he ordered the untouchable to clear   away from his path.  The untouchable at once retorted by a question.  : Is it the body or the spirit which should move away from your path?” This question was an open sesame to the Acharya’s  mind.  He understood the meaninglessness of his convictions.   The body is transient and of the  same composition for all.  The spirit is the  manifestation of the Universal  Consciousness. It is  the same   in all.  Hence there is absolutely no difference between  two human beings.  Therefore discriminations in the  name of  caste is meaningless.

It can be said that in  Kerala,  where Adi Shankara had made  a grave mistake in the name of caste, the Primordial Cosmic Power has incarnated  as Sree Narayana to compensate for and rectify the damage caused by Adi Shankara.  In  the Indian culture  the concept of divine incarnation  is largely accepted.  Sree  Buddha and Adi Shankara are  supposed to be  incarnations.  So, Sree Narayana Guru once stated, “If you consider me  an  incarnation,  tell all the people that  the purpose of  this is to annihilate caste distinctions”.  Indeed,   the incarnation of Sree Narayana Guru was to generate the unitive feeling in the  people that  ALL ARE ONE because all beings are the manifestations of Universal Consciousness, and thereby dispel all  discriminatory thoughts in the name of caste.  He has expressed “Humanity belongs to one caste.  That is my religion”.


He was born on the 28th of August 1855 (Chingam 14th of 1031, as per the Malayalam Calendar) under the star of Shathabhisham (Chathayam in Malayalam) in a small village  called Chempazhanthi in Trivandrum Dist.  of Kerala state, at the southern tip of India.  His   parents were Maadan Aasan and Kuttiamma.  It is said that the Guru was born to this ideal couple after intensive prayers  and many years  of waiting.  Though the little boy was named  Narayanan, in course of time, the name  came to be shortened as Nanu.  But Nanu as a person  did  not care to be reduced in stature. Nanu means (Na + Anu)  that which is not small, in other words, a great person.  He certainly  grew up to become great.  It is said  that even  his birth was extraordinary. Usually the world  comes to  know about the birth of a child by its cry.  But this baby did not cry when  he was born, did not cry when the umbilical cord  was cut, nor when he was bathed.  He never cried  even of hunger, thirst or any other physical needs.  This calmness is a strange phenomenon in the  life of the Guru.  When the whole world was  crying for want of peace and calm, this holy man  who was born and lived without crying had become  the harbinger of peace.  The incidents in his life proclaim this.

The strength of the tree is seen in the seedling itself.  The trace of the individuality  and idealism which is to develop later into the personality of a great Guru, was discerned in Narayanan   from very young age.  During childhood itself he had the innate awareness that everything was an appendage of God.  Hence the sense of equality prevailed in  his behaviour towards every one and anyone.  Nair  or Nambudiri, Paraya, Pulaya or Ezhava, Avarna or  Savarna, all were equal for Nanu. It was fun for  him to touch and pollute those who  maintained caste discriminations and untouchablity   and cry out, Oh Pity, You are defiled,  He enjoyed  the company of children of low castes like Paraya  and Pulaya, and made friends with them easily.  He  found pleasure in taking bath in their company scrub  their backs and let them scrub his, so that  all will be clean.  The family members who maintained  strict discriminations used to express their disapproval  of this by commenting, “Nanu has become  totally impure, defiled” Nanu  had a ready reply to this,  “My back  and their backs are  clean now”. With  his defiled body he would embrace those  who insisted on untouchability, just to spite them, and prove the meaninglessness  of defilement by touch.

He had three younger sisters.  They were  Kochu, Maatha, and Thevi.  Kuttiamma used to go  and    offer prayers  at their family temple of Manakkal Bhagavathi, along with her children. While his mother and sisters stood praying, several times, Nanu gave the  slip. On search, Nanu used to be found somewhere in the temple premises meditating seriously or just watching  the blue sky, immersed in deep thought.

Narayanan had the insatiable desire to know all about the affairs of the world and the universe. What is CASTE? Who created this discrimination between human beings? Where did cosmic power originate? Where does it manifest and what does it finally merge with? When he got the answer to one question, he would raise another, until he was told that he had to find out for himself, and the answer he found would be acceptable to all.

Innate spirituality:   

Once Nanu and his friends were playing in the shade of a mango tree near his house (Vayalvaram). It was the season of mangoes. As the wind blew, fruits dropped to the ground. Many children got fruits, but several did not. They were angry with the tree. They called it names, and then threw stones at it. But Nanu could not stand it. With his sense of equality and justice he told the children  “Look here, don’t hurt this tree. It is our mother”,  Nanu had the instinctive feeling that tree which was giving them fruits, was like a mother to them, hence it was not  different from his own mother, Kuttiamma, or his friends mothers. The life of the tree, the life of his mother, the lives of his friends, their mothers, all appeared like different aspects of the same.  ALL ARE ONE.  The basic sense of Advaitha (A + Dvaitha = not two, but one) was innate in him and he experienced it from a very young age.

In Nanu’s heart this feeling of ONENESS extended to encompass not only human beings but all living beings, trees and vines, animals and birds, worms and insects also.  He never felt differences in caste or religion.  Every thing had a strand of unity in them, the Divine Spirit which enlivens all these beings.  This inherent conviction, that God is within him, led to the logical  conclusion that he is with God.  He and God both  are the same in essence .  Hence he used to eat away the offerings to the family deity  at home, before it was pronounced blessed.  When questioned  about his action he would reply “God will be pleased of I am pleased’.       

Initiation to Education:

The Vayalvaram household, in which he was born was a prestigious one, well known for their virtuous life, goodwill for others, and spirituality. It seems, there were five great souls among the ancestors. Nanu’s mother’s maternal uncle, Kochan Aasan was a strict celibate (Brahmachari) and Yogi. Nanu’s maternal uncles, Raman Vaidyan, and Krishnan Vaidyan  (vaidyan=physician) were quite popular for their kindness and helpful nature. Maadan Asan’s uncles were favorites of royalty also. The children of the famous Chempazhanthy  Pillai (He was a member of the Advisory Council to the King) were initiated to education by Maadan Asan. Narayanan’s initiation to education ceremony was performed by the Elder Narayana Pillai of Kannamkara household, who was also a member of the Advisory Council like Chempazhanthi  Pillai.

Narayana Pillai, who had observed Nanu’s learning ability, once remarked, “Nanu learns as if he had studied the lessons earlier, and is simply repeating now”.  Nanu was very good at studies. He could internalize anything that he heard or read just once. During childhood itself he had exhibited extraordinary intelligence, brightness, good nature, and spiritual strength. At a very young age he had acquired profound knowledge of Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil.

When he was about six years old, there was a death in the family. Every one sobbed with grief. Once the funeral was over, normalcy returned.  Nanu could not understand this. He started to think. Life is transitory, Grief is transitory. He left the house, squatted under a tree  in the bushes, immerced in deep thought.  Elders came in search of the boy and found him. When asked what he was thinking about, he answered, “I am trying find something permanent in this life in which everything appears transitory”.

He was very particular about rituals like the morning bath, smearing of holy ash, meditation, visit to the temple and all other rituals. So, in those days he had come to be known as Pious Nanu. (Nanu Bhaktan)

Control of Nature during Childhood.       

As a child, Narayanan had exhibited the qualities of a superhuman genius. Evidently divine spirit and power seemed to be bestowed on Nanu, who had perceived the unitive force that binds life together. He had also performed miracles like what Sree Krishna and Sree Buddha did during their childhood. We have reports of such actions. One example may quoted.

Guru was about six years old. Severe drought fell  on the land. Canals, wells, and ponds dried up due to lack of rainfall. Plants started to wither, birds fell dead. People prayed for rains. Misery melted in the form of tears through their eyes. The people of Chempazhanthy offered Pongal’ to the Goddess Manakkalamma continuously for one week. Still it did not rain. The boy Nanu, who was listening to their woes, at the end of the pooja asked his mother,” Shall I perform a pooja?.  Then he stood before the deity with folded hands and prayed for rain. It is believed that as he concluded his prayers, rain started pouring down. The people who were drenched by the rain, were awestruck at the divine power of this young boy. Thereafter it was admiration and respect for the boy,  growing  day by day. Those who heard about the miracle of the rain, praised the power of his prayer. It was the power derived by one who had unified himself with the powers of Nature  and soul of the Universe. It is an intimacy beyond rational human understanding.  Such people can command and control nature. Whatever they propose mentally can be objectified and exhibited and produce admirable results. Sree Narayana Guru had derived this Divine power from a very young age, and could make it work. His friends, who heard about this, tried to tease him.  If you could make the rain come with your prayers, here  is a test for you.  This coconut tree had never produced a fruit. We will be happy if the tree can produce coconuts with your prayers. Nanu hugged the tree and requested.  Please produce your fruits.  It seems, the next year the tree was full of coconuts.

At the very young age, Nanu had secured the love and respect of all who were around him. He was a precocious child. His understanding capacity, thought process and  actions were much beyond the expected performance of  his age. With spiritual exercise and sober and virtuous mode of life his mind and body were pure and healthy. Those who knew him, treated  him with the utmost respect. As days went by, Nanu became introspective and more orderly in his way of life. His first teacher Narayana Pillai had clearly understood Nanu’s special qualities.  He told Maadan Aasan, “Nanu’s birth and life is something extra-ordinary. After he crossed sixteen you will not be able to hold him to you”.  Even Maadan Asan was a little anxious about his young son’s life pattern, his introspective nature, and meditative habits. It seems Maadan Asan had written a hymn, praying God to lift his son to the heights of Spirituality.


Narayana Pillai’s prediction became true in course of time. By the time Nanu reached 16 years, he developed the tendency to be independent in thoughts and actions. His lonely wanderings outside his home, increased . He found solace in the loneliness on sea shores, near backwaters and among the bushes on hillocks.  Immersed in deep thought he used to roam about all alone in Chempazhanthy and neighbouring localities like Mannanthala, Kulathoor, Veli, Kochuveli, Sankhum Mukham etc., It is possible that ‘Nanu Bhaktan’ could have been acquainted with Dr. Palpu’s family during these days. Any way his family members began to feel that he was keeping himself away from them. Rarely did he come home . Even then he would get up before sunrise and leave. His parents and other elders in the family tried to persuade him to change this habit, but in vain.

During these wanderings, he mastered Tamil language. There is no proof to show from where he learnt Tamil. There was a Tamil book stall near Trivandrum town. Very often he used to go and sit there and help the book seller. If the book-seller was away on some account, Nanu used to handle the sales. Nanu must have learnt  Tamil during this period. He had studied all the important literary works and philosophical compositions in Tamil. He gained such proficiency in the  language, that  in later life he could translate profound books in Tamil like Thirukkural called the Tamil Vedam, Ozhuvilodukkam, Kaivalyaprou Navaneetham from Tamil to Malayalam. This shows the depth of his scholarship in Tamil.

During this time, once he did not come home for nearly two weeks. Though his parents and relatives searched for him quite a lot, he was not found. At last on the 18th day after he left, he came home by himself. One day he walked straight into the house at sunset. His parents felt happy about this home coming, but were quite disturbed to see his emaciated body with black spots all over. He had had an attack of small-pox. They shot out questions one after another, Where were you all these days, Where were you laid up in sickness?.  Who treated you? Etc. After listening to all the questions he gave a cool reply.  All these days I had been living in the dilapidated temple of Mother Goddess on yonder hill. She was the one, who treated me. What could the parents do on hearing this? They were simply awestruck.

On his eighteenth year Nanu set out to Kayamkulam for higher studies. He got the opportunity to enroll himself as a student under Kummampally Raman Pillai Aashan, a great scholar of those days and a strict celibate. The noble household of Varanapally was in the vicinity. This noble family used to offer free boarding and lodging to student scholars. Nanu was accommodated there. Under the guidance of Ramam Pillai Aashan, Nanu studied advanced Sanskrit literature, grammar, logic, astrology, and philosophy. He became a scholar of these in no time. The period of study was three years. In the later stages,  there was nothing much that Nanu could learn from his tutor. Quite often, the pupil could clear the doubts of the tutor. Nanu became the monitor of the class. He could internalize any lesson by just reading or listening once.

Raman Pillai Aashan, in those days, was a devotee of Lord Krishna. Nanu also developed interest in the worship of Lord Krishna. As days passed by, Nanu too became a staunch devotee of Sree Krishna. Nanu could exert strict control over his body and mind, and used to remain quiet and silent, indulge his mind on introspection and meditation. While in this stance, it seems, once he had a vision of young Lord Krishna playing with him. Afterwards, it is claimed that the young Lord was always with him, whether awake or asleep.  He could visualize the young Lord anytime, anywhere. In later days, the Guru himself had expressed that the figure of young Lord Krishna used to materialize before him, whenever  he desired.

On request from Raman Pillai Aashan, Nanu composed a poem of single stanza in Sanskrit Sree Krishna Darshanam describing the ecstasy he experienced on these visions. This is the first poetic composition we have received from the Guru’s pen.

Later on a hymn of eight stanzas Vasudevashtakam was also composed by Nanu, as it was desired by Raman Pillai Aashan. In addition to these, it is held that Vinayakashtakam, Bhadra Kalyashtakam, Guhashtakam, and Nava Manjari were also composed by Narayanan during his stay at Varanappally. All these compositions had a last line Ithi--------- Narayuana Virachitham, meaning that these are poems composed by Narayanan, resident of Varanappally household. This was the traditional way of affixing the author’s signature to the composition. Baali Vadham, believed to be the first long poetic composition of the Guru, and Gajendra Moksham  composed on request by the inmates of Varanapally household are not traced yet.

The eldest member of Varanappally in those days(the eldest member controlled and ruled the household) was Kochu Krishna Panickar. He was a great man, quite progressive and liberal in outlook. He sincerely  helped and supported Narayanan in all his endeavours, either in higher studies or spiritual exercise. At Varanappally, every day there used to be a meeting of all resident scholars for literary discussions. Scholarly teachers also would join. Narayanan used to participate but mainly he was a listener to all arguments and counter arguments. If the arguments reached the level of quarrels, Narayanan would respond. And his opinions were always accepted as final verdict.

Among the scholars who stayed at Varanapally, there were some from the high levels of society. But Narayanan’s intimate friend was Chathan, an untouchable, who was the man-of-all work around the household.  He was kept decently away by all others, in the name of caste discrimination. But Narayanan used to treat him with love and affection. Whenever he got time, Narayanan used to teach him the alphabet. Chathan gradually learnt to read and write. But the members of Varanapally, and the resident scholars did not like Nanu’s making friends with an untouchable and giving him the light of literacy. So, when Chathan abruptly stopped coming to the house, nobody bothered about it.  But Nanu went in search of him, to his hut. There he came to know that Chathan had contacted leprosy, and he was living in a nearby forest awaiting death, as he was discarded by all. Kind hearted Nanu went to the forest, met him, and learnt all about his disease. Nanu prepared medicines, took it to him, and treated him till he was cured.


After completing higher education Narayanan returned to Chempazhanthy as a great scholar of all branches of available knowledge of those days, and a great spiritualist who had attained the peak of self-control through meditation and introspection.  He started working as a teacher in the small pyol school of the village, founded and run by his father Maadan Aasan.  The son too came to be known as Nanu Aasan and continued to be known as such for quite some time.  He liked being a teacher.  He concentrated on inculcating piety and other sober habits in the children.

After working for a few months, Nanu Aasan gradually stopped coming to that school.  On enquiry, it was found that he had shifted his place of action to a nearby seaside village called Anchuthengu (Anjengo).  This place had to be reached through a ferry called Meeran Kadavu across the backwaters.  Anchuthengu had a concentration of Pulayas, an untouchable community Nanu Aashan had put up a small hut in that area and camped there to teach the Pulaya children.  The kindhearted Nanu Aasan had to do this because Pulaya children had been denied admission even to pyol schools.  In those days, spreading the light of knowledge to untouchables was strictly forbidden. To the members of Nanu’s family, what Nanu wad doing was an undesirable act of utmost audacity and the indication of degenerative trend.  So they planned to rescue him from this misfortune.  

But Narayanan had the firm conviction that uplifting the downtrodden is a noble act. Only the sick need a physician.  In the name of chathurvarna majority of the people of India were discriminated.  The four varnas, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya and Shudra constituted the “Savarnas “.  But a large number of people, who formed a majority, did not come under this.  They were considered a fifth caste, Panchama or Avarna.  They were kept strictly away from the general stream of the society and condemned to live separately in heinous conditions.  Nanu Aasan’s effort was to uplift these people.  They had to be educated, taught about cleanliness and shown the means for a livelihood. They must be given the liberty to earn and live decently.  The hut he built in Anchuthengu became a mini Gurukulam, it became a resort and shelter for all the untouchables in and around Anchuthengu.

Nanu’s parents and other members of the family used to observe caste discriminations very strictly. Nanu’s life and work among all these untouchable Parayas and Pulayas was beyond their endurance.  Moreover they had a hidden fear that one day Nanu might renounce the world, become a sanyasi and forsake them for ever. So they contrived a plan to save him. Entangle Nanu in the bondage of marriage. Like any other parents they wanted him to lead the life of a house holder doing something good and useful for the society and gradually become a leader of the people.

      In those days, the consent of the bride and groom was not necessary to perform a marriage.  The parents and other elders will select, decide and execute.  That was all.  Accordingly, without the consent of Nanu Aasan, his marriage was performed. Kaliamma of Nedunganda (his paternal aunt’s grand daughter) was selected as the bride. Nanu’s three sisters went to the bride’s home, gave her a set of new clothes (this was the accepted ritual of marriage) and brought her home to Chempazhanty, with great pomp.  But Nanu Aasan had already left his home before Kaliamma reached.

Renouncing everything, he went straight to Agasthya Kootam (the peak where the Rishi Agasthya had sat in  rigourous penance) and indulged in meditation and penance  for the mortifications of the flesh.  He continued this penance for months. Some hunters who came to the hillock saw Nanu Aasan living there, and through them his people got the news.  It seems Nanu’s parents also came to the spot and entreated him to return home.  But he declared adamantly “I am not willing for a family life, or bodily gratifications.   There is a life much above and beyond that, the life of an ascetic.  I have dedicated myself to find that life.“ Frustrated and disappointed his people returned home.  But there was unrest in the kind and compassionate soul of Nanu. He felt sorry that a girl was made to suffer on account of him. Should he not grant her the right to live?  She is wasting her life pining for him. Should he allow a life to ruin?  Narayanan contemplated. At last compassion won, he returned home to Chempazhanthi. By that time Kaliamma had returned to her parental home in Nedunganda.  He reached the place and told her, “Each person is born for a special purpose .One should perform whatever duty is allotted to him by fate.  You do whatever is prescribed for you .I have some special duties to perform.  Leave me for that”. So saying, he left her with blessings.  It is this kindness and compassion for every living being that has made him an immortal soul.

Rambling Tour of India

After this incident Nanu Aasan rambled throughout India, all alone. Nanu had got over the desire for all the three agents of mortifications, namely wealth, women and land.   There is no definite account of the places he visited.  Those virtuous feet trampled all over India, blessing the land.   It is believed that he had covered Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kashi, Himalyas and Rameswaram. In short, from Kanyakumari to Kailasam, from Mrugakatcham in Assan to Kamapeetam in Gujarat, he had travelled and visited all holy places and holy springs.  During these journeys he sustained himself on fruits and roots, and spring water, slept on plain sands of the desert, hard earth  of the plains or in hermitages.  He had visited a number  of famous temples and came into contact with a number of great men.  These ramblings certainly helped him to study Indian culture in all its aspects and  the varied life of the Indian people.  During this period he must have learnt Hindustani also.  Though he had wandered all over India,  later his journeys were mostly in South India.

The seashore of Shankhum Mukham, Veli, Kochuveli, Mannanthala, Anchuthengu, Kulathur, Varkala, Nedunganda, Kadakkavur, Chilakkur, Nadayara, Aruvippuram (near Kilimanoor) Parasala, Neyyatinkara, Aruvippuram, Kalayikkavila, Iraniyal, Marthandam, Thakkala are some of the places, which he had definitely covered.  It is significant that in later life, some of these areas had become the major field of action for him. During this period he had gone into the midst of people and mingled with them.   He was seen among the fisherman in their huts and joining them to mend their nets and floats.  He lived with Christians and Muslims and learnt their ways of life, practised their rituals of worship and studied their philosophy.   He must have mastered Arabic language also.  Some Muslim scholars who had conversed with   him had remarked that he had perfect knowledge about Mecca and Madina, the major Muslim  pilgrimage centers.  He could have travelled in those areas  also during his wanderings. He had extensive knowledge of Quran and Bible and other religious texts. Christian and Islamic Scholars  had been wonderstruck by the interpretations  he  could give on the texts of Bible and Quran.

He wandered everywhere, he met all types of people, he studied humanity and glowed like a divine splendour among them.

Nanu had been acquainted with Kujanpillai Chattarnbi at an early date.  Their meeting was at the home of Perunelli Krishnan Vaidyan (Nanu’s class mate at Varanappalli) Kunjan Pillai was surprised at the spiritual radiance emanating from Nanu Aasan.  They became intimate friends in no time.  During Nanu’s wanderings Kunjan Pillai could have been a companion.   In later stages they became inseparable friends. Spirituality was their topic of discussion.  They indulged in rigorous pursuit of explicit spiritual powers.  At last Kunjan Pillai took Narayanan to Thykkad   Ayyavu, an exponent of Yoga.  Both of them learnt Yoga practices under this master.


MIRACLES BY HIM (Chapter – 6)

With the consecration at Aruvippram his reputation as a divine person began to spread all over the land (Kerala). Flow of devotees to Aruvippuram became a torrent.  For the poor, weak and downtrodden millions, he became “God in human form” appearing in front of them.  They believed that  he could satiate their desires by a word, a touch, a look or even a thought.  The sick became healthy, the  blind got their sight, the dumb and deaf began to speak, and with a mere touch the paralysed ones got up strong enough to climb a tree.  His disciple in later days, the Poet Kumaran Aasan writes “Sree Narayana Guru’s staunch celibacy, penance, and Yogic powers together gradually began to produce incredible miracles. People who were suffering from incurable diseases in those days like leprosy, came to him for relief.  He cured them by giving them some food and medicinal leaves to eat.  People who were suffering from epilepsy or evil spells, recovered by the mere sight of him.  Sterile women become fertile if they received a fruit from his hands to eat or a word of blessing.  Being impressed by such   miracles  performed by the Swamy (Guru) people have started propitiatory vows and offerings to his name and have received benefits   like effective cure for diseases  etc.,

Devotees for the fulfilment of their desires used to wait for his darshan as if they were waiting for the glimpse of the deity in a temple.  Those  who could not come to his place to have “darshan” would sit at home and worship him with propitiatory rites.  Even they had their desires fulfilled.  The Guru had the power to control forces of nature with prayers or a command.  He could control rains, wind and erosion of the sea, replace salt water in the wells near seashore with pure water.

God cannot be seen with the naked eye of the common man.  But the science of tradition (sastras) says that a Universal Guru who can control the powers of nature with his psychic strength has to be considered God.  As such, Sree Narayana Guru became God in human form for the people.  

Let us enumerate some of the miracles  he had performed. It   seems during his childhood itself  he used to control nature.  A few incidents are  narrated here to indicate his power.

An Episode of Rainfall:

This happened during his sojourn at Aruvippuram. Severe drought gripped the land. People struggled to get even a little water to drink. Devotes came to Gurudean and complained.  He asked  them “ Will it rain if I ask ?”.

“Yes, that is our conviction”, they said
“Do you implicitly believe so?, Gurudevan questioned.
“Yes “, they said “We have unshakable faith”.

Then he composed a hymn Ardhanari Sthavam  and asked the people to recite it in chorus.  This  prayer starts with  a narration of their suffering  in the drought and ends with a request to Lord Siva to release Ganga, the celestial river sheltered  in his tuft. It is stated that a heavy down pour started, when the prayer ended.

The well known rationalist of Kerala, C.V. Kunju Raman was present there at that time. He published the hymn in the newspaper, Kerala Koumudi, with a foot note. “As soon as the recitation of this hymn was completed, there was such a heavy rain, that the dried up Neyyar ( a rivulet of the area) swelled and overflowed with rain water”

There are some neo-rationalists who maintain that Sree Narayana Guru was an ordinary man and just a social reformer. What would they say about this? I wonder !.

Pacifying the sea

In the sea-shore village of Vaadanapally of Trichur District, there was a man called   Vynakattil Shankaran,  who was a devotee of the Guru. During the great floods of 1924, this man was afraid that his house on the sea shore might be washed away by the ebb of the sea.  He approached the Guru and requested to be saved.  The Guru simply said “Let the sea be calm”. As soon  as these  words were uttered, the sea subsided. Guru’s disciple Bodhananda Swamy was   sent to the village to observe the sea.  He found that the sea had calmed down.  Guru’s words had its immediate effect. More than that, from that date, never did this village have to face a sea erosion.

Grant of the power of vision to the blind

After the consecration at Aruvippuram, an elder member of the Travancore royal family came there to estimate the spiritual powers of the Guru.  When he returned after meeting the Guru, the sceptic had   become a believer and a devotee.  There was a five year old blind princess in the royal household . A few days after meeting the Guru, the same elderly person brought this blind girl to the Guru to find out whether something  could be done about her.  The Guru applied  some medicated oil on her head and asked the child to be bathed in the nearby River Neyyar.  The child was brought near the temple  door after bathing.  The Guru blessed her, by  patting her forehead, pulled open  her eyelids  with his own hands and asked her to look at the idol  of Shiva in the temple .  It seems, this congenital blind girl could see  the idol at once.  In the Guruvara Sthotram composed by Vidyananda Swamy, this is narrated.

Another incident of Granting Eyesight:

An elderly blind lady once came to Aruvippuram to stay there and participate in Bhajans.  At that time Gurudevan was in Aluva  Advaithashram.  His desciple Bhairavan Swamy made all arrangements for the elderly lady to stay at Aruvippuram for a week.  One day, when  the ritual of mid-day   worship was going on, the  lady suddenly stood up and shouted that  she had gained sight,  she  could see.  Overwhelmed with devotion,  the lady said that one Swamy came to her, opened her eyes and disappeared.  All those present there were  wonderstruck.  They asked her whether it was any one of the Swamys   present there, that opened her  eyes.  She denied.  Then  she pointed at the Guru’s  picture and  prostrated before it.

A simultaneous incident  deserves to be mentioned here. Guru Devan was  already at Aluva. At this time, he was talking to Chainthanya Swamy. Suddenly he became silent for a  few moments. After a while, he woke up from  silence and said, “I had been to Aruvippuram, to bless a mother who had called upon me for help”. Later on, Chaithanya Swamy came to Aruvippurm, and learnt about the lady’s gaining sight. He co-related both the incidents (Source, Biography of the Guru written by Swamy Dharmanandji).

Prayer before the Photo

Raman Overseer of Neyyatinkara was struggling with severe financial problems. One day he came to know that a Govt. construction project was being auctioned at Trivandrum. Raman Pillai, with wife and children, took the ritual bath and in wet clothes stood before the Guru’s picture with folded hands, and prayed sincerely for blessings. Raman Pillai won the auction, got the project and became quite rich in the long run. Meanwhile, a new well had to be dug at Aruvippuram for the use of the inmates of the Sanskrit School.  The Guru told his disciples, “Tell Raman Overseer of Neyyatinkara. Raman had promised me.” When the disciples informed Raman about this, he denied it. He said, “I have not promised any such thing”. The disciples tried to convince Raman. When the dialogues became loud, Raman’s wife came out. She remembered and reminded him that long ago, when they prayed before Gurudev’s picture, Raman had offered to dig a well at Aruvippuram. He had forgotten it due to pressure of work. Raman overseer remembered and repented. As a compensation he got two wells, instead of one, dug at Aruvippuram. Both the wells are there at Aruvippuram, even now.

Pure water at sea shore

Gurudevan consecrated Jnaneswaram temple at Anchuthengu in Trivandrum District and installed Lord Shiva. After the installation, the devotees  brought a problem before the Guru. As it was a sea shore  village, they could get only salt-water which cannot be used for rituals of worship. On hearing this, Gurudevan walked around for sometime in the compound and drew a circle on the land with his walking stick and asked the people to dig a well there (1913). The well was dug, even now the water from that  well is pure, without salty taste.

Similar incidents have taken place at Vakkam Puthen Nada(1896), Shertala, Thannirmukkam, and Mangalore Gokarneswara temple (1913) on the seashore. Devotees can verify this even now.

Cure of teprosy

During his sojourn  at Aruvippuram a devotee who was a physician,  offered a  gold ring to Gurudevan. There was quite a crowd assembled there at that time. After a while the ring was missing. There was a leper among the crowd. The physician got a doubt that this leper must have stolen the ring. So the leper’s bundle was thoroughly searched. The ring was not found. Though the leper repeatedly insisted that he had not stolen, his words were not believed. He was cruelly beaten. On hearing his wail, Gurudevan came out from his room, and scolded the physician for being hasty and rash, and consoled the leper. To him the Guru said, “Don’t worry. With these blows you are cured of your disease.” It need not be stressed that the leper got well in time. The ring was also found embedded in the sand, where it was presented.

There are a number of such stories to narrate.  Due to lack of space the narration is compelled to be cut short. The story of Narayana Guru’s life is also filled with miracles as the lives of Buddha, Christ, and Sree Krishna. Even after his Samadhi, devotees used to have such experiences. There is no doubt that those who worship the Guru as God, will find solutions for and relief from all worldly problems like poverty, disease and other miseries. Because of this, hundreds of devotees come to the Samadhi Mandiram at Sivagiri every day. The thousands of devotees who gather to participate in the Spiritual Training  and Meditation programmes, and in the monthly Chathayam celebrations at Sivagiri, other Ashramas and institutions in the Guru’s name, certainly get the experience of Guru’s presence in their lives perpetually. It is an experience, which each one has to get individually.

Swami Dharma Theerdhar, an important disciple of the Guru, writes, ”It is impossible to find in history, an individual who has performed so many wonderful miracles and has become the object of worship for everyone, while alive.” We find in him an individuality which commands respect, deserves to be worshipped with flowers at his feet. He has lived for 73 years, involving him self  with the society and worldly affairs. It was such a wonderful life, during which never was there an angry gesture, a word that hurts,  or a long face that irritates. No one had the strength to oppose him, or a speak a word against him. His greatness was such that it could resist and destroy all evil, without facing any resistance. All the great persons like Buddha, Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Adi Shankara had to face resistance on large scale and enmity. But the Guru had no enemies while he was alive, he glowed like a deity worshipped by all.


Among the Gurus that India had ever seen, Sree Narayana Guru was unique in the sense that he was a great teacher of spirituality  as well as a powerful social revolutionary at the same time.  The Revolution he brought about based on spirituality is well known .  The world has witnessed many revolutions which were  just blood baths.  They all consisted of battle cries, confrontations,  beheadings   and rivers of blood on  the streets.  But the Guru’s was the first bloodless revolution that history had  seen.  With malice towards none, with charity for all, no opposition from anyone and no harsh words to anyone, without spilling even a drop of blood, the revolution which he had brought about can stun the world’s conscience. It is an incomparable revolution.

     Revolution is a much confusing word. The word could mean a forcible overthrow of a government,  a state of insurrection , defiance, rise in rebllion  and a fundamental change.  The revolution which the Guru had brought  about is a fundamental change in the structure of the society and the attitude of the people.  Millions of people, who had been confined to the abyss of life  were given the light of spirituality by the Guru.  They were liberated by cutting off the bindings on their tongues, limbs and lives one by one by him.  He could melt away with one word or look, the solid dead weight of  superstitious traditions  and pernicious conventions which were retarding their upward social and spiritual mobility.  One would be  dumb-founded and awestruck  at the magnitude of his achievement.  Anyone would bow his head in obeisance before that superhuman personality.

Sree Narayana Guru had several  great  contemporaries who were functioning along the same line.  Sree Ramakrishna Mission of Sree Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan  Roy of Brahma Samaj, Dayananda Saraswathi of Arya Samaj, Mahadeva Govinda Ranade of Prardhana Samaj, E.V. Rama Swamy Naicker of Dravida Kazhakam, Mahatma Gandhi and Satyagraha etc,  are a few of  them.  Those who have recorded  Raja Ram Mohan Roy as the Father of Indian Renaissance, have not bothered  to mention even in a remote corner of Indian history, the achievements of  Sree Narayana Guru.  Any sensible person will raise an eyebrow at this discriminatory narration of history by Savarnas.

For all his projects, Raja Ram Mohan Roy had the exclusive support of William Bentik, the progressive minded British Governor. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was inspired  to take the initiative to ban “Sati” because of the  problems a member  his own family had  to face.  More than that, Ram Mohan Roy was born in a well-to-do upper caste family and had the cultural background  to lead a refined life.  All his activities were confined to that sphere only. In no way did his activities contribute for the liberation of the downtrodden people.  His  activities were confined to a set of educated elites. Dr.T.K. Ravindran, a research scholar of History and the              Vice-Chancellor of Calicut University says that a set of false historians  have magnified his activities to unreal proportions and portrayed him as the Father of Indian Renaissance.

Govinda Ranade’s  Prardhana Samaj  was animitation of Brahma Samaj. Prardhana Samaj could not give any relief to the burning problems of the lower strata of the society. This organization also could influence only the educated  middle class.  Dayananda Saraswathi’s Arya Samaj  implored the people to return to the Vedas. Of course,   he is proud of the great heritage  of India and asks people to feel so.  He was totally  against idol worship and polytheism.   But he was a failure in religious tolerance.   In course of time  Arya Samaj became an organization to reconvert those  who had gone away from Hinduism, and bring them  back into the fold of Hinduism,  after a purification  ceremony.   He was against Bhakti cult also.

The Self Respect Movement started by E V Ramasami Naickar in Tamil Nadu  (later Dravida Kazhakam) was quite different from all these.  His stand was “There is no God, No God, No God at all”  It was an anti-Brahmin  movement.  They indulged in activities like snapping off the sacred thread, cutting off the tuft, burn Ramayana and similar holy books, break   idols of Ganapathi and similar  deities on the streets etc., If Arya Samaj consisted of  religious fanatics.  E V R’s organization consisted of  anti religious-fanatics.  But  E V R had worked day and night for the upliftment  and liberation of the lower strata of the society.  If in Tamil Naadu, the anti- Brahmin Movement  has superceded Brahmin Movements, it is the result of Periyar’s efforts.

The Movement which Sree Narayana Guru led in Kerala was more  refined, civilized, attractive, powerful, and philosophically higher than all  the other Movements mentioned above. Ram Mohan Roy,  Sree Rama Krishna – Vivekananda, Dayananda  and Ranade  had the support of Savarna culture and nobility.  They had received modernized higher education too.  But Narayana Guru  lived as a villager in the southern tip of India and never had any westernized education.   In spite of  that, the reformations  he introduced and the projects  he took up were of a different dimension.  His Movement  was not  against any one.  He was equally acceptable to  idol worshippers and idol breakers, to the  religious  and anti  religious, to the pious and the rational,  to the Gnani  and Karmayogi, to the theist and  atheist.  Sree Narayana Guru was appreciated by all.  The Renaissance he introduced started from  the lowest rung of the society and slowly the clarion call of  reformation reached all sects and all religions.  The Guru became  acceptable to Savarnas and Avarnas, Christians and Muslims too.

The Guru had not initiated any  rebellion for social reformation.  Never organized, nor led a procession, has not given any platform speeches, but  he had trekked  from village to village talking  to people.  His messages to the people through SNDP were received like Kings’ Edicts.  Some of these messages are  given below.  Most of the people believed in God and  temples. Keeping this in mind, he initiated his reformation process through temples.

Religions Reformation

In one of the messages  to SNDP, he had ordered “an Enthusiasm for  building temples is seen quite frequently.  But it has to be  considered whether temples fulfill  all  its functions.  But  prayer and worship should reach  all hearts and homes.  For that, make arrangements for the  people to learn the principles of religion”. For this,

1.Wherever possible arrange for lectures in temple premises. Narrate anecdotes which explain divine greatness.

2.In other places, send good public speakers, arrange for speeches very often.

Gurudevan has clearly defined the  aims and functions of Sivagiri Mattom, the headquarters of Dharma Sangham.

1.The first duty of Sivagiri Mutt is to teach the people the fundamental principles of religion and spread devotion and piety everywhere.  

2.Try earnestly to make the people observe the three purities, purity of mind, word, and action. (Manasa, Vaacha, Karmana)

3.Observe the principles of non-violence, unity and universal love. Talk to the people and make them understand and observe these.

4.Improve the educational facilities and standards among the poor people.

5.Select young men who have the inclination to spirituality,  Train those who are suitable and have the will to  observe celibacy. Offer them Sanyasa Deeksha  and send them out into the world to serve others.


Instructions to the Speakers.

The Guru sent his disciple  all over the land to spread “Guru Dharma”,. To the speakers he issued the following instructions in 1905.

“Speak about the following topics which are beneficial to the society in general.

Topics:  1) Religion  2) Morality  3) Education   4) Agriculture

1.    Religion :

a)Expose superstitions, dissuade people from worshipping evil spirits with weird  rites like animal sacrifices.

b) Explain the Saguna and Nirguna aspects of pure Hindu Philosophy. Impress  on the people the merits of prayer and worship in a dignified manner.

c)Whenever there is a genuine demand for a temple encourage people in an intelligent manner .  But never criticize other religions in an objectionable way or hurt the feelings of these who follow other religions.

2.         Morality:

a.Exhort the people to practice truth, cleanliness, fear of evil and faith in God.  

b.Urge them to give up meaningless and harmful customs, and adopt better modes of conduct in tune with the changing times. ( As already advised the by the Guru and to be advised in future) Make the people come around to accept the Guru’s suggestions.


a.Explain to the people the need for education,  highlight its advantages and the loss and dangers caused by the absence of education. Encourage them to feel proud that there will not be a man or a  woman without at least primary education among them.

b.Encourage the people to start schools, libraries and reading rooms wherever possible.   Take the initiative  for such steps.

4.Agriculture, Industry:

a.Speak about methods and means to improve agricultural facilities, trade,  industries and handicrafts. Make the people understand  the benefits of thrift.  

b.Those who idle away their time, and do not earn their livelihood, should be made to realize that they are committing a crime against the society.

c.Wherever  necessary start factories. Encourage the people  to learn technology and spread it.

    After giving these  general instructions, two special instructions were given to  the speakers to be followed strictly.

1.A speaker should  never tell the people something  about which he has doubts.  Any doubt about scriptures or customs should be brought to the Guru through the secretary of SNDP and got clarified.

2.The tone or content  of the speeches should never be offensive to the so called  lower castes or enrage the upper castes.  As for as possible make everyone genuinely concerned with the progress and welfare of the deprived sections.

As part of the social reformation programme, the suggestions given by Gurudev were published by one of his main disciples,  Swami Satyavrathan.  The details are given below:

The Hindu society is degenerating in all its aspects now-a-days.  Their  attitudes in religious matters, social  structure and economic status have reached a pitiable  state.  The Gurus’ message “One Caste, One Religion and One God  for Man” has to some extent elevated them a little socially and religiously. Now for improvement on the economic side, the Guru has given some instructions.   He had ordered to put an end to Thalikettu Kalyanam. (the ritual of mock marriage) Arrangements to stop this custom have been accepted at many places but not every where. Functions like girls’ puberty  and pulikudi (Seemantham) must be celebrated in low profile. By obeying his instructions the Thiyya (Ezhava) community has saved about ten crore rupees  within the last twenty years.  As such, if  the instructions given by the Guru about wedding and funeral rites are followed, we can imagine  how  many crores  of rupees will be saved within a short  period . His advice is given below.

“People  are fond of pomp. In various ways  they are ostentatious, some in clothing, some in construction of houses, some in wearing jewellery.  Some others exhibit their love of pomp by celebrating rituals.  Except to fulfill the primary needs  to live, all other expenses  can be classified  as luxury.    The scale of celebration of a  ritual seems to be the criterion  for assessing a person’s status in the society.   Innumerable are the families ruined   by this vanity.  Even though they cannot afford to spend, they would mortgage properties and spend and finally become bankrupt.   To save Hindu society from this horrible financial descent the instructions given below would be quite useful”.

Wedding Rites proposed by Narayana Guru

The number of participants for a wedding  need not exceed ten:  the bride and groom, their parents, one companion each for the bride and the groom , one  priest and an important  person from the locality.  The priest should hand over the garlands to the bride and groom with sincere prayers.  The bride and groom shall garland each other. (Details of the wedding rites given in the Appendix).

The function is to be held in a public place like a temple, a prayer hall or a school.  These institutions should maintain a record of such functions.  One month before the marriage, the prospective couple shall be brought to this public place, by their parents and be allowed to meet and talk to each other.   They are the people to live together in future, so they have to take the decision.  This need not be done, if the couple had fallen in love and decided to get married.  But it has to be done for others.  The final decision about the marriage shall be taken fifteen days after this.  After another fifteen days,  the marriage may be solemnized, in the presence of  the ten person mentioned above.

Some parents may be keen on spending lavishly for their children’s wedding.  They are advised to deposit the money in a bank and give the passbook as a wedding present to the couple.  The money will be useful to them to plan their future, and bring up their children.  Those who wish just to perform the marriage, forgetting ostentation, need nothing more than these rituals proposed.  Those who cannot find peace of mind unless they get an occasion to celebrate, may observe their sixtieth birth day on a grand scale. Having lived for sixty years, they might have in the meantime saved some money.  Let them spend it for their hearts’ content.  On no other occasion, should there be expensive celebrations. They need not be reminded that extravagance leads to poverty.

Funeral Rites:

For ten days, the close relatives of the deceased person, shall take ritual bath in the morning and jointly pray the deity of their choice for the salvation of the departed soul.  Not more than ten Annas (less than a rupee) is to be spent for buying incense etc., for these ten days.   The sincere prayer by the relatives  for the eternal  rest of the departed soul will do more good than listening  to an ignorant  priest and placing flowers, gingely seeds  or sprinkling water on the grave, as per his instructions.  If father, mother  wife or husband dies, it is not necessary to spend huge amounts in feasting as expressions of love.  The amount intended for this, if donated  for some charitable cause would be a virtuous act.

In these hard times, if the wise  men of the community  follow these instructions and  set an example to those who are still mad about  pomp, it will be a good turn of events.

Sree Narayana Guru

At least the devotees should read this declaration a number of times and follow the instructions.


Some Pernicious Customs and  Conventions that prevailed in those days
and Reformations by the Guru.  

1.During that time, the Avarnas (untouchable castes) did not have the liberty to give their children personal names which were used  by Savarnas.  The Avarnas had to use only a deformed or mutated form of   those names.  For example  Seetha had to be  Chiruta or Cheera for them, Goda was Kotha, Devi was Theyi, Shakti  was  Chakki, Madhavan was Mathan, Govindan was Konthan etc., The child had to be taken  to the high caste elders of the village for naming and they would grand such a  deformed name.  Though the Guru was named  “Narayanan” he had to be known  only as “Nanu”  because of this tradition.

Gurdev liberated the society  from such miserable conditions and encouraged the   people to give names as the Savarnas  did and use the names.  Gurudev himself changed such  deformed names or through his disciples effected the changes. When children were brought to him for naming, he gave  them attractive and meaningful names.

2.The Avarnas were not allowed to cut their  hair, to shave their face or  have a tuft on the head in the same way as the Savarnas did.  But  they could do so, in a different way.  But  never were they allowed to have a mustache.  

There is no doubt that the Avarnas gradhually got over these restrictions and started to present themselves decently  because of the moral support given by the Guru and educational progress.

3.The Avarnas  were restricted to wear clothes from  below their waist line  reaching only up to the  knees.  This applied to women too.  The upper cloth  was allowed only up to the rank of Nair women .  If at all an Avarna female covered herself on some occasion, she had to uncover her bosom as a sign of respect to a Savarna person.  She had to remove the upper cloth and stand up holding  the cloth in her hands.

Freedom to wear clothes as they like  and cover the bosom, was achieved during the Guru’s period.  He inspired the people and gave them courage and moral support.  His  disciples went from door to door distributing blouses and jackets and other clothes  and encouraged  the women to wear clothes without fear.  Some times they had to be threatened with a miniscraper, to wear blouses. ( A mini scraper is a tool to scrape out the pulp from coconuts. It can be used as a weapon to scratch too. )

4.They were not allowed  the use of jewellery made of gold.  As per caste hierarchy, ornaments of silver, copper and coloured stones were  permitted.

5.An Avarna could not build a house as he chose.  The house could not be  as big as a Savarna’s house.  The height of the walls and the size of the doors, number of windows etc., were restricted.  They were not allowed to lift water from public wells, or take bath in public ponds.

6.While talking to the caste superiors the Avarnas   were forced to use a separate idiom.  There were separate words for the Avarnas’ use, or he should add a derogatory adjective to the common word.  

Ex. A house for Avarnas, is a hut  (Kudil, Chaala,  Madam)

Rice is rice  with stones (Kallari)
Drink is lick or swallow (Moruka)

7.Certain food items like ghee, dal curry, use of fried coconut in fish curry and pappad were prohibited. The caste – headmen were permitted the use of coconut without frying.  For sweet preparations, they were not allowed the use of white sugar, but only black jaggery.   

8.When Savarna children were referred to as little one, pet etc., the Avarna children were referred to as calves or monkeys.  Sometimes the word “Thief” (Kallan, Kalli) was added to their caste names and used.   Eg. A Pulaya boy or girl will be known as “Pulakallan” “Pulakkalli”.  They  had to refer to an upper caste person only as master  or Lord (Thambran, Thambrati)  and refer to themselves  always as  “your slave”.  They could not call a rupee a rupee, but call only copper coin (Chembu Kasu).

9.Untouchability and unapproachability between human beings were deemed a divine  commandment.  It was mandatory to observe  social hierarchy  and allot specific ranks for each caste and observe  the ranking distinctly.  Some castes cannot touch others.  Some others were  not allowed even to come within the sight of an upper caste one. Specific distance between castes had to be maintained strictly.   A Nair could come near a Nambudiri but should not touch him.  Ezhva should  remain 32 feet away from a Nambudiri.  A  Pulaya  should  stand 96 feet away.  The distance between a  Nair and Ezhava was 12 feet, but a Pulaya  should keep a distance of 60 feet.

Distances prescribed :

Nambudhri        Nair can came near , But not touch
Ezhava – 32’
            Pulaya – 96’
            Paraya – more than 96 feet,

Nair            Ezhava – 12’
            Pulaya -  60’
            Paraya – more than that

A Syrian  Christian could  touch a Nair, but could (this was denied in some places) not talk to him.   When such ridiculous custom’s and life following that social order was forced upon the society,  the Avarnas accepted  it as divinely ordained, and followed blindly.  Even public roads and public offices were  not accessible to Avarnas.

When an upper caste person (Nambudiri) was travelling on the road his retinue of Sudras would shout  “Hoi, Hoi”.  It was a warning call to Avarnas to clear away from the road, so that the high caste lord would not be defiled.

The Guru refuted all these barbarous  and sordid customs through  cool and bold actions and calm words, and opened vistas of  equality and liberty.

10.Temples were inaccessible to Avarnas. They  did not have the freedom to go even or view the idol from a distance.  It was the belief  that they would go blind if they looked at the idol.  The Shudras, at the lowest rung of the Varna  system could enter a temple, but was not allowed  to go near a Brahmin or stand facing the idol.  The Shudra, who had the privilge to enter the temple should not hear the recitations of  Vedas. In certain places beyond the temple, at a specific distance a noble  Christian family   home was set up.  The offerings and cash brought by the Avarnas  to the temple, should be touched by the  Christian family  to “purify” them so that the temple could accept it. Dalits and Tribals were not  allowed even to look at a deity.

Starting at Aruvippuram, temples were installed  all over the land, as a solution to this miserable  condition.  The Guru and his disciples travelled    all over Kerala for this purpose.  Hundreds of temples sprang up in the nooks and corners of villages too.  The income to Svarna temples suffered a major  set back.  As there was no other go, the Savarna temples were thrown open to Avarnas.  This wass effected by the famous Temple Entry Proclamation of  Travancore Maharaja in 1936.  To day all Hindus,  Savarnas  and Avarnas stand together and pray at  the front entrance  of all temples. By  the efforts of the Guru, not only one community, but the entire Hindu society is  reformed.  If Avarnas  were denied access  to roads which were rejected by even stray  dogs, now all human beings have the freedom  to use all roads.

11.During the Guru’s time, the untouchable  castes had to pay a number of taxes to the  Government .  When the treasury became empty all  sorts of taxes were imposed on the lower castes and money was extracted mercilessly.  But  Savarnas, especially the Brahmins did not come  under this taxation.  Some of the taxes are enumerated below.

1.Ezham  pudchi     -Tax to be paid by toddy tappers

2.Chekkira     – to be paid by the potter

3.Vannarapara     – by the washerman

4.Thariara     – The weaver (Thari= hand loom)

5.Thattara pattam     – by the Goldsmith (Thattan = Goldsmith)

6.Kushakkaram     – another tax on the potter
       (Kushavan= potter)

7.Meen pattam     – by the fisherman (meen = fish)

8.Enikkaram     – Tax for climbing a coconut palm  for
       cutting down coconuts. (Eni= ladder)
        they used a ladder to climb

9.Thalakkaram     – Tax for toddy tapping from palms
                 (Thala = a ring around the ankles)
The tappers used a ring of rope   around the ankles while climbing the palms.

10.Valappanam     – The tax for the net used for catching fish
       (Vala = net)

11.Meniponnu     – Tax for the gold on  the body
       (Some Avarna landlords and  chieftains
       used to pay heavy taxes and get  royal
       permission to wear golden studs, rings etc)

12.Meelu Kazhcha    - Tax for permission to have a moustache

13.Azhivulkam    - Sales Tax

14.Kuda naazhi     - Kudam’ is a rounded pot 20-30 litres with a small circular month nazhi is a standard unit of about 500ml,

Whatever the Avarna sells (let it  be oil, milk, or toddy) if it measures up to a “Kudam” one “nazhi” of it should go as tax.

15.Thulakkooli    - Tax for things sold by weight
Thula = balance

16.Neerkooli    - Tax for receiving water to the farms through irrigation.

17.Poliponnu    -    The tax to be paid to conduct a marriage of lower castes.

18.Mulakkaram    -    Breast tax
Tax imposed on Avarna women for the size of the brests.

19. Thalavari    -    Tax for the number of heads (people)
             (Thalappana)       between 16-60 years of age.

    One bold woman at Chertalai (in Central Kerala) protested against this inhuman tax on breasts.  When the tax collectors came, pointing to her breasts  she cried out “ you are collecting tax because of these,  take  it and give it your king” so saying, she cut off  her breast and threw it before them.  She  died of bleeding on the spot.  The place is known as “Mulachi parambu (the place of the woman with breasts) even now.  

    As  an after effect of the spirit of renaissance and social freedom inspired by Guru, these barbarous customs and injurious taxes were withdrawn one by  one by the Govt.  It is only hearsay now.

In those days, Ezhavas, and those below them in social ranking were not allowed to use the public roads at several  places.  Prohibitory boards were put up in these areas.  On no account, an Avarna was allowed to travel on roads around temples. The famous Vaikkam Satyagraha organized by Indian National Congress, and supported by SNDP, put an end to all these.   

Crimes and punishments

The Penal Code of those days were certainly biased as punishments to the same crime varied depending on the caste of the offender.
If a Brahmin committed a murder, he could not be given capital punishment. Either exile or tonsure was sufficient.  It the murderer happened to be an Avarna, he would be executed after the most  severe torture.  If  an Avarna slanders a Brahmin, the Avarna’s mouth would be pierced with a red hot iron nail.  If the Avarna causes a physical injury to a Brahmin, whichever  part of the Avarna’s body was used for that, had to  be cut off.  To prove theft and lies, a number of primitive tests were used, like test by water, test by fire, test by  poison etc. Test by fire was very common.  The suspected offender should dip his finger in boiling oil,  and if the finger did not scald, it was proof of his innocence.   Hanging, beheading, cutting off organs, enslavement, whip-lashes, and heavy fines were  some of the punishments meted out to  Avarnas for small and silly offences.  For stealing a coconut , a Channan (dalit) was  hanged.   For killing a cow, five Avarnas  were hanged, “Chitravadham” was the most severe  punishment  prevalent in those days (The offender will be made to stand on his head, with the legs apart, and an iron rod will be driven through his anus to his head, till he dies). These punishments were only for Avarnas.  The Brahmins had only very light punishments like a paltry fine, or social boycott.


Other Social and Religious  Reformations

Child marriages were quite popular in those days.  It was considered a matter  of prestige for the family, to get a child married at the earliest.

     The society had been debased by queer customs like polyandry and polygamy.  This custom was totally relinquished  by the sincere  effort of the Guru. In one of his  judgments in 1905, Justice Sada Siva Ayyar of Madras High Court expressed  his admiration for the Guru in effecting these  beneficial changes in the society..  He saw  the Guru as a  great and divine  liberator of the human society from the iron  fortress  of evil and ill conceived customs like  polyandry  and Minnukettu.  The relevant part from that  famous Judgment  is quoted below.

     “I hope I might be pardoned for expressing in conclusion, my very great satisfaction that  through the efforts of the  Venerable Asan of the Ezhava  community and his Ezhava Samajam, most  desirable reforms ( or rather the relinquishments  of the medieval pernicious  customs and  conventions which have out lived their original  usefulness and which are unsuited for the  needs of a progressive community) are taking place  among the Ezhavas, without necessarily, at present,  to resort to the legislature.  I refer especially to the fast dying customs of polygamy and polyandry (though restricted to the case of a  woman being the common wife of the brothers) the new  unmeaning Thalikettu or Minukettu  ceremony, the conniving by the society at the loss of virginity by an  unmarried girl remaining  in her mother’s house” and so on (CA No. 46,47 of 1083) Ref.  The Biography of Brahmasri Narayana Guru by  Kumaran Asan – page 16.

The Guru has laid the foundation for the monandrous and monogamic  conditions now prevailing in Kerala.  The whole of modern Kerala society is indebted to the Guru for this.

Religious faith  was totally defiled with superstitions. Faith in God had degenerated to the worship of Satan.  The Avarnas were not allowed to worship gentle deities  like Shiva, Vishnu, Ganapathi, Subrahmanyam, Devi etc., Their details for worship were Chatan (Satan), Chamundi, Yakshi, Pe, Pullu, (Female Demons) Nagaraja (Serpent god)  and Nagayakshi (Snake Goddess) The offerings to these deities were bran of rice, toddy, arrack,  blood from slaughtering  of cattle, meat, fish & eggs.

By the efforts of the Guru, these deites were given up and this type of worship was stopped.  Gentle deities and sober worship became the practice.  Temples , installing noble deties like Shiva, Devi, etc., sprang up all over the state. Noble and gentle worship and faith, and customs in accordance with that led the people to clean rituals and purity.  In the famous Devi temple of Kodungalloor  thousands of goats and cattle  used to be sacrificed.  Gurudev, along with persons like Bodhananda Swamy and Sahodaran Ayyappan went there several times and successfully stopped this custom.

The Guru always used to advise that cleanliness leads to God.  He taught the masses of Kerala to take bath in the morning   as soon as they get up, clean the home and surroundings, wash their clothes etc., Taking bath was not a regular practice with the Avarnas.  Guru even formed bathing groups.  It seems, an eminent disciple of the Guru, Sree Narayana  Theerdhar was  appointed to form these bathing groups.  The disciples and other followers  used to  go to  villages to train people to get up in the morning, take bath and perform pooja and meditations.  The common man understood the meaning and value of spirituality.  The Guru’s advice to work for social progress with a firm foundation of spirituality became popular.   Those whom the Guru brought up  and trained became Archakas in temples.   Moreover , in order to annihilate caste discriminations , only children of Pulaya caste  (untouchable) were trained by the Guru himself  and appointed as Archakas in Sharada Kshetram .  People of all castes came to Sivagiri to pay obeisance  to the Guru. Keeping the untouchables as Archakas at the Guru’s spiritual headquarters generated  a sea change in the upper caste people.  The Guru’s companion , helper and cook were from Pulaya caste.

The land which was derogated by  Swamy Vivekananda as lunatic asylum  in  1893, was  admired as “Spiritual Asylum” in 1922 by Ravindrnath Tagore , a native of Vivekananda’s land.

The changes which swept  over the entire  state with the installation  at Aruprippuram were surprising .  In those days,  when Avarnas were denied entry to Savarna  Temples,  the installation at Aruvippuram was the launching of a revolution.  The deprived people woke up from lethargy and marched forwards.  The Guru did not  resort to agitational tactics.  Instead  of fighting  for  entry to Savarna temples and achieving it, the Guru adopted a new method without any  hesitation.   He inspired people to  consecrate their own temples all over  the land.  A number of temples sprang up.  Evil deities like Chathan, Chamundi, Yakshi, were replaced by gentle deities like Shiva, Subrahmanyam  and Devi.  Along with temples, schools were also started   depending on  the conditions prevailing there  Public gardens were raised in the temple premises, libraries were opened and handloom  textile factories were started.  In these temples, all the people irrespective of caste and religion   were permitted entry.  He has founded more than 100 institutions in Kerala, Karnataka & Tamil Naadu taken together.  He did not permit even the least bit  of caste or religious discrimination. “Humaneness” was the only consideration.  No other  spiritual leader in India had taken up social reformation  as studiously as  Sree Narayana Guru.  Spirituality for him was not for his own  spiritual advancement, it was for the advancement of the entire world.

SIVAGIRI MUTT (Mattom) (Chapter – 8)

Sivagiri is the spiritual and vital centre of all Sree Narayana organizations.  Gurudev must have founded Sivagiri Mutt, for  achieving his imaginary model  world, where all live in brotherhood without caste discriminations and religious rivalries.  The spiritual organization, Sree Narayana Dharma  Sangham operates under the leadership of the ascetic disciples, with Sivagiri Mutt as the centre.

For  all the  reformation programmes in South India, the source of inspiration was  the consecration at Aruvippuram in 1888, and  the proliferation of Sree Narayana organisations and their activities.  In those days the Guru’s name and fame had spread from Kanyakumari to Mangalapuram and  areas around and beyond it. Small and big institutions in the name  of the Guru sprang up  all over the land.  The Govt. of Travancore declared him as the gentle and serene  religious reformer and granted him indemnity from appearing in courts.  No citizen is exempt from courts’ jurisdiction.   Sree Narayana Guru could be  the exceptionally great individual to receive  such a concession.

In 1904 the Guru shifted his residence  from Aruvippuram to Varkala and founded  Sivagiri Mutt.  When he reached Varkala in 1904 actually   a small crowd  assembled around him.  Pointing to the hills standing  up with elevated  heads, he told the people “I want to go there”. In no time,  they built a  thatched hut (Parnasala)  there for him to stay.  He reached there and named it Sivagiri. It covered an area of 116 acres,  including the land directly purchased from Sreenivasa Rao by the Guru.

Sharada Mattom(Mutt)

When the Guru started living at Sivagiri, the flow of devotees was diverted from  Aruvippuram to Sivagiri. First the Guru installed a spear (Vel = the weapon of Subrahmanyan) as a symbol of Lord Subrahmanyam and instructed the people to celebrate (Subrahmanya Shashti) Thaipooyam on a grand scale.  But in 1912 with the installation of Sharada  Devi  Sivagiri gained fame as a spiritual centre.  This temple which  was objectifying the Guru’s message “Freedom through Education” was given the name  Sharada Mutt, not  Sharada Kshetram.  For giving the name Mattom, Gurudevan had a special  intention. A Mutt  is a place where the Guru and disciples come together and live.    Sharada is personified as the Mother of all knowledge. Just  like  children, sucking milk from the mother, the devotees who  come there drink the milk of Knowledge  from the Divine Mother.  What is given and taken is knowledge.  The person who gives knowledge is guru, the recipient is the disciple.  Hence Sharada is the Mother Goddess in guru’s role, and the devotees are her children and disciples.  Thus the guru and disciples come together in this holy place and make it a Mutt.  That is why Sharada Mutt does not  have oblations and offerings, or any ritual of worship.  The Guru has banned all festivals and celebrations. Instead, Vignana Dana Maha Yagnam and Sree Narayana Dharma Mimamsa  Parishad ( Celebration of the  great gift of knowledge and studies and analysis of Sree Narayana’s philosophy) are held for three days from Chaitra Pourmami, the day of installation of Sharada Devi.  Mahatma  Gandhi had observed  I had the good fortune to visit  the Sharada Peetam in Kashmir and second fortune to pay obeisance to Sharada Devi at Sivagiri also.  The famous hymn Janani Nava Ratna Manjari was composed by the Guru in praise of   Sharada Devi.

There used to be a continuous flow of national leaders and other  great men to the Guru’s presence.Leaders like Ayyankali, Mannathu Padmanabhan, Vakkom  Moulavi, Pandit Karuppan, Kurumban Daivathan,  Changanassery Prameswaran Pillai, Rama Varma  Thamban etc., visited the Guru a number of times and discussed a lot about social reformations.  Sri Mannathu Padmanabhan’s words, Sree Narayana Guru  is a great person who will shine for ever as an incarnation in Kaliyuga, expresses his faith and devotion for the Guru. Ascetics like Srimad Brahmananda Swami, confidante and successor of  Sree Ramakrishna, Sree Ramakrishnan’s disciple Nirmalanand Swamy, a sage from  the family of Vivekananda, a Yogic Acharya  famous as Kashi Siddha and  Himavadvibhuti Tapovana Swamy, had visited  Sivagiri to meet the Guru.

Literacy Drive : Night Schools for Dalits

The modern popular programe of literacy drive was  in fact originated by the Guru.  His commandment “Freedom through education is well known.  The Govt. Declaration of permitting admission to untouchables  in Govt schools came out only in 1913. Many of us do not know that this Declaration was the result of the strenuous efforts put in by Kumaran Aasan on the advice of the Guru.

     In 1904, The Guru started  a night school at Sivagiri for the poor people of Kurava caste.  Does the literate Kerala  now remember the night school  started by the  Guru  to spread the light of literacy among the poor deprived illiterates, who worked in the paddy  fields throughout the day?.  It is  recorded that the Guru had opened a pyol school  at Chempazhanthy  in 1903, for the Pulaya children  and Dr. Palpu and Narayana Pillai (later Sree Narayana Chaithanya Swami) had worked for  the upkeep of the school on orders of the Guru.  There is another record that in 1905, on the occasion of the Guru’s 50th birthday, a night school for Paraya and Pulaya children was opened  at Vettoor, near  Varkala.  Some of  the ascetic disciples  and householder disciples were appointed by the Guru to work as teachers in these institutions.

Dalits as Priests

The Guru had chosen people of different castes and religions to be the inmates of Sivagiri. Not in the least did he feel any discrimination in the name of caste.  The priest in charge of Sharada Mutt was Sri Raghavan belonging to Pulaya  caste. Similarly he insisted that the cooks  and servers of Sivagiri should be from the lower castes.  Keeping them in these key positions was part of his scheme for the eradication of caste.  Great scholars like  Punnassery Neelakanta Sharma, Mahakavi Ulloor S. Parameswara Ayyer, Divan C. Rajagopalachari,  Justice Sri T. Sadasivayyar  etc.,  were surprised at these practical tactics of the Guru.  Their admiration for him, in course of time had become adoration. In 1907, the Theosophical society of India arranged a mammoth function at the Annie Hall of Calicutt to felicitate  the Guru.  The citation presented to the Guru on that occasion  by the leaders of Brahmin community, said that  God had ordained him as a special incarnation  on the earth for establishing righteousness (Dharma) .

Sivagiri Pilgrimage

The Guru had declared Sivagiri as the head quarters of all the institutions  he had founded .  Even before he sanctioned the Pilgrimage to Sivagiri, the devotees had deemed Sivagiri as their holy land and had started coming there to worship the Goddess of Knowledge, Sharada and pay obeisance to the Guru’s  divine feet.  To those who came to Sivagiri he used to tell  “We can take bath in the spring waters and worship Sharada.  

On 18th Jan, 1928, the Guru was taking rest, enjoying the cool breeze  under a mango tree, on the eastern  court yard  of Nagambadam Temple.  Several devotees came with offerings. A number of devotees  stood surrounding him.   The Guru started talking to them in general about people and their characters. To the sick he prescribed medicines. Then Vallabhasseri Govindan  Vaidyan, and T.K. Krishnan Writer brought the representation  for pilgrimage to his holy presence.  The famous dialogue that took place at that time is given below.

One devotee stepped forward and said,  If  you would sanction , your devotees would like to  visit Sivagiri once in an year, purify themselves with the ritual bath and pray at the different holy institutions there.

Guru    :    What shall I do for that?

Devotee:    If a ritual by name Sivagiri Pilgrimage is announced by Your Holiness your devotees will come to Sivagiri as a pilgrimage, observing some austerities.

Guru:        Are there so may devotees?

Devotee:    There are so many, and there will be in future.

Guru:    Well, I have no objection for such a thing.  But don’t come with bundles and headloads and looking shaggy, like people to Sabarimala. What is your proposed programme for the pilgrimage?

Devotee:    In the month of Dhanu ( a holy month) people should observe 11 days  of austerities and start on the pilgrimage.  They can use vehicles.  But  before reaching Sivagiri, at least one  day’s distance away, they should get down  and walk, singing  hymns composed by the Guru,  or patriotic  songs.   After reaching Sivagiri, they should  take bath in the holy springs, perform Bhajana  (singing of Hymns) at the temple,  for relaxation and return  on first of the next month onwards.  They can offer either cash, or things as an act of devotion.

Guru:    Why do you talk about money? Devotion and Faith are enough.

Another:    The devotees will not return  without giving offerings.  Some might have pledged to offer their agricultural products.  They will bring it. Arrangements have to be done to receive all that.

Guru:    Good,

Devotee:     To identify the pilgrims, their attire must be distinctive.

One Devotee:     Why not saffron clothes?

Another:    Saffron is for ascetics.

A third:    Why not yellow clothes?

Guru:    That is good, yellow is the colour worn by Lord Krishna.  It is there with us from the time of Krishna.

Devotee:    At this time your divine presence must be there at Sivagiri always.  

Guru:    Always?

Devotee:    Yes, always.

Guru:    (laughing) Always?

Devotee:    Yes.

Guru:    (Turing to a devotee standing behind him, with a smile). That is good, start working for this.  People will become active, they will get some sense of spirituality also.

Asking Govindan vaidyan and Kittan Writer to write down, the Guru proposed 10 days of  austerities and observance of the five purities- purity of mind, words, deeds, body & surroundings-for the pilgrims before and during the journey, yellow clothes to be worn,  and reach Sivagiri  reciting prayers. At Sivagiri,  series of lectures  are to be arranged  on  Education, Cleanliness, Piety, Organizations, Agriculture, Commerce, Handicrafts, Industries and Technology.  The Pilgrims should listen to the  lectures, learn new developments in these and make use of them in there lives.  This was the Guru’s command.  So the pilgrimage has come to be known as Pilgrimage to Knowledge. The Pilgrimage started with 5 people in 1932.  In 2006, the 75th year, the number of pilgrims has swelled to 30 lakhs


Sivagiri witnessed two important incidents on  the day of the installation  of Mother Goddess Sharada Devi in 1912.  The first one was that Divyasri Bodhananda Swamy and  his group of disciples, who had an independent orgainsation, came to Sivagiri and joined as disciples of the Guru.  The second one was that Divyasri  Sivalinga Dasa Swamy was nominated as the legal successor of the Guru, and the responsibility of administering  Sivagiri Mutt was  bestowed on him.  On the next day, the Guru left for  Aluva and initiated the work to  found Advaithashramam.

Advaithashramam, founded in the year 1912, is situated on the banks of River Churnika (Periyar) opposite to the sandy bank where Mahasivaratri is celebrated every year. Next year 1913, a Sanskrit school, with boarding facilities attached to Advaithashram,  was started.  In those days, the existing  Sanskrit schools did not admit  Avarnas and non-Hindus. This Sanskrit school was opened mainly to compensate for this shortage.  Without  any discrimination, children of all castes and religions were admitted to this school. Advaithashram  and the Sanskrit  school there,  became the lever for thousands of people  to more forward. 

The Guru was an Advaithin.  Advaitha  recognizes the existence of “one”, not two.  ALL ARE ONE. The cause of all is Brahman or  God.  This is the Truth.  This is what Advaitha confirms.  The whole of Indian philosophy is discussions about God, Life and Universe.  In this, Adi Shankara says Brahmasatyam, (Brahmam is Truth), Jagat Midhya . (The world is Illusion) Life is Brahmam. 

The Guru differs from this a little.  He says  Jagat eswareeyan, The world is not illusion, but it is God’s play, it is also an aspect of Brahman.   Therefore all human beings are particles of Brahman.  There can be no essential difference between two human beings.  Differences like caste, religion, colour, race etc,  are all imaginary. Chathurvarna. (Division as Brahmin, Kshatriya Vysya, Shudra) has  no true foundation.  The Guru asserts that humanity can be divided  only into two, male and female. Man should recognize each  human being as his own bother. Any thing that  stands in the way of this understanding should  be  discarded. This is what the Guru’s philosophy teaches. Therefore, on the entrance to the Ashram, there was a prominent inscription Om, tat sat Aluva Advaithasharamam.  Here people do not have separate castes, religions  or deity. All are parts of the same  Advaithic Truth.  Therefore all are equals and brothers.

“Do not ask, say or think about caste”   This dictum was the Guru’s  ideal in life.  The Guru believed that it was better to have one dictum and implement it, rather than introducing a thousand.   As far as he was concerned thoughts, words and actions concentrated on one ideal.  The philosophical thoughts he presented were moulded in the kiln of his own mind, burnt with the hot flame of his own experience, without any possibility of errors or mistakes.  What he said was his soul’s words. 

According to  the  Guru, Advaitha is not just a philosophical principle, it is a way of life, to be followed by every one in every thing.  The Guru had liberated himself totally  from all discriminatory thoughts about caste or  religion and had reached the peak of  Advaithic experience.  His ambition  was to bring this knowledge and feeling to the people’s  hearts.

In the year 1919, he published a declaration from Advaithashram, This clearly tells  that the Guru was beyond the confines of caste and religion.

I have no caste – A Declaration

1091 Edavam 15.

Already some years have passed since I gave up caste, but I have come to know that  still some particular  groups consider me as belonging to their sect and behave accordingly.  Because of that, an awareness is generated which is against truth. I don’t belong to a particular caste or religion. 

A special  condition had been fixed that only such persons who  give up their caste  and religion would be eligible  to become my successor,  and will be inducted in future  as disciples of this Ashramam.  This declaration is published for the information of the public (Prabuddha Keralam, Vol-I,  Issue –9,  1091  Midhumam, page 285).

This declaration was published by the Power of Attorney holder of the Guru,  Sri Narayana Chaithanya Swamy.

Another small speech by the Guru at Kollam in 1916 expresses the same idea. This was spoken on the occasion of the inauguration of a building constructed by Achyuthan Mesthiri at Pattathanam, Kollam.  This was published in the daily newspaper “Desabhimani” of July 16th , 1916.

The Guru’s Speech,

I have given up caste and religious discrimination .

The man-made caste difference which we see now, has no meaning. Moreover it is harmful also.  It  has to go.  Even the thought  of upper and lower castes should disappear.  This thought has gone away from me  long   ago.  Matters connected with the society   should not be under the control of religion, nor  religion be under the thumb of the society.  These two issues should  not be interlinked.   Religion is an issue concerned with one’s own mind.  Religious freedom should never be stopped.  There  are different types of people.  Depending on   their  mindset, and growth of the mind, different religions are inevitable.  It is very difficult to have just one religion which is acceptable to all.  But, no one should  say that only  my religion is true, all the other  religions are false.  There is truth in all religions.  All the religions  are formed with good intentions.

I have no connection with any of the existing religions.  I have not founded a  separate religion.  I  agree  with all religions.   Let each one follow the religion he likes.  I have consecrated some temples because  some of  the Hindus wanted it.  If Christians or Muslims  ask for such things, I will be always happy  to attend to their needs and oblige.   When I say that I have given up caste and religion,  it means that  I have no special attachment to  any caste or  religion.

The person who tried for the development of Advaithashram, more than  any one else after the demise of the Guru, was Divyasri Shankarananda Swamy.  He used the money he got by selling his family property, to construct the beautiful  Guru Mandiram  and the grand office building.  He was in charge of the Ashram in those days.  When Srimad Suddhnanada Swamy became the secretary, he got the beautiful facade built at the entrance, which will certainly attract the attention of all the passers by.

In 1924 the Guru convened the first All Religions’ Meet in Asia here(Details in Chapter 12).  commemorate that event, every year All Religions’ Meet and Sree Narayana Convention are held here.

The important festivals observed here are Gurudeva Jayanthi, Maha Samadhi and Mahasivaratri. On the new moon day in the month of Karkatakam, and on Mahasivarathri, thousands of people come here to perform oblations to their ancestors. The Guru’s bedding, walking stick etc., are preserved in the Guru Mandiram as sacred objects for devotees to see.   Every week lectures and discussions based on the Guru’s compositions are arranged.  It is distressing to note that, the great Sanskrit school founded by the Guru, along with Advaithashram, has become an ordinary high school under SNDP.    Now about 2½ km away from the Ashram, at Thottummukham, a new English medium high school, called Sivagiri Vidayaniketan is functioning under the Dharma Sangham.  The Dharma Sangham had nearly 40 acres of land at Thottummukham.  Out of this, 18 acres are given to Sree Narayana Sevika Samajam, to run an organization for women’s welfare, known as Sree Narayana Giri. At Thottummukham,  there is a piece of stone on which the Guru used to sit and relax during his long walks. This stone is preserved as a sacred object. Sahodaran Ayyappan’s Samadhi also is at Sree Narayana Giri.

In 1921, All Kerala Sahodara Sammelan (Organisation of Universal Brotherhood) was organized at Aluva Advaithashramam.  Sri Sahodaran Ayyappan was the main organizer.  On the entrance,  the Guru’s Words “Sahodaryam Sarvathra”  (Universal Fraternity) were displayed. Previously, Ayyappan had already organized and conducted a community meal programme, which the Guru had blessed with all his heart. Expressing his approval of the programme, the Guru had sent a great message, in his own handwriting, which had become historic. The religion, dress or language of human beings  may be different but their caste (Jati) being the same, there is no harm in inter caste marriages or interdining, signed by Guru. In 1921, he gave two more divine messages to humanity “One caste, One Religion and One God for man”.  This is the first line of the second stanza of the Guru’s poem Jatinirnayam.  The second message is, “ Liquor is poison, do not make it, do not give it, do not drink it”. These three messages together  have perpetuated great changes in the society of Kerala. The triumvirate of Swamy Sathyavrathan, T.K. Madhavan and Sahodaran Ayyappan, created great commotion in the society by their lecture tours, organized protests and published articles.  Progressive minded people came forward surpassing the boundaries of caste and religion.   Anti- Liquor agitation also grew in strength.

Proliferation of Asharamas & Temples outside Kerala

 The Guru’s activities spread to Malabar, Tamil  Naadu, Karnataka and Sree Lanka.

 The Guru had performed  installation at Jagannadha  temple of Talassery in 1908 Feb, 13th; Kozhikkodu Sree Kantwswaram on May 11th, 1910, and Sundareswaram  at Kannur.  With this Sree Narayana  Organisation became active and lively in Malabar.

 In Tamil Naadu, at Thirupirakundram of Madhurai an Ashram named  Sree Narayana Mattom was started by Santa Linga Swamy, a native of Tamil Naadu in 1913. At Kancheepuram in 1916, Sree Narayana Sevasharam was started  by Srimad Govindananada Swamy. The same Govindananda Swamy had toured  Singapore, Malaya and Japan in 1917 to spread the messages of the  Guru.  In the same year, Sree Narayana Satsanga  Samithi, and Advaithasharama Sabha was started at Chintadripet in Madras.

 In addition to these, institutions in the name of the Guru had come up in all important cities of Tamil Naadu  like Selam, Pillayar Petti, Tirunelveli, Srivilliputhur, Kurtalam etc., apart from Madras  and Kancheepuram.

 With the installation of Gokarnanatha Temple at Kundroli, in Mangalapuram(1910), the Guru’s name and fame spread to Karnataka also.  With that a number of institutions and organizations had come up in the name of the Guru in South Karnataka.

 In 1918, the Guru visited Sri Lanka and Started an organization Vignanodayam, and the devotees installed Sree Narayana Mandiram at  Colombo.

The Guru’s disciples had founded Ashramas  and hermitages at several places in India.  Maharshi Asangananda Swamy  was a disciple of Sivalinga  Dasa Swamy, the first disciple of the Guru.  Asangananda Swamy, following the instructions of the Guru, started on an all India tour, after taking  the blessings of the Guru.  He reached and settled at Yerpedu near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and started Vyasaashramam.  He became popular in Andhra Pradesh  as Malayala Swamy and Vyasashramam has spread  all over Andhra  through a number  of branches and sub- branches.  They respect  Sivagiri as their original Guru’s place.   Another ascetic disciple of the Guru, Sankarananda  Swamy, had founded  a number of hermitages  in and around Kashi.  He was a teacher in  Kashi (Banares) University and had introduced  the Guru’s Darsanamala to be taught in  a number of Ashramas.  Shanti Ashram, founded  by Sadhu Sivaprasad in Agra deserves to be mentioned here.  In this way, the Guru’s messages  echoed in different parts of India.


To  Kanchi  &  Sri Lanka

In 1916, the Guru’s sixtieth birth day (Shashti Poorthi) was celebrated in a grand scale both inside and outside Kerala.  Records are there, which show that  this celebration was held in all villages of Kerala and in the big cities of Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, Coimbatore, Bangalore and Mangalapuram, and also outside India in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Singapur & Burma.

In September 1916, Madras High Court Chief Justice Sadasivayyar, and Justice Krishnan invited the Guru to Madras.  Responding to the invitation he visited Madras and the Ashramam at Kancheepuram. The Sree Narayana Satsanga Samithi at Chintadripet was started on this occasion.

Visit to Ramanashram

On his return trip to Kerala, the Guru visited Ramana Maharshi at Thiruvannamalai. In 1916, while the Guru was relaxing after the inauguration of Sree Narayana Sevashram at Kancheepuram, he was invited  to Ramanashram at Thiruvannamalai by the disciples of Sree Ramana Maharshi.  The Guru’s disciples also had wished to visit Ramanashram.  Responding to the invitation, The  Guru visited Ramanashram, along with disciples like Achyuthananada Swamy and Vidyananda Swamy. The famous poem  Nirvruthi  Panchakam was  written by the Guru on this occasion (The  author has seen the five stanzas of  this poem, in the record note book kept at Ramanashram)

The well known philosophical poem Darsanamaala  was  composed during this period, on request by the disciples like  Vidyananda Swamy etc.  The  Guru used to dictate the stanzas and Vidyananda Swamy travelling beside the Guru, had  written them down on the spot. The second part of Darsanamaala “Apavaadadarsanam”, was composed while they were at Ramanashram.  It  is known  that  this was done while the Guru was taking rest under a Jamba Tree  in Ramanashram, with Vidyananda Swamy beside him to write them down.  Mahakavi Kumaran Asan had written an interpretation to Apavaada  Darsanam, under the title “Manana Maala  Thatparyam”. This has been published).

Mangalananda Swamy, from Sivagiri, had once asked Ramana Mahrshi  directly about this visit.  The Maharshi had  said “All that time he had nothing  to tell me.  He knows everything.  He knows  everything”.  Mangalananda Swamy remembers that, Ramana Maharshi had  repeated this phase,   “he knows every thing”  a number of times during their conversation.

Visit to Sree Lanka

The Guru visited Sri Lanka in 1918 , along with his disciples responding to the desire of his Sri Lankan devotees. Sri Bodhananda Swamy made all arrangements for this trip. During this trip, from Rameswaram onwards the Guru changed over to wearing saffron clothes. The usual practice is that when a person is initiated to the ascetic order, saffron clothes are given to him by his Guru. But Sree Narayana Guru had no one to perform this ritual. There is no one to give me saffron clothes, hence God is my Guru, so saying he took the clothes by himself   and put them on.  Then onwards, until his demise he was in saffron.

Following the Guru’s suggestion, an organization by name “Vijnanodayam” was started in Sri Lanka. The Guru stayed in Sri Lanka for 12 days.  Among his retinue, there was a very eloquent orator by name Ayyappan Pillai.    This gentleman was initiated into the ascetic order and was given the name Swamy Satyavrathan.  The Guru bestowed the responsibility of guiding the activities of ‘Vignanodayam” on him  and left him in Sri Lanka  with blessings.  Under his leadership 42 night schools were started and a number of prayer halls were constructed and started functioning  in different parts of Sri Lanka. The Guru had installed Sree Narayana Mandiram  also at Colombo.

Second Visit to Sri Lanka

The Guru visited Sri Lanka  again in 1926.  In seems the Guru had  thousands of  devotees, and a number of disciples belonging to different castes and creeds.  The Guru was received in the main  Buddha Vihar and the Buddhist monks had  declared him as the second Buddha.  More  than that, The Govt., to express its respect for the  Guru, renamed a part of Colombo City (The Capital of Sri Lanka) as Sree Narayana Puram.  

This time he spent almost two months in Sri Lanka and Tamil Naadu together –Sri Vidyananda Swamy, Sugunananda Swamy and Hanumangiri Swamy accompanied the Guru in this trip.  The Guru was displeased with the attitude and behaviour of some members of SNDP, That was the reason for this prolonged trip to Sri Lanka.

Tagore and Gandhiji with the Guru

On 15th Nov 1922, the renowned poet Tagore and his family, along with                        Sri C.F. Andrews came to Sivagiri to visit the Guru.  Tagore opened their conversation with the introductory remark that his heart felt a great change on meeting the Guru.  The Judgment passed by Swami Vivekananda in 1896, “Kerala is a lunatic Asylum – Madmen live in the homes there” after visiting Kerala in 1892, must have flashed in the thoughts of Tagore.  What Tagore saw in 1922 was not the Kerala seen by  Vivekananda.  The lunatic asylum had become a peaceful asylum, and a spiritual asylum, and a model state for the whole of India to look up to.  Tagore did not fail to mention this when he praised the Guru by remarking you seem to have done a lot of work. The Guru’s humble response was that “I have done nothing much”. Tagore had seen the complete embodiment of spirituality in the Guru.  We can infer it from what he had written down in the visitors’ diary (Appendix).

Gandhiji’s Visit

Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Sivagiri was three years after this.  Gandhiji had sent his disciple Acharya Vinoba Bhave to Sivagiri as a pilot before him.  Vinoba Bhave concluded that the Guru was one among the incarnations in Bharat.  Mahatmaji who heard this definition, made haste to meet the Guru.  So, on 22nd March 1925, the meeting took place.

Those were the days when Vaikkam Satyagraha was going on. Gurudev had already visited Vaikkam   and blessed the Satyagrahis.  The architect of this Satyagraha was the Guru’s favourite disciple T.K. Madhavan.  He had gone to Thirunelveli, met Gandhiji and sought the co-operation of Gandhiji as well as the Congress party before launching this battle of perseverance.  It is worth noticing that this was the first venture of Gandhiji’s Satyagraha programme.  After visiting the Satyagraha camp, Gandhiji came down to Sivagiri and met the Guru.  This meeting had brought about tremendous changes in Gandhiji.  The dialogue  between these two great men is given below.

Gandhi     Has Swamiji come across any injunctions in the Hindu Scriptures in favour of untouchablity?

Guru         None.

Gandhi     Do you have any difference of opinion about the Satyagraha at Vaikkom meant for the eradication of untouchability?

Guru         No.

Gandhi     Do you suggest any additions or any changes in that Movement?

Guru         No. I understand the Satyagraha Movement is going on very well.  

Gandhi    Besides removing untouchablity what else should be done to improve the lot of the lower sections of the society?.

Guru    They should have education and wealth. I don’t think inter-dining and inter-caste marriages are to be taken up immediately. Give them enough opportunities for improving their lot in line with others.

Gandhi    Some people say that this non- violent protest is ineffective and to secure one’s rights use of force is compulsory.  What is your opinion about it?

Guru    The Puranas (mythological legends)  say that use of force is necessary for kings and they have made use of it several times.  But the use of force by common man cannot be justified.

Gandhi    Some people think that religious conversion is the proper way to get freedom.  Do you recommend that?

Guru    It is observed that those who had undergone religious conversion had secured   some sort of freedom.  On seeing that, if people say that conversion is a must for freedom, they cannot be blamed.

Gandhi    Does Swamiji believe that the Hindu Faith is adequate for spiritual salvation?.

Guru    Other religions also show the path to salvation.

Gandhi    Let alone other religions for the time being. Do you think Hinduism is enough for spiritual salvation?.

Guru    Of course Hinduism is quite sufficient for spiritual salvation.  But people hanker more after worldly freedom.

Gandhi    That is all because of the restrictions arising from untouchability etc., Let it be.  But do you feel that conversion is a must for spiritual salvation?.

Guru    No, conversion is not necessary for spiritual freedom and salvation.

Gandhi    But we are trying for worldly freedom, will it be achieved?

Guru    It will be achieved.  But going to the grass root of it, to achieve total and complete freedom, Mahatma may have to be born again.

Gandhi    (laughing) I believe it will be achieved in this lifetime itself.  By the way, untouchability is observed even by the lower castes.  Are all people allowed to enter Swamiji’s temples?

Guru    Yes, all are allowed, At Sivagiri, Pulaya and Paraya children live, take food and study with other children.  They take part in prayers and worship also, together.

Gandhi    Very happy to know that.

Gandhi pointed to a mango tree in the courtyard and tried to justify the caste system  by expressing that, as the difference in the size and shape of leaves  is a natural  phenomenon, difference between human beings is also natural.   But the Guru negated this argument with the fact that though the leaves are  different in shape and size, their juice tastes the same, similarly all human  beings are the same in essence.  Gandhiji appreciated the logic in this argument.  He stayed at Sivagiri on that day, and participated  in the rituals of  worship.

Gandhiji returned from Sivagiri a different man.  He himself had expressed it.  His concentration on the upliftment of Harijans increased after this.  He had declared, that the objective of his South Indian tour was fulfilled with the visit to the Guru, and that the visit was the most fortunate event in his life .

Along with Gandhiji,  E.V. Ramasami Naickar, C. Rajagopalachari, Mahadeva Desai, Devadas Gandhi etc., were also there.   Gnadhiji had visited  Sivagiri twice more.  Great men like Swami  Shraddhananda, Pandit Rishiram, Divan C. Rajagopalachari, Divan Watts, Diwan Mandat   M. Kishnan Nair, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Rao Bahadur P. Sundaram Pillai, etc., had  visited the Guru, at different times and received his blessings. Mahakavi Ulloor  S. Prameswara Ayyer, who used to visit the Guru often and receive  his blessings, had deep devotion and respect for the Guru.  The eminent scholar Punnassery Neelakanta Sharma also was  an admirer of the Guru, and had composed  a number of poems in praise of the Guru.

Eminent poets like Mahakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon, A.R. Rajaraja Varma, Vidwan Panthalathu Koyithamburan, K.C.Kesava Pillai, Sreekanteswaram Padmanabha Pillai,  Azhakathu Padmanabha Kurup and  later poets like Shankara Kurup, Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon, Vayalar Ramavarma, Pala Narayanan Nair, M.P. Appan, Nalankal Krishna Pillai etc have also written poems  praising the Guru.  The Guru’s individuality was such a wonderful one that whoever came to know him, became  his admirer.


A Dialogue

What is given below is not an exact dialogue, that took place between me and the Guru. Many times we had talked about religious matters.  Whatever I asked, and whatever came from him on these occasions are brought together and rearranged in a series,  giving it a continuity. More than that, there is nothing imaginary or  artificial in this.  After  writing this out in this form, first this was read out to Sri Bodhananda Swamy.  Then it was read out by me personally to a group of ascetics assembled at Sivagiri.  Next, this was brought to the notice of the Venerable Guru, through Swamy Satyavratha and permission to publish this was given by the Guru.  Some ideas of the Guru about  these matters, were put forward through the Welcome Address  at the All Religions’ Meet in Aluva. Those points are not repeated here.

- C.V. Kunju Raman
The Dialogue

C.V. Kunju Raman: Your advice One Caste, One Religion and One God for man is accepted as a slogan by your disciples and followers.  But some people doubt whether this is a proper and correct advice and some others make fun of it.  When Mahatma Gandhi visited this Ashram, he expressed his disagreement  with this.  More than that, people interpret and explain this in many ways.  On hearing all these interpretations, Mahakavi Kumaran Asan had prayed  God to save him from these interpreters. But even he had not bothered to give a comprehensive interpretation. People will not be satisfied without explanations, however logical the passage is.  Therefore my request to you is that you yourself  should kindly give a correct  and complete interpretation.

Guru    :    How do you interpret this?

CVKR    :    The meaning  of One Caste for man is quite clear, you yourself have given, “Manushyanam Manushyathvam Jaatir gotvam gavam yadha.” (As bovinity is the distinctive characteristic of a cow, humaneness is the quality of a human being).  Every one accepts that all human beings belong to one caste, because  of the distinctive characteristic of  humaneness. No one has any doubt about it .  About “One God for man”  also, there are no problems.  All those who believe in God will agree with it. The problem is with “One Religion”.  You have explained through the poem, Atmopadesa Shathakam
Stanza 44:

    pala matha- saravum-ekamennu-para-
    thulakil-oru-aanayil- andharennapole
    pala-pala yukti paranju paamaranmaar

(People’s understanding of religion is like that of the blind  men and the elephant. Each one thinks that what he has felt is the shape of the elephant.  Similarly each one feels that his religion is the true religion.  He is blind to the fact that all religions mean the same).

The explanation you gave through this poem is not sufficient for the people.  That is why I request you for another clearer  explanation.

Guru    :    The essence of different religions is the same. Does any one deny that?.

CVKR    :    Some people deny it.  The essence of theistic religion and atheistic  religion are not the same.

Guru    :    That confusion is caused due to the meaning of the word  Matham   (could mean ‘religion’ or ‘opinion’).  Atheism is only the opinion of certain groups of people.  It never was the religion of a community.

CVKR    :    Some people  say that Buddhism is an atheistic religion.

Guru    :    Is it correct?  You are all Buddhists, aren’t you?

CVKR    :    This is the opinion expressed by some people  who do not know the meaning of faith in God. They don’t know in whom or about what they should have faith. They have no idea about their own faith. I believe this comment about Buddhism is opinion of those who have no clear knowledge.  

Guru    :    Buddhism cannot be an atheistic religion.  A purely atheistic doctrine cannot hold so many   people together for so long a time. Have you analyzed your own faith and decided whether  you are an atheist or theist?.

CVKR    :    Yes, I completely believe that until now, I have been a theist.

Guru    :    I have heard that you had been  arguing on behalf of atheism.

CVKR    :    No wonder you have heard  such a comment about me. I argue against atheists who try to counter theists and against theists who try to counter atheists.

Guru    :    Don’t argue for argument’s sake.  You can argue for explaining a principle  or for  clearing a doubt. Coming  to the theistic religions, the difference is only in their external form, not in the internal details.  Isn’t so?.

CVKR    :    When certain aspects are considered it is to be admitted that there  are  differences in the external as well as the internal details.

Guru    :    Well, What is the difference?

CVKR    :    Some say that the universe is created by  a Creator.  Some others, the evolutionists, say that the five primordial elements-earth,  water, air, fire and sky-(emanated from cosmos).  By their merging and union, life started in  course of time.  Another opinion  is that the Creator generated the soul from vacuum.  This is countered by the statement that soul is part of Brahman, or Brahman itself. Rebirth is a truth, or a myth,  the theory of  karma is   true or false, so on. There are many other differences in the internal principles also.

Guru    :    There may be differences in the principles.  But is there any difference in their objectives?.

CVKR    :    It can be said that there are differences. Certain religions hold the reaching of heaven as the final goal.  Others aim at salvation, which is supposed to be superior to heaven.

Guru    :    Is it not quite natural that a person who  has experienced the ecstasy of heaven, will have  a revelation of something higher than heaven?.

CVKR    :    He should have.

Guru    :    He will certainly. The religion that speaks of  salvation does not deny the existence of heaven. From this earth, it is believed, seven worlds are to be ascended to reach heaven.  From there again there are four steps to salvation or moksha.  They are salokya, Sameepya, Saroopya and Sayujya.  Anyone who has reached any of these steps, will be desirous of the next higher step. Don’t you think so?

CVKR    :    But all religions do not recognize these steps.

Guru    :    What of that? Does any religion recommend descending instead of ascending?

CVKR    :    No. None.

Guru    :    That is where religions are alike.  Religions have the role of creating in the human soul, the trend to ascend.   Once the trend is set,  the people themselves will seek and find the Ultimate Truth. Religions are only guides to help man to seek rightly.  To those who have attained the supreme, religion is not at all an authority.  They themselves are authority to religion. Did Lord Buddha teach the path to Nirvana after studying Buddhism?. He sought and found the way to salvation and then preached. Subsequently it became Buddhism. Did Lord Buddha benefit in any  way by Buddhism?.

CVKR    :    No.

Guru    :    Christ too did not gain anything from Christianity.  The same could be said about other religions too.  However Buddhists benefited through Buddhism and  Christians through Christianity. Likewise, all religions are of use to those who follow them.

CVKR    :    But the Hindus claim otherwise.    

Guru    :    What do they say?.

CVKR    :    They base everything on the Vedas. They say Vedas are superhuman  creations, which  emanated from the face of Brahma. Hence there could be no authority  beyond the Vedas.  That is what they say.

Guru    :    What do the Christians claim about their Ten Commandments?.  They too emanated from God?

CVKR    :    Yes, they think so.

Guru    :    So, Jehova knew only Hebrew, and Brahma knew only old (Vedic)  Sanskrit, is it so?. When  it is said that the Vedas are superhuman, it is to be understood that we do not know who composed all of them, or that the concepts emerging out of the Vedas are beyond human inventiveness.

CVKR    :    Buddha has denied the authority of the Vedas. Mundakopanishat  also points out that the philosophy  in the Vedas is inferior.    

Guru    :    Don’t take any of them as the sole authority.  All of them may be handy tools in the search for Truth.  This  is valid  only for those who have an enquiring mind,  with a thirst for knowledge.  To the common people the text which is basic to the religion they believe, should remain an authority.

CVKR    :    If such basic texts contain advice that goes contrary to righteousness,    won’t the people believe it?

Guru    :    Teachers of religion should take care of it.  They must use discrimination.  Dayananda Saraswathi  considers Vedas as the basic texts, but does he not consider untoward parts as artificial  and condemn   them? All religious teachers should do like that.

CVKR    :    Am I to understand that all religious texts must be studied with discretion?, Is that your advice ?

Guru    :    Yes, that is my advice.  I have already declared this in the All Religions’ Meet held in  Aluva.  Quarrels between nations and people   will come to an end, when one of them defeats the other. Quarrels between religions will have no end, because one cannot  defeat another.  If this war of religions should end, all will have to learn about all religions with open minds.  Then it will become clear that as far as the basic tenets are concerned, there are no substantial differences.  The religion thus evolves is the one religion that we advocate.

CVKR    :    I have one more doubt.

Guru    :    What is that?

CVKR    :    Our community is very much enthusiastic about religious conversions.  Some say that Buddhism  is good. Some others feel that Christianity is good. Yet others say that Arya Samaj is the best.  Zeal is in different directions.  There are also those who say that religious conversion is not necessary.

Guru    :    Religion has two faces, internal and external. Which of these is sought to be changed?. If  enthusiasm is for the external, it is not change of religion, it is only change in the external manifestations (rituals). Change in the internal sense, no doubt,  slowly manifests itself among  those who think.  It takes place naturally with the increase in understanding, no one can curb it. If one who is identified as the follower of a particular religion, like Hinduism or Christianity,  realises that he has lost faith in that religion,  he should change his religion.  It is cowardice and hypocrisy to continue with a religion in which one has lost faith.  A change of religion  will do him good. It will also be good  for the religion he had lost faith in.  It is no good for any religion to have non-believers in increasing  numbers.

CVKR    :    Those who wish to continue in Hinduism , say that Hinduism  as it exists now, is not good.

Guru    :    That means, they  say, that Hinduism also needs changes.  There is no such religion  as Hinduism.  Foreigners referred to this  land as Hindustan, and the inhabitants of this     land as Hindus.  If the religion of those who live in Hindustan is Hinduism. The religion of the Christians and Muslims now living in Hindustan also must be considered Hinduism .  No one says like that, and no one will agree with it.  Now Hinduism   is a  general term used for those religions which originated in Hindustan, except Christianity  and Islam which are of foreign origin.  That is why some claim that Buddhism and Jainism  are part of Hinduism.  The Vedic, Puranic, Sankhya, Vaiseshika, Meemamsaka, Dwaitha, Advaitha, Visishtadvaitha, Shaiva, Vaishnava etc.,  are  distinctly different religions.  If they all can be grouped together and called Hinduism, what is illogical in  blending many religions with minimal differences, sponsored by different  teachers and thinkers, suitable for the land and climate and show the path  of   salvation to humanity, and designate this as Single Religion?.

CVKR    :    In this matter  quarrels are there among not only Hindus, but also non- Hindus .  The messages of Moses  and Soloman who were of the pre-Christ era and the messages of St. Paul and others of post -Christ period  are included in the single term Christianity.

Guru    :    More or less all religions have done so. If the advice  of several preceptors of religion can  be unified and named after one great preceptor, why not bring together all the sects and  religions  established by all preceptors and give it a common name as  The One Religion, or Single Religion, or Human Religion or Righteousness of Man, or something like that? If doing so is illogical and irrational, this illogicality and irrationality have   already entered, to some extent, in all the religions that  are prevalent now.  It is surprising  that those who wax eloquent about unity in diversity, and diversity in unity of their own religion are incapable of taking humanity’s religion as a  single unit, and observe its unity in diversity and diversity in unity.

        When Mahatmaji came here he said pointing to a mango tree, that as the branches and leaves of the tree differ in size and colour each  individual  will be different from one another and distinctive.   As long as this difference exists, the religions of man also will differ.  What Mahatmaji said was  right.  If that is analysed logically, it has to be accepted that  each individual has a religion of his own.  In that case, The Hindu Rama, and the Hindu Krishna  do not believe in the same religion.  The 20 crores of Hindus will have 20 crores of  religions.  But there are some common factors in the faiths of these twenty crores, they all are said to belong to one religion . Similarly as all religions have common factors, it can be said that humanity has one religon.

No religion can stand, unless it has a hard core of some Eternal Truths or Dharma. Islam gives primacy to brotherhood  and Christianity to love.  But ignorant of the fact  that brotherhood is rooted in love, and love is built on brotherhood, if claims are made that brotherhood  is superior or love is superior, is it  not a ridiculous dispute?

All Eternal Truths are of equal significance.  Owing to the needs of time and place, it becomes necessary to give priority to one or the other.  At a time and place where violence was rampant, universal teachers gave priority to non- violence  over other  Dharma.  During Lord Buddha’s time, violence was rampant. Consequently  he gave priority to non- violence.  During the period  of Mohammad Nabi, may be it was necessary to give  primacy to brotherhood.  Therefore in his religion, brotherhood is given importance.

What is India’s need today? Deliverance from the conflicts between castes and  religions.  Let us all study and understand   all religions  with open minds and equal attention and lovingly try to exchange the wisdom so gained.  We will understand then, that the reason for conflict is not religion, but pride.  The desire  for religious conversion also will stop.

CVKR    :    In that case, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists  and Hindus must be allowed to join  as your disciples.

Guru    :    I have absolutely  no objection to that.

CVKR    :    I prefer Buddhism to other religions .  I have respect for and faith in Buddhism.

Guru    :    But you don’t slight or insult other religions.

CVKR    :     Not at all.

Guru    :    Have you read Buddhist literature?.

CVKR    :    I have read translations.

Guru    :    Translations are sufficient for one to understand.

CVKR    :     I have decided to study the originals.

Guru    :    What is the reason for the preference to Buddhism?.

CVKR    :    In our land and modern times, preference to Buddhamuni’s advice  is inevitable.  I firmly believe that Buddhism is the best religion that offers the people liberation from caste conflicts and superstitions.

Guru    :    Would you like to join our ascetic group?.

CVKR    :    I won’t mind.  But I can accept sanyasa of the Buddhist way only.

Guru    :    I have already  expressed at Aluva, that   Buddhist sanyasa is acceptable to us.

CVKR    :     Buddhist preceptors, do not give “Sanyasa Deekhsa” to asthmatic patients.

Guru    :    Do they give to rheumatic patients?

CVKR    :     I don’t know.

Guru    :    All religions will have  some funny restrictions.

CVKR    :    I will receive “Sanyasa” deeksha only from your holy hands.


This is again extracts from the discussions between Sahodaran Ayyappan and the Guru about religions and religious convertions.

Guru    :    Ayyappan, Dr. Palpu says that religious conversion  is necessary          (for Ezhavas).

Ayyappan:    Some people think so.

Guru    :    Isn’t it enough , if man improves? Is it not a conversion? Or do people think of some other change?

Ayyappan:    Many opportunities for the improvement of man is found in Buddhism.

Guru    :    Are all the Buddhists  good men?  

Ayyappan:    Of late, even Buddhism is degenerated.  Still for the advancement of man, no other advice is  as good as Buddha Bhagavan’s.

Guru    :    Aren’t the advices of Christ good?.  Mohammad Nabi’s teachings are also good. But  are all the followers of these religions good?.   Therefore, whatever may be the religion, man should try to improve himself, otherwise he would slide down.  All his thoughts, words and  deeds should be faultless.  There should be no lapse  or compromise in these three factors.  The mind should be kept in such a pure state, that there is no scope of committing a mistake and then repent it.  That is the state of total detachment or Jeevan Mukta.

Ayyappan:    The Buddhists   refer to that state as Nirvana.

Guru    :    That could be. What does Kumaran Aasan say about religious conversion?.

Ayyappan:    Aasan feels that any religious conversion  without the consent of Your Holiness will be  an intentional disregard for Your Holiness.

Guru    :    Is it so?.

Ayyappan:    Aasan says that we must know your opinion in this respect, especially.

Guru    :    Doesn’t he know my opinion  till now?.  Ayyappan, do you know my opinion?.

Ayyappan:    Yes, I know, your Holiness has no disregard towards any religion.  Even if there is difference in the religion, dress or language, people should live as one community, that is your opinion.

Guru    :    Yes, that is certainly my opinion. “Matham” ( Religion) means an opinion. Whatever  it is,  people can live together.  But  caste is something different.  It is evil. Caste feeling is solidified in the mind of men. Even Adi Shankara  is to be blamed for this.  Vedavyasa  who had composed Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, varies in his definitions of chathurvarna  in different contexts.  Caste is to be discarded . There is no other go. All humanity is one community. It is possible to uproot caste from the society totally, so that people will come to this level.  Look at Satyavrathan.  He doesn’t  have even a trace of caste feeling in him.

Ayyappan:    Yes, it is true.  He doesn’t have even a trace of caste feeling in him.

Guru    :    None of us has  got rid of caste as much as he had.  I doubt even Buddha Bhagavan  had discarded caste as much as Styavrathan. He feels  absolutely no difference  between people.  People can live like that in spite of being a Hindu.   Brahma Samaj people are  Hindus.  Don’t they live without caste?.

Ayyappan:    They are not Hindus.  Just to attract more people to their group, they claim to be Hindus.  Arya Samaj has accepted Vedas, but after giving new interpretations.

Guru    :    Is it so?.

Ayyappan:    You are respected more  because  the whole of Thiyya Community thinks of religious conversion (the Guru was born in Thiyya community)

Guru    :    (Langhing) Why?. In what way does it promote respect?.

Ayyappan:    Because you permit them to convert. People ask, why should you convert ?.  You have Sree Narayana Dharma.  But when these people are asked to accept Sree Narayana Dharma as their religion they are not prepared to do so.

Guru    :    Why?.  They have the freedom to accept any religion  they like.  Let it be any religion.

Ayyappan:    This is the opinion of your Holiness from the beginning.

Guru    :    My opinion now is also the same.  If anyone feels the need to change his religion, he should do it immediately.  Each one’s religion is his own choice.  A son need not follow his father’s religion.  People need religious freedom.  That is my strong opinion. Would you all agree with that?.

Ayyappan:    We agree, we also talk like that.  Recently,  in one document, I entered my religion as Buddhism.

Guru    :    But you did not enter your caste. That is good. Caste should not be entered.  It should not exist.  No where  should  it be mentioned.  People should live as one caste.  Spread this idea everywhere .  But leave it now. What faults do the people who recommend religious conversion find in Hinduism?.   

Ayyappan:    They say that Hindu religious literature is bad.  They say  that Vedas, and  the Geetha  advice animal sacrifice, polytheism and caste.

Guru    :    They may say like that , but in between, there are very useful principles. Just because the religious literature is good, will the followers and their customs be good?.  Whatever be the literature of the religion, if the followers are defiled, it is no use.  People should be good.  They should be pure in thought, word and deed .  That  is the need.  Whatever be the religion, let man be virtuous.  That is my opinion.

The First All Religions’ Meet in Asia

One month before the starting of Vaikkam Satyagraha, in February 1924, the famous All Religions’ Meet was held in Advaithashram, in Aluva.  In the history of the world for the first time, such a meeting (the Parliament of Religions) was held at Chicago in USA. It was in this meeting that Vivekananda  Swamy participated.  After that meetings of all religions, the second in the world and the first in Asia was the one held at Aluva.

Sri T. Sadasivayyar, the Chief Justice of Madras High Court presided over the function.  Several religious scholars participated in the event,  Sri K.K. Kuruvilla represented Christianity, Mohammad Moulavi spoke for Islam, A.B. Salem for Judaism, Pandit Rishiram for Arya Samaj, Sadhu Sivaprasad for Brahma Samaj, Bhikshu Dharma Skanda of Ceylon for Buddhism, Mancheri Rama Ayyar and Ramakrishna Ayyar for Theosophical society. A scholar from Bahai Faith also spoke.  The president and the Secretary in his welcome speech covered  Hindu Faith. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Guru’s message was read out by the main organizer, Sri Satyavratha Swamy. Because the essence of all religions is the same, the principles of all religions will be taught in the “Brahma Vidyalayam”. (The abode of  the Science of the Absolute) to be constituted at Sivagiri with a budget of Rs. 5 lakhs, This was the Guru’s desire


An  Organisation of  Ascetics

In the later stages of the Guru’s activities, his concept about the consecration of  temples had gradually changed. It passed beyond the idols of the deities, to objectifying ideals, something in higher and subtler plane.

Starting from Aruvippuram, he had consecrated a number of temples and installed idols  throughout  the state.  Finally at  Karamukku, near Trichur, he avoided idols and  installed a lamp in the temple on 15th May, 1920.  At Murikkumpuzha  in Chirayinkil Thaluq, a plaque was installed with Satyam (Truth)  Dharma, (Righteousness) Daya (Compassion) and  Shanti (Peace) carved on it.  At Kalavankodam Shaktiswara Temple near  Sherthala, and Ullala, mirrors  with “Om Shanti” inscribed on them was installed in 1927.  Some people  say that though  the Guru installed idols in the beginning, he turned against idol worship in later days and   that  is   why he installed a mirror in the end. But this is not just a denial of idol worship, it is something in a higher plane.  The true meaning  of his installations can be properly understood, only through a  thorough linear study of all the installations in order.  The protagonist starts with idol worship and gradually moves up to   the stage of enlightenment, and in that brightness  he is enabled to reflect Truth,  righteousness, Compassion  and Peace in  his own life and in the end, within  his soul he is able to experience  the Ultimate Truth in the  from of “Om”. When “Om” on a mirror was  installed at Ullala near Vaikkam, and named it “Omkareswaram” it was the culmination  and finale of the Guru’s consecrations.

The three institutions-Aruvippuram, Sivagiri Sharada Mattom, and Aluva Advaithasharam - are  founded by the Guru.  These three in a series covertly provides the direction for the spiritual progress of man.  Initiating with   the worship of the  idol, the path leads to enlightenment  with  acquiring wisdom (Satvika Jnanam) and reaches the highest peak  of Ultimate  Truth through Advaithic  experience.

When the Guru came down to the midst of people as a spiritual preceptor, the lineage of disciples also started.  Even before the installation at Aruvippuram, the Guru had a great assemblage of ascetic disciples like Sivalinga Dasa Swamy, Bhairavan Shanti Swamy, Nischaladas Swamy, Sree Narayana Chaithanya Dasa Swamy etc. These eminent disciples were the apostles of Aruvippuram Temple Association and later SNDP in its early days.  The Guru had the desire to establish    a systematic ascetic order including all these disciples. But it could become a reality only at the fag end of his life, on Jan 9th, 1928, during his sojourn at the Advaithashram, attached to the Maheswara Temple of Koorkancheri.  The members of Dharma Sangham will be only from the ascetic lineage.

Swamy Bodhananda and Swamy Dharma Theertha were the leading hands behind this. The Guru nominated Bodhananda Swamy as President of this organization. Swamy Dharma Theertha as Secretary.  (He had not joined the ascetic order at that time, he was still Parameswara Menon) and Govindananda Swamy as Treasurer. When the organization was registered  the following people were the members.

1.Divyasri Bodhananda Swamy

2.Srimad Govindananda Swamy

3.Sri. Sugunandagiri Swamy

4.Mambalam Vidyananda Swamy,

5.Swamy Dharma Theerthar,

6.Sri Narsimha Swamy

7.Sri. Ramananda Swamy

8.Sri. Neelakantan Brahmachari

9.Atmananda Swamy.

10.Sankarananda Swamy

11.P. Natarajan (future Nataraja Guru) did not join, but he was present for the group photo taken on that day.

12.On the next day, the Guru’s European disciple Earnest Kirk joined.

The Dharma Sangham was started with 12 members altogether.

The objective of Dharma Sangham is to unify the society and lead it to a single world culture, where caste discriminations and religious rivalries are given up and everyone recognizes oneself as a microcosm of the great Advaithic Truth.  The head -quarters of Dharma Sangham is at Sivagiri in Varkala.  There are many Ashramas and other organizations within Kerala and outside working under the Dharma Sangham.   

The following people have been the  presidents of Dharma Sangham, and the Master of Sivagiri Mutt (Mathathipati)

1.Divyasri Bodhananda Swamy

2.Divyasri Govindananda Swamy

3.Divyasri Achyuthananda Swamy

4.Divyasri Shankarananda Swamy

During the last Mathadhipati Swamy Shankarananda’s regime the Dharma Sangham was converted into a Public Charitable Trust (1958) and started working under that name.  The first president of the Trust was Swamy Ananda Theerthar, who had the good fortune to be the last disciple of the Guru.  The Guru had ordered that every year on Chaitra Pournami day, all the members of the Dharma Sangham should join together to celebrate the anniversary of Dharma Sangham.   Conducting the famous Annual Pilgrimage to Sivagiri is the responsibility of Dharma Sangham Trust.  Two great events managed by the Dharma Sangham are Maha Samadhi Mandira Prathishta (installation of the Guru’s statue in the Mahasamadhi Mandiram) during 1982-83 and the celebration of the International year of the Guru in 1977.   Other great events to be mentioned are the Guru’s Birth Centenary, Centenary of Aruvippuram Installation and the Silver Jubilee of Brahma Vidyalayam  (25 years). Dharma Sangham  is the dynamic force behind the growth of  organizations in the name of the Guru into great spiritual centers.  The great disciples of the Guru, who had dedicated themselves to spread the spiritual contributions of the Guru, in the common man’s consciousness, are Sivalinga Dasa Swamy, Chaitanya Swamy, Bodhananda Swamy, Govindananda Swamy, Vidyananda Swamy, Swamy Guru Prasad, Satyavratha Swamy, Dharma Theertha Swamy, Natarajaguru, Arya Bhatta Swamy, Sree Narayana Theerta Swamy, and after the demise of the Guru, Mangalananda Swamy, Geethananda Swamy  and Brahmananda Swamy.

But the organizations in the name of the Guru have not fully recognized the great service rendered by these ascetic disciples.  While remembering the names of the Guru’s disciples, these names are sometimes left out.  The devotees of the Guru should know that the   combined working of SNDP and the ascetics of Dharma Sangham would strengthen the organizations.

The first periodical published to carry the voice of Sivagiri was   Navajivan monthly magazine with Swamy Satyavrathan as the Chief Editor.  The second one was Dharmam weekly with Swamy Dharma Theerthar as Chief Editor. Sivagiri a monthly magazine  with Swamy Nijananda as Editor in Chief, continues as  the manifesto of Sivagiri Mutt.  
Though a number of schools, Ashramas and hospitals function under Sivagiri Mutt, the most important one is Brahma Vidyalayam (the great school for all religions).  In this, any child of any caste or religion who has passed 10th class can join to study.  The expenses will be borne by Sivagiri Mutt.   The course extends for seven years, and includes the syllabus of MA in Sanskrit of Kerala University and the philosophy of all religions. No need to mention that this course is based on the philosophic vision of the Guru.  Whoever wishes to join can contact the Secretary, Brahma Vidyalaya Committee, Sivagiri Mutt, Varkala.  The lineage of ascetic disciples emerges mainly through this Brahma Vidyalayam.

Guru Dharma Pracharana Sabha is a tributory organization, working under the Dharma Sangham. The main functions of this are studying of Guru’s compositions, publishing them, anti-liquor activities etc. There are more than thousand units for this.  Devotees can contact Sivagiri Mutt, and register new units. It is a fact that the Dharma Sangham has not developed as much as the Guru visualized.   To make it grow and develop is not the duty of only the ascetic order, but all devotees should remember that they too have a moral responsibility for the growth of Dharma Sangham.

THE END OF A GREAT LIFE (Chapter – 14)

Appointment of a successor  and Foundation laying for Brahma Vidyalayam.

The Foundation stone for the Brahma Vidyalayam was laid on 17th October, 1925 by the Guru. A few days before that on Vijayadashmi day he had appointed Bodhananda Swamy as his legal successor.  Bodhananda Swamy, a native of Trichur, had all the desirable qualities  to make him suitable and eligible to become  the successor  of the Guru.  The Guru registered  a will bestowing the ownership and  administrative responsibility  of all his movable and immovable properties in the name of Bodhananda and after Bodhananda’s time,  the right and responsibility  will rest with the lineage of disciples.  The administration  of Sivagiri Mattom is being carried  on as per the conditions put  forward in this will.

After  sanctioning Sivagiri pilgrimage, in January, 1928, the   Guru went straight to his Ashram at Vellore near Vaikkam.  Here a special meeting of the Dharma Sangham was  held.  Most probably this was the last official function in which the Guru participated.  While living here, the Guru felt the symptoms of urinary obstruction for the first time.  For treatment, the Guru went to Palakkadu first, then to Madras and returned. The disease was getting better or worse at different periods.  It seems once he had expressed  the doubt  whether this disease was the result of  the strict celibacy he practised.

This divine saint, who was God to this people, had been blessing his devotees by giving advices, and medicines to cure their  physical ailments.  The disciples had enough  opportunity  to serve him to their hearts’ content.  To each disciple, the Guru gave advice, identifying his taste and nature.  To the physician disciples, he offered opportunities for higher studies in medicine.  Even when he was in the precarious stage of life, many devotees used to get relief by a look, or word, or a pinch   of prasadam from  him.  He is showering his blessings on them by curing chronic diseases. He had the complacence to have looked after the welfare of all his devotees  and followers.  By attending to their needs,  he had been elevated to the  status of Parama Guru   and the ‘Highest God’  in their hearts.

On May 20th, 1928, his disciple  Natarajan was sent to Europe for higher  studies.  While sending him off  Guru  gave him two ripe mangoes as prasadam with blessing and asked  him.  “When will you return?” To the question the Guru himself answered, by raising his hands “Four months”. Natarajan did not understand the meaning of these words, which the Guru with his knowledge of past, present and future uttered.  The meaning  became clear after four months.

In the month of July, C. Parameswra Menon was taken into the ascetic order as Swamy Dharma Theerthar. On August 3rd, Ananth Shenai was blessed with Sanyasa Deeksha and named  Swamy Ananda Theerthar.  This Saraswata  Brahmin, who had passed M.A in first rank was  the last disciple  to be joined to the ascetic order by the Guru.

One day the Guru told his ascetic  disciples “I have installed a yantram (machine)  here.  It will go on for ever, in spite of minor  problems in working”.  There is no need to mention that this machine is the organization founded  by the Guru with Sivagiri as center.

     An incident that happened at the end of August, 1928 deserves special mention.  A sick woman,  prostrate with some disease was brought to  the Guru, almost like   a dead body.  The  Guru sprinkled some water  on her face  and  signalled her to get up .  The paralysed woman immediately got up.  The Guru ordered her to walk  and she walked and took  food too.  On the  next day she went home completely cured.  On hearing this, Mahakavi Ulloor  Parameswar Ayyar, came to the Guru and expressed his wish that the Guru should live for quite some more time.  But the Guru had replied,   “To live for this body  is not   necessary, hereafter”.

One day  he told Dharma Theether  “The fifth of Kanni (month in Malayalam calendar) is an auspicious day.  On that day, a mass feeding is to be arranged.”  On Kanni 4th, the children, brought up by the Guru came to wish him before going to school.  When the children were leaving, tears flowed down from his eyes.  The tears of the Guru, who had not cried even at the time of his birth, were not tears of grief, it was tears of joy.  Among the children who walked away after praying him, children of all castes and religions were there.  They have discarded such differences and become one group. When the Guru saw that, he felt that the unified world which he had dreamt about was becoming a reality in them.  Those tear drops were the symbols of the pleasure he experienced.  He had the satisfaction that to gain whatever objective his whole life was spent, was finally achieved.  He was content and complacent.

Finally the 5th day of Kanni came. There was a drizzle on that day.  As the Guru had ordered early, mass feeding was done.  By about 3.15 in the afternoon, the Guru tried to get up and sit on the bed.  His disciple Achyuthananda Swamy and others supported the holy body to sit up in ‘Padmasana’.  At this time another disciple Vidyananda Swamy was reading the chapter ‘Jeevan Mukti’ from Yoga Vasishtam.  The Guru appeared glowing with a divine light. He said “I feel peaceful” and asked the disciples to recite Daivadasakam. Achyuthananda Swamy, Dharma Theerthar and Narasimha Swamy together recited the hymn melodiously.  While the last line of the hymn was sung, the divine eyes, which had been blessing the entire humanity, closed for ever.  He entered the world of eternal peace. It was  sukla shashti 1928, Sept. 20 Thursday ( 1140 Kanni 5th , 3.30 pm)

    “The four months” the Guru mentioned while sending off Natarajan was completed on that day.

    The Guru’s birth, divine life of 73 years and the peaceful end remain marvelous, benevolent and venerable  forever.

    In the glorious history of ancient India, Adi Shankara was an incomparable genius. Before him, Buddha Bhagavan had spread the light of compassion and righteousness in this land. Bhagavan Sree Narayana was an epiphany  that had descended into this world, integrating and unifying the glorious Advaithic wisdom of Adi Shankara and the matchless compassion of Buddha.

    The Guru who lived in the atomic age, had studied and evaluated all the streams of philosophic thoughts that originated after Buddha and Adi Shankara, and integrated them into a unified whole with Advaithic principles. The Advaithic theory was transformed from a static intellectual theory into a dynamic, practical process of every day life. That was the real great purpose behind his incarnation, which he had achieved wonderfully well.  The Unitive Philosophy which he had presented to the world, is going to be the philosophy of future centuries.  To make this Unitive Philosophy of one caste, one religion, and one God accepted as the leading principle and become the basis of life in this world, the Guru’s words will remain alive, reminding and reprimanding this world.

    The Guru had advised that the coming centuries will need a unified culture that will combine the non-violence of Buddha, the love of Christ, brotherhood of Prophet Mohammed, wisdom of Adi Shankara and the spirituality of ancient teachers (Gurus).  He is the founder of such a unified world, and he and his philosophy will be the leading light for the coming centuries.

    He entered eternal rest with complacence as he had the gratification of having achieved what he was born for.  His life on earth was certainly great, gratified and divine.  Among the great teachers of wisdom of this world, Sree Narayana Guru shines with incomparable glory. He was not the Guru of a particular community, religion, place or period. He is a Guru for the entire world, and will shine as eternal light, till this world ceases to exist.  He worked in the midst of humanity for 73 years.  During this period, there never was a blemish or defect in that life, no one has ever seen anything demeaning in him. He had never uttered an unpleasant word to any one.  People of all castes and religions accepted and respected him.  He spread compassion and consolation to the entire populace and exists as the divine spirit, the greatness of which fills all lives, and all life exist immersed in it.  Until the whole of humanity joins to form one caste and one religion, until the whole of humanity realizes that there is only one God for all of us, until the world is unified, the spirit of Sree Narayana guru will continue to induce this into human hearts, and remain eternal.

    Great superhumans like him are born only once in a millennium. To see another great Universal Guru like him, this world should wait at least for a thousand years. He was  a boon granted to this world, by the Almighty.  The purpose of his incarnation was to build up a unified society without the differences of caste and creed. Let us keep him enshrined in our hearts, his words embedded in our intellect, and lead our lives as he showed us. Let us obey him in thought, words and deeds, and objectify his principles.  Brothren, let us bow our heads at his divine feet.  We have no other God. Will the world ever at a Guru like him?.   Can life be pleasant without worshipping him?.


By Swami Dharma Theerthan  B.A. LL.B


I was privileged to read the manuscript of this little book and found it unusually interesting and thought provoking. Now the gifted author, whom I am happy to reckon among my friends, has conferred a further privilege upon me by inviting me to write a brief introduction. The story he has written ,the soul history of a great man, is arresting both on account of its subject matter and because of its form. By weaving his own choice philosophical reflections with the biographical details, the author has succeeded in producing a result which holds the attention and makes the reader reluctant to lay the book aside until the whole tale is told.
It was never my previlege to meet Swami Narayana Guru, but the wide respect in which his memory is held, the impression he has left upon his followers and the reformed life of his community,are eloquent testimony to the nobility of his character and to the extraordinary influence of his life and personality. He was evidently one of those souls who appear but seldom to bless and enrich the life of their fellows. The title given by the author,”The Prophet of Peace,” is apt as the prophet’s message is thoroughly appropriate to this hurly-burly age of ours and especially for this country of communal strife and jealousy. That message is simple and clear.
The title given him links Swami Narayana Guru with those famous Hebrew prophets of ancient time with their passion for social reform  and their unceasing effort to lift their own people to purer and truer thoughts of God-Amos the Prophet of Righteousness,Hosea the Prophet of Grace,Iasiah the Prophet of Holiness.Swami Narayana Guru is in a great succession. His heart was lit by the pure white passion of desire to cleanse the social life of his people , to set them free from superstition and lead them from  the worship of the form to apprehension of the God who is Spirit  and Who seeketh such as will worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Perhaps he might have been called “The Prophet of Simplicity” equally well that simplicity which is sublime and which is so clearly expressed in his favourite formula “One caste, One religion, One God”. The brotherhood of man, one God and Father of us all, and one religion- the religion of love to bind man and God into one sublime fellowship. This is simple teaching, if you will, but it is great and it touches the profound depths of eternal truth itself.
So intense is the impression made by this great teacher upon his followers and so clearly is his figure made to stand out by the earnest and felicitous phrasing of the writer of this biography that one is inclined to fear lest, as so often happens with hero worship, the spiritual principles which this hero embodied and for which he lived and suffered and died may be eclipsed and lost sight of in the glamour  and fascination of the outward events of his life. This would be a sad fate for one so self-effacing and so devoted to purity of life and thought as Swami Narayana Guru.His mission was to point the way to the one of whom the best of our thoughts are but faint and dim reflections. “The One remains, the many changes and pass;Heaven’s light for ever shines, earth’s shadows Life, like a dome of many –coloured glass,fly; Stains the white radiance of eternity, Until Death tramples it to fragments”.
The great soul of this prophet of peace has passed beyond into the eternal radiance to which he witnessed with humbleness of heart and sincerity of purpose, simplicity of thought and purity of life. He saw the clear white light from afar and he followed it upwards and onwards beckoning to those he loved to press after his lead. Let us follow the gleam until it brings us,too, unto the perfect day.
(London Missionary Society, Trivandrum: Rev: R. H. Eastaff, M.A. B.D.


This is not primarily a biography of events ,but as explained in the first chapter, a study, a biography of ideas and ideals. Of course, a study has to be based on facts; ideas and ideals are to be sought in the works and words of the master. The incidents of his life therefore, come within our purview in so far as they are necessary for our main purpose of understanding his mission and message. Those who are interested in the subject will find a more detailed, though by no means  exhaustive, account in  the lives of Gurudev written in Malayalam by Mr.K.Damodaran B.A., and Mr.Murkot Kumaran. In Mr.Kumaran’s book some of the miracles referred to in the present volume are also described.
I am extremely thankful to the Rev.R.H.Eastaff for so kindly writing the Foreword and otherwise helping me with advice and suggestions.

I - A FORECAST - Biography A Study

The life- history of a great man is at best a study, and as a matter of fact it is always an incomplete study. It is the attempt of a smaller man to understand and depict one greater than himself.Great men do not belong merely to the present.They belong more to the future than to the contemporary roles they play. We have to view them as distant stars shining through the clouds of centuries yet to roll on, a task beset with grave risks and requiring exceptional powers of vision. Even otherwise, of all objects of study, man is certainly the most difficult, because the true  man is beyond our understanding. The methods adopted in the sciences are of little use in our attempt to comprehend a human personality.(page-2)The powers of the mind and the virtues of the heart are the only true measure of the man, and these are intangible and elusive things.The means available to us for studying these aspects of a personality are extremely unreliable.The results of all endeavour in that  direction cannot be much more than an incomplete study. What is worse , the conclusions are almost invariably coloured by the writer’s own mentality,and the readers have the data nor the opportunity to verify them as in other fields of knowledge.It is therefore with great diffidence that the present writer enters on his task.He feels that the subject is too great for him. He realizes his own insignificance and utter weakness by the side of the hero.The magnificient panorama which opens itself out before his admiring vision , so dazzlingly brilliant,, so gloriously beautiful, so divinely wonderful, has however such vividness and certainity for him that he is able to forget his own shortcomings in the inspiration of the picture. The call of duty is so persistent-the duty of one who has had the rare privilege to get a glimpse of the mysterious to convey to others the glory of the great vision- that the writer makes no apology for launching on this arduous work.
We will start with a consideration of the work and achievements of Gurudev, and thus feel our way over surer ground to an appreciation of the man. Enumeration of incidents is no biography.However great the subject might be, a mere narration of events will leave the reader unimpressed unless the events are linked together by a great purpose. If such a great purpose is wanting, then indeed that life has no paramount or universal significance.It is one of the many events in history. Can we detect a dominating mission in his life? Is there a great goal towards which the various facts lead us irresistibly? Has any new light been thrown on the path of human progress? If so, the little things which make up the picture begin to have a meaning which we cannot otherwise appreciate. Who the hero was is not the real question; it will be a profitless enquiry. What is he to us, what is the contribution he has made to our life, to speed up the the progress of the world, to solve the many vital problems which are accumulating around us? That is the real interest in the lives of great men. When we have thus ascertained the nature of Gurudev’s lasting achievement, we shall be able to see in their proper perspective the varied incidents of his eventful life. The nature of his contribution to the solution of world problems will show the place he occupies in the galaxy of brilliant personalities of the world.

We make no secret of the fact that we claim for Gurudev a place among the highest, among the suns and stars and not among the creatures of the earth; among the saviours of humanity and not among the kings and conquerors; among the Budhas, the Christs and Mohammeds, and not among mere philosophers and geniuses. The highest standards, therefore, are not too high to measure the value of his work. The widest sweep of our mental vision will not be too wide to comprehend the scope of his message. We have to approach the subject in terms of world problems and in the light of the evolution of centuries. To think of Gurudev merely as a reformer, as the religious leader of a community, as a great scholar and genius, or the founder of numerous institutions would be narrowing our own outlook and blurring our vision of the greater truth.
Let it not be thought that this extra-ordinary claim is now made for the first time and that by a disciple of Gurudev.No,it is not so. (page5)More than twenty years before he passed away, such an eminently impartial and qualified body as the calicut  branch of the Theosophical Society in a public address presented to Gurudev,referred to him in the following terms:-“We offer you our hearty welcome to the Annie Hall, recognizing in you a born leader of men –a genuine descendant of the ancient saints of our motherland – sent out by the guardians of humanity for the uplifting and redemption of a community of whose spiritual interest those who call themselves high caste have grown so sadly oblivious. In the many Maha Deva Temples that are rising up on this coast by the magic of your inspiring personality, we see the upwelling of the divine forces which herald the coming of the sixth subrace of the Aryan root race. We earnestly pray that your holy influence may grow from more to more, and by showering everywhere peace and harmony, bring about a speedy solution of the many social problems of beloved Kerala”. The above language was used at a time when Gurudev had not certainly attained the zenith of his work or reputation.
Soon after his demise in 1928, the Editor of the official Magazine of the Theosophical Federation of Kerala, wrote in that journal,called the Sanatana Dharma, the following appreciation of Gurudev, in a way, anticipating much that the present writer has to say.
“During recent centuries, no one in India has enjoyed so much reverance as he commanded- a reverence so glorious, so enduring, so comprehensive, so universal, and so pure. His life has exemplified the great truth that, sometimes, courageous souls who have attained liberation do take birth among peoples who are oppressed by custom to show them the path of emancipation, and in doing so take upon themselves suffering and scorn. The physical sufferings and troubles which His Holiness who was so spotlessly pure had to undergo must be attributed to the vicarious endurance of the Karma of the entire community in which he was born.Even in his last days he has demonstrated the spiritual truth that pure souls by the shedding of their righteous blood accomplish atonement for the sins of humanity.He taught the down trodden classes to rise. But in doing that he advised all people as the depressed classes were themselves victims of a pitiable delusion, only when they completely wiped out all traits of the caste-mentality which was the cause of (page-7)the delution could there be real social freedom.The secret of this spiritual perception even his devotees find it difficult to grasp.He established temples for the temporary use of communities who had no places of worship.But when he found that human vanities were becoming identified with the gods of these temples, he proclaimed that only the one Life which manifests itself in the numerous forms in the temple of the universe should be worshiped, ignoring all differences of caste and creed………. He was not in the habit of addressing meetings or talking much. But like the sun by mere presence, he spread his light and  love. The inspiration of that light has made many a man a famous orator. His loving presence has cut the root of strong enmities. His look of wisdom has given peace to many doubt-tossed minds. His life of renunciation has shown to numerous people the secret of the path of dedicated service…(Yoga of Action). Rishi Narayana, who was to awakened Malabar, Patanjali in Yoga, Sankara in wisdom, Manu in the art of government, Budha in renunciation, Mohammed in strength of spirit, and Christ in humility, after seventy two years spent in the drama of human life has gone back to whence he came. (page-8)In the full enjoyment of evergrowing fame and reverence of good souls which true knowers of the Divine Wisdom can alone command,that perfected life has passed on from mortality to immortality.The master’s idols enshrined in the hearts of many lakhs of devotees, the institutions of service which he has established, and Sivagiri, the witness of immortality, were all watching in silent adoration when that glorious Light rose up to the heavens. May the story of his unfathomable wisdom, unlimited love and multifarious virtues and works be the perpetual inspiration of the faithful hearts which throbbed by the effulgence of his face and the sweetness of his words. For future generations, he will be one of the divine personalities among the incarnations of god and the superhuman beings of India’s religious lore. The elements of sivagiri have vied with one another to share his physical body. But the great power which has risen out of it will ever remain warning and blessing us until his teaching of ONE CASTE  ONE RELIGION   ONE GOD is well established in the world.


As the Hindu philosophers say, Truth is one and the same for all people and for all time. So are the fundamental world problems.They are in essence the same for all ages and climes. Viewed from the standpoint of human civilization, there are three elements in the one perpetual riddle of life. They are the individual, the society composed of individuals, and the ideal towards which both are moving. Their relations to one another and their mutual adjustment in a harmonious whole form the subject matter in one aspect or other of all thought and study.The war-cry of the famous Revolution,Liberty,Equality and Fraternity, represents the three aspects of the one problem in their most easily understandable form. Liberty emphasizes the individual right to unfettered growth and activity.Equality stresses the social aspect by defining the relation of the units constituting the whole. Fraternity stands for the glorious Ideal towards which all should be aspiring. The religious man will put it as Man, the Universe and God. The socialist might speak of the same things as the Worker, the community and Socialism. The politition thinks in terms of the Citizen, the State, and International Peace.The economist will talk of Private Property, Public Wealth and Universal Trusteeship. Leaders of thought all over the world are having and have ever had for their meditation this three cornered mystery of life. The divine men, the religious teachers, have but attempted fresh adjustments of human life in its three aspects, readjustments necessitated by the lapse of time and evolution of men and things.The great religions of the world are different solutions of the same riddle, different answers to the same perpetual query. The emphasis is at one time on this aspect, at another time on the other aspect. One religion takes up the individual life and evolves a plan of salvation. Another religion puts the emphasis on the social order and views the the other sides of the question from its own standpoint. The angles of vision change; the methods of approach vary; the solutions are different; the emphasis shifts from one aspect to another. It should not, however, be forgotten that the problem is one and one only. There cannot be any solution which does not comprehend inherently all the three aspects. When therefore we speak of one teacher being concerned with a special problem and one religion as a key to a special solution, we are using the language of comparative values and not of fundamental differences.
In the most ancient of the great religions, Hinduism,we have a comprehensive enunciation of the principles of individual salvation. Society in those days was well organized. People were really social beings, individuals fettered to a well defined group with its stern rules of dicipline. How could one be free from the world in which one seemed to be but a helpless atom. It was in that light that the problem presented itself to the ancient Aryans. Thinker after thinker, genius after genius, evolved his theory of liberation and propounded his own philosophy of the final freedom.We find them rising to the highest flights of imagination and employing the subtlest ingenuities of reasoning in untying the eternal knot. While these wonderful intellectual discoveries were going on, the Indian society remained uninfluenced or little influenced, and followed its own course of development or decline. Philosophies are good in their own way; but an ounce of practical demonstration is worth a ton of metaphysics in the progress of communities.   (page12)  No doubt the history of Hinduism is full of great personalities who have demonstrated the law of the spirit, in one aspect or other, for the guidance of mankind.But some how the course of social evolution remained comparatively unaffected by the philosophy of the ancients. That is why after centuries of suffering and foreign domination, we find the Hindu still passionately clinging to his superstitions, his horay customs dark with the smoke of ages and frightful in their antedeluvian iniquity.Such are the castes, untouchability, animal sacrifices, child-marriage and similar things still guarded as the precious treasures of Hindu culture by the hereditary priesthood of India and their hypnotized followers.
The Buddha came not with a philosophy but a demonstration of the spiritual law. He came to show to the perplexed world the application to life of the great ideals of the ancient philosophers. As far as he went, he was clear, definite and practical. He cast to the winds the rituals, the sacrifices, the pageantry of temple worship, and the gymnastics of metaphysical speculation. He demolished the ancient social structure. He brought down religion from the philosophical heights of (page13)Hinduism to the daily life of the people. He extricated it from the clutches of cruel practices and degrading beliefs and raised it to be a moral force among its followers. His influence grew in strength, but the dreamland of India where the shadows of sleep were more substantial than the realities of the waking state, where the atmosphere was full of the intoxication of intellectual pride, was no congenial soil for Budha’s teachings. The great wave passed over India to other lands and other people, and today Lord Budha is the concrete embodiment of the law to a fifth of the human race.
Not long afterwards came Jesus Christ. He is the way and the truth.He came not to preach but to show the way and the truth.He came not to talk of God  and his glory but he came as God to show himself to the people. He is God come to man to teach man to go to God. All the essence of Hindu philosophy is so beautifully represented in the simple story of the Christ, that one might say that Christ is a grand illustration of the Hindu Bible and a fuller and simpler embodiment of the Budha Dharma.If Budha brought down religion to the daily lives of the people, Christ may be said to have taken it through their daily lives to the eternal life after death.Budha reduced religious metaphysics to the Dharma and the Sanghom. Christ solidified  religion into the Cross, the most concrete and impressive symbol of the spiritual law of salvation.Budha by meditation and penance saw the light. Christ was born with the light; he was the light. Budha came to preach the law. Christ came to fulfill the law; he was  the law.
Hindu philosophy indulges in never ending dissertations about the Jivatma or the Human soul, and the Paramatma or the God Soul, and establishes their theoretical indentity. Liberation means the realization in oneself of the Godself. Budha ignores these astounding speculations.He calls men to work out their own destiny by leading a kindly and pure life according to the law of nature.Christ puts the grand philosophical conceptions of the Hindu in parabolical terms. The Son of man is the Son of God . The Son and the father are one. In the virgin birth of Jesus, we have the great teaching that man is not of body but of the spirit of God, that the real father is the Father in Heaven.We are then told often that the son of man has been sent to do the will of the Father. This is the great secret of(page 15) spiritual life – to understand and live in the law and spirit of God. The will of the Father was that He should live and die for the salvation of mankind. ‘When you live, love thy neighbour as thyself and do unto others as you would be done by.’ But the real and the final step that leadeth unto heaven is the death on the cross.The crucifixion symbolizes the fall of the body and triumph of the spirit; the great sacrifice which all should perform in order to attain Godhood, the casting off of the lower and the individual self and embracing the universal or Godself. All the profound mysteries of the Vedantin are exemplified in the simple and never to be forgotten story of the Christ. So touching, so straightforward, so simple and yet so grand so much like our own struggles, and so appropriate to the times and circumstances, expressing the highest law in terms of service and sacrifice, Christianity has become a great force in the world.
Upto Christ, the highest ideals especially in their religious aspect, were the ideals of personal salvation.In Christ we have the perfect and the simplest interpretation of that ideal. Along that line it was impossible to make any further advance. The high water-mark was reached in Christ.(page16)The plan attains perfection in him; he is the fulfillment. The world has had the benefit of that glorious example for twenty centuries. Its contribution to human happiness has been immense. But at the very time we think of the magnificient personality of the Saviour, we are inevitably reminded also of the tragedy that is being enacted by the Christian world no less than by others, perhaps forecasting the great change that is bound to come.The world is still groaning under the load of unrighteousness and sins for which Christ shed his blood. No doubt, great and godly men and women have carried the comfort of the cross all over the globe.To mention their sacrifices is to evoke our worshipful admiration.But the sum-total of human progress has been one of the increasing misery,oppression, injustice, inequality and selfishness. If we ignore Christlike  individuals and the less brilliant stars, to be found here and there, every country today is the sepulcher of Christianity. All the highest teachings of Christ are openly violated in national and international activities. In the council chambers of the Powers, the crucifixion of Christ is a daily event more wantonly indulged in than twenty centuries ago. All the best human capacities and resources are spent in the service of the devil,in the production of engines of destruction. Almost every so called treaty, of which each nation has a bundle,is veiled conspiracy against some other country or interest.Political relations are maintained by a tissue of falsehood and mutual deception, and there is not the least compunction to plunge the claws of war into the bosom of a brother country on the slightest pretext or no pretext at all. The passions of sex and the cravings of the palate are the ruling considerations of life to which most people are literally enslaved. The high and the low alike are the victims of their own degradation.Nations are groaning under the weight of oppressive machines which they have piled upon themselves. They are sitting on a volcanoe of mutual suspicions, secret motives and aggressive ambitions which may burst at any time and engulf them in the blood of innocent victims. Liberty has brought with it callous selfishness, aggressive greed, oppression of the weak by the strong, of the poor by the rich, moral depravity, and unrestricted indulgence.Individuals and nations are today like the thief who piled on his own head all the best things of the house he looted and was crushed under their weight so that the owner of the house had to come and deliver him from that awkward situation. The world is waiting for the master of the house to come and deliver it.
From the profoundity of Hindu philosophy, through the moral virtues of Budha down to the crucifixion of Christ we have more or less the same spiritual law of salvation of the individual, elaborately enunciated at first, then partially illustrated, and finaly clearly exemplified. As if to prepare the world for the inevitable swing of the pendulam, Mohammed came very much in advance of his time and preached a different life – life in a society in which all lived like brothers. He is the first great prophet of the new era that is coming upon us, the first great socialist or communist, one might say in political parlance. The seeds which he sowed have been slowly taking root and growing into a plant. It is still growing. National depravity, widespred confusion, incessant feuds of turbulent peoples, these were  the conditions which faced the prophet. He was concerned not so much with the moral elevation or spiritual salvation of individuals as with the establishment of peace and contentment among the tribes who lived side by side in constant strife. The religious question begins  definitely to assume the shape of a human problem.The very word Islam means (page19)peace, harmony, living in concord. The prime duty of the Mohommedan is submission to Allah or God and doing good to others.”Whoever believe in Allah and the last day and do good, they shall have their reward”. Right  conduct is emphasized more than anything else. It is not the Dharma of the isolated individual but the duty of man living in the midst of fellow beings.Says the Quoran”All people are a single nation” “Let not one people laugh at another people. Perchance these others may be better than they.” Brotherhood of man was recognized as the highest social law and truth. Mohamed went so far as to say that whatever might be the religion or creed, “ All make obeisance to Allah Only.”
The world has yet to understand the great prophet and the scope of his teachings proclaiming the dawn of a new era.We have practically made no advance in the direction which he has pointed out to us.The evils of the passing civilization are reaching a climax. The horizon is brightening up with the rising of a new epoch. The eternal struggle to balance the scales goes on age after age. When men find the task hopeless teachers come to steady the forces and establish peace. Time however plays its havoc and the teacher’s plan is soon  forgotten or becomes ineffective. Then another great figure appears on the scene, and there is a fresh attempt to balance the forces, to readjust the scheme of life according to the requirements of the time.Thus beginning with Mohammed , there is a turn in the tide of human growth, a change from the individualistic to the socialistic basis. We are slowly advancing along the same path in spite of ourselves. This spirit of the age is eloquently expressed by H.G. Wells in his book “First and Last Things”. The following passage sums up in a nut-shell the essential import of the altered attitude to life.” The essential fact in man’s history to my sense is the slow unfolding of a sense of community with his kind , of the possibilities of co-operations leading to scarce dreamt of  collective powers, of a synthesis of the species, of the development of a common general idea, a common general purpose out of a present confusion.”. The narrow individualistic view of life is becoming impossible. The great problems of the present world are all as wide as mankind – the problems of contending nationalities, of racial differences, of inequalities of caste, of religious antagonisms, of the conflict of capital and labour, of birth control the health and preservation of the race, of international peace and universal brotherhood. In all matters we have to think in terms of humanity as a whole. The progress of science has helped the change by breaking up the barriers of time and space between country and country; and now science itself is perplexed at the magnitude of the task confronting it. Certainly we need now a teacher to show the way out of the prevailing chaos.In the following pages an attempt is made to reveal the silent message of a great Prophet of peace.


Malabar (the land of the Malayalam speaking people) is the laboratory in which Gurudev has perfected his experiment and demonstrated his method. Here he has delivered his message, and given us the key with which we may open up the barred gates of progress. Let us see how the problem presented itself to him in Malabar.
Malabar of one hundred years ago was a paradise of fools where everyone was happy in his ignorance, in his superstitions and in his age long social bondage. The village was the unit of social life. Even the present day towns had not emerged out of the village state. The village was a social republic in its outer form but actually a cttadel of caste-tyranny, where the highest caste ruled and the lower castes obeyed. Caste law was the common law of the land. The temple represented by the Namboori jenmi or in his absence the richest Nair landlord, was the seat of the village government. Grouped into small colonies according to caste, lived the rest of the people looking up to the chief of the temple for protection of property and maintenance of social peace. The people were of three classes:- (1) the  jenmies or the legal proprietors of the land, (2) the actual possessors and managers of the land, and (3) the labourers and artisans. The first, the village chiefs, were the dictators of law, social and religious, as well as civil and  criminal. The second class formed the feudal army of the dictator with whose help the latter maintained their power and prestige and executed their orders. The last class were the social slaves. All work was done by them. From tilling of the soil to the construction of the chief's mansion or the temple of the village deity, works of all sorts were done exclusively by the third class who consisted of carpenters,(page 23) blacksmiths, goldsmiths, masons, cobblers, barbers, washermen, tillers of the soil and so forth. With one or two exceptions, all the labouring classes were untouchables.They had to live in the allotted corner of the village, perform their respective compulsory services for which they received small doles of paddy and vegetables and oil, and on festival days clothes also.They could not move out of their streets without the constant fear of polluting the higher castes.As a rule they were not permitted to learn anything other than the hereditary profession. To attempt otherwise was certain to bring down the ire of the whole village and condign punishment from the chief. They should not appear too neat, nor walk as men and citizens  on the public roads.The cattle might stray where they pleased , but the untouchable labourer must get out of the public road on the approach of people of higher castes.He must cover his mouth with one hand when speaking to them even from a distance. He  must get permission of the landlord for cooking a good meal on festive occasions or for putting up a new hut. He was not to have more than a loin cloth nor foot-wear lest he should be bullied for insulting conduct. He could not be the owner of a good name except in a vulgar and corrupted form. He could not move out(page 24) of the village, and no other village would tolerate his presence if he was a runaway. He could not attend the schools, visit the bazaars, touch the public tanks, and wells, or approach the common temple for the maintenance of which he had to contribute his mite in labour and things. The lowest class among these people were even sold and purchased along with the land on which they lived. In each of the last two classes there were numerous subcastes graded one above the other, exacting more or less similar preferences and privileges and enforcing similar subservience among all those below them in social rank. The untouchables had their own caste divisions probably more' numerous and more scrupulously observed than among the middleclass.
But the old Malabar village was a paradise in spite of its ignorance, superstitions and slavery, for nobody cared to be wise, nobody dared to think, nobody knew what it was to be free men. The caste rules observed from generation to generation were the supreme power in the land. In the midst of ignorance and social tyranny, the poor labourers lived like dumb-driven cattle, serving their masters uncomplainingly, happy in the dirt and poverty (page 25)of the little hovels sanctioned by the overload.It was a case of caste autocracy effectively perpetuated by the moral and economic slavery of the masses.It will however be wrong to suppose that the higher castes were cruel tyrants  and the lower castes were mercilessly trampled down upon; nothing of the kind .The masters were good and kind. The slaves were contented and happy.There were oppression and injustice as among other people and in other lands and no more.The fact was the highest and the lowest were equally serfs of the social order, of hereditary customs which had become sanctified by antiquity rather than weakened by time. The learned Namboodiri living in opulence and ease, the unquestioned monarch of the village , was as much a helpless victim of caste as the Parayas and Pulayas. He had his own superstitions and absured customs. He was equally subjected to the tyranny of the social law. He had a lion’s share of the slave mentality which has preserved the barbarous relics of the past even today. What of the middle class? The numerous caste divisions , the degrading customs, the stupid and cruel ceremonies, the slavish obeisance to the higher caste, the badge of servility even in the little things of daily life(page26) all these which we have found among the untouchables existed among these people also.
Conditions have changed very much, but some of the worst features still persist in civilized Malabar.There are thousands of people who live in the outskirts of the jungles drinking dirty water, eating filthy carcasses, in ignorance, and dirt and disease, detested and driven out by the rest of the population. Untouchability is still the badge of slavery compulsorily worn by 20 percent of the population of India. The most cultured people, of high education, and widely traveled, are even now the unconscious victims of the caste mentality. The poison is still in the system though the outer symptoms have been blurred. Dear reader, picture to yourself the enormity of the evil when you are told that even after the messengers of Christ have liberated nearly four and a half millions from the degradations of caste, there are today in India more than sixtythree millions ie.about 4% of the population of the world who are untouchables.
No doubt these are critical times all over the globe. Old institutions are crumbling down. Ancient social orders are passing away, either by deliberate destruction or by non-observance.(page 27) Religions are in the furnace of fiery criticism. Favourite conceptions of the politicians are becoming discredited. Science as well as free thinking are demolishing long established notions of progress and culture. Life is becoming a mysterious uncertainty devoid of faith and the strength of convictions. In India the great crisis is perceptible in all departments of life. The fight for political Swaraj is a small affair compared with the struggle for social and religious peace, The restoration and preservation of harmony among the multitude of castes and communities into which the population is divided is a problem of world-wide importance. The Hindu- Muslim question is only one of the great religious questions for which we have to find answers. If we successfully solve these two Indian riddles, the social and the religious, we shall have discovered solutions for the most difficult situations in the world. Malabar is  that part of India where these difficulties have attained tragic complexity, and there it was that Gurudev proclaimed the message of peace and worked out his plan of unification.
We have here an inadequate description of the laboratory; for the grim realities of the evil beggar all description and stagger us with blank helplessness. (page28 In this country,in a small village, among the people of the third division was born Gurudev, now more than seventyfive years ago, to demonstrate the path of liberation for nations and peoples all over the world, to elucidate more clearly and exemplify with the authority of truth the ideal of universal brotherhood and the fraternity of religions. Here we have a huge mass of population sunk to the depths of all round degradation, enslaved by custom, sanctified by the observance of centuries and ingrained in their very nature. Without education, poverty-stricken and oppressed, they were the despair of all social workers. Born among such people, Gurudev had to raise himself and the many lakhs of his followers from the depths of appalling ineptitude to the level of civilised human beings and through them to proclaim the highest conceptions of liberty, equality and fraternity. How did he accomplish this task?


We have already seen that the temple was the seat of religious and social authority in every Malabar village. There the elders met to discuss and decide.From there emenated the decisions which people had to obey. The status of a villager was ascertained by his rghts and privileges in the temple.The highest class alone had access to the sacro-sanctum. The next in order did the ministerial duties.Those immediately below could go inside to worship.Then there were those who were not permitted inside the inner wall but might go within the compound walls. There were others Others who could wait just outside the gate, and still others who must stand a dozen yards away  from there, and so on until the last class who should not be seen anywhere near the temple premises. Most of these practices still survive. The highest class alone are entitled to officiate as priests. The consecration of the temple by any except one on the topmost ladder would be sacrilege, a rebellion against society. That has been so everywhere among the Hindus and is so even today. So the temple represents the crown of the social structure. It is the fortress within which all the abominations of the past are preserved from the influences of time and enlightenment.
In silent defiance of these ancient practices piously observed throughout India, with the courage of one who seemed to know the divine(page 30) scheme behind the rise and fall of human institutions and the confidence of success which only he who could see into the distant future could have, Gurudev performed the very first act of his public work by consecrating a temple at Aruvipuram, about fifteen miles from Trivandrum. In that lonely jungle surrounded by lofty hills where wild animals roamed and men very rarely set their feet, without any human habitations close by, on the summit of a rocky hillock, Gurudev placed a stone which he picked up from the stream flowing close by. In laying that stone, Gurudev laid the foundation of his work. Over that little thing grew up the first temple of liberty where the lowest in society could come to the presence of God as a free man, where the untouchable could see the mysterious vision of social emancipation realised as if by a touch of the Almighty. The consecration of the first temple by Gurudev was a veritable bomb which blasted the rock of orthodoxy, reverberating the clarion call of liberty from one end of the country to the other. The sound of revolt against long established ideas boomed through the valleys of Aruvipuram rousing the down-trodden masses of Malabar to the joy of approaching liberation from the thraldom of ages. That small event shook  the foundations of the castle of social (page 31)and religious authority. The scales of subservience  fell from the eyes of the untouchables and they saw the signs of a glorious dawn, more glorious than their wildest imaginations could picture. To the privileged classes, it was like the explosion of a mine under the edifice of their sacred temple and the crumbling down of the walls which they had built up in the course of many centuries and on which their prestige and power rested. All eyes were turned to the mysterious doings of the solitary individual who electrified the country with the audacity of a leap from the valleys of grovelling untouchability to the snow-crowned peaks of freedom; for the consecration of a temple by the low born was nothing short of such a leap from the lowest to the topmost pedestal of the social ladder. The event in itself was quite a simple affair--a penniless ascetic erecting a formless stone in the unfrequented wilds of Travancore. What could he do! But there was the quickened beating of the hearts of some with the perplexity of approaching calamity to their cherished institutions, of many with the joy of a new life throbbing through their veins. Every one felt, but could not explain, that a great event had occurred, and that a master hand had begun to turn the wheel of progress. The only approximate parallel which we can find (page 32)in history is the breaking of the salt law nearly half a century afterwards, by Mahatma Gandhi who planned to shake the foundations of an empire by picking up salt along the shores of the Arabian Sea. Fifty years earlier Gurudev started to demolish a mightier empire enthrowned in the hearts of the masses by picking up the pebble of a wild stream in Travancore The light kindled on that memorable day spread like a conflagration far and wide dispelling from the minds of the high and the low alike the fear of social and religious autocracy. The rusty fetters of superstitious reverence for immemorial usages were broken in twain.
This event was quickly followed up by similar consecrations of temples in other part of Malabar so that Gurudev was able to establish over sixty temples most of which have served as the means of emancipation for many thousands of people who were till then denied the elementary rights of human beings. He is, perhaps the first great Teacher to rend asunder the veil of mystery and sanctity which hung round the Hindu temple and fling open the Holy of Holies to the lowliest devotee of God. This is the sowing of the seed of victory. This is the Magna-Charta of. the down-trodden classes. This is the great rebellion and(page 33) proclamation of independence. On the wal1s of his first institution, Gurudev wrote in his own pithy words the following motto:
Without differences of caste.
Nor enmities of creed,
All live like brothers at heart
Here in this ideal place.
( Translated)


Having awakened the people, Gurudev did not at once ask them to go and conquer. He  knew that the slave was responsible for the existence of slavery as much as the master himself. Freedom is the law of God and nature. Liberty is the birthright of all human beings. There is no power on earth which can keep them out of their rights for long, unless it be with their conscious or
unconscious acquiescence. If it is true in politics to say that nations exist and are governed by the consent of the people it is much more true in social and religious matters that inequalities and unrighteousness exist because there are men and (page 34)women who tolerate such things, who furnish the soil for their growth. Man is the master of his own destiny. Communities and nations have to work out their own salvation. The causes of oppression are not to be primarily sought in the oppressors but in the oppressed. Because all evil things are against the law of man and God alike, and they cannot thrive or even exist where there are truth and purity. If we believe in God or in an Intelligent Co-ordination of things in the universe, we cannot explain our sufferings except on the ground of our own unworthiness. Truth and purity are the basis of all law and peace, 'human as well as divine.' Only in a chaotic world injustice and untruth can thrive. Apparent injustice ceases to be injustice when it is founded on our own iniquity; oppression ceases to be oppression where there is not the manliness to resist the oppressor. Causes of evil are to be sought within ourselves more than without. But as Christ said "Truly the son of man goeth as it was determined; but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed". Luke XXII. 22. Because to be the author of the evil is a greater misery than to be its victim. While the master may not get a wink of sleep, the slave snores on his nature's bed. The evil doer is more to be pitied because he is digging his own grave;  but those who  suffer are working out their salvation. This is the eternal law of good and evil.
As Buddha said, we cannot conquer evil by evil but by good. Hatred does not cease by hatred but by love. One community might have misused the opportunities and powers placed in their hands by barring the gates of progress against others. But our duty is not to judge or to apportion the credit and blame; ours is to work and win. No one can close the door of salvation in the face of one who is determined to be saved. No community can keep another community in subservience if the latter are bent upon asserting their equality. No nation can preserve its domination over another nation which is determined to be free. It should not be the concern of the injured party to fasten the iniquity of the injury on the wrong doer. Individuals as well as nations are the creatures of their own making much  more than of circumstances. The wise leader therefore ignores the wrong-doer and calls us to our duty and our rights. He leads us on to the goal without stopping to abuse the enemy. The enemy may be right, the enemy may be wrong, the soldiers of truth have to work out and win their own salvation in accordance with the laws of God and nature.

God is wise. The universe is not a chaos of contending atoms but a cosmos wisely planned and guided by a supreme Intelligence which manifests itself as law and order. In a chaotic world there can be no security, no freedom. Freedom is possible under the reign of law and wisdom, but the fool may remain fettered even in the republic of gods.
God is good. He has made all things good. They alone subsist. Evils are the tempting bates of the devil, the temporary hallucinations of the ignorant. They cannot prevail for long because they have no strength, no life. righteousness exalteth nations as well as individuals, because it alone is strength, is the law of life. Unrighteousness is the refuge of the weak, the sign of death.
God is truth, for it alone is real, it alone is eternal. Darkness cannot prevail against light nor untruth against truth. Success is always for the true only. Untruth leads nowhere but, to blank failure. Shadows do not provide the, bricks with which an edifice may be built.The firm rock of truth is the only foundation of life.(page 37) The untrue man is like the suicide he suppresses himself, he denies his own self. Trying to win through deceit and falsehood is like serving the devil to gain the grace of God.
God is love. There are only two forces in the Universe, of construction and destruction. Love constructs and hatred destroys. Love unites, hatred divides. Love is the mighty creator and preserver of life. Hatred is like the poison which kills. The fire of hatred burns itself out to smoke and ashes. The water of love gathers in strength and volume as it flows on enriching itself and others.
God is liberty, for liberty alone is happiness, it alone is peace. The armaments of war forge but the fetters of slavery. Armed countries are like blood-thirsty bull-dogs; they cannot live in peace. How can we be happy when we are sowing the seeds of misery and planning unhappiness for others. The debtor who ever takes is always miserable. The more we want for ourselves the more we are depriving others of their due. Liberty cannot form the links of the chain of thraldom. How can a free nation keep another nation fettered? The oppressor is the slave of his  own damnation,. while the oppressed are the martyrs of happiness. Empires and nations are dissolved in (page38)the tears of the oppressed; but the fire of suffering strengthens even the weakest. The strong and free man needs no crutches to stand on; but lame nations lean on their armaments. A free people are not, therefore, afraid of freedom in others; but a slave owner lives in perpetual dread of his own fettered strength.
Pioneers of progress and soldiers of civilisation must always band  themselves on the side of God, whose laws are their strength, whose plan is their victory. This is the secret which Mahatma Gandhi has named Satyagraha. Those were the principles with which Gurudev started the work of deliverance. Throughout his life, therefore, there is not a word of complaint or condemnation. To think of an opponent is to invite opposition. Gurudev had no opponents, for he thought only of his work and never wanted to measure strength with others. One who has seen the light, thinks of nothing else and walks straight on to it. Those, who do not see the goal find dangers at every step and are engaged more in combating their imaginary enemies than in advancing their cause. Before the irresistible march of the forces of truth and virtue, the powers of darkness must flee. When we realise that right is on our side, that what we are striving for is our inalienable right and another’s grace, then we push on till the victory is won.
The soldiers of truth are always scrupulous about their own credentials-righteous intentions, constant endeavour, unfaltering courage, inspiring purity, readiness to suffer and sacrifice. Their one aim is to deserve the fruits of victory. They know that success is not what others can give, but something they have to deserve and create. We have already found that the chains which bound the masses to social servility were not so much the chains of external authority as those they had forged themselves. Gurudev called on his followers to purge themselves of the evils which kept them low.
The first stage of the work therefore, consisted of self-purification. The people were steeped in superstition, and led dirty lives, living in filth, eating and drinking dirty things. They had to be taught clean living and clear thinking. There were immemorial customs which were the relics of a savage age such as poligamy and polyandry. These had to be abolished. There were wasteful ceremonies such as Talikettu (a mock marriage) which pauperised even  the well-to-do people of the community. (page40)There were cruel and degrading practices such as animal sacrifices and drunken revelry in the name of religion. To weed out these and similar evils was the first task. The temples he erected served the purpose effectively. They automatically converted the masses to cleaner habits. They supplied the demand for a form of worship which was elevating and refining and without the cruelties and indecencies associated with the then prevailing religion. From the temples went out missionaries of the new life to preach among the masses. The wonderful hold which Gurudev had on the love and reverence of his followers made it possible for him to win them over from wasteful and degrading ceremonies. There is a story of an eleventh hour conversion by Gurudev. A rich man had arranged to celebrate the Talikettu (mock marriage) of his daughter and a batch of other girls on a grand scale. The feastings and amusements of the function continue for four days. Large sums are spent on these and the decorations. A Talikettu means months of anxious consideration and preparation for the master of the house. In this case everything had been arranged to the last. The distant relations had gathered in full strength. The guests had all arrived. The girls were arrayed in the assembly to page41assembly to undergo the insulting ceremony. The whole village had gathered there and were on the tip-toe of solemn anticipation. The astrologer had only to mention the auspicious moment and the thing would be done. At  that time Gurudev entered the assembly. All rose as one man to honour the unexpected guest. There were searchings of heart and anxious talks among the people assembled. What was Gurudev going to do? Was he going to mar  the whole festivity by prohibiting the ceremony? No, he blessed the assembly with his divine presence, and in a few seconds the master of the house fell at his feet ready to carry out his will. The will was clear: the degrading ceremony was not to be gone through. Gurudev called the master of the house and the following conversation ensued:-
Gurudev: Talikettu * is not necessary. Though we have said so very often, how is it you do not give heed to it. What l say is for your good. If you believe in my words, this ceremony must be avoided.
*Talikettu - is a costly festivity accompanied by ceremonies which are usually associlitad with marrriage. It is not however in any way related to the actual marriage which generally takes place years afterwards.It  is the relic of some ancient custom having no significance in the present condition of society.
Host: It shall be as your Holiness commands. Hereafter there shall be no more of Thalikettu in our family.
Gurudev: 'I'hat won't do. If you realise that Talikettu is unnecessary, why not give it up, even now, on this occasion? It is so meaningless that there is no harm in dropping it now.
Host: I do not know if the people assembled and the guardians of the girls will agree to this eleventh hour abandonment.
Gurudev: Do you agree? tell me that. I will ask the consent of the rest.
Host: I am perfectly willing to do as Your Holiness commands.
Gurudev: You perfectly agree? That will do.
Then Gurudev called the guardians of the girls. They all agreed to his wishes. The women showed surprising willingness to accept the sensational innovation. The girls were sent away with Gurudev's blessings. He made one of those present to announce that he had prevented the mock ceremony and he hoped that it would not be conducted by any one in the future. His commnand went out and all respected it without murmur. The feastings  page43 went on without the humiliating mockery. It did not take long before the whole country adopted the reform. In this way, one after another, the vital weaknesses were removed. His views had only to be expressed and bodies of people organised themselves in all parts of the country to carry out the reforms.
In one of his messages to the people he said: "There is now a growing recognition of the need for temples. But do the temples actually fulfil the purpose they are intended to serve? Worship of God ought to reach every heart and every home and not be confined to the temples. For this purpose the essential principles of religion should be made known to all."
1. Arrangement should be made in every temple to instruct people by lectures about historical and scientific truths manifesting the glory of God. 
2. Qualified lecturers should be sent to other places also where there may
not be temples.
3. Necessary steps should be taken to abolish Talikettu altogether. It is irrational and unnecessary.
4. The reformed mode of celebrating marriages which has been already published has not become universal. There should be uniformity in essentials all over the country.
5. Among those who follow the marumakkathayam Law, (inheritance by the maternal line) there should be provision for the wife and children to inherit at least a portion of the self acquired property of the deceased male. Otherwise marriage becomes meaningless. (This has now been done by legislation.)
His idea of what a Mutt of sanyasins should be is indicated in the instructions given .to his disciples regarding the work of the Sivagiri Mutt. He mentioned the following objects:
1. To instruct people in the general principIes of religion and spread among them the spirit of devotion to God.
2. To work among the people to establish purity within and without: the three purities  of body, speech and mind. 
3. To lecture to the people about the greatness of harmlessness, love and
purity and  make them practise these virtues.
4. To encourage education among the poor.
5. To take in and educate youths who have the necessary aptitude, give the monk’s robe to the deserving among them who are willing to dedicate themselves and send them out to do selfless work.”
We have seen that caste .differences were the most abominable of all evils, the most deep-rooted and therefore impermeable to reform. His followers had petty divisions among themselves. They treated those below them in social status with the same detestation in which they themselves were held by those above. Interdining and inter-marriage of castes were social crimes visited with life-long banishment from society. These abuses were too strongly rooted in the minds of the people to be corrected by advice or preaching. Gurudev therefore lived the life which he wanted others to live. Wherever he went, he showed special solicitude for the lowest. He kept personal attendants who belonged to the most detested class. They were taken to his Mutts and temples and were made his cooks so that whoever ate at the Mutt was obiged to ignore the caste law. He took them as free scholars and taught them the sacred books. He called them to assemblies and feasts treating them as equals with the rest.  (page 46)  He insisted on all temples consecrated by him being accessible to the lowest, a feature which has not become universal. He took back to society persons who had been outcasted or had lost caste. He assimilated into one fold minor castes, and even differences of religion were treated as immaterial when it was a question of brotherly intercourse and wider unification. He had no objection to the mingling of races. At least one marriage between an Indian gentleman and a German lady was celebrated in his immediate presence in the Mutt at Varkala. In this way he set no limitations on the absolute freedom of social intercourse between any peoples in the world on a footing of perfect equality. No one had to change his faith or nationality to come into the fold of his followers. He put men's creeds more or less on a par with their dress and language and used to say "whatever be the differences in faith, dress or language, as all humanity belonged to the same caste, there could be no harm in inter-marriages and inter-dining."
Another important subject which always engaged his attention was the drink- evil. If there was one thing of which he was never tired of speaking (page 47)
and asking his followers to speak about, it was evils of drink.On one of his birthday anniversaries the message was about this topic.It ran thus:”Liquor is poison.It should not be manufactured, should not be given to others or used by oneself.The tapper’s body stinks, his cloths stink, his house stinks, whatever he touches stinks.” On another occasion he remarked thus:” Toddy drawing is like a plague. If one limb is attacked with leprosy, the whole body becomes poisoned.Similarly a few tappers poison the whole society. As we cut off diseased limb, so the tappers should be cut off from society.We should have no social relations with them. When they give up tapping, we may take them back to the social fold.” Hundreds of confirmed drunkards have taken the vow of abstinence in his presence and persevered in it throughout life.Whole villages have become dry and stopped tapping of trees enmass. Numerous families have been permanently delivered from the curse by the influence of Gurudev.

He was also successful in stopping animal sacrifices and discouraging the use of it as food. Animal sacrifices have been almost completely abandoned by his followers. In many old temples where the cruel practices had been
(Page 48 ) going on for generations, he has permanently prohibited it and sometimes changed the entire nature of worship to make it a purifying influence. Recently the Government of Travancore have adopted this reform by similarly prohibiting such sacrifices in all Government temples.
There is a small poem of.Gurudev on this subject:
1. All are brothers in spirit; when we think of this truth how is it possible to kill any living being, and O! to eat them. mercilessly.
2. Vow of non-killing is very good; better still is vow of non-eating. Is this not the spirit of all religions, O! tell me you good people.
3. No one likes to be killed. A fate so disliked by oneself, how could it be good to others,tell me if the law is not the same for all, you good people. 
4. Nobody kills if there is no one to eat. Eating invariably involves killing So eating is a greater sin than killing.
5. He is virtuous who does not kill. The others are like brutes. He who kills has no peace, even with all other virtues (translated).
Writing about the earlier aspect of his work which we have called  "Purification", Mr. P. Natarajan M. A. has the following paragraph in his "The way of the Guru". “Innumerable privations were involved in such a task of reform. Some of them were selfinflicted. Others took the form of protests, while still others were resorted to set a better example to the people. It sometimes meant that on entering the gates of a rich mansion where he was invited, he had to turn away in protest on seeing some poultry in the yard which made him mumble something about the cruelty of rearing a bird or animal with parental care until it was grown and then on a fine morning applying the sharpened knife to its neck just to satisfy the wild desires of the palate. It meant at other times that he walked twenty miles on foot in protest against the ill treatment of an animal drawing the vehicle in which he sat. It meant at other times still that he walked all night disgusted with the heavy snoring of some of his followers who had feasted with him on a previous night. Once he spent a whole night sitting by the riverside refusing the requests of a rich landlord to come and sleep in a couch that was  prepared(Page 50) for him in the house just because he had seen a visitor spit on the ground within sight  of his window. It meant starvation when he refused to take even milk on a day on which he had no supper, telling the by standers that the milkmen were cruel to the calves and did not leave enough milk to satisfy their hunger. Such occurrences were constant events in his life, giving intensity and depth to his silent message, which he carried with him wherever he went. For fifteen years he travelled incessantly, attempting to bring more cleanliness and light to the poor people of the country. He helped them to clean up the houses and streets. He helped them to have cleaner habits. He introduced and set an example in better diet. He gave an impetus to moral standards. He pointed the right road to reform and more prosperity. He helped them to see clearly through mal-adjusted emotions. But these were only preliminaries to the real teaching that was to follow”.
Mr. Natarajan's picturesque description is very significant as depicting the way in which Gurudev drove home to his followers the moral lessons and cultural ideas he wanted them to imbibe. By little acts of self-imposed privation or suffering he provoked their thoughts to a neglected truth or roused their feelings to a noble sentiment creating a permanent impression on their character. The result was a transformation from within, a self- development, an enlarged self-consciousness not only of the one person who was the immediate cause of the incident but of whole masses who saw or heard about it. The slightest ripple caused in the solemnly calm lake of his life sent out encircling waves of inspiration setting up in thousands of hearts healthier vibrations and ennobling aspirations. That was the way in which the work of reform went on.
He seemed to feel that every imposition from without, however well meant was a harm done to the individual and would not produce any internal reformation. A change of heart should always proceed from within as a result of personal experience. He carried the principle of harmlessness to such an extent that he was sometimes found bestowing favour on scoundrels who went to him in the guise of self-sacrificing workers. They received facilities in the Mutts and were put in positions of responsibility. They seemed to be basking in the especial goodwill of the master to the envy of veteran workers who had toiled for the (Page 52)Institutions year in and year out without any thought of self. But within a short time the impostor invariably made his own position so hot that he abandoned the unholy trick and fled from the place injuring himself more than others. Gurudev had only good will for all; but the wicked could not remain in the sphere of his chastening benevolence. The varied activities that were going on in his name amidst people who were comparatively without culture or even refinement, required workers of the best calibre, but most often fourth rate men alone were available. Ordinarily one would  think of strict discipline, organisation and constant control as the effective remedy in such situations. But these were not in the line of Gurudev. He had nothing to do with, directly, and probably had no use of such superficial methods. The great spiritual power he wielded was the only armour he had to protect himsef and his institutions from the forces of wickedness. When faced with serious opposition, the utmost he did was to remove himself from the unhappy proximity of the molestors. That was the strongest expression of his displeasue and it always produced the necessary repentance  in the mischief-makers. By such harmless and simple protests he was able to chasten the thoughts and feelings of the multitude. (Page 53)His was tru1y a work of love, through love and  inspiring love in others. The following are extracts from a poem on 'Kindness' which has written for the young folk.
"O! God of Mercy! give us the kindness of heart
which ever refrains from harm even to an  ant, and thoughts which never never stray from your holy image. .
Out of wisdom commeth happiness; a heart devoid of love brings forth all sufferings.Ignorance  dispels love it is the cause of all evils.
Wisdom, love and kindness, these three are in  essence one. They are the nectar of life. Let us sing always, He alone lives-who loves.
Devoid of love, man is bone, skin and nerves, stinking frame only. He is like ,the spring in the wilderness, a flower without fragrance.
Behold the kind-hearted man! Is he God himself incarnate! Is he an
embodied Dharma!
Is he the Holy son of the great God!
Is he Nabi the precious pearl of mercy!


The field has been ploughed up to receive the seeds. The hearts of the people have been strengthened to make constructive efforts. The stupor of ages has been removed and their eyes opened to the vistas of civilization still ahead. The consciousness of degradation had come upon the masses firing them with enthusiasm to rise to the level of other peoples and wipe out the marks of subservience which they bore. The forces of self-purification set at work by Gurudev were now turned to constructive schemes of advancement. Progress is not merely a negation of evils but a positive acquisition of assets and virtues. The real struggle begins with the attempt to assert rights, to establish positions, and to organize resources. Remembering the principles of war of culture and truth, which we have already discussed, it is easy to understand that our struggle does not mean any aggressive conflict with others. The edifice of culture has to be built in the lives and thoughts of the people by education and organization. The three things essential for worldly advancement worldly advancement according to Gurudev's plan, are, 1. Education 2. Wealth and 3. Organisation. The struggle therefore consists of incessant efforts to acquire these things.
Let us think of any form of conflict going on in the world-the wars of nations, the struggle between capital and labour, the fight between political parties, and so forth. All these have their origin in ignorance and misunderstanding. In fact most of these troubles are misunderstandings. Their aim is to get more of the riches of the world-power, prestige, money and other glittering things. Their means are organisations of different sorts. Equipped with education, wealth and organisation, any people can assert themselves in the comity of nations.
In the constructive programme also, the temple is the centre. Attached to the first temple at Aruvipuram, Gurudev established the S. N. D. P Yogam which grew to be one of the largest associations in the country. Similarly almost every temple was the seat of a local organisation of his followers. These were all organisations of the people by the people in which Gurudev had no hand though they were inspired by his teachings and example.(Page56 )They sprang up throughout the land like mushrooms. Many of them might be mere apologies for a society.Many were real forces in the locality and have contributed to the all round progress of the people. These associations own and manage temples, schools, co- operative societies, clubs, banks, Mutts, industrial concerns, medical dispensaries and all conceivable variety of useful institutions.. They hold meetings, arrange lectures, conduct fairs and festivals, help poor students, celebrate important events of Gurudev's life, publish books and  newspapers, carry on propaganda in the name of Gurudev and to spread his ideals and teachings, arbitrate in disputes, decide social questions and fulfil numerous other functions according to the needs and opportunities of the locality. These small and large associations which we can now see in almost every village in Malabar carry on the work set on foot by Gurudev according to their respective lights though many of them are confessedly  in the helplessness of infancy.
Gurudev himself was a great educationist. He began life as a village teacher coaching children. Then it was that he came to be called Nanoo Asan (Nanoo,the Teacher) (Nanoo, the Teacher) a nick name which clung to him to the last; and really he was a teacher all his life. Wherever he went, as a student to study, as a wandering mendicant, as an ascetic or as a leader of men, he gathered round him children and youths with the aptitude for learning and either coached them up himself or put them under competent teachers. He was very much interested in the spread of Sanskrit learning among his followers, for he knew that the classical language of India had a cultural value of its own. His interesting joke about a dog is worth remembering here. Once during his usual perambulations, he visited the house of a Sanskrit scholar. There was a dog in the house which somehow took a fancy for Gurudev, and straightway coming before the distinguished guest, seemed to prostrate before him as men used to do. Gurudev, then turning to his host, humorously remarked, "1 see this dog also has become cultured by imbibing Sanskrit taught here."
One of the greatest poets of modern Malabar,Maha Kavi Kumaran Asan, was picked up by Gurudev as an urchin and for some time kept under his personal tution. When grew old enough to go out for higher education, Gurudev sent him to Bangalore and Calcutta to complete his Sanskrit studies, and he returned to his  revered master revered master soon to become famous as one of the brightest poetic geniuses of his country. IThere are many others less known to fame. who owe their erudition and culture to the loving tuition of Gurudev, or as was oftener the    case to his blessing.
In his first temple at Aruvipuram, he started a small Sanskrit school. A similar school was established at Varkala where it is still being run. In many other places such schools were started by him or at his instance. Alwaye is another important centre of his work where he founded the Advaita Ashram Sanskrit High School which is one of the finest institutions of the kind in the State. It imparts free Sanskrit education to numerous pupils. At one time when Gurudev kept Himself in close contact with its working,in the early days, there was a boarding house attached to this school where poor pupils received free meals also. His idea was to make the institution a training centre for workers aspiring to join the order of Sanyasins dedicating their lives to self-less service. The fulfilment of that intention is still in the distant future.
Because he took much interest in Sanskrit, it should not be supposed that he undervalued the modern studies.(page59)He gave them all the importance they deserved and exerted his influence to advance them among his followers. Out of the more than sixty temples he established there are very few which have no modern, schools attached to them. Some of these have been-handed over to the government to ensure their permanent usefulness. Some are still managed by local non-official bodies and are aided by the Government. He had a plan of establishing a residential College at Varkala and actually started construction of the buildings. As a preliminary step, an English middle school was opened which is still working. Before the scheme of the college could materialise, Gurudev left us to continue his work as best as we may.
At Varkala, he established also a weaving  school where pupils got free elementary instruction in weaving. It has helped many to acquire a means of livelihood. Gurudev was, an erudite Ayurvedic physician and took great interest in that science. There is now one of his followers, a well known Ayurvedic scholar imparting instruction in that system of medicine in the Mutt at Varkala. In some places night-schools were started for the use of the poorest of the people who could not afford to attend schools during day time.
Higher education too came in for due share of his attention. He has helped with money many young men to go up for college studies. He inspired other peoples and institutions to do likewise. The S. N. D. P. Yogam used in its early days to sanction scholarships every year to deserving students. 
Replying to an address presented to him, he said: "There are very few people among us who have had higher education. No doubt for some years now there has been a growing desire for education among the people. So far so  good. As education is the means by which any community may advance in the world, we must endeavour to make it widespread. All have not the means to go up for higher studies. therefore those who are fairly rich should help poor students eager to learn to go outside and study. This will be a great benefit to the community in many ways. The importance of  Sanskrit seems to be gradually waning.. English is the important language in vogue at present, and so our attention should be centred on English education. Not only the men .but also the women of the community should be educated. They should not lag behind in such matters.
"For social advancement, the next important thing is industrial progress. The economic position of the community is very bad now. It is not possible to increase the wealth of the people except through industries. Here also it is the rich men who should lead. Only wealthy men can afford to get down the machinery required for industrial purposes. Either individuals or failing that a number of individuals forming a company should courageously take necessary steps in the matter. Though the  paths of progress are in front of us we have not the courage to tread them. Copra and cocanut fibre which we have in abundance in our country and are exported to foreign places are made into finished products there and sent back to us, and we purchase them paying heavy prices. We are obliged to do so because we do not know how to convert them into finished products here. To stop this unnatural drain, we should send our children for training in industrial institutions. This also is the rich man's duty. Besides, at least elementary education should become universal.
"There should be literary associations and  reading rooms in every village. Through them great progress can be made by the community(page62) community in educational matters every one should try to strenghten these associations and reading rooms. In such matters it is indeed unworthy of rich men to keep silent."
When it is remembered that most of public schools of the State  were inaccessible to the lower castes we realise another great difficulty which confronted him.. Inspired by his courageous lead and backed up by numerous similar organisations, the S. N. D. P. Yogam was able to carry on a vigorous agitation for  the removal of these and other disabilities with the result that before long most of  the schools were thrown open to all without distinctions of caste.
Gurudev was a master hand at coir making and during his incognito tours among the poor people of the sea coast, he has personally  instructed many in the art and thus  opened up for them permanent means of livelihood. Instances of people who have grown in opulence by carrying out his casual suggestions in the  matter of agriculture or business enterprises  are not a few. In one case an old devotee of Gurudev who was in very needy  circumstances implored that he might be  shown  some  way of improving his lot. Gurudev pointed to the jungle lands on the slopes of the hill (page63) hill close by and asked him to clear the ground and start planting. The old man did so, though at the time, the land belonged to the Government .Subsequently he was able to get the land assigned in his name.He became a well-to-do man in that way.There are others who have received rare medical prescriptions from him and are making that a means of livelihood.  While living among the fishermen of the coasts, Gurudev used to receive the best of the catch as present because they said that whenever he was in their midst they .had no unlucky days at all. By casual suggestions and advice given  to all and sundry in matters affecting, their worldly prosperity, he has placed innumerable followers indebted to him in gratitude and reverence.
Thus in all conceivable ways, he led the people  onward educationally and economically, making them work out their own salvation, injuring nobody raising not even a word of  protest from any source. The bulwarks of superstition and vested social interests were undermined not by beating against them but by elevating his followers to be independent of  such external authorities. The unwilling hands of an orthodox government were relaxed again and again to meet out justice to the downtrodden people. The opposition of the privileged castes and communities was silenced by the transparent purity and inspiring grandeur of his work, which went on unperceived and unadvertised. To-day if there is one community in India, defiantly independent, with a consuming passion to be free of all external limitations, prepared to ignore all differences which separate man from man, and to tolerate the wildest liberty of faith and opinion, it is the numerous followers of Gurudev, among whom living as one people are Hindus, Budhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Christians and people of One caste, One Religion, One God, all differences being forgotten in the love of freedom. The critical spirit awakened by Gurudev's teachings has permeated the whole population and they are now less fettered in thought and opinion than most other people in India. The laws of love and truth have been demonstrated to success in this unique work. By solving the problem of the emancipation of the submerged classes of Malabar, he has given us the master-key to the great world problems of the day.


We are coming to the final stage of Gurudev's work --the cross and the victory. There can be no victory without the inevitable sacrifice. The great successes and achievements already described are but the struggle which prepares the way for the final triumph. If Gurudev came but to raise the social and economic condition of a small community on the coasts of Malabar, however great might be the task, however superhuman his wonderful successes, there could be no place for such a one with the greatest of the world. We take a step further and see that in doing that specific work he has employed means which furnish the key to the world-problems; he has demonstrated the methods which all may adopt to advance in happiness; he has vindicated the laws of God which alone can give us peace. There is still the more important aspect of his work to be considered, and that consists in the presentation of the grand ideal towards which he is calling all humanity. The baptisms  and the sermon on the mount, the miracles he performed,(page66) the cures he effected, these are of temporary interest in the life of Christ. The shedding of the blood on the cross for the salvation of man and in dedication to God is the crowning fulfilment of the law of liberation. So was with Gurudev also. But in this instance we have not the physical cross nor bodily death to symbolise the triumph of the spirit. We have on the other hand the magnificent renunciation and the majestic plunge towards the ideal which he wanted to set before the world as the key-note of the future civilisation.
If he had rest satisfied with the progress made by his followers and left them to carve out their destiny thereafter, he would even then be considered one of the greatest leaders of men. But Gurudev called them not to the self-contentment of success but to the sacrifice which would be the means of salvation for all. The down-trodden masses of Malabar were saved from the degradation of ages and restored to their rightful place as civilised people not that they might be among the happy but that they might become the means of deliverance for others groaning. Under similar thraldom. The ideals of liberty, equality,and fraternity(page67)and fraternity had to be reiterated and a new demonstration given of their application to the affairs of the world. The constructive realisation of universal brotherhood in human society started by Mohammed had to be further elucidated and amplified to suit modern conditions. The paths of progress laid out by the teachers of the past had to be extended to future centuries so that the world which seemed to have lost the track and got bewildered into a stampede might again march onward to the destined goal. Gurudev therefore began the quiet assertion of his ideals.

Like thunderbolt and lightning his proclamation came upon his followers, I am not of you, I am of the world. "Some of you still think that I belong to this community or that creed. No, I do not belong to any community or creed. It is now years since I gave up such distinctions. I have also arranged that those who join the order at my Ashram shall have no such limitations." The people who had all the benefits of his leadership and great influence and who had thus strengthened their position in the world had begun to identify Gurudev with their own temples, their own schools and associations. All their(page68) great institutions were named after him and  were attempted to be associated with him. They began to think that he was their own  leader, the great messenger sent by God to deliver them. The answer came--I am not of you, I am of the world.
His followers were organising themselves into a community based on caste as all the rest of the people in India were doing and have always done in the past. They had begun to use their power and influence for self-aggrendisement and for suppression of the rights of those below them just as the privileged classes were doing. They thought that their great object was to rise on the heads of other people to worldly prominence because that was what they found going on all around them. They began to pin their faith more and more on the methods and policy of the world.The ideals to which their great leader beckoned them seemed but unrealisable dreams. The citadels of communal exclusiveness were strengthened; the walls of separation from other people began  to rise. Then came the majestic refutation from Gurudev “I am not  of your caste I have no caste. I belong to mankind." He denied his followers who were going(page69) astray from the great goal he wanted them to pursue.
There was the great assembly of his followers which had grown to be one of the largest associations of people in India with  its great traditions of successful work in the past. There were numerous temples  which Gurudev had consecrated for the people when he saw that they required such temporary aids. Now he wanted them to throw away the cruches and march along with him like strong and free men. He practically said “Do you think I gave you this assembly so that you  might erect one more prison-house of caste from which it has been my aim to save you and through you others in the same predicament? Did I give you the assembly so that you  might shut yourselves up within its walls and enjoy the good things of the world in my name? No, throw open the portals so that all the world may enter." There was murmuring among the people. They had not the courage to give up the wordly privileges which they associated with the masterpiece of their achievements---the assembly. They doubted the wisdom of sharing with the rest of the world the blessings which Gurudev had given them. (page70)Other people all over the country were entrenching themselves behind the fortifications of caste. How could they alone live without such protecting walls so reasonable and so necessary. They closed the doors and strengthened the bolts, leaving Gurudev outside, because he would not enter to be imprisoned within the narrownesses of community and creed.

The temples began to copy the example of their ancient prototypes. Caste exclusiveness crept in there also. Religious antagonisms had not been removed. The gods were being compressed into the traditional forms. Unnecessary rituals and ceremonies were getting in. It was time to call halt to this sort of progress. He said “I  have not given you the God of a caste but the god of all who seek. Open the doors of the temples to all who knock.” Some heard, hesitated and left the doors closed. A few heard, bowed their heads and flung the doors open. He then said, You have had enough of these temples. God may be worshipped anywhere. Just a small prayer hall is quite sufficient. It can be easily constructed and easily maintained. The idols are not essential. It is the ideals which matter. Worship the ideals. Put up the mottoes of Truth, Love, and Duty(page71)Duty in your temples and practise these virtues in your lives. That would be better than all the idols in the world.So he consecrated temples without idols. He did not stop there. There was no good in keeping the mottoes on the walls. They .should enter into your hearts. Till now you worshiped images; now you worship letters. Both are equally unessential. God is in us. We must put up temples in our hearts and worship God within us. That is the real worship; all others are substitutes.So he asked them to keep a mirror in the temple instead of the idol or the motto. The mirror, by its truthful reflection, always reminds us that as we are, so are our Gods too. God lives not in temples but in the hearts of the good.

After all, the temples are not for the benefit of the gods. They are for men who require rest-houses on the high-road of progress. They are the flag-staff which beckons all to the post of duty. Having gathered in the temple, in the name of the Highest and Best; we should think of the work outside the temple; for all work is outside.
He said once pointing to a tempIe. "Here look at this nice temple. Open up a beautiful flower garden all round. Good trees should be grown, and in their shades platforms should be erected(Page72)for people to sit on and enjoy the light and air. There should be a reading room in every temple. The sacred books of all faiths should be collected there and taught to those who want to learn. Let the temple be in a corner; if you keep the place clean and beautiful  people will come. It will be an aid to healthy living and serve as a place of ennobling thoughts. We should use the temples intelligently. Take the instance of the Sivagiri  temple. How many go there to improve their health and return hale and healthy. If you bathe in good water, keep clean, breathe pure air  and think of God, certainly your diseases must be cured. All have their places of worship. Who have not? So we cannot say that temples are unnecessary.”
On another occasion when people came to  take him for the consecration of a temple he said--'Keep a light. Is not that quite sufficient? God is light.' They wanted something more, and then he suggested it would be well to keep the portraits of great men all round the light.
There is another humorous incident worth remembering in this connection. In the early days of Sivagiri, people had installed a three- pointed golden rod at the place of worship. One of the followers of Gurudev threw away that rod(page73)that rod and placed Gurudev's sandals in the place. The audacious fellow was caught hold of by the rest and taken to the presence of Gurudev.
Gurudev. Why did you throw away that rod?
The Fellow:. Gurudev's is the only image worthy of worship. That is our faith.
Gurudev. Then what about the sandals?
The Fellow. The sandals are a symbol of Gurudev.
Gurudev. If the sandals can represent me, why cannot the golden rod also?
In these ways, he slowly led the minds of  the people out of the limitations of temples and creeds to the ideal of 'One Caste, One Religion, One God.’
He had to see the perplexed faces of the multitude, and hear their discontented murmur. But looking neither this side nor that, he marched forward beckoning those who will take up the cross and follow him. He extricated himself out of these limitations and called on his followers to do likewise. Many fell away from the ranks. The nearest and the dearest  had their hearts broken by the desertion, as they(74)they thought of Gurudev. The great organisations and the numerous institutions he had built up as the result of life-long work almost slipped out of his control. The few that still remained in his hands, there was nobody to look after. Even his disciples could not understand him. They did not know his plan. He put the management in the hands of successive disciples and followers who clung to him. The opposition of organised forces and vested interests and the prickings of caste were too much for the endurance of the workers. Gurudev’s agents failed to keep their post of duty. Even some of his closest disciples abandoned him to his eccentric ways as they thought. He was un-understandable. They could not march with him. Even in the most difficult situations he was always happy. He was all love and kindness  to the so-called adversaries. He knew  that the hearts of his followers were with  him  though their heads were after worldly riches. He realised their weakness and had nothing but sympathy for them. The disciples could  not see that way. They expected he would side with them in their fight with the adversaries. But he made no distinctions between the runaways and those who still clung to him. He felt no indignation. He wanted to embrace all. (page75) He had no adversaries.In his presence all opposition melted away, all differences disappeared; the most hardy of the opposite camp became as dove in its master's hand. But. he was alone, alone. There was no one who could understand and work out his plan. All ostensible means of preserving and continuing the work were gone. He was approaching the hey-day of life. Nothing had been done to consolidate his forces for the work of the future. In the eyes of the world he had incredibly bungled.
Then came the next step forward. When he found that practically all the encumbrances had fallen off, and he was free to consolidate as he desired, he called a gathering of his scattered disciples who had many of them, gone in search of less troublesome fields of work, and asked them to suggest their leader. The leader was soon suggested and Gurudev nominated him as his successor. The organised forces did not like the nomination. They did not want the nomination. They were expecting to step into the place of power on the passing away of Gurudev, and now here was a successor ordained to take that place.They consulted how best to frustrate the plans. Open opposition (page76)was unthinkable. He was too great in the eyes of the populace to be openly thwarted. Cautious counsels prevailed, and they consoled themselves thinking that a mere nomination was of no good. They could still grasp the temporal power when the time came; if necessary it was so easy to wrest it from the hands of the humble disciples. They made no secret of their discontent or intentions. The disciples felt that they were helpless in the midst of the organised forces who were waiting to pounce on them the moment Gurudev was gone. One by one they quietly left the field leaving their master to develop his plans as he pleased. He was again alone, alone.
Knowing all, he kept on to the path he had chosen deliberately. When the situation seemed to be clear of the passions roused by self-interest on one side and fear on the other, he called together the disciples a second  time and finally made over all temporal powers to them to be managed through their chief for the good of the world. This was too much for the organised forces who felt the ground sinking under their feet. The discontent till now smouldering underneath raised its head to oppose the procedure of Gurudev. They would not have the temporal power of the institutions go into the hands of his Sanyasin disciples. They alone(page77)alone had the authority to decide that matter. Gurudev was wrong. They came to insist, if possible, on the alteration of the fait accompli.. Gurudev left the country and  went to Ceylon. He would not yield to their wishes. The ideals had to be preserved. The masses were still unfit to be their custodians. The disciples also were not perhaps fit, but between the two he chose the latter. As Christ relied on the twelve fishermen of Galilee to carry the light to all parts of the worId, so did Gurudev choose his equally humble disciples to be the, custodians of his ideals. When Gurudev left the country, the disciples were again scattered.  Some accompanied him in his wanderings and, the rest found less troblesome spheres of work. The clouds were soon wafted away. The organised forces retreated to their homes and the premises were again clear. The faithful people entreated Gurudev to return to their midst.He relented and returned but did not alter his mind. He mustered his disciples for the third and last time and asked them to organise themselves. They began the deliberations.The difficulties were not a few. The differences of opinion were many. Three days passed and the discussion did not end. Gurudev began to lose patience. He called one of his disciples and said O! this is not the first time I have asked  you to organize to organize.Many attempts were made before; all failed. Do you think you are going to succeed this time? It is all so simple and yet you go on disputing. I cannot wait. This thing I  tell you-if you do not succeed this time I give you up. I shall not be one among you." The warning had its effect. The disciples  made one united effort and succeeded. The organization was completed. The disciples were formed into a society.  It was called the Sree Narayana Dharma Sanghom. Gurudev seemed to be pleased. He looked as if the last thing had been done and the burden was removed from his shoulders.
Not many days passed before Gurudev lay on the sick-bed  and resigned himself into the hands of his disciples. The closing chapter began to written.Twenty centuries had  passed  since the death on the cross, and civilisations had changed and made a repitition in the same form impossible. The same struggle and the final triumph are now repeated on the sick-bed. There he lay for nearly nine months, with  the patient's face beaming with love, with the effulgence of peace and the happiness of the approaching end. The work was still  going on; the trials had not finished. The world  began to say many things: 'If he was really divine, (page79)really divine, why should he suffer like this? Why is he not able to cure himself? said some. "All his plans have failed. His own followers have deserted him. There are only a handful of useless disciples to minister to his needs now. What is to come of his work and institutions? Who will look after them when he is gone? Indeed it is a great pity, a great tragedy.” said others. But there were the unalterable multitude ever devoted and faithful to their Gurudev. They were pining with grief. The whole land began to wear an anxious look. Thousands of hearts began to throb with anxiety. In little huts as well as luxurious homes from one end of Malabar to the other, prayers were regularly offered for his recovery. Temples were crowded with earnest worshippers pleading before God for their Gurudev. In the privacy of the homes, thousands of women with tearful eyes kept up prayers for the Great One. The children did not know what was the impending calamity for which the elders were anxious. But they too gave up their noisy mischief to pass a few minutes chanting the glory of God for one who was so beloved of all. In one place they fed the poor, because it was good for the soul of the dying. In another place fasting was observed     (page80)observed so that they might live in communion with God and Gurudev. Even the poor saved their small coins to be able to send a humble contribution towards the expenses of Gurudev's treatment. Rich men unloosed their purses without miserliness. Some sent rare vegetables; others sent clothes and beddings. Doctors offered their free services. Lay men prayed to be allowed to attend at the sick-bed. Some prepared their houses to receive and nurse the great one. Some used all their skill to prepare rare medicines which they expected would give him relief. Many came from distant places to have a last look at the departing leader. Every day the sick-room was crowded. Visitors took back to the villages news of the situation rekindling the sad fervour of the people. That was the condition of the country for about nine months. The people were being  slowly prepared for the inevitable closing of the scene so that it might not come upon them with a shock. Many blind believers had refused to believe that the end had to come. They always thought that he could not be passing away 'now' so suddenly when there was so much yet to be done.
Through all these days what was the state of affairs nearer the sick-bed. There was the same (page 81)same smiling face of Gurudev greeting every visitor with the wonderful look of the same bright eyes. Days of suffering had produced no change in those looks though the body was getting reduced. People brought him every day presents of fruits and flowers as usual; and as usual he found pleasure in distributing these things among those present and watching their satisfied smiles. There were persons suffering from various maladies wishing to have his blessing. To such he gave the comforting words and sometimes a small prescription which brought the sufferer relief. There were those possessed with evil spirits. His command had to be given to the evil spirit to depart and so he did. There were distinguished visitors come to pay their respects. He had to hear their talks and put in his precious little replies occasionally. There were the doctors ready with their drugs and appliances, some of which Gurudev tolerated, some he hated and yet allowed to be administered because the doctors would otherwise be unhappy. Occasionally he prescribed his own medicines and took them jokingly. Every doctor who wanted a chance was given the opportunity to try his skill. There were among them those who approached the task in reverence and humility; to them he was all joking and  mischief. They were free to make(page82)to make their experiments to their heart’s content provided they tolerated the plyful eccentricities of the patient. Now like a naughty child crying for trifling things and refusing to take any medicine; at another time like the serious old man who did not care what came of the body. Some.times full of fun  splitting the cheeks of his attendants with laughter; at other times cross with every one and every thing. In spite of the changing  phases and varieties of men and things, there was always the same majestic serenity in his presence--the peace of power and the joy of love.
Boys, there were, who attended at the sick- bed day and night. Their little short-comings were many for which Gurudev took them to task. But his punishments had  in them more of humour than of displeasure so that they were praying to be allowed to keep the watch more and more. He would sometimes feel pity on them. They had to be given some rest kind words or  persuations would not induce them to leave the post of duty and give the opportunity of service to others. That would only make them all the more mad to continue the vigil. There was only one means of saving them.  Gurudev  would pick up quarrels with them(page83)them on some pretext and send them away. They leave the sick-room heavy in their hearts and praying to God that their faults might be excused and Gurudev might be pleased to call them back to their sacred duty. Other young men come to take their places. After some days they are also similarly sent away to their well-deserved rest. The previous attendants are then called back. In this way even in the sick-bed he was ever thoughtful of the difficulties of the humble folk. He had practically to drive his attendants to periods of compulsory rest.
The disciples also were there. Many of them had no opportunities of ministering to him in his healthy days. They yearned  to be allowed to spend themselves in his ministrations now. They came in turns to keep the vigil.
Among them, there were all sorts of people. There were scholars, there were illiterate men. Some were strong and proud, easily irritable; some were humble patient and willing to suffer. There were musicians who wanted nothing but to please Gurudev with their melodies. There were logicians who liked to converse on the subtleties of philosophy. There were good public workers who always thought of their past achievements and liked to hear(page84)to hear the appreciative remarks of their master.Other workers wanted to clear their numerous doubts. Some had their little troubles for which they sought his advice as usual. To everyone Gurudev showed the appropriate attitude to please and yet to instruct, stern and serious when required but ever binding them closer and closer with cords of love. In the midst of the worries and weakness of the protracted vigil they vied with one another in their attentions and treasured in their hearts the precious words spoken to them when others were not in the hearing. Everyone felt that he had a special corner  in the heart of Gurudev, that somehow the master had a special solicitude in his progress. As in the case of the boys, the disciples also had to be given periods of rest, and that could be done only by picking up little quarrels with them and teasing them into compulsory absence from the sick-room. After a few days, the expected call to return to duty comes and the pleasure of the task is redoubled, There is the reunion of loving hearts. The anxiety of the master to know if he has displeased the disciple, the meaning look of compassionate enquiry, the utmost confidence shown in the returning worker, the repitition of all the things that had transpired during his absence(page85)absence and the troubles which could have been avoided if he were present, combined with the inevitable jokes, all restore the disciple to his original love and reverence, and the happiness of the work is increased. In this way the hearts were knit closer together. Among them there were those who had never known the community  of interests and ideals which united them, and others who had been, for  long, separated by distance. All such scattered disciples were now gathered there to spell the days like brothers working with the one passion of serving their master. In that  atmosphere of co-operation and devotion to the common ideal and idol of all, undergoing the same spiritual purification by contact with the great one and enduring the same trials, for getting all the past and thinking not of the  future but only of the greatness of the preset they were all brought closer and closer to each other and bound by the cords of love which Gurudev wove round them. The Association which  was started with but eleven members soon enrolled all those other disciples who lived scattered and whom no previous attempts were successful to bring together as on this occasion. In this way, the great work of consolidation and unification of the future workers  was silently going on unnoticed by all.
In his healthy days, he never stayed for long in any place.There were many to be blesssed with his presence, and he ever kept on moving. In the days of sickness also he kept on moving from place to place. It seemed as if he was taking farewell of  his followers and  institutions. He traveled many hundreds of  miles during the months of  illness receiving the attentions of his devotees all over the country and giving them the  opportunity to serve him. He returned to the head-quarters at Varkala just a few weeks before the closing.
Unseen by the world which was absorbed in the one thought of ministering to Gurudev, there were going on behind the scenes the scheming and discussions of a few erstwhile followers who had turned adversaries. They were maturing plans to frustrate the decision of Gurudev to leave the institutions in the hands of the disciples. In their infatuation for the things of the world, the power, prestige, strength of organisation, wealth and influence which they found associated with Gurudev's  institutions, the past was wiped out of  their memory, the greatness of  the leader to whom they owed all that they cherished as their most precious possessions was ignored and  the future had no meaning for them except in terms of their own(page87)their own material gains. They found a valid excuse for their rebellious attitude in the comparative incompetence and numerous shortcomings of the disciples whose utter insignificance before Gurudev was galling to their sense of prestige. They could conceive of no sensible purpose or put any faith in such a motley band of quack dignitaries as they thought the disciples to be. The leaders held their secret consultations and came prepared to assert what they thought was their legitimate right. A few of them came to Sivagiri where Gurudev was resting in the last days of his suffering. They coaxed the disciples to renounce what he had given them and to abandon the post .of duty where he had  stationed them. When tactics failed, they used threats: "Are you going to rule here in defiance of our wishes? We are organised, we have money, we can call thousands to our aid. Are you a few helpless Sanyasins to lord over us and do you expect to survive. Accept our authority and we will protect your interests, or be prepared for the worst." That was the threat. The disciples did waver a little. They approached Gurudev for a definite injunction as to what they should do in the circumstances. The firm reply came. "Why do you waver like this?  Have you no faith, no courage? Why have you have you not understood me yet? They may cut the Sanyasin to pieces, and yet the Sanyasin will triumph. Do you think that your Sanghom is so weak? It should survive for all time till the end of the world." The wavering  discipes took courage into both hands and refused to yield to the coaxing and the threats. The leaders made the last attempt to alter the settlement. They waited in a body at the sick-bed and told Gurudev, in so many plain words, that the people did not approve of the arrangement he had made. They had been living in the fond hope that power would pass into their hands. They had always believed that Gurudev was their leader and all his  institutions belonged to them. The eleventh hour disillusionment they were not prepared to accept. If he did not modify the settlement and give the people a hand in the affairs, there was bound to be great confusion and..the leaders would not be responsible for anything that might happen. The slow but firm reply came. "I., have made my  arrangement. There is the Dharma Sanghom recently established here. That cannot be altered, you should not quarrel. All should co-operate." The organised forces found their last hopes forlorn, and dispersed as they came. The clouds of trouble passed away for the time. The end was approaching. (page89)and was approaching. The work had been finished.

Lying in the sick-bed he was consolidating  the nucleus which should receive the seeds of future work. The scattered disciples were all brought into the fold of the Sanghom. They were bound together by cords of love and their devotion to himself and the never to be forgotten experience of the spiritual fraternity which was formed to live and work for the great ideals. Mutual understandings and fraternal feelings grew up to preserve them in their future trials. The doubts of the wavering were wiped out by the firmness of his own determination and the confidence of success  which he created in them. The worst forces of the opposition spent themselves upon him and the strongest temptations were conquered so that the humble disciples might be spared so much of the trial afterwards. Moving from place to place he introduced the disciples to his followers all over the country as the future light-bearers. He demonstrated to the world that he was not the victim of the sick-bed but the master of suffering who could command evil spirits and effect miraculous cures even in the seeming helplessness of disease. His greatness and glory and glory remained unimpaired till the last breath had left. He showed to the disciples what it was to die in peace in the midst of the work which should go on for ever. He lived in peace with all, worked for peace and died in peace for the peace of the world.
The portends are  not all happy. The way is not clear and the sky is dark with clouds. The disciples stand by their faith in Gurudev.  They are not much better than the fishermen of Galilee of twenty centuries ago. Among them there may be Judas, there may be Peter who denied his master thrice before the cock crew three times. There may be those who are unfit to unloose the lachet of their master's shoes. There may be some groping in darkness to whom the ideals are obscure and the future is a frightful uncertainty. In their, midst, unruffled by the storm and rain, shines, the Light of Peace and our hopes are in the Light.


Gurudev was always reticent in speech.He hated preaching and never willingly attended  meetings though occasionally he did present himself at  the gatherings of the people to please and encourage them. He was a philosopher who could assert himself in the assembly of the best scholars, one who brought original and striking ideas to interpret the subtle conceptions of the Hindu philosophy. He had his characteristic method of driving home to the hearer in the simplest and quickest possible manner the high ideals of the ancients. He liked private philosophical discussions with select scholars who were earnest in their search for truth. But philosophy always remained in the sub-strata of his life and work. He did not write much. He has composed a number of devotional verses meant for the masses. AIl of them are a mixture of high metaphysical conceptions with humble prayers addressed to God. There is a typical prayer composed by Gurudev for the use of the children ,who used to gather in Sivagiri every day for devotions. Read in the original Malayalam, it is so simple that a child that a child of average ability can easily repeat it. But that simplicity cannot be expressed in the English translation in which the profoundity of ideas becomes the more striking feature. Here is a translation of the prayer by Mr. P. Natarajan, M. A.
God, protect us and keep us ever from harm! Thou art the Great Captain,
And a mighty steamship on the ocean of being is thy foot.
Counting all things here,
Touching them one by one, We come at last to where There is no more left;
Then, Lo, the quest stops In stillness.
In thee likewise, let the inner self Attain its rest!
Food and clothes and all things else we need thou givest us unceasingly, Ever saving us from want.
We thrive on thy bounty, Lord!
Our only God Thou art.
To sea and wave and wind and depth compared,
Let us within us see the plan, respectively Of us ourselves, of Maya, Thy Power and
Thou Thyself (page93)
 Thee we find In creation,
The creator, too, Thou didst become, and Creation's myriad magic;
And the very Stuff of all created things.  

Truth thou art,
And knowledge and Bliss likewise.
The present Time art Thou
Past and Future merge in unity in Thee.
Even the Spoken Word-a moment's thought reveals
As but of Thine own self again.

Victory to Thee, Great Master! Ever- watchful Saviour,
All-knowing, blissfilled sea of kindness, Haill !
In the deep deep ocean of thy Glory Let us all together immersed be, For ever and for ever-
There to dwell, everlastingly.
But Gurudev's philosophy is not the dreamy metaphysics of the forest-dweller. In his hands it becomes a hand-maid of service. He insisted not on any specialised system of knowledge, but on a wise philosophical attitude to life, which he said was essential for success in any field. He used often to remark thus: "To be in the world and work for the world, it is necessary to have(page94) to have the spirit of dedication, courage, and discrimination of the real from the unreal. Through philosophy one can obtain the wisdom so essential for acquiring these capacities." This explains the presence of the small doses of philosophy which he invariably puts into all his sayings, not to speak of the written works. On this account. probably, Romain Rolland goes so far as to charaterise Gurudev's religion as a Jnana of Action. (Philosophy of Work. Life of Sree Ramakrishna by Romain Rolland. foot-note p. '67')
There are two short philosophical works called  the Atmopadesa Sataka and the Darsana Mala. Both of them are brief expositions of the Advaita philosophy of the Hindus based on the essential oneness and identity of life. The same teachings are to be found in the life and teachings of Christ. The philosophy of Islam is an exactly identical theory of the 'unity' of life with special reference to the brotherhood  of  all humanity viewed as a scheme of social organisation and not merely as an ideal. Gurudev links up all the past into an intelligent plan  which should serve as the ideal of the future civilisation and employs the principles so conceived for the solution of world-problems as they presented themselves to him. The essence of the (page95) of the Hindu philosophy, the laws of spiritual life as manifested in Christ, and the principle of brotherhood as the basis of social order, which we find in Islam, are all utilised for the emancipation of a large population and to reconstruct their social system.
It is very often said that the problem of nations is really the individual problem, that human progress means really the culture and advancement of each member of society. What we want at this stage is not so much an elucidation of the problem as a demonstration of the method of solution. We have already explained that, fundamentally, the problem is the same always and for all peoples. It is not a question of the individual's evolution or of universal progress but the adjustment of both with the object of the growing realisation of the ideal. The methods have to change as we approach the goal nearer and nearer. The emphasis has to shift from one aspect to another according to the needs of the times and places.
At present we want a change in two important respects:
1. There is such a wide gulf of difference  between the virtues  usually  recognised as good for for individual growth and the moral principles adoptad in national affairs that they are, by common consent, treated as entirely different and even antagonistic. The code of morality considered good for individuals all over the world is accepted as irreconcilable with national and international policies. Liberty means an exaggerated glorification of individual rights and freedom of action so that among the most liberty-loving peoples of the world, it is not unusual to find the worst inequalities between the classes and communities in the same country. Outside the country, the situation would be worse still. Nations who pride themselves as the champions of righteousness and protectors of human liberty have not the least scruple to use their resources to suppress other peoples and domineer over them. They forget that the smaller nations are also entitled to be free. Murder is a crime if committed by individuals; it becomes a national duty in the name of war. Robbery is a crime according to the criminal law of every land; but it is honourable for strong nations  to profit by the spoliation of weaker peoples. "Love thy neighbour as thyself. Speak the truth. Be kind to all. Thou shall not steal;" these maxims of the individual's moral code are openly defied by the most honourable people on the face of the globe(page97)the globe in their unnatural relations with the rest of the world., self-knowledge and; self-realisation are universally considered the best  means of individual advancement. But to suggest that national progress should also be along these paths is to preach the impossible in the view of modern politicians. The generally accepted methods in international affairs are those of the strong fist and of the unscrupulous shop keeper. Progress is conceived as rising on the shoulders of others and  making capital out of their weaknesses and vanities. In a world conceived on the plan and power of the almighty dollar it cannot be otherwise. It is always a mutual struggle for growth. We have to alter it into a growing out of the struggle. It is necessary to establish the truth that the laws of individual growth and morality are equally applicable to national happiness and inter-relations of peoples.
2. We have explained already that all important matters are now appearing  to us in their universal aspect. Individuals may now be safely left to themselves to preserve their natural right to liberty. We want urgent solutions for the common difficulties of all mankind. We have almost reached a crisis when even individual progress ,seems to be impossible in a world in a world constituted as it is today. We have to reconstruct the basis and structure of society, to overhaul the machinery of  progress, to reconsider the relative value of things and to change the spirit of all institutions radically. We have to shift the importance from the unit to the whole, from questions of liberty to those of equality, from individual life to universal institutions, from the national to the international. or human aspect of all problems. We have had enough of progress, we want Peace.
Gurudev achieved these things on a small scale in two ways. (1) He made his own life and work the highest expression of the law. (2) He reconstructed society on the basis of the law as manifested in his life.
Born low and poor, by his own efforts, unaided by money or the influence of others, he rose to the highest position that a man could possibly achieve in this life. In this self-development, he did not use any of the external aids which are so abundant in the present world. He did not attend any college and yet grew to be a scholar in many departments of knowledge. He had no wealth and yet was the owner of numerous institutions worth many lakhs of  rupees. He had  no influence but grew to be more influential more influential than a king. He had no strength of army but was more powerful than the rulers of the earth. His knowledge, his power, and his wealth were all in himself.
In this unperceived growth, he injured nobody. He liberated himself from the bondage of caste not by claiming rights from others but by raising himself above all dependence to a glory and freedom beyond all comparison. He grew rich not by grasping wealth but by renouncing it. He often remarked humorously that all the wealth of the world was his, and what was really lacking was competent men to use it. He grew powerful by making others strong. He ruled because he dedicated himself to service. Though he was a revolutionary of revolutionaries not only in ideals but also in his activities, he raised no opposition from the vested interests. He left them alone and in the end earned their respect and co-operation. There is not another instance in history of such  a  revolutionary achievement so silently and so unprovokingly made.
Having raised himself to the highest eminence, he sacrificed the peace and glory of the individual life, came down to the midst of the lowly and the oppressed and lived and died for their emancipation.(page100)For their emancipation. When he had done all that he could for these people and taken them as far as they were competent to advance in the circumstances, he made the final sacrifice, the sacrifice of himself and his institutions for the assertion of the ideal, dedicating all to God, to the supreme Good of the world.
"Being perfected, freed, the master braves the noble task of slaving for the slaves".
The same methods and principles he employed for the elevation of the masses. We have already seen how he worked to raise his followers from the depths of ignorance and slavery to the status of a free people worthy to take their place among other peoples. First there was the process of self-purification, the removal of the internal weaknesses, the consolidation of inherent virtues, the abolition of bad practices and customs, the assertion of the human right to liberty in all departments including religion.
Then followed the long period of selfdevelopment, the great constructive work to advance in education, wealth organisation and group-consciousness without molesting any other people. It is wonderful to watch the admiring co-operation extended by men outside the movement though Gurudev's activities (page101) very often undermined their notions of social order.
When his followers had sufficiently advanced to make the final sacrifice which alone is the victory and the peace, he called on them to take the leap, the great plunge for the ideal, the dedication of their successes to God and service. Few understood the meaning of the call. Fewer still had the courage to surrender themselves to His will. The banner of ONE CASTE ONE RELIGION ONE GOD which he has foisted over his institutions perpetually beckons the people to the triumph of that last dedication.

The ideal and the philosophy are contained in this motto ---ONE CASTE ONE RELIGION ONE GOD. In one of his short poems he says:-
One caste, one religion, one God, for man; Of the same blood and form, there is no difference.
Animals of the same caste alone procreate. Viewed thus all humanity belong to one caste. ( Translated)
Interviewd by a newspaper representative he once said as follows: "I say there is no caste. The days of caste are gone. The belief in it must go too. That is what is required now. Don't use caste names. Certainly there are other good names. There should be no reference to caste in any documents. You must move the Government and get their sanction  to omit such reference. All should, be free to profess the religion they like or no religion at all.
"Is there any thing but harm in believing in caste? It is a pity that the belief has not been given up.Caste is of no good. It restricts man's freedom and destroys his intelligence. Without freedom and intelligence how can a profession improve? Look at our caste carpenters and smiths. They know nothing, they have no intelligence at all. Caste degrades the profession. Those who know only one thing in the world and have no idea of anything else will not be skilful in any work. Caste makes it impossible to take up professions according to aptitude. Avocations become an obligation of birth in a community even if the worker has not the ability or aptitude for them. Progress becomes impossible. It is therefore false to say that caste creates hereditary experts.
"There is no necessity for caste. Even without that the son will follow the father's profession if he has the natural taste for it.There is no necessity to enforce that practice. Choice should be free. There is no use of hindering man's freedom and mental growth. All should be free to pursue any study or follow any avocation they like.
"The authors of caste may say that it will prevent unhealthy competition. Those who get all the benefit of the system may say so. Probably their happiness is built on the sufferings of others. Man is not made for caste, for the world or any such thing. All these are for men. If men are degenerating what is the good of talking about less competition and so forth. Caste degrades men and so is not wanted. There is no caste; it is foolishness to think there is."
He wanted very much to organise a body of people without any sort of caste leanings and to whom religion was not a creed but a matter of personal faith. His disciples of course form the nucleus of such a society. They should have absolutely no thought of caste. He has openly proclaimed that only those who have given up caste mentality should be admitted, into the order of disciples.
“Ask not, speak not, think not of caste”This is the final injunction he has given to those who accept the message of human brotherhood; and this contains the simple answer to the great caste question. Caste exists in the ignorance and superstitions of the people, and nothing more is required to get out of that self made snare than to ignore it, especially if one has understood the principles of his teaching. In fact one cannot come out of the spell unless the above simple rules are observed. Legislative enactments may penalise the observance of the absurd distinctions and thus prepare the way to bring about the mentality. What is required is the mentality, and everyone can  create it by observing the three rules not to ask of another's caste, not to speak of one's own and never to think of either.
Precisely the same conception of the unity and solidarity of mankind as is expressed in "0ne Caste" is echoed in the book of H. G. Wells we  have already referred to. Here are some significant passages. "We you and I are not only parts in a thought process, but parts one flow of blood and life ……. Disregarding the chances of intermarriage, each one of us had two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, and so on backward, until very soon soon, in less than fifty generations we should find that, but for the qualification introduced, we should have all the earth's inhabitants of that time as our progenitors. For a hundred generation it must hold absolutely true that every one of that time who has issue living now is ancestral to all of us ……. and there is something more. We are all going to mingle our blood again. We cannot keep ourselves apart……. A time will come in less than fiffty generations when all the population of the world will have my blood, and I and my worst enemy will not to say which child is his or mine... Our individualities, our nations and states and races are but bubbles and clusters of foam upon the great stream of the blood of the species …….I think this real solidarity of humanity is a fact  that is only being slowly apprehended that it is an idea that we who have come to realise it have to assist in thinking into the collective mind. I believe that the species is still as a whole unawakened, still sunken in the delusion of the permanent separateness of the individual and of races and nations that so it turns upon itself and frets against itself and fails to see the stupendous possibilities of deliberate self-development lie open to it now”(pages 59 to 60 “First & Last Things”)
To people outside India, caste is often an incomprehensible absurdity. So it is. But the hundred and one different ways in which it has enslaved the people and prevented their growth and unification are not understood. Social differences similar to caste in some respects might prevail in other countries. But, we do not know even a single instance which is so grossly wicked as to form an analogy to the  Indian custom. It is the subtlest and the most poisonous social evil in the world and it has successfully withstood the onslaughts of time and of successive reformers. We cannot say that Gurudev has finally buried the corpse. We believe that the forces which he has set in motion will in due time accomplish the downfall of that accursed institution. Signs are not wanting to show that his words are every day nearing fulfilment. The continent of India is now surging with righteous indignation against this monstrous system and witnessing a life and death struggle between the forces of reform and orthodoxy. Anyhow, there can be no doubt that Gurudev's handling of the great question will be a model for all who seek  to remove the social anomalies existing in different parts of the globe.
Speaking about religion, he once said. "All religions aim at  one thing.When the rivers join (page107)Join  the sea they lose their separateness. The function of religion is to turn the hearts of men upward, onward. When that is accomplished they will discover the truth for themselves. For  the seeker of truth religions are the finger-posts . But to those who have already attined the truth., religion is no authority. They are the authors of religions. Buddha preached the way of liberation not by studying Buddhism. He attained liberation and preached the way he had discovered. That became Buddhism. What is the good of Buddhism to Buddha? Christ needs no Christianity. This is true of other religions also. Budhism is useful for the Buddhists and Christianity is useful for the Christians. So are the other religions useful to their respective adherents…….. "Conflicts between countries and peoples end when one party defeats the other. The fight between religions is never-ending, because one cannot finally vanquish another.If there should be an end to religious quarrels,all religions should be studied with a free mind; and then it will be discovered that in essentials they do not differ considerably. The discovery so made is  the 'ONE RELIGION'.
“Religion so called has two sides—the inner and the outer. Change of the outer religion is really a social conversion. Among thoughtful people (page)108 people the religion of the heart goes on gradually changing. The change is brought about by cultural growth and increasing experience of life. If one has no belief in a special faith, he should relinquish it for another. To cling to a religion in which one has no belief is cowardice and deception. For his own good he should go out. It is also for the good of the religion in which he has lost faith that he should leave it. It cannot be advantageous to any religion to swell within itself the number of unbelievers…………”
"There are admittedly conflicting creeds in India, such as Vedic Religion, Mimamsa Religion, Dwaita Religion, Adwaita Religion and so forth. Hinduism is the common name for all these together. If such divergent creeds can be brought under one religion, where is the unreasonableness in bringing under one Religion all the so called different religions which teacher after teacher has given to the world with slight variations to suit the, altered times and circumstances, but with the one common aim of the liberation of all mankind.It is astonishing that those who preach of the unity of their own religion in the midst of the bewildering multiplicity of churches and, denominations and schools composing it and who glorify the variety in the unity, are not able (page109 )able to take all mankind in one view and find the unity amidst the diversities  of creed and the beautifuI.variety in the unity……. Quarrels are not on account of religions, but on account of pride."
In one of his poems, he says:
Religions are in essence one; As blind men dispute about the elephant's form,
The ignorant with varying arguments stray:
Behold, and stray not, be at peace.

All strive for happiness their own,
Everything they do for this, and always.
This, the one religion of the universe, remember,
 And sorrow not, be at peace. (Translated)
All human aspirations are directed towards the attainment of perpetual happiness. .Religions try .to lead men to this highest bliss. .In this supreme purpose all religions are one. The scientist and the mathematician, the philosopher and the poet, are each attempting to interpret the same nature in their respective ways. They do not quarrel with one another. No one has seen the full truth. Even the greatest men have caught but dim glimpses of the supreme law. We have to approach religion like (page110 )humble students in the scientific spirit of search and study. Religious men ought to live together as friends and brothers, study together as fellow students, and try to realise God and Truth in the way which appeals most to each one's heart. This is the attitude towards religion which Gurudev wants us to cultivate.
To clarify these ideas and "to understand and make others understand, and not to argue and win" as was notified, he called the First Conference of religions and formulated a scheme to establish at his Headquarters a College of Religions where the sacred books of all faiths would be taught in the spirit of search for truth by qualified professors. Though the Conference of Religions has been adopted as an annual function by the people,the College is no nearer realisation. He was fond of reminding those who went to him with doubts in religious matters, that 'whatever be the religion, people should grow good; that is what is wanted.‘
Just about a year and a half before he passed away, he gave his last message to the people gathered in their annual meeting near Alleppey. It ran thus-"I am very much pleased to understand that you are having serious discussions about social re-organisation and religious reform. But the object of organization should not be to bring together people of a particular caste and create a community. Our organisation should be such as will unite all mankind. Religion should allow full liberty of faith and be acceptable to cultured minds. It should be such as will lead men to a great ideal. The eternal  principles contained in ONE CASTE, ONE RELIGION, ONE GOD can form the basis  of such a religion. It appears to me that the best method of organization will be to unite all those who believe in this eternal Truth. To those who think that without a change of religion the inequalities and injustices will not end, to such, accepting this as their faith will be a religious conversion and a proclamation of independence.”
Gurudev’s teachings are not to be sought primarily in his words, spoken or witten, but his life and methods of work. These latter we have studied already and found their underlying principles to be the moral and spiritual identity of the individual’s as well as the community’s life and growth, based on the Oneness of all Life, the Identity of the Laws which govern it, and the supreme Unity of Purpose. He puts these principles in the simple motto ‘One caste, One Religion, One God’.


The advance that Gurudev has made in the reinterpretation of life will become clearer if we study a little more deeply the philosophy contained in One Caste One Religion One God. Let us put this saying alongside of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, and try to understand their comparative significance. The war-cry of the Revolution embodies the dominant ideals of the present  individualistic civilisation. It expresses the best aspirations of the modern world, viewing all things from its characteristic standpoint. Political consciousness and scientific advancement  are the two striking contributions of this age of individualism. These have developed in humanity the consciousness of a collective being, an idea of group existence and the sense of solidarity of a common life, which ought to be the starting point of the  future epoch. Viewed as an expression of the eternal problem,we found that  Liberty represented its individual aspect,Equality its collective aspect, and Fraternity its ideal aspect.Now if think of the message of Revolutoion as manifesting the spirit of the age, it should (page 113)should not be difficult to see that these three catch words have also in them the stamp of individualism. The philosophy of the Revolution conceives the world as a huge collection of independent individuals and enunciates the principles of a peaceful and united life among them. The separate units of the human race are all entitled to be independent, and equal one with everyone else, but to be kept together by the bonds of fraternal feelings. This is the solution offered in the most modern expression of the spirit of the present  civilization.
In One Caste, One Religion, One God, the dominant idea is Unity or Oneness of All. Individualism  emphasises separateness and aims to achieve unity. Socialism starts with the conception of the unity of the whole subordinating the independence of the separate units to the consciousness of a common life.
The nucleus of the future civilization is not the individual but the race or humanity as a whole.  This is its elementary and basic idea. Therefore instead of the liberty of individuals, Gurudev presents to us the conception of One Caste, the natural inter-relation and oneness of  all  humanity as the first and foremost characteristic of our existence. It is the most elementary fact of life.  The numerous differences of  race, nationality, and culture and birth which have made us blind to the essential fact of the Oneness of Blood of the race have to be scrapped from our minds. We have to recognise them as the foolish notions of small minds. One Caste means no less than the recognition of the physical and material unity of the  human species as a fact in nature, as the characteristic of our existence in this world.
Having asserted this truth of our life, he next  establishes the Oneness of the Law which governs that life.  In a society conceived as made up of free individuals, the governing principle is the equality of the composite units,and so from the ascertion of the human right liberty the philosopher of Revolt proceeds quite  naturally to the principle of equality.In  the scheme of Gurudev, we proceed from the fact  and solidarity of the one Life to the Identity of the Law behind it, to One Religion as he puts it. To most people religion stands for the highest law, for the most sacred principles. In his writings and conversations, G.urudev has elaborated the essential identity of the fundamental concepts of all religions. As expressions(page115)of the law of the Spirit., they agree in all material respects. He goes further and says that this underlying unity which we can detect in the various faiths provided we study them with a free mind is the True Religion, the One Religion, the One Law of life. What is asserted of Religions is true of all laws, laws of nature, of morality, of social and political relations, of economic well-being, and of human happiness in general. Religion should be considered  as comprehensive of all these. They are and should be the same for the whole race. Just as the unity in fact and blood of the species  is not recognised by men to-day, so the Unity of the Law is also not known. Standards of morality and economic welfare even are accepted as different for different peoples and countries. The unification of all general principles of conduct and evolving of common standards, of common general laws ,applicable from end to end of the earth is also intended in One Religion.
In the philosophy of individualism, fraternal relations among the component parts of society is the ultimate ideal to be reached. The summum bonum of life in this world is to be sought in the realisation of universal brotherhood. To the socialist philosopher,who(page116)starts with the fact of Unity of the Race, brotherhood is but a necessary corollary of his elementary faith. It is a part of the concept of Unity. To him the final goal is much more comprehensive, and probably also uncertain, than what is meant by brotherhood. It is a vague and indefinable something, but certainly the highest and the most perfect fulfilment of his noblest aspirations. Hence Gurudev uses the convenient term God. It may be the ideal,the Goal of  Perfections, Universal Peace, or anything else we can think of as the summum  bonum of the Life of the Race.
There is a radical difference of outlook in another respect also between the old philosophy and the new. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity  are to most people of this materialistic age mere abstract sentiments or unrealisable dreams. Their application to the organisation: of man's efforts and to the institutions of service and general welfare is still an abstruse problem.The message of Gurudev brings those ideals nearer to our life and seeks their fulfillment in more or less definite forms of reconstruction. When he says One caste, he means that liberty, equality and fraternity have to be recognized as the rule of organization of society and and as the elementary characteristic of all our institutions. In his hands, these principles are not mere good sentiments but concrete facts which should be utilised for recasting our political machines, national aspirations, our economic arrangements and all other things which matter in the external scheme of things.
One Religion also conveys to us the idea of a definite and tangible result we have to work for. The establishment of fraternal relations among the various religions of the world has already become a matter of serious consideration within the scope of practical politics. But, as we have seen, religion has a wider meaning in the new philosophy. It is the law of life  in all its aspects. It comprehends the principles of all human organisation, social, political, economic, religious and so forth. The unification of these on standards applicable to all peoples and all parts of the globe is the consummation contemplated in One Religion.
When life and nature are conceived as One in fact and the Identity of their Laws is also recognised, it is only another step to infer the inevitable unity of the final goal however vague it might be for the present. We can therefore boldly say that, after all, we are pursuing the same end, the same mysterious something, the (page118)same God. We start from the same point because we are one in life and blood, we follow the same path and proceed in the same direction because the laws which govern us are identical and it is but natural that the goal should be the same too.
Thus from general principles and good  intentions, we are taken appreciably nearer to  the facts of life. Our future advance is shown to lie in the direction of fuller approximation of our institutions and laws to the ideals of a common life. If we concentrate our thoughts on the numberless and momentary units, on the fleeting phenomena of individual lives, civilisation would seem to be a desperately unprofitable task because of its ever shifting basis, of  the incomprehensible variety and incongruities  of men and things, of its terrifying magnitude, and of the absence of any permanent synthesising element. Gurudev's philosophy emphasises the fact that cultural evolution has to be sought in progressive organisations and institutions embodying the common ideals and  aspirations, and worked in accordance with common laws and universal principles of conduct. This, at any rate is an immediate change of outlook contemplated in socialism also.
One Caste is an emphatic protest against all institutions which separate man from man, which tend to emphasise differences and prevent unification, which are based on a denial of the right to equality of opportunities for all. It is a call to us to do away with such arrangements and reconstruct society on the basis of the brotherhood of humanity. One religion similarly seeks to impress upon us the paramount importance of radically changing our accepted faiths and laws. There is need for a persistent attempt to establish uniformity in the code of morality, of individuals as well as nations, in the laws of economic life and political relations, of social intercourse and so forth. In the realisation of this uniformity of general laws and common beliefs we have the only reasonable guarantee of the continuity and permanence of cultural progress. The state  which is responsible for the creation and enforcement of laws has therefore to be held guilty in so far as it permits the existence of customs which are against the spirit of  racial unity. One of the most important functions of all Governments is to reduce to legal obligations the principles of the growing conciousness of the one life. A Government which is incapable of effectively recording this growth and speedily adjusting its laws and practices to fuller and fuller realisation of liberty and equality stands self-condemned; a peril to itself and others.


Society has to be reconstructed on a new basis. Nations have to be revitalised into moral forces of the world which they have long ceased to be. Superficial solutions will not remove the widespread evils. We are to-day confronted with the most difficult situations which require radically new remedies. Our troubles are world-troubles. In happiness and in misery, all mankind is becoming one. Unless we  recast all institutions on universal principles and make them conform to the ideal of the group life there can be no getting out  of the muddle. As the first thing, the Governments of the world must accept the moral basis which they admit to be good for the people for guidance of States also.
The next step is the humanisation of policy and institutions. This is what is happening in spite of the prejudices and fears so deeprooted in the minds of men everywhere. That oft~misunderstood term Socialism expresses in a great measure the principles which Gurudev so freely used in his work of reconstruction. H. G. Wells tells us what his conception of socialism is on pages 80 and 81 of his 'First and Last Things', and therein we have the nearest interpretation of Gurudev's ideals. "Its common quality from nearly every point of view is the subordination of the will of the self-seeking individual to the idea of a racial wellbeing embodied in an organised state under God, organised for every end that can be best obtained collectively.…… Socialism for me is a common step we are all taking in the realisation of God's purpose of human organisation and unity. It is the organisation of the general effort in regard to a great mass of common and fundamental interests that have hitherto been dispersedly served…………
persedly served "Socialism is to me no more and no less than the realisation of a common end, universal loyalty in mankind, the awakening of a collective consciousness of duty in humanity, the (page122)awakening of a collective will and a collective mind out of which finer individualities may arise for even in a perpetual series of fresh endeavours and fresh achievements for the race."
The experiments in Russia, in Italy, in Turkey, and in India are different manifestations of the impending change in the general attitude to life. Each country has got a glimpse of the glorious vision, and is evolving its own scheme of racial expression and growth. Gurudev has worked out a model reconstruction in his own way.  
We have seen that at all stages of his work the centre of activity was either the temple or the Mutt, very often the Temple, not because that was the best embodiment of his ideal, but because the Mutts or the living centre of Dedicated Workers were not immediately available. What is the significance of making the Mutt or the temple the Central Institution.
The basic conception of a society organised according to Gurudev's plan is that the highest repository of power and wealth should be the State, or the Ideal or the Central Institution represented in practical politics by dedicated workers. Whether it is a Mutt or the Temple(page123)Temple or the State, whatever name is given  to the central Trustee of power. and wealth, it should consist of servants who have consecrated themselves to their duty. In the words of the Quoran, "Submission to Allah and doing good to others”  is the qualification and work of a good servant of God. In Christ we have the best example of the sort of dedication that is required. Christlike men are alone fit to be the trustees of the common weal. Wherever he went, Christ proclaimed that he had been sent by the Father to do his will; and the Father's' will was that he should live and die for the world. This means at least two things: First, an absolute surrender and consecration to the will of God, secondly, a life of suffering and sacrifice--- the two renunciations which a dedicated worker has to make.
The great importance which Gurudev atttached to the spirit of dedication is expressed  in the following conversation. His followers were organising a big meeting. One of the speakers went to pay his respects to Gurudev.  
Gurudev.What will be the chief topic of discussion at the meeting?  
Speaker. Nothing has been decided. I have come to take Your Holiness’ advice.
Gurudev. The spirit of dedication is necessary for all. Even among the school-boys the spirit should be cultivated. All work should be done in that spirit. There is no objection to earning money. Everything is allowable provided it is done in the spirit of consecration. My opinion is that all human beings should become dedicated people. What is the harm?
Speaker. It would be very good.  
Gurudev. It is necessary. Then alone our actions become purified. It will also give us courage. Even death will have no fear for us. Unfaltering courage is necessary in order to serve the world. How many died in the Great War 1 All that is nothing. Dedicated men are not afraid of death. They alone are real human beings. The present generation seem to be all cowards……. 'Every school should impart this spirit to the young. This should be the chief topic of the meeting.
Three important principles are expressed in this short conversation. A dedicated life is the guarantee of purity; it alone will inspire the worker with supreme courage; a life of service means suffering and sacrifice. In Gurudev  we have another great model of the type of representatives who alone should occupy the highest place of authority in any organization,. (page125)organization, social, political or religious. They should be those who have become a law in themselves by purity, wisdom, renunciation and love, men who have sacrificed their noblest acquisitions in order to have the privilege of serving others, who through sufferings and temptations are prepared to lead people on to the great ideal of universal brotherhood, thinking not of anything but the peace and happiness of all mankind. Such people alone are worthy to be Sanyasins of the Mutt and the Presidents of States.
But how may we test the sincerity of the  dedication and the courage necessary for the life of sacrifice? The ancients have often used the same tests in all religions. In life as it is to-day the highest consecration for all ordinary people is the marriage; the husband consecrate himself to the wife and the wife to the husband and they maintain the sanctity of the relation by life-long love, suffering and sacrifice. Th test of the ideal worker, the highest authority in the new world, is the renouncing of the happiness of marriage and substitution of it by a more devoted dedication of life to the service of the Central Institution. One who finds the highest duty and happiness in marriage cannot make any greater sacrifice or find a higher joy elsewhere.The workers have therefore to be celibates, which meant firstly renunciation of all pleasures of the flesh and secondly renunciation of all pleasures of the world, which means  poverty. These two go together, celibacy and poverty. The temptations to which  workers generally succumb may be broadly stated as the temptations of the body and temptations of the world. By observing celebacy and controlling the palate the bodily temptations are overcome. Vow of poverty effectively conquers the temptations of the world and fits the worker for the life of suffering and sacrifice. When one has adopted these two renunciations he has prima facie satisfied the standard. It should not be forgotten that celibacy and poverty are a continuing and lifelong test, a daily examination to which worker should subject himself. This is the ideal condition in which he will be able to maintain the spirit of brotherhood without which no work can fully succeed. By giving up private relations of blood, he becomes a blood. brother of all mankind. By denying himself all wealth, he makes himself a brother of the humblest and the poorest, and the trustee of national wealth and power. For such workers the limitations of caste, creed, colour, sex and nationality nationality have no existence. They are the only truly free men of the world.
No doubt, there may be other equipments of head and heart which are necessary for workers according to the nature of the position they are called on to fill. We may also consider if there are any means other than those used by the ancients to maintain uncontaminated the fountain-head of authority and the trustee of human welfare.
We have been speaking of ideal conditions which may not be capable of complete realization;if indeed they could be so readily realisable, they cease to be the great ideal of the future. Our object should be to approximate the nature of the State to this standard as far as is possible within the limitations in which we have to live. The success and stability of the Central Institution will be in proportion to the extent of such approximation.
It is easy, comparatively, to have a temple to represent the Central Authority, but a living institution like the Mutt or the order of Dedicated Workers can be developed only gradually. It requires also a certain amount of cultural capacity of the people to understand and live up to the ideal. Therefore, though Gurudev had always  the idea of the Mutt of workers  behind all his organizations, he had to be satisfied with less efficient, temporary, arrangements. He knew that the Mutt would be practically himself all his life time. Hence the second best thing the temple was chosen. until  at the close of his career, he made it clear that a living institution alone could preserve the ideals and carry on the work. As Christ did twenty centuries ago Gurudev left his work in the hands of a small body of disciples who are to the present world what the fishermen of Galilee were to the ancient world, equally humble in their qualifications, equally helpless without the master, equally scoffed at and persecuted by the un-understanding populace, equally scattered and equally weak, but with the Holy Spirit hovering over them to guide and protect.
In elevating the temple and the Mutt to this high position, Gurudev accomplished two secondary objects also. The ancient Hindu temple with all the horrible practices and superstitions which had grown round it in the course of many centuries of degeneration and fairly strangled all meaning out of it was metamorphosed  into a new thing. It became a lever to raise the people in all directions. It was purged of all the abuses and converted into a civilizing influence among the masses.It served as the trustee of the peoples’ commonwealth and represented their unity, strength and wisdom.  
The Sanyasin or the dedicated man is one of the most ancient institutions of Hinduism. It is the noblest creation of the Indian philosopher and the perfect solution of all problems. But in the course of ages the system has so rusted and corrupted that today the sanyasin in most places, is a byeword for disdain.  Under favourable circumstances, he is accepted  merely as an apology for the ancient ideals.Viewed from the standpoint of the ancients, the Sanyasin is one who has renounced all cares of the world and pitched his aspirations in a secluded life of study, meditation and devotion to God, of ascetic discipline and desirelessness. This ideal is now almost universally neglected in practice. There are to be found  a few. here and there who are marching with the spirit of the times and have voluntarily taken to social work. But the vast majority Sanyasins in India are leading the life, to put it mildly, of idleness and irresponsibility. Gurudev has given up the ancient ideal however good, as well as the prevailing abuse of the system,  (page130)system, and made the Sanyasin the cornerstone of society. Of all parts of India, Malabar was the one place where the Sanyasin had never found congenial soil. It is said that the greatest philosophical genius of the world,  Sree Sankara, who was born in Malabar and became a Sanyasin, had to flee from the land of his birth. In such a country it is that Gurudev has founded his new order of Sanyasins, and thus revolutionised not only the ancient conceptions but also the present aberrations and set an example of the crowning idea of the new social order.
All the other institutions of the State should be clustered round the central Ideal and under its protection and influence. Around the temples and the Mutts established by Gurudev, we find all sorts of useful activities going on, from a night-school to a well conducted bank, from a small association of children to the assembly of the leading citizens, from a quiet reading room to a crowded factory humming with the turning of wheels and the chatting of busy workers, schools, dispensaries, workshops and fairs. In the reconstituted society, there is no anxiety about the individuals. All are equals and free. There are no social differences. There is unrestricted freedom of faith withinpage131 within the limits of the common law so that religious antagonisms are unknown. All are protected by the Central Authority which is free of such limitations.
The chief object of all institutions in the State is to equalise the opportunities for all, to allow free scope for individual growth, and  to maintain peace and fraternal relations within as well as with all outside, the condition precedent to real progress. The schools instead of cultivating national pride and exclusiveness, will humanise the outlook of the young, and develop the spirit of toleration, of mutual helpfulness and understanding, inspiring them to converge their aspirations to a life dedicated to the increasing realisation of universal brotherhood. The commercial and industrial houses, instead of trying to profit at the expense of others, will endeavour to adjust the demand and supply from the standpoint of collective natural requirements and for the maximum of general well-being. The leveling of the inequalities of wealth, opportunities of advancement and means of happiness should the constant concern of the Government acting in co-operation with other governments.The idea of progress as a material struggle will be discredited and instead there will be a scheme of things where Peace and the spirit of Brotherhood are the keynote, and progress will mean the mental and moral evolution of free individuals living at peace with one another, and co-operating like brothers or limbs of the same body. To maintain that Peace, social, political, economic and religious, from end to end of the earth is the highest function of all institutions and governments.


The question is often asked, “what is Gurudev’s religion?" It may mean two things: (1) What is the religion or creed to which he belonged? (2) What is the religion or spiritual teaching which he has given to the world? In the first sense Gurudev had no religion. He has openly disowned all allegiance to particular creeds or faiths. He recognised no hard and fast distinctions among the so-called religions of the world all of which were in his view essentially "One." He could therefore feel with the Hindu as a Hindu, with Christian as a Christian, With the Mohammedan as a Mohammedan.Followers of the various religions found in Gurudev an embodiment of their respective ideals and aspirations and felt no reluctance to acclaim him as a teacher.
In the second sense, indeed he has given us much food for thought, but it would be a misnome to call it religion. He attached no sanctity to organised faith and worship though he always admitted their usefulness provided they served to elevate and purify man's life.He was chiefly concerned with the living present and the present living of man. Institutional religion was treated as a means to an end and no more. Everything depended on how we used these things. He seemed to be indifferent to the 'things' and 'institutions' themselves and wanted people to concentrate on how they utilised them for realising the goal which is Spiritual Peace or True Happiness. There is nothing which cannot be utilised for the growth of the aspiring souls. There is nothing which is invariably the royal road to liberation for all.  The tiny ant has its function in the divine scheme. The worst situations can provide  a necessary lesson. What really matters is man’s life here and now. 
 lt may then be asked what are his teachings about the Happy Life. What is the message he has to give to the seeker of salvation? What new light has he brought to satisfy the eternal craving of the human heart for Perfection and Peace.  If we are to expect from a  teacher a ready-made plan of salvation he has indeed given us none.If we want a plain scheme of life which all may follow in order to attain bliss we shall have to be disappointed. He has not propounded any such scheme. He has not elaborated spiritual exercises which will take us to the desired goal.He is no teacher in that sense. He has not attempted to direct the inner life of people by precepts and codes. Even his nearest disciples received no sort of initiation in the orthodox fashion as from a Guru.Many came to learn methods from him, but he seemed to say: 'each one is a method to himself, concentrate on the goal.' He produced results and left the student to find out the method  by experimenting for himself. To those who are prepared to live deliberately and earnestly religion is their own experience.
No doubt, he has sung his song occasionally and struck the key-note of his philosophy now and then.(page135)and then. The following is a rough translation of some typical verses:
All strive for happiness, their own;
Everything they do for this, and always.
This, the One religion of the universe,
And sorrow not, be at Peace.
(remember Happiness is One; this my happiness, that yours, that other another’s, and so on in objects varied, Happiness we seek perplexed. Know, therefore, our own happiness is another’s love.)
Love of others is my happiness,
Love that is mine is happiness for others. This  the Truth.
And so, truly, deeds that benefit a man
Must for other's happiness be a cause.

With no thought of self, day and night, labour,
Without meanness, the kind-hearted soul
But mean people stoop in failure,
Self-seeking deeds their only goal.

That other and we, all in the world, in truth,
Are of the One Eternal spirit.
What each one does for happiness in spirit,
That, for others too, must be a source of joy.
This teaching is in perfect tune with his general scheme of world reorganisation which we have discussed in the foregoing pages. It breathes the same spirit of selflessness and renunciation. It is based on the same principle of the One Life, the Universal Self, which is it all. It calls us again and again to the same active and increasing dedication of our smaller individual selfs to the Universal Self which is God. Happy life is like a stream of love always pouring itself out into the ocean of the Larger Existence.
Life is now and always here and everywhere. Children who are afraid to walk on their own legs require the help of others. The blind have to be led safely by those who can see. Religions are for the children and blind. The strong healthy man who is parepared to live fearlessly will cut out his own path; and everyone has, now or hereafter cut out his path; for heaven is not for the blind or the sinner. 'God is not the God of dead but of the living.' The blind have to recover their sight, the sinner has to wash himself clean in order to march under the portals which open into the life of Happiness. The fact is he does not give us any religion. He is himself himself the religion. His life is an open experiment, a demonstration of the path which all may study and profit by according to the measure of their capacity.
What we wish to convey to the reader will become clearer by drawing attention to two scenes of Gurudev's life, the opening and the closing scenes. The little village Chempazhanthi is his birth-place. In that place are to be seen two edifying spectacles. One is a small hut of mud walls and palm-leaf roofing, beginning to crumble down with age. Ill ventilated, low and uncouth, it is the very picture of humility and poverty with absolutely no signs of civilization or education or social status. That is the home of Gurudev. He was born among the low and the poor, in a small hamlet of simple unsophisticated peasants without wealth or fashion.
In the same compound just a few yards from the hut is an old temple where once people used to worship the Mother God. It was once a temple with reputation and wealth and influence and even now memories of the past glory fire the hearts of the old men and women of the village sadly watching the revolution going on around them. Where once the Goddes was worshipped, there exactly in the same spot,  (page138) The same spot, under the same roof and within the same walls, instead of the image of the Goddess we now see the portrait of Gurudev. There the young and the old flock to worship perhaps more devoutedly than before, because personal experience of Gurudev's greatness and love has created in them abiding faith in his divinity. His own kith and kin, his playmates, and fellow pupils of the pial school, old companions of his wandering days, people who would ordinarily be the last to recognise any sort of superhuman power in the familiar lad Nanoo are seen prostrating before the picture of Gurudev seeking his divine guidance and protection as they used to do before in the presepce of the Goddess. To them Gurudev is God. The humble village-lad of the hut has become the divinity of the temple. Not in this place alone, but in scores of other temples all over Malabar we witness the same astonishing phenomenon. From the hut he rose to the shrine. This is the great lesson of his life; this is his religion.   
Godhood here and now, in this life, is the hope he is holding out for all. Man is the supreme author of his own destiny and can rise to the highest bliss even in this earthly existence existence in the midst of sufferings and tribulations. Rising up to heaven might be here and now. It is within the reach of the humblest man born in the world and requires no creeds or priests. This is the religion of Gurudev and the small village of Chempazhanthi is  the standing monument of that teaching depicting in dilapidated walls and a humble hovel the message of a God among men.

XII - A PICTURE - Humble Birth

A small Malabar village, about six miles from Trivandrum, the capital town of the State of Travancore. In that village, known by the delicious name of Chempazhanthi, 'there is even now to be found a dilapidated old temple, and close by, almost in the same compound a small hut of mud walls and palm-leaf roofing, so low that one cannot stand erect under the roof, so small that half-a-dozen people cannot squeeze themselves within. In that hovel, about the middle of 1854 (1856) A. D. was born a wonderful infant, who soon became the talk of the village by his strange ways.
As a boy, he is sent to the village teacher along with the other children of the locality and receives the usual elementary education. In the school he is the leader of a group who have gathered round him fascinated by his little tricks and cleverness in study. The boy shows an unusual fondness for beggars and ascetics, and is often found screening them from the molestations of his own companions. He could break a coconut by simply dropping it on the ground from a height of a few feet, a trick which astonished even the elders. His aims never missed, and he could bring down coconuts from the tree by a single throw of a stone. In the company of the mischievous urchins, he was the dictator of law and justice. He never allowed a cruel thing to be done in his presence.
Having finished the pial-school course, the boy starts life by helping the elders to keep the cattle and in cultivation. Every day he goes up to the beautiful hills, which are so many around the village, with the cattle, and leaving them to stray as they pleased, he perches himself on the branch of a shady tree, and is soon absorbed in the book which he has brought(page141) brought with him. Sitting there, he is memorising literary masterpieces and devotional songs, and meditating on their meanings. The humbler children of the village also come with their cattle. Many of them are so dirty and so low in social status that they cannot come near our hero. But he goes to them and finds much pleasure in helping them in little things and sharing with them his own food. Even as a boy he is noted for his caste-breaking proclivities. He visits the huts of the untouchables, and partakes of their meal as if they were his blood brothers. He helps them in domestic duties, and returns home polluted and to pollute everyone and everything there, in which offending mischief he persistently indulged, putting the women of the house to the necessity of many extra dips in the tank to remove the pollution caused by the naughty boy.
As he grows in years, his piety also increases. He spends all spare time in prayer and meditation, and disciplines himself by fasts and other forms of self-denial. He had an attack of small-pox about this time. During the days of the disease, he hides himself in the unfrequented temple, and when the erruptions had gone, quietly returns home as if nothing unusual unusual had happened. He spent a few years under a reputed scholar studying Sanskrit in which he soon became more proficient than the teacher himself. Afterwards he becomes a tutor of children, but is better known as a great devotee of God who exercises his influence to turn the minds of children also Godward.
The irresistible call comes, and the young promising scholar leaves his home as a pilgrim in search of wisdom and truth. In his prolonged wanderings, he comes into contact with learned men of all sorts and picks up information in varied fields of knowledge, and develops  it by his own study and thought until he becomes an authority in himself. Learning soon satiates the young aspirant, who sees a more glorious vision in the lofty mountains and in communion with God.
The forests of Aruvipuram, some fifteen miles from Trivandrum, have become famous as the place where Gurudev performed the great penance living in the unfrequented valleys and caves, eating of the fruits, roots, and green leaves, and mingling with the wild animals with whom he lived on terms of loving intimacy.(Page143)intimacy. Many strange stories are told of his mysterious appearances and disappearances like a phantom of the woods, of his living with snakes and tigers. Other neighbouring forests have also been sanctified by contact with the great one who attained the peace and power of spiritual self.realisation within their impenetrable shelter. Sometimes he goes out like a mendicant from village to village, in rags and dirt, eating what is offered by the poor, sleeping on the roadside, and mingling with the most lowly of all classes. Living with the Mohammedans, he becomes one of them and soon earns their esteem by his saintly ways, and universal serviceability in small things as well as great. Among the fishermen of the sea-coasts, he was a favourite with all. The children become very fond of the stranger with sparkling eyes. The women get an inkling of the mysterious power veiled in the beggar's form by wonderful experiences of consolation which they receive from him. The men find that his presence somehow is an augury of good luck in all their undertakings. Often he disappears from the haunts of men and goes back to the seclusion of the forests to continue the penance. In this way, living in communion with God and nature and occasionally coming out to mingle with the lowly and the poor, he spent some years  (page144)years like a madcap, as worldly-wise people used to remark; then. 
Soon it begins to be talked about that a man with miraculous powers is living in the forests of Aruvipuram. People flock to him for various purposes: some out of curiosity, some to benefit by his great learning, some to get diseases cured, some to have evil spirit cast out, the blind to get their sight, the leper to be blessed into health. The miracles he has performed not only during this period, but all his after life, are too many to describe. Suffice it to say that the blind have received their sight, lepers  have become whole, drunkars have given up their vice, the lame have  recovered their strength,evil spirits have been cast out and lunatics have become sane by the grace of Gurudev. Some times his commands used to be sent to distant places through  disciples or by letter and that was enough for  the evil spirits to depart. When there was terrible draught in the country, and people went lamenting of their great sufferings and the destruction of crops and cattle, he was very much moved with pity and composed a prayer to God and asked them to go and repeat the Prayer. In a few hours there was heavy rainfall. (page145)On the other occasions, subsequently, faithful souls have successfully tried the efficacy of that prayer to bring down rain.
Coming into contact with the people as a wonder-.worker, he began the great work of elevating them. A small hut was put up on the hill  in Aruvipuram. That was the first institution. Soon after a temple and a Mutt arose in the place and not much later a school also.
There is no scheme or organised method. People make gifts of money and sometimes of land. As soon as something is accomplished in a place, Gurudev betakes himself to another place and there people flock to him. In.a short time an institution springs up there also and he would then shift himself to some other locality. In this way, wherever he lived for a time, there a Mutt or Temple or School was soon established. From Aruvipuram he turns to the lonely jungles of Sivagiri which are ere long converted into a place. Where hundreds flock daily to see their great teacher and receive his blessings. Mutts, temples and schools are constructed. New roads and bridges remove the difficulties of communication.  The perennial springs are crowded by bathing parties. (page146)The streams smile in the new verdure of their banks. Hundreds of poor are daily fed by the charitable folks. Plenty reigns where a few years ago jackals ruled in their thorny fastnesses.
The scene is soon transferred to Alwaye which becomes another important center of his work with one of the finest Sanskrit High Schools in the state where numerous pupils receive free education and sometimes also free boarding.
In this way the work goes on. Like a  magician Gurudev roams the country converting by a wave of the hand or a few words of advice, thorny jungles into seats of devotion and learning,ignorant. masses into well organized societies, scattering to the winds superstitious customs and cruel practices, raising up temples of liberty to the glory of God and the benefit of man, erecting schools, sending out missionaries to preach of the new life, gathering disciples to carry on the work, and bathing the whole country in the inspiration of a great future.
After nearly forty years of such work, he more or less settles down in Sivagiri watching(page147)from that height with paternal solicitude successes and failures of many lakhs of followers who look up to him as the perfect embodiment of their highest aspirations.A master-scholar in many branches of learning, professors and students flock to him to drink at the fountain of wisdom. The earlier scenes are repeated on a wider scale. Crowds flock every day to receive the blessing of the Great One, to get  diseases cured, to have evil spirits cast and so on and so forth. The leaders of the people come to take his advice in all sorts of matters. Sivagiri becomes a sacred centre of  pilgrimage for the high and the low alike. Such worId figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr.Rabindranath Tagore and Mr.C.F.Andrews visit him and  find in him all that he was reputed to be.But he is ever the simple ascetic of the loin cloth  living in a ten feet square room reminding us of the smallness of the house where he was born, with nothing but a wooden rod and rater bowl as his sole personal possessions.
Scrupulously clean in body and habits; it was impossible for ordinary people to satisfy standard of neatness. Even an uncomfortable sound was like dirt in his presence. He had a beautiful physical bodv of commanding proportions.
Proportions and inspiring appearance, with eyes which seemed to see through the minds of people who went to him. Those eyes have conquered  many hearts by their mere look sometimes of  compassion, sometimes of wisdom, sometimes of great spiritual strength, at other times sparkling with the joy mysterious.
umour was in every word of Gurudev. His conversations were so sparkling with wit and wisdom and love that the humble peasant as well as the learned scholar found  unending  pleasure in listening to them. His pithy expressions had the wonderful nack of sticking to  the memory of the hearers. Even words of  chastisement administered to the workers were made delicious by the touch of humour. The illiterate labourer  no less than the scholarly professor could converse with him with an affinity of mutual appreciation. Talking with the low he was one of them. Conversing with the highest he presented a grandeur beyond the reach of all.
He has grown beyond all description in the love and reverence of the people numbering many lakhs of men women and children of all stations in life. Many thousands of homes keep his picture and offer prayers and flowers to it every day.(page149)every day. Many thousands of hearts are looking up to him as their saviour in all troubles, and praying to him for the redress of wrongs, for the happiness of their dear ones for success in their pursuits, for everything for which people generally pray to God. There are even to-day thousands of believing hearts who attribute all success and happiness to him and who live  in the growing realisation of his solicitude for them. This adoration was not confined to any particular community or creed. Among his devotees, there were Hindus,Budhists,Christians, Mohammedans, Parsees and others.Divided by differences of faith and social distinctions,  they all united in their great reverence for Gurudev. The following are extracts from the account of a Christian brother published in Mr. P. Natarajan's "The Way of the Guru".
"This new friend began to narrate the following anecdote, after he had crossed himself most reverently as we passed the church. Sir, I have seen the Guru…….. When I saw him I could not resist the thought that he was lke our saviour Jesus Christ. He was surrounded by people who either wanted to be healed of sickness or came to seek his advice regarding some calamity that had befallen them.  There were some who were eager to take(page150 )take the dust of his feet and others were waiting for the water that had cleansed them. Surely, this was the way in which, as we read in the Bible, Lord Jesus himself moved among the multitude…… , while I was bending, he gently placed his hand on my head. That solacing touch at once carried its message of blessing to the innermost recesses of  my being" .
There is a very popular prayer addressed to him which is repeated every day in many thousands of homes in Malabar. The following is a translation of some of the verses. They help us to form a rough idea of the esteem in which he is held by the multitude.
"Verily, Guru is the Great. God, the primordial Light which dispells ignorance and illumines the path of Truth. Verily for us Thou art the only worshipful one, O! Guru.
"Lo! Who else is there so full of love, so full of wisdom, so full of humility. In all things first and foremost, we meditate on and worship your holy feet, O! Guru.
"To do others good, your life and your body and the Peace of your soul, gladly, you sacrificed. None else like you among sages, laymen or the rest, O! Guru.
“In the din of disputations and amidst scenes of religious quarrels, like a mountain, you rest in peace unshaken. Knower of the secrets of ancient wisdom, beyond all differences, in the One Life, victorious, thou art O! Guru.
"Ah! Distracted and tempted we are; draw us nearer you, draw us by the cord of love, your own. Behold, behold, many lakhs of men victorious live by the magic strength of your sacred name, O! Guru.
To those who had learned to believe in him and had experienced the great, consolation of such belief, Gurudev ceases to be a human personality and has become God incarnate. The margin between the human and the divine is forgotten in his wonderful presence. There is practically not a moment of his life which is screened from the public eye. Every little act, eating drinking and walking and seelping, is done without any air of mystery. He lives like the ordinary man, and yet the humble boy who cooks his frugal meal as well as the distinguished visitor who comes to pay his respects, all alike realise how supremely above human comparisons he reigns in a glory of his own. The attainment of Budhahood, the realisation of God, the rising up to Heaven, were all mere legends(page152) to us, at best blind beliefs, before the advent of Gurudev. But in  him was the concrete example of a humble village boy rising godhood here and now, at any rate to such an extent as was conceivable in this material existence He has given us a practical example of the Divinity which is man. He is man, but human. He is not God and yet is Divine. In him was a perfect mingling of the human and the divine. Without any revulsion to their traditional ideas of God people found their noblest conception of Divinity embodied in Gurudev. History provides no parallel to such a unique experience, and only those who have had the privilege of direct contact with Gurudev can form any idea of the reality. For others this description is a piece of audacious exaggeration. However the truth has to be told.Gurudev's life is an immortal monument of the triumph of man over the world, and the merging of the human and the divine. He is eternal problem of all who came to know believe in him-God or man?
For generations to come, he is bound to sent the same problem. Compare with the divine personalities of the world, and in all respects judged by any standard, he is second to  none. Is it in the humility of his origin and (page153)the wonderful glory of the setting; is it in the simplicity and purity of his life; is it in the depth of his learning or the wisdom of his teachings; is it in the miraculous powers he wielded; is it in the greatness of his concrete achievements for the good of the world or the magnitude of the practical work he has done; is it in the wonderful love and esteem of his own generation; is it in the unparalleled service and sacrifice of his life; is it in the grandeur and universal value of his message; in all respects, viewed from any standpoint, he is more divine than many of those figures who rule the hearts and beliefs of people all over the world.
 *Swami Dharma Theerthan, B.A.;LL.B.

Sree Narayana Guru-by: V V Chandran

by: V V Chandran

Sree Narayana Guru

This book is a humble attempt to introduce Sree Narayana Guru to those people who do not know Malayalam. Guru is a tresurehouse of Knowledge and wisdom. His greatness and purity is a matter to be experienced by swimming through his writings, lofty messages and personal life. Sree Narayana Guru literature is now a continuously growing phenomena. Translations and commentaries on Guru’s works are now available in Malayalam, English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Dutch, German etc;. The Author of this book had the opportunity to be associated with the activities of the Samskarika Vibhagam of Sree Narayana Mandira Samiti, Mumbai.
During the several seminars and the programmes conducted in the propagation of Guru’s ideals, the participants requested us to make available an informative booklet in English. This was to enable the children born and brought up in Mumbai to learn about Guru. This prompted me to try one. Shri. P.P.Sadasivan, Chairman of Samskarika Vibhagam, inspired and encouraged me to go ahead. He helped me on day to day basis by giving advice, inputs and guidance. After it took a proper shape, the office bearers of the samiti Viz; Dr.K.K.Damodaran, President, Shri.K.K.Ramakrishnan, Chairman and Shri Salimkumar,Gen.Secretary read the manuscript and gave their valuable suggestions. Dr.Damodaran appreciated our effort and offered to write the foreword. My younger daughter Kum.Cini Chandran helped me in making corrections in the draft. I am thankful to all of them. I am also thankful to Shri.G.Madhu who gave me the required photographs and the Superfine Printers who made it to be a beautiful book.
This book gives only a brief and superficial account of Guru. The details of birth, boyhood, education, penance, self realization, reformation undertaken etc. are the pebbles picked up from the literature available about Guru. I sincerely hope that this humble attempt will help many people to enquire more and more about Guru and make their life happy and peaceful. …….V.V.Chandran.


Sree Narayana Guru was a great saint and social reformer who stood for “ One Caste, One Religion, and One God for man” which embodies the universal brotherhood of man. The Guru taught us “ whatever may be the religion of a man, it is enough if he becomes virtuous”. “Ask not, say not, think not caste”. “Acts that one performs for one’s own sake should also benefit others”. “Gain freedom through education and gain strength through organization”. “Liqour is poison, make it not, sell it not, drink it not”. The messages and teachings of Sree Narayana Guru are more relevant today than at any other time. Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave and other great personalities visited Sree Narayana Guru at his Ashram at Sivagiri Mutt, Varkala,Kerala. They all paid glowing tributes to the Guru.
Kerala in the days of Sree Narayana Guru was a hot bed of casteism and unsociability unparalleled in other parts of India. Hence Swami Vivekananda called Kerala as a “lunatic asylum”. Sree Narayana Guru consecrated several temples for the reformation of unprivileged. Consecration of the temples were the monopoly of Brahmins on those days.
Shri. V.V.Chandran has made an earnest attempt to present the life, teachings and work of Sree Narayana Guru in this book. I hope that the readers of this book will get a clear picture of Sree Narayana Guru. I congratulate him and the effort he has put in for writing this book.
Dr.K.K.Damodaran, President,SNMS, Mumbai dt.18.10.2003.
Social set up of Kerala at the time of Guru’s birth
Search for truth and penance
Beginning of reformation
Origin of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam
Revolution in temple construction & worship
Social revolution
Fallacy of caste
Religion for Guru
Guru’s own life
The sannyasins and service
Some teachings of Sree Narayana Guru
Guru in the eyes of some contemporary Mahatmas
Sivaprasada Panchakam
Guru Shatkam


Social set up of Kerala at the time of Guru’s birth
Search for truth and penance
Beginning of reformation
Origin of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam
Revolution in temple construction & worship
Social revolution
Fallacy of caste
Religion for Guru
Guru’s own life
The sannyasins and service
Some teachings of Sree Narayana Guru
Guru in the eyes of some contemporary Mahatmas
Sivaprasada Panchakam
Guru Shatkam


Sree Narayana Guru was an embodiment of all virtues, values and rare qualities seldom found in human race. He was a mystic, a teacher, a philosopher, a visionary, a scientist, a saint, a social reformer, a great nation builder and a poet, all blended into one. To millions of his devotees Sree Narayana Guru is an incarnation of God.  He was a saintly contemplative man who could impart wisdom and give enlightenment to a seeker of truth. His teachings are straight forward and simple, bringing out spiritual, moral and material revolution. Sree Narayana Guru was treasure house of knowledge and wisdom. His greatness and purity is to be experienced by swimming through the ocean of knowledge revealed through his writings, lofty messages and personal life. His life, work and teachings have refreshing uniqueness. There was naturalness and sublime simplicity tinged with mystery in them, thus rendering them peculiarly interesting and profoundly instructive. No one had so clearly and successfully demonstrated in recent centuries the ideals and methods and the way of realizing them. The achievements of Guru cannot be explained in words. His spiritual attainments made him omnipotent.

According to  Theosophical Society of India, Sree Narayana Guru was “Patanjali in yoga, Sankara in wisdom, Manu in the art of governance, Buddha in renunciation, Mohamed in strength of spirit and Christ in humility”. Swamy Dharma Teerthan,  a genius by himself, a contemporary and the disciple of Gurudev wrote in his book A Prophet of Peace: “We make no secret of the fact that we claim for Gurudev a place among the highest, among the suns and stars and not among the creatures of the earth; among the saviors of humanity and not among the kings and conquerors; among Buddhas, the Christs and Mohammeds, and not among mere philosophers and geniuses. The highest standards, therefore, are not too high to measure the value of his work. The widest sweep of our mental vision will not be too wide to comprehend the scope of his message. We have to approach the subject in terms of world problems and in the light of the evolution of centuries. To think of Gurudev merely as a reformer, as the religious leader of a community, as a great scholar and genius, or the founder of numerous institutions would be narrowing our own outlook and blurring our vision of the greater truth”. He further quoted. “It is impossible to find in history, an individual who has performed so many wonderful miracles and has become the object of worship for everyone, while alive.”

He was a self realized soul always in action but totally detached from the fruits of worldly life. Guru made the Vedic and Upanishadic knowledge accessible to the common man. The applicability of this knowledge in practical life was introduced by him with skill and simplicity.

Social set up of Kerala at the time of Guru’s birth

The life of Guru was an open book. He was born in a humble peasants’ family at a time when the people in Kerala were divided on the basis of caste. Vast sections of the society were degraded as Untouchables. They were being exploited socially, culturally, educationally and economically forcing them to live in shame as deprived destitute. They were denied education and employment. They were not allowed to wear proper cloths to cover nakedness. They were not allowed to worship satvik Gods or to enter their temples. They were not allowed to walk through the roads meant for upper caste people.  They were conditioned to believe that those restrictions were ordained by God. No one, therefore, dared to challenge the arrangements. Kerala was in Swami Vivekananda’s words  a “Lunatic Asylum”.

 The caste system and untouchability was being practiced in Kerala in its worst form among Hindus.Major population was of Hindu religion. Hindus were divided into different castes and sub castes. Each caste was placed at different levels in society with regard to rights and privileges. Some castes were called as upper castes and others the lower castes. Even in these broad divisions, different levels and status were provided.
People belonging to different castes were required to do the duties assigned to them. In order to identify each caste, restrictions were placed in the manner of wearing cloths, wearing ornaments, using the names, worshipping the Gods, offerings to be made to Gods etc. People were not allowed to mingle. People belonging to different castes were to keep certain distance when they meet. This distance was to be as per the status existed and it varied according to the levels in superiority or inferiority as the case may be in the hierarchy of castes. The distance to be maintained  from a Namboodiri was for Kshatriya-2ffe, Nair-16feet, Ezhava-32feet, Pulaya and Paraya-64 feet, Nayadi- not to come within the sight of a Brahmin. Anyone crossing the barrier was considered as polluting the other. This practice was called as untouchability. The lower caste people were not allowed entry to the temples where the upper castes were worshipping the Gods. The lower caste people were not allowed to walk on the public roads. Even on other roads the lower castes were to go away from the roads when they see an upper caste man coming through the road and he could come to the road only after the upper caste one passes through. They were not allowed to study in the public schools. They were denied the employment in Govt. offices, police, defense and other Govt. services. They were not allowed to wear the cloth below the knees. The ladies were not allowed to cover their chest. They were to wear the  ornaments made out of Iron. They were to pay several types of taxes like Tharivari-tax on handlooms, Valayara-tax on fishing boats and nets, Thalavari-tax  to be paid by the avarna for the hair on his head, Chakkuvari-tax on oil press, Mulakkaram-tax on woman to be paid depending on the size of their breasts, Chetthukaram-tax to be paid by the toddy tapper for the number of  the trees he climbed etc. when compared to the privileged caste people.  All followed it religiously. Punishments were severe for those who were violating the practice. The Gods with demonic and cruel appearances were only being allowed to worship by the avarnas. In order to please the Gods animal sacrifices were done and liquor and flesh were offered as the offerings.


Sree Narayana Guru was born on 28th August 1855(14th Chingam 1031 as per Malayalam calendar) in a small village known as Chempazhanti in Kerala. Chempazhanti is situated at about 12 kms north of Tiruvananthapuram, capital city of Kerala state in India. His house was a small one made out of mud walls and thatched with coconut leaves. That house is still preserved in the same formas a mark of respect to the great Guru.His father was Madan Asan and Mother was Kuttiamma. Guru was affectionately called as Nanu in his childhood. He had three sisters. Family name of Nanu was Vayalvaram. He was born on Chatayam(name of the star as per Malayalam calendar) in the month of Chingam. It is said that the child did not cry at birth as is usual with other children.


Madan Asan was a much loved and respected scholar of moderate means. He knew Sanskrit, Malayalam and Tamil. He also possessed fair knowledge in Ayurveda, ancient and vedic treatment practiced in India. His family profession was agriculture.

Kuttiamma was a pious woman, kind hearted and gentle. She was the niece (sister’s daughter) of Kochan Asan. Kochan Asan was a respectable person privileged to remain with the King of Travancore. He had the special ability of writing in “thaliyola” and therefore he had been employed by the king for that purpose. She had two brothers, Raman and Krishnan. She gave birth to three daughters and one son.


Nanu was smart, handsome and witty with pleasing manners. He was perspective of all  that is happening around him. People felt forcefully drawn to him. He was a boy with divine qualities. He had the capacity to understand the man made sufferings caused to the poor people. He showed a tendency to teach and correct others. Nanu used to stealthily eat the sweets and fruits offered to the Gods. When questioned he said “God will be pleased if I please myself.” He noticed that the elderly persons were inconsistent in their moods. When someone died, people were found to be grief-stricken and the body was cremated with much fuss and lamentation. After a couple of days all were found in their usual merry mood. Seeing this, on one occasion, young Nanu went away and sat in the nearby woods. When people asked him why he left home he replied that he was confused by the inconsistent behavior of elders. He saw his parents and other elders practicing untouchability. They were found to be afraid of going near the working peasants for fear of getting polluted. To break this taboo little Nanu went and embraced the so called untouchables and unapproachables and came home to touch and pollute his family members. He was proving in a practical way that no harm would befall anyone who hugged a poor man. One day he saw a rice pot boiling over in a Pulaya’s hut. No one was around. He went and removed it from the fire. Entering a Pulaya’s hut in those days wasconsidered as  a great sin. When parents questioned him about the incident he coolly said that if he had not done that the entire family would have been starving that day. Thus he was a reformer of the society even as a child.


Nanu was initiated to reading and writing by Chempazhanti Narayana Pillai . He studied till the age of ten in one teacher school. After that, as usual to any other boy of that time, he was asked to tend the family’s cattle. While the cows were gracing, he sat under shady tree and composed hymns in praise of God. One such hymn got the attention of his maternal uncle, Krishnan Vaiyar. Krishnan Vaidyar who was also a well known astrologer predicted that his nephew was not an ordinary boy.  The lyrical beauty and the depth of its meaning convinced everyone that he was a prodigy. Once he had an attack of smallpox . With  this he remained alone in a lonely temple without informing anybody for 18 days. After curing and taking bath only he has gone to his house. People at home also did not enquire because being away from home used to be his routine. People at home came to know this incident only when he informed about it as a reply to the inquiries made by them after seeing the marks on his face. There was no expression on his face that something serious had happened. The temple in which he had spent so many days were in fact so lonely that the people were afraid to go there even at day time. This was in fact the display of his power of endurance. The extra ordinary abilities found in the boy gave the feeling to the family members that the boy should be given higher education. Nanu was sent to Kayamkulam for higher studies in 1877 as a student under Kummampally Raman Pillai Aashan, a great scholar of those days and a strict celibate. Kummampalli Raman Aasan was considered as most revered scholar on those days at Travancore.  The noble household of Varanapally was in the vicinity., where Nanu got  free boarding and lodging. Under the guidance of Ramam Pillai Aashan, Nanu studied advanced Sanskrit literature, grammar, logic, astrology, and philosophy. He completed his studies in about three years (1877-1880). Nanu was not satisfied with the traditional teachings alone. He read as many books as he could. In spare time he practiced meditation. He used to get up early, go for a walk and take bath before sunrise. In those days Nanu  developed interest in the worship of Lord Krishna and also practiced introspection and meditation.It is said that once he had a vision of young Lord Krishna playing with him.  He composed a poem of single stanza in Sanskrit “Sree Krishna Darshanam” describing the ecstasy he experienced on these visions. Later on he composed hymns like  Vasudevashtakam,Vinayakashtakam, Bhadra Kalyashtakam, Guhashtakam, Nava Manjariri etc. while at at Varanappally.

The eldest member of Varanappally Shri. Kochu Krishna Panickar helped him in all his endeavors, either in higher studies or spiritual exercises. During the routine  literary discussions held everyday  Nanu participated  mainly as a listener to all arguments and counter arguments. If the discussions reached the level of quarrels, Nanu intervened and  his opinions were always being accepted as final.
          After returning from Varanapally Nanu  started teaching in the small school founded and run by his father, Maadan Aasan. This gave him the title”Nanu Aasan”.   Few months later,  he started a small school at Anchuthengu, a place having concentration of Pulayas, an untouchable community who were denied admission to the schools.  He concentrated on inculcating piety and other sober habits in the children.


After returning from Varanapally Nanu Asan became more and more drawn away from home and social gatherings. His inclinations were rooted firmly in the satvic plane. He preferred solitude. He liked silence. He lived like a recluse.The behavior of Nanu Ashan gave an indication that he was moving away from normal family life to saintly life. The family members therefore  decided to get  him married  to bring him to the normal family life. The girl was selected and a  date was fixed in 1882 for the marriage.  As per the prevalent system Nanu’s three sisters went to the bride’s(Kaliamma of Nedunganda ,his paternal aunt’s grand daughter)  home, gave her a set of new clothes as part of marriage ceremony and brought her home at Chempazhanty. But Nanu Aasan had already left his home before this marriage was performed and Kaliamma was brought home. He was not in favor of family life. When he returned after few days the girl, as per the custom, brought and gave him banana and milk. He received the gift with the attitude of a religious mendicant.  He gave one banana to her as a token of his blessings and said: “All are born with some purpose in their lives, I have mine and you have yours. Let me go to fulfill my role.” Then he left home.

Search for truth and penance

His thirst for knowledge did not allow him to remain in one place. He wandered around places after places in search of truth. He came in contact with a Tamil book shop-keeper at Thiruvananthapuram . He helped him in vending books and used that opportunity in studying Tamil and reading the Tamil books. He studied Tamil spiritual books like Thirukural, Thirumandiram, Thiruppukal, Thiruppavai, Vedanta Janavatil Kattilai, Sivapuranam etc: He  frequently visited the scholarly home of Perunally Krishnan Vaidyar, a well known poet and playwright of that time. These visits gave him the friendship with scholars like Velutteri Kesavan Vaidyar and Kunjan Pillai Chattampi.Kunjan Pillai Chattampi Swamigal ( Paramabhattaraka Vidyadhiraja Kunjanpillai Chattambiswamigal, a vedic scholar and author of well known book “Vedadhikara Nirupanam “). Nanu Asan learned yoga practices here and it increased his thirst for self realization. This thirst lead him to the Marutvan hills in Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu to undertake intense penance. He sustained himself on mostly with berries and tubers. It is said that the juice from the leaves of a plant known as Kattukodi when kept for sometime solidify like a cake. It was also used by him as food. He drank water from mountain brooks. He was not afraid of wild animals but loved them. It is said that during the penance he was guarded by a cobra and a tiger. One day when he emerged from Samadhi ( total absorption) he noticed a leper coming towards him. Leper had some puffed rice in his begging bowl. Leper offered it to him. Both of them ate it from the same bowl like intimate friends. The leper was not an apparition. He was actual man. Why and how did he came there was a mystery. After food both of them bade farewell without either of them making any attempt to know each other. It is believed that the leper was God Siva in disguise.

Nanu Asan  attained self realization at Marutvan Hills and emerged from the cave as Sree Narayana Guru.Enlightenment,  descended on him like a thousand suns rising together and his self ascended  like the flutter of a  blissful butterfly  from flower to flower tasting the nectar of life. The experience of Guru at Marutuan Hills and the ecstasy he enjoyed could be gathered from his works like sivasatakam, subramanya stotram, guhastakam, atmopadesa satakam etc.

Biginning of reformation

After self realization Guru bade farewell to Maruthvan hills and became a recluse in a thick forest on the banks of river Neyyar. This place was known as Aruvippuram. This place is located 24 kms south east of Tiruvananthapuram. He was lonely and the place where he was doing penance and meditation was unapproachable to the people, being in thick forest. One day a boy, who was grazing his cows near the forest went deep into the woods looking for a cow which gone astray, happened to see Narayana Guru. Name of the boy was Kochappi Pillai. Through him the outside world came to know that a yogi was present at Aruvippuram woods. The boy later became Guru’s first disciple.  He then later became Sivalinga Swamigal. Realising the divine powers possessed by Guru the people started visiting him for blessings. One forest conservator by name Narayana Pillai who had no children visited Guru and sought the blessings. With the blessings of Guru a child was born to him and the child was named by Guru as Narayani. Some of the regular visitors took initiative to build an Ashram for Guru. Guru thought that the time was ripe to give a new direction to the people. He decided to provide the people with a common place of worship where all people without the restriction of caste, creed, religion or sex could come and offer their prayers.   
Guru started his mission with the consecration of Shiva temple at Aruvipuram on a Shivaratri night on12.03.1888.  This was a small event without much of fanfare. But the aftermath of this small event sparked the social revolution in Kerala. It was an unprovoked challenge to the centuries old supremacy of priesthood. Throughout his life Guru executed his mission without confrontation and without creating any enemies. He never argued about anything. He never criticized anybody. He was a man of composure and action. He transformed the lunatic asylum to an abode of self respecting, forward looking and tolerant society with fraternal feelings smoothly and efficiently. He helped the people to save themselves from superstitious beliefs and to eradicate the self destroying rituals, customs and dogmas practiced by them out of ignorance and in the name of religion and tradition. He set an example to make the temples to be centers for purity and development. He was available for more than 40 years to execute his mission of transforming the society by instilling self respect and human dignity in the minds of the people. People of various talents from various fields of activity were attracted to Guru. Social reformers, freedom fighters, educationalists, thinkers, poets, writers, journalists, socially persecuted people and many more were attracted to Guru for guidance, light and inspiration. All of them actively participated  and contributed to the revolution that followed. At the entrance of the temple a message as follows was displayed.

“Without difference in caste
     Or rancor of religions
     This is a noble place
     Where all live in brotherhood”
  Protests came from the Brahmin community expressing anger and concern. Guru did not react. He simply said that he had installed an ezhava Siva . By this small act Guru was in fact declaring that the right of worship was everybody’s birth right and no one could restrict it or monopolise it.  Slowly and steadily Guru could influence the belief system of the people. He made them to think what is right and what is wrong. Popularity of Guru spread far and wide.
The next temple that Sree Narayana Guru consecrated was at Mannanthala in Thiruvananthapuram in 1889. The Guru arrived a little later than the appointed time and installed the idol. A noted person among the public, who was aghast that the installation did not take place at the auspicious time that was determined for it beforehand, tried to know from the Guru the zodiac sign of the installation that he had just done. The Guru replied,   “The horoscope is ascertained after the birth of the baby. Here the installation is over. Now you check the auspicious time and cast the horoscope accordingly. This event was quickly followed up by similar consecrations of temples in other parts of Kerala at the request of his followers. The Guru  consecrated more than 60 temples in and out of Kerala and used the temples as  institutions to educate the masses. The temples itself turned as an embodiment of the creative imagination of the great seer. He opened the doors of the temples to all without any caste distinctions. People were made to realise  that the Gods and Goddesses were not the monopoly of a few priests.
 To prove this point beyond doubt to his followers and others, he introduced another revolutionary step. He trained Avarnas in rituals of worship and appointed them as Archakas in the temples consecrated by him. As the Guru was a scholar of Sanskrit and well-versed in Hindu scriptures, he started Sanskrit schools which were open to all castes and religions. Young Avarna boys who had some lenience towards spirituality were selected for this purpose and trained. Their recitation of Upanishads and Vedas were so perfect that even Mahatma Gandhi admired them.

During the series of consecrations of temples, there was another daring step taken  by the Guru.  Without an iota of hesitation, he removed the idols of chatan, yakshi, marutha etc and installed shiva, subrahmanyan and devi (mother goddess) in their places. The motive behind this action was certainly his deep commitment to improve the life-style of the people. He knew that if these blood-thirsty deities continued to preside over the lives of the people, animal sacrifices and drunken orgies would not stop, and people would continue the same uncivilized life. So , he replaced these deities with sober ones ,so that people could forget the old ways and start the new method of worship which the Guru had taught them.
 Slowly and steadily his axe started to fall on the mindset or perception of the people. The changed mental programming made them to believe that they are lower to none. Guru revealed through the consecrations of temples that the idols are not very essential and practically demonstrated it by progressively changing the consecration of idols to lamp, mirror, words, symbol etc. God lives not in temples  but in the hearts of the seeker. The meanings of the symbols were aided by the stories and songs related. Thus, Guru composed 15 poems on Shiva ,7 Poems on Subrahmanya ,6 poems on  Devi, 3 poems on Vishnu and one on Vinayaka. These compositions link the Godhead  in an icon to the  absolute truth , through contemplation of meaning. Thus the form (image ) and the word (alphabet) got equal role in communicating  wisdom to the common village folks. Guru explicitly represented both orthodoxy and heterodoxy by installing a mirror and a lamp instead of idols during  the later period. He revealed that the temples are required for men to purify themselves on their journey to the realization of truth.

Origin of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam

During this time Dr.P. Palpu, the darbar  physician of the Maharaja of Mysore, had been trying his best for the establishment of social justice in Kerala by way of memorandums and mass petitions to the then Government of Travancore. He was in fact a victim of caste prejudices in Kerala. Even after having adequate qualifications he was denied a job in Kerala only because he was born in a lower caste community. According to 1891 census there were at least 25000 educated ezhavas in Travancore. But it is said that there was no one from them in government service drawing salary of  rupees five and above. His efforts were not bringing any fruits. He got an opportunity to explain the caste humiliation and social injustice being imposed on the poor people in Kerala to Swamy Vivekanada . Swamiji advised him to take the help of a spiritual Guru as a guiding force for the purpose . Accordingly he met sree Narayana Guru. By this time Guru had already prepared his road map for the work to be done to salvage the downtrodden. Their meeting was the corner stone with regard to the reformation process in Kerala. It was with the help of Dr. Palpu Guru could send Kumaran Asan for higher education at Banglore and Calcutta. Asan had met Guru at Kaikkakara, near Thiruvananthapuram in 1891.His unquenchable spiritual thirst led him to Guru like a hungry child to his mother. Guru could perceive the dormant poetic genius in him and what would  contribute to its full development. Asan was sent to Banglore in 1895 and came back after higher education in 1900. Asan used to participate in the discussions between Guru and Dr.Palpu. These discussions later culminated in the conversion of the Aruvipuram Temple committee into a limited company with the name as Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam. Yogam was registered as a company at Travancore on 15th May 1903. (Edavam 2nd 1078 M.E.). Sree Narayana Guru was the president, Dr.Palpu the working president and Kumaran Asan the General Secretary. Yogam played a vital role in educating the downtrodden masses through its periodical “Vivekodayam” and by organizing them to fight for their rights. It turned out to be the biggest single corporation of  Kerala to defend the natural and constitutional rights of all socially and economically depressed people of the state. Guru could pass his messages like “gain strength through organization and gain freedom by education” through Yogam for its implementation. He could remove unnecessary customs practiced in the name of religion. He could remove superstitious beliefs from the minds of the people. He could instill self respect and human dignity in the minds of the people. In order to inculcate the spirit of industry in the minds of the people Yogam had conducted an Industrial exhibition at Quilon in the month of January in 1905.

Revolution in Temple Construction & Worship

Guru wanted to set up a number of living models to people. Therefore, he moved from one place to another like a summer cloud of the spring seasonand initiated new projects. After the formation of S.N.D.P.Yogam Guru left Aruvippuram and started living at a place at Varkala, a place which was called as Kasi of South. The place chosen by him was a neglected hill at the side of  a canal. This place was developed  and Guru named it as Sivagiri. Here he established an entirely new model of a temple for worship. For the first time in India a temple with windows and ventilation was devised. The temple was octagonal in shape.The deity of Goddess Sarada, symbol of wisdom and knowledge, in her lotus abode, was installed in April 1912. Worship here is restricted to offering of flowers. Singing hymns and meditation are performed. Highest standard of hygiene were introduced to maintain the place as a model to other temples and temple worshippers. Guru wrote the hymn Janani navaratna manjari(Nine gems in praise of the mother Sarada) during the installation of the goddess.

When Sivagiri became crowded  by pilgrims and young enthusiasts he moved away first to Tamil Nadu and then to Alwaye. In Guru;s spiritual life there was the beautiful confluence of Vedanta,Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Gita, Siddhanta, the native tradition of prehistoric India developed in the post vedantic period by Tamil saints like Tiru Valluvar and Nalvar. Guru was a profound scholar of Tamil lore. He was held in high respect by the Saiva Adhinams in Madurai, Kumbakonam, Karaikkal, Pudukkottai, Karakkudi and Madras. He stayed in the Mutts and Adinams in these places and helped his devotees and disciples in Tamil Nadu. At Alwaye, aplace near Kalady, the birth place of India’s greatest philosopher-saint Adi Sankara Acharya, Guru set up an Ashram called Advaida Ashram. A school  was also started. Here he admitted students from all religions and communities to teach Vedanta. All students were provided common place to board and lodge. Guru used to retire at Thottumukham on a hill top. This place has now become the venue of the Sree Narayana Sevika Samajam, an institution for orphans and destitute women, managed entirely by women.

Alwaye became a place of historical importance because it was the place where guru had organized the All Religions Conference, first of the kind in Asia, on the 10th February, 1924. At the entrance gate of the Conference venue Guru had asked to display the message “Not to argue and win but to know and make known”. The representatives of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jainists, Brahmasamajists, Christians etc:-assembled in one platform of the Adwaita Ashrama at Alwaye and shared their knowledge about their respective religions. Swamy Satyavrathan read out the welcome speech prepared by him and approved by Guru. The speech is worth reading and thought provoking. At the end of the conference all agreed that the essence of all religions are the same. All seek salvation, self-love.

After the installation of a temple at Aruvipuram, Guru had installed several temples at various places at the request of his disciples viz:Anjuthengu, Murukkumpuzha, Kulathur, Cherthala, Irinjalakuda, Palluruthy, Cherai, Koorkenchery, Palai, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Thalassery, Kannur, Peringottukara, Karkmukhu, Mangalapuram etc:-. Guru brought about many reforms in the temples he consecrated. The intention was to educate people. In one temple he installed the words Satyam, Daya, Dharmam at the alter instead of placing any image of any Hindu God. In another temple he preferred to have only a burning lamp at the alter. At Kalavamkodam, Cherthala,he installed a mirror in the place of the deity with the mahavakya AUM  Tat Sat. At Alwaye Advaitashram he preferred to have no image at all. These were in fact his declaration that the temples are what we make of. They are themselves material things and can do neither good nor evil. If we are foolish, the priests will use them to encourage idolatry to increase superstition, to exploit the ignorant. If we are wise, we ourselves may use them to instruct the people, to ennoble their lives, to abolish caste differences and unite them, to give them recreation as well as education and increase their devotion to God as well as enthusiasm to work in this world. The temples built by Guru were surrounded by monastries, schools, lecture halls, banks, dispensaries, libraries, rest houses, gardens, and similar things which ennobled and enriched the collective life. The influence and resources ware used for the good of the worshippers. He used them to remove superstition. When he was convinced that the people have started understanding him and they could be reformed. He told them that the future temples should be schools. This was the advice given by him to the people at Mezhuveli who had come with the request for installing a temple there.

Sree Narayana Guru was a practical genius for transforming traditional institutions to serve as vehicles of change. The modernization was also reflected in his concept of the temple. Guru said that the temples “should not be built in an expensive manner” as was the custom in ancient days. No money should be spent on elaborate festivals. Adjacent to temple there should be schools, library,  reading rooms, small scale industrial training institutes to be used for the welfare of the people. This is the creative approach of a social revolutionary, who understood the heart of the people and their culture, and who sought to transform a traditional institution into an organ of social change while maintaining its characteristic as a place of worship. If our social reformers and political leaders understood this strategy of swimming along with the masses, and at the same time changing the direction of the current for them, a social revolutionary movement would  emerge in our country as a more widely accepted and powerful force. The magnificent facilities and the immense wealth of our ancient temples could be put to social, cultural, educational and economic uses of community, while retaining their central role as places of worship. This can be done without interference in the pursuit of religion and without any sort of imposition from above. The owners and trustees of the temples should voluntarily accept the noble and the constructive role that Sree Narayana Guru envisaged for the house of worship. That would help in making religion real and meaningful to the people instead of being the so-called opium of the people.

Social Revolution

Guru took into his fold several people from the lowest stratum of society and gave them education and taught them a clean way of life. He fought social malignancy such as caste observance and segregation through devoted people who were socially healthy and dynamic. He chose the people who were fearless and who could stand on their own feet both financially and morally for this purpose. He made poorest of the poor self confident, self-respecting and industrious. For those who had been denied opportunities for over a millennium, he opened new  temples to show them the light of life, new schools to make them articulate and industrial houses to help them become dexterous. People who had been denounced and humbled by theocrats changed into erudite revolutionaries with an unquenchable humanist zeal through the mere touch of the Guru. Out of dust he created an entirely new people. People of various talents from various fields of activity were attracted to Guru. People such as social reformers, freedom fighters, educationalists, thinkers, writers and socially persecuted people were attracted to Guru for guidance, light and inspiration. Prominent among them were 1.C.V.Kunjuraman who proficiently presented Guru’s ideas of social reformation in an appealing and convincing manner using clean, lucid and strong language. 2. Mooloor Padmanbha Panicker, a poet of great erudition in Sanskrit and Pali, who prepared the way for young poets and legislators.3. Mahakavi Kumaran Asan who became the poet laureate of Malayalam.4. T.K.Madhavan, a freedom fighter with extra ordinary organizing ability.5.K.P.Kayyalakkal, orator.6. C.O.Madhavan,K.Kumaran and M Govindan, able administrators .7.K.Ayyappan (Sahodharan Ayyappan), a young revolutionary  8.C.Krishnan and Moorkoth Kumaran who used the media to propogate Guru’s ideals.9. Styavrathan , Narayana Chithanyam, Bodhanada, Govindanda, Atmananda, Dharma Thirtha, Nataraja Guru,Ananda Thirtha , Achuthanda, Vidyanda, Narasimhanda, Sugunanda,Sankaranda,and Narayana Thirtha, all sanyasins of the first round. All of them worked as a single team with various chosen fields of function. The result was the ushering in of three parallel organizations with three  different  but complementry ideals.They were 1.Sree Narayana dharma Paripalana Yogam founded in 1903 .2.Narayana Guru kula founded in 1923 and 3. Sree Narayana Dharma Sangom Trust founded in 1927.

Fallacy of caste

According to Guru the segregation of people in the name of caste was unscientific. All human beings belong to one species. Guru  made a casteless society in his own Ashrams. His disciples were Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists. There were Brahmins and pariahs. Once Gopalachary, divan(minister) of Travancore, came to see Guru. Divan said that the caste was a natural phenomenon and he could distinguish people of various castes by simply looking at them and listening to the accent. Guru lined up his ashram-inmates and made them to chant a few hymns and asked the Divan to identify the castes of the inmates assembled. Divan could not identify anybody’s caste and gave up his notion that caste was real and natural. Mahatma Gandhi also had the similar notion. But he could correct it when he visited Guru at Varkala, on 13th March 1925. Gandhiji believed that the castes among the people are natural just as there are differences in the leaves of a mango tree. Guru said that though the leaves in a mango tree look different in appearance the essence in it will be the same. This logic could convince Gandhiji that the caste is unscientific. It was a turning point in Gandhiji’s life to fight for the eradication of untouchability.

Religion for Guru

Guru believed that the essence of all religions are the same.”Let the religion be anything it is enough if  it make the man  virtuous.” Was his dictum. He was far above all religions. Mr.Abdul Salam, an Arabic scholar, once told to Nitya Chaitanya Yati that when he was about 12 years old he was listening to the recitation of Holy Quran by some Muslim scholars. Guru happened to come there and after listening to the recitation he gave his interpretation of the verses. The Moulavis present there were amazed at the Guru’s insight into the Quran. Once a group of American missionaries visited Guru with the intention of converting Guru into Christianity. After discussion they decided to send one scholar every day to teach Bible to Guru. One Mr.John started coming. John read out a few passages from New Testament and Guru gave his own rendering of the Bible. The ultimate effect was that Mr.Jhon became the disciple of Guru. Guru never asked anyone to change their religion. He never encouraged anyone to change the religion or objected to changing anybody’s religions. He believed in religious freedom of the people.

Sree Narayana Guru as an Author

Sree Narayana Guru had written many books. There are about 63 books now available and published. The list of books Could be seen from the web site of Sree Narayana Mandira Samiti, Mumbai (the address being These books could be categorized into five. They are (1) Devotional Songs (2) Philosophical Books (3) Books of Proclamations (4) Translations and (5) Prose.

 Darsanamala(A garland of vision of the absolute), Atmopadesa-satakam(One hundred verses of self instruction),Advaita Dipika(Lamp of non-dual wisdom), Anukampa Dasakam(Ten verses of mercy), Arivu(Epistemology of Gnosis) Cit-Jada-Cintanam (Reverie on consciousness and matter), Pindanandi(Pre-natal Gratitude), Swanubhava-Giti(Experiential Rhapsody), Daivadasakam(Ten verses to God), Janani Navaratna Manjari (Nine-Jewelled Bouquet to Mother), Kundalini pattu( The song of the kundalini power etc. are some of the popular books written by Guru. These works are incomparable for their haunting melody, sublime concepts and mystic experience.

In Darsanamala,  the book written by Guru, the concept of the absolute is elucidated in one hundred verses, divided into ten darsanas of ten verses each. It is conceived as a garland of ten exquisite flowers, strung together in the thread of the absolute. The ten darsanas cover not only the epistemological ground of the earlier nine of the Indian philosophy; yet another is necessitated, perhaps, by the new concepts which surfaced after them. Into this ten-fold container is distilled the Guru’s darsana of life. In this scheme, Bhakti occupies the seminal position. Concept-wise the ten fall into three well-marked groups. Sections 1 to 4 come under the phenomenological group, concerned with the objective world, viz. Adhyaropa, Apavada, Asatya and Maya darsanas. The middle three , Bhana, Karma and Jnana are psychological in approach. The third section, 8,9 & 10, is set apart for mystical experience. They are Bhakti, Yoga and Nirvana. The format suggests a graded symmetry in the unfolding of awareness and the orderly development of thought. The sequence starts with Supposition(Adhyaropa) and gains momentum through consciousness(Bhana) to consummate in salvation(Nirvana).The core concept is Bhana. Bhakti is the means to salvation(Nirvana). It comes after and through Karma and Jnana. Yoga follows Bhakti. To be an effective means to Nirvana, Bhakti must have the aid of Yoga or discipline of the mind and intellect. The Bhakti Darsana is expounded in a terse, quintessential style. The full implications of Darsanamala become clear when read in conjunction with the other poems of the Guru.

Atmopadesa Satakam(one hundred verses of self-instruction) is yet another  composition of Sree Narayana Guru. This could be considered as the representative of Sree Narayana philosophy. The verses in this book are written in simple Malayalam. The essence of Vedantic philosophy, the divine experiences encountered by Guru in his search for the Absolute, the systematic approach to be adopted by the seekers of truth are given by Guru in melodious verses. Apparently this book look very simple to understand by any common man. But for the seekers of truth the depth of the philosophy contained is immeasurable. Many learned persons have attempted to find out the meanings of the verses and to interpret them. These were on the basis of the pearls they could pick up while diving through the ocean. Hundreds of interpretations have been published  and are available in the market. But no one could claim it to be an exclusive interpretation. This indicates the depth of the subject incorporated by Guru in the book. By understanding the book one will realize what exactly  is the nature of the self and that knowledge will give an insight as to how one should conduct his life during the tenure provided to him.

Daiva Dasakam is a prayer written by Guru for daily use by the children who were inmates in his Ashram. The ten verses are very simple, but when we search for the meaning  and attempt to interpret one could see that it is the essence of vedantic philosophy given in a capsule form for the use of common man. The people from any caste, creed, region or religion could use this prayer. To my knowledge no universal prayer was  available like this after Gayatri Mantra.

SreeNarayana Gurukulam, Sreenivasapuram.P.O, Varkala, Kerala, India-695145  have published all the books of Sree Narayana Guru with meanings, explanations and interpretations. All the books are available at the above address. Sree Narayana Dharma Sanghom Trust, Varkala, Kerala-695145 have also undertaken to publish similar books written by various authors. Prominent among them is the one written by Prof.G.Balakrishnan Nair. Sree Narayana Gurukulam attempted to translate and interpret the books of Guru in English and most of the works of Guru are now available in English with them. All the books are available at very reasonable price. The Word of the Guru, One hundred verses in self Instruction, An Integrated Science of the Absolute, An Anthology of the poems of Narayana Guru are the world famous books written by Nataraja Guru based on the Philosophy of Sree Narayana Guru. Sree Narayana Gurukulam is fully engaged in the research and study of Sree Narayana Philosophy. Contributions of Nitya Chaitanya Yati, Muni  Narayana Prasad and other inmates and the people connected with them deserve to be appreciated.

In this world of complexities, contradictions and intolerances the spiritual radiance and the divine message of Sree Narayana Guru with his unitive Vedantic and synthesis of the spiritual and temporal can save mankind.His commandments are as simple as those of Jesus. His philosophy is as profound as of Adisankara. His teachings are straight and simple. So much so, beyond race and religion, beyond caste, creed and continent, Sree Narayana Guru can lead kindly light to all parts of the universe. He is already a universal Guru whom time cannot wither no custom stale. It is the obligation of Kerala and Keralites wherever they are to spread the glorious and universal teachings of this noble and unique soul. Once his life, doings, writings and messages reach the common people there will be a spiritual, moral and material revolution. He saw these dimensions in an integral fashion. Only such a synthesis can combat the vulgar culture that consumes the composite values of India. Thus there is a cosmic patriotism, salvation  methodology which the greatest Guru has left as legacy.
Narayana Guru composed several poems in Malayalam,Tamil, and Sanskrit and many of them are devotional songs. All his poems are marked by the special glow  of a vision which is almost superhuman. The warmth of self-expression pervades many of his poems. Guru’s poems are works remarkable for their original beauty, imagination and brilliance of vision.

Guru’s Own life

Sree Narayana Guru was a teacher, saint, social reformer,  great nation builder all blended into one. His life, work and teachings have refreshing uniqueness. There was naturalness and a sublime simplicity tinged with mystery in them. Thus rendering them peculiarly interesting and profoundly instructive to students. No one had so clearly and successfully demonstrated in recent centuries the ideals and methods and the way of realizing them. Guru was born among humble peasants, without the benefit of any kind of modern education, wealth, social influence or other advantages which normally bring success in life. He rose by virtue of his self-culture and love of humanity to the highest position of respect a man could attain in this world. He attained the position of one who was looked upon as very incarnation of  God. People revered him as God in his own life time. He assumed no robes of saintliness . He initiated no disciples to be his obedient  flag-bearers. He wrote no books to show his wisdom. He followed no mystic methods to impress the credulous. He kept his simplicity unchanged unto death. He himself ever remained an embodiment of simple life and high thinking. No attempt was made to create an impression or to advertise his greatness to attract followers. His divine power attracted thousands of people towards him. He made them to work out their own salvation in a hundred different ways. Wherever he went he gave consolation to the sick and cast out evil spirits. He rescued  the drunkard from his vice and encouraged the poor to persist in efforts at self improvements. He raised the low to a sense of freedom and equality with their fellow-men. He settled differences and closed up ranks for united endeavors. He inspired the rich and the poor to sacrifice their wealth according to their means for the common good. He gathered honest workers to serve the community and always kept sowing seeds of new ideals and aspirations. These seeds went deep into the hearts of the listeners and took root to bring forth giant trees with fruits and flowers, giving shelter to numerous people and adding beauty to their lives. The reverence he gained was the unsolicited homage of all classes from peasant to the prince. Whoever had the occasion to see him or listen to his words were benefited by his influence. He exemplified  to what divine heights even the humblest  of men could rise by self culture and love of humanity.

Majority of the Hindus at that time had been denied education ,freedom to walk along the public roads and to touch tanks and wells. They were denied true religion and culture. By all the forces of society religion and the state they were kept down to a life of subjugation, ignorance and degradation. Guru worked among them in a way no other teacher did, and made them in his own life-time a nation of self respecting men and women, who could not only work their own salvation, but proudly point the way to the emancipation  of all Hindus. Guru addressed no meetings. His presence was sufficient. And teaching spread from mouth to mouth and the people organized themselves in every place to carry out his casually given instructions. Thus he could make the people to give up injurious customs, abandon superstitions and cultivate beneficial habits. He reformed the  domestic and social life of the people. He made them to understand the need to avoid wasteful ceremonies and expenditures. He created in them yearning for knowledge and power . He strengthened industrious habits and promoted public spirit, co-operation and union. This made their lives in all ways purer, richer  and stronger. He gave them all the institutions they wanted for their progress which the Hindu society had refused to give them in all the past centuries. Guru hardly ever condemned anything or attacked anyone. He said what was the right thing to do, and he showed how to do it. He demonstrated how the worst institutions could be used to good purposes by intelligent men. Whether  it was the caste or ceremony or a temple or the sannyasin, he was always constructing something fresh and useful out of the old so that no one can even among the orthodox was provoked. He created a revolution before anybody knew its exact nature or consequences, without antagonizing any sect or creed. No other great teacher ever accomplished his mission so peacefully.

The remarkable character of the movement was that, though in it’s wider external manifestations it was confined to one of the Hindu communities, it was hailed by all classes of people. Hindus, Christains, Muhamedans and all others recognized in the Guru  one of those great beings who shape the destinies of men. Its influence pervaded to all societies and created a new era of social and intellectual freedom. The now famous motto of his teachings “One Caste, One Religion, One God for man” has come to occupy the same place in Hindu Nationalism as that of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in European Nationalism.

Though Guru was a saint and a religious man all his life, he was no dreamer. Though a great scholar and philosopher, he was always at his plough doing good to the world and making others do likewise. Holding his head above ordinary humanity, his hands were ever engaged in ministering to the humble and the abandoned. Though wielding extra ordinary spiritual powers, he was ever teaching his followers to attend to the little things of daily life. A mystic, and a mystery even to those closest to him, his external life was a prudent, disciplined and vigorous as that of a great general leading his forces to  victory. His distinctive contribution to humanity may be observed in his handling of the three great problems-The Caste, The Temple and The Mutt ( Monastery).

People were made to think that the caste is a divinely ordained institution or one of such hoary antiquity that it is almost impossible to change it. The Guru used to say it was all a silly  phantom. Where is the so called  caste to be found, in men’s body or mind or speech or action? There is no means of ascertaining a man’s caste unless he confessed it, for caste has no reality in the facts of life. It does not correspond to any ascertainable difference in men’s condition whether mental or physical. It is a mere convention and its sole support, as of all conventions, is the willing recognition  we give to it. If we take away that recognition caste will disappear in no time. The life of a joint stock company depends on it’s name and the legal “soul” given by the state to the ideal corporation. So is the caste but a corporation name. It asserted its hold on the people when Kings gave it legal value and validity. It survives because the state continues to recognize it, and not because it has any positive merit of its own. It will disappear when the state abolishes its active recognition. This teaching, he put in his own words thus: ”There is in truth nothing like caste. Therefore, Ask not, Say not, Think not Caste”. This seems quite impracticable at first sight and yet it is the most practicable and probably the only means of solving the caste problem. The Christians, The Mohammedans and The Buddhists have no caste distinctions. Many millions of Hindus have become casteless by joining  these creeds. It is happening every day around us. The untouchable and the Brahmin loose their caste and become brethren when the Christian pastor sprinkles on them the water of baptism. If a few drops of water can so effectively drive out caste forever why should we suppose that it is adamantine or inevitable?

The Sannyasins and Service

The Guru did not encourage the old ideal ascetics, who tried and pretended to live out of the ordinary world. He said that a sannyasin should be a man of renunciation whose life is dedicated to the service of humanity. A few exceptional individuals may be allowed to experiment with their own lives in solitude. But the public monasteries or Mutts should be home of service no less than of spiritual exercise. The sannyasins should be missionaries of a new life and a new light. They would work among the people with all the ardor and purity of renunciation. His own wonderful life set an example to his followers of what could be achieved by a true sannyasin. He lived always in the midst of work and yet he was as free, composed and happy as he was in a forest hermitage. Though a man of God, he appeared to be immersed in the things of the world in order to help the poor and the ignorant. His prayer, his meditation, his spiritual aspirations were all  expressed in the life of helpfulness wherever he was. No saint has set a noble example of service to humanity as he did. No teacher sanctified selfless work more than he. He taught hardly anything in words, but every act of his was a lesson to those around him. “Religion is life and life is Religion”, seemed to be the one truth he silently proclaimed. He refused to make any difference between the good of this world and of the next. What truly good here must be good there also. What is not really good now cannot be good hereafter in another existence. Bad practices and superstitious beliefs should not be justified by alleging a cause in the previous life and promising a  benefit in the future. Man’s duty is to take care of his life here and now, and the life hereafter will take care of itself. It was in this spirit that he wanted his followers to work for the making of their present lives healthier and richer.  This attitude of his was expressed in the saying “it matters little which religion a man follows provided it makes him better and better.

The philosophy  of his mission is contained in the motto “One Caste, One Religion, One God for man”. This teaching of the Guru has become the inspiring faith of many lakhs of humble people. “One Caste” calls upon us to forget the silly barriers of caste, creed, race and nationality which separate man from man and to strive for the growing realization of universal brotherhood. The fact of natural unity having been asserted, “One Religion” demand of us the embodiment of that truth in the laws and institutions which regulate life. The fundamental laws of mind and body are common to all mankind. The spiritual truths are the same. The economic, political and ethical laws also must be essentially identical. To that consummation we must direct our aspirations and endeavors.

Sivagiri Teerthadanam

Teerthadanam or pilgrimage to religious places is very common, customary and universal since ancient times. People from all faiths devotedly undertake pilgrimage to their respective places of worship. Pilgrimages to Mecca, Jerusalem etc are renowned for their religious importance world wide.  In India, devotees do visit Kashi, Vaishnodevi temple, Tirupathi, Sabarimala, Golden Temple and many other religious places with religious fervour and observance. Yet, the Sivagiri Teerthadanam envisaged by Sree Narayana Guru and being undertaken every year stands apart from other pilgrimages. The idea of Sivagiri Teerthadanam was expounded before Guru in the year 1928 by Shri.Vallabhasseri Govindan Vaidyar and Shri.T.K.Kittan Writer for permission. Guru endorsed their wishes for undertaking Teerthadanam, on January 1st of every year.  However, Guru insisted on observing Vruta for ten days by the pilgrims. Pancha Shuddhi is inevitable for every participant of Teerthadanam.  Pilgrims could wear humble cloths of yellow colour, but not opulent and luxurious ones. Cleanliness has to be of utmost important and the environment should be of paramount limpidness. Nothing causing inconvenience to others ever be attempted or done. The Teerthadanam should not become a mere custom or tradition but should aim for the overall development of the individual.  The Guru advised to teach the pilgrims on the subjects  such as education, cleanliness, theology, need for organisation, agriculture, business, handicraft and technical education.  Experts and connoisseurs on these subjects should be invited to impart knowledge and the devotees should attend them carefully with intent to put the ideas into practice.

1st Teerthadanam was organised on December 24, 1932 from Moolur Bhavanam, Elavumthitta with only 5 people. Next year there were 10 teerthadakars and third year 50. Now lakhs of people throng to Sivagiri on 1st of January every year.

Guru entered Maha-Samadhi on September 1928.

Some teachings of Sree Narayana Guru

“One in kind, one in faith one in God is man”,  
“Of one same womb, one same form, difference none there is at all”.
“ Whichever be the religion of a man, it suffices if it makes a better man”
“In essence all religions are the same”
“One Caste, One Religion, One God for man”
”Ask not, say not, think not caste”.
“Acts that one performs for one’s own sake should also aim the good of others”.
“Liquor is poison, Make it not, Sell it not, Drink it not”
 “ Gain freedom through education”
  “Gain strength through organization”
  “Gain prosperity through Industry”

Guru in the eyes of contemporary Mahatmas

Rabindranath Tagore visited Guru in his Ashram at Sivagiri on 22nd November 1922 and paid homage. He recorded there that  “ I have been touring different parts of the world. During these travels, I had the fortune to come into contact with several saints and maharshis. But I have frankly to admit that I have never seen one who is spiritually greater than Swamy Narayana Guru of Malayalam-nay, a person who is on par with him in Spiritual attainment. I am sure, I shall never forget that radiant face illuminated by the self effulgent light of divine glory and those majestic eyes fixing their gaze on far remote point in the distant horizon”.

Mahatma Gandhi visited Gurudev on 13th March 1925 and remarked: “I feel it as the greatest privilege in my life to have visited the beautiful state of  Tranancore and to have darshan of venerable sage, Sree Narayana Guru. I had the fortune to stay one day in his holy Ashrama. His Excellency the Regent Empress also spoke to me about the greatness of Guruswamy. I fervently hope that you would enforce his lofty ideals”.

Ramana Maharshi after meeting Guru said: ”Sree Narayana Guru had not much to talk to me. For, he was the MAHATMA of high intellectual supremacy”.
Deena Bandhu C.F.Andrews, a well known philosopher, after visiting Guru had said “I had a vision of God in human form; Sree Narayana Guru, who is renowned in the southern-most part of India is that Supreme Being”.
M. Romain Rolland said  in December 1928 that “The new religious manifestations in South India which are not negligible, such for eg: is the great Guru Sree Narayana whose beneficent spiritual activity has been exercising its influence during the past 40 years in the state of Travancore on  millions of his followers(He passed away on 20th September 1928). His teaching permeated with the philosophy of Sankara shows evidence of striking difference of temperament compared with the mysticism of Bengal.  He was one might say “a jnanin of action” a grand religious intellectual, who had a keen living sense of the people and of social necessities. He has contributed greatly to the elevation of the oppressed classes in south India and his work has been associated  with that of Gandhi.”

Mahakavi Kumaran Asan, who had the opportunity to live with Gurudev had expressed, in many words, through his poems, that the Gurudev was none other than God.
 Shivalingadasa Swamigal, the first disciple of Gurudev, found Gurudev to be Shiva, the God.

Some Prayers( Malayalam in English script)


                Om gururbrahma gururvishnu
                Gururdevo maheshwara
                Gurussakshat param brahma
                Tasmay sree gurave namaha

                Daivame Kathukolkangu
                Kaividatingu njangale
                Navikan ni bhavabdiko-
                Ravivan thoni nin padam
Thottennum porulodungiyal
Ninnidum drukupolullam

Anna vastradi muttade
Thannu rakshichu njangale
Dhannyarakkunna neeyonnu
Thanne njangalku thampuran

Aazhiyum thirayum kattum
Aazhavum poley njangalum
Mayayum nin mahimayum
Neeyum ennullil aakanam

Niyallo srushtiyum
Srastavayathum sristijalavum
Niyallo daivame,
Sristikkulla samagriyayathum

Niyallo mayayum mayaviyum
Niyallo mayaye neeki
Sayujyam nalkumaryanum

Nee satyam jnanamanadam
Nee thanne varthamanavum
Bhuthavum bhaviyum veralla
Oothum mozhiyum orkil nee

Akavum puravum thingum
Mahimavarnna ninpadam
Pukazthunnu ningalangu
Bhagavane jayikkuka

Jaikkuka mahadeva,
Jayikkuka chidananda
Dayasindho, Jayikkuka

Aazhamerum Ninmahassam
Aazhiyil ningalakave
Aazhanam vaazhanam nityam
Vaazhanam vaazhanam sukham

Sivaprasaada Panchakam

Siva! Sankara! Sarva! Sarannya! Vibho!
Bhava sankada nasana, pahi,siva,
Kavi sandathi santhathavum thozhumen-
Bhava nataka madu marumporule.

Porulennum udambodu makkal uyir-
thiralennum ithokke anarthakaram
Karaleennu kalanju karumkadalil
Puralathe pothinju pidippathu nee

Pidipettu purendu marinju pinakkudiyil
Kudikondu gunangalodum
Kudikondu kudikkum arumkudineer
Aditatti yakathu niranjiri nee

Galamundu karuthatu nee garalam
Kalamundathu kondu krupanidhiye
Kalamundoru kondalodotha kadalku
Alavundu oru seema ninaku nahi

Kanivenniliruthi anangarasakkani
Thattiyerinju karam kazhuki
Thani mukthi pazhuthu chorinjozhukum
Kanakakkodiye, kazhalekuka nee.

            Narayana murthe guru narayana murthe
Narayana murthe paramacharya namasthe   

            Aarayukil andhathomozhichadi mahassin
            Neram vazhi kattum guruvallo paradaivam
            Aaradhyanathortheedukil njangalkkavidunnam
            Narayana murthe guru narayana murthe

            Anparnnavarundo paravijnanikalundo
            Vanpake vedinjullavarundoyithupole
            Munpayi ninachokkayilum njangal bhajipu
            Ninpavana padam guru narayana murthe

            Annyarku gunam chaivathinayussu vapussum
            Dhannyathwamodungathma tapassum balichaivu
            Sannyasikal illingane illillimayannor
            Vannyashramamelunnavarum sree guru murthe
            Vadangal chevikkondu, mathapporukal kandum
            Modasthithanayangu vasippoo mala poley
            Vedagamasaarangal arinjangoruvan than
            Bhethathikal kaivittu jaippoo gurumurthe

            Mohakularaam njangaleyangodeyadippu
            Snehatmakamam pashamathil kettiyizhappoo
            Aaha! bahu laksham janamangethirunama-
            Vyaharabalathal vijayippoo gurumurthe

            Angethiru vulloori yoranpin viniyogam
            Njangalku shubham cherthidu mee njangade yogam
                                    Engum jana chithangal inakki prasarippu
            Mangathe chiram nin pukalpol sree gurumurthe

            Narayana murthe guru narayana murthe
Narayana murthe paramacharya namasthe   

                            Mahakavi Kumaran Asan

                GURU SHATKAM

            Om brahmane moorthimate
            Sreethaanaam shuddhihetave
            Narayana yatheendraya
            Tasmai sree gurave namaha:

            Namo bhagavate nittya
Shuddha muktha mahatmane
Narayana yatheendraya
Thasmai sree gurave namaha:

Mahaneeya charitraya
Mamataa rahithatmane
Narayana Yatheendraya
Thamai sree gurave namaha:

Shishiree kurvate shantai
Kadakshai shishya sanchyan
Brahma vidyaa kovidaya
Thasmai sree gurave namaha:

Vadinaam vadine vacham
Yamaanaam mouna bhajine
Sarva lokanu roopaya
Thasmai sree gurave namaha:

Yassiana: kalpate siddhai
Padambhuja rajolava
Narayana Yatheendraya
Thasmai sree gurave namaha:
                Srimat Shivalinga Swamikal

            Om namami narayana pada pankajam
            Karomi narayana poojanam sadaa
            Vadami narayana nama nirmalam
            Smarami narayana tathwa mavyayam

            Om kayena vacha manassendriya irva
            Budhiatmana va prakrute swabhavat
            Karomi yadyat sakalam parasmai
            Narayana yethi samarpayami.

            Om sree narayana yeti samarpayami
            Om sarvam sree narayana yeti samarpayami

Gurudeva Mangalam

Sura Gana Shubha Varadayaka Guruve
Sree Narayana Guruve !
Vaarutta Dharma Paripadikal Uyaran
Bharati Bhasura-maakkaan
Jati madanthata matti jagathil
Bheda viheenata varuvaan
Sarvarum orupoluyaraan
Sarva jagasthiti valaraan
Janma meduthoru devaa!
Thava Pada bhaktha Janangalil engum
Bhavuka maruluka Gurudeva!
Sree Narayana Guruve

Sree Narayan Guru - Prophet of the new order

by: Swami Dharma Teerthan

A Divine Teacher

Born in a small village near Trivandrum among poor people and under the worst social conditions, without money or any sort of modern education, by dint of his own efforts, his devotion, his great tapas, renunciation and life of love and service, he was able to raise himself to the high eminence of a worshipped being, and what is more, delivered many lakhs of his followers from hopeless degradation.

      Unsupported by any organization or propaganda or advertisement he was able to establish more than sixty temples, all of which are growing centers of education, economic regeneration and all round activity of the people.The order of the sannyasin missionaries he founded which is called the Sree Narayana Dharma Sanghom is already one of the most extensive mission-bodies in the country.

       Very soon he came to be known as a miracle-worker who could cure disease, caste out evil spirits, call forth rain and do other wonderful things. For a period of not less than forty years he was almost every day using his miraculous spiritual powers for the material and moral uplift of the people.
“ He grew beyond all description in the love and reverence of the masses. Many thousands of people kept his picture and offered prayers and flowers to it every day.

   Many thousands of hearts looked up to him as their saviour in all troubles. No other person we know of was worshipped so much in his life time as Gurudev.

     The humble village had rose to be the divinity of many a temple in which he is worshipped still. Compared with the divine personalities of the world, in all respects, judged by any standard, he is second to none.
“Is it in the humility of his origin or the wonderful glory of the setting; is it in the simplicity and purity of his life;  is it in the depth of his learning or the wisdom of his teachings; is it in the miraculous powers he wielded over man and nature; is it in the greatness of his practical achievements for the good of the world and magnitude of the concrete work he has done; is it in the wonderful love and esteem of his own generation; is it in the unparalleled service and sacrifice of his life; is it in the grand and universal value of his message- in all respects, viewed from any standpoint, he is more divine than many of those figures who rule the hearts and beliefs of people all over the world.”(Prophet of peace).
“ Love of others is my happiness,
Love that is mine is happiness for others.
This is the truth.
And,so,truly, deeds that benefits a man
Must for other’s happiness be a cause”
“In essence all religions are the same”
“Ask not, say not, think not caste”
                         Sree Narayana Guru.
(Swami Dharma Teerthan-Formerly C.Parameshwara Menon, was a leading advocate of Trichur. He met Sree Narayana Guru and became his devoted disciple. He is one of the founders of Sree Narayana Dharma Sanghom. He has written many books both in Malayalam and English).

As a Hindu Reformer

As a Hindu religious and social reformer he accomplished a revolution in the three great institutions of the Hindus, the caste representing the social system, the temple representing the religious system and the muttu of sanyasins representing the philosophical system.

    He has shown how and in what manner these three have to reformed and brought into harmony  with the changing conditions and ideals of our life. He used to say that “caste as a matter of truth did not exis. Unless a man saidin somany words what is caste was on one could detect it by any means. Caste existed because we attributed it to ourselves and others”.

    If we stopped this vicious practice, the caste would die automatically. “Ask not, say not, think not caste” was his pithy advise to his followers.

    His teaching must become the law of the land.The ruler must say “no one shall speak of caste” and in the twinkling of an eye the Hindus would be united in a common brotherhood.
The Christian does not speak of caste, the Buddhist or Sikh or Muslim or the followers of any other religion do not speak of caste, and so it has no existence among them unless when the contagion is carried by the converted Hindus. Why should the Hindus alone be branded with caste?
Reduce the temple ceremonies to the minimum and increase their useful activities to the maximum. Temples should be models of cleanliness and seats of devotion. Every temple should be a spiritual centre inspiring men’s varied activities for raising  the low, for uniting the disunited, for educating the ignorant, for helping the poor for comforting the sick, for refining the life of the high and low, for encouraging art and literature.

       Let religion and religious institutions en-noble and enrich life in all beneficial ways and unite their followers in common joys, work and ideals. “It does not matter what a man’s religion is, provided he grows  in virtue” was a familiar saying of gurudev.
        “The sannyasin is a tyagi, one who has dedicated his life to selfless service” was his reply to an enquiring disciple. The old system of asceticism serves no purpose today.

       It has made the sannyasin a useless drain on society, a vain-glorious dreamer, an example of indolence, vegetating in mutt at the cost of the ignorant masses.

     Let the sannyasin acquire the power of wisdom and renunciation and tapas if he can and use his power to en-noble the lives of his brethren. Let him go and preach the new ideals and call men to the path of dharma. The sannyasin should be a missionary of the new life.

    As it is, the caste, the temple and the mutt are the three reactionary forces which are strangling Hindu religion and society.

   They retard all progress and prevent all change, they keep us helots to rotten institutions which have out-grown their use and become an insult to the intelligence of the whole community.

     Bring them into line with the progressive needs of our days as pointed out by the Gurudev and we shall have accomplished the salvation of Hindu religion and society. And this is what he has done in the sphere of Hindu religious reform.

Sree Narayana Guru - Prophet of the new order.

In the eternal march of ages, there do appear on the stage of the world certain great personalities who tower very high above the ordinary mortals, whose life and teachings give a new impetus to the cultural evolution of large masses of people who by precept and example affirm the ideal of greatness and virtue and demonstrate the eternal verities of the divine life for future generations.
Such supermen are soon acclaimed as world teachers-teachers whose messages have a universal value and vital significance to people all over the globe. They come not to any particular place or time or for the good of any particular people, but to fulfill some mighty purposes in the scheme of the Almighty Ruler of the universe.

They are rarely understood in their own days. Their work goes on fulfilling the plan through many years and then only the realization dawns on a wondering people that one so great lived among them. Such are the avatharapurushas and the founders of the great religions. Such a one was Sree Narayana Gurudev.

His Unique Greatness:

We judge men by their present achievements in the form of  useful institutions or by their practical success in improving the condition of their fellow beings.
Secondly, we can judge them by the grandeur of their teaching, by the greatness of their ideas and ideals, or in other words, not by what they have done but by what they are capable of doing for future generations.

Thirdly we can also understand them by their own personal lives, their nobility, purity, self-sacrifice or spiritual greatness. It is almost impossible to find great persons who possessed unsurpassed eminence in all these respects at once.

There are instances of those who have risen from absolute poverty to be millionaires and princes and who were able to build huge organizations for the good of their less fortunate brethren, leaving behind them monumental works of industry, intelligence and love of mankind.

But such men have not been spiritual giants or authors of great cultural movements. Others there were who revolutionized the outlook on life of large masses of people by their teachings and marvelous appeal to the heart of humanity but there were very few among them who could combine successful and constructive organizing activities with their idealism.

To be ascetic, a man of great spiritual powers, exercising superhuman influence over those who came into contact with him, a model of simplicity, purity, and renunciation and at the same time to be a leader of extensive activities and various institutions and also the originator of a great cultural movement of universal significance and value is the combination of greatness more divine than human; and in this respect we have hardly another instance in modern history to compare with the wonderful life of Sree Narayana Gurudev.
In him we have one who was born poor and continued to be poor all his life and who has no worldly accomplishments, becoming the creator of a network of large institutions, religious, social, educational, industrial and cultural and the master of extensive properties. This huge achievement is a marvel in itself. Many lakhs of people have been benefited by this poor man’sefforts.

Secondly Gurudev preached a philosophy of life which has already shaken to he foundations of the old ideas of society and religion and which is steadily becoming a revolutionary force heralding a new culture renaissance. The epochmaking Temple Entry Proclamation of His Highness Sree Bala Rama Varma, Maharaja of Travancore is an expression of the changing outlook and marks the dawn of a new age of freedom and reconstruction.

    When we come to the third apect of personal greatness, words fail to describe how immensily above all human standards he reigned like a God among men, respected and loud and worshipped. His profound wisdom, the inspiring simplicity and purity of his life, the marvelous powers he wielled or man and nature and the inscrutable mistery that he remained to all who tried to understand him, are only a few of the great characteristics which raised him above other mortal beings.

    When he passed away from his physical life in 1928 the editor of the Theosophical Journal of Kerala wrote in his obituary note thus. “During recent centuries no one in India has enjoyed so much reverence as he commanded, a reverence so glorious, so enduring, so comprehensive, so universal and so pure.

    His life has exemplified the truth that some times courageous  souls who have attained liberation do take birth among people who are oppressed by custom to show them the path of emancipation. Like the sun, by mere presence, he spread his light and love.
    The inspiration of that light has made many a man a famous orator. His loving presence has cut the route of strong enmities. His look of wisdom has given peace to many a doubt tossed mind.

    His life of renunciation has shown to numerous people the secret of path of dedicated service of karma yoga. Rishy Narayana who has awakened Kerala-Patanjali in yoga, Sankara in wisdom, Manu in the art of government, Budda in rounciation, Muhammad in strength of spirit and Christ in humility-after 72 years spent in the dharma of human life has gone to whence he came.

 In the full enjoyment of ever growing fame and reverence of good souls which true knowers of the divine wisdom can alone command, that perfected life has passed on from mortality to immortality. For future generations he will be one of the divine personalities among the incarnation  of the God and the superhuman beings of India’s religious lore” (translated).

These memorable words express the belief of many lakhs of people of Kerala that Sree Naraya Gurudev was an “avathara purusha” of world teacher came to deliver the poor and the oppressed of Hindu society the show the way for peace among the contending races and creeds of all nations.

His place in history:
    Many of us are inclined to be sceptical  when we are told that at the present day that little strip of land between the western ghats and the Arabian Sea has become the cradle of a great Prophet and the nursery of new civilization.

    The religious of Kerala through many past centuries sufficiently warrants the belief that the new life which is gradually evolving out of the present chaos there, has a definite contribution to make to the purposeful progress of civilization not only in that corner of India but in  other countries and among other peoples as well.

    There is no other portion of India which has played a more important part in the growth of Hindu culture in ancient days, and in modern terms one can boldly say that the light which emanated from Kerala through Sri sankara is still the life and soul of Hindu religion.

    The other freat religion, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, also seem to be fulfilling a misterious   purpose in that ancient land.

    When the Hindu’s themselves were divided into Saivities, Vaishnavites and other sects living in constant intellectual conflict and social disharmony, when the school of thought represented by the terms Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga had engendered perpetual philosophical uncertainty among the  thinking people, when the ancient South Indian Temples representing the pre-Arian civilization, had created a problem by their assimilation into the new system, when there was social and religious confusion  all over India, there was born  in Kerala a brilliant intellect to save Bharatha Dharma and reestablished its supremacy over the peoples of India.

    The first Sri Sankaracharya, who was born in a little village in Travancore became the saviour of the dharma and by his Adwaitha Philosophy ones for all gave the quietus to sectarian conflicts and even absorbed  Budhism by harmonizing the schools of Indian Philosophy and giving a common background to them all.

    Sri Sankara is the unquestioned authority, teacher and philosopher of the Hindus today. The light kindled by him Kerala illumines every Hindu heart with the perennial effulgence of the adwaitha philosophy. Having achieved the two objects viz.
(1) The unification of Hindu religious thought and
(2) the enunciation of the spiritual laws which form the basis of universal brotherhood, Sanakara passed away in the prime of youth leaving the seeds of the new culture to mature in the soil of Hindu life and to sprout in the fullness of time.

The Powers that guide the destinies of nations and religions seem to have decided that another great step forward has to be taken at the present age in the cause of wider unification of faith and communities.

    In the  last days of Sri Sankara’s life when he met the “Chandala” at Banares he has given as a clue as to what would probably be the line the next advance.

    On meeting the chandala Sri Sankara asked him Not to cause pollution by approaching him. The chandala gave the philosopher a sermon on the spiritual fraternity of all mankind and the absurdity of caste customs.

    Sankara fell at the feet of the Chandala and accepted him as his Guru thereby foreshadowing that the next teacher was to come as a Guru whose chief mission would be the liberation of Hindu society from the shackles of caste.

    The promised Guru has come and gone. He has indeed carried forward the teachings of Sankara to their logical conclusion and brought then into relation with the conditions of present day life.

    The new philosophy, or if you like the modern  fulfillment of the ancient philosophy, has represented in the practical teachings of Sree narayan Gurudev aims at unifying not only Hindu religious thought but also the religious thought of all the nations of the World on the basis of the fundamental unity of the laws of life and truth. Sree Narayana has given to the World the common background of all religions as Sankara gave as the common background of the different schools of Hindu religion.

    Secondly Sree Narayana has started the actual re-organizations of Hindu society on the principle of universal brotherhood, the spiritual laws underlying which Sri Sankara could only enunciate but could not apply to the social condition of his day.

    Sree narayana’s religion was so simple and devoid of all sophistry, his philosophy was so practical, his influence was so powerful in purifying the lives of his followers and his own life was so pure, simple and full of the milk of divine kindness for the pure and helpless, that many of his followers hailed him as second Budha. He was such an inspiring picture of dedication and self sacrifice that some compared  him to Christ.

    For years he lived among the Muslims and his teaching of equality and brotherhood so much resembled those of the prophet of Islam that he was revered as great teacher by Muslim devotees.

    As if to cooperate in this work of fusion of religion we find in Kerala mysterious forces bringing together the great religions of the World into intimate association in the lives of the people there more than any other place.

    One of the first disciples of Christ came to Kerala and we find there the oldest and most numerous Christian community in India. Kerala which had relations with Islam through Arab traders long before the Moghuls came to India, has today a very large Muslim population living side by side with the Hindus and the Christians.

    There also we find an important colony of the Jews. The existence of a large population of Hinds who are outside the fold of the privileged  castes has facilitated the fusion of Hindu, Muslim and Christian blood and culture to a greater degree  then elsewhere.

    The intermingling of the Eastern and Western races also is taking place on a large scale. Among the followers of Sree Narayan we find not only Hindus but Budhists, Brahmos , Arya Samajists, Rationlists and  others who, inspite of difference of faith and opinion, stand united round the name of their common Guru.

    There is going on in Kerala a significant movement for the establishment of peace and unity among the caste, races and creeds of the world and Sree Narayana Guru is the prophet of the new era that is downing here.

His philosophy:

    Gurudev’s philosophy is contained in the motto “One Race, One Religion, One God”, which means the fundamental unity of blood of the human species, the identity of the basic truths of all religions, and the common goal of all mankind.

 Precisely the same consumption  of the unity and solidarity of mankind as expressed in one race is echoed in the book of H.G Wells “Forst and last things”. Here are few passages from the book “We, you and I, are not only parts in a thought process (as in Vedabtha) but parts of one flow of blood and life. Disregarding the chances of inter marriage, each one of us had two parents, four grand parents, eight great grand parents and so on backward until very soon in less than fifty generations we should find that but for the qualifications introduced, we should have all the worlds in habitants of that time as our progenitors.

    We are all going to mingle out blood again. We cannot keep ourselves apart. A time will come in less than fifty generations when all the population of the World will have my blood and I and my worst enemy will not be able to say which child is his or mine.

Our individualities, out nations and states and races are but bubbles and clusters of foam upon the great stream of the blood of the species”. One race means this and it is the real basis of practical brother-hood and true socialism.

 It is a great protest against all institutions which separate man from man and tend to emphasis the differences based on the denial of the right to equality of opportunity for all.

Having asserted the truth of one life Gurudev next establishes the oneness of the law of religion which governs that life- not only the spiritual laws but of all laws of health, morality, of social and political relations, of economic well being and of human happiness in general. Speaking about the practicablity of establishing religious unity Gurudev once said thus:

“There are admittedly conflicting creeds in India such as Vedic Religion, Mimasm religion, Dwaitha religion, adwaitha religion and so forth. Hinduism is the common name for all these.

If such a divergent creeds can brought under one religion where is the unreasonableness in bringing under one religion all the so called different religion which teacher after teacher has given to world with slight variations to suit the altered times and circumstances, but with the one common aim of the liberation of all mankind?.

It is astonishing the those who preach of the unity of their own religion in midst of the bewildering multiplicity of churches and denomination an who glorify the variety in the unity are not able to take  all mankind in one view and find unity amidst the diversities of creed and the beautiful variety in the unity”.

His work :
 I shall not be surprised if you think that this is all nice philosophy but of very little practical value. We have become so accustomed to believe inevitability and even unalterablity of the caste and races and creeds that talk of universal brotherhood  and religious fraternity seems to us but a cry in the wilderness.

    The life and work of Sree narayana Gurudev give us a practical demonstration of the way in which the highest  ideals could be effectively used to reconstruct society.

    Kerala is the land of castes and social inequality of the worst types. when Gurudev was born, the condition of the masses is little better then social serfdom. Many lakhs of people lived in utter  poverty, dirt, disease and ignorance without the any of the amenities of civilized life, like dump driven cattle born  to work and suffer for the upper class and even bought and sold like the cattle of their masters.

    As a result of Gurudev’s work nearly 25 lakhs of these people have been emancipated and raised to the position of one of the most progressive and promising communities in all India.

    They form the only   non-Brahman community which can be said to be socially and religiously self sufficient and independent with their own temples, their own priest, their mutts, and sanyasins, their spiritual teacher and their own philosophy of life.

    Gurudev has shown to us in practical  manner through his numerous temple schools, mutts and other institutions the possibility of realizing the ideal of “One Caste, One Religion, One God For man “ . He has given to the world a new interpretation of  life problem and pointed the way to a world reconstruction for universal peace and brotherhood.

Sree Narayana Guru - A brief biographical sketch

by Nitya Chaitanya Yati

Sree Narayana Guru - A brief biographical sketch

Narayana Guru Literature is a continuously growing phenomena.Translations and commentaries of his own works are being made in Tamil, Hindi, English, Dutch and German. However, the desire has often been expressed for a comprehensive life sketch and the wise sayings of the Guru to be published in a pocket-size book which can always be carried around by those who love to be constantly reminded of the beauty of a fully committed life dedicated to the welfare of mankind. It is to meet this demand that this book was written.
Sree Narayana Guru is one of the outstanding examples of everything good that man can aspire for. Hopefully, this booklet on his life will become another pointer towards that aspired for perfection.(Author)

Who is Guru ?

A guru is a teacher- a teacher par excellence. An ordinary teacher is only an informer or an instructor, an upadhyaya. A saintly contemplative man who can impart wisdom and give enlightenment to a seeker of Truth is traditionally honoured as a Guru. To those who grope in darkness, the Guru is like a beacon of light, giving directionto their destiny.To the weaklings who have no stamina to strive, the Guru is like a nourishing elixir which imparts courage and strength. To those who have lost their track in the desert sands of despair, he appears likean oasisof hope and gives a helping hand to help them out of the wilderness of confusion.Narayana Guru was such a kindly friend of mankind who saved many from the tangles of pernicious habits and choking diehard prejudices.

When was Narayana Guru born?

Narayana Guru was born during India’s darkest days. The British ruled the country and Indian culture was at its most decadent. Local chiefs called Rajas and Maharajas were exploiting the people who lived in fear and toiled under the hegemony of feudalism. Caste prejudice forced the majority to live in shame as deprived destitute. It was at this time of misery that the Guru was born as a bringer of hope and succour, a harbinger of freedom and self respect.

Where was he born?

Narayana Guru was born in kerala, the southern- most state of India. His parents, Madan Asan and Kutti Amma, lived in a village called Chempazhanthy not far from Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala state. The family home of Narayana Guru was called ‘vayalvaram’ . He was born on 26th of  August 1854, and his parents called him Nanu, an abbreviated form of Narayana.

Who was Madan Asan ?   

Madan Asan was a much loved and respected scholar of moderate means. He knew Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam. He was also an adept in Ayurveda, the Indian school of medicine. He and his wife lived in the neighbourhood of a Devi temple ( a temple dedicated to Badra Kali, a female diety).

Who was Kutti Amma ?

Nanu’s mother Kutty Amma was a pious woman of gentle disposition. She gave birth to two daughters also. Guru loved and respected his mother very much. However, he never allowed her sentiments to come in the way of his renunciation.

Was Nau’s birth unusual? 

Narayana Guru’s birth was certainly very significant. He was born on chathayam, the third day of onam, Kerala’s sacred harvest festival. Onam is celebrated to commemorate the reign of Mahabali in whose days people lived in full freedom and plenty in a crimeless  society . The King dispensed equitable justice to all.

Who was Mahabali?

Maha means great and bali means sacrifice. He was a king of native origin who became reputed for his generosity and word of honor. A pretentious, aggressive invader came to him in the guise of a Brahmin beggar and deprived the king of his crown and powers by employing a heinous kind of magic. Narayana Guru’s birth during the days of onam was like the return of the just king. He became instrumental in retrieving  the dynamics of India’s age old contemplative acumen. His movement compelled kings and theocrats to return to the masses the justice and honour which they had been robbed of.

What kind of a child was Nanu? 

Narayana Guru(Nanu) was a smart, handsome and witty child who was very perceptive of all that was happening around him. Everybody felt forcefully drawn to him. Even as a child, he showed a tendency to teach and correct others. He saw elders placing fruits and sweets before the pictures of mythical Gods. They were attributing to these pictures the desires and sentiments of humans. The little boy Nanu stealthily got into the sanctum and  ate the sweets and fruits offered to Gods. When he was questioned he simply said ‘God will be pleased if I please myself’. He found the elders inconsistent in their moods. When an elderly person died, people became grief-stricken and cremated the body with much fuss and lamentation. After a couple of days all were found in their usual merry mood. Seeing this the young Nanu went away and sat in the woods nearby. When people found him and asked him why he left home, he said he was confused by the inconsistent behavior of his elders. He saw his parents and other elders observing unsociability. They were even afraid of becoming polluted by going near a working peasant. To break this taboo, little Nanu went and embraced the so called untouchables and unapproachables  and came home to touch and pollute his family members. He wanted to prove in a practical way that no harm would befall anyone who hugged a poor man. Thus he was a reformer of the society even from the start.

Did Nanu go to school?

Nanu was initiated into reading and writing by chempazhanthi Pillai. He studied till the age of ten in a one-teacher school. Afterwards he was asked to tend the family’s cattle. Like Krishna he became cow-herd. While his cows were grazing he sat under some shady tree and composed hymns in praise of God. One such hymn caught the attention of his maternal uncle. The lyrical beauty and the depth of its meaning convinced everyone that he was a prodigy. So his parents sent him to Varanapally, a rich household in central Travancore (Kerala) where free education in Sanskrit and Indian philosophy was disseminated to deserving pupils. Nanu was no longer a child. He did not want to go through the traditional routine of studying  one book after another and getting gradual promotions. His teacher allowed him to study as many books as he could. In four years he completed his Sanskrit literature and Vedanta studies under Kummampilli Raman Pillai Asan.

How did he conduct himself during those days?

His peer group was of late teenagers and youths. Most of them were boisterous. Nanu kept away from their hot blooded romances and adventurism. By his teacher’s recommendation he was given a separate cottage to live in. He used his spare time to meditate and practice the discipline of yoga. He was drawn to the great Indian epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharatha. He mastered these books.  Whenever there was heated discussion among his peers he was asked to meditate and adjudicate. His decision was always just and was respected by all. During those days he had the first spiritual experience which was a stepping stone to his enlightenment.

What did Nanu do after his studies? 

Nanu fell ill and contracted  a dangerous virus infection of his digestive system. This brought him back home. When he was cured he started a one-teacher of his own to teach Sanskrit in a coastal village called

Anjengo. From that time on he was called Nanu Asan. Asan means teacher.

What was his parents’ attitude towards his spiritual learning? 

Nanu Asan became more and more drawn away from home and social gatherings. He lived like a recluse. This frightened his parents. They did not like the idea of the youth going astray as a homeless wayfarer. So they decided to marry him to one of his cousins. When he was told of this decision he did not show any reaction. As he did not protest, they took it for granted that he gave his consent.

Did Nanu Asan get married? 

A day was fixed for his wedding. He left his home the previous night. When he was not seen even at the time to go to the bride’s home, his sister offered to go as Nanu Asan’s proxy to marry the girl on her brother’s behalf. As this was a familiar practice in those days, nobody thought it strange. Thus the woman was married by his sister and she was brought home.

How did Nanu Asan receive this indirectly married woman? 

After a few days, Nanu Asan returned home and his relatives presented the bride to him.
She brought to him a plate of bananas and a cup of boiled milk. He received the gift with the attitude of a religious mendicant. He gave one of the bananas to her as a token of his blessings. Then he said, “well, now there are enough people here to occupy all the rooms, it is not imperative that I should stay here. All are born with some purpose in their lives. I have mine  and you have yours. Let me go to fulfill my roles”. With these words he went into the open.

Did he see his “wife” again?

Once in a while he came home to see his father, mother, and sisters. At that time he spoke to his wife also with kind and gentle words. Once when she had a bleeding nose, he even administered a herbal remedy by squeezing the juice of some leaves into her nostril.

Where did Nanu  Asan go? 

He spent his time in a Tamil book shop reading books and also helping the shop keeper. vending  books. This gave him a good opportunity to become proficient in the tamil spiritual lore. He studied books like Tirukural, Thirumantiram, Tiruppukal, Tiruppavai, Vedanta jnanavatil kattilai, Ozhivil otukkam, Siva puranam etc. He was also a frequent visitor to the scholarly home of Pernally Krishnan Vaidyar. He was a poet and playwright. At perunally he became friendly with two other scholars, Veluttheri Kesavan Vaidyar and Kunjan Pillai Chattampi. Meeting with Kunjan Pillai Chattampi marked a milestone in his life.

Who was Kunjan Pillai Chattampi and what happened between them?

Kunjan Pillai was a student of pettayil Raman Pillai Asan. In recognition of Kunjan Pillai’s quality of leadership Raman Pillai Asan gave him the title of  ‘Chattampi’, meaning monitor (Chattam Pillai). Chattampi was a man of deep insight and penetrating critical acumen. When Nanu Asan met him he was studying yoga under Thaikkattu Ayyavu, a great adept in hatha yoga. Kunjan Pillai Chattampi later became a famous as Chattampi Swami. He is also reverently called Parama Bhattaraka Vidyadhiraja Chattampi Swami. The yoga lessons which Nanu Asan received from Thaikkattu Ayyavu increased his thirst for realization. So he traveled from one place to another seeking guidance and disciplining himself most intensely. This ultimately led him to do intense penance for six years.

Where did Nanu Asan do his penance?

He found a cave in the Marutvan hills which is in the ghat section of Kanyakumari district. He lived in this cave and sustained himself mostly with berries and tubers, and drank from mountain brooks . His solitary penance was very intense. During those days he prayed to God, conceiving the supreme to be Siva. Godheads like Devi, Subrahmanya and Vinayaka were only different appellations for the same unitive Godhood. While he sat for hours in the same posture in the solitude of the cave, he was guarded by a cobra and a tiger.
What were his experiences in the cave of the Marutvan?

Who can describe the indescribable experiences of a matchless yogi who proved to be one of the greatest jnanins (men of wisdom) of his time, and a great lover of God and all sentient beings? Even a cursory reading of his Sivasatakam, Subrahmanya stotram and Guhastakam, will give an overwhelming account of the influx of  ecstasy with which he plunged into the depth of divine love.

Who fed him when he was in the cave? 

Mostly he lived on mountain berries and leaves. He might have come at times to the foot of the hills to get food from the people who lived in a hamlet  nearby. On one occasion he was very hungry when he emerged from his Samadhi (total absorption). At that time he saw a leper coming to him with a begging bowl. It contained puffed rice. The leper offered it to him. Like intimate friends they ate from the same bowl. The leper was not an apparition. He was an actual man. Why and how did he come there, was a mystery. After partaking of the food, he bade farewell without either of them making any attempt to know each other.
Did Nanu Asan get his illumination in the cave of the Marutvan ?

The last days of Nanu Asan in the Marutvan were very similar to the days of the enlightenment  of Siddhartha. Siddhartha became awakened under the Bodhi tree of Gaya, and became Gautama Buddha. Even so Nanu Asan became enlightened in the cave of Marutvan and became Sri Narayana Guru.

What does Narayana Guru say of his spiritual illumination?

The Guru speaks of his realization in poignant words in the Atmopadesa Satakam (one hundred verses of self-Instruction):

A very vast waste land suddenly
Flooded by a river in spate-thus comes the sound
That fills the ears and opens the eye of the one who is never distracted:
Such is the experience of the seer par excellence.                     (16)
The happiness of another – that is my happiness;    
One’s own joy is another’s joy-this is the guiding principle;
That action which is good for one person should bring happiness to
                                                                another.                      (22)
Sitting in the dark, that which knows is the self;
What is known then assumes name and form,
With the psychic dynamism, senses, agency of action and also action;
See now it all comes as a mahendra-magic.                                (27)

Without bottom or top, from the bottom to the crest where it terminates,
What is known vividly is turiya consciousness                             (28)

Knowledge, to know its own nature here,
Has become earth and the other elements;
Spiraling up, back and turning round,
Like a firebrand it is ever turning.                                                (33)

Mounted on the rotating wheels of a chariot which have
Half moments and such for spokes, the world rolls on;
Know this to be the beginning less divine sport
That is ever going on in knowledge.                                           (34)

Like ten thousand suns coming all at onece,
The modulation of discrimination arises;
The veil of  transcience covering knowledge is maya;
Tearing this away, the primal Sun alone shines.                          (35)

What did Narayana Guru do after his realization? 

After his realization he bade farewell to the cobra and the tiger who befriended him in the cave, and became a recluse in a thick forest on the banks of the Neyyar, a river in South Kerala. He lived for some time in the woods without being detected by anyone. His sanctuary was a cave on the banks of the river. This place was called Aruvippuram. One day a young boy  who had been grazing his cows near the forest went deep into the woods looking for a cow which gone astray, and  happened to see Narayana Guru. This boy’s name was Parameswaran Pillai. He became the Guru’s first disciple. It was through him that the world outside came to know of the presence of a yogi at Aruvippuram.

How did Aruvippuram become a temple?

There was a forest conservator called Narayana Pillai. He had no children. He came to know of the siddha purusa (a man of high attainments) living in the woods of Aruvippuram. With his aides he made a trail to the Guru’s cave. He sought the Guru’s blessings to have a child. Subsequently a child was born to him. The Guru named the child Narayani Amma. The trail brought many people to the Guru. Some of them took the initiative to build an ashram for the Guru. When people started coming regularly for his blessings the Guru thought of giving them a new direction. He decided to give them a temple. Until then, temples were for the exclusive use of people of certain privileged communities. He wanted to have a common place of worship where all could come and offer their worship with no restriction of caste, sex or religion.

What was the impact of this temple? 

The installation of the temple at Aruvippuram was a mile-stone in the history of India’s spiritual emancipation. The cast ridden tradition of India suffered at the idea of a common man who had no claim to priestly tradition, installing a temple. When a Nambudiri (Kerala Brahmin) expressed his anger and concern about such an act of “sacrilege” the Guru simply remarked that he did not install any ‘Nambudiri Siva’. God is neither a priest nor a peasant. He is in all. The news of this silent revolution echoed to the far flung frontiers of India. A young man who feverishly desired to change the destiny of the masses of India’s working classes who were smothered by caste humiliation, was directed by Swami Vivekananda to seek the dynamic guidance of a living Guru. This young man was Dr.P.Palpu (Padmanabhan), the durbar physician of the Maharaja of Mysore. On hearing about Sri Narayana Guru, Dr. Palpu came to Aruvippuram to seek the Guru’s help in the campaign of establishing human rights.

What did Dr.Palpu do?

Dr.Palpu was a great organizer. He changed the Aruvippuram Temple worshippers’ association into a corporate body to propagate the ideals of Sree Narayana Guru-Sree Narayana Dharma - in the model of Sangha, the congregation that came after the Lord Buddha. This corporation was called Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam.

How did the Yogam become a formidable force?

    People with various kinds of talents were attracted to the Guru. Among them were C.V Kunjuraman, a man who proficiently presented the Guru’s ideas of social reformation in an appealing and convincing manner using clean, lucid and strong language, Mooloor Pathmanabha Panicker, a poet of great erudition in Sanskrit and Pali, who prepared the way for young poets and legislators, Mahakavi Kumaranasan who became the poet laureate of Malayalam, T.K. Madhavan, a freedom fighter with organizing ability, K.P.Kayyalakkal, a forceful orator, C.O.Madhavan, K.Kumaran and M.Govindan, able administrators, K.Ayyappan, a young revolutionary, and Sathyvraton, SreeNarayanaChaitanyam, Bodhanada, Govindanada, Athmananda, Dharma Teertha, Nataraja Guru, Ananda Teertha, Achutanada, Vidyananda, Narasimhananda, Sugunanda, Sankaranada and Narayana Teertha, sannyasin of the first round. All of them worked as a single team with various chosen fields of function. The result was the ushering in of three parallel organizations with three different but complimentary ideals.

The Sree Narayana Dharama Paripalana Yogam, founded in 1903, became the biggest single corporation of Kerala to defend the natural and constitutional rights of all socially and economically depressed people of  the state.

Narayana Gurukula founded in 1923 became a world-wide fraternity of contemplatives. It is the most articulating organ of the Guru’s philosophy and humanist teachings. The Sree Narayana Dharma Sanghom, registered in 1927 became the monastic order of Sree Narayana Guru. The sanghom is the care taker of  most of the religious institutions sponsored or founded by the Guru. Sivagiri Muttu is its headquarters.

Was Aruvippuram the headquarters of Sree Narayana Guru?

The Guru’s intention was to setup a number of living models to people. So, like a summer cloud of the spring season, Guru  moved from place to place and initiated new projects. Soon after the formation of SNDP Yogam  Sree Narayana Guru moved to Varkala and chose for his residence a neglected hill at the side of a canal. This place developed into the sight of Saradha Temple and The Guru called his new residence Sivagiri. Here he established an entirely new model of a temple for worship. Its architecture was simple and different. For the first time in India a temple with windows and ventilation was devised. Guru installed a diety which was traditionally  symbolic  and aesthetically perfect. The worship of Saradha, the Goddess of wisdom, was restricted to offerings of flowers. The highest standards of hygiene were introduced to maintain the place as a model to other temples and temple worshippers. The opening of this temple was uniquely marked by the inspirational ceremony of guest poets offering their worship through the dedication of hymns in praise of the mother Saradha. Guru himself wrote Janani Navaratna Manjari (Nine gems in praise of the mother). When Sivagiri became crowded by pilgrims and young enthusiasts he moved away, first to Tamil Nadu and then to Alwaye.

In the Guru’s spiritual life there was the beautiful confluence of Vedada, which originated from the Vedas, the Upanisads, the Brama Sootras and the Gita and Siddhanta, the native tradition of pre historic India, developed in the post vedic period by Tamil saints like Tiru Valluvar and Nalvar. Sree Narayana Guru was a profound scholar of Tamil lore. He was held in great respect by the Saiva Adhinams in Madhurai, Kumbhakonam, Karaikkal, Pudukkottai, Karakkudi,  and Madras. He stayed in the mutts and Adhinams in these places and helped his devotees and disciples in Tamil Nadu.

What did he do  in Varkala?

The Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala, where he lived, was like a center of the new age to which social reformers, freedom fighters, educationalist, thinkers, writers and socially persecuted people turned for guidance, light and inspiration. The Guru took into his fold several people from the lowest stratum of society and gave them education and taught them a clean way of life. His method of fighting social malignancy such as caste observance and segregation was through taking positive measures like fostering socially and healthy and dynamic people who were fearless and who could stand on their own  feet both financially and morally. He made the poorest of the poor self confident, self respecting and industrious. For those who had been denied opportunities for over a millennium, he opened new temples to show them the light of life, new schools to make them articulate, and industrial houses to help them become dexterous. He made a new generation who could live without asking for, thinking of, or telling of caste. His ardent disciples Mooloor, C.V Kunjuraman, Kumaranasan, Mitavadi C.Krishnan, Moorkothu Kumaran and Sahodaran Ayyappan, became irresistible luminaries, in the Malayalam literary world, each with hundreds of satellite writers. They brought out a new literature which was soul-stirring and eye-opening like the works of Dickins, Hugo, Tolstoy, Gorky and Chekhov. People who had been denounced and humbled by theocrats changed into erudite revolutionaries with an unquenchable humanist zeil thorough the mere touch of the Guru. Out of dust he created an entirely new people.

What was his attitude towards other Religions?

Sree Narayana Guru ever thought that his religion was essentially different from the religions of his fellowmen. Mr. Abdul Salam, an Arabic Pandit, once told me of his first experience with the Guru. When he was a boy of twelve some Muslim scholars came to his home one night and were reading Holy Quran. At that time Sree Narayana Guru came in and the Arabic scholars received him with due reverence. Then they continued the reading. The Guru listened to the reading and offered his interpretation of the passages. The Moulvis were amazed at the Guru’s insight into the Quran. Mr.Abdul Salam said that his father considered Sree Narayana Guru as best  pir of Islam of his days.

Once a group of American missionaries came to the Guru with the intention of  converting him to Christianity. The Guru received them with loving kindness. When they asked him to accept Christ as his Savior, the Guru said he already been saved with the rest of mankind by Christ. The missionaries showed disbelief. Then he asked:

G:    Did Jesus come to save mankind?
M:     Yes.
G:    All of mankind or only a few?
M:    All of mankind.
G:    Am I not one of them?
M:    Yes, but you should believe in Christ.
G:    Did Jesus save all who lived before his incarnation?
M:    Yes, of course.
G:    Did they have a chance of knowing him and believing in him?
M:    No. But they were saved.
G:    Then it is not imperative to believe?
M:    No, you should believe.

At this point Guru said, “Look at these people. How ardent is their devotion? All right you send me a man to teach me the Bible.” They  sent an Indian Christian, Mr.John, to teach him the Bible. Every day Mr.John read out a few passages from the new testament and the Guru would give his own rendering of the Bible. John became a dedicated devotee of the Guru. Till his old age he served the Guru, remaining as a good Christian. Guru had no rivalry with any religion. Although he did not object  to anybody being converted to any religion in which the votary had faith, he did not see the need for conversion. His teaching was to be a good man,  whatever one’s religion is.

How did Narayana Guru fight caste restriction and bigotry?

First of all, he made a casteless society in his own asrams. His disciples were drown from all sections of the people. Among his camp followers there were Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Buddhist. There were brahmins and pariahs.  Once Rajagopalachari, a divan  (Mister) of Travancore, came to see Sree Narayana Guru. The divan said that caste was a natural phenomenon and he could distinguish people of various castes by simply looking at them and listening  to their accent. The Guru lined up his asram-inmates and made them chant, a few hymns and asked the divan to identify the caste of the inmates assembled. He made the most glaring mistakes of identification and gave up his notion that caste was real and natural.
The Guru exhorted people to unite and be strong, educated and free of prejudices. He encourages people to assert their rights fearlessly with courage. When his devotees decided to get all main thoroughfares open to all people irrespective of their caste, Mahatma Gandhi offered to lead a Satyagraha(Passive resistance) at Vaikom , in Northern Travancore. Guru  conversed with Mahatma Gandhi and placed  at Mahatma’s disposal all his people, money and every available resource for the fight to make the common  man’s freedom and accomplished fact. The Guru’s meeting with Mahatma Gandhi had a considerable impact on Mahatmaji’s future programmes.

What happened between Mahatma Gandhi and Sree Narayana Guru?
The Guru sent his emissary Mr. T. K. Madhavan to discuss with  Mahatma Gandhi the problems of the masses who were treated with disdain and cruelty by the rich and ruling bureaucrats. As a result of their discussion the eradication of unsociability was included in the action programme of the Indian National Congress.

Mahatma Gandhi was received at the Alwaye Adwaita Ashram  founded by the Guru. Afterwards Mahatmaji came to Sivagiri Mutt to have personal talks with the Guru. The Guru impressed upon Mahatma Gandhi the need to liberate the toiling millions from the religious shackles of caste as a necessary prerequisite of India gaining her political emancipation from the British overlordship.When Mahatmaji attended the first Round Table Conference in London, he became convinced of the Guru’s advice and changed the name of his paper Navjivan to Harijan and called the neglected masses the ‘Harijans’ (the progeny of Hari or Visnu). Thereafter Mahatmaji dedicated himself to the cause of the Harijans.

What are the major temples installed by Sree Narayana Guru?

After the installation of the temple at Aruvippuram, the Guru installed temples at Anjengo, Murukkumpuzha, Kulathur, Cherthala, Irinjalakuda, Palluruthy, Cherai Thrissur, Palai, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Thalassery, Kannur, Mangalapuram and the previously mentioned Sarada Temple at Varkala. When Guru was requested to install a temple at Mezhuveli he said that the future temples should be schools.He brought about many reforms in the temples he consecrated, with the intention of educating people. In one temple he installed the words Satyam(truth), Daya(kindness), Dharmam(Righteousness at the alter instead of placing any image of any Hindu God. In another temple he preferred to have only a burning lamp at the alter. At Kalavamkodam, Cherthala, ho installaed a mirror in the place of the deity with the mahavakya (great dictum) AUM Tat Sat (AUM that is the Existent). At the Alwye Adwaithashrama he preferred to have no image at all.

What did he write?

Sree Narayana Guru was extempore in his writing. His works can be mainly divided into mystical hymns of inspired exultation, simple teaching for the common folk, Philosophical renditions for the elite, and translations.Vinayaka Astakam, Vasudevastakam, Guhastakam, Shanmukha stotram,  Bahuleyastakam Shanmukhs Dasakam, Subrahmanya Kirthanam, Navamanjari, Bhadrakalyastakam, Mannanthala Devi stavam, Kali Natakam, ChidambarastakamSivaprasadapanchakam, Sadasiva Darsanam, Siva satakam, Vishnuastakam, Daivadasakam, Swanubhava giti, Kundalini pattu etc are some of his mystical hymns. Jiva karunnya panchakan, Anukampa Dasakam, Jatinirnayam, Jatimimamsa, Dattapaharam and Asramam are written for popular instruction.

Atmopadesa satakam, AdvaitaDeepika, Brahmavidya panchakam, Municharya panchakam, Arivu and Darsanamala are written for serious students in philosophy.

Only Two of his translations are available. One is Isavasya Upanishad from Sanskrit to Malayalam and the other Tirukkural from the Tamil to Malayalam. The Guru wrotein Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam. Most of his works are now available in English. Some are also translated into Hindi, German, Dutch and French.

What are the Schools the Guru instituted?

In Varkala, Guru started a model English school and in Alwaye a Sanskrit school. It was his intention to give people insight into the grass roots of Indian Culture and also a farsight into the development that was fast taking place in the world outside. To take care of the educational future of the people he even sent his disciple Tampi( later Natraja Guru ) to study educational psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris. From the Sorbonne Natraja Guru obtained his D.Litt in Psychology made the Narayana Gurukula movement word wide.

What did the Guru do in Alwaye?

Alwaye is not far from Kalady where one of India’s greatest philosopher-saints, Sri.Sankara Acharya, was born. Guru’s own philosophy to a great extent was identified with Sankara’s except in its social application. Sankara expounded the non-dualistic concept of the absolute as the Truth of all truths and left the transactional world to the whims of the ignorants muddled by phenomenological illusions. Narayana  Guru found this to be a flaw in the application of Vedanta in everyday life. With deference to Sankara, Narayana Guru called his Asram in Alwaye, Advaita Asrama,. He admitted students from all religions and all communities to the Vedanta course that was taught at the Advaita Asrama  school. He gave them a common place to board and lodge. He used to retire at Tottumukham on a hill top. This place has now become the venue of the Sree Narayana Sevika Samajam, an institution for orphans and destitute women, managed by women.

How did Guru groom Mahakavi Kumaran Asan? 

A young boy from Kaikkara by the name Kumaran came to Sri Narayana Guru with an ardent zeal to learn Sanskrit and Vedanta. The Guru loved him and cared for him dearly and encouraged him to write poetry. Afterwards Guru himself sent him first to Banglore and later to Calcutta to study Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy. Kumaran became Kumaran Asan and qualified himself in Tarka (Indian logic) and Vyakarana (Grammer). The young poet was also inspired by Tagore and contemporary English poets like Keats and Shelly. He used his poetical talents to popularize the Guru’s teachings by writing several lyrics that reflect his philosophy of an integrated mankind. His poems  chandala Bhiksuki, Duravasta and Buddha Charita are especially written to throw light on Narayan Guru’s teachings.

How did the Guru help the poor?

Sri Narayana Guru did not like the idea of standing on a high pedestal and looking at some section of people as poor. There is no need for anyone to be poor or downtrodden. Most philanthropists perpetuate the bane of demoralizing some people to stand always as the lowly ledge of society, so that they could bestow upon them their charity. Guru did not like to maintain social strata and classes. He thought that with self-respect and perseverance any person can become self-sufficient socially, morally and economically. He would advise and help a person in need to take initiative with courage and boldness and get into the mainstream of life as a weaver, farmer, merchant or technician and turn his trade into a success through co-operative efforts. Self-help was the best help he advocated. He wanted the rich to share their wealth, knowledge and skills with others so that they could become enterprising. Poverty was to him a disease that was to be remedied by the realistic handling of the situation. Knowledge holds the key to the resolution of all problems.

Some temple administrators placed a donation box in the outer yard of a temple. When the Guru was told that it was for the pulayas (working peasants) to donate money for the temple, Guru said, “why deprive them of their money? They are the wealth and the producers of wealth. They deserve to be worshipped and not exploited. “Instead of keeping them at the outer fringe as tradition required, Guru called them to come and sit with them at the place of festivity.

How did he teach righteousness? 

An aide to the priest of the Sarada Temple was in the habit of stealing money from the donation box. He was caught red handed and brought before Sree Narayana Guru. Seeing his shame filled eyes the Guru said, “You seem to love money. It is not bad. Be the treasurer of the temple and take good care of the money people donate.” He was made the treasurer and proved to be trustworthy.

A man came at night and felled a few jackfruits from the trees of the Asram. He was produced before the Guru. The Guru said, “It is dangerous to go prowling in the night, especially in snake infested places. Only the trees belong to the asram. The fruits belong to the hungry. Come boldly at daytime and take away the fruits you want to eat”. This served not only as a correction to the culprit but also to those who wanted to punish the hungry man whose poverty sits squarely on the shoulders of property owners.

How did the Guru teach lessons of amity and co-operation?

Once the young followers of Guru decided upon an action to remove untouchability. They brought a few so-called untouchables to a temple in Alapuzha and held a feast to demonstrate the possibility of inter-dining. This led to big clash with the elders of the community who also professed to be devotees of the Guru. When the situation became grave the Guru visited the temple. The young people accused the elders of bigotry and inhuman apartheid. The old people accused the youngsters of standing for topsy-turvy values and lack of respect for tradition.

The Guru asked the elders, “Can you not agree with the youngsters at least on some points?” The elders said, ‘No”. The Guru smiled and said, “Both of you have already agreed on one point-that there is disagreement. If you can agree on one point you can agree on more points of view.” Both the parties were pacified. He asked the elders to cook rice pudding and asked the youngsters to serve. After the feast everybody retired in peace and forgot their anger towards each other.

Did Narayana Guru believe in supernatural powers? 

The Guru did not make a dichotomy of the natural and supernatural. He looked at the phenomenal world as an indivisible whole showing characteristics of inertia and knowledge. The relation between the two can be grave or minimal. His concept of nature was neither static nor merely perceptual. There are countless aspects of nature which elude the powers of summary perception. Man himself, while being part of nature, can transcend many seemingly physical( and therefore natural) laws. Employing the concepts of the super-natural to explain certain para-measurable data of observable events only shows our short sightedness and incapacity to include all relevant data in the study of a chosen field or event. Many actions of the Guru were thought of as miraculous. But the Guru did not attach any importance to them.

Can a few such incidents be narrated? 

A man was brought to the Guru, with arm-chains and leg-hurdles in locks. He was said to be very violent. Guru took pity on him and removed the chains and locks from his hands and legs. He was set free and the Guru spoke to him in gentle words to go and live a peaceful life. He regained his normalcy.

A man whose house was attacked by a poltergeist (kuttichattan) came to Guru for help. The Guru tried to convince him that such phenomena are only reflections of sickly minds. But he insisted on getting help from the Guru. The Guru then wrote a letter to the poltergeist addressing him as, “dear Kuttichattan, please do not disturb this poor man.” He signed it as ‘yours,Narayana Guru.’ It became immediately effective.

A woman was brought to him who had weeping eczema. The Guru asked her to take powdered neem  bark in neem oil (which is extremely bitter). She said she came to Guru so that she would not be asked to eat anything bitter like the physicians would prescribe. Then he said she might as well eat erattimadhuram (an extremely sweet root of a herb) in honey. Her incurable eczema became fully cured. Although this remedy was tried by other physicians on their patients it did not give any positive result. He always used some herb to give psychosomatic healing. This was mainly to ward off the superstitious clinging to miracles.

When there was a big  draught  and cattle were dying and farms were withering away, he composed five verses in praise of ardhanariswara. It was sung by people and rain came. There is probably some reciprocation between the human mind and atmospheric forces.

There are hundreds of unscrutinised  hearsay stories attributing miracles to Guru. But his life style and philosophy do not encourage any emphasis on the value of such stories.

How did the Guru encourage his disciples to be thorough-going in their critical search for truth?  

When Nataraja Guru was a young boy of 12 years and he had his first lessons in physics and chemistry, the Guru asked him about para-physical phenomena. That remained a challenge in his mind even when he knew well enough to teach that subject to high school students in a public school in Switzerland.

When Nataraja Guru took his Masters in Zoology and read a paper on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution at a science congress in Calcutta and returned to the Guru, Narayana Guru asked Tampi (Nataraja Guru):
“Is evolution still going on”?
Tampi took it for a joke.
Then the Guru further asked,
“If evolution is going on, why do not see anywhere a monkey’s tail dropping off?”
At that point Nataraja Guru thought of explaining to the Guru  how the missing links in the evolutionary process are accounted for. Then came a new and more serious question from the Guru. “ What evolves? Matter or spirit ?” This is a question largely dealt with by Henry Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin at a later date. It took more than forty years of intense research  for Nataraja Guru to attempt an answer to Narayana Guru’s questions in the former’s magnum opus, an integrated science of the absolute.

Pazhampalli Achuthan gives a few instances of Narayana Guru asking him to make critical examination of rhetorical correctness of certain words in Kumaran Asan’s poems.

He never allowed any twisting of idea or exaggeration. When Kumaran Asan was acting as the interpreter between the Guru and the poet Rabindranath Tagore, Asan added a few words of his own to make Guru’s words clear to Tagore. On hearing it , the Guru said he did not say so. He insisted that Asan repeat only his words to Tagore.

When did Rabindranath Tagore visit Narayana Guru? 

Tagore came to see the Guru in 1922 at the Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala. The poet was given a Kingly reception at the asram. The meeting between the Guru and the poet was long remembered by hundreds of people. The welcome address to the poet was written in Sanskrit by Kumaran Asan  and it was sung to receive Tagore. He complemented the Guru on the great work he was rendering to the people. The Guru, however, declined the praise and turned the poet’s mind to a deeper level of his spiritual communion. The poet spoke of this memorable reality to Romain Rolland, the French biographer of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

Was Narayana Guru in the attire of a traditional sanyasin? 

Like Chattampi Swami, Narayana Guru attired himself in a white dhoti and a white upper cloth. When he visited Ceylon (Sri Lanka) the devotees there insisted that he wear sanyasin’s cloths to distinguish him from his disciples. He agreed to this with reluctance. But after once wearing them he never changed that mode of dress till the end.

Did he stay mostly in one place or did he travel? 

The Guru was a parivrajaka. He never stayed anywhere for more than two weeks at a time. Most of the time he was continuously moving. Even in his old age when he was physically very weak and bed-ridden, he insisted on moving from place to place. He never had any attachment to property or money.  All the same, he insisted that asrams, mutts and temples sponsored with public funds should be managed with utmost care and the trustees of public funds should have a clean life free of blemish.

Who are Narayana Guru’s biographers? 

The Guru’s first biography appeared as ‘the way of the Guru’ in the Sufi quarterly published in Geneva, written by Nataraja Guru. It was followed by a Malayalam biography in two volumes by Moorkoth Kumaran. Later Nataraja Guru elaborated the way of the Guru and republished it as ‘ The word of the Guru’.

Other English biographers are Mr.M.Prabha, Prof.M.K.Sanu, John Spiers, Swami Ranganathananda, Dr. Samuel Thomas (Ph.D.thesis), Dr.S.Omana (Ph.D.thesis) and Rama Krishna Rao. Prof.Balarama Panicker wrote an elaborate biography in Sanskrit called Sree Narayana Vijayam. Innumerable are the long and short versions of  his life in Malayalam. The main biographers are Mr.K.Damodaran , Mr.P.Parameswaran, Swami Dharmananda and Mr.Kottukoikkal Velayudhan. Elaborate biographies in English, German, French and Tamil are under way.

What did Narayana Guru say explicitly as his teachings? 

1.  It is the one and the same Absolute that shines and formulates the universe within and the multiverse without.
2.  There is a unlit lamp that always shines within witnessing everything that is happening.
3.  One should constantly relate oneself with this guiding star of light.
4.  If one cannot stabilize oneself in the knowledge of the self, one should relate oneself to a wise sage who
    has crossed    over the myriads of becoming by discovering for himself the secret of the triple states of the
    wakeful, the dreaming and the unconscious, without being disturbed from his transcendental point.
5.  It is possible for one, through an act of reasoning, to become devoid of one’s physical ego, but only with grace
    can one dissolve away one’s social and spiritual egos.
6.  It is the one and only the primal reality that is seen here and now as the world. Apart from this there is
    not a separate reality. To a wise man this world is a garland strung with the finest values man can conceive of.
    One should gain a transparency of vision which can see through all the variegated names and forms the wonder
    of the one Self  that is the pure Existence, Subsistence and Value.  
7.  The happiness of another that is my happiness; one’s own joy is another’s joy; this is the guiding principle.;
    that action which is good for one person should bring happiness to another.  
8.  Day and night the compassionate man engages  himself in action that is beneficial to all, while the self-centered man
    makes himself miserable by being wholly immersed in necessities leading to moral failure.  
9.  What is good for one person and bring misery to another –such actions are
    a.opposed to the self.
10. For the man who offers his mind-flowers to worship God, there is no other work to do.
11. Knowledge, to know its own nature here, has become earth and the other elements; spiraling up, back and
    turning round, like a glowing fire brand it is ever turning.
12. Even those of good action are caught by nature and whirled round in vicious circles; one should know that non-action
    does not bring release from perverted actions only the non-desire for the fruit of action does.
13. The many faiths have but one essence; not seeing this, in this world, like the blind man and the elephant,
    many kinds of reasoning are used by the unenlightened who become distressed; having seen this, without being
    disturbed, remain steadfast.
14. One faith is despicable to another; the karu  (core) described in one is    defective in another’s estimation; in the
    world the secret of this is one alone; know that confusion prevails until it is known to be thus.
15. All beings are making effort in every way, all the time, for the happiness of the self; in the world, this is the one
    faith; pondering on this, without becoming subjected to sin, be controlled .
16. Neither that, nor this, nor the meaning of existence am I, but Existence, Consciousness, Joy-Immortal; thus attaining
    clarity, emboldened, discarding attachment to being and non-being one should gently, gently merge in SAT-AUM.
17. Let him live in his own home or in the forest, or at the water’s edge-no matter; with mind ever fixed in
    the absolute the yogi ever dwells seeing all here in terms of self-hood. Like a mirage in a desert
    land he enjoys bliss, that silent one, contemplating that absolute supreme which is beyond all compare.
18. Man’s humanity marks out the human kind even as bovinity proclaims a cow.  Brahminhood and such are not thus –wise;
    non do see this truth, alas! One of  kind, one of faith and one in God is man; Of one womb, of one form; difference
    herein none. Within a species, is it not, that offspring truly breed? The community of man thus viewed, to a single
    kind belongs.
19. Of the human species is even a Brahmin born, as is the Pariah too, where is the difference then in caste as between man
    and man? In bygone days of a Pariah  woman the great sage Parasara was born, as even he of vedic-aphorism fame, of a
    virgin of the fisher-folk. (A critique of caste).
20. Grace, Love, Mercy-all the three- stand for one same reality-life’s star. “He who loves is he who really lives”;
    do learn these syllables nine by heart, in place of lettered  charms
21. Towards the father of the world, to one’s spiritual teacher, father, mother;    towards the founders of truth, and towards those who walk in it’s path; towards those who put down evil and those who do good to all, what
    sympathy  there is, is devotion  here; what here belonging to the self-supreme is the ultimate.

Biography of Sree Narayana Guru

Dr. S. Omana

Biography of Sree Narayana Guru

  1. Birth and childhood
  2. Caste in Kerala
  3. Harmonious village life
  4. Nanu Protests
  5. Early education
  6. A child of Nature
  7. Proper formation in Sanskrit and Vedanta
  8. The great search
  9. Finding a sould mate
  10. The final plunge
  11. A stroke of revolution
  12. Public acceptance as a Guru
  13. Affinity with the Tamil Culture
  14. The Sanskrit background of the Guru
  15. The Guru at Aruvipuram
  16. Guru and the S.N.D.P. Yoga,
  17. Shifting his headquarters to Varkala
  18. Narayana Guru and Templs
  19. Advaita Ashram
  20. Narayana Guru and Mahatma Gandhi
  21. The Guru and Rabindranath Tagore
  22. Contribution to philosophy
  23. The World Relegions Conference
  24. The Past and the Present
  25. Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham
  26. Narayana Guru's four fold influence
  27. T. K. Madhavan
  28. K. Ayyappan
  29. Mahakavi Kumaran Asan
  30. Nataraja Guru
  31. Maha samadhi

Birth and Childhood

Narayana Guru was born in the year 1854 AD at Chempazhanthy, in the suburb of the city of Trivandrum, the present capital of Kerala State, India. In those days Trivandrum was the capital of a princely state called Travancore. Before Travancore came under the hegemony of the Maharaja Marthanda Varma there were eight feudal chiefs who were politically powerful and opposed to the ruling prince. One such chief was of Chempazhanthy. Narayana Guru's father was Madan Asan and his mother was Kutti Amma. He was the only son of his parents in the family of Vayalvaram, of which a small cottage is still remaining next to a Bhagavati Temple called Manakkal. Even though Madan Asan was not rich, he was of moderate means. His title, Asan, shows that he was looked upon with respect by his villagers. It is not known if he was a teacher. It is likely that Nanu, as Narayana Guru was called by his parents, learnt Tamil, Malayalam, and Sanskrit from his father.
In the days of Narayana Guru the most vital information everyone wanted to know of another person was his caste. This may look ridiculous to the present generation, but no one thought so in those days. Everybody wanted to know caste and everyone revealed his caste also as a matter of course.

Caste in Kerala

Even though Kerala is today treated as one ethnic unit, there are many caste groups and local customs in Malabar or North Kerala, which are not known to the people of the South, formerly called Travancore. Hindus, Christians and Muslims live almost as exclusive communities. Hindus had among them Brahmins and non-Brahmins. In the days of Narayana Guru, non-Brahmins ranged from the most touchable to the least touchable. No rational sociological norm is implied in this classification. These castes have evolved and crystallized in relation to hereditary trades and work opportunities. The caste in Kerala has nothing or very little to do with what is popularly known as the fourfold division of Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra. Even among the Brahmins there were sharp divisions based on their linguistic origin. There were Malayali Nambudiris, Tulu Pottis, Telugu Iyengars or Vaishnavaites and Tamil Iyers. Each one claims superiority over others.

Until recently Malayali Brahmins practiced the most heinous sociological crime of keeping women of a certain section of the Hindu community as concubines, without having the obligation of a responsible husband or father. As Travancore, Cochin and Malabar were under theocratic rule for a long time, these Nambudiris managed to keep the Rajas of these states in a socio-political hypnosis and got large areas of land and temples under their undisputed hegemony. They used the land and the favor of the Rajas to give a social acceptance to their illegitimate relationships which were known as sambandham.
Certain powerful Nair chiefs were 'baptized' by the Brahmins with a hocus-pocus ritual of making them 'Raja-designate' to be symbolically born out of a golden cow. The priest's fee was the golden cow. Thus the Kshatriyas of Kerala are homemade products. Nairs were a martial class. They had gymnasiums conducted by Kurups, where they taught martial arts.
Besides Brahmins and Nairs, there were temple attendants such as Warrier, Pisharadi, Marar etc. All of them enjoyed certain social privileges that were not shared by the rest of the Hindu community. There was also a large community who acted as a buffer group between the touchables and the untouchables. They are known in Travancore as Ezhavas, in Cochin as Choyas and in Malabar as Thiyas. The common link between these three groups was their hereditary trade interest in extracting coconut and palm wine and running breweries. This factor does not exist any longer. Others now share this trade too. They show a definite left-wing protest in their attitude towards relating themselves to Brahmins. The price they had to pay was heavy. They lived more or less as outsiders to the Hindu Society. In the coastal areas like Tellicherry and Cannanore, they easily mixed with European adventurers and Arab pirates. Thus we can see there, many fair-complexioned and blue or brown-eyed Thiyas. Socially and economically they were under-privileged. In this group there are a number of families who remained as pockets of the last vestiges of the Buddhist culture. The Pali language, Sanskrit and Ayurvedic Medicine distinguished these families from others. Then there came the poorest of the poor, who were real children of the soil--the Bhumiputras. They were branded as untouchables. Kuravas, Pulayas, Pariahs and the tribals, all have their own traditions reaching back to antiquity. Perhaps the first Mohenjodaro drummer, Shiva himself, was a Pariah (para=drum).
In one of Swami Vivekananda's letters, he writes of the despicable caste system of Travancore as the most horrid experience he had in his wanderings in India.

It was into this dark chapter of Indian history that Narayana Guru came in the 1850s. His own caste is described as Ezhava. In his abundant sense of humor, he once described the Ezhava as an unrecognized weed in the garden of the caste scruples.

Harmonious village life

From the accounts of elderly people, it is presumed that the village of Narayana Guru had very good communal harmony. Ezhavas and Nairs jointly managed the Manakkal Temple of Chempazhanthy, and Nanu went to a village school of a Nair teacher. We do not hear that the sun-burnt peasants like the Pulayas shared this equality.
A 'good' slave accepts the norms of slavery and shows his worth by making himself loyal to the creed of servitude. This was very true of the feudal system of 19th century India. Communities insulated with untouchability lived in relative peace. Narayana Guru's uncles, Raman Vaidyar and Krishnan Vaidyar were no exception, and indeed they cared very much for the preservation of their own insulated tribal clan.

Nanu protests

It seems the child Nanu had a natural ingenuity in discerning right from wrong and the essential from the non-essential. When Nanu's parents or uncles kept fruits and sweetmeats for divine offerings (pooja), he did not hesitate to partake of it before the puja was performed. When he was called to account for his action, his plea was that God would be happy if he made himself happy.

When Nanu's uncles were meticulous in enforcing the customary convention of untouchability, the child wanted to show the silliness of it by running around and embracing all who were tabooed as untouchables. There is a touching story of Nanu's childhood-reaction to injustice which also reveals his consistency in opposing injustice with passive spiritual force.
One day when Nanu was going to school with other village children, a sannyasin with matted hair and clad in rags was also on the road. The usual look of the mendicant intrigued the mischievous imps. They started jeering and throwing stones at him. The sannyasin walked on as if he was not aware of what was happening. When Nanu saw this, he burst into tears. The sannyasin turned back and spotted Nanu walking behind him in tears. The kind mendicant asked Nanu why he was crying. Nanu said that he was crying because of his inability to stop the village urchins from pelting such a good man with stones. Hearing this, the sannyasin lifted the boy to his shoulders and brought him back to his parents. He blessed Nanu and told that he would one day become a great man (mahatma).

Strange are the ways of picking up the threads of one's future affiliation and loyalty. The incident narrated above symbolizes hundreds of other acts of injustice against which, Narayana Guru protested in his life. He always employed a passive dynamism whereby he brought the powers of the heavens to the earth to correct the ills of the world. There is another episode of Nanu's childhood, which indicates how he was turned on to what can be described as the via negativa (nivrtti marga).

A death occurred in his family, when Nanu was of the age of six. He was shocked by the grief of the relatives. A couple of days after the cremation, the young Nanu was found missing. People searched for him everywhere. Finally they found him sitting in a wood, lost in thought. When he was questioned about this strange behavior, he said: "The other day when a dear one died everybody was crying. I thought, 'Now you will be sorrowful forever.' Hardly a day passed, and all of you started laughing as if nothing had happened. It looked strange to me." Of course, nobody kept any record of what he said, but he might have said something to this effect. What is important to note is his disgust for relativism and how he preferred to turn away from it as a remedy to correct the iniquities of social behavior.

Early education

Nanu's first teacher was his own father, Madan Asan. He had formal schooling in the village school of Chempazhanthy Pillai. Apart from Malayalam and Tamil he learned by heart, as was the practice in those days, Sidharupa, Balaprabodhana and Amrakosa. He was blessed with a penetrating understanding and a sharp memory from very early childhood. Although there were a few schools in Travancore and Cochin in those days, Nanu's circumstances were such that he had to satisfy himself with what he received from his father, his uncle Krishnan Vaidyar and the village schoolmaster.

A child of nature

Nanu in his adolescence experienced restlessness and engaged in boyhood pranks which were characteristic of his inner untold merit and growth. Home and relatives did not attract him. Being very sensitive to moral and aesthetic values of a profound and universal order, he came into conflict with the crude and unhygienic life-patterns of people. He preferred to be alone or with his cows. Like the reputed cowherd of Brindavan, Nanu was also fond of sitting on the spread out branches of trees as his cows grazed in the green pastures below. Unlike Krishna, who played his flute, Nanu composed hymns and sang them melodiously.

Once Nanu's uncle, Krishnan Vaidyar, heard Nanu's voice coming from the foliage of a tree. He stood spellbound until the song was over, and, then went near by and asked the shy boy, from whom he learnt that hymn. When he realized Nanu himself composed it, he thought that it was a serious mistake not to allow the young boy to go to a proper teacher.
During these years Nanu also took to gardening. It agreed with his sensitive nature to see seeds germinating and plants bringing forth delicate flowers and edible fruits.

Proper formation in Sanskrit and Vedanda

n 1877 Nanu was sent to the family of Varanapally to be further educated under the guidance of a well-known scholar named Kummampilli Raman PillaiAsan. It was a custom those days for rich families to arrange for the higher studies of their sons, by honoring guest-teachers who volunteered to teach deserving students and providing them with free boarding and lodging. These teachers had no pecuniary motives. Seeing his amazing ability to grasp and digest the hidden meanings of Sanskrit classics, Raman Pillai Asan gave special permission to Nanu to be present with him when he was teaching other students also.
Nanu was both studying and teaching himself. It was not difficult for his teacher to know what was happening within him, Raman Pillai Aasan gave special instructions to the chief of the Varanapally household to give Nanu facilities to live alone and spend time as he liked in deep meditation and self-discipline.

Even though Narayana Guru was blessed with a very critical and analytical mind, he was also evenly balanced with a sense of deep devotion. Mere logic chopping did not amuse him. He was capable of silencing any argument with a thoughtful query or a witty remark. However, he avoided arguments and spent long hours in meditation and self-study He underwent a great mystical change in his vision of this world. It was no more "out there" mechanically operating as a brute fact. The inner world opened up many new avenues to him. He was sometimes drunk with such inner ecstasy that he found it hard to articulate it in words. One such state of ecstasy is echoed in a verse he composed and sang in spontaneous exultation:

Released from the mundane worries of life,
The World re-absorbed in the real,
The sweet melody of the eternal world
dissolved away in silence,
The effulgence of the non-dual lamp is filled all around.
The curtain of Maya is raised,
Revealing the celestial stage
Where Krishna of radiant blue hue,
Glorious in his resplendent halo
And adorned with the Koustabha Jewel
dances in divine festivity.

Even simple incidents in his life are highly suggestive of the Guru-in-the-making in Nanu's youthful personality. There was a little dog in the house where Nanu lived. When taking his noon-meal he always used to give it a share. On most of the days when the little dog was about to eat, a big dog came snarling and driving away the small pup, and ate its morsel. Narayana Guru had great sympathy for the little dog bullied and deprived by the big one, but he never stoned the bigger dog or pushed it away from the food. Instead he looked at the little one and said half to himself, "We are sorry. What can we do when its heart is evil?"

According to some biographers, Narayana Guru was very devoted to Krishna in his childhood image. S, However, in his later life he did not seem to have any special preference for Krishna. In his several hymns to the different deities of the Indian pantheon, most of his praises are showered on Shiva, Subrahmanya, Devi and Ganesha, and only two on Vishnu.
There is no one living now who can speak with any accuracy on how the Guru conducted himself in his mystical frenzies. It is likely that the early biographers have erred on the side of exaggeration, as they are somewhat biased by the biographical studies of Sri Ramakrishna's mystical absorption's. It is possible that Narayana Guru had profound mystical feelings, but from all the reliable accounts we know he never expressed any excessive emotion of affection, hatred, anger or frustration. However, there are occasional references to the Guru being moved to a deep and profound sense of sympathy and compassion whenever he saw someone ill-treating a less-favored member of the society. His compassion was also extended to animals. In this connection it is appropriate to quote here one distinction between Narayana Guru and Sri Ramakrishna recorded by Romain Rolland, who wrote the biography of Sri. Ramakrishna in French:.
Glasenapp does not say anything regarding the new religious manifestations in South India, which are not negligible. Such for example is the great Guru Sri Narayana, whose beneficent spiritual activity has been exercising its influence during the past forty years in the State of Travancore on nearly two millions of his followers (he passed away in 1928). His teaching, permeated With the philosophy of Sankara, shows evidence of a striking difference of temperament compared with the mysticism of Bengal, of which the effusions of love (bhakti) inspire in him a certain mistrust. He was, one might say, a Jnanin of action, a great religious intellectual, who had a keen living sense of the people and of social necessities. He has contributed greatly to the elevation of the oppressed classes in South India, and his work has been associated at certain times with that of Gandhi. (Cf. the articles of his disciple P. Natarajan in the Sufi Quarterly, Geneva, December 1928 and in the following months.)

The termination of Narayana Guru's formal studies under Kummanpilli Raman Pillai Asan was probably in 1881. It seems he suffered from a severe attack of dysentery presumably caused by hemorrhoids. According to one report Nanu gave an indication to some of his close associates that he was going to make a still deeper plunge in his search for truth. He did not want to escape from the realities or phenomenalities of the world but he was keen to know the mysterious forces that governed the life of man. It was his intention to make full use of that knowledge, if in some measure he could make himself an instrument to correct the ills of the world. Most people of his time experienced life as an ill-functioning and disorderly arrangement, especially in the socio-economic and politico-cultural set-up of the human species.

The great search

One of the later vedantic compositions of Narayana Guru is known as Advaita Deepika. The metaphoric ideogram of 'the flame of non-dual knowledge' implies the knower's identity with the knowledge that is illuminated. The same message was exemplified in the Guru's own life when he began his more serious search. He took upon himself the role of a teacher. In this role he was a seeker, a seer, and also an illuminator. His 'one-teacher school' was not to teach the 'three R's', but to bring into people's lives the insight of the spiritual masters of the past such as Vyasa, Valmiki, Sankara, and Tiruvalluvar. The lonely flight of a seeker is not only not appreciated by the world, but in most cases he is neither recognized as a seeker nor does the world seem to know that there is anything to seek at all. The only business of life is to wake up and sleep, to eat and mate and carry on the ten thousand and one transactions of life. So it is no wonder that the relatives of Narayana Guru thought that the best that they could do for him was to arrange for a marriage. The conflict that ensued and the way in which Narayana Guru circumvented the arrangement can be an excellent study of the attitude of Indian people to spirituality when sex-life and interpersonal relations are to be interpreted, especially in the Victorian era. Although in actual practice there was a great eroding of sexual restrictions, the professed adherence of the Indian people to the old world norms were far removed from the medieval one. There are different versions of Narayana Guru's marriage. All narrators agree that he did not present himself at the wedding ceremony. It was conducted in proxy by his sister"8 All agree that he probably had no physical relation with the woman whom his relatives brought to his home and looked upon as his wife. Also there is general agreement that he did not show any displeasure to this person who had the misfortune of being treated as a wife though not having a meaningful identity. The strange relation of the Yogi to his wife is presented in The Word of the Guru by Nataraja Guru without any exaggeration or spiritual embellishment. Once he called another neighbor and asked him to take his wife to a festival in a nearby Bhagavati or Kali temple to which she dearly wished to go. With the Guru's better ways, it was too crowded and noisy for him, but the villagers praised its importance very highly. On another occasion the Guru cured his wife who had fainted for some reason, and he took some familiar green herb and squeezed the juice into her nostrils. The irritation set aright the circulation in her head and brought her back to normality. These are all scanty remarks that the present writer is able to make regarding the marital life of the Guru. His wife continued to live in her parents' house in accordance with the matriarchal customs prevailing then in that locality. With the ever-widening path of Guruhood that our hero began to tread as more and more years went by, the question of his married life and the family relations receded more and more into the background. It was thus naturally and normally transcended. She died, and no children of the marriage are known to have seen the light of day. Subjects such a celibacy, Immaculate Conception, or virginity, etc., were points, which were never raised in connection with either of them. The relation was as neutral and mysterious as the Zero that we have spoken of According to the biographer Mr. Moorkoth Kumaran, the Guru said more or less in the following manner before breaking away completely from his parental home: "We are all born in this world to serve some purpose. I have my work to do and you have yours. Let me go my way; you go your own way." This has resemblance to what Ramaria Maharshi, an uncompromising advaitin of this century once said, about himself. There is also the famous existential prayer: "1 do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful. If not, it can't be helped. There comes a time in the life of every seeker that he cannot any longer carry on the transactions of the relativistic pattern of home life without becoming hypocritical. In such a state, the true person in the seeker undergoes a great stress. The crisis of such a person is described differently in different books. The Mumukshu Prakarana of Yoga Vasishtha, the breaking away of Prince Siddhartha from the palace of Kapilavastu, the hidden life of Jesus Christ terminated by forty days of fast and mental torture, the restless days of Prophet Mohammed in the caves of Mecca before the visitation of Gabriel, and the graphic, descriptions of the restlessness of the seeker in the Vivekachudamani of Sankara, give sufficient descriptions of the spiritual seekers' common plight. Narayana Guru's predicament was not different. He left his home and wandered aimlessly in whichever direction he felt like going. Most of his wanderings were either on the coastlines of Kerala or in the interior villages of the present Tamilnadu. In Tamilnadu most cities and villages are built around a temple of Shiva, Subrahmanya, Devi, Vishnu or Vinayaka. Every temple has its own legend and the stories of the saints who were devoted to these temples. As a result there are many pockets of traditional psychology, magic, mysticism and alchemy in a number of places, and Narayana Guru had the great advantage of relating himself to those people who kept these traditions alive. As he had a very high sense of personal discipline, which included a superior personal hygiene, he must have been very selective in choosing his spiritual practices. He had a very high critical acumen and did not accept anything at its face value without experiencing and experimenting with instructions in his own life to prove their verity to himself. Sometimes it amounted to the torturing of his body or of his mind. His love for truth was always uncompromising and he never liked to load his mind with half-baked theories or unverified information.

Finding a soul mate

After wandering for some time he came to live with an old comrade of his called Perunelli Krishnan Vaidyar. This gentleman was a very erudite scholar in Sanskrit. Apart from being a poet of great merit, he was a pioneer in the theatrical art of Kerala and spent most of his time in presenting his own plays on the stage. He attracted a large crowd of literary enthusiasts and art critics around him. Among them there was a great genius that had an insight into the secrets of art and sciences. He was an expert in the rhythmic art of drumming. In addition to this he was conversant with all the rules implied in the rhetorics of the Vedas. He could easily sketch people in their varied moods. He amused himself by giving demonstrations of all the possible variations in drumming. This unusual man is known by different names, but his original name was Ayyappan. Officially he was Shanmughadasan. Afterwards he was known as Kunjan Pillai. He was entrusted with the duty of a monitor by his master and so was called Chattampi. As this gentleman wandered like a recluse and lived a life of

piety, he became popularly known as Chattampi Swami.
In many respects Nanu and Chattampi Swami were very different. Nanu Asan was a man of restraint. He spoke only scantily. He was both gentle and dignified when he himself related to others. Being supersensitive to the suffering of his fellow men Nanu Asan was seen most of the time somewhat in a sad mood like that of Jesus Christ. This is not to suggest that he did not know the uncontaminated bliss of the real self. Chattampi Swami was outgoing and was even provocative in his humor and argumentation. His critical acumen was very sharp and he did not allow pretenders to escape his Scathing criticism.' If Nanu Asan abhorred erotics and the erotic company' of women, Chattampi Swami approached erotics with the 'masterly mind of a poetic genius and he made little difference of man and women in sharing his erudition and the wisdom born of his keen observation.

In spite of these differences Nanu Asan and Chattampi Swami loved and respected each other as fellow-seekers.
In those days the frontiers of spiritual search were not very clearly defined. Astrology, medicine, alchemy and Yoga were considered as subjects of allied interest. Most Vedantins were also yogins. Nanu Asan and Chattampi Swami also wanted to become proficient in Yoga. Chattampi Swami who then was an adept in Yoga gave his friend certain instructions on Yoga and Tantra.

Seeing Nanu Asan's interest in Yoga, Chattampi Swami took him to his Yoga teacher who was in the service of the British Resident in Trivandrum. This Yogi was known as Thycattu Ayyavu his exact name is not known. The fact that he is remembered today both as a Brahmin as a Pariah shows that he might have lived a life that was beyond the frontiers of caste prejudices. The relation of Chattampi Swami and Narayana Guru with Thycattu Ayyavu is known to posterity only from the accounts of their devotees. It seems both of them loved and respected their teacher very much. Some people believed that Chattampi Swami initiated Nanu Asan into an esoteric mantra. On that account they insist that Chattampi Swami should be recognized as the spiritual preceptor of Narayana Guru. Narayana Guru did not consider himself to be a disciple of any particular person. He once said that his Guru was God and Man. When the controversy on Narayana Guru's relationship with Chattampi Swami became heated up his own disciple Tampi (afterwards Nataraja Guru) asked him of the rumored Guruhood of Chattampi Swami. He said' he had no objection to any one thinking of Chattampi Swami as his Guru. Chattampi Swami always looked upon Nanu Asan as an equal and made no claim for himself as his Guru. Unfortunately devotees of both masters made an ugly issue of this. Nanu Asan always referred to Chattampi Swami intimately as 'Chattampi' and described him to others as a "veritable Vyasa of our time." The Guru even qualified Chattampi Swami as a sat guru.

Even though Nanu Asan became proficient in Yogic discipline his thirst for illumination was not quenched by what he derived from his experience of Hatha yoga.

The final plunge

Narayana Guru was only concerned with two things in his life; one was the in-dwelling Absolute that shines within all; and the other was the woes of life to which man is exposed everywhere. It was not his intention to make a hero of himself in the minds of others. He, therefore, did not bother to tell anyone what difficulties he overcame to achieve the fulfillment of his search. Nataraja Guru in his well known book The Word of the Guru gives a beautiful description of Narayana Guru's search.

Leaving his home behind him, for years he had wandered from one man to another, from one center to another, before he came to settle down, for the time being at least, at this spot. During this period of restless travelling he had sometimes walked three to four hundred miles with no better provision than that of a mere mendicant. Sometimes he had to swim across rivers or stretches of backwater on the coastline, but these barriers could not hinder the spirit of search that had awakened in him. Unknown to the millions, who only later began to adore him, he passed from one village to another, sleeping at night on a cloth spread on the stone slabs of some wayside rest house, with his stick as his only companion beside him. Other vesper hours found him perchance in a wayside verandah or some forsaken temple-yard where, with the leaves rustling in a gentle evening breeze and sometimes with the moon shining, he spent his night, famished perhaps, fatigued and forlorn, but at least apparently in slumber: in reality inwardly awake with the 'light of the silent tabernacle' of the mind.

It is generally believed that the Guru did the last phase of his penance in a cave in Marutvamalai, which is not far from Kanyakumari. How long he remained in this cave and how he managed to sustain himself physically are all, at best, only guesses today. It is presumed that he had his awakening during his solitary penance in the cave of Marutvamalai. His reference of mystical experiences given in the Atmopadesa Satakam must have direct bearing on what he had experienced in Marutvamalai. We quote here two verses from the Atmopadesa Satakam translated by Nataraja Guru, which allude to such an experience.
If an arid desert most expansive should become overflooded
By river water all at once, such would be the rising symphony
Falling into the ears, to open then the eye, do therefore
Daily become the best of sages, endowed with self-control
Like the dawn all together of ten thousand solar orbs
Wisdom's function comes: such verily is that which
Tears asunder this wisdom-hiding, transient Maya-darkness here
And as the primal Sun prevails.

The great awakening bestowed upon the Guru an all-inclusive vision of unity. A man who is seeing the one Absolute that transcends the phenomenal may feel tempted to withdraw himself from the maddening crowd of humanity into the silence of a cloister. But Narayana Guru experienced the vision of unity in a very different manner. The immanent and all pervading Absolute in its purest aspect is the Blissful Awareness of Eternal Existence. But it very often occurs to us as an ill-fed child, a crying mother, and a downtrodden man of the street or a neglected member of an outcaste society. Paying homage to the Absolute, in such a case, is by relating to such people with tears in the eye and reverence in the heart. For this reason Narayana Guru decided to return to the world from which he had withdrawn to seek the mystery of life. It was not an easy task for him to get adjusted to the conflicting worlds of the numinous beauty inside and the phenomenal ugliness outside. It was not possible for Narayana Guru to return to the society all at once. He therefore chose to live in a thick jungle on the banks of the river Neyyar, a couple of miles away from the township of Neyyattinkara. Like a molten gold in a smith's furnace the Guru's inner psyche was in an ecstatic state of white heat. In his jungle abode he was slowly melting into shape to become a Guru. It was necessary for him to remain undisturbed in the solitude of the forest. The mystical turbulence he had undergone in those wonderful days can be seen reflected in the various hymns he sung in praise of Shiva, Subrahmanyaa and Devi. We are tempted to quote here some of the very beautiful passages from The Word of the Guru of Nataraja Guru, which throw light on Narayana Guru's mystical experience in those days.
This state of self-absorption increased soon after. Human company of any sort became unbearable to him. When a curious passer-by stood and watched him as he would a curious animal in the zoo (so he himself described it) he would sometimes spring to his feet in resentment and walk off to the neighboring hill-top on the summit of which, on a pile of stones for a seat, he would sit cross-legged, erect and silent, gazing at the vast panorama of hills that was visible from that point of vantage. He sank deeper and deeper into oblivion of the affairs of the world. The mind seemed to feed on itself and reap a strange happiness.

The emotional counterpart of this incessant search was so heavy as to make even a sturdy supporter grown under its trials. The torrential stream on the banks of which he sat was but an objective representation of the state of emotion in his heart. Nothing can describe adequately the trials he underwent. It would be vain to undertake the task.
It was as if he was drunk. The red fire of knowledge was beginning to glow within him. It was as if his feelings were beginning to melt. It was as if the ambrosial essence of his being was beginning to pervade his mental horizon. This emotion made him call upon as his only refuge--God, 'whose tender feet dripped with the honey of compassion.' God was to him the pearl of perfection, the dancing center of his life, the lotus that sprouted in the silence of his heart caught in the center of which, buried among the petals, like a bumble bee having its fill of honey, his soul in the form of a radiant child planting his foot in the center of a glowing radiance, had devoured within his being the light of the sun and the moon. It was as if this radiant form was dancing and swaying at the center of his being, mounted on the back of a peacock with outspread feathers of green and gold. It was as if a lamp shed its steady light in the silent house of the mind .
It was an experience beyond words; and the volume and force with which images such as these surged up within his mind, richly breaking through barriers of rhyme and metre in some of his prayers written at this period, throw ample light on its nature.

This new experience was not in the nature of an event. It was an experience that changed for him the meaning and import of all events, so called. He waited no more for events that would bring him pleasure or pain. He inwardly smiled at the events that others round him attached so much importance to. The events that disturbed or frightened others round him, making them put on grave faces and speak to one another with hidden hatred seemed to him child's play. Death had lost its bitter meaning to him and the unknown had lost its mystery.

It was as if he had come into possession of a rich heritage. A veritable ball of radiance had come into his possession. Its light seemed to heave, with every breath reaching beyond the bounds of the three worlds. Sounds seemed to fill the sky. The eye was filled with beauty. Music and rhyme burst forth unpremeditated in his voice. Tears of compassion and pity stood ready, at the least little demand, to overflow into action. He became a changed man with a strange silence in his ways, both the subject and the object of utmost compassion.

Undivided and uncramped with trivial events, time to him became richer and richer in inner meaning, while the ponderable aspect of time became of less import. Past,present and future merged into a continuous whole and he forgot weeks and months as they glided freely by without affecting him. The joy of the state into which he had fallen was alluring him deeper and deeper into his own conscious-ness. Controlling with an iron will the domination of one set of emotions over another, upright as a bolt, established firmly in that kind of reasoning which concerned itself with the most immediate realities of a simplified world, he soon entered into a distinct phase in his life. The hunger of a simple villager who carne to visit him became a matter of greater concern to him than theological disputation or the establishment of a new religion. He began to live in a present which was the result of an endless and pure experience of the past and the most far-reaching expectation of the future. The result was that his duties became clear as daylight to him at every step. Philanthropy became a natural hobby to him. Philosophy gave his actions a detached motive, and poetry gave him the means of natural expression.His life and ambitions were simplified and the foundations of a career of benevolence and prosperity were laid in his personality.

At this time Narayana Guru must have been in his middle thirties. Most probably he might have been 36, When Narayana Guru was undergoing the emotional upheavals of his mystical frenzies a young sannyasin was wandering from Kanyakumari to the north of India. He was none other than Narendranatha Dutt who became famous afterwards as Swami Vivekananda. The rigid caste prejudices and cruel oppression to which the sun-burnt working majority were subjected made Swami Vivekananda write a wrathful letter to a devotee in Calcutta. In that letter he described the princely state of Travancore (now part of kerala) as a lunatic asylum of caste bigotry. When the Swami visited Mysore the Maharaja of Mysore received him with great love and he was introduced to all the important people working under him. Among them was Dr. Palpu from Travancore. Dr. Palpu was the head of the Public Health Department. He was also the durbar Physician. Even though he was the first in his community to go abroad and take a medical degree from England, he was not given a position in the service of the Travancore Government on the plea that such an appointment was against the caste tradition in India, He did not consider it as a personal insult. To him this insult was symbolic of the injustice shown to the several millions of downtrodden people in India. He disclosed his grief to Swami Vivekananda. The prophetic vision of Swamiji could easily see what was going to happen in the southern regions. He advised the doctor to seek the blessings and guidance of a spiritual Guru hailing from Kerala itself. In the meanwhile something was happening also to the young yogi who was meditating in the jungles of Aruvipuram. A lad of sixteen saw a man sitting on the solitary bank of the river Neyyar. Something in that man had drawn him to the yogi. The yogi requested the lad not to publicize his presence there. However, the boy became a constant visitor to the yogi, and he even brought fruits and boiled tapioca to his Guru. This young man was destined to be the first disciple of Narayana Guru. He became later known as Sivalinga Swami. In spite of the promise of secrecy, news had leaked out to the public and soon there was a flow of people to the hermitage. The Conservator of Forests in that area was very unhappy that he had no children. As was usual they looked upon the newly found yogi as a benevolent siddha who would grant them the boons they wanted. The Conservator of Forests asked his people to clear the jungle and make a footpath to the hermitage of the yogi. As was normal the Guru blessed the man and his wife, and a daughter was born to them. She became afterwards a good legislator and a social worker. Her name was Narayani Amma. More and more devotees gathered for worship and it became necessary to have a temple for the visitors.

A stroke of revolution

From Rameswaram to Kailas there are thousands of temples dedicated to Shiva. In most of them the deity installed is sivalinga. But when Narayana Guru picked up a stone from the river Neyyar and installed it on a pedestal with a silent prayer, it made a land-mark in the social and spiritual history of India." This sivalinga is more 'talked about than the sivalinga of Rameswaram installed by Sri Rama himself. It is probable that the caste tradition was not so rigid in the days of Rama so that no Brahmin questioned the right of a Kshatriya to install a sivalinga. Narayana Guru's transgression of the convention which had persisted for over 3000 years was not at all acceptable to the caste-people of India. Not only was the Guru not a Brahmin, he was not even a, shudra. He came from a community which was totally outside the four-fold varnas of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras. Like Sankara, he was also a dravilasisu In the words of Nataraja Guru the great event of the installation of the temple took place in this manner:

A group of women and children, more sun-burnt than the rest of the crowd, sat segregated from the others. They were poor peasants, who, after a day's hard work, had come in search of consolation to the festive scene. For ages these poor laborers and their ancestors had tilled the soil for the richer people who took advantage of their goodness. On the basis of their caste, these people had been condemned to age-long suffering, and were segregated and spurned. The Guru's watchful eyes lighted on the group He asked the orators to wait a moment. He asked the crowd if these people should be segregated. Why should they not come and feel equality with the others The Guru arranged that two of the boys from the crowd be brought on the platform, and seated them, after kind questions, One on either side of him. "They are God's children as much as the others", he murmured, and tears of compassion more eloquent than speeches carried home his silent message to, the crowd. Even they who would have growled at such a "departure from tradition, could not resist the winning power of the Guru's eyes. They crouched, innocent of the axe, which the Guru aimed at the dead root of tradition. Statesmanship or subtle diplomacy was employed. It was the simplest manifestation of humanity, welling up in the heart of the Guru that won the case forever. Thus the first victory of the Guru was won. The boys were later admitted, as members of the hermitage; and they and many such, remained near the Guru, wherever he went, until the day of his passing away. While others Spoke and became excited over the past or the future, striving for hours to direct the popular mind, the Guru sat silent, and acted. His silence, when judged by its effect, marked the high-water mark of oratory. In winding up the proceedings of this memorable day, the Guru had merely a few simple words to say. These he put in the form of a motto, which one of those present proclaimed to the crowd. It read:

Devoid of dividing walls
Of caste or race
Or hatred of rival faith,
We all live here
In Brotherhood,
Such, know this place to be!
This Model Foundation!

Such, then, was the manner and such the character he gave to his work. It soon overflowed the limits of the province and spread its seeds far and wide.

The local enthusiasts formed a committee to manage the temple and there was an arrangement for the gathering of devotees on all nights of the new moon and full moon. When Dr. Palpu visited his parental home in Trivandrum, he came to know of a young yogi called Nanu Guru who was attracting thousands of people to his hermitage. On hearing this he remembered the prediction of Swami Vivekananda that the redemption of the toiling millions of Kerala will come only through a Guru. So he went at once to Sree Narayana Guru. When they saw each other it was like the Ganges coming to the ocean. Dr. Palpu dedicated himself entirely to the cause of the Guru without any reservation. The Guru took up the challenge of redeeming India of the scourge of casteism and untouchability. This led to the formation of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (S. N. D. P.) Yogam.

Publically accepted as a Guru

From 1884 to 1904 Narayana Guru's headquarters was mostly at Aruvipuram. The S. N. D. P. Yogam, founded with the blessings of the Guru, became a powerful mouthpiece of all the socially and economically oppressed people of Travancore. The call for justice and equality made by the Yogam also began to be echoed in other parts of Kerala and Madras State (now Tamilnadu).
Narayana Guru was a parivrajaka and he never stayed in one place for more than a fortnight. Even in those days when there were no roads, he walked on foot to almost every village in Kerala and the then Madras State. This enabled thousands of people to relate to him personally. His ideals and mode of life influenced them. From all the accounts, he roamed about in South India, healing people of their physical and mental maladies and inspiring everyone to live a clean life of love and co-operation. Since those days these accounts have become legendary and therefore it is hard to separate fact from fiction. However, his life had a close resemblance to that of Jesus Christ who wandered in Judea, Jordan, Galilee and Syria healing people and giving sermons. In 1901 the State Census Manual of Travancore recorded Sree Narayana as a Guru and an erudite Sanskrit Scholar. A sharp drop in the statistics of the commission of crime was also alluded to as a result of the correcting and moralizing influence of Narayana Guru on the society.

Affinity with the Tamil culture

Narayana Guru knew Tamil even in his boyhood days. Before going to Marutvamalai and even after settling down in Aruvipuram, he was in close contact with several Tamil scholars and the well known ashrams and adheenams in Tamilnadu In the ashrams of the Saivites in Karaikudy, Madurai, Kumbhakonam and Tiruchendur the Guru was always received with great honor. The Sannyasins of the Kovilur mutt in Karaikudy even now remember him as a Guru of their spiritual hierarchy. Narayana Guru was very thorough with , Sivapuranam and all the works of Pattanathu Pillayar, Manicka Vachakar, Appar, Sundaramurti, and Tirujnana Sambantar. He even translated part of Tiruvalluvar's TiruKural, Ramalinga Swamikal, who became very famous in Tamilnadu as an advocate of integral vision (samarasam) and social equality ('samerase suddha sammirga nilai), was like an elder brother to Narayana Guru. Taimanavar's hymns such as Sukhavari must have influenced Narayana Guru's composition of hymns and psams. The Guru was, however, critical of Taimanavar's sentimentalism. Narayana Guru was not in the habit of writing compositions in his own hand. He always sung them for his devotees and only very few of such compositions were recorded by people. Among these are three Tamil works, which have been recovered from the fast disappearing records of those days. One Such work entitled Tevaram has been recently published by Dr. T. Bhaskaran of the Malayalam Department of the Kerala University. To understand · the Malayalam compositions of Narayana Guru, one should have a fairly good familiarity with the myths and legends popularly sung in Tamilnadu and also should know some of the basic terms used by the followers of Saiva Siddhanta and Sivadvaita.

The sanskrit background of the Guru

We have already mentioned that the Guru had a very systematic and very good training in Sanskrit grammar, rhetoric, poetry and Vedanta philosophy. His understanding of other Darsanas was also precise and profound, Unlike the traditional uncritical acceptance by students of the commentaries and notes given by previous Acharyas like Sankara, he was critical. Even though, by and far, he was an Advaitin and a good defender of Sankara, he was very sympathetic in giving his attention to the arguments of Ramanuja and Madhva directed against Sankara. We will have occasion to discuss this in a later chapter where we have to compare Narayana Guru's stand with Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva.
The Guru mostly relied on his own experiences, which were in perfect res3nance with the original teachings of the Upanishads. Outside the Prasthanatraya the only other books he had accepted were Yoga.Vasistha Ramayana of Valmiki and the Yogasutras of Patanjali. He had, however, his own reservation in accepting all that is given in these works, as the last word on yoga

The Guru at Aruvipuram

Nobody knows when exactly Narayana Guru left his hermitage in the Marutvamalai and came to a forest on the banks of the river Neyyar at Aruvipuram. In those days it was a thick forest full of wild animals and nobody dared to go there. It is possible that he spent a considerable time in a cave on the river bank until he was located by a young lad who was combing the forest in search of his cow that was missing. Although the boy promised the Guru not to tell anyone of his presence there, the news leaked out that a saint was living in the forest, Curiosity was aroused, and soon he became a center of attraction.

Guru and the S.N.D.P. Yogam

The fate of Narayana Guru did not seem to be very fortunate at this time. The historical events of his time to which he gave his sanction and benign blessings are today looked upon as his own historical acts. As a result of such an interpretation the passions and prejudices of his followers have come to cast their shadows on the historical personality of Narayana Guru.

The S.N.D.P. Yogam was founded and registered by a group of enthusiasts headed by Dr. Palpu and Kumaran Asan' According to the biography of Narayana Guru written by Moorkoth Kumaran, the founding of the Yogam was in M. E. 1078 Dhanu 23. Its first General Secretary, Kumaran Asan, read out the constitution and byelaws of the S. N. D. P. Yogam to the Guru. The Guru objected to the definition of the word 'community' (sarnudayarn) that was given in the constitution. It was limited to those communities known as Ezhava, Thiya, Billava and Nadar. He wanted it to be changed into the community of the human family His follower's thought it was not pragmatically feasible to have such a global basis for their organization. When he saw that they were not prepared to have such a wide vision, after cautioning them of how it would adversely affect their purpose he agreed to give his blessings, probably with the hope that some day they would realize the narrowness of their tribalistic affinity.

The Yogam engaged itself in the laudable efforts of eradicating untouchability and voicing the fundamental human rights of the working class. These efforts actually paved the way for many of Guru's followers to accept later the Marxist interpretation of socialism as their most acceptable ideal. Under the aegis of Dr. Palpu, Kumaran Asan, T. K. Madhavan, C.V. Kunjuraman, Moolur Padmanabha Panickar and others, several drastic changes were brought about in the social structure and texture of the Kerala community The role that Narayana Guru played was only of a catalyst and not as a fighter in the front lines. To others he set an example by his own personal life. His high dignity and sense of oneness with mankind did not allow him to give vent to anger or protestation against any particular person or community. He believed that there was only one caste for man and that was humanity. In this attitude he was uncompromising.
When a place became filled with activities and the concerted action of several people, the Guru always left such a place to the people concerned and went out to look for new avenues and pastures.

Shifting his headquarters to Varkala

In the year 1907 Narayana Guru left Aruvipuram and came to live on a hillock which was not far from the temple of Janardana. Eighteen years after the founding of the S.N.D.P. Yogam in Aruvipuram, Narayana Guru consecrated a temple at Sivagiri and dedicated it to Sarada, the goddess of wisdom Within this period the Guru traveled extensively and founded a number of temples such as in Anjengo and Perungottukara (1904), Trichur (1910), Cannanore (1907), Tellichery (1908), Calicut and Mangalore (1910).

The new headquarters and Sarada Temple founded in 1912 implied in it a secret gesture of the Guru that he wanted a more open place and a fertile field for the incubation of global ideals that are worthy of human wisdom and dignity. He personally administered the center and initiated several spiritual aspirants into the sacred order of sanyasa. A cross section of the Kerala community could be seen among his sanyasin disciples. His first sanyasin-disciple was Sivalinga Swami. He was a Nair. His other well known disciples were Swami Sathyavrata (Nair), Bodhananda (Ezhava), Sree Narayana Chaitanya (Nair), Swami Amritananda (Namboodiri), Swami Govindananda (Ezhava), Swami Dhalma Tearthe (Nair), Swami Ananda Teertha (Shenoy), Swami Sankarananda (Ezhava), Swami Guru Prasad (Thiya), Swami Vidyananda (Ezhava) and Swami Atmananda (Ganeke).

Sanyasins are never considered to belong to any caste or tribe. We have deliberately mentioned here their caste background only to show that the Guru was very eager to have a spiritual fraternity that could transcend the frontiers of caste. The Guru even gave sanyasa to an Englishman by name Earnest Kirk . The Guru advised Kirk to continue in his western mode of clothing and to retain his own Christian name. In the ashram the Guru took young boys from among the so called 'untouchables' particularly from the Pariah and Pulaya communities, and made them chant the Upanishads, offer worship in the temple and cook and serve food to the residents and visitors to the Sivagiri Mutt .

Narayana Guru and temples

Narayana Guru founded a number of temples in Kerala and a few on the West Coast of Karnataka. Some scholars of his time who were influenced by the Brahma Samaj of Swami Dayananda Saraswati even suspected that the Guru was in favor of idolatry. Some others thought of Narayana Guru as Hindu revivalist wanting to protect the masses from being converted into Christians and Muslims. In fact all these are mistaken notions. He was always willing to give his guidance and blessings when people wanted to walk in the right direction. In those days the temples governed by orthodox theocrats were inaccessible to most of the working class people. Even though the temples were barred to the so-called 'low-caste' people, their offerings in money and kind were always accepted. Such shameless exploitation of the poor by their caste-superiors was to be met with in a telling manner. The answer lay in the founding of 'counter temples' which were open to all.
When people rallied round to make new temples, the chief passion that moved them was their thirst for liberty from the chains of social oppression and the enslavement of caste traditions. Narayana Guru was very particular that the new temples he founded were all to be on spots of great scenic beauty. The temple itself should be a work of art. From the first experiment of founding a Shiva temple at Aruvipuram he came to know how temples could become instrumental in changing the life style of people. The regular temple-goers became more and more clean in their habits. The citadels of caste-superiority and domination were in and around the temples of orthodoxy. The secret of the sacredness of temples and the mystery of divinity, screened away from the eyes of all except the privileged classes, were now thrown open to the public by the temples of Narayana Guru. Through a series of installations of differently conceived deities, the Guru also wanted to educate the masses. After installing deities like Shiva and Devi, the Guru made a departure from the tradition by installing in one temple the inscription of certain words pertaining to higher values such as: Satyam, Dharmam, Daya and Santi. Even in Sivagiri Mutt the Guru did not allow such kind of offerings and rituals that would make the premises unclean and unhygienic. At the place called Kalavamkodam near Shertallai instead of installing any deity, the Guru installed a mirror with the inscription on it 'tat tvam asi, (that thou art).

In certain places when people requested the Guru to make a temple for them, he advised them to have a school instead of a temple. Once in Trichur the editor of a progressive journal asked the Guru of his attitude towards temples. The Guru said that a clean temple situated in a hygienic place with good water and fresh air would inspire people to come and spend their time in prayer and meditation. An open place dedicated to God is free of parochial feelings. It can be a good stepping stone for a more serious search into the higher values of life. The editor asked him if it was good to propitiate stone images in reply the Guru said: "When a man goes to a temple, he is only thinking of God and not of stone images. They are confused only if people like you ask them to look for stone images. Nobody worships stone. Pointing to the newly built temple at Trichur, the Guru continued. "Make good gardens around temples, and plant trees around. in every temple there should be a good library and arrangements for teaching the fundamentals of living a virtuous life. A well-conceived temple will be of great help to the public. The Guru knew in his mind that 'the Sivalinga he installed was only a stone. In the tenth Verse of the 'Asatya Darsana' of Darsana Mala the Guru writes:

One (alone) is real, not a second.
What is unreal indeed seems as being real.
The Sivalinga is stone itself
Not a second made by the mason
The Siva in the sivalinga is projected on it by the devotee. The image serves the purpose of the language of iconography.

Advaita ashram

When Sivagiri became a well-established center, the Guru once again changed his residence. He went further north to Alwaye and founded an ashram' not far from Kalady, the birthplace of Sankara, who was venerated for his non-dual wisdom. As homage to the hallowed memory of Sankara and to proclaim his own stand, the new ashram was founded in 1913. Nataraja Guru in his The Word of the Guru gives a very picturesque description of the Advaita-Ashram as it was in the time of Narayana Guru. We quote that section in full length:
The traveler who was animated by a desire to see this leader of one of the modern religious movements in India, would most probably have had to alight, as the present writer once did, at the small railway station called AIwaye, two stations to the north of the terminus of the Cochin State Railway. Alwaye is a small municipal town belonging then to the State Of Travancore. It is associated with the name of the great Indian philosopher, Sankaracharya, who is said to have taken sanyasa, the vow of renunciation in search of wisdom, while bathing in the broad river of crystal water winding its way through the town. If the traveler had directed his footsteps along one of the roads leading to the river-side, he would have come across a stile leading into a compound, which he must cross, keeping his way along the narrow avenue till he reached the bright river-side beyond the trees. He would have found, on turning to the right, a neat little white building strewn round with pure river sand the silence of the place broken only by birds or by the voice of occasional bathers in the river. On one side he would see below him the river boiling over with a thousand whirlpools on its broad breast, the banks overgrown with luxuriant vegetation. If the Guru was in the Ashram (hermitage) he could invariably be found on a little raised seat overlooking the river. As he turned to look at the visitor, the latter would, if he had a keen eye, discover from the expressions of his face that the Guru had just been disturbed from some all-absorbing subject while he sat gazing at the river scene. There could be discovered a peculiar composure in his features revealing a peaceful otherworldly contemplation. He would ask the newcomer who he was, in the most gentle of voices, and treat him, probably, to a meal of fruits and milk. After that, if he conversed, the topic in all probability turned on how human nature must improve; how there is no necessity for man to · quarrel with man, as he does at present, on supposed religious, national, or racial distinctions; how, while a cow or a dog may be considered to belong to a different "caste" it is absurd to think that one man differs from another except in trivial things like dress or language; and how it is immaterial, in everyday life, what school of philosophy or what creed a man professed so long as he does not transgress the bounds of common human goodness. Before the newcomer retired from the abode of the Guru leaving him to gaze on the river scene in absorbing meditation, let him walk round the humble hermitage, and he would not have failed to observe the neat little kitchen where a Brahmachari (dedicated student) prepared light food for the Guru, or noted how sparing the Guru's diet was. In the grounds of the hermitage he would have found trees, each one of them receiving its share of the Guru's care. Before leaving the precincts had the visitor cast his glance on the inscription in golden letters on one of the walls of the Ashram, he would have read as follows:
'One in Kind, one in faith, one in God is man, Of one same womb, one same form, difference none there is at all.'

Narayana Guru and Mahatma Gandhi

It is an irony of history 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; while Mahatma Gandhi, who ardently believed in the four varnas and the merit of occupational distribution implied in the caste system, is now venerated as the foremost champion against casteism and untouchability.

Some followers of Narayana Guru, headed by T. K. Madhavan wanted to include in the policy and program of the Indian National Congress, the abolition of taboos and the shown to people nick-named as 'the untouchables. Mahatma Gandhi was not convinced of Narayana Guru's doctrine of "One Caste, One Religion, and One God." However, Mahatma Gandhi found it was of great political advantage to include the program of abolishing untouchability in the general schedule of the Indian National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi called himself a Vaishnavite and he wanted to see India as a people of Vishnu (Vaishnava Janata). In spite of his love for all and his universal outlook, he hated Hindus embracing Christianity or Islam.
After the inclusion of the abolition of untouchability in the national program of the Congress, T. K. Madhavan and others did not want to wait for the fate of the program to come on its own. They decided to get involved in direct action. Mahatma Gandhi gave his approval too. The venue of the action was Vaikam, and it became famous as the VaikamSatyagraha. Narayana Guru placed his land at the disposal of the Satyagrahis to make their camp. Other leaders of Kerala who took an active part in the Satyagraha were Manhath Padmanabhan and Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai.

Even though Narayana Guru gave his full consent and blessings to this agitation, he had his own views of Satyagraha. Afterwards, when Mahatma Gandhi met Narayana Guru at Varkala, the sage of Sabarmati and the Guru of Varkala had an interesting discussion which was of great significance in helping us to know the outlooks of these two great men. When Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Cochin, some Hindu enthusiasts wanted Gandhi to impress upon Narayana Guru the need to stop low caste Hindus from getting converted to Christianity. Mahatma Gandhi presented the subject in a tactful manner to Narayana Guru. He said:
The caste-Hindus and the low caste-Hindus are both the sons of Hinduism. The caste-Hindu is the elder brother who shoulders responsibility, and he therefore exercises certain privileges. The low caste-Hindu is his younger brother who is to be cared for. If the elder brother turns out to be somewhat rough and aggressive that should not make the younger brother a runaway from his mother Hinduism.

Narayana Guru could not agree with the logic of Mahatma Gandhi's suggestion. The Guru said:
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.
There is nothing wrong in such conversions.
On hearing this Mahatma Gandhi approached the subject from another angle. He said: 'The convert is embracing Christianity not for the spiritual worth of that religion but for the social and economic benefits he gets from that religion.
Narayana Guru agreed to that and he wanted Mahatma Gandhi to understand it as a socio-economic problem, which could be met only by taking adequate measures that, could {give social and economic justice to the aggrieved members of the society. This point went home to Mahatma Gandhi and it was even responsible for making a big change in Gandhi's attitude .towards the entire problem of caste-conflict in India. It was significant that Mahatma Gandhi afterwards changed the name of his paper Navajovan to Harijan and even called himself a Harijan.

The Guru and Rabindranath Tagore

Nationalism is as much a blinding force as tribalism or parochialism. Many of the national leaders of India had saintly qualities and were deeply erudite in their scholarship. But their horizon of interest was confined to the tradition of India or at best to the problems of India. Rabindranath Tagore was an exception to this. He loved India more as a state of mind than a geographical area of the globe. He kept both his heart and mind open to all traditions and exposed himself to the influence of all religions and races. He lived and thought and envisaged the future of man as a true citizen of the world. His language was more of a poet than of a logician. His mystical insight was deep and profound. In short, in his thoughts, sympathies and visions, he was very close to Narayana Guru, if not identical with the Guru at least in some respects.

When Tagore's Gitanjali was selected for the Nobel Prize, he became the greatest pride of India. Narayana Guru wanted to know more of Tagore. His own disciple, Thampi (afterwards Nataraja Guru), was an ardent admirer of Tagore, and so he brought all the available works of Tagore, and told the Guru the substance of what he read. Narayana Guru appreciated Tagore's visions even in Gitanja!i, but he was not in favor of his own disciple imitating the style and diction of Gitanjali. The Guru knew that his century was meant to be an age of analysis and reason. So he advised his disciple Nataraja Guru to be clear and precise in his presentation and Substantiate his statements with evidence. Except in the matter of presenting thoughts as riddles, in all respects Narayana Guru considered Tagore as a good model for Thampi.
When Tagore visited South India, he was officially invited to be a guest of honor in the Sivagiri Mutt. Nataraja Guru was specially deputed by Narayana Guru to attend on Tagore. The following is an eyewitness account of the visit given by Nataraja Guru and referred to in his book The Word of the Guru:

Once came the poet Rabindranath Tagore, on one of his Southern tours, to visit the Guru. In honor of the great poet of Bengal the people in the vicinity of the hermitage arranged a kingly reception. Elephants were requisitioned. He was to be brought in procession as far as the foot of the hill of the ashram. Musical accompaniments were arranged. The Guru stood in the verandah of his rest-house and himself ordered the best carpets that the hermitage possessed, to be brought out to adorn the foot of the seat of the honored guest. The people thronged with the guest, anxious to hear the conversation between the Guru and the seer of Santiniketan. Each of the crowd thought himself the chosen follower of the Guru, and, as space was limited, it took some time to establish silence for the conversation. The two veteran leaders greeted with joined palms, and sat down facing one another. The seer of Bengal broke the deep silence that marked their meeting, and complimented the Guru, on the 'great work' he was doing for the people. The Guru's reply was not delayed. 'Neither have we done anything in the past nor is it possible to do anything in the future. Powerlessness fills us with sorrow.' His words sounded an enigma to some. Others thought he was just joking. Still others examined the logic of the statement. A characteristic silence followed the remark. The crowd looked at one another for a meaning, but it was the Guru's face itself that gave the silent commentary to the words. Deep silence and earnestness sat on his features. Smiles of curiosity and the rival expectations of the people were drowned into the neutral depths of silence by the suggestion that was expressed on the features of the Guru. All was silent for a minute or two. The climax of the interview was reached in silence where all met in equality. Usual conversation followed and the poet and the crowd retired.

Narayana Guru's contribution to philosophy

The works of Narayana Guru can be classified mainly into four divisions:
1. Mystical or devotional
2. Metaphysical
3. Socio-ethical
4. Aesthetic.
Although all the hymns and praises are essentially devotional and permeated with mystical effusions, some of them contain fundamentals of epistemology and hence can be included in his metaphysical works. Indian aesthetics has its heart in devotion. All works of Narayana Guru except, perhaps, Darsna Mala, Arivu, Jati-Mimamsa and Jati-Nirmaya have great aesthetic content. The Guru's deducement of ethical norms is based on his philosophical visions and metaphysical conclusions. As a result, when we study any of the aforesaid aspects, we have to look into all his works. As we intend to elaborate on this point in the next section we do not want to say anything about his major works at the moment. A general classification only is noted above.

The World relegions conference

In 1893 the first Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago. This was attended to by Mazoomdar of the Brahma Samaj, Nagacker of Bombay, Gandhi representing the Jains, Chakravarti and Mrs. Annie Bessant representing Theosophy. At the last moment Swami Vivekananda was also included in the list of the delegates from India. The very first speech of Swami Vivekananda in the Parliament of Religions opened up the possibility of a meaningful dialogue between the East and the West, and his persuasive logic was effective to make cracks in the walls of exclusiveness which kept one religion separated from another.

Thirty years after this epoch-making gathering of the world community in Chicago, Narayana Guru organized an 'All Religions' Conference' in Alwaye. This was the first of its kind in India. The Guru's dream of the people of all the races and religions coming together to share the light of love and spiritual insight had thus become a reality. Though the conference did not catch world attention like the Parliament of Religions, it turned out to be a great seed of unity sown in the right soil at the right time.

The past and the present

India's spiritual and cultural roots are deeply buried in the Sanskrit lore of ancient India. The history of India has been fated such that her articulation to the outside world be in English. Narayana Guru wanted the Indian people to be nourished by their tradition and to be active in their relations with the wider world outside using the medium of English. As an expression of his ideal of India's future education, he founded a Sanskrit school in Alwaye and also an English school in Varkala. The Guru's ideal of education was not lopsided. The discipline of the mind and the enlightenment of the soul should not be used as an excuse to neglect the developments of one's creative skills. As a gesture of this ideal he also founded an industrial school as an annex to the Sivagiri Mutt In short an archetype of the India of tomorrow was presented to his followers before he entered into the last phase of his life.

Shree Narayana Dharma Sangham

Narayana Guru was not very happy with the way in which his disciples were conducting their life-mission. He would not accept anything less than a world community of the human family. He hated the very idea of caste and man's adherence to such a totally irrational social prejudice and psychic coloration. So he decided to trust the materialization of his teaching in the hands of his sannyasin disciples who had come from all classes and communities, which included even westerners. This newly organized institution of sannyasins was called Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham. The sangham was registered in Trichur in the year 1926. After the registration of the Dharma Sangham, the Guru instituted a will and testament by which all the ashrams and mutts and temples founded by him were transferred to the care, custody and administration of the Dharma Sangham. The Guru nominated Swami Bodhananda to be his successor and Nataraja Guru to be the adviser of the Dharma Sangham.

Narayana Guru's four fold influence

To understand Narayana Guru's contributions, both historical and perennial, we have to mention here the names of at least four of his foremost followers. Each one of them was so very different from the other, and yet what the Guru made to manifest through them complemented each other to make a lasting contribution.

T. K. Madhavan

There is an old proverb, which says that no prophet is honored in his own country. Narayana Guru was an exception. He was loved and venerated by all those who knew him as a god walking on the earth. Many came forward to be his lieutenants. Concerted action can be done only through organized effort. Narayana Guru found in the person of T. K. Madhavan an untiring soldier and an intelligent organizer who knew all strategies and devices useful in the fight for his cause. It is easier to work from where one stands before spreading the word the world over. The Guru's followers lacked the insight of an all-embracing philosopher and a universal lover. As in the case of the Guru, they had native common sense and great courage to face all issues squarely on a combat basis. The slogan that was raised by T.K. Madhavan, of course in the name of the Guru, was 'Organize and be strong'. He was responsible for building up strong unions of fighting people in southern Kerala to liberate the socially and economically oppressed people from the age-old machinery of tyranny. Nobody will dispute the fact that T.K. Madhavan was the prime mover of the political conscience of Kerala to enter the arena of revolt and mass action. If today Kerala is in the forefront of politically awakened India, we can trace the history of it to T.K. Madhavan and his loyalty to his master from whom he drew his inspiration and guidance. A political action, however profound and significant, will lose its impetus and will be forgotten in the course of time. However, this aspect of the Guru's influence cannot be belittled.

K. Ayyappan

Ayyappan came to Narayana Guru as a teenager. The Guru was very much impressed with the clarity of his logic and the unflinching courage he showed in carrying out his convictions. The disciples of Socrates were not all alike, and therefore he had a different message to each one. This was true in the case of Narayana Guru too. Ayyappan was a pronounced atheist, and he believed only in the light of reason. The Guru found in him a good reformist and an educator to eradicate from the public mind caste prejudices and religious superstitions. The task entrusted to him was a Herculean one. Ayyappan had to face the direct wrath Of the religious, social and political custodians Of vested interests. Though he did not believe in God, he believed in the Guru more than anyone else. Even though he believed in the infallibility of reason, he was willing to place the Guru's reason always above his own. Ayyappan was responsible for turning many youngsters of his time from the path of easy acceptance and cowardice to one of valiant resistance and non-conformity. His work fully complemented the work of his comrade T. K. Madhavan. His watchword, 'educate and be free' had the blessings of Narayana Guru. The new soul of Kerala has in its cerebration the thought-waves of K.Ayyappan. A number of progressive thinkers like M.C. Joseph, Kuttipuzha Krishna Pi!lai, V. T. Bhattathirippad and Kesava Dev were in the camp and the campaigns of Ayyappan.

Mahakavi Kumaran Asan

Coming into the more perennial contribution of the Guru, we Should try to understand what he made to manifest through his disciple, Mahakavi Kumaran Asan who was to him a mind-born son. The charm of good poetry never dies. Some of : the outstanding words of truth are sung as imperishable poetry such as we see in the Rig Veda, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; the Psalms of the Bible and the Holy Quran. All the finest feelings of Narayana Guru and what he mooted as the aspiration of the people of all time was sympathetically echoed in language of exquisite beauty by Kumaran Asan through his poems. The Guru did not make him a puppet or an instrument of propagation. He had blessed the poet to grow into his own full stature both as a poet and as a person. Kumaran Asan is undoubtedly respected today as the father of the renaissance in Malayalam literature. In all his poems, we can hear the unerring commentary of Narayana Guru's silent word. Kumaran Asan's Chandla Bhikshuki and Duravastha are poetic expositions of Narayana Guru's teachings of social justice.


Today, Narayana Guru is understood, believed and followed different people in different ways. There is only little agreement between the representatives of the major groups and organizations that have taken upon themselves the responsibility of spreading the word of the Guru.
Close at home, Narayana Guru's name is rightly and wrongly associated with the S.N.D.P. Yogam. From the very name, it is easy to see that the founders of the organization derived their inspiration from Narayana Guru and wanted to foster his teachings as something similar to the dharma of the Buddha. In the course of three-fourths of a century, the Yogam has gone in a tangent that is now considered by many people as an unfortunate deviation to exclusive communalism, the very rancor that the Guru wanted to cure the people of. In the fifties, when the public lost all their faith in the leadership of the Yogam, its enthusiastic General Secretary Mr. R. Sankar, tried to infuse new blood into it by making the Yogam an advocate for literacy and service to the ailing masses. With this intention, he started the Sree Narayana Trust. The Trust was successful in founding a number of educational institutions like schools, arts and science colleges and institutes of technology. Now there are a number of leading colleges of the Kerala University, Cochin University and Calicut University which are ably managed by the S.N. Trust. Afterwards, Mr. Sankar was directly and indirectly responsible for founding hospitals with all modern equipments for surgery and nursing, in a number of places. But for these colleges and hospitals, many people who were socially and economically handicapped, would have had to live in misery, resigned to their fate.
Sivagiri was the headquarters of Narayana Guru and it is also in Sivagiri that his mortal coil rests. The sannyasin's order that was founded by the Guru himself manages the affairs of the Sarada Temple and the Brahmavidyalaya of the Sivagiri Mutt. The last hierarchical head, Mahadhipati, was Swami Sankarananda. During his lifetime, the Kerala High Court ordered that a trust be constituted to manage Sivagiri Mutt and all the ashrams and temples managed by the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham. That trust has given away the office of the Madhadhipati. The sannyasins now elect one among them as a president for a term of five years.
For political purposes, India was divided into linguistic regions. The language barrier is a big handicap for the dissemination of culture. Only the followers of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Dayananda Saraswati succeeded in effectively breaking that barrier and bringing the ideas of their Gurus to all people all over India. The Sree Narayana Cultural Mission, a movement started recently under the leadership of Mr. K.K. .Viswanathanis trying to disseminate the teachings of the Guru on a national basis.
The only organization that works as an international movement is the Narayana Gurukula founded by Nataraja Guru, a direct disciple and spiritual successor of Narayana Guru. The Gurukula has expanded its function by founding the East-West University a unique educational movement, which is very much more a university of the people anywhere than one managed by a group of people somewhere. The present head of this Gurukula is Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati. The main Gurukula centers are in India,Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, Australia, Europe and America.
Another powerful expression of Narayana Guru's call for one world came through the sacrifices of the world citizen, Garry Davis. The World Service Authority and the World
Governmen1 for World Citizens, now having bases in Washington, London, Paris and Basel, are gaining momentum as a refuge for the stateless people of the world.

Maha Samadhi

We think, it will be appropriate if we close this section on the Guru s biography with a touching account of the last days of the Guru given in The Word of the Guru.
As the image of Jesus carrying his cross has served as a symbol of his love and service to humanity; so also great masters make even their sickness and suffering serviceable to their fellow-beings. The life of the Guru was in every detail of it an example of the principle, which he enunciated as follows:
Act that one performs
For one's own sake,
Should also aim the good
Of other men.
In fact this maxim may be said to form the keystone of his whole life. By apparently trying to be selfish he on many an occasion impressed a useful principle or habit on the many who came in contact with him. He would insist that the barber who shaved him had the sharpest razor, and would see that the best methods were used in the art. He would complain of his chauffeur who did not gently put on his brakes when he came to an uneven part of the road. He would teach him to be proud of his car, and find fault with him if he had omitted to observe a new kind of car in which a visitor had come to see the Guru. He would say that he preferred a garland of gold to one of roses if, while on a tour, people greeted him with empty applause and theoretical loyalty and devotion. He would insist on good cooking more with a view to reforming the food habits than for his own sake. He would insist on small details in building, and order an alteration in spite of expense, in order to set a better example in architecture. He would like to hear music in order that he could patronize musicians. Himself an adept in the art of healing, he missed no opportunities, whenever he was ill, to call together a little group of medical men of different schools of medicine in order to discuss with them the various bearings of the case and make them discuss the details. In the system of medicine called the Ayurveda, which is the ancient Sanskrit system, there lay, buried and forgotten, gems of ancient experience which he found valuable to unearth and apply, suffering himself to be the subject of the experiment.
His last illness was rich in such opportunities. He would find some point in which one system failed and in which someone else knew better. Suffering and bedridden as he was, he would argue the minutest details with his doctors and those who attended on him. He went to Palghat and traveled about four hundred miles north-east to Madras, carried in stretchers and transported from Place to place, from one doctor to another, from the care of one devotee, who loved to keep him under his care, to another. Then he came back to Travancore from where a strong deputation had arrived to take him to Varkala. One of the stations on the way was AIwaye where on the platform were gathered all the students, young and old, of the Sanskrit school and the Ashram for which he had given long labors. The coming event was still unknown to them but a deep emotion at the illness of the Guru sat on the features of each one.
He arrived at Varkala. Others of a different school demonstrated some of the symptoms of the illness, which the experts of one school of medicine had declared incurable, to be curable. For some time the Guru seemed quite well. The radiant glow on his features had never disappeared. He still retained his good humor and although he was weak in body, he never yielded or compromised except where it was necessary. He guided the deliberations regarding his property and legal affairs with a perfect sense of justice and awareness of all shades of opinion. He regained a stage in which he took little walks on his own and, though highly emaciated, was still the same alert, radiant and kind Guru. It was in this condition that the present writer left him on his voyage to Europe.
A select group of friends, representatives of different nations and religions celebrated the 73rd birthday on September, 1928, in the beautiful city of Geneva. For the first time the Guru's message was proclaimed in the West. Strangers, united in worship, feasted together and discussed informally the significance of the ideals of universal appeal which the Guru's life had symbolized.
On the 20th September, 1928, about a weak after this event, the Guru entered Maha-Samadhi or the Great Silence, peacefully and silently at Varkala. In one of his last writings he wrote:
That dispenser of mercy could
he not be that reality.
That proclaiming words of supreme
import the chariot drives.
Or compassion's ocean ever impatient
for all creation,
Or who in terms clear non-dual wisdom
expounds, the Guru.

Nataraja Guru

The youngest of his disciples in whom Narayana Guru showed much personal interest was Natarajan (afterwards Nataraja Guru), the second son of Dr. Palpu When this son of Dr. Palpu was born, the Guru himself named him as Natarajan, and the Doctor promised the Guru to give his son for Guru's cause. Narayana Guru found in this boy even from the age of twelve, a disciple as dedicated and firm as was St. Peter to Jesus Christ. On hearing the news that Natarajan passed his Master's Degree in Zoology and also simultaneously got his Teacher's Degree, Narayana Guru welcomed him to join him as a member of the ashram in Sivagiri. For a short while he taught in the Advaita Ashrams in Alwaye as an English teacher. Thereafter, the Guru made him the headmaster of the Sivagirl school.
In 1923 with the blessing of Narayana Guru, he started the Narayana Gurukula Movement. In 1928 Narayana Guru sent his beloved disciple for a final finishing course at the Sorbonne, in Paris, The future Nataraja Guru received his Doctorate of Letters from the Sorbonne on presenting a thesis on "The Personal Factor in the Educative Process." Subsequently he joined the Fellowship School in Geneva and taught there as a physics teacher for five years,
While Nataraja Guru was in Geneva he wrote a series of articles in the Sufi Quarterly. This caught the attention of eminent western thinkers such as Romain Rolland, Sir Francis Young Husband and Sommersmet Maugham. Afterwards Nataraja Guru established fifteen Centers of the Narayana Gurukula in India and also centers in New Jersey (U.S.A.), Ghent (Belgium), Geneva (Switzerland), and Singapore in South East Asia.
In his well known book The Word of The Guru there is a short biography of Narayana Guru, throwing light on the Guru's teachings. Nataraja Guru also commented on Narayana Guru's Atmoapadesa Satakam (One Hundred Verses of Self. Instruction). Nataraja Guru's interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita also throws light on Narayana Guru's attitude towards the Gita. Daiva-Dasakam, Advaita-Dipika, Janan-Navaratna Manjarl, Jivakarunya Panchakam, Anukampa-Dasakam, Pinda-Nandi, Chijia.da-Chintanam, Kundalini- Pattu, Brahmavidya-Panchakarn, Municharya-Panchakam, Kali. Natakam, Jati- Mimamsa, Siva-Prasida Panchakam, Arivu, Nirvrti-Panchakam, Darsana-Msla, Agni Hotra, Anubhut Dasakam and Prapancha-Suddhi Dasakam were all translated into English by Nataraja Guru. His magnam opus is an exhaustive commentary on the Darsana Mala. It is called An Integrated Science of the Absolute.

Sri Narayana Guru: A short biography

Prof. J. Indira and Rajeev Srinivasan

Sri Narayana Guru: A short biography

Preface and Acknowledgements
Sri Narayana Guru’s contributions as a tireless reformer, a savant and scholar, and a
profound humanist are each worthy of several volumes of analysis and study. This brief
introduction to his life and times is, of necessity, superficial.
We have depended greatly on the following sources: the late Dr. K. Sreenivasan’s
pioneering biography of the Guru in English, a short biography for the
“Mahatcharitamala” series of the Childrens’ Book Trust by Sri K. Ramachandran, and the
article “The Guru’s Life” by Sri T. N. Jayachandran in the volume “Sri Narayana Yuga
Prabhavam” brought out by the International Sri Narayana Year Celebration Committee,
We gratefully acknowledge the support and encouragement of Sri. K. Ramachandran of
the Kerala Language Institute, without whose gentle insistence this would never have
been written at all.
We dedicate this book to the memory of Dr. K. Sreenivasan, beloved husband to one of
us and loving father to the other.


Once upon a time, not so long ago, Swami Vivekananda came to Kerala. He was so
outraged by the overt discrimination that he saw there that he declared that the place was a lunatic asylum. He was incensed by the extraordinarily cruel practices that were imposed  on so called ‘lower caste’ people.

Obviously, temples were out of bounds to them. So were public wells. The ‘upper castes’  eating together with them was clearly out of the question.

‘Lower caste’ people were not allowed to cover the upper parts of their bodies: so women had to go bare-breasted, and were prohibited from wearing jewelry. They had to use extremely self-abasing language to refer to themselves, and at the same time had to use fulsome praise in referring to the ‘upper castes’: thus reinforcing with every word the gulf between themselves and their masters, and thereby their own unworthiness.

There existed not only untouchability; there was unshadowability – that is, a ‘lower caste’ person’s very shadow would pollute an ‘upper caste’ person, so there were well defined distances – 5 feet, 30 feet – beyond which members of different castes had to stand.

Unbelievably, there was even ‘unseeability’. At least one caste of lowly hunters was
considered so inauspicious that the very sight of them would cause people to be polluted. These unfortunates had to shout, “I am coming this way, please look away, my masters!” to avoid being seen.

Incidentally, the punishment for pollution – even if inadvertent – was generally the death of the lower caste person.

Yes, it is hard to believe that we had such inhumanity in our midst. What was all the
more startling was that all these pollution laws only applied to Hindus. Any lower caste person only had to convert to Christianity and Islam, and immediately they escaped the worst of the discrimination. There were many roads along which ‘lower caste’ Hindus were not allowed to pass, but Christians and Muslims could use them. It is therefore astonishing that there are any ‘lower caste’ Hindus left in Kerala. But there are, they still form the majority of the Hindu population there as they do everywhere else.

Today, a bare one hundred years later, it is truly unbelievable that this was what Kerala – or to be more precise, the princely states of Travancore and Cochin – were like at one time, within living memory. Today Kerala is a model of egalitarianism, perhaps the only place in India where overt casteism and discrimination are completely absent. A mass movement forced the Maharaja of Travancore to make an epoch-making “Temple Entry Proclamation” on November 12, 1936, throwing open all temples to all Hindus.

What had changed was the mindset of the masses. They realized the evils of casteism. This metamorphosis required a true revolution. And this revolution was inspired and catalyzed by a most unlikely revolutionary: an orthodox Saivite vedantin, a practicing ascetic and monk who composed innumerable devotional songs in Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam. That great revolutionary was Sri Narayana Guru.

When one talks about the Guru, one is forced to use superlatives, and to compare him with a galaxy of notables. The greatest Hindu reformer to come out to Southern India since the incomparable Adi Sankara. The greatest and most successful champion of the rights of oppressed Hindus in the twentieth century, more successful than the much better known Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar.

The one who overturned the entire social system of Kerala, but without creating severe animosities and reverse oppression like EV Ramaswamy Naicker did in Tamil Nadu. The radical reformer whose clarion call of self reliance and self improvement strikes a chord in the oppressed anywhere in the world. The man whose ideals inspired the great Malayalam poet Kumaran Asan’s clarion call:

mattuvin chattangale! allenkil mattum
athukalee ningalethan!

Reform, change the rules! Else those very
Rules will be your downfall!

As in the elegiac poem by Thomas Gray, the tremendous waste of human potential and ability was a crime against humanity; it was an intolerable sin against Mother India that a large segment of the population was not allowed to be the best they could be.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

There are also similarities with the struggles of blacks in the US, led by Dr. Martin
Luther King. Just before he was assassinated, Dr. King led a civil rights related strike in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, when the protesters carried a banner with just the simple but striking statement: “I am a man”, a human being. The Guru brought to the oppressed of Kerala the same realization: that they were human beings, worthy of respect and consideration.

The fact that today, in Kerala, there is an assertive egalitarianism, is primarily attributable to the spiritual and intellectual revival that the Guru brought to a moribund and decadent society. The fact that this happened in Kerala offers us considerable hope that similar, benign, revolutions can take place in other parts of India which are currently as benighted as Kerala was a hundred years ago: say, the badlands of the Indo Gangetic plain.

And the fact that Sri Narayana Guru was able to do this entirely within the framework of Hinduism is truly remarkable. One of Hinduism’s greatest strengths has always been its capacity for renewal, renaissance, reform: and in this instance, the power of the personality of one great saint was enough to cleanse Kerala’s Hinduism of the accumulated dross of perhaps a millennium.

This has its own great lesson for India: the ancient civilization of our nation, the oldest and greatest of all civilizations, perhaps the only one that has survived more or less intac the attacks of determined outsiders, is indeed sanatana, eternal. Whenever the civilization is under great stress, individuals arise who, by the power of their personalities, are able to revitalize society and renew it.

It is remarkable that Hinduism, alone amongst the world’s currently numerically
dominant religions, is susceptible to reform. It can be reformed, and indeed it may need to be reformed periodically. It is astonishing that in historical times, every 1200 years or so, with amazing regularity, Hinduism has indeed reformed itself. Extrapolating from the past, it is now time for yet another Golden Age for the sanatana dharma, after it has been cleansed of a millennium’s excrescences.

In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord promises to return when ignorance and evil run riot:

Yada yadahi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata
Abhyuthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srujam yaham
Paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya cha dushkrtam
Dharma samsthapanardhaya sambhavami yuge yuge

When the sanatana dharma became decadent 2500 years ago, the divine personalities of the Buddha and Mahavira appeared. Their Reformation attacked and corrected the practices that had accumulated in the dharma over time, returning it to its roots. But heresies too decay. Twelve hundred years later, when the dharma needed a Counter- Reformation, there appeared divinely inspired personages such as Adi Sankara, Manikkavachakar, Tirujnana Sambandhar, Avvaiyyar, Jayadeva and Meerabai, whose intellect and devotion helped Hinduism rejuvenate itself.

Similarly, yet another twelve hundred years later, a glittering galaxy of great sages
appeared: Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Ramana Maharshi, Sri
Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mohandas
Gandhi, Sri Narayana Guru. Surely, there was an element of the Divine reincarnating
Himself in defense of the sanatana dharma.

It is clear to historians too, and not only the devout, that mahapurushas appear from time to time. Says Arnold Toynbee in “A Study of History”: individuals arise “who set going the process of growth in the societies to which they ‘belong’… They can work what to men seem miracles because they themselves are superhuman in a literal and no mere
metaphorical sense.”

Sri Narayana Guru was such a man of the ages, a yugapurusha. His words and actions are universal, and an inspiration to the oppressed anywhere in the world: and his singular exhortation to them to gain self respect and to make themselves indubitably worthy of respect by others is a stroke of genius.

And the Guru’s ability to create this benign revolution entirely within the framework of the sanatana dharma, without creating a dangerous dichotomy, is perhaps unparalleled in the history of religious reformers. Indeed, one might even say that the Guru was a subversive: for he showed the teeming masses, what in today’s terms may be called the bahujan, that the dharma that they had been denied access to was in fact theirs. The priestly class had merely been entrusted with the faith in the name of the people. In an act of inspired subversion, he showed the masses how easily they could re appropriate the dharma: for it was always theirs, and theirs alone; it was not to be monopolized by anyone. For, the Creator of all of us surely belongs to all of us equally.

For his divinely inspired acts of subversion, it would not be inappropriate to call the Guru the greatest changer of the status quo in matters spiritual in India in a few centuries. What Mahatma Gandhi accomplished in the political sphere, Sri Narayana Guru accomplished in the spiritual sphere: they both made free men out of slaves.

This is the aspect of the Guru that will be covered in detail in the rest of this short
introduction to his life. But it is also a fact that the Guru was a great religious scholar and writer, a commentator on the dharma on par with Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo.

In essence, though, the Guru’s message was very simple:

vidya kondu prabuddhar avuka
sanghatana kondu shaktar avuka
prayatnam kondu sampannar avuka

become enlightened, through education
become strengthened, through organization
become prosperous, through hard work

The Guru’s message resonated with other great souls who were part of the spiritual and intellectual renaissance a hundred years ago. Here is what Rabindranath Tagore recorded after his visit to Sivagiri: “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 maharshis. But I have frankly to admit that I have never come across one who is spiritually greater than Swami Sri 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, illumined by the self-effulgent light of divine glory and those yogic eyes fixing their gaze on a remote point on a far-away horizon.”

Mahatma Gandhi was similarly impressed, even though the Guru may have been a little underwhelmed by the Mahatma’s ambivalent support for the Vaikom Satyagraha. Furthermore, upon meeting the Guru, the Mahatma asked, perhaps a little superciliously, “Does the Guru speak English?” The Guru replied with characteristic understated wit, “No, but does the Mahatma speak Sanskrit?” Which of course the Mahatma did not.

The meeting must have had a major impact on Gandhi’s views on the issue of caste, for thereafter he redoubled his efforts to remove casteism. He was delighted to see ‘low caste’ children being trained to be priests at Sivagiri. He wrote in the guest book: “I consider it the greatest good fortune of my life to have visited the beautiful Travancore State and met the most venerable saint, Sri Narayana Guru Swami trippadangal.”

For unclear reasons, the Guru’s extraordinary achievements have not received
their full  due outside Kerala. One can only hope that over time, the life and times
of this  extraordinary humanist, reformer, and saint, become more accessible to the
general public. For he was one of the greatest sons of India, in the lineage of the
Buddha and Adi Sankara.

History, Caste and Demographics in Kerala

Kerala is a remarkable place by any standards, for it stands out so  distinctly from the rest of India. The landscape is different, the  customs are different, the very rhythms of life appear different. Indeed, it appears as though Kerala were an afterthought somehow attached to peninsular India. This last may not be a flight of fancy. According to legend, the sage Parasurama, in atonement of his sin of killing kshatriyas, created Kerala by throwing his axe out to sea, whereupon the sea withdrew.

The geological reality of this legend is that a major tectonic movement, perhaps an
underwater earthquake, raised up this thin sliver of land from the sea. Atop the highest peaks of the Western Ghats, such as Anamudi, scientists have discovered fossilized sea bottom dwelling creatures like crustaceans. And it is clear that Kerala does suffer from periodic, massive earthquakes. One such, roughly 500 years ago, caused the decline of the great port of Muziris or Kodungalloor and created the deep water part of Cochin, when the river Periyar shifted its course from Muziris south to Cochin.

Kerala has always pursued its own path, somewhat different from the rest of India. This is a function of geography, for Kerala is physically cut off from even its closest relative, Tamil Nadu. Because of the high mountains that run down its spine, the Western Ghats, Kerala has generally been insulated from what happened on the Peninsula to the east and what happened in the Deccan plateau to the north. Thus, even though Kerala was generally part of the Chola-Pandya-Chera empires of the deep South, and even though Malayalam is essentially old Tamil with a lot of Sanskrit included in it, the state evolved a distinct identity of its own.

In many ways, Kerala has also looked to the sea, trading with the Romans and
Phoenicians even: its black gold, the scarce and expensive spice, Tellicherry pepper, was the despair of the Roman Pliny the Younger who complained that his imperial treasury was being emptied by the demand for this and other luxury goods from India. Arabs and Malayali sailors discovered long ago how to use monsoon winds to cross the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea to reach Kerala. And Malayali shipbuilders made some of the

finest ocean going urus or sailing ships (as they still do around Beypore in northern
Kerala) from abundant local teak.

A British poet wrote about the port of Ophir, which is believed to be Poovar near
Trivandrum. It shows the antiquity of the trade links between West Asia and Kerala.
Historically, the great port of Muziris (Kodungalloor), the Roman pronunciation of
‘muchira’, land of three streams, was the biggest harbor on the West Coast, along with Bharuchha or Broach in Gujarat.

Quinquereme of Nineveh, from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine
With a cargo of ivory
And apes and peacocks
Sandalwood, cedarwood and sweet white wine.

Sea borne trade also gave Kerala a certain cosmopolitanism: for Jews fleeing Romans arrived in 72 CE; Syrian Christians under the merchant Thomas of Canaa, fleeing persecution, arrived around 400 CE; and Arabs, at that time newly converted to Islam, brought their religion circa 700 CE. For all three religions, this was their first arrival in India.

There are also interesting traditions which may be mythical. Some Christians claim that their Saint Thomas came to Kerala in 52 CE, but this is acknowledged in scholarly circles to be a later missionary fabrication, conflating Thomas of Canaa with Saint Thomas. Some Muslims claim that the then ruler of northern Kerala, Cheraman Perumal, converted to Islam, abdicated, and went to Mecca: there is little convincing proof for this, either.

Nevertheless, it is clear that small populations of people of Semitic religions existed in Kerala for very long without strife or conflict. This is a tribute to the inherent fairness and tolerance of Kerala’s Hindus.

There is considerable evidence that Kerala was mostly Buddhist and Jain. Periodically, farmers plowing their fields bring up old images of the Buddha, and you can find them here and there in Kerala: they are called karumadi kuttans, because they are made of black granite: one of these has been installed in a Burmese-style pagoda in Alappuzha. But Buddhism and Jainism (which was concentrated in areas close to Karnataka) both disappeared completely in pre historic times. Up to roughly 500 CE, there is evidence of a strong Buddhist presence.

For instance, there is the revered monk Bodhidharma from Kodungalloor, the originator of the Zen school of Buddhism. Bodhidarma is honored to this day as Daruma, the preceptor, in Japan, and immortalized in the Zen koan “Why did Bodhidharma go to the East?”. There is documentary evidence that Bodhidharma went to the Shaolin monastery in China around 400 CE, and that he took with him from Kerala the principles of kalari payat and ayurveda, including the science of pressure points. These evolved later into the martial arts of East Asia as well as acupuncture and acupressure.

The great temple at Sabarimala was at least partly a Buddhist shrine: it was visited by, among others, the Chinese traveler Ziuen Xang, who described it as a place of worship by both Saivites and by Buddhists, the former worshipping Siva and the latter worshipping the Avalokiteswara Padmapani, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. In fact, the connections with Tibetan Buddhism are striking: the Dalai Lama is considered an incarnation of the Avalokiteswara Padmapani, and his abode in Lhasa is the Potala Palace, apparently named after Sabarimala, which was called “potala” (bright light) in old Tamil!

The temple of Kannaki at Kodungalloor was, similarly, almost certainly a Buddhist
nunnery. There is other circumstantial evidence of the prevalence of Buddhism in Kerala. But Buddhism and Jainism declined and disappeared in Kerala, and this is not incidental to the story of the Guru. The most widely accepted explanation for the eclipse of Buddhism and Jainism is as follows: at some point, perhaps around 600 CE, a Hindu resurgence began, when Sanskrit speaking Hindu Brahmins established their sway in Kerala. The very word nambuthiri for Malayali Brahmins has been parsed as nambu + thero, where nambu is old Tamil for new, and thero, whence teravada, is the word for Buddhist priest.

Those Buddhists who collaborated with the Hindu takeover, goes this theory, were
“promoted” in caste so that, while still sudras, they were deemed “high sudras”. The
others, the masses, were considered “low sudras”. It is certainly a peculiarity of Kerala that there are practically no kshatriyas or vaishyas: there are Brahmin Nambuthiris, but the rest of Kerala’s Hindus are all sudras or outside the caste system.

This theory finds support in the legend of Mahabali and Vamana. Mahabali, the “asura” king, presided over an emphatically egalitarian system: in the old Onam song that celebrates this Golden Age:

maveli vaneedum kalam
manushar ellarum onnu polay

when Mahabali ruled
we were all as one.

But when the Brahmin Vamana asked Mahabali the “asura” (surely, the “asura”
designation is because Mahabali was a Buddhist) for a boon he could not give him, hewas banished to the netherworlds. Metaphorically speaking, the Brahmins defeated the Buddhists and took over.

There was a unique system of morganatic marriage or sambandham whereby
Nambuthiris took spouses from among the sudra castes, but the offspring were
considered sudras. Only the first born son among the patrilineal Nambuthiris was allowed to marry a Nambuthiri woman, thus preserving genetic purity. Younger sons were forced to go for morganatic marriages.

The bahujan or the peasant class who were thus converted to “low sudras” became, in due course, the Ezhavas and Nadars of southern Kerala and southern Tamil Nadu, and the Thiyyas of northern Kerala. Then as now they form the largest group of Hindus in Kerala, despite large-scale conversion to Christianity.

Sri Narayana Guru was born into an Ezhava family, and hence the social and economic position of Ezhavas is central to his story. Unfortunately, despite the decidedly universal nature of his preaching, there is a tendency among in some quarters to see him as merely an “Ezhava guru”. This would have amused the Guru, for he certainly had a sense of humor: he once caused great consternation amongst the orthodox by gently suggesting that he had merely consecrated an “Ezhava Siva”. The very idea is absurd, as though the Infinite, the Creator himself, could be categorized into a small, watertight compartment! Anyway, after the decline of Buddhism and Jainism from Kerala, which must have been completed during the Bhakti era, the social structure of Kerala was affected more by external events, including invasions and colonization.

After the fall of the imperial Tamil dynasties in medieval times, Kerala was under the sway of a number of small kingdoms, many of which were no more than regional satrapies or fiefdoms. The chief of these were the kingdoms that approximate the three regions of Kerala today: Vanchinad in the south, Cochin in the center, and the realm of the Zamorin in the north. Modern Kerala consists of Travancore (minus Kanyakumar district, ceded to Tamil Nadu), Cochin, and Malabar.

There was a tradition of martial valor, exemplified by kalari payat and Thiyya warriors, male and female (Aromal Chekavar and Unniarcha) and Nairs (Thacholi Othena Kurup) celebrated in the wonderful vadakkan pattukal (Northern Ballads).

Much like medieval samurai warriors in Japan, these brave kalari payat experts were honored mercenaries for the kings. They participated in remarkable rituals of martial valor: for example the chaver suicide squads, a handful of highly trained kalari payat experts who would fight the entire army of the Zamorin, unmindful of certain death. On occasion they almost succeeded in killing the king.

Roughly three hundred years ago, things began to consolidate. Under the warrior king Marthanda Varma, Travancore became a relatively powerful kingdom, extending from Kanyakumari to the vicinity of Cochin. One of his notable feats was his defeat in 1741 of a Dutch fleet at Colachel near Kanyakumari. This was significant, because the Dutch were never again a colonial threat to India after that.

But the other colonials did not go away. Portuguese, French and British invaders, who initially came for trade, soon started influencing the local kingdoms and societies greatly. The Portuguese in particular, fired up by their Inquisition-era spirit of aggressive Catholic

evangelism, wreaked havoc in Kerala, although to a lesser extent than in Goa, further up the west coast. The Portuguese were astonished to find Syrian Christians in Kerala who did not owe allegience to the Pope. They proceeded to convert them, as well as Hindu fisherfolk, often by force.

The other colonial powers established alliances with the various kingdoms, with the intent of capturing the lucrative trade in spices and other commodities from Kerala. A series of forts along the Arabian Sea coast testifies to their presence.

The next major event was the invasion of Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Tipu, despite a
reputation in some circles as a freedom fighter, was clearly fired up by the spirit of jihad. Tipu’s march through northern Kerala carried in its wake large-scale forced conversions to Islam. To this day, the northern districts are heavily Muslim, with at least one district being Muslim-majority, and this is attributable to Tipu’s march, which, in the racial memory of Kerala Hindus, is still remembered as a terrible catastrophe.

After the British defeated Tipu Sultan, his realm came directly under their rule. Thus
what is Malabar today became part of the Madras Presidency. The states of Travancore and Cochin also came under the heavy influence of the British, who stationed ‘Residents’ to advice the kings, and on occasion, to browbeat them. Though nominally independent, Travancore and Cochin were under the British thumb.

A major part of the agenda of the British (at least some of them) was the Christianization of India. A certain Col. Munro who as the Resident in Travancore certainly had this objective. Therefore, in 1819, he influenced the then ruler of Travancore to donate Rs. 10,000 for the establishment of a Syrian Christian seminary at Kottayam. In today’s terms, this was an extraordinarily large sum of money, amounting to about $300 million.

As a result of the establishment of this seminary and of a number of Christian sects, for example the Church of South India, which became particularly strong in what is now southern Tamil Nadu, large-scale conversions to Christianity began. A major carrot was the fact that the Christians would offer education to anyone who converted: not unreasonably, large numbers of Hindus, especially those who belonged to the ‘lower- castes’, converted, expecting to improve themselves through education.

Numbers from the Travancore Manual reflect the demographic changes. In 1820,
Travancore had 6% Muslims and 6% Christians. In one hundred years, Travancore had about 8% Muslims, and 33% Christians! Undoubtedly the dismal treatment handed out to the ‘lower castes’ played a large part in this massive conversion activity.

This was the society that Sri Narayana Guru was born into: one in which large numbers of his fellow-Hindus were oppressed, denied basic human rights and forced to accept at every turn the idea that they were inferior beings who deserved their status in life because of their sins in previous lives. Ezhavas who then accounted for some 20% of Kerala’s population were seriously debating whether they should convert en masse to Christianity.

The life of the average Ezhava was horrendous, yet they were relatively privileged, as ‘low sudras’. There were many wealthy land-owning Ezhava families, and many of the Sanskrit scholars and vaidyans in Kerala were Ezhava, in a way due to the truly bizarre reason that Nambuthiri vaidyans would lose caste if they touched anybody other than ‘high-caste’ patients. Whereas an Ezhava vaidyan could lay his hands on any patient: and he was temporarily ‘promoted’ to the caste of the patient. This is much like Japanese became ‘honorary whites’ in apartheid-era South Africa.

The truly oppressed Scheduled Castes, such as the Parayas and Pulayas, suffered far worse trauma. They were expected to work as agricultural laborers – in effect slave laborers – from dawn to dusk, and they were generally not paid in cash, but in rice or vegetables. Very few people from Ezhavas on down was allowed to hold a government job, which in those days was highly prestigious. Nor were they generally allowed to gain an education.

None of the ‘low-caste’ Hindus had access to temples. In a celebrated case that led to the famous Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924, Ezhavas and others demanded the right to merely walk on the streets surrounding the famous Siva Mahadeva temple at Vaikom; this was denied to them, but not to Muslims or Christians!

There were also many social ills among the ‘low-castes’. Some of them practiced
polyandry or polygamy. They often held elaborate and expensive ceremonies where they ended up feeding large numbers of people: the thirandu kalyanam to announce the menarche of their daughters; the talikett (a rather bizarre pseudo marriage where children were ‘married’ to each other, but that did not mean they were, or would have to be, married to each other when grown up); the pulikudi in which a pregnant woman was made to drink a concoction of seven sour things in her seventh month. 

Of course, most of this was the product of superstition, the result of being uneducated: itflowed from the fact that they were oppressed and dispossessed people.

Perhaps the worst oppression, in retrospect, was that the ‘low-castes’ were banned from worshipping the great deities of Hinduism. Not even faith was allowed to them. They had quasi-temples, under a tree or on a roadside, where they worshipped not the Trinity or Sakti, but relatively primitive local deities – such as madan, maruta, yakshi, chathan, muthappan, and other frightening, autochthonic powers which were in a way distorted versions of Siva and Sakti. These powers were pacified with offerings of liquor and meat. This, then, was the social environment into which Sri Narayana Guru was born. Clearly, the sattvic Hinduism of the Upanishads had deteriorated and been taken over by tamasic and rajasic forces. It fell to the Guru’s lot to transform this appalling society into one where men were no longer slaves, but free men.

In some ways, the simplest thing for the Guru would have been to preach that Hinduism was hopeless, that the sanatana dharma had degenerated into something that was not at all

useful. This, of course, is the perspective of a lot of ‘intellectuals’ in India even today: they would throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It is to the great credit of the Guru that he realized that there was nothing wrong with Hinduism that a little moral force could not cure. One of sanatana dharma’s great virtues that it is able to reform itself. If you look at the example of Kerala, the reform in Hinduism took place rapidly, and has taken root.

Today, one would be hard-pressed to find in Kerala any one who believes he is inferior to anyone else in the world: poorer in circumstances, perhaps, but never less of a human being. Travelers frequently comment on how Kerala is the only place in India wherenobody is obsequious: everyone treats a visitor on equal terms, as someone you might have an intellectual conversation with, not someone who is your superior. What a change from the extreme self-abasement of ‘low-caste’ Hindus a hundred years ago! They have acquired human dignity.

The simple, but revolutionary, message of the Guru – that you are human being, and that out of your own efforts you can improve yourself to a point where nobody can deny you what you deserve – holds equally true for the oppressed anywhere else in the world. This is what gives one hope that even in the most benighted, feudal parts of the country, it only takes one man and a simple message for the Indian to rise from slavery, to become a free man. And to do this, he does not have to denigrate the gods of his ancestors and
become beholden to some ideology imported from the Middle East or China or America.

The Guru’s most significant message was: “one caste, one religion, one God for man” – and what he meant was not the oppressive monotheism of Semitic religions, but the pantheistic monism of Adi Sankara’s Advaita. All of us belong to one caste: the human caste; one religion: the religion of humanism; and we should worship one God, the Creator of all of us, who, after all, is no different from His Creation. The Guru believed that “it doesn’t matter what your religion is, you just have to better yourself.”

The Making of the Guru

The young Narayanan, also known as Nanu, was born to Madan Asan and
Kochupennu/or is it Kuttiyamma?, of Vayalvarath house, a middle class Ezhava family, at Chempazhanthi near Trivandrum on the 26th of August 1856 Common Era or chathayam nakshatram in Chingam (Leo), 1032 Malabar Era. Madan Asan was a farmer and Asan or village schoolmaster. Kochupennu was a housewife. They also had two other children, both girls. And Nanu’s uncle, Krishnan Vaidyar, was an ayurvedic physician of considerable repute.

The tiny three roomed hut where Nanu was born, with its walls of unbaked clay, floor of cowdung and its thatch of coconut leaves, is preserved as a monument. While to our modern eyes, it looks like a primitive hovel, by the standards of the day, it was a reasonably comfortable home. It reminds one of the humble log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born.

As a young boy, Nanu was most notable for his piety (he was known for a while as
“Nanu bhakta”) and his compassion towards others. He never failed to visit nearby
temples; every day, he would take a ritual bath, visit the temple, pray, and adorn himself with sacred ash on his forehead and arms. Nevertheless, there was humor in his faith: there is a story of his stealing the fruits and other offerings to the deities from the puja room. On being challenged he suggested that if he, a little child, were happy, then God would be happy too.

Nanu also was fond of travel, frequently visiting his many relatives in various villages in the vicinity and spending a day or two with them. This may have been unconscious preparation for his later life as a wandering ascetic and monk, in the best traditions of Indian mystics and philosophers.

Early in life, Nanu showed his compassion to those less fortunate than himself: for
instance, he mixed with the ‘outcaste’ Pulayas, sometimes sharing their food, to general consternation. On one memorable occasion, he was passing by a Pulaya hut, and noticed that their humble rice gruel was about to overflow the pot. Without a second thought, Nanu picked the pot off the fire. When chided by his father for this allegedly ‘polluting’ act, Nanu responded that if he hadn’t done what he had, that poor family would have starved that day: a statement of unassailable logic.

Nor was Nanu inclined to pay any regard to the so-called