By Murkot Kumaran, Translated by Sathya Bai Sivadas & Prabhakara Rao
Birth and Childhood
The place which has the credit of being the birth place of the world renowned Sree Narayana Guru is the small hamlet of Chempazhanty, about seven miles north of Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. Even now Chempazhanty remains a village not encroached by the city’s sophistication.
In the history of Travancore State, a major role was played by the group of eight Feudal Lords (ettu veetil pillamar) nominated to the King’s Advisory Council from different areas. Among these, one was nominated from Chempazhanty too. These Feudal Lords wielded absolute power over their tenants. There was a sort of competition among these Lords to establish not only their superiority, but their popularity also. They tried to show off their strength by maintaining a private army of armed vassals. There is every reason to believe that they did not unjustly discriminate the lower caste people, even though the rules of caste were quite rigid in those days. The support and co-operation of the lower caste people was necessary for these Lords to maintain their private army, which was composed mostly of upper caste people. Hence the Nairs (upper caste equal to Shudras) and the Ezhavas (lower caste, below the level of Shudra) lived in harmony, with mutual affection, help and support. There is a authentic proof for this .
In Chempazhanty , there was an old temple dedicated to Bhagavathi ( a female deity). The Ezhavas were the authorized priests for this temple. But Nairs also participated in rituals connected with worship and festivals, and shared the responsibility of managing the temple affairs. In front of the temple there were two platforms on either side. One was meant for the elders of Nair community and the other for the Ezhavas. During festivals, the leaders used to occupy their respective platforms and discuss matters. By occupying different platforms, they maintained their physical distance as per caste rules, but in all other matters, they worked together sincerely. In other words, keeping the physical distance was an accepted social norm. But there was unity among the castes in their functions. In course of time, rules were framed for the governance of the land, and power came to be restricted to the upper castes exclusively. They felt that to rule the land and maintain authority, the co-operation of the lower castes was not a prerequisite . As a result, from the mutual affectionate understanding of keeping physical distance, mutual affectionate understanding disappeared and only physical distance came to be maintained. There are reasons to believe that this is how matters precipitated.
At a little distance towards the northeast of this temple maintained by Nairs and Ezhavas together, there was a small household called ‘Vayalvaaram’. At present, there is only a small thatched house in that property. The house has three small dark congested rooms interconnected in a row. Only the middle room has a small door as front entrance, with a few wooden bars across it to serve as shutters. Apart from this the hut has no doors or windows or ventillation. It can be said that it was worse than a cattleshed. Air and light never entered the house.
English poets describe the skylark as a bird of very humble origin, but flies very high and enchants the world with its melodious song. Narayana Guru who led an exemplary life of purity and enriched humanity with his precious messages, was similarly born and brought up in this humble home, which was certainly much less than an average home in standards.
People consider the birth place of great men as holy land. We visited this holy land in the company of some friends. When we reached there, one of Swami’s sisters was there in the house. She said, “Our brother is granting good livable houses to so many. But we still have only this hut”. In Tranvancore the word “hut” is used only for the dwelling place of Pulayas, the lowest in caste hierarchy. This house is equal to a Pulaya’s hut in size. But it has enlarged itself as a sacred symbol of the honest and sincere sacrifice of an ascetic for the well- being of the people. It is the beacon light for the poor who did not inherit riches and prosperity, to find the way to get riches and prosperity. It is the model to be looked up to, by those who start on the path of selfless social service.
Sree Narayana Guru was born in this house in the year 1032, in the month of Chingam (according to Malayalam calendar) under the star “Chathayam” (shathabhisham). This date corresponds to AD 1986 August.
In Kerala, this date is popularly accepted as Swami’s date of birth. But he had remarked to some people that he was born actually two years earlier . When his sixtieth birthday was being celebrated by the people , he had remarked, “My sixtieth birthday was over long back “ (His birthday is authentically fixed as 28th August of 1855 AD by Sivagiri Mutt.)
His mother’s name was Kuttiamma, and his father was Maadan. This couple had four children among whom Swami was the only boy, the rest being girls. His father was respectably called “Maadan Aasan” by the people. The title of “Aasaan” was usually given to persons whose profession was teaching. But Justice M. Govindan says that in those days persons who had a little knowledge of Sanskrit, though they were not teachers, were given this title. Anyway, there is no doubt that Maadan Aasaan had some education which was considered respectable by the then society.
One of Swami’s sisters passed away early. She had one daughter. Among the other two sisters, the elder one had three sons and two daughters, and the younger one had two sons and one daughter. One of the Swami’s nephews is an archaka in a temple. It seems Maadan Aasaan had another wife apart from Swami’s mother. This woman had three sons and one daughter. This daughter’s grand son is Sri Neelakantan Vaidyan now employed as Manager of Sri P. Madhavan Vaidyar’s Ayurvedic dispensary at Trivandraum.
Swami had two maternal uncles by name Raman Vaidyan and Krishnan Vaidyan. Krishnan Vaidyan was a good scholar and practitioner of Ayurveda, and also a popular teacher. He had worked ardently for the progress of his community. It can be noticed that in those days the Avarna leaders who worked for the progress of their community did not allow castes lower than them to progress. The Ezhava leaders who worked for the progress of their community, believed that the untouchables should be kept away as far as possible and hence they were very rigid about maintaining untouchabillity and other restrictions regarding castes like Pulayas and Parayas who were lower than them in caste ranking. Swami’s uncles were not different in any way.
Swami’s mother had a maternal uncle, Kochan Aasaan. He was a noble and virtuous man. He was famous for his ability to write on palm leaves. He could copy down books and documents into fresh palm leaves from old ones. Because of this skill he was given the honorary title Ezhuthan Aasaan (writer-teacher) by the people. He was a strict celebate. It is believed that he was the one who consecrated the Bhagavati at Manakkal. One gentleman has written about him, The palm leaf writings preserved in the homes of Thiruvananthapuram, Chirayinkil and Neyyatinkara Taluqs are mostly written by this great man. Swami resembled this grand uncle in physique. Two years before Swami was born this gentleman passed away in his seventy second year.”
Kerala Varma Valiya Koyi Thamburan (Koyi Thamburan = a noble man related to the royal family through marriage) popularly known as the Kalidasa of Kerala has written a book “Memoirs of a Hunter” (Mrugaya Smaranakal) Many of us must have read this. In this an old man who instructed the nobleman in hunting is mentioned. This old man was most probably swami’s maternal grand father.
The parents had named the little boy “Narayanan” but he came to be generally known by the pet name “Naanu”.
Many of us may be curious about the behaviour of our young hero during his childhood. To quote from the biography of Swami written by Kumaran Aasan and published in the 1090 Medam (M.C) issue of Vivekodayam,” During childhood the Swami was not a quiet one. He was an active child, at times a little naughty also.” The example given to illustrate this are the following. “The sweets and fruits intended for offerings at worship at home, were eaten up by him, before these were offered to the deity. He would say that God would be pleased if he was pleased. He could always outwit those who tried to prevent him from doing this mischief. It was an interesting past time for the boy to spite those who held fast to the rules of untouchability and defilement. If there was an untouchable somewhere around, the boy would rush to touch him, then come home and enter the kitchen without taking bath, or touch the men and women who insisted on maintaining their purity”.
The description foretells how he would be when he became a responsible adult. The sprout shows the strength of the tree. This sprout will become a great tree with its proliferating branches offering shade and shelter to many. These childhood mischiefs indicate the potential to evolve into great reformative actions in the religious and social life of millions of people.
In his memoires about the Swami, the great scholar, Sarasakavi (vivacious poet) Moolur S. Padmanabha Panickar narrates in profound words, “Even when the protagonist was a young hero of five years, the brilliance of serenity was dormant in him like a bud. He had accepted as friends only those who were cultured in character and civilized in behaviour. He did not indulge himself in the common childish pranks”.
These two narrations may appear contradictory in the first reading. But in fact they are not opposing each other. “The boy with serenity like a bud” has indulged himself in actions which were fundamental protests against indiscretions in the name of caste, misconceptions about purity and defilement and meaningless rituals in worship. These mischiefs were only practical symbols of his future actions.
There is no doubt that our hero was kind and considerate and strongly opposed injustice. Once he and his classmates while returning from school, met an ascetic on the way. Amused by the ascetic’s peculiar attire and get up, some of the children threw stones at him. It was only a childish gesture, but the boy who would be the greatest Saint of Kerala, and the future founder of an Ascetics’ Organization (Dharma Sangham) could not stand this. But, being a child, he could not stop the injustice, nor could he rebuke the offenders. He simply burst into tears, sobbing his heart out. The ascetic who understood the child, consoled him, took him to his home, carrying him on his shoulder.
Death and speculations about a life after death turn the mind of man to spirituality. That is why great poets have described, the burial ground as the school of spirituality. Swami had the first thought-provoking lesson on spirituality during his childhood itself. When he was about six years old, there was a death in the family. On the next day after the funeral, the child was missing. There was a frantic search for the boy in the neighborhood by the family members. The child was not found. The family became panicky. Then one Pulaya boy working in the field came running to tell them that the missing boy was sitting under some bushes in a lonely place. People rushed to bring the boy home. When the boy was asked the reason for his lone sojourn, he slowly replied, ”Day before yesterday there was a death in the family. All of you cried. Yesterday it was again joking and laughter. I could not understand. That is why I went to the forest to sit alone.”
It is difficult to gather more information about his childhood, but from what we know, it can be easily presumed that yama, niyama etc., the first lessons of yoga were inherent in him.
The initiation to education is a ceremony usually performed in the fifth year of the child. In the cases of this boy, it was felt that the initiation should be performed by some great scholar. Usually well-experienced local teachers who have earned name and fame in the profession are approached for this. And people believed, until recently, that it was better if this person was from an upper caste. So, for initiation, Naanu was taken to Chempazhanty Moothapillai (the eldest of Chempazhanty village), the head of a renowned Nair family. This noble man was quite popular as he had held office as a Parvathyakkaran (a revenue officer below the rank of Tahsildar) and he was considered well-educated as he was a professional astrologer also. After initiation the progress of education was in the usual pattern. At first the child was taught to read and write Malayalam fluently. The next step was to learn by heart Siddharupam, Balaprabodham, Amarakosam etc., (Sanskrit Grammar and Lexicon). Naanu was a precocious child. He could grasp very fast whatever he was taught, and internalize it with the least effort.
One gentleman had remarked that this child had learnt Tamil also along with Malayalam. We don’t know how far this is true. In those days Tamil language was also given lot of importance in Travancore state. Therefore it could be possible that Naanu was taught Tamil at a very young age. Whatever it is, the Swami proved to be a great scholar of Tamil also. It is well-known that he has a number of works in Tamil to his credit.
One of his ascetic disciples has written the following to explain how the Swami became proficient in Tamil. “There is no authentic information to show that the Swami had learnt Tamil from someone. At Trivandrum, in Chalai Bazaar, there was a book shop, owned by a Pandian (one who came from Pandya land= Tamil Naadu) selling Tamil books. Swami used to visit this shop and spend time there during his mendicant days. In those days the Swami was generously given alms mostly by Pandians and Nanchanaattu Pillais ( a clan of Tamilians from South Travancore, a part of Tamil Naadu now). They lived mostly in and around Chalai bazaar. After getting his food from them, the Swami used to spend time in the book-shop. The shop-owner liked the Swami very much. Whenever he went out, Swami was entrusted with the shop, to sell books. But he finished reading all the books in the shop with in six months. Swami learnt by heart important Tamil books like Tholkappiam, Nannul, Manimekhalai, Chilappathikaram, Kundalakesi, Thembavani, Thirukkural, Ozhivilodukkam, Thevaaram, Thiruvaachakam etc. He used to quote aphorisms from Thirukkural and Ozhivilodukkam very often. Thiru vaachakam, written by Manikya Vaachakar was quite dear to the Swami. The poetry of this is rich with imagery, and the words pithy, meaningful and impressive. Thevaram and Thiruvachakam are considered as Vedas in Tamil. The Swamis interpretations of these are of very high standard and was appreciated by Tamil scholars. Mr. Sundaram Pillai MA: MRAS, a great scholar who appreciated Swami’s diction like nectar, is an undeniable witness. Tamil scholars usually do not dare to interpret passages from Thevaram and Thiruvachakam. They say that these are Vedas in Tamil, they are words of God, any attempt to interpret these by human beings is insolence and profanity, it is an impossible task etc. But to these divine words the Swami has given such simple and wonderful interpretations. If he is not God himself, what else is he?” From wherever Swami had learnt Tamil, there is no doubt that he had learnt it well and had profound scholarship in it.
After learning Siddharupam, Amarakosam etc., he learnt to recite and explain some Sanskrit verses also in the company of Moothapillai. As there was no scope for further studies in the village, and because he was too young to be sent out anywhere for higher studies, his education was temporarily stopped.
Afterwards following his guardians’ instructions, he started to go out to graze cattle in pastures and forests. During these outings, he used to climb on cashewnut trees, relax on the branches and learnt to recite Sanskrit verses. Swami himself has narrated such incidents from memory to his followers in later days. The biography written by Kumaran Aasaan narrates, “During mid-day when the cattle graze peacefully in the shade of trees, Swami used to climb on the trees filled with foliage and indulge himself in day-dreams looking at the blue sky, and learn Sanskrit verses by reciting”.
Another disciple has written, “During those days, this young boy dug a well which resembled a pond. That well is functional even now. There is a lot of water in it. Number of people come and collect water from this even now. Another entertainment for this young boy was to cultivate betel vine. To water it etc was fun for him. He used to enjoy speaking about it in later years”.
Eventhough he was engaged in such work, whenever he found time, he used to learn Sanskrit and Ayurvedam from his father and Uncle Krishnan Vaidyan.
Krishnan Vaidyan used to send his nephew not only to graze cattle but also to plough the fields.
If the plough with bullocks yoked to it, and a whip was handed over to Naanu, he would only follow the bullocks wherever they went dragging the plough. He never used the whip on them to lead them to the proper tracks.
Let us stop here for a while and reflect on how the Swami was in those days.
All that naughty nature which the biographers attributed to him gradually disappeared as he grew older. A thirst for knowledge resulted in the blossoming of intelligence. In spite of the conditions not being conducive to education, the talent for self-study developed in him. Disinterest in home and domestic affairs was slowly expressing itself, while a universal fraternal feeling with kindness and compassion for all and an aversion for the unethical became more prominent in him. Cleanliness of the body and mind became a habit with him. Morning bath, smearing of holy ash on the forehead, recitation of scriptures and meditation, and visit to the temple became daily rituals. At the age of fourteen the transformation of a naughty child into a sagacious sober young man who had something distinctive about him was clearly evident. As childhood receded, the charm of youth started to bloom in that handsome body.
At this stage, being the only male child in the family, he was the apple of the eye of everyone. How could they be different? Could they help being affectionate and endearing to him?. But his Uncle Krishnan Vaidyan, though he was extremely fond of Naanu, imposed very strict discipline on his nephew. It seems Naanu was a little afraid of this uncle.
In these days itself, it was never a habit of Naanu to stay at one place permanently. He was a rambler by nature. Very often he was seen wandering about in Kayikkara, Thiruvananthapuram, Anchuthengu, Nedunganda, and Venniyodu areas. He used to stay in the homes of close relatives in these localities. There also he continued his habits of morning bath, smearing of holy ash, meditation and visit to temples. On the whole it was noticed that this young man was not like any other young man of that age, he had distinctive characters and special qualities. He was called “The Pious Naanu” (Naanu Bhaktan) half mockingly and half seriously.
There was a barber who sincerely believed that gestures like ritual bath, smearing of holy ash, meditation and visits to temples are signs of piety and piety meant philosophy, and philosophy is an aberration of the mind. Barbers in those days were professional match makers. If they could settle a proper match for a boy or a girl from well-to-do families, they could expect quite a handsome reward from both the families. Hence naturally our barber friend sincerely tried to get a match fixed for Naanu, because of two reasons. The first one, according to him, this young man was going astray in life, he had to be re-directed to the correct path. The second more probable reason could be his own handsome profit. Naanu was about twenty years old at that time. Under the light of the social changes that have taken place, the barber’s sincere endeavour could be justified as the proper mode of action for him and his community. He was only trying to nip off in the bud the sprout of a life that would seriously affect his and his community’s income in the long run, by changing customs and traditions. Anyway Naanu did not yield to his tricks at the time.
One gentlemen has informed us about a particular incident that occurred during this time. “There was a deserted old temple for Bhagavati (a female deity) in the outskirts of Chempazhanty. Rituals of daily worship were not observed there. Hence people were afraid to go there except when festivals were celebrated. Once Swami was affected with chicken pox. When his headache became severe he knew what was coming. Without informing his parents or uncles, he had his usual bath and other rituals and walked straight to this temple. He camped there for eighteens days. The eruption broke out, still he continued his rituals. At night time he did not feel shy to go to some strange homes and ask for food. During day time, he would relax on the spread out branches of a cashewnut tree and learn by heart, the special composition. “Vairagyotpaadakam” which includes stanzas composed by Melpatur Bhattadiri. The Swami himself has narrated this to some disciples at a later date.
He lived secretly in this temple for eighteen days. On the nineteenth day, he had the ritualistic bath after the recession of pox and then went home. His uncles and others had thought that he must have gone to stay with some relatives. On seeing the pock-marks on his nephew’s face and body, his uncle was perturbed. He started asking questions on his whereabouts. When he heard that his nephew had pox, and was living with devi in the temple all his anger, was replaced with horror and fear.
Krishnan Vaidyan had got the instinctive knowledge that his nephew was a special person with some rare qualities. So he wanted very much to send him for higher education in Sanskrit, somehow or other. One day he got a letter in the form of a Sanskrit stanza. He could not understand the meaning clearly. He sought his nephew’s help, and the boy explained it very well. The uncle felt very happy and took the instant firm decision that the boy must be sent for higher studies at any cost.
That is how Naanu was sent to study Sanskrit under the scholar Raman Pillai Aasaan at Pudupally in Karunagappally Taluq. This was in the month of Dhanu in 1053 M.C (1877 AD). All the arrangements for the journey were made. When the boy was about to start, his father and uncle wanted to give him some money. It seems the boy did not take it. Instead he told them, “You are parting with me and money at the same time. It doesn’t look good. So keep the money at least”. These words illustrate that Swami had the inherent nature of not covetting gifts from others.
Krishnan Vaidyan accompanied the boy to Karunagappally. There arrangements were made for his boarding and lodging at the well-known household of Varanappally. We are indebted to Sri. Thankappa Panikkar of Varanapally for information about certain episodes that happened at Varanapally during the swami’s stay there.
The Varanappally household was famous for their dignity, generosity, and high ethical standards. During those days when educational institutions and hostels were rare, pursuing higher studies was not easy. If there is a scholar somewhere, he used to impart lessons to his disciples either at his house or at some make- shift shed built to be used as schoolroom. To make use of that privilege, students used to come from far way places and live with some reputed family in the neighborhood. We know that in Malabar also the same practice was prevalent.
Varanappaly household used to make all arrangements to lodge and board such Ezhava students, free of cost. This household has every right to claim everlasting satisfaction that they were blessed with the privilege to house the Swami and provide him with all facilities for his studies. The time he spent there has to be considered a very important period in his life. His true nature evolved and started to express itself while he was living there. It was the arsenal in which he developed the ideal and ambition of his future life and the steadfastness to implement it.
He used to live in a building called Kunnathu house that was part of Varanapally household.
Raman Pillai Aasaan was like any other teacher. He imparted knowledge to all those who came to him seeking it, to the wise and the dunce equally. His disciples varied in their ability to grasp what he taught. The teacher could not give them the ability to learn, he could give only the matter to be learnt. Among his disciples, there were clods and diamonds, and many varied in between the two. Naanu was certainly the diamond among them. He grasped all the pearls of wisdom, which befell on him and proved that he had the intelligence and imaginative power to grasp more. He was simply brilliant. His agility and acumen reminds one about the story of Ganapati and Indra, when the former was invited for lunch by the latter. Ganapati could not be satiated with all the food that was prepared by Indra. Similarly Naanu could not be satiated with the fund of knowledge that Raman Pillai Aasan could offer.
In the beginning, this disciple was taught two stanzas from Raghuvamsam (an epic by Kalidasa) every day. But Naanu felt that if the studies progressed at this rate, he would not have the time to fulfill his life’s mission. He expressed this to the teacher and the teacher permitted him to listen and learn what was being taught to others also. The disciple started to do this. After completing Raghuvamsam, when another epic was taken up for him to learn, it was found that he had already learnt that. Gradually it came out that the disciple could clarify some of the teacher’s doubts in the meaning of words or stanzas. The honest teacher blessed his disciple and showered praises on him. This naturally kindled jealousy in his classmates.
This unusual power of comprehension and intelligence as an inherent quality of Naanu was admitted by all there. Naanu mastered all epics, a number of dramas, grammar, poetics, and logic too. Many people had remarked that Naanu used to open the textbooks only in the classroom, which shows that he could master anything in a single attempt. Naturally he was entrusted with the work of clearing the doubts of the book-worms among his classmates. He was made the Monitor of the class.
There were more than sixty students at that time under Raman Pillai Aasaan. Gentlemen like Perunnelli Krishnan Vaidyan, Velutheri Kesavan Vaidyar, Manambur Kesavan Aasaan, Udayamkuzhi Kochuraman Vaidyan etc. who became famous in later days were lodgers at Varanappally along with the Swami, and studied under Raman Pillai Aasaan. Almost every evening they used to have literary discussions and debates. Arguments and counter arguments were common. Naanu used to remain quiet just watching the scene. This is perhaps an indication of what Kumaransan sang in later days.
“You remain quiet and silent, listening to arguments and watching” fights in the name of religion.
When the literary debates headed for a non-conclusive stage, Kochukrishna Panikkar, the patriarch (Koranavar) of Varanappalli would ask Naanu to clear the doubts. Naanu’s interpretations were mostly acceptable to the debaters.
Kochukrishna Panikkar, who was a good literary connoisseur had blatantly expressed his special affection and favoritism towards Naanu, who was the most serene and sober among all the resident scholars in his household. This also became the root cause for jealousy in them towards Monitor Naanu.
When some young students live together, there will be a lot of fun, merry-making, ridiculing and indulgence in luxury. If one among them remained alone and aloof without participating in this funfare, the others naturally would try to tease and spite him. Sarasa Kavi Moolur has written. “The present head of Varanappally the “Fair” Kunju Panikkar was the Swami’s classmate. He had tried to break Naanu’s habit of prayers, meditation and recitation of scriptures, by banter and sarcasm. But in the end, he accepted the swami as “God” and prostrated before him”.
But, there was another young inmate of Varanappally, Kunju Kunju PanikKar, who was quite affectionate to Naanu and tried to protect him from all the ridicule and banter. Because this Panikkar was a very pious man, naturally he was sympathetic to Naanu. They were mutually attracted as their natures were identical.
“Kunju Kunju Panikkar used to live in the Western wing of the family home. The Swami was a dear friend to him, and the Swami felt his company a blessing. Whenever they found time, they used to read religious texts together and discuss. It was their habit to recite hymns before going to bed every night. But, if Panikkar woke up in the night, he could hear Naanu still reciting or murmuring prayers. Not only that, Panikkar says that he heard some weird noise from Naanu’s throat when he was fast asleep. When Swami was sure that he was not being observed by anyone, he used to sit up with his feet and neck tied together, lift his eye and engage himself in some special meditation.”
There are a number of episodes that happened at Varanappally which illustrate the Swami’s kindness and compassion and purity of thought. One of these is described here.
There were two dogs at Varanapplly. One was big and strong and the other was small and weak. The Swami used to give the last morsel of his meal to the small dog. But sometimes, the big one would come rushing, drive away the small one and eat up all the food. When the small dog started whining Swami did not bother to drive away the big one as any one of us would do, instead, he used to look at the small dog and feel sorry for him, angry and disgusted with the big one’s behaviour.
During those days the Swami was not very particular about what he ate, but definitely disliked non-vegetarian food. The classmates mentioned above tried to force him or trick him into eating non-veg. It was a common habit with him to pluck medicinal leaves if he found any on the way when he walked, chew them and swallow the juice. The classmates who saw this used to spite him by saying, “the food he ate was not enough, so he is eating leaves.” Getting up before the sun rose and visiting the temple after his morning bath was a regular habit with him.
At that time, the Swami was a devotee of Vishnu. His favourite deity was Lord Krishna. He used to have vision of Lord Krishna in his dreams, and when he was awake too. Justice E.K. Ayyakkutty says that the Swami himself had narrated this. Justice Ayyakutty is a retired justice of Kochi, now engaged sincerely in spreading Buddhism in Kerala.
While living at Varanappally one day, he was found running as if following some unseen figure. He stopped abruptly on the bank of a canal. When asked the reason for his actions, he said that he was following the young Lord Krishna, and the Young Lord had jumped into this canal. This incident was reported by one gentle man.
A few days before the Swami left Varanappally he had asked Govinda panikkar, a young member of the household and Naanu’s classmate, to get a small copper pot for him. When asked for the purpose of the pot, the answer was that he was going to dive into an ocean and whatever he gets from the ocean, he would like to keep for others also and for that purpose he needed the pot.
In the month Thulam, in 1057 M.C (1881 AD) swami contacted a severe intestinal infection. It worsened day by day and he became almost unconscious. When his people were informed about this, they came and took him home. When he said farewell to Varanapally, there was no one who did not shed tears.
Thankappa Pannikkar has expressed the following : “Thereafter Swami has never come here, as a visitor or on some other purpose. Until his samadhi he used to have a soft corner for anyone of this family. Everyone knows that once he came to this area for collecting funds for constructing schools etc at Varkala. On that occasion some one asked him whether he should not go to Varanappally. For this he replied with a smile. “I have already collected funds from them long ago.”
This chapter narrates his efforts “to dive into the ocean and preserve his collections from it in the copper pot to be distributed to others for their benefit.”
We have seen that he was ill when he reached home after higher education. After regaining good health he started teaching young children, first at Kadakkavur, then near Meerankadavu (a ferry in the name of Meeran) in Anchuthengu, and in his native place. The teaching was done in small thatched sheds built for that purpose. By this profession he got the name “ Naanu Aasaan”. This name remained with him for quite a long time. Those who did not recognize his real qualities and achievements, or did not care to recognize them continued to address him only as Naanu Aasaan, in later days also.
While he was teaching children in Anchuthengu, he used to live in an old temple, a little to the east from the present Jnaneswaram temple. At that time Naanu Aasaan was known to be a sincere devotee of Lord Subrahmanya, with strong ethics and morals. He used to teach Bhagavad Gita also in those days. If we go through his poetic works of these days, it is evident that his thoughts concentrated on profound topics like soul, God, maya (illusion) etc. We came to know here that he had dictated an essay in prose to a person called Appi Vaidyan, who had preserved the manuscript for long (It has not come to us).
We have to believe that during this period he was consciously planning his future life. He must have been thinking a lot about how to break the tics of domestic life and how to liberate himself from the bondages of sensual appetites. His mind was a fierce battlefield where there was constant clash between his affection and sense of responsibility to look after his parents and family, and the desire to unburden his soul from these bindings and elevate it to find the way to serve humanity. The stress on his mind must have been quite severe.
At that time, our old barber appeared on the scene again to push our young hero into the whirlpool of worldly affairs. He caught hold of not only the Swami, but also his parents and elders. The elders gave their consent to arrange a proper match for him, and that was solid support for the barber. He arranged a match, and Naanu Aasaan was married when he as about 20 years old. One gentleman has written about this incident.
“He was married, by proxy and the bride was brought to his house She was from Nedunganda, a village close to Varkala (One biographer says that she was his father’s niece). From the day the marriage was performed, Naanu Aasaan did not enter his house. Yielding to parents’ pressure, after two months, he came home with the barber. They sat on the open veranda. The woman came out from the house, brining some snacks and kept it before them. Then Naanu went in and brought some fruits. He ate one or two and gave a few to the barber. Then he made a small speech addressing all the members of the family. “Every one in this world is born for a purpose. Me and each one of you have a special duty to perform. You fulfill your allotted duties and leave me to mine”: So saying, he left the house for ever and the marriage was dissolved by itself. Kumaran Aasaan, in his long poem “Nalini” makes his young hero speak almost the same words to his heroine when he left her. (Kumaran Aasaan was the Poet Laureate of Kerala and the most important disciple of the Swami in later days).
“Millions of living beings on the earth strive for their own livelihood. Afterall we are all like atoms in the universe. The binding force between us is only love. All of us pursue worldly affairs until the soul is awakened by the Grace of Almighty”
The soul of our protagonist was awakened much before his marriage. One can easily take leave of his parents or teachers, but the relation between a man and wife lasts till the end of their lives, dragging them into the whirlpool of worldly affairs and responsibility. The Swami has won a great victory over himself by breaking this strong rope of marital relation and liberated himself.
Later on when he became Sree Narayan a Guru Swamy one of his disciples, whom everyone expected to be a strict celibate, decided to get married. Some one told the Swami about it. Then he remarked: “The most difficult vow for a human being is the vow of celibacy. Only those who have experienced it will know how difficult it is. Therefore when a person feels that he cannot stick to his vow he should give it up and get married”.
We have come to know through many sources that there were miscreants who tried to break his vow of celibacy and failed miserably. His disgust on their attempts and his firm determination to fight against temptations is expressed in his poem “ Siva Sathakam” - stanza 30.
After he broke the rope which his family had spun to tie him down to the wheel of worldly affairs and left home, his mother did not survive for long. It is no wonder, if the ageing parents and uncles desired their only male heir to get married and settle down to look after family affairs. But the result of his actions in his previous births generated aversion to worldly affairs in him and did not permit him to remain a householder. The theory of Karma and Rebirth in Hindu Philosophy says that results of actions in one birth will affect the person in the next birth. This chain of births and deaths will continue until the soul liberates itself from all worldly bondages.
In such situations, what the other great seers of this world had done, Naanu Aasaan also did. They diverted themselves totally to spirituality and strove to find the Ultimate Truth. They discarded their homes and families, gave up all comforts and luxuries and wandered about in the search for Truth. Naanu also did the same. Though his goal and objective was something noble and solemn, he wandered about like an aimless rambler. From Gouthama Buddha to Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, all great seers have done this. Kumaran Aasaan narrates in his “ Sree Buddha Charitam” (The story of Sree Buddha. Compare with “Light of Asia” by Sir Edwin Arnold) the intensity of the decision taken by Gouthama when he left his palace.
“I don’t need a chariot, I will walk with pleasure. The sand on the earth will be my silken bed. Any lonely spot will be my palace. The poor and the desolate will be my friends. The rags they wear will become my robes. I will beg for my food, and eat whatever is given. I will take shelter under bushes or in caves to escape from hot sun and rain. I am prepared to put up with anything to reach my goal, that is to find a solution to the miseries of this world. I am gratified if my sacrifice can liberate people from their endless sorrow. If the suffering of humanity is mitigated by my sacrifice, I am prepared to give up my home, my wife, my pleasures, my luxuries, in short everything as if it were a piece of dry grass.
I don’t want to waste any time. I will start at once on my task, the search for that wisdom to liberate humanity from all suffering, whether it is hidden in hell or heaven or in-between. I am prepared to put up with any suffering, if it could only end the sufferings of humanity.
I take leave. All will feel the pain of parting for some time. But it will wane and vanish. Imagine the bliss we feel when the sun of wisdom rises dispelling this darkness of ignorance and miseries. I am determined. There is no change in my decision. I will return only after finding the path for the salvation of humanity.”
The Swami also left home with such firm decision. He wandered about on hills and dales, in lonely places, on rocky mountains, day and night, in sun or rain. Many people have seen him during those lonely wanderings. It seems he stayed with P.K. Krishnan Vaidyan, at his Perunnelly home for a brief period. This household had a number of Tamil and Sanskrit books well preserved. These might have been the objects of attraction for the Swami.
While he was staying here, Krishnan Vaidyan introduced the Swami, to a great personality, namely Sri. Kunjanpillai Chattambi, who came to be known as Shanmukha Dasan in later days. He was not only a great scholar and had written some books like “Pracheena (old) Malayalam,” he was also a yogi. Both he and the Swami had the same goal in life. Therefore it was quite natural for them to be together.
The Swami who had the inherent skill to practice yoga, must have been searching for someone who could advise him on that. Shanmukha Dasan knew such a person. He was an eminent one by name, Thykkattu Ayyavu. Ayyavu had understood and practised all yogic rituals like pranayama etc, but he could not continue to practise it for some unknown reason and returned to lead a domestic life. Shanmukha Dasan introduced the Swami to Ayyavu.
One prominent and popular disciple of the Swami writes, “In a meeting convened after the Swami’s samadhi, I have heard Ulloor Parameswara Iyer mention in a lecture that Ayyavu was a Brahmin, and his name was Ayyavu Sastri. But I have come to know through reliable sources that Ayyavu was a member of the community, which is now known as Paraya or Adidravida”.
No one knows the truth. The people of Travancore have a habit of considering all those who came from Pandi (the land ruled by Pandyan kings) wearing a tuft at the back of their heads as Brahmins, and addressing them as Swami or Thamburan (your Lordship). No wonder such people could not identify a man from Madras working as a low-grade employee in the residency and decide to which caste he belongs.
Whether Ayyavu was a Brahmin or a Paraya, there is no doubt that he was an expert in Yoga. “He was a householder (one who followed gruhasthasramam) and a staunch devotee of Lord Subrahmanya. It seems he advised our Swami about the worship of Lord Subrahmanya. From him, the Swami learnt some techniques and postures of Yoga, like nouli, dhouti, ghatam etc., Ayyavu was a scholar of Vedas also. The Swami had always expressed his admiration for Ayyavu, to his disciples. Ayyavu had perfect confidence about the future greatness of the Swami. He used to tell others that the Swami would certainly become a siddha (an ascetic with some special powers over himself and nature) and a man of wisdom.
Shanmukha Dasan was already a disciple of Ayyavu and had received some lessons in Yoga from him. When Ayyavu was teaching the Swami some postures and body gestures, the senior disciple Chattambi was expected to demonstrate these.
The Swami did not stay with Ayyavu for long. Responding to his advice, the Swami went to Maruthvamala and started to practise further steps of Yoga.
No one knows in detail in which part of Maruthvamala the Swami lived and how he spent his days. The only information is from the Swami’s own words to his disciples, now and then if the occasion arose. It is a pity that the disciples and followers who listened to these words did not bother to write it down and maintain a record. Whatever it is, some reliable information we got from several gentlemen and some disciples by chance, is being given here.
The Swami always liked to spend time in forests. In his conversations he had expressed that his food during these days was mostly leaves, fruits, and roots. We can easily surmise that there is no leaf in the forests which the Swami had not tasted. He knew very well which leaves were edible. There was one plant called ‘Kattukodi.’ If the juice from its leaf was taken in a vessel, within a few minutes it will solidify like a cake. The Swami had remarked that it is possible to survive by eating this alone. It had no distaste. On the other hand, it gives a comfortable feeling in the stomach. There is another creeper called ‘Adambu.’ Its leaf is quite soft to eat, but if eaten in excess, it causes indigestion. The tuber of ‘adapathiam’ is also good food. It is found in abundance on the hills. One can lead a healthy life by consuming only adapathiam tubers, honey and fresh water. Wild ‘Thazhuthama’ (a kind of medicinal herb) is also equally good. Along with all these he used to eat a number of ordinary fruits like jackfruit, bananas and mangoes and tubers like tapioca and yam. He had no fear to live among wild animals like leopards, bears, wild boars and snakes in the forest. He used to live near fresh water springs, but in Maruthvamala these springs are available only in a few places. It is difficult for the average man to discover these springs, but the Swami could easily find them.
On the highest peak of Maruthvamala, there is a cave called ‘Pillathadam’. The Swami used to do penance in this cave. It was clean and comfortable and spacious enough to remain unseen if any one else happened to enter. As it was facing the sea (the sea was far away and in a much lower level), there was no dearth of fresh air. If the wind was strong and disturbing there was enough room to remain away from the path of the wind. The floor had clean soft sand. So it was quite comfortable to spread ‘darbha’ and sit on it to meditate.
In “Sree Buddha Charitam” Kumaran Aasan describes the cave in which Gouthama sat to meditate:
“It was like a diamond earstud shining from the tangles of Mother India’s tresses (forests) . It was impossible for anyone to reach or start excavation. This is a place where the music of wisdom reached Buddha’s ears. It has to be worshipped as the holiest of holy places on earth. This was the place which sheltered both gentle and cruel animals from hot sun, heavy rain, or freezing cold. Now this has become the shelter for this delicate, fragile body of this young prince, who will become the savior of mankind. He used to spread “darbha” on the floor to make it even to sit on. He glowed like moon in the midst of dark clouds”.
- Sree Buddha Charitam
Let us hope, in future when the people of Kerala comprehend the meaning and values of the Swami’s words, and start admiring the purity of his life, this cave in Maruthvamala will become the object of poetry like this and a centre for meditation.
While the Swami was living here, on one moonlit night he was terribly hungry. There was nothing edible available in that area. Even water source was far away. The Swami came out from the cave and sat on a rock. After sometime an old leper came that way carrying some fried rice flour, packed in a palm leaf and little water. He asked the Swami, ”Aren’t you hungry? Come, let us eat”. He kept the packet and water on the rock, and both of them ate from the same packet.
After finishing the meal, the leper was not to be found anywhere. Until he disappeared, the Swami did not have any special thoughts about him, but was surprised when he disappeared. He searched for the old man, in the vicinity. He was not to be found. Not only that the Swami had never seen him again in his life, the more he thought about the leper, the more he was surprised. The leper was too old, and his toes and fingers were disfigured with disease. The cave was in a location inaccessible even to strong young men during daytime itself. How could this weak sick old man climb that hill in darkness? Where is he gone now? and how could the Swami share food with such a sick person?. The Swami did not think of any of these, when they were together, nor did they talk much. These thoughts came after the old man disappeared.
This is reported by some disciples who had heard this directly from the Swami himself.
In course of time, news spread around that Nanu Aasaan was performing penance on Maruthvamala. There was a lady called Chettyamma, and her husband an overseer. They wanted to see the Swami. The overseer came with some labourers, cleared a path to the hilltop and discovered the Swami’s seat. The overseer had reported to his wife that when he found the Swami, there were two tigers sitting on either side of him, and they went away on orders from the Swami. This lady is about 75 years old when this book was being written, she has given these details. She was a staunch devotee of the Guru, and believed in miracles attributed to him.
After leaving Maruthvamala, he travelled widely in South India, and visited a number of shrines. Those who met him in his lonely wanderings and saw him sleeping anywhere, and eating whatever he got, accepted him as a Siddha. We have heard that people of Sucheendram compelled him to come to the local temple. They garlanded him and observed other rites as if it was a festival.
Narayana Guru Swami was a product of pure Hinduism, who could be claimed by everyone as his own Guru, without any distinction of caste or religion. But there was a special purpose behind his birth. He was meant to improve the lot of the downtrodden people of Kerala, who were condemned to subhuman existence by the traditions of caste system. So he returned to Kerala to take up his work, prescribed by destiny.
“But he made use of all his spiritual powers like a Karma Yogi.” He used his body and soul to do good to others, and gracefully sacrificed all his spiritual powers for the benefit of others”-from Kumaran Aasaan’s Gurusthavam.
Before he came down to the midst of humanity he used to wander about like an aimless eccentric person. He spent a lot of time on the beaches in and around Kanyakumari, Kulachal, Karingkulam, Thiruvananthapuram, Anchutengu etc., While roaming about like this, he visited and paid homage to a great yogini by name Ammal at Nagercoil. This Yogini who was in yogasamadhi in the nude, blessed the Swami by giving him a ripe mango. Many biographers of the Swami have reported this incident.
During the interval between his acquisition of wisdom and launching of his activities, he lived with the poor, spent his time with them and ate the food they gave as if to reveal to the entire world that all his projects of action would be for the poor and the downtrodden. He was quite active in helping the fishermen in their work. It is known that during this period, he liked to eat fish, and a variety of prawns was his favorite dish.
During nights, he slept on the nets spread on the beach by fishermen to dry. Early morning, when they start dragging in the other nets from the sea, the Swami would join them. They would scorch the fish, or cook it in different ways and serve him. They believed that if the Swami touched the net, the catch on the day would be “super”. So they cared a lot for him, wherever he went among them, people gladly gave him anything he wanted.
Swami Narayana Theerthar writes as follows “He used to go to a very poor old woman with fresh fish from the net. Her dinner was only a porridge made with the kernel of mango seeds. He would give her the fish, and she would share her dinner with him. This went on for some time, and her poverty continued. The old woman had a daughter also. At last the Swami found a way to abate their poverty. He taught the mother and daughter how to make coir from coconut husk. He showed them how to soak the husk, extract fibre from it by beating and how to twist this fiber to make yarn (coir). With this work, the mother and daughter came out of their poverty.
While Naanu Aasaan was moving about among people after his penance on the mountain, rumour spread that he was performing miracles. At this stage some people started to refer to him as “Naanu Swami”. Some people had faith in his spiritual powers, some others felt he was a lunatic and made fun of him and some others considered him a common beggar. Those who knew about the prestige of his family and his uncles, felt pity for this young man who had “gone astray”. One day, the late Chavarkottu Kochu Cherukkan Vaidyan saw a handsome young man in a Pulaya’s hut eating something from a pot on the hearth. At that time, the baffled woman of the hut had kept herself away outside. The wise Vaidyan immediately recognized the young man wrapped in a green shawl as Naanu Swami, and invited him to come home with him to Chavarkkottu. Swami replied “ Oh yes, I have heard about Chavarkkottu, but why should I come?”. Vaidyan somehow persuaded Naanu to go with him, by telling that he could have his regular bath etc. there. Naanu Swami was convinced and went to Chavarkkottu. People say that Naanu performed some miracles there but there is no reliable information”.
One gentleman has written “While the Swami was spending time at Thiruvananthapuram as a mendicant, he was respected and appreciated mostly by Tamilians and a few Nair families. Among Ezhavas, except the family of Dr. Palpu no one respected him. Actually some of them were derisive as if he was a lunatic. He used to take food from Dr. Palpu’s house very often. He became an object of affection and respect among Naadars, Channars, and Muslims. Naanu had mingled with Muslins so well, that they used to prepare biriyani, pulau, and chicken curry especially for him. The Swami himself had stated that he had shared food with them, had eaten from the same plate along with others. (It is a custom among Muslims that several of them eat from the same large plate at the same time sitting around the plate).
Sarasakavi Moolur has narrated in his Memoirs, what the Swami had told a person Perungala Kochu Narayanan Vaidyan by name. The report goes as follows, “ When I was living in Trivanudrum, I used to sleep on the Kattamarams (floats) used by the fishermen ( a float or a Kattamaram is a boat like device made up of three logs of light wood tied together into a flat structure. The fishermen use these floats to go to the outer sea when the weather is rough). When the fishermen come to launch these, long before sunrise. I would get up and start walking. Sometimes I used to walk nearly thirty to forty miles. During these long walks, I never felt any aches or pains. I have lived with Muslims for long periods. I have shared their food, carried their babies, and fed their children. During those days I have eaten fish and meat”
The Swami admired the science of Muslim Yoga described in the book, “Risala Ihak Numa” by Dara Shiko and other books “Dil-e-mud-dhawar” and “Dil-Is-Nou-Bari” The Swami used to interpret passages from Qur-aan as per his own logic and the Muslim priests appreciated these explanations. In south Travancore a number of Tamil books dealing with Islamic Philosophy are available. The Muslim scholars who had studied all these thoroughly, agreed with the Swami’s interpretations of these. Christian priests also respected him a lot. The “Peacock Cart” preserved at Aruvippuram was a present to the Swami from a Christian gentleman by name Marine Chattambi of Petah, Trivandrum.
At this stage, it will be interesting to pause and analyze the mental condition of the Swami. During childhood itself he had exhibited unusual intellectual acumen, and highly ethical character. He became an object of respect and wonder for teachers, classmates, friends and other contemporaries . He acquired knowledge so fast that everyone was awed, expressed his disinterest in worldly comforts left his home and family and with unusual courage launched on the path traversed by saints and seers to experience by himself the mystery of spirituality . After receiving advice from a preceptor, he performed penance in a secluded spot and returned to the mundane world. As a person who was wandering about without proper food, shelter or sleep, with no regular habits, if he invited hootings and brickbats from innocent playful children , ridicule and derision from those sophisticated men who do not understand him, pity and sympathy from those who knew his family, is it a surprise? The real worth of this man was not understood by all these. That is the only conclusion. When a river in spate falls from a great height, ordinary people think of it only as water and surf. The strength hidden in it, to generate electricity and make it useful to humanity is not recognized by all. Is it the fault of the river if its concealed power is not realized by all?. Even after recognising it, if it is not tapped properly for the benefit of the people, is it the fault of the river?
Just as the river Kaveri flows through South India carrying so much of energy , which can be converted into power by those who try to use it, Sree Narayana Guru also was flowing like a great river.
River Neyyar in South Travancore, originates from the mountain of Agasthya Kutam, and joins the sea at Poovar in the West making the land in its course highly fertile. After about 20 miles from its origin, the river swells to become a very strong flow. It passes though a rocky terrain generating a special musical note of its own and then, suddenly drops to a deep pit called Shankaran Kuzhi. The area is a beauty spot of nature, where the river unravels in all her glory. The foamy white flow is interrupted by projecting black rocks here and there as if the flow of virtue is obstructed on the way by concentrated evil and cruelty.
On both the banks of the river the foliage is so thick that, from a bird’s perspective, the area appears like a green silken carpet on which runs a white silver streak with black spots on it.
A small hillock on the western side of Shankaran Kuzhi, has played a very important role in the social and religious progress of the people of Kerala. Once upon a time, the whole area was a thick forest, which attracted only two types of people, yogis who wanted to withdraw from the rumpus and turmoil of humanity and enjoy the beauty of virginal nature, and hunters who wished for the pleasure of killing animals. But now this hillock has become the holy land which attracts thousands of devotees. The only reason for this transformation was the presence of our protagonist, Sree Narayana Guru.
He came down from the mountain top after penance and settled down on this hillock. News spread by word of mouth that there was a siddha on the hill top, performing miracles. ( the miracles are mentioned in the next Chapter). What each one heard was repeated with a little exaggeration and a little imagination and finally the end product lost its credibility and degenerated into a type of fantasy inviting ridicule. But those who had met the Swami personally and understood his character and way of life, knew the exact truth.
There is no doubt that Kumaran Aasaan had taken the Swami as his model, to describe a hero in one of his long poems, who had achieved victory over sensuality.
“Fear did not touch him, he was kind and considerate to all. The stamp of courage was on his face, and daring in his words. He was like a responsible king with his sceptre and an innocent child with toys at the same time. He could maintain this equanimity as he had conquered the enemy within him, namely his mind. Indeed such persons are the lucky ones!”.
As the programme executive for the uplift of the downtrodden, when he looked at humanity from the moral heights of his self and the physical height of Aruvippuram, what was the scene?.
The virtues of Hinduism had been disfigured beyond recognition due to pride and selfishness of its preceptors, and the resultant pernicious customs. Hundreds of years have passed like this. Those who enjoyed the privileges granted by the religion had degenerated to the status of jealous wealthy men who could not stand the prosperity of others. Therefore, religion became like a misers’ money in their hands. They would not use it properly for themselves nor would they give to others. When spirituality and other values to be derived from the religion are lost, this set of people had resorted to other means to prove that they are superior. The present caste system is the means they adopted to establish their imagined superiority. They tried and succeeded to get royal approval to this system, feigning religious sanction and divine attribution. The theory that a person’s “Caste” (Varna) is to be decided by the quality of his mind and actions, was conveniently inverted to mean that a person’s quality is decided by his caste. When the quality of the mind of those superiors deteriorated thoroughly, this inversion was the only means to maintain their pseudo-superiority.
This was thoughtfully followed by the declaration, that as one inherits the wealth of the family, caste also is inherited as paternal or maternal legacy as per the established tradition. Neither virtuous nor evil deeds can effect a change of caste. This system got royal approval from Hindu kings, as they were also beneficiaries to some extent. Thus a system which was perpetuated by artificiality and false interpretations of religion, became an established tradition to be pitilessly implemented as hereditary right by the rulers. It came to pass that all other principles of Hinduism could be ignored, but caste could not be. A Hindu can opt out of “Chathurashrama”. But he cannot come out of “Varnashrama”. Varna dharma became compulsory.
“Varna”, a flexible classification of people based on their intellectual level as a sort of division of labour, degenerated into an artificial and arbitrary system of segmentation of the people. If a fence which was intended to protect a garden grows wild like a forest, spreads out and occupies the entire garden, the original plants are subdued, made unrecognizable or simply destroyed. The once beautiful garden would become an unwieldy forest full of thorny and spiny growth. This is what happened to Hinduism.
This was the condition of Kerala as seen by Sree Narayana Guru from Aruvippuram.
At this point in social history, the condition of those who were condemned as inferior castes, was extremely miserable under local chieftains. They did not have the scope and liberty to maintain themselves, at least clean and tidy. Their bodies, clothes and even food were soiled and spoilt. They had no freedom to use the public roads. They were not supposed to appear in the vicinity of certain upper caste persons. Education was not within their reach. Though schools were maintained by Govt. using the taxes paid by these people also, they were not admitted to schools. When they applied for jobs, their applications were rejected on the ground that they were not educated . If someone got himself educated somehow or other, and applied for the job, he was blatantly insulted by saying that he did not have the high social level to be the colleague of Savarnas. Though they were called Hindus, their religious practices and rituals were different, and demeaning. They worshipped inferior and evil deities like Gulikan, Kuttichathan, Chudalamaadan, Karinkaali etc. Their important rituals in worship were animal sacrifice and drunken orgies. Their money, as offerings to Savarna temples was shamelessly accepted but they were not allowed even to enter temple premises Prasadam (the remnants of offerings to the deity) was flung to them from a distance. These poor innocents accepted that, after spending their money, and return satisfied as though they had a glimpse of god. When they came to the temple, carrying offerings to the deity, they were not allowed even to recite the deity’s name. On the otherhand they were expected to recite obscene verses which is a taboo to any decent person.
The power of speech is a gift of God to be used to sing his praise and to utter good and pleasant words. But these unfortunate beings were compelled to misuse that gift to recite vulgar words that should never be uttered, and to sing obscene songs which will inspire only evil and immorality. They were physically mentally and morally degraded.
With the objective of keeping them permanently depraved and defiled, they were ordered to perform the heinous action of beheading thousand of animals and birds, within the ambience of Savarna Temples.
Is it not an irony that a minority could impose these rules and traditions and a majority was subdued and subjugated to obey all these?.
When the entire world was illuminated by the light of knowledge and ushered in improvements in their living conditions, only these people closed their eyes to all that and remained in the self-created darkness of ignorance. Narayana Guru strained his mind to awaken these people from their psychological slumber.
In India great men had been trying to eradicate caste system and uplift the downtrodden since long ago. Those who know the history of caste discrimination, would agree that the project which Narayana Guru launched in Kerala was definitely novel and more effective. There is no use founding a new religion for the low castes. We have to note that Brahma Samaj and Arya Samaj could not gain popularity among the Avarnas of Kerala. As an alternative to Hinduism, the people had Christianity and Islam before them as an escape route from social stigma but they did not think of that as a solution. Will such people accept another religion?.
The Swami understood the psyche of the people. It is not their habit to traverse a new path. They will follow only the old path. Therefore, the solution is to illuminate the old path. So he wisely decided that the path had to be lit up slowly and they must be carefully led through the same path to a new goal without precipitating a revolution through blood shed. This has o be effected gradually. What did he do for this?.
Swami Vivekananda had a firm belief that any attempt to awaken the people of India should have a solid foundation based on religion. Narayana Guru also found this to be true. The Avarnas had nothing that deserved to be considered religion. What they had were only some pernicious traditions which they thought were religious rituals. Hence, how could their religion be reformed when they have no religion?. What is the path that he could open for them?. Only when we turn to look at the past we will see the Swami’s methods clearly. Before we start to do that we have to remember a few important points.
There is no need to mention specifically that the Swami, who was a Yogi and an ascetic (Sanyasi) had absolutely no tinge of caste in his mind. But, because the purpose of his birth and life was to uplift the downtrodden people of Kerala, he had to work among them. The highest ranking among the Avarnas was the Ezhavas or Thiyyas. He found it convenient to make use of this community as the medium to work for improving the life of Avarnas. Because he was born in that caste, the people of this caste nurtured a special affection and respect for him. They were proud of him, so he was sure and certain that they would follow his instructions verbatim. Not only that, all the injustice and cruelty meted out to the Avarnas by Savarnas reflected in their behaviour also. They treated their caste- inferiors with equal malice and disdain which they received from their caste- superiors. The Swami knew what a stumbling block this behaviour was. But he had the wisdom to turn the tables, and make it his special advantage .
All the modern Indian leaders have the fear of losing their prestige and popularity among the Savarnas, if they try to influence the Savarnas to eradicate caste system. It is much more easier to unite the Ezhavas, and their inferiors than to unite Savarnas and Avarnas. After considering all these, the Swami decided to join the Ezhavas and make use of them as a tool for religious and social reformations. But we have to remember that from the beginning till the end of his life the thought of his caste never entered his mind.
An unconscious change from good to better is the real step towards prosperity. The religious practices of Thiyyas were indeed heinous and diabolic. But, they had a hidden desire to follow better methods and rituals. This was proved by their actions. They were not allowed to enter Savarna temple where the rituals of worship were of a superior level. Though they were made to wait at the prescribed distance to avoid defilement of the deity and the upper caste people (theendapaadu), they found satisfaction in making offerings in kind and cash to the deity. Not only the illiterates, but the educated also did the same. The Swami decided that this hidden desire in them to improve themselves was to be converted into a motive force to propel them towards progress. That is how the decision and arrangements to consecrate a temple at Aruvippuram came to pass. The narration of this by Kumaran Aasaan is quoted from an old issue of Vivekodayam.
“At this young age, the Swami was quite impressive to look at, and was easily recognizable in any crowd. The rays of internal peace that radiated from his countenance proclaimed that he was a super-human. If he was seen in a town or even in a small village, a big crowd used to gather around him. But it was his habit to slip away from crowds and roam about all alone. During these days the Swami had written a number of beautiful hymns, on Lord Subrahmanya in both Sanskrit and Malayalam. It was the early stages of western education in India which has revived atheism also among the people. It can be convincingly mentioned that the Swami’s life was an antidote to this. At this stage, without any restrictions the Swami used to partake any item of food and drink ( of course, no liquor) that was given to him. There were rumours that the Swami had taken poisonous food also and nothing had happened to him.
In one of his wanderings, he came to Aruvippuram in the year 1884 AD. He was very much fascinated by the scenic beauty of the location. The mighty flow of River Neyyar forcing its way through gaps between boulders making melodious music echoing from the sandy banks and high hills on both sides, and the green foliage all around, captured his heart. Sometimes he came there to spend days together in some caves or creeks without food and unknown to others. Gradually people observed this and some devotees started to bring food for him. After that, Aruvippuam did not remain a secluded place for long.
People started coming for him from different places. His interaction with the people began, with simple cures for their health problems, sometimes exorcising ghosts and demons, giving advice and suggesting solution to all their problems and finally instructing them about religion and ethics. People had first-hand experience of his power of foresight and the ability to divine the thoughts of others. People of different castes came there to pay obeisance to him, and some became his disciples. Householders from far and near started to bring victuals like rice, stay back to cook and feed others . Gradually, because of the Swami’s presence, Aruvippuram became a holy place for the people . During the Swami’s absence also people came there, took bath in the river, offered prayers and returned. The Swami felt that a house of worship would be most suitable for the area. He started to mention this to some young devotees, who came regularly. His wish was openly expressed a few days before Sivaratri (an auspicious day for the worship of Lord Siva) In the year 1888 AD. In that jungle around Aruvippuram, there was no scope to get an idol of Lord Siva made. The Swami also did not ask for that. What he wanted was to convert a flat rock on the eastern bank of the river into an altar, and pick up a stone resembling the Sivalinga (the symbolic representation of Lord Siva) from the river and install it on Sivaratri Night. People co-operated with him and made some arrangements.
On hearing that the Swami was present there, some devotees had assembled there to fast and keep awake during the night ( rituals observed on Sivaratri). The altar was sprinkled with flowers, a small thatched shed was built on the rock as a tentative roof. Some started to play the naada swaram (a musical instrument resembling the organ-pipe), and others chanted panchakshari (Om namah Sivayah). By midnight, the Swami had a bath in the river and came to the shed. He picked up the stone to be installed and stood still in meditation for nearly three hours. Tears flowed down on that brilliant face. All those who stood there recited panchakshari with intense devotion. At three O’ Clock, the Swami installed the piece of stone on the altar and performed ablutions. Those who witnessed this say that some miracles happened at that time.
The above given is the narration by Kumaran Aasaan.
How many of us have thought deeply about this and understood the meaning of what the Swami did? This was an axe set at the root of the absolute authority of priesthood, which had been the tradition of Hindus for thousands of years. According to Hindus, only a Brahmin has the authority to perform any religious rite. When Savarnas or Avarnas needed any propitiatory rites to be performed, they seek the Brahmin to do it on their behalf. All Hindus sincerely believe that such rites are effective and fruit-bearing only if performed by a Brahmin. Of all these rites authorized to be performed by Brahmins, the most important one is the consecration of a temple. The popular belief is that only the Brahmin has the eligibility to do it, because only he knows the mystery behind it. Thus the Brahmin became the agent between man and God, on earth. The Swami, through this daring action has exposed the mystery behind it and proved that all these are misconceptions. Not only that. Through this action, the Swami has illustrated that not only Vedic knowledge, but also knowledge of the Absolute (Brahma Jnanam) is not the monopoly of one caste, and it can be achieved by anyone of any caste. If this is not an axe to the power of Brahmin priesthood , what else is this?.
Without understanding the power and ability of the Swami or the objective and meaning of his action, some Ezhava chieftains had tried to dissuade him from this, by telling him that only Brahmins were allowed to install the idol of Lord Siva. But, one Brahmin who had understood all these, simply asked him “ Does anyone other than the Brahmin have the right to install Lord Siva. The Swami, who had silenced the protests of the Ezhava chieftains by his will power, put an end to the Brahmin’s doubt by the smart retort, “ What I have Installed is only an Ezhava Siva” .
Once it is well convinced that no one has the authority over another, the next step is to make that person stand on his own feet. Before we start analyzing how the Swami trained the Avarnas to be self – dependent and generated courage and self-respect in them, it is better to learn about certain experiences of the people, which added intensity to their respect , devotion and faith in him.
Kumaran Aasaan tells in his brief biography of the Swami, “Swami’s powers derived from strict celibacy, penance and yoga - gradually started to express itself in miracles. Wherever he went, people suffering from miserable diseases like leprosy came to him, and he cured them by giving them a little food or a green leaf to eat. Those who had been suffering for long from fits of epilepsy or evil spells (brahmarakshassu) recovered instantly on having a “darshan” of the Swami. He had exorcised several evil spirits and devils ( Kuttichathan) from those who were haunted. Several women branded as barren, from respectable families of all castes, had conceived after receiving the Swami’s blessings in words or in the from of a fruit or something else to eat. The Swami had cured a number of alcoholics suffering from addiction and stopped their dinking . Those alcoholics who went to drink again against his word developed nausea and vomiting on the sight of liquor. Impressed by such miracles and his serenity, many people had started offerings as if he were a deity and miraculously gained what they desired, like cure of diseases etc”.
When the Swami’s 53rd birthday was celebrated, Sri E.K. Ayyakutty B.A, stated the following in his speech. “On observing the miracles performed by the Swami, gradually people started to remark that the Swami had a vision of Lord Subrahmanya or that the Swami himself was an incarnation of Lord Subrahmanya. During these days if anyone ate something given by the Swami, with faith, he would certainly be cured of his disease or get his desires fulfilled. People were wonderstruck with each such episode and also the Swami’s other supernatural powers and his ability to divine other’s thoughts (parahrudayajnanam)“.
These two gentlemen, Kumaran Aasaan and Sri Ayyakurtly, were in close contact with the Swami and knew him very well. Moreover, they were sophisticated and erudite to be beyond the superstitions of common people. The statements by these gentlemen quoted above are special examples to confirm the Swami’s powers.
People tell a number of stories of miracles. For people like us, who believe in the powers of a Rajayogi, these are not just fibs. But still, since our people are quite fond of exaggerations, we have to think carefully before we believe what they say. Therefore, we have quoted here only those episodes , the credibility of which we are sure and certain . Every one knows that the Swami never had the intention to mesmerize people by performing miracles, nor to exhibit his powers. True Rajayogi will never do like that. There are Hatayogies who surprise people by their power and collect money. Swami Vivekanandas says “The objective of the Hatayogi is to make the body strong. That is not very important because it can be achieved in no time. It doesn’t lead a person to spiritual elevation . The main objective and only goal of Hatayagi is health”.
But the exercises of Rajayoga are performed for the elevation of spirituality and the powers derived from this is not used by the Yogi to perform miracles. Narayana Guruswami also did nothing like that. He used his special powers only to alleviate the sufferings of people from chronic diseases or any such evil. On such occasions he never claimed that he had superhuman powers, nor did he try to impress people.
One should understand that there is nothing superhuman in what people generally consider superhuman. The Christian preacher Sundar Singh says, “Powers and achievements termed “siddhis” are not really superhuman. They are powers inherent in nature. Ordinary men cannot extract it and make use of it. Hence they interpret any performance making use of these powers as miracles”.
Hindu saints also say the same. Any human being can gain these special powers if he tries in the proper way with firm determination. Those who have not seen aeroplanes and submarines and do not have the basic knowledge of how they work, will believe that man cannot fly like a bird in the sky or swim like a fish in the sea. Those who know will understand. But those who have gained special power through yoga are rare. Their pleasure will become blessings to others, their agony will be a curse. If there is a lamp on the table, the flame doesn’t burn my finger. It helps me by spreading light. But , if I push my finger into it, certainly it will burn. The siddhas are like that. They never curse. They give only joy to the world. But if their minds are injured, the pain they suffer turns into a curse.
Let us narrate some of Narayana Guru’s experiences in this respect.
Dr. Palpu’s brother, P. Parameswaran says that the Swami must have reached Aruvippuram in the year 1883. Naani Aasaan, a native of Aruvippuram also agrees with this. Everyone agrees that the Swami’s father passed away in the year 1884. Naani Aasan once said. “One day the Swami and myself were seated on a rock at Aruvippuram. The Swami suddenly said “Maadan Aasaan might have died”. After a few hours a messenger came from Chempazhanty to inform the Swami that his father had passed away”.
One night, the Swami and Naani Aasan were relaxing beside a bonfire at Aruvippuram . Naani Aasaan slowly slept off. After a while the Swami awakened him, poking him with a stick. Aasaan woke up to find a leopard and its cub, sitting facing the Swami . Swami told Aasaan, “Don’t be afraid. These will not harm us”. Aasaan closed his eyes tight and lied down. He did not know when the leopard and its cub left the place.
Once the Swami was sitting in a cave at Aruvippuram . Sankarananda Swamy, who became a famous disciple of the Swami and founded a Mutt at Kashi came there with his classmate Padmanabhan. Later Shankarananda Swamy narrated his discussion with the Swami. Shankarananda Swamy said, “I was enchanted by the splendour of kindness and compassion radiating from the countenance of the Swami, and the charming smile which attracts every one. We started discussing certain principles of philosophy. We came to the point, “nirvaira: Sarvabhuteshta:” (Absence of enmity is a virtue which all should possess, and anything can be achieved by that. Swami praised this . To my question whether both the sides should not have this virtue. Swami replied .
“ Chitam Karanam Ardhanam
tasmin sati gagatrayam
tasmin kshine jagat kshinam
tat chikitsyam prayatnatah.
Emotions like love and hatred are the cause and the effect is subsistence of the universe. If the cause is negated, how can there by any effect?”.
Our time was spent in such discussions.
There is a hillock about a furlong high lying parallel to Agasthyakoodam, but close to the area where Aruvippuram temple now stands. On this hillock a small thatched cottage was built for the Swami to relax. When the Swami sat there, wild animals like tigers and leopards used to pass that way. The Swami never felt any ill-will towards them, nor did he feel that they were dangerous and harmful animals. Therefore, both the Swami and the animals enjoyed peaceful co-existence. The Swami gave this as an example to illustrate the absence of animosity.
Swami gave another example. “One night, while I was taking rest in the cottage a black scorpion rushed in and stung my foot. I felt a fiery flow of poison throughout my body. It was a feeling beyond description and definitions and I was perturbed for a second. A thought flashed in my mind, “ I have not harmed anyone in this life. In my previous birth also I could not have done so. As such why did you come and do this to me?”. With these thoughts in my mind , I looked sharply at the scorpion. It fell down dead. “ On witnessing that, Swami had only compassion for the creature. It seems he expressed to the animal “Your own cruelty has brought this evil fate on you, I have not done anything”.
This proves that one who harbours animosity or ill-will towards another who doesn’t nurture these , will certainly come to a bad end. One who has no ill-will, will always be popular and admired .
It seems at sunrise, the Swami took the dead scorpion. cremated it with sandalwood, and dropped the ashes in the river with his own hands.
There is another famous incident. Once, the rains failed in the season, and water scarcity affected the lives of people, livestock and vegetation. Some devotees came to the Swami and narrated how they were struggling. After listening to them the Swami composed a hymn of five stanzas, a prayer to Lord Siva (Ardha nareeswara Sthavam. This is a frantic appeal to Lord Siva, the Master of the Holy River Ganga, to shower his kindness in the form of rain. The sufferings of the people and the devastation of the nature due to lack of rains have reached a frustrating level. In an angry outburst the Lord is questioned why he is so unkind and cruel to his own creations. A compromise is reached because they have nobody else to appeal to, no one else to save them. The Lord has to wakeup from his equanimity and save the people by sending down rains).
Some devotees took the ritual bath and recited the stanzas with piety and faith. It seems there was a good rain after this.
Judge M. Govindan has narrated some more similar incidents. One man told the judge that a few years after this Mentioned above incident, again people were put to untold misery due to lack of rain, and the Swami composed some stanzas like this, which were recited with devotion. It was certainly followed by rain. To test the credibility of this, the Judge asked the man to recite the stanzas again with devotion, and to their surprise there was a shower as soon as the recitation ended.
Once the Swami was at Talassery Jagannadha temple for the Festival of Ablution with coconut water. People complained to him that though it was the rainy season, so far there was no rain. At the temple at Kottiyur, for the same festival, every year there would be heavy downpour and that year there too this had not happened. The Swami asked them, “ Is it not inconvenient to have rains during the Festivals of Ablutions?”.
“No, those who bring the coconuts and perform ablutions desire to have rains, they enjoy it”
The Swami said, “In that case surely there will be rain today” It seems, the Swami’s statement was followed by instant rain.
There was one contractor by name Chalapron Achyutan at Talassery. He had narrated an episode, which he himself had experienced. His mother had been suffering from an evil spell for a long time. When the spell came on her, she used to get up and dance which was quite embarrassing to the family. Many attempts were made to break the spell. Even Muslim exorcists were brought to try. Nothing could help her. When the exorcists start drawing mystic figures on the floor and begin their chanting, the woman would show them the mistakes they had committed in the drawing, quoting rules from authentic sources. She would drive them away branding them ignorant. People were surprised on hearing this woman recite Sanskrit stanzas which she had never studied, nor heard in her life. This trouble had been continuing for nearly fourteen years. At last, Mr. Achyutan went to Narayana Guru and reported the matter.
During one of his visits to Talassery temple the Swami went to Mr. Achyutan’s house. When the woman heard of the Swami’s arrival her dancing increased in intensity. When she saw the Swami she asked his permission to touch his feet and pay obeisance. He agreed and after that he asked her,
“Who are you?”
“ I am the sprit of sorcerer by name Cherukunnathu Kannan” she said.
It was known that there was a sorcerer by this name and he had died some years ago. But Mr. Achyutan’s family had no information about it. The woman continued”.
“Myself and some of my disciples (they were dead) regularly visit the old Trikkaikkal Temple, at Narangapatnam in Talassery. One day we met this lady on the way and my spirit just entered her. There is no other reason, nothing special”.
Swami Asked, “ Then why can’t you leave? Why do you want to trouble this poor woman? It is not good to trouble anyone”.
The sorcerer agreed, swore by touching the lamp and left. (swearing by lamp is an act of binding oneself on a solemn oath)
The woman became normal, For one year there was no problem. After an year, the problem started again. When questioned why he came back to trouble the woman, the answer was “Swami asked me only to go away. He never ordered me not to come back. So I am back” Mr. Achyutan went to Sivagiri and informed the Swami about this. The Swami gave a fruit for the woman to eat. She ate it and the problem was permanently solved by that. The evil spirit left her never to return.
Justice M. Govindan B.A, B.L has narrated another incident.
“Parassala is a small village about 6 miles to the northeast of Neyyattinkara in Trivandrum Dist. While in Parassala, I met a seventy years old ascetic in ochre robes. He was in the habit of visiting the deity Kadalkarayandi at Trichanur. The idol there is Lord Subrahmanya. I believe that Lord Subrahmanya was a “Siddha” with a lot of superhuman abilities. He was converted into a god with six faces (Shanmukha) as the son of Lord Siva not more than three hundred years ago. The description about him,
Vallisa kukuda dhara: subrahmany dwishadbhuja: deva senapati: sura: swami gaja mukhanuja:
must have been interpolated into Amarasimha’s “namanusasanam” at a later date.
“Let me continue with the story told by the old man. He was an in-patient for some days in Trivandrum General Hospital. The doctor in charge was Dr. Madhavan Pillai MLC, who retired as sanitary commissioner later. The patient was quite fond of his mother. It was his desire that his mother should breathe her last lying on his lap. Some one came to the hospital to tell him that his mother was seriously sick and was nearing her end. As he was suffering from arthritis he could not get up and walk. But the desire to see his mother was so intense that he decided to crawl to reach her. With great difficulty he crawled up to the hospital gate. Then he saw Narayana Guru with some disciples coming that way, at a distance. He called out to the Swami to help him. The Swami came down to him and found out all details. Then the Swami asked him to get up. To his own surprise, the patient could get up. The Swami took a walking stick from one of the bystanders and gave it to the patient and asked him to walk. He started to walk using the stick and slowly walked off. From that day onwards he had started to visit Kadalkarayandi Devan every year”.
While at Kancheepuram, the Swami was walking in the company of Govindananda Swamy and some other disciples. On the way, there was a small temple. The Swami wished to go in and see. But the temple door was locked after daily worship and the priest had gone home with the key. One man was despatched to ask the priest to return with the key. Meanwhile, the Swami went in and pushed the door. The door opened and the Swami walked in. The priest came with the key and he wondered how the door could be opened. The Swami simply said that the priest might have forgotten to lock the door.
The Swami was relaxing at Aruvippuram. Lots of people came to pay obeisance to him. Among them there was an old physician from Pulivathickal household. He offered a gold ring to the Swami as a token of his respect and devotion. The Swami did not accept it, saying that he did not need rings. The ring was left there on a table. There were so many people around him. After some time, The swami walked away from that place and people followed him, the person who offered the ring came back to look for the ring. It was not there where it was left. There was a leper among the crowd. After making some enquiries, the leper was suspected of stealing it. His bundle was opened and thoroughly searched for the ring . The ring was not found. People got angry and manhandled the poor leper. When the Swami returned, he saw the poor fellow weeping. The Swami found out what had happened. He was sorry for the leper. “Did you people beat this poor fellow?. The ring was given to me, what does it matter to you whoever took it? Did you still desire to possess the ring?. Did you give it to me with that feeling?” he asked the old physician. Then the Swami consoled the poor leper. You don’t feel bad about this. The blows to your back have taken away your disease”. After a few months, some people who met the leper said that he was completely cured.
A report from K.E Padmanabha Panikkar of Neyyattinkara: “ Once, while the Swami was talking to Ummini Aasaan, an old man from Kulathur came there. That man was a well known miser. The Swami turned to him, after general enquires, asked him “ Are you educating your children?.
“ No, Swami, I have no money”
“Do you have any money on you now?”. For this the miser said I don’t have even a penny with me”.
Then the Swami turned to Ummini Aasaan and said,“ This fellow has money with him. He is lying. Can you guess how much he has?”.
Ummini Aasaan expressed his inability.
Then the Swami said, “I shall tell you exactly how much he has . He started from home with seven rupees on hand. On the way, he spent two rupees, The balance of five rupees must be there in his money- pouch”
Ummini Aasaan got the pouch opened and looked. As Swami said, exactly five rupees were there in it. The miser agreed that what all the Swami said was true.
There was one sincere devotee of the Swami by name Vilayathu Krishnan Aasaan, who hailed from Perinad in Kollam Dist. The gentleman has helped us a lot in writing this biography.
STORIES NARRATED BT KRISHNAN AASAN
I had been living with the Swami at Aruvippuram for nearly two months from Dec. 1896. One day, a woman possessed by Chathan (vulgarized name of Satan) was brought there, by her people.
The Swami asked, “What is the problem?.
They: “Some evil spirit is pelting stones at her. The stones do not hit her hard, but slips down just touching her. Sometimes the stones fall quite close to her without touching. This repeats once in two hours”.
The Swami: Let us wait till the next stone comes.
After some time a stone came and fell down just touching her head. It was about a pound in weight. The Swami was sitting on the parapet wall on the eastern side of the cottage. The woman and her people were standing near him. The Swami also saw the stone falling.
The Swami said: “Take a stone almost of the same weight, make a mark on it with white lime westen side. Then let some strong person throw it into the forest on the western side, across the river”.
A cook from the temple did this.
Then the Swami said aloud “If chathan is throwing the stones, let him throw this marked stone.”
After some time, to our surprise, the same stone was thrown at her. It just touched her and fell down.
The Swami said, “very good, the same stone is thrown. So Chathan is obedient. Therefore, hereafter don’t throw stones.”
So saying, he asked the woman to be taken home. But they wanted to verify. So they stayed back for that day, and participated in the worship at the temple. The next day they returned after offering some contributions to the temple. During their stay, there was no stone throwing.
The stone marked with lime convinced me that chathan had obeyed the Swami. If it was not there, I would have thought that Chathan’s decision to stop this mischief just coincided with the Swami’s words.
The land adjacent to the cottage at Aruvippuram was not authentically allotted to anyone. No one had any legal right on that land. The Swami and a Nadan (caste) had submitted applications to get this land allotted. Meanwhile, the land was being made use of for agriculture. The Nadan had cultivated tapioca on one half of the land, and the temple authorities had planted banana plants on the other half.
There was one big bunch of bananas on one of the plants adjacent to the Swami’s cottage. It was stolen in the night. At that time, the Swami was at Trivandrum. Kumaran Aasaan was there at Aruvippuram. He and other ascetics of the temple were enraged by the theft. They complained to the police. With one ascetic as plaintiff the case was registered. The case was posted for hearing at the Magistrate’s Court at Neyyattinkara. The magistrate Sri. K. Padmanabhan Thambi was familiar with the people at the temple. Quite often he used to come there to discuss philosophy with the Swami. Kumaran Aasaan was not that well-known then, but Magistrate Thambi knew him. So he took immediate action. The thief was caught on the same day, and the stolen object was also found, and the case was charged.
The judgment was postponed for a day in order to grant time for the offender to present his defense. Meanwhile rumour spread that the Magistrate was very angry and felt personally offended as the theft was from the temple premises, so he was going to pronounce a very harsh penalty, the offender was to be tied down on a tripod and flogged, in the temple premises itself.
The Swami was on his way back on that day. On the way, at Neyyattinkara, he heard this rumour. He was hurt to the core. He said, “I am not coming back to Aruvippuram. Ascetics should not nurture such anger and hatred in their hearts. If they continue in this way, it will lead to mutual assaults, stabbings and even murder. If that poor fellow is flogged in the temple premises, his agonized wailing will defile the atmosphere of the temple. The ascetics should not breathe such defiled air. So I will go away to some other place.”
So saying, he went away to the home of a householder disciple at Karimkulam. On hearing of this, Kumaran Aasaan and others understood how they had gone wrong. They went to the magistrate and told him how the Swami felt. The magistrate agreed to set the offender free, if the Swami did not like to punish him. After the thief was set free, Kumaran Aasaan and others went to Karimkulam, offered their explanations and brought the Swami back to Aruvippuram.
The Swami had consecrated a temple at Muttakkad. Theft of jackfruits from the temple premises was a regular feature. The priest went to the Swami and told him all details including the identity of the suspect. The priest thought that the Swami would curse him, and misfortune would fall on him.
The Swami asked the priest, “Have you seen him after he started stealing?
Priest: I have seen him loitering among the trees looking for fruits.
Swami: Why didn’t you tell him that if he came in the nights his feet might get thorn pricks or bitten by snakes. You should have asked him to come during day time and take the fruits. You have no compassion in you. At least now you should start to love him and warn him of the danger in his actions. The priest felt ashamed of himself and returned .
Krishnan Aasaan met the Swami for the first time at Aruvippuram, in 1888. The following anecdotes also are narrated by him.
At that time there was only a small shrine at Aruvippuram, and no other building. There was a small cottage for the Swami on the river bank and two or three thatched sheds for the use of pilgrims. When I went, the Swami was sitting in the cottage. While we were engaged in small talk, an old carpenter came there. He had only a folded umbrella with him. He greeted the Swami and came to sit with me on the outer veranda of the cottage. We went on talking. After a while, the Swami said, “If you will just take out that packet of rice flakes and scraped coconut from your umbrella, all of us can eat.”
On hearing this, the old man immediately took out the packet from the folds of the umbrella, and placed it before the Swami, and stood with folded hands as if he was apologetic.
The Swami asked, “Do you need any more proof?” The man humbly replied, “No, I will not test you again”.
The man confessed to me that he had tried to test the powers of the Swami six times earlier, and this was the seventh instant. He had hidden things from the Swami, just to know whether the Swami could find out without being told. This incident of the rice flakes proved beyond doubt that the Swami had the power to read others minds (atheendriya jnanam). This incident has left a very deep impression on my mind.
From 1892 onwards, the Swami used to visit Karuva near Kollam very often. He used to relax at the Sree Narayana Mangalam Temple, which he himself had consecrated. On a very hot day, at noon time a few of us were taking rest along with the Swami in the temple premises. At that time an old man came there, walking in the hot sun, without even an umbrella. The Swami greeted the man, asked about his well-being and then enquired the reason for his coming. The old man replied that he had come to invite the Swami for lunch. The old man appeared as though he were an ordinary labourer working for daily wages. The Swami asked him how far his house was and he said it was only four miles away. The Swami asked us, “Do we go now?”
We thought, we have enough food for all of us in the temple. Lots of bananas, sweet limes, and sugar candies were there, which had come as offerings to the Swami. We would take the eatables, and all the cash offerings would go to the temple authorities. Moreover, the mid-day sun was burning hot. Considering all these, we decided not to go. So we told the Swami, “It is impossible to go out in this hot sun. We can go tomorrow either in the morning or evening which will be more convenient and comfortable”. We insisted on this.
Without caring for our words, the Swami got up and walked with the old man. Naturally we had to follow. We reached the old man’s house. Then we came to know that he was a prominent Nair chieftain of the locality. A sumptuous feast, with a number of side dishes and four types of sweets was ready there, sufficient for about a hundred people. On the way to his house from the temple, many people had joined us, increasing the number. The Swami was served food on the façade, and all the others were made to sit in the corridors. As per the custom, the food was served on plantain leaves. After the meal, the leaves will be thrown out. But the old man did not allow the Swami’s leaf to be thrown out. He got his food served on that leaf, and ate from it. (Eating from the same leaf is a sign of extreme devotion.) After that he offered Rs. 25/- as donation, which naturally went to the owner of the temple. All of us were satisfied when we returned. We have to remember that even the owner of the temple was against this visit, along with all of us. We got a nice retort which made us feel ashamed of our ignorance.
In the year 1893, myself and my friend Mangalasseri Govindan Aasaan had gone to the hilly area of Devikulam. A few days after we returned, both of us developed malarial fever at the same time (Malaria in those days was a fatal disease). It took nearly six months of treatment for us to recover. Even then,. I used to get fever once in a month and the right leg got swollen. (Most probably it was filarial fever, which was mistaken as malaria). After another six months the swelling of the leg remained, and was confirmed as elephantiasis. In between, I had been taking different treatments.
One day, I was going out early in the morning on some personal work. Suddenly I saw the Swami approaching me. I was surprised. He came close to me, and I stooped down with folded palms to touch his feet.
He asked me in his kind voice,” Do you have swelling on your leg? It looks like “elephantiasis”?.
I responded, “I had a fever, which lasted for nearly six months. When the fever came down, this swelling has started. Once or twice in a month, I get high fever again. When the fever comes down, the leg will be swollen some more.”
The Swami said, “I will tell you a medicine. There is nothing here to write it down. But you know a little “Ayurveda”. I will tell a stanza with just eight letters in a line. Can’t you learn it and remember? I will recite, listen carefully.
“Vaachaa hareethakee draakshaa
Nirugnnee Swarase siddham
Thailam hanthya pachim kshanaal
Did you understand?”
I kept quiet.
The Swami: “In that case I will repeat. Listen carefully”.
He repeated the stanza and asked me to recite. I did so.
Swami: Go on repeating it so that you will not forget. After going home prepare this oil and use it externally and internally.
He gave me detailed instructions how to prepare the oil. I did accordingly, and the fever and swelling disappeared.
Krishnan Aasaan narrates another experience of his.
I had a friend and classmate by name Mannur Pappu who was living quite close by. He was not very rich but comfortably well-to-do. He was infected with tuberculosis, tried many treatments, to no avail, and finally he came to Sivagiri in the year 1899.(This biographer himself says that the Swami shifted to Sivagiri in 1904 ie 1079 MC. So how could Mannur Pappu be brought to Sivagiri in 1899 i.e 1075 MC?) The Swami accepted his donation of Rs.1500/- to Sivagiri. He was put up at Sivagiri, and several efficient physicians of the neighbourhood came to treat him. The Swami himself gave him some medicines. Two to three months passed like this, without any improvement. He was reduced to just skin and bones. At last his people came and carried him home, stopped all treatment, and kept him on a bed, ready to die. His people attended to his personal needs only, as he was expected to die at any moment. Being a neighbour, I went to see him, but I had the courage to see him in this pitiable condition only once. He was not rich enough to spare that big amount (Rs.1500/- was a big amount in those days.) as donation to Sivagiri. In addition to that, he was a miser too. He had donated the amount with the implicit faith that the Swami would cure him. I felt that it was not appropriate on the part of the Swami to accept the amount without consideration for the man’s financial position.
One day all of a sudden, without any invitation, the Swami came to his house, and walked straight to his bedroom, and made enquiries about his health. There was a bunch of bananas suspended from the roof in the next room. The Swami stepped into that room, plucked one fruit from the bunch, and gave it to the sickman. The Swami blessed him with the words “you eat this fruit You will not die now. You will live, you will lead a long life, we will meet again.” With these words of blessing the Swami walked out. Gradually he recovered. In course of time he regained perfect health. He died after ten years due to some other disease. His younger brothers are alive even now (when the book was being written). This incident is well-known in that area as a perfect example of the Swami’s divine powers.
Here is another dialogue between the Swami and Krishnan Aasaan at Aruvippuram in the year 1903. Hope the part of it quoted below will be interesting to the readers.
The Swami:- All these rituals of worship may become obsolete or superfluous at a later date.
Krishnan Aasaan:- It may not happen so.
The Swami:- The educated people may not appreciate these. The uneducated also may feel that these are outdated. Is it not so?
(There is a reason to believe that this comment was a jibe at Kumaran Aasaan. He was appointed as the administrator of the temple affairs, but the Swami felt that Aasaan was not paying careful attention to the temple affairs.)
Krishnan Aasaan:- No, I don’t think so.
The Swami:- If it happens, all these buildings can be used for other purposes. Buildings are like food, they are always needed. Food is needed only twice or thrice in a day. But the buildings are required always, day and night. We need buildings to protect us from heat and cold and rain. Sometimes we get free food from some source. But we can never get a house free of cost. If a beggar comes to a house and asks for alms, he will be given food. He must go away as soon as he finishes food. He cannot think of living there. Therefore, to construct buildings is also a righteous act. We have not wasted the people’s money.
Krishnan Aasaan:- What you say is right.
Krishnan Aasaan narrates the conversation of another day.
The Swami:- Do you believe in life after death?.
Krishnan Aasaan:- Some verses of Bhagavadgita say so.
The Swami :- Do you know that the souls of dead live in this world invisible to our eyes, but visible if viewed through some mystic medium called anjanam. (a blue stone of antimony sulphate)
Krishnan Aasaan:- I have heard so.
The Swami :- Recently such a blue ink ( a solution of antimony sulphate) was brought from Punjab to Trivandrum. If you look through that you can see the dead people. It is easier for women and children to see the dead persons. If men look through it, only a few can see. Dr. Palpu’s sisters from Mysore looked through that magic ink one day, and they could see their dead father. They were surprised and at the same time felt miserable about the loss of their father. They cried of grief. I was present at that occasion. Do you know Vilayivilakathu Kesavan?
Krishnan Aasaan :- I don’t know him. ( At a later date Krishnan Aasaan met this gentleman and they became good friends.)
The Swami:- He is a well-educated smart young man. He knows English too. He is also a rationalist, like C.V. Kunjuraman. He believes only if he can see. He got a young boy to look for his dead father through this ‘ink’. The boy saw a figure and described it. The description fitted his father, so Kesavan also has come to believe. All this happened in my presence.
Krishnan Aasaan:- Is the immortality of the soul a principle invented by human effort?
The Swami:- It cannot be. It must have been a revelation by God, through sages and seers.
An ascetic by name Ramananda Swamy told us the following details about the Swami, while at Sree Maheswara Temple of Koorkancheri in Trichur Dist.
1. There was a man called Vykkattil Shankaran, in the village of Vadanapalli. His land, which was close to the seashore, was being damaged by erosion of the sea. He went and complained to the Swami. The Swami asked his disciple Bodhananda to go and sleep on the sea shore for a day. Bodhananda did so. It is believed that from that day onwards, that particular area is free from sea erosion.
2. The Swami once visited the house of Thachappally Ayyappakutti at Engandiyur. That gentleman immediately milked his cow, and offered all that warm cow’s milk to the Swami to drink. But the Swami did not drink. The Swami had refused to drink because nothing was left in the udder for the calf to drink. The Swami remarked that if such milk was consumed, it would lead to diabetes. In fact, that householder was diabetic, and he died of diabetes.
3. Sree Maheswara Temple of Trichur belongs to the Thiyyas of that area. There was water scarcity in that area. A well was dug in the temple compound. It struck rock hence there was no water in it. When the Swami went there, he pointed to a particular spot and asked the people to dig a well there. They did so, and there is plenty of water in that well. Moreover, the water level never goes down in that well.
4. There is a temple called Thruppeswaram, in the Villge of Cheruthuruthi, of Talappilli Taluq of Cochin State. Originally it belonged to Nambudiris. They handed it over to the Nairs later. It was purchased for Rs.275/- by Kochi National Bank, on behalf of the Swami. A system of chits was arranged there to generate income to run the temple.
Once when the Swami visited the temple, an Ezhava by name Aarumukhan talked quite a lot, insulting temples. The Swami saw that the man was drunk and was not in his senses. On hearing his insolent words the Swami got up and walked off.
The Swami used to enumerate the evil effects of alcoholism very often. This Aarumukhan was a toddy-tapper. On the next day after this incident, he was sharpening his tools for tapping the palm trees. He went on sharpening the tool, but did not think of going to work. His wife asked him why he was not going. Then he replied that if he climbed a palm on that day, he would fall down and die, and that was why he did not go. The neighbours came to enquire. To them also he gave the same reply. From that day onwards he did not go for toddy-tapping. Instead he took up agriculture and prospered. In course of time, he became a very important person of the locality.
5. At Trichur, there was gentleman by name Kottiyattu Kunjunni. In his household, there was a very pious woman. Once when the Swami was at Koorkanchery temple, this woman wished to pay obeisance to him. She came to the temple,. But the crowd was so thick that she could not even see the Swami. Disappointed, she retuned home. In the night, the Swami appeared to her in a dream and on the next day. The Swami walked into her house, without any invitation.
6. Sri. N. R. Krishnan was a lawyer and a member of Travancore Legislative Assembly. He had an evil fate. He lost two of his children in childhood itself. After that, he started a propitiatory rite in the name of the Swami; every day he would deposit one chakram (a copper coin of 1/28th of a Rupee) into a hundi ( a box for receiving cash offerings) kept at home, and the accumulated amount he would hand over to the Swami. His prayer was that the Swami should collect the cash in person directly from him. He purchased a new mat and kept it always ready for the Swami to sit, whenever he came.
A third child was born to him. The child was fine. Then he took a decision. The first ‘rice-feeding’ of the child must be performed by the Swami, but he would not go to invite or request the Swami to come. His contention was that the Swami should have the instinctive knowledge of his desire and act accordingly. After he built a new house, he kept the ‘hundi’ and the mat in a separate room, and offered prayers every day. At last when the Swami came to Cherthala for consecrating a temple (the mirror installation) Krishnan intentionally did not go to meet him. But on his return from Cherthala, the Swami made enquiries about Krishnan, visited his house, received all offerings, and performed the “rice-feeding” of the child. The incident illustrates that the Swami had the power to know his devotees’ feelings and desires, even though there was no communication between them.
7. A similar incident happened at Thrikkaruva in Kollam Taluq. Kammancheriyil Kochukunju Vaidyan had a similar experience. He had nine children, and all of them died in childhood. He got a tenth child, with the blessings of the Swami, and this child survived. He had grown up to be known as Vellikkattu Shankaran Munshi. To express their gratitude to the Swami, Sree Narayanamangalam Kartikeya Temple was built by this family.
There are many instances of the Swami curing chronic diseases. Two such incidents narrated by Govindananda Swami are quoted here.
1. Once the Swami was staying at a place quite close to the family home of the famous Chavarkottu physicians. One person who had been suffering from unbearable stomach ache for a long time, came to the Swami and prostrated before him. He gave all the details about his agonizing disease. The Swami plucked the leaves and flowers of a very common herb and gave it to him, saying,”Eat these, you will be fine”. He ate them, and he was completely cured. It seems Chavarkottu physicians had tried this medicine on several patients, but it did not work for them.
2. One man had black warts all over one hand. He went and met the Swami. Valappattu Maami Vaidyan was also there.
The Swami said, “ Here is a physician, you can consult him”.
The patient replied,” Vaidyan (physician) himself has asked me to show it to you”.
The Swami: turning to the Vaidyan said, you are trying to entangle me, aren’t you?
Then the Swami suggested the following medicine “Cut potatoes into small pieces, soak them in water apply that water to the affected part a number of times”. After a few days of this treatment, the patient was cured.
3. A man by name Velayudhan of Vakkom was suffering from mahodaram (dropsy: unusual enlargement of the abdomen) and swelling of the legs. The Swami asked him to eat the central stalk of the banana plant. S. Narayanan Vaidyan says that this man was cured with this treatment, and he lived for quite a number of years as a healthy man.
The physicians had a doubt. Medicines when used by them , were not effective, but when the Swami prescribed them, they became effective. How did this happen? With a smile, the Swami replied. “It is the effect of the auspicious time when I prescribed”.
The undermentioned incident took place in the house of an Araya woman named Malikayil Mangathi, of Chalil village under Talassery Municipality.
The house where this woman lived was previously owned by the relatives of Muthuvadathu Raman Vaidyan. Raman Vaidyar’s father was a worshipper of Shakti ( a powerful female deity). In that house he had worshipped this deity for several years. After some time, the house was sold to Muslims. The Muslims were not happy in that house. They had to face many problems including frequent sickness and untimely deaths. So, they sold the house to the woman mentioned above.
From the day the woman started to live there with her family, she too had so many problems. Three young children died one after another in quite unnatural circumstances. After that Madhavan, a boy of one and a half years, contacted dysentery and died on the next day. On the same day, another child Mata of two years also died of the same disease. After these, three children-Kesavan, Sekharan, and Lakshmi of seven, six and five years respectively-were infected with the same disease. Physicians (ayurvedic) and doctors (allopathic) started treatment .
At that time, they came to know that Narayana Guru had come to the home of Madayambathu Mandan Writer, (The designation ‘writer’ is given to those who work as clerks in estates owned by Westerners) a neighbour. Mangathi’s husband Karimbil Kannan went to meet the Swami and reported all details. The Swami wanted to see the patients. The children were emaciated so much that they were reduced to just skin and bones. They could not walk, nor could they be carried to the Swami’s presence. But somehow, one child was carried by four people, each one supporting the head, body and legs separately. On looking at the child, the Swami cried out, “Those who have not seen Kuchela, can see him in this child”. (Kuchela was the friend and classmate of Lord Krishna. He was extremely poor and his body was reduced to skin and bones, due to lack of food. Lord Krishna blessed him with wealth after his visit to Krishna’s palace).
Here also, Narayana Guru became Lord Krishna to this Kuchela out of compassion after his visit. The Swami blessed the child, bestowing upon him good health and good fortune. After that he called the physician who was treating the child and found out the medicines that were being given to the child. The Swami asked the physician to add another medicine to it, and gave instructions as to how to do it. The physician followed, and the children recovered good health. Those people were leading healthy lives when this book was being written. The household had no problems after that.
There are many instances of the Swami curing insanity. Many people have first hand information about this. We do not think of enlarging the size of the book by narrating all that. Only two instances will be quoted here. These are narrated by Vidyananda Swamy of Sri Vinayaka Ashram of Mambalam in Madras.
1) Whether the Swami was staying at Aruvippuram, Sivagri or Aluva, it was quite common for people to bring mad people to him for treatment. In many cases the Swami had cured them just by a look or a few words. Once the Swami was invited to consecrate an idol of Lord Vighneswara at a temple in Bhavani, a place near Erode town. A surprising incident happened here. A strong handsome young man had gone mad. All types of treatment failed in his case. As he grew violent , people were afraid even to go near him. Four or five men together brought him to the Swami, his arms and legs bound by chains. The Swami felt extremely sorry to see a young man in this condition. He said, “What a pity, you please untie all those chains and leave him free. He is quite all right. Let him sit with me”. He sent all the others away. The young man recovered completely. His madness was cured. Moreover, he started looking after the Swami, and attending to all his needs. We enquired about this fellow later on. We came to know that he was perfectly alright. Never was there a reccurance.
2) On his journey to Colombo (Sri Lanka), the Swami was taking rest at a place called Muttayarachu near Madurai. At that time some Vaishnava Brahmins called Ayyangars came with flowers and fruits to pay their respects and prostrated before the Swami. Ayyangars are people who never prostrate before another human being, unless there is something special behind it. When these people came and prostrated before him, the Swami immediately remembered some past incidents. He told us the story in their presence,’
About five years ago, when the Swami was in Madurai, one mad Ayyangar was brought to him. All types of treatments had failed in his case. The Swami gave him a banana to eat and blessed him saying that he would be cured. On the same day he became normal. The Ayyangars had remembered this past incident. That was why they came with flowers and fruits and prostrated. The cured man’s father and brother were there in the group but not the man. He was a graduate govt. servant. Because of his illness he had been suspended from service. As soon as he recovered, he joined Govt. service again but was posted to some distant place. That was the reason for his absence. The Swami enquired about his well being and sent them away with blessings.
3. On our visit to Sri. K.C. Raman at Vakkom, Sri. S. Narayanan Vaidyan told us some stories about the Swami.
There was one poor woman and her child at Veliyil, about eight miles north of Trivandrum. While the Swami was a rambler, once he had gone to their house and begged for food. She had kept a little of the previous day’s food for the child (pazhanchor) which she gave to the Swami. He trained her to make coir (yarns from coconut fibre). After that the Swami collected Rs.50/- each from four people of the locality and made a capital of Rs.200/-, which he gave to the woman to start a business. She started a coir business, and prospered. Now they are well-off. Once a Christian woman stole some fibre from this house, and hid the stolen stuff in her own house. That night her house caught fire, and she went mad. In her mad ravings, she had gone repeating “I did not steal Naanu Aasaan’s fibre”.
In an earlier chapter the Swami’s attempt to teach coir making to this woman is narrated.
4. There was a lady teacher at Vakkom, whose insanity was cured by the Swami. After some time, when the Swami was collecting funds to start a school at Aluva, the Swami went to this teacher’s house. Each house was expected to give Rs5/- as donation. This teacher had only one rupee with her. She pawned her gold necklace secretly through someone and collected four Rupees, and kept five Rupees in front of the Swami. He took just Re1/- from that and said, “Keep the rest with you, you may have many expenses at home. This is enough for me”.
5. Once the Swami was relaxing on the top of a flat rock, at Kulathur, in Neyyattinkara Taluq. Some devotees were there around him. One drunken buffoon of a Nair, came there and wagged his tongue. He insulted the Swami by calling out, “Is it not a Kotti sitting there? (In Travancore state, the Ezhavas have a derogatory nickname ‘kotti’. The use of this nickname to refer to an Ezhava is considered highly abusive and insulting).The Swami did not say a word. After one year, the Swami met the same Nair at Ummini Aasaan’s house. The Swami asked him, “Do you drink alcohol nowadays?”
Nair : Yes, I do.
The Swami : Will you drink now, at this moment?
Nair : Yes, I will, if given.
The Swami asked Ummini Aasaan to get drinking water in a bottle. It was brought. The Swami took the bottle in his hand, shook it well, and gave it to the Nair. He drank the whole of it, and said, “I have never had such strong tasty liquor”.
It seems, the Nair did not drink after this. He could not tolerate liquor.
At Alapuzha, there was a physician, Sri. T.C. Kesavan Vaidyan, who owned a small Ayurvedic pharmacy. He has narrated one episode.
6. In the year 1904, one day the Swami was taking rest in the house of Sri. Kunnel Sekhara Panikkar, of Vadayattu Desam in Vaikkom Taluq. An Ezhava man went there fully drunk.
The Swami asked him, “Do you drink ?”
The man was defiant. He answered arrogantly, “Yes I drink.”
The Swami did not bother about his arrogance. The Swami gave him a few dried grapes and told him calmly; “Hereafter, don’t drink”.
The man wanted to mock these words of the Swami. In the evening, he planned to have a new bout of drinks. He got a chicken killed and cooked by his wife. While it was getting ready he went out and bought bottles of alcohol and kept them in a room in his house. When the chicken was ready he went to take out a bottle. When he was about to touch the bottle he felt that someone was wielding a trident at him. He got scared and screamed out. People heard his yell and came running to him. They forcibly took him to the Swami. The Swami sprinkled some holy ash on him, and blessed him. After that he never drank. The thought of alcohol vanished from his mind. He saved money, became a rich man, and Member of the Village Panchayat.
7. There was one man at Chalakkudy Railway station selling coffee and snacks. He was an ardent admirer of the Swami. He desired to pay obeisance to the Swami directly. So he went to Aluva one day. But he could not meet the Swami. He returned disappointed. After a few days, the Swami and some of his followers had to go to Trichur on some work. Chalakkudy Railway station is on the way between Aluva and Trichur. When they came to Aluva station to board the train, the Swami instructed his followers to buy tickets only to Chalakkudy.
All of them got down at Chalakkudy. The Swami took his seat in the shadow of a tree in the station premises. The coffee seller saw this. He came running to the Swami and fell at his feet. He invited the Swami to his house. The Swami accepted his invitation and went to his house. The poor man had only gruel made of broken rice to offer to the Swami. While leaving his house, the Swami asked him, “Your desires are fulfilled now, is not it?”
8. Once Konthi Mestri of Trichur wanted to have a photograph taken with himself and the Swami. After all arrangements were made, another person also wanted to be in the photo along with them. When the group was assembling for the photo, this man also joined the group. On seeing him, the Swami asked, “Are you also with us? Do we have to write your name on the photograph?”. People assembled there did not understand the meaning of these words. The meaning became clear after the photo was taken and printed. People were surprised to see that the new comer’s head and body were not printed in the photo, only the area below the waistline was there.
9. Komathu Kunju Panicker’s elder brother Muttathu Kadambattu Kochu Krishnan Channar and his wife had a strange desire. They wanted to eat the remnants of food left over by the Swami. The Swami knew this without being told. One day he went to this man’s house, and sat down for food. He asked the servers to spread two plantain leaves before him to serve food. Food was served on both leaves. The Swami ate a few morsels from each leaf, and left the remnants. He asked the Channar and his wife to take each leaf and eat. Thus the Swami satisfied their desire at the same time.
Sri Cheruvaari Govindan was a pensioner, and also the President of the Directorate of Jagannadha temple of Talassery. He has written the following.
Once, the Swami was staying at Kottiathu Ramunni’s coconut grove in Cheruvathur. The Swami and his followers were discussing common human affairs. People accepted that human beings have some special powers, but they are not aware of it. They can free themselves from all problems, if they develop the true sense of righteousness. Several examples were quoted to illustrate this. One of the stories was as follows.
1. One gentleman got a new house constructed. It was infested with beetles. The beetles fly about at all times, and drop into beds and food items also. Therefore it had become impossible to live in that house. He went and told the Swami about this problem. The Swami asked him. “Will there be about a hundred beetles”?
The Man :There can be more. They fly around in all rooms and all places.
The Swami :Will there be a thousand of them?
The Man :There could be.
The Swami :Then, don’t get frustrated. I shall give a suggestion. Make a thousand cookies, each one, the size of a small gooseberry. Fix a date for this and I will come there”.
A date was fixed, and the Swami reached the place at sunset. A lamp was lit, the cookies were brought in a large plate and kept near the lamp.
The Swami told the man of the house, “Lord Krishna is of the colour of the beetle. You meditate on Lord Krishna. Afterwards, distribute these cookies to all those present here. The beetles will not trouble you again.”
It was done. On hearing of the Swami’s presence, quite a number of people had gathered there. The cookies were given to all of them. Strangely, the beetles did not trouble him again.
2. Another man had planted coconut palms along the river bank. The plantlings started flowering. But when the tender nuts reached the stage of collecting water inside, they would burst open and become useless. The owner was put to lot of loss, and naturally he was unhappy about it. At last, he went to the Swami and told him about this. The Swami came and saw how the crop was getting damaged. He suggested one remedy. The bunches of tender coconuts on one plant were to be covered with a mat and wait for the result. It was done, and the nuts matured properly. One day the Swami came again and asked for these tender coconuts. The kernel of all these coconuts were scraped out and mixed with jaggery in a large vessel. The Swami ordered this mixture to be distributed to all those present there. It was done, and after that there was no problem. All the palms yielded good crops.
There is no end to such stories. Several of the stories are left out from what we received only a few are given here.
Sri E.K. Ayyakkutty B.A. had first hand experience of many more such episodes, and he had recognized and understood the Swami’s greatness in all aspects. That is why he wrote an article “We and Our Guru”, in the 9th issue of Vivekodayam. It reads, “Dear brothers, we are specially fortunate to be the contemporaries of Sree Narayana Guru. When we read the stories and biographies of great incarnations like Sree Rama, Sree Krishna, Lord Buddha, Adi Shankara, Sree Rama Krishna etc., we feel how lucky were their followers and contemporaries. We wish to see the places where they were born. If what Lord Krishna says is true, Sree Narayana Guru who had emancipated fourteen lakhs of people and enlarged the scope of their vision, is certainly an incarnation. I do not hesitate to emphasize it. Bhagavan Sree Narayana Guru shines like the sun who is the enemy of darkness”.
He had heard about Sree Narayana Guru for the first time, when he was a young student living in Kochi. He was the student of a Christian Mission School. He was attracted to Christianity in those days, as he had a number of lessons from the Bible. Accidentally, he happened to read the speeches of Swami Vivekananda and was fascinated by that. Curiosity developed in him to know more about Hinduism and Hindu philosophy. At that time he happened to hear that there was a man called Naanu Aasaan and he was a great Siddha. Once this great person was staying with a gentleman in Palluruthy. On his way to school, our young man dropped in at this house to meet this great person. It was in the year 1905. When he saw the Swami’s face, he felt at once that this man had some special powers, The young boy was not bold enough to walk in and start a conversation. As he was hesitating, the Swami himself started talking to him.
“Did you not go to school to day? Does not matter, this also is a sort of schooling, isn’t It?”.
He did not answer. The Swami started talking to others who were present there, and then went inside to have his lunch. The house owner came out and invited several people to join for lunch. But he did not invite this young student. The young boy was quite hungry, but he could not walk in and sit for lunch unless he was invited. Then he heard the Swami’s voice from inside, “There is a boy in school uniform, call him also for lunch”. One man came and took him in for lunch. The young man stayed there after lunch listening to the Swami talking to others on various subjects. He went home only in the evening when the Swami went out. Afterwards, the desire to receive some advice from the Swami increased day by day. He waited for one year, and then went to Sivagiri.
Guru Prasada Swamy has written what happened at Sivagiri “Sivagiri in those days did not have all these convenient buildings which are there now. The Swami had one thatched cottage. I went in and prostrated before him, when he was alone. Immediately he asked me, “ Did I not see you at Palluruthy?” I replied in the monosyllable ‘yes’, I could not speak anything else. I just stood with a blank face, wondering about his terrific memory power. How many thousands of people does he meet everyday? Does he remember all these people? I was anxious to ask about many things but my voice refused to come out. But what the Swami was telling others, looking at me too, served to clear many of my doubts without my asking. My faith in him and his abilities doubled. My belief about his ability to read others’ thoughts, germinated with his words at Palluruthy ( asking me to be invited for lunch) became deep-rooted with this experience.
I was not very particular about my food. But I am used to a cup of coffee early in the morning . I felt a little uncomfortable because I did not get that morning cup of coffee regularly. It was a trivial matter and I did not tell anyone about it. But one day I overheard the Swami telling the cook, “You must prepare coffee in the morning and give him. It is difficult for him to give up coffee all of a sudden”. I was quite surprised, at the same time I felt extremely happy. Is there anything more fortunate than being the disciple of a great man who understands and satiates the desires of his disciples?. But I had to return home because letters, telegrams and money orders from home asking me to return became too persuasive. The Guru told me “Things will happen as you believe. You may go now. But you can return after one year”.
After one year, I returned to Sivagiri with all arrangements made to remain as a permanent inmate.
It is very difficult to narrate the experiences, I had while living there, spending time in studies and serving the Swami. It is beyond words. Lord Sri Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita. “My devotee who never enrages the forces of nature, remains always amicable, compassionate, impartial, equanimous, devoid of egoism, patient, with good will towards all and malice towards none, practises abstinence from liquor and dedicates all his actions to me, is dear to me always”. Sree Narayana Guru was a personification of all these qualities. I have never heard even a single angry word from him. No one was too small or too big to receive his love. No one ever had to feel that the Swami loved one person more and another less. Every one felt that the Swami loved him best.
2. One day the Swami was walking along the streets of Kadakkavur village with his ascetic disciples and wealthy householder disciples. They saw an old Muslim woman who had come out from her hut and stood on the road with folded palms. The Swami talked to her for some time, and then turned to the others and said, “I cannot forget this old mother. She had given me a lot of puttu (A preparation of steamed rice flour and coconut) and fried fish during my mendicant days. She must be given something substantial”. it was a very strong practical lesson to others that the beautiful butterfly should not forget the ugly caterpillar. When one becomes prosperous and powerful, he should not forget those who had helped him during his early bad period. The Swami used to teach his disciples great lessons through such practical actions, never through preaching.
have observed the Swami always equanimous , whether it was praise or abuse that was showered upon him. Some men of anti-temple attitudes have insulted the Swami by their writings titled “Some Acharyas who Block the Passage to Salvation with Stones” and “A Swamy Planting Boundary Stones” etc. Some others have written citations praising the Swami to the high skies finding suitable meaning to all this actions. When he was listening to both these, I could see that the expression on his face was always the same, peaceful and dispassionate.
The Swami expressed through his actions the meaning of the philosophic expression “aniketha sthira mathi” ( dispassionate and equanimous). Even when he was in sick-bed, he did not break his stance. He was a man of few words, but his words were always witty and pithy. His ability to drive home his points through pleasant cryptic statements was remarkable. Another speciality about him was that he would listen attentively to anyone who spoke to him, however silly the topics might be. One example to illustrate this is given here.
3. During August 1918, he started on his trip to Ceylon ( Sri Lanka). Sri Cheruvari Govindan was his private secretary on this occasion . It was the time when one Anna coins ( 1/16th of the present rupee) were released anew. Sri Govindan got a new coin. He described the quality of the metal with which it was made and all other details. I was sure that the Swami had seen the coin earlier and knew all about it. But he did not want to discourage Sri Govindan. So he listened very carefully and made an occasional comment, “It that so?”.
4. It was a special quality with him not to hurt or spite anyone by his words or actions. To those who want to know more, he would explain elaborately. With those who pretend that they know, he would simply agree. With those who disagreed with him in religious or spiritual matters, he would never argue or contradict their views. But he would gradually and slowly explain and make them understand his ideas, and finally they would willingly agree with what he said and accept his proposals without an iota of difference. Whoever it was, if they met Gurudev once, they would surrender themselves to that great power and feel complacent about the surrender.
Once, some Nambudiri scholars from Varkala came to argue with the Swami on philosophical principles. When they came, the Swami was sitting on a small verandah. One of the Nambudiris planted one foot on the verandah and started asking questions (planting a foot on level with the seat of another is a sign of discourtesy). Many of us were watching this. We could not stand that insolence. We felt like asking them to stand properly and maintain courtesy. But Kumaran Aasaan prevented us by saying “Don’t do that. Have some patience. Swami himself will handle this”. After some time we saw the Nambudiris bow their heads with folded palms, and in the end they prostrated themselves in front of the Swami, before they took leave.
5. Dr. Palpu’s mother was sick and was laid up at Trivandrum. After asking some of us to stay with her, the Swami left for Aluva. After a few days we got a telegram from the Swami with the text, “We all pray for her”. The great lady passed away holding the telegram in her hand. I made enquires about this telegram, how and why it was sent. I was informed by the disciples at Aluva that the Swami had asked them to send the telegram immediately, otherwise it would be too late. Most probably the Swami had the premonition of her impending death.
6. Once, the Swami was staying in the house of Sri Mooliyil Krishnan at Madras. One day the Swami got up at three O’ clock in the morning and started to walk. I followed him. We walked on the sea shore for quite some time. Finally we reached Mylapore Temple at about 8 O’ clock. There was no one who knew the Swami. If we sat there, morning bath etc, and breakfast would be a problem. So I humbly suggested that we go to the house of Sri P.T. Kannan, Circle Inspector of Police, who was living close by. The Swami said, “ If you have faith, everything will be solved. There will not be any problem”. Within a few minutes a Mudaliyar lady brought some milk and fruits to us. She said “I had a dream last night. Some one told me that a great soul was waiting at this temple. That is why I brought these”. So saying, she greeted the Swami with folded palms. The Swami looked at me and smiled. He asked, “How could such a thing happen?. This lady does not know us.” Then he turned to the lady and asked, “You are suffering from stomach ache, aren’t you?”. The Swami gave her a fruit and said, “ Eat this, you will not have stomach ache again”.
7. Another time, the Swami was taking rest in the house of his devotee, Sri Kottiyathu Kunjambu, the local post master. It was evening. Twilight had spread. Another devotee, Muthedathu Unni Krishna Menon came there to meet the Swami. The Swami asked him all of a sudden, “Where do I stay for tonight?. Do you have the facility to accommodate me?” Mr. Menon said “Of course I can accommodate you. You can stay wherever you desire and feel comfortable “. That day, Swami went to stay in Mr. Menon’s house. Mr. Menon later disclosed to me that he had the desire to have the Swami stay with him for a night, but he did not invite directly because he was afraid whether the Swami would like it or not. He did not want to displease the Swami in anyway. But the Swami knew the devotee’s desire and satisfied him.
8. Sri T.K. Narayanan, a Govt. Servant of Kochi was a sincere devotee of the Swami. There was no limit to his hospitality if the Swami visited him. One day, two of his friends, Sri T.G. Thomson, and Sri Jacob Haji Jaffer Sett tried to play a practical joke on him. They went to his house and told him a fib that Swami had come to Kochi, he was relaxing on the beach, and he would come to Mr. Narayanan’s house in the night . They knew Mr. Narayanan would prepare a lot of sweetmeats and other special items for the Swami and his followers. The two friends planned to enjoy all the food. As soon as the food was ready, they started laughing how they had fooled their friend. I was also present there. Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, the Swami walked in . We can imagine the reactions of Mr. Narayanan’s friends. Did they fool their friend or were they fooled?. Their surprise and respect for the Swami was beyond words.
9. There are more examples. A dumb man was brought to Aruvippuram, and when the Swami asked him to talk, he started talking. People under evil spells, who could not walk because of the spell, were carried to Aruvippuram. When the Swami told them that there was nothing wrong, they got up and walked home. There are innumerable examples of such miracles.
When I asked Gurudev to know the truth about some of these, he told me , “ Once I took bath in a pond. Some Nair fellows came with sticks to beat me. (The Swami being an Ezhava, was not supposed to touch that pond as per caste rules). When I asked them what they wanted, they could not open their mouths. When I was living at Aruvippuram, leopards used to come and sit beside me on rocks. They never harmed me. They will harm only those who nurture ill-will towards them”.
10. The year 1089, Kanni 10th ( This corresponds to 1913 Sept) is the day of an unforgettable divine experience in my life. On that day Gurudev was at Aluva attending to mundane matters. During the night I had the good fortune to sleep near the Swami’s bed room. In the middle of the night I felt the glow of a bright light. I woke up. I thought the lamp was burning in the Swami’s room. I peeped through the window. There was no lamp. But Gurudev was awake and was sitting up on the bed. There was a hallow around him, and its brightness had filled the entire room, and was spilling to the outside also.
11. The Swami’s devotion for his teachers is something admirable . Kummampally Raman Pillai Aaasaan, who taught him Sanskrit in his younger days was sick and hospitalized at Trivandrum. The Swami went to see him several times. Every time, he stood near the sickman’s bed for some time, praying and meditating. Then he returned after expressing some words of consolation to the sickman. Not only that, he had instructed his followers to find out regularly the sickman’s needs and carry out all that was required . When he said this his tone was one of compassion, respect and love for his former teacher.
12. Once, I had been to Bombay after receiving Gurudev’s permission and blessings. On reaching Bombay, some problem developed in my head. I felt an irritating noise coming out of my skull. This worried me. I had been practising Praanaayaama, I thought there was some mistake in my practice. I contacted some Yogis at Bombay and they told me to apply butter to my head. I did this, but it did not help me. Then I consulted my friend Dr. Prabhudas. He said my ears were to be cleaned. That was done and still I was not better. At last I decided to meet the Swami and tell him. I reached Varkala via Mangalapuram. When I went and prostrated before him, he looked at my face in a strange way. I stood transfixed. I could not say a word. I simply burst out into tears and sobs. I felt he was the personification of kindness and divinity. He consoled me, “ You need not get frightened. It is not a disease” . Then he advised me how to perform “praanaayaaama”. All this happened before I told him anything about my problem. I recovered easily after following his kind advice.
In this way, he showed us many examples and taught us useful lesson through actions. He generated a number of ascetic disciples and more number of house holder disciples . His life was a continuous flow of virtue and blessings to all. Though his physical body is gone from our midst, his spirit is permanently alive in the hearts of his devotees.
Details furnished by Sri Shankarananda Swamy of Kashi.
1. Quite close to the famous Vaikkom temple, there is a small village called Paralur . One gentlemen by name Pappi Vaidyan had got a temple for Lord Siva consecrated by the Swami in this village. On the eastern side of the temple was the road going from Thruppunithura to Vaikkom. A staunch devotee of the Swami, lived on the eastern border of this road, in a small enclosure. On the western side of his house, there was a big tree, spreading its branches far and wide. The temple, the devotee’s house, and was the big tree appeared like a single unit and was well-known in that area.
This devotee took a strange vow. He desired to spread the name and fame of the Swami through him. One fine morning he went to the Siva temple after bath, smeared holy ash, and wore a string of Rudrakshas around his neck, (“This are gestures indicating the beginning of long term vows. Growing beard is also included in this. These are discarded only after the fulfillment of the vow). Then he went home and dug a pit. He performed a ceremonial pooja of the pit and then planted in it a special variety of banana sapling, Padattu Vaazha. He bought two new earthen pots and used them to water this sapling. He gave up non-vegetarian food, and observed celibacy also. Everyday morning after watering the plantling, he would sit near it facing north and meditate on “Om Sree Narayanaya namaha” for a long time. He would start his daily routine only after this. When people asked him, what the meaning of all these was, he had a ready answer. “This plant will produce a special bunch of fruits. When it ripens the Swami will come to eat it”. Some Christians said it was possible for devotees to achieve such desires. Muslims said it was definitely possible. Only some Hindus said that something was wrong with this man’s head. They made fun of him.
In the meanwhile, the plantain tree flowered and then the fruit bunch appeared. The bunch was unusually big. Gradually it started ripening. Pappi Vaidyan advised the man to cut the bunch and keep it in a sac, or the fruits will fall down when fully ripe. So the bunch was cut and packed in a gunny bag. People started making fun of him saying that the fruits were ripe but his Swami did not come.
In Neyyattinkara Taluq, there is a small Village by name Karimkulam. In that village, there were three brothers in a prosperous aristocratic family. They are Kittu Vaidyan, Kochu Mayatti Aasaan and Padmanabhan Contractor. One night, the Swami was sitting on the sea shore, along with the second brother, the Aasaan . Suddenly the Swami said, “ I feel sort of empty in the stomach. But I don’t feel like eating. What could be the reason for that?” The wise Aasaan simply said, “As you say, you know the best”. The Swami immediately started to walk towards the north on the sea shore. Aasaan walked with him. By the morning they reached Trivandrum. They went to the boat jetty and got into a boat bound for Vaikkom. On the third day at about 1.20 hrs in the night, they reached Pappi Vaidyan’s temple at Paralur. They were completely drenched with rain on the way. The priest of the temple immediately gave them dry clothes to change. Then he went to Pappi Vaidyan’s house to inform him about the Swami’s arrival. Vaidyan rushed to the temple carrying tender coconuts, bananas, sugar candy etc and offered them to the Swami. But the Swami asked him “ Can we get good padattu pazham” here?. Now shops must be closed, isn’t it?. Vaidyan at once remembered the devotee and his bunch of “Padattu Pazham” bundled in the gunny bag. Some one was sent to awaken the devotee. Happily he brought his bunch of “Padattu Pazham” and offered it at the Swami’s feet, and prostrated a number of times. The bunch was fully ripe, the fruits were detached from the stalks and dropped into the sac. The Swami took one from it, ate a half and gave the other half to the devotee. Then the Swami ate the peal also. Then he took fruits from the sac and distributed to all those present there. He said with a smile , “These fruits are great. The taste is incomparable. Even the peal is tastier than the pulp. You may all try for yourself”. (In this particular variety of bananas the inner part of the peal is sweet and edible). Listening to these meaningful words all of them ate the fruits with the peal. Then the Swami ordered to have a feast of payasam ( a sort of gruel with rice, milk and sugar) to all those who came.
On the next day, the feast was held. For that purpose, lots of milk came as donation from devotees. This village was noted for milk scarcity. Actually the village was nicknamed as “a place where no one takes milk”. Even if payment is made in gold coins, the least measure of milk was not available there. In such a place, so much of milk had come, because the Swami willed it. Every one was convinced of this. Those who came to scoff, started to pray. Doubts and scepticism, turned into respect and adoration.
This is the story narrated to me by Pappi Vaidyan and others, when I went to the temple.
Kochu Mayatti Aaasaan, was with the Swami on this occasion. Later, The Swami and Aaasaan both were affected by cholera at the same time. Aaasaan succumbed to cholera while Swami recovered.
More stories narrated by Shankarananda Swamy:-
2. One day the Swami went to Sri Kochu Kutti Vaidyan’s house along with me. This gentleman was the founder of Kunnumpara temple. The Swami suggested to the Vaidyan to entrust the administration of the temple to me, and made me in-charge of all rituals of worship. Then we proceeded to Trivandrum, and visited Javalakshanam Mootha Pillai at Kaitha Mukku. This rich gentleman was a Pandian (Tamilian) by birth, and worked as an accountant in Travancore Maharaja’s palace. He had constructed a new house, spending more than thirty thousand rupees in those days . The Swami was shown the entire house. Then all of us were offered light refreshments. The Swami was served on a table and I was served on the floor. I did not eat. While the Swami was eating, Mootha Pillai wanted to know why I was not eating. The Swami replied that I would eat only what was cooked by myself, and not by others. After hearing this, Mootha Pillai narrated this story.
“I was once seriously sick. The membrane covering the inside of my mouth and the entire digestive system was damaged. There was unbearable pain and burning from mouth to anus. I could not swallow even saliva. My body was reduced to just skin and bones. All types of treatments were tried. Nothing helped me. Even occult treatments were done. Lots of money was wasted. At that time, someone told my mother that there was a great sage (rishi) at Aruvippuram who lived in the company of tigers and leopards and I would recover if taken to him.
The forest around Aruvippuram was the home of wild animals. It was impossible to go there alone. People had to go in groups. So, mother collected all relatives and friends, and as a group of twenty five people we started. We had carried enough provisions, except firewood with us to last for about a month. There was no road. We just walked through the river bank. We saw the Swami sitting on a rock in the forest, then we knew we had reached Aruvippuram. I was married a few days ago, and the bride also was with us. All of us prostrated before him after offering fruits and roots. Then we told him all about my disease. His immediate response was that he had no medicines with him. But we decided to wait. The women cooked food and served for the Swami. In our Pandian food, there would be more tamarind and chilies. I had not taken this normal food for months together. I was surviving on milk and water alone. The Swami gave me one morsel of food, mixed with “Sambar” and all other ingredients. I hesitated to eat, but the Swami said, “Don’t hesitate, you can eat”. On hearing his words, I closed my eyes and swallowed the morsel. My mouth felt frozen. I did not feel any taste or distaste. Then he asked me to go and have the full meal. I took food, along with all hot and sour side-dishes. Nothing happened . I did not feel pain or burning. After this, my problem simply disappeared. I never had any problem until now. The Swami is such a great man with miraculous powers. Though you move close to him, you might not have seen all of his powers. They are all withdrawn now”.
When Mootha Pillai narrated these, the Swami kept smiling and carried on with his food. All of us returned.
Shankaranda Swamy writes about his own story.
3) Between Trivandrum and Kazhakkoottam there is a village called Kulathoor. In this village there is a patch of dense forest clustrured with trees and poisonous creepers. On the south side of this was a temple for Bhagavati ( a female deity). Animal sacrifice was part of the rituals of this temple. The Swami had converted this into a temple for Lord Siva in order to stop the animal sacrifices. By the side of this dense wood lived Sri Thavarathu Veetil Kochappi. He was an ardent devotee of the Swami. He was a very good–natured gentleman with high ethics, a generous donor, and a handsome person. The Swami had visited that house once. At that time, I had just returned from a Pligrimage to Kashi (Benares) and was living in that temple on the orders of the Guru. I was there only for about two or three weeks when the Swami came there. After finishing my meal, I decided to meet the Swami. I had to cross the dense wood to reach the house where the Swami was. On the way I was bitten by a snake. I kicked off the snake from my foot, and ran fast to reach the Swami. I was only 18 years old at that time. When I reached, the Swami was sleeping. The pain in my leg was increasing, but I did not have the courage to disturb the Swami in his sleep. I believed implicitly that the presence of the Swami near me would be an antidote to snake poison, and the poison would not harm me. I sat near the Swami’s feet, with my teeth pressed together to tolerate pain. I waited nearly for two to three hours, gradually the pain reduced. Early morning at about 4 AM, the Swami got up and went to the sea shore. I accompanied him. I had not slept for the whole night. I took bath in the backwaters, then told the Swami about the snake bite. The Swami examined the wound. There were two teeth marks, and a black patch around them. After looking at it very carefully he remarked, “Your faith has saved you”.
In this way, the experiences of many people have proved that Sree Narayana Guru was a superhuman. He must have had accumulated all these powers through previous births, and enhanced all the inherent powers through yoga and other exercises, so that he developed special powers to control himself and others around him. But he never had the intention to publicize his powers, nor did he think of personal gains through that. Occasionally, when situations demanded, he made use of these powers for the benefit of others. All those who knew the Swami very well will agree that this is all true.
For the benefit of the people the Guru had travelled to many places. In these journeys he had to put up with quite a lot of discomfort and inconvenience. One example is furnished below, written by Sri Vidyananda Swamy
On September 4th, 1927, after the celebration of his 70th birthday, the Swami set out to Ambasamudram. Sangeetha Swamy, Thiruppuramkundram Shantalinga Swamy, Hanumangiri Swamy, Shanku Bhaktan etc., accompanied the Swami. I joined the group on 10th. We lived on the banks of river Thamraparni till 16th . From there we went to Thiruppuramkundram. There the Swami spent a few days in a lonely forest area called Muttayarachu. There was an old temple, some shed like structures built of stones, (mandapam) and large groves with shade and shadows. It was very cool and comfortable. Madurai was about four or five miles away. Lots of people used to come from Madurai to have darshan of the Swami. Hanumangiri Swamy and others, had taken pains to make life there comfortable. Though we lived in a forest, because of the Swami’s presence, we felt as if we were celebrating a long festival. All the flowers and fruits, and other specialties of the city of Madurai were brought to us by devotees. The Tamilians’ respect for the Swami was something special.
People like Sri. Advaithananda Swamy, the head of Brahmananda Swami Mutt, the Head of Kunnakkudi Upper Mutt Sri Ganapathy Swamy etc. came and invited the Swami to their own respective Mutts, and took him to these places with respect and devotion. Meanwhile Devakotta Zamindar and MLA Sri. R. Arunachalam Chettiar invited the Swami to visit his home. This Chettiar had been a devotee of the Swami since a very long time. Mahadeva Swamy, the Head of Kovilur Mutt also invited the Swami. He visited all these places happily along with his followers and received their hearty and genuine hospitality. He spent a few days each at Kunnakkudi, Kovilur and Devakotta.
While he was at Kunnakkudi, something special happened. There was a neglected Ganapati Temple, quite close to the Upper Mutt where the Swami was staying. The Swami used to crack jokes about that temple, how poor Ganapati was unwanted by all. That year, rains failed, and lots of problems arose due to water scarcity. Vegetation dried up, even water for a bath became scarce. Some devotees who were prominent in the area came to the Swami and represented the matter. The Swami immediately asked them, pointing to the Ganapati temple.
“Will you offer coconuts to this Ganapati, if it rains?”
They said, “ We will break any number of coconuts.”
The Swami: “Good, if you agree it will rain.”
After a few hours it started to rain. The whole day it was raining. People were happy and surprised. In their excitement, thousands of coconuts were brought, and ceremoniously broken before Ganapati, with special rituals. From that day onwards, regular worship started in that temple, it was no longer neglected. On the 10th of October the Swami returned to Madurai. On the next day he went to Thirupedakam, about 10 miles north of Madurai. The place has some legendary importance. Though it was a small village it was a comfortable place to live. So, the Swami decided, “I don’t want to go back to Malayala rajyam. Let us live here. Some one may come in search of us. Even then we need not go. But who is there to come? Who is so sincere?. Our Das may come. No one is as loving as these Tamilians. Swami used to go on talking like this half seriously and half jokingly.
At Thirupedakam, Zamindar Arunachalam Chettiar had a bungalow. The Swami reached there before the expected time. The watchman with the key had not reached. Hence, the Swami stayed in a Brahmin home for the night. The next day early morning the Swami went out for a walk. I followed him. The Swami was not keeping good health. He had some problem in the abdomen. He was too tired to walk. In spite of that he walked for nearly two miles, and then decided to take a dip in the river. We had not come out prepared to brush our teeth or take bath. The Swami pulled out a root and used it as toothbrush. We finished our bath in the river, and washed our clothes, and wore the wet clothes. The Swami felt he could not walk again, so he sat under a tree. I wanted to go and get him some food and dry clothes, but I could not go leaving him all alone. All the others in our group were two miles away in the Brahmin’s home. There were only vast rice fields all around, and Vaigai River flowing on one side. The nearest Railway Station was Cholavanthan, about three miles away. The only road to the station ran through the rice fields. Some houses were there only around the railway station. We waited. After some time our people brought food and bed sheets for Swami to sit. After taking food he continued to sit there under the tree. All of us left to attend to our daily routine, leaving Ambasamudram Swaminatha Pillai to be with the Swami.
I took food as fast as I could and ran back to reach the Swami at the earliest. As I was nearing the spot, there was a heavy downpour. I had no umbrella, and there were no houses in the vicinity where I could find shelter from the rain. But I was more worried about the Swami, how he was managing under the tree in the rain. So I ran with renewed vigour. When I reached the spot, I saw the Swami and his companion, standing close to the tree trunk, shivering in the cold rain. They were completely drenched, the sheets and other clothes in their hands were soaking wet. Still the Swami felt sorry for my coming in the rain. His words expressed concern and consideration for me.
I waited for a few minutes. There was no sign of the rain going to stop or reduce. So I ran again, through the lonely road to get an umbrella and dry clothes for the Swami. I brought them but he refused to change. He said wet clothes were comfortable for him.
All our people had come with me. The Swami started joking with all of us about the rain, and the wet clothes. Then taking the umbrella in his hand he started walking towards Cholavanthan Railway Station. It was evident that he did not have the strength to walk. His legs were shivering. In spite of that, he walked in the rain cutting jokes about it.
Meanwhile, people from Thirupedakam brought a hired bullock cart. In spite of our repeated requests he refused to ride in the cart. Along with him, only a few could get into the cart. The rest of us would have to walk in the rain. May be that was why he refused to use the cart. He did not want to enjoy any comfort, which his companions could not.
There was no sign of the rain stopping, and we continued walking. On the way there was an open shed made of stones, meant as a shelter for travellers. It was very dirty. So many people were crowded inside. They had domestic fowls with them. The whole place was stinking of fowls and men. But the Swami got in and sat down in a corner, covered himself with the single piece of cloth he was wearing. All of us stood near him. The bullock cart from Thirupedakam which was following our group reached the spot. After a lot of persuasion, the Swami got into the cart and the journey continued. When we were nearing the railway station, another cart came in the opposite direction. The two cart wheels clashed, and the drivers had a tussle. The Swami, was annoyed. He jumped down immediately and started to walk. We had a little wrangle with the cart driver, but we paid him off finally.
When we reached the railway station, we were told that there was more than an hour for the train to Madurai. The station was very small. There was no place to sit. There was only one small bench, which was already occupied by many. Somehow we convinced them, and brought the bench out to the platform for the Swami to sit., Again it started raining. The Swami had to leave the bench and find shelter elsewhere (the platform had no roof). We walked to a near by Pillaiyar (Ganapati) temple. The temple was so small that it had hardly room for the Pillaiyar idol itself. The Swami somehow squeezed himself in and the others stood outside. He changed into dry clothes, but was dissatisfied with all of us, and went on blaming us, that we could not find a comfortable place for him to take rest for a few days. He felt very sorry for Swaminatha Pillai who was put to so much of trouble due to the rain. And he repeated several times, “If anyone is planning to write my biography, don’t forget to include all these”.
While we were waiting in the Pillaiyar temple, Hanumangiri Swamy and Sugunananda Swami came from Madurai with a car. We requested the Swami to travel by car to Madurai, but he refused . He insisted on travelling by train only, so it was finally decided that the Swami and a few others would go by train, me and Swaminatha Pillai would go by car and take it to Madurai railway station before the train arrived there. So we left, but at Cholavanthan railway station, the train moved away before the Swami and one of his followers could get in. Hence the others who were in the train, got down at the next station and returned to Cholavanthan. They all stayed in a house there for the day, and came to Madurai on the next day.
At Madurai, we stayed in Muthu Chettiar’s Bungalow near Mariamman temple. It was a beautiful and comfortable building situated in an isolated area. We stayed there for six days. Then we stayed in the Ramanathapuram Maharaja’s palace at Madurai for three days.
Meanwhile Sri M.K. Govindadas and Govindananda Swamy came from Varkala to meet the Swami. At the Maharaja’s palace, Mr. George Joseph ( Editor of Young India) and several other gentlemen had met the Swami. The Swami suggested to them to start an institution for women in Madurai, and they agreed.
We reached Ramanathapuram on 18.10.1926. For two days we were the guests of the Maharaja. On the third day, we started for Rameswaram. It was an unplanned journey. No arrangements were made in advance for the Swami’s stay there. The Swami was quite sure that they could find some place in a choultry and stay unknown. His earnest desire at that time was to keep away from the Malayalis. Zamindar Chettiar had a bungalow at Rameswaram. But when we reached there, an unexpected problem came up. The watchman there had not received instructions from the Zamindar to entertain us. At once we contacted the Zamindar by wire , and he gave a reply telegram to the watchman asking him to give all the three bungalows for our use. Also, he instructed the watchman to do everything to make our stay comfortable, as long as we stay there. Everything was favourable.
But a new problem cropped up. The news of Vaikkom Satyagraha had reached Rameswaram by now. Sree Narayana Guru who never had to face the problem of untouchablity and defilement became a victim now. When he went there as a mendicant years ago, there was no problem of untouchability and defilement. People of his caste who had been living in Rameswaram for years together, never had this problem. But now the Collector of Ramanathapuram had issued an order to the temple authorities that Sree Narayana Guru, who belonged to an untouchable caste was coming to Remeswaram, and they had to be careful in allowing him to enter temples etc. On the next day of our arrival at Rameswaram, one temple administrator met Sugunanandagiri Swamy on the way, bothered him with a number of questions, and finally warned him not to enter the temple. When the Swami came to know about this he was shocked and disgusted. (His comments on Vaikkom Satyagraha made on this occasion are given here) He had wanted to stay at Rameswaram for a month or two. But he changed his mind and decided to leave Rameswaram immediately.
Then he thought of going to Colombo(Sri Lanka). Several of the people who were with him, were sent back. He did not tell any one about going to Colombo. He confided only in me and Sugunanandagiri Swamy. We stayed only for four days at Rameswaram. On one of these days, we visited the “Gandhamadana Mountain”. On 24.10.1926, we left Rameswram and reached Dhanushkodi. The Zamindar Chettiar had instructed his secretary to make all arrangements for our stay at Dhanushkodi, but the Swami did not like the conditions there. The whole area was stinking of fowls and pigs. The whole day all of us, including the Swami, starved. We could not take food. On the same day we left for Mandapam, which was famous for its fresh water and air. There was an aristocrat by name Mandapam Mariykar, who had a nice, spacious bungalow there. We stayed in that bungalow for four days . The Swami became impatient about Colombo trip.
Hanumangiri Swamy at Madurai, and some Malayalis in Colombo were informed by telegram about the intended trip. Hanumangiri Swamy, reached without delay with all necessary things for the trip. Though Govindananda Swamy also came, he had to return to Kancheepuram. All of us together got the required tickets and health certificates and started for Colombo on 26.10.1926. Myself, Sugunanandagiri Swamy, Hanumangiri Swamy and a servant were the only people with the Swami.
On 30.10.1926, morning at 7.55, we reached Colombo Fort railway station. A very big crowd was assembled there to receive the Swami. I have travelled with the Swami to many places. But never had I seen such a crowd to welcome the Swami. We could not even get down to on to the station platform because of the crowd. Hindus , Muslims, Christians, Simhalis, all were there.
There was a big group of Nattu Kottu Chettiars, (a particular community) another big crowd of Malayalis of all casets and creeds, and prominent citizens of Colombo like H.L. De Mell, C.M. Chellappa, Umbichi Koya Sahib, Sathya Vageeswarayyar, Nalla Veluppilla, Arunachalam Chettiar, Sabharatna Muthu Krishnan etc. had gathered there. Most of them were Tamilians. They were the people who made all arrangements for the Swami’s stay. They welcomed the Swami and his entourage with ceremonial music, and had arranged a number of vehicles beautifully decorated with flowers and garlands for transport. The Swami and his retinue were transported in a procession to Kathiresan Kovil, belonging to Nattu Kottu Chettiars. Here also the Swami was given a warm welcome. The Swami stayed there for a few days. There was no other place available in Colombo, so comfortable and convenient for the Swami to stay. To celebrate his presence, the Tamilians arranged ceremonial feasts everyday. Malayalis also co-operated with them.
The Swami stayed in Ceylon till 21.12.1926. During his stay, he had a number of distinguished visitors and many had invited him to visit different places, and arranged for felicitations. But the Swami was unhappy about the conditions of Malayalis there. He wished to do something to improve their conditions, but unfortunately he could not do anything worth-while at that time. There were rival groups among Malayalis. The Swami tried to compromise these groups. At last he authorized Govindananda Swamy and Natarajan to settle the issues between these rival groups. Even they could do nothing. The Malayalis sent them away with abuses.
The Swami shifted to a temple at Muthuval. This temple belonged to Lady Arunachalam. Sir Arunachalam and his elder brother Sir Ramanathan were two gentlemen who had been knighted by the British Emperor. This family, including their children and grandchildren, had been sincere devotees of the Swami since long ago. Sri.C.M. Chellappa was another great devotee. The Swami spent a few days in his house also. Mr. De Mell had felicitated the Swami in his palatial building, which was specially decorated for this occasion. De Mell and family were traditionally Buddhists, and hence they knew very well how to felicitate ascetics. When they heard that we were vegetarians, they were surprised, and their respect for us increased. The Swami stayed at Candy also, responding to the invitations from Nattukottu Chettiars of that area.
The Swami had visited some of the important Buddhist institutions in Candy and Colombo. He did not appreciate their behaviour. In the hermitages, the monks used to keep a spittoon beside them and spit in it. This caused a bad odour around them. Moreover, they were rough and harsh in their dealings with the common people. The Swami did not like these. But several monks used to come and pay obeisance to the Swami. There was a German ascetic by name Mahindan, who was specially fascinated by the Swami. One old Simhalese Buddhist monk had been suffering from an evil spell for a long time. Swami exorcised this spirit with a few words.
There was a Muslim by name Khader. He became a disciple of the Swami. He liked Hinduism. So he named himself as Kantha Swamy and started applying holy ash to his forehead. He was a local landlord. He wanted very much to follow the Swami to Kerala and join the ascetic order started by the Swami. But the Swami did not allow this. So he stayed back in Colombo., There was a European, a member of Rosicrucian Society, who wanted a special invocation to meditate upon every day. He brought his wife and children also to receive the Swami’s blessings.
The Swami did not like to leave Colombo. He wanted to stay there till the end of his life. Several of his followers returned to Kerala as he permitted all those who wanted to leave. But his devotees and followers from India pressurized him to return and finally he left Colombo on 21-12-26.
He reached Madurai on the next day. On hearing that, Govindananda Swamy from Varkala, Shankarananda Swamy from Aluva, and Paravoor Kesavan, came over to Thiruppurakundram to meet the Swamy. They requested him most sincerely to return to Varkala. In the meanwhile, some Naadar landlords from Virudunagar invited him. The Swami wanted to go there also, but he could not resist the pleading of the people of Varkala. Finally he left Thiruppurakundram on 31.12.1926, and reached Varkala on 01.01.1927. After that he initiated the work to establish an Order of Ascetics (Dharma Sangham).
The consecration at Aruvippuram is already mentioned. No other religious reformer in India had taken such a bold step for the uplift of the downtrodden people. It was a daring action which declared his self-confidence, and his faith in humanity. Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s reformation activities attracted only the educated upper class Hindus. Swami Vivekananda interpreted Hinduism so that those who knew English understood it well. Based on the caste distinctions in Kerala, he called that land a lunatic asylum. This became only a powerful weapon for those who fight against casteism to use. It did not help the underdeveloped people in any way. The only person who opened a clear path for the downtrodden people to emancipate and progress was Sree Narayana Guru. His objective in life was uplift of the downtrodden people. After the consecration of Aruvippuram temple gradually a shrine was built. Some gentlemen of that area helped the Swami to do this. But the temple needed money for it maintenance and responsible people to handle it. While he was thinking about this, Chinmaya Swamy from Kotar came to meet the Swami. He had some property at Thamarakkulam, close to Sucheendram temple. He was prepared to sell it to the Swami at a very cheap rate if it can be used for charitable work, for the use of ascetics and religious scholars. Swami liked the idea and started collecting funds. In the year 1893, this property was transferred to the Swami’s name. Later on there was a civil case on this property, and the sale was declared invalid. The reason for this judgment was the absence of Swami’s testimony in the court of law. Based on this, Kumaran Aasaan had written a biting satire on the judge and published in Vivekodayam.
After this property was purchased, Sri. P. Parameswaran was given the responsibility of managing it and the temple affairs, through a Power of Attorney from the Swami. The Swami felt he was the best person to do that. Later on he came to be known as “Parameswaran Manager”. Swami’s next thoughts were to start a school and a hermitage attached to the temple. He wrote letters to many asking for contributions. A sum of Rs.1000/- was collected and a building was constructed on the southern side of the temple in 1894.
After another four years in 1898, a Committee was set up to manage the temple affairs in a more responsible way. This was a novel idea. For a working capital, sale of shares were decided upon. There were eleven shares, each share costing Rs.10/- (10 Rs. was very big amount in those days). Hence provision was made that more than one person together could buy one share, all of them would become Committee Members. Thus 24 people together bought all the 11 shares and a committee was formed with these 24 members.
The temple festival started every year on Sivaratri, and continued for 10 days. Each day’s celebrations have to be conducted by one-share holder. Those whose chance was the last in one year, would be the first next year, the first of this year would be the second next year and so on. There was an argument about who would be the first, the Swami decided that names should be written in a circle, so that no one would feel inferior. All the shareholders wrote down an agreement to perform their functions well and got it registered. This Temple Association functioned for three years.
Within a very short time it was accepted that the consecration of Lord Siva was well suited for the taste and spirit of the people. The temple became popular in no time. Requests came from different areas for the installation of fresh temples and the Swami obliged . The first of these was the Deveswaram temple at Vakkom in Chirayinkil Taluq. There was an old Velayudhan temple. The Swami reinstalled the idol of Lord Suabrahmanya there.
The Swami and the young Kumaran Aasaan met here for the first time. The Swami recognized the sharp intelligence and poetic talent in the young man, and he invited the young man to join him, which was most willingly accepted.
There was a Bhagavati Temple at Kulatur, towards the north of Trivandurm. The area was known as Kolathukara. The Swami dismantled the Bhagavathi temple and constructed a new one for Lord Siva. There is a story about Kumaran Aasaan in this context. After installing the idol the Swami composed a hymn in praise of the deity. He recited the first two lines of the first Stanza and asked the young Kumaran to fill up the rest. Within a fraction of second, the young Kumaran composed the next two lines and completed the stanza observing metre and rhythm perfectly (Kolatheeswra Sthavam). The future Poet Laureate dormant in the young man was evident at that time itself. No wonder he became the darling disciple of the Swami.
The Swami visited Chidambaram, Madurai, Thirunelveli, and Bangalore after this. Dr. Palpu LMS, DPH, was in service at Bangalore then. He had been earnestly trying to redress the miseries of Ezhavas of Travancore as he himself was an unfortunate victim of caste discrimination. Dr. Palpu is a model and a source of inspiration for those who attempt social reformations. Sri T.K. Madhavan has written and published a biography of Dr. Palpu. The Swami went to Bangalore on being invited by Dr. Palpu. The Swami bestowed the responsibility of educating his dear disciple Kumaran on Dr. Palpu. We have come to know that attempts are being made to write and publish the biography of Kumaran Aasaan. Hence details about his life are not being given here.
While the Swami was thus moving about outside Kerala many became his devotees and followers and some joined as disciples. His name as “Naanu Aasaan” became permanent. People of all castes and religions recognized his virtues and became his admirers. The Ezhavas of Kerala also opened their eyes. They realized that he was the sole leader and spiritual preceptor of their community. They obeyed his commands and started to replace the evil deities they worshipped with sober deities like Siva and Subrahmanya and changed their rituals of worship. From Paravoor in the north to Neyyattinkara in the south, the Ezhavas stopped the practice of animal sacrifice in their old temples following the suggestions of the Swami . It was evident that people were steeped in superstitions to such an extent that they were afraid to stop these rituals. Even the moderately educated people had no idea of spirituality, So they went on worshipping evil deities and ghosts and did not have the courage to break away from these. But the words of the Swami induced courage in them to change the age- old traditions, and start the new way of worship. Some of those who condemn animal sacrifices to evil deities approve the killing of animals for their own food. This is a contradiction. Does it mean that, you can kill for your own sake, but should not kill in another one’s name?.
Narayana Guru believed more in actions than in speeches. His words and deeds reflected pure non-violence, even his words never hurt others. Even the uneducated and ignorant people understood the Guru perfectly. It was something like a communion between his soul and those ignorant souls. Therefore, eventhough his words were not commands, but only suggestions, people obeyed with utmost respect. Gradually they stopped worshipping evil deities and started to worship Siva & Subrahmnaya.
Of all the temples consecrated by Sree Narayana Guru, one of the most important is Kunnumpara Subrahmanya temple at Muttakkad. Muttakkad is close to Kovalam Resort, South of Trivandrum. This temple is on the top of a rocky hill. The temple and the lands for its maintenance were donated by its owner Chettiarthopil Kochukutty Vaidyan to the Swami in 1898. This is mentioned in Vivekodayam. Sri Damodaran B.A has narrated the following about this temple.
“The temple is well known as Kunnumpara (Kunnu=hill, and para=rocks) as it is built on a hill of rocks. This temple is remarkable for its scenic beauty which is in no way less than Sivagiri or Aluva. On one side of this, the mountain ranges of Sahyadri, and on the other side the fierce waves of the Arabrian Sea, and in between these spreads greenery like a green velvet dress of the goddess of prosperity of the Kingdom of Travancore. The beautiful mansions in the capital of Travancore (Trivandrum) and even the Light House at Tankachery (about 40 miles north of Trivandrum) can also be seen from this hill top. These huge black rocks look like thirsty clouds coming down from the sky as if to swallow the ocean. Through a crack in a rock a fresh water spring squirts out which has formed a pool”.
The Swami felt the need to form an organization to work for the progress of the Ezhavas of Travancore in religious and social aspects. As a result, the scope and working of the Temple Association of Aruvippuram was widened and converted into Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) in the year 1903. Kumaran Aasaan who had returned after completing higher education at Kolkatta was appointed as the Secretary of the Yogam. The Swami went around in Travancore and Kochi and enrolled as many as possible as members. Meanwhile temples had sprung up at many places and the Swami had been giving suggestions and advice to the people about rituals to be followed in religious matters, and social traditions. The same year consecration of Moothakunnathu temple was performed.
The Swami became interested in the hills of Varkala as early as 1903. He was very much attracted by the scenery of these hills. He got a cottage built there and started to live there, rearing vegetables. Undoubtedly, wherever he went he attracted people. So, people started to come to Varkala hills also, as expected. In the same year, the Swami got the hill allotted to his name from the Govt. Lands around that hill were donated to him by some generous gentlemen. Finally the Swami decided to establish a Mutt and consecrate a temple there. Varkala was famous as Dakshina Kashi from time immemorial. Quite a crowed of Ezhavas used to assemble at Varkala beach to offer oblations to their forefathers on the newmoon day in the month of Karkataka (roughly corresponds to Aashaadha). In the year 1903 on the new moon day the Swami arranged for all these people to assemble near his new Mutt instead of the beach. He had already trained his disciples in the rituals for the oblation ceremony. Thereafter it became a regular practice for the Ezhavas every year. (Other biographers have narrated that the Ezhavas were treated with disdain and humiliated by the Brahmin priests at the beach, and hence the Swami launched this project to save their self-respect and counter Brahmin arrogance).
After two years a charitable school was started for the benefit of poor people and a night school for the Kurava community. These people were totally agricultural labourers, so it was difficult for their children to attend regular schools.
In the year 1908 on the Swami’s birth day, the foundation stone for Sharada Mutt was laid and work for a temple for Lord Siva also started at Varkala, The installation of Sharada (the Goddess of Knowledge) was planned for 1910. For some reason or other it could not be done. Hence a small committee to work for the consecration on the 8th anniversary of S N D P in 1911, was formed. The consecration was postponed by two years for various reasons, and finally it was done during the summer months of the year 1913.
A report of the festivities in connection with this Installation Ceremony was published in “Vivekodayam.”
“It is difficult to describe the festivities at Sivagiri during these days. That lonely place suddenly became crowded like a town. People clad in white flowed like a torrent to Sivagiri, and the whole area looked as if immersed in a white flood. There was very big thatched shed on the top of the hill. From the entrance to it, till Sharada Mutt at the base of the hill, the road was decorated with multicoloured flags and festoons. There was another stage set for cultural programmes in the middle of the dried up paddy fields at the base of the hill (it was summer months) where there was always a huge crowd, watching the rows of elephants decorated with golden head gears and embroidered velvetty sheets covering their backs. On them, the mahouts sat with unfolded red silken umbrellas with silver bells tingling at their tips. Ceremonial processions carrying different deities, accompanied by the din of different musical instruments and the dancing of oracles possessed by mystic spirits was another attraction. People crowded around all these to watch the magnificent spectacles. The roadsides were lined with makeshift shops selling fruits, sweetmeats and other food items, along with trinkets and balloons. People swarmed these shops to see and buy the strange articles.
Sivagiri hill was the most suitable place for such a festive gathering. Not only was it blessed by nature, but also the presence of the people added to its grandeur. Thousands clad in white, while descending from the hilltop after meetings, looked like the foaming torrent of a waterfall. Thousands assembled at the meeting grounds on the paddy fields looked like white clouds gathered at mountain base during spring season. Hundreds of boats crisscrossed the canal in front of Sivagiri Hill, with people getting down and getting in (The mode of transport to Sivagiri was mostly boats in those days. Road transport was not that well developed. The State of Travancore had a water way from the south end to north end linking the backwaters by means of canals). At night, with the shops, and roads and boats lit with different types of kerosene lamps, Sivagiri looked like an extension of the star-studded sky for the distant viewer.
Such a serene, meaningful, magnificent and hearty festival had never been celebrated in the history of Ezhava community. The festival concluded as a grand success by the grace of God, and the blessing of the great sage Sree Narayana Guru, with the installation of the Goddess of Education.
More than twenty thousand people had assembled there to offer prayers, to get a glimpse of the Swami, to participate in the meetings, to watch the magnificent spectacles, and finally to be a part of the grand installation of Sharada. It is indeed a matter of credit that without the help of the police, this motely crowd had maintained perfect peace and discipline for four days and nights. The inspiration for the refined behaviour was certainly their respect and admiration for the Swami and their unquestioned willingness to accept the Swami as their leader, liberator and spiritual preceptor. This unity was the binding force in social matters to come together and seek the Swami’s guidance in everything and surrender to his will”.
The annual meeting of SNDP, conducted during this occasion was presided over by Sri C. Krishnan, the editor of “Matavaadi”. In his speech he said, “This institution will be the “Sringerii” for our future progress. This will be the Holy Hill where all of us, our people from all over, will come in search of mutual love, wisdom and knowledge which we need for everyday life, and above all the blessings of God Almighty”.
In the Religious Reformation programme which Narayana Guru intended to implement among the Ezhavas (Thiyyas), the consecration of Sharada at Sivagiri was the second stage. The first stage was the installation of temples for the same deities as were worshipped by Savarna Hindus and the introduction of their rituals of worship. At the same time, he demolished temples where animal slaughter and drunken orgies had been the rituals of worship. And the new temples had the usual modes of worship, including offerings of food items, other propitiatory rites and festival celebrations as was done in Savarna temples. This was done because the common man’s mind would need all these as an initiative to a higher level of spirituality. By the consecration of Sharada, and prescribing only meditation and recitation of hymns as rituals of worship, the Swami was practically elevating the common man one step towards this higher level.
Sivagiri has both Siva and Sharada installed (At a later date, this Siva temple was damaged in a fire accident). The temple of Sharada is called Sharada Mutt. It is an elegant octagonal brick building with smooth white-washed walls, and windows decorated with multi-coloured glass panes. The surroundings are always kept clean. The idol inside is of Goddess Saraswathi (Sharada) seated on a lotus flower. There are no offerings, ringing of bells, burning of incense, ceremonial processions, ablutions etc there. Devotees are expected to recite hymns and meditate.
On the side of the same hill, there is an English school, and also arrangements for teaching Sanskrit. The Swami had once told this author, “There is no need to spend lots of money and construct large old fashioned temples. Don’t waste money on festivals and fireworks. The temple should have large halls, where people can assemble comfortably and listen to speeches. All temples should have gardens around them, and schools and industrial training centers attached to them. The money received by the temples in the form of offerings from the people, should have to be utilized for the benefit of the people”.
The Swami did not like the idea of temple ponds for the people to take bath. He felt that it was difficult to maintain these ponds always clean. Instead he recommended number of small cubicles for bath with water supply through pipes. He had expressed these novel ideas to many people.
One of his conversations with the editor of a newspaper was reported in “Dharmam”, the magazine from Sivagiri, on 19th Dhanu, 1103 (corresponds to Dec. 1927). The Swami was taking rest at Trichur Advaithashram. The editor of a Malayalam newspaper from Trichur came to meet the Swami. They went on discussing for a long time about starting a casteless organization. The newspaperman hinted that there was no need for temples thereafter.
Editor: Nowadays people think that temples are no longer needed.
The Swami: How can you say that temples are not needed? People go there with clean bodies and minds. When they reach there, good thoughts come to them and they think of God. They breathe fresh air which is good for health. Some people observe fasts which is good for both body and mind. For some others faith cures are effective. For some, desires are fulfilled. All that depends on faith. Aren’t all these good?. We must have temples for all these purposes.
Editor: But people reject idol worship as superstition.
The Swami: When people go to temples, they don’t think of idols, they think only of God. (laughing). Only when people like you point out, they identify the idol. Don’t create problems for them. People worship God whom they find in the idol (Pointing to Trichur temple). Raise a good garden around this, grow good trees, and construct platforms around it. People will come and sit. Get all religious texts and teach them. Let the temple be there at one end. If the place is clean and neat, people will come. Good thoughts will come to them. Health will improve. Temples are necessary. But they have to be maintained in the proper way. Look at Sivagiri. How many people come there, and get cured by staying there. If people keep themselves clean and tidy, breathe good air, and entertain good thoughts, that itself will be a cure for many diseases. Everyone has places of worship, is there anyone without that?
Before the Swami gave advice to others, he would practice what he was going to preach. An example for this is Sivagiri. A description of Sivagiri was given by Paravur K.C.Kesavan in Mitavadi’ magazine. The description tells how it corresponds with the Swami’s words mentioned above.
“A boat will take five hours from Kollam to reach Varkala Tunnel. The “pannachedi” plants on either side of the canal shoots up with its ribbon like spiny leaves and white spikes. About half a furlong before the north side opening of the tunnel, a jetty for tying up the boats and a number of low walled cubicles for bathing will be seen. Stop the boat here. This is Sivagiri Theerdham. In the cubicles, there is a continuous non-stop flow of spring water through pipes.
From the southern side of this jetty, there are steps going up to the hilltop. After about a hundred feet, the path reaches a small bridge under which flows another canal of clear water. From the bridge, on the incline of the hill, we can see the complex which is famous as Sivagiri. The complex consists of Sharada Mutt (temple), the Vaidika Mutt where the Swami lives, an English school, and a small cottage. The Sharada Mutt is an architectural beauty. The temple is enclosed within a circular low wall, the space within is filled with clean white sand. Around the temple there are a number of flowering and fruit-bearing trees which give enough shade for the visitors to relax. From the temple, there are steps to go up to the hilltop and to other buildings in the complex.
The hilltop is nearly 300 feet above sea level. This uneven area was flattened and leveled. The idol of Lord Siva was installed there. A wealthy householder disciple, Sri Alummootil Channar, had promised to construct a magnificent temple with granite. But unfortunately the temporary shed in which the installation was done caught fire, and the ‘lingam’ was removed from there.(After the Swami’s demise, his tomb was built there, with a thatched roof. This was later replaced with a magnificent sephulchre, “the Samadhi Mandiram”). A boarding school, a Sanskrit school, good roads and steps, all were constructed spending more than Rs. 10,000/- in those days. There were some Muslim students also learning Sanskrit in Sivagiri School. Sri Manambur Govindan Aasaan was the first headmaster of the Sanskrit school.
People come from different areas to Sivagiri. All are allowed to enter the temple and worship irrespective of caste or religion. Here caste and religion are not important, only cleanliness and good behaviour are the criterion. Once upon a time, our community had to wait far away from the Savarna temple premises, and pay heavy bribes to get a glimpse of the deity inside the temple from a distance, or get a pinch of the ‘prasadam’. From that stage, the Swami has brought us to this condition when we can feely walk to the temple, look at the deity as long as we like, and return with satisfaction. This author firmly believes that this progress in our lives is the result of the virtuous actions in our previous births and the incarnation of Sree Narayana Guru for our benefit.
To look after the needs of the visitors, there are always young ascetics waiting near the temple. They will make arrangements for food or snacks to the devotees, and their stay if necessary. Because of all these comforts many people come there to relax during holidays. There is only one strict rule; the devotees should take bath daily in the morning and wear clean washed clothes before they enter the temple. Priests trained by the Swami conduct rituals”.
Note: The landscape of Sivagiri has not changed much from the description given then. The view on the incline of the hill remains basically the same, but additional buildings have come up. The most important one is the magnificent ‘Samadhi Mandiram’ on the top of the hill. Spacious dining hall, guest houses and office buildings are added. Transport facilities are also much more advanced. Sivagiri is only one hour’s drive from Trivandrum Airport, and all important trains stop at Varkala Railway station, which is only 2 kms away from Sivagiri. A side road of 10 kms from National Highway 47 reaches Sivagiri.
Sivagiri is the ‘model abode’ which the Swami visualized. It is the place where education, religious experience, and enjoyment of nature are combined. It is the place where human beings can interact without the dividing walls of caste and religion.
After completing Sivagiri, the Swami moved forward with his ideals.
On the second day after the installation of Sharada, the Swami left Sivagiri with just one disciple, Narayanan Aasaan. They reached a devotee’s home at Kartikappally. The following dialogue between the Swami and this devotee was reported in “Dharmam” magazine from Sivagiri.
Devotee: Swami, can I know the reason for your sudden arrival like this?
The Swami: Work is over at Sivagiri. It is all entrusted to those who are present there. They will maintain it. But I need a place to live.
Devotee: That is not difficult . You can live wherever you like.
The Swami: I would like Aluva.
Devotee: But we will need money to buy land there.
The Swami: What does it matter?. Money is there all over the world. We need someone to collect it, and buy land.
Devotee: I shall do as much as I can.
The Swami: That settles it. Let us start.
On the next day they started and reached Trikkunnapuzha, from there to Alapuzha, and then to Cherthala, on invitation from some devotees. At Cheerappan Chira in Cherthala, the Swami received gifts of Rs.322/- and three units of paddy fields. The Swami moved around and collected the amount necessary to buy land at Aluva. The land where the Advaithashram now stands was purchased.
First a cottage was built, then slowly a Mutt. A hermitage was built, but it was damaged in floods. Another one was built where the cottage had been. Then the Swami had to travel again to collect funds to start a Sanskrit school. At last during September 1913, the Sanskrit school was inaugurated.
When this book was being written, there was an Ashram and a well-built school there. (Now more structures have come up-a guest house and a grand façade). It was a boarding school where children of all castes and religions could live together and learn. There are no temples or idols there: following the principles of pure Advaitha (Non-dualism) only prayers and recitations of hymns are held there. Among the inmates there are Savarnas, Avarnas, Pulayas, Muslims and Christians.
The Swami’s temple installations were progressively graded. He started with common temples with idols and all rituals of worship including festivals. In the second stage, as represented by Sharada Mutt, where though there was an idol, the common rituals of worship and festivals were eliminated, and only meditation and recitation of hymns were to be performed. From this, a third stage was evolved where the idol and temple were also absent, as illustrated by Advaithashram. These three stages correspond to the spiritual advancement of man, in his search for Ultimate Truth. The Swami consecrated ordinary temples because the people wanted them.
Some gentlemen from Trichur came to Aluva and requested the Swami to consecrate a temple at Trichur. Among them, there was a Govt. servant, who had studied English also. Looking at him the Swami had asked, “Do you really want this installation?. After some time, you people will not go back on your word, will you? Won’t you blame that I had installed a stone”?. No need to tell that what the Swami suspected, have come to pass. But if people had followed his instructions on how to maintain temples, the benefits it would have bestowed on humanity, would be boundless.
It is not possible to describe here all the temples consecrated by the Swami, because there are more than a hundred.
The Thiyyas (Ezhavas) of north Kerala had wanted a temple for Lord Siva at Thalassery long ago. There was one gentleman by name Churyayi Kanaran, who was a well educated high official under the British, famous for his daring and honesty. He procured a land for the construction of the temple and started collecting building material. But in those days, the right for the installation of a deity was confined to the Brahmins. He found it very difficult to get a Brahmin to perform the consecration in a Thiyya’s temple. At last he got a Nambudiri, through his influence, but that man unreasonably demanded too big a sum as reward. With this Mr. Kanaran was discouraged and he withdrew from his attempt. After that, a temple for Lord Siva came up in Talassery only after 60 years.
Before Narayana Guru actually visited north Malabar, his fame had reached the area. The messenger who did this was no other than the Swami’s beloved and most famous disciple Kumaran Aasaan. Though his life was short and bright like lightning, he had done great service by spreading the details of what the Swami has done for the Ezhavas of south Kerala. He came to Talassery in July 1905, responding to the invitation from Sri V.K. Kunjikannan, and met a number of prominent citizens. Two meetings were arranged, one on 9th July 1905 , another on 16th at the home of Sri Cheruvari Krishnan to discuss matters about installing a temple for Lord Shiva in Talassery, while Narayana Guru was still alive there were some impediments which stood in the way of achieving this. While compared with other places, the people of North Malabar had more of westernized education, and hence they were rather passive in religious matters. Secondly, the Ezhavas were poorer in Malabar, when compared with those of South Kerala. These were real problems. But Sri Kottiyathu Ramunni, a leader who was always willing to take up public issues, boldly accepted the responsibility of tackling the issue. He was confident that he could make the temple a reality.
When the Swami came to know that poverty of Ezhavas in North Malabar was an obstacle for temple building, he simply said , “The temple will be built by itself”. When great sages utter something, it will become true. Hence, these words of the Swami had become a boon to the people of North Malabar. Every one knows that experience had proved this.
The town of Talassery had the good fortune to be sanctified by the holy feet of the Swami on 29th March, 1906. It was a Friday. On that day, the first pole for initiating the construction of the temple was installed. (To install a wooden pole as the first step of any construction is a ritual performed in certain areas of Kerala). In the same year on April 21st, the foundation stone was laid by Sri. Kottiyathu Ramunni with the help of Kumaran Aasaan. The same day a safe deposit box also was installed in the premises for receiving donations. Even the poor people came forward to drop their contributions of one paisa (one Ruppe= 6 annas=192 paisa) or two paise. But by the end of December of that year, the total contribution came up to Rs.3634, 12 annas and 6 paise. By June next year, another Rs. 3933 were collected. By the end of two years, the total collection was Rs.7568. All the money required for the construction was collected in this manner, thus proving the Swami’s words, “The temple will be built by itself”. In addition to the cash, contributions came in the form of stones and timber too. At last the construction was completed, and on 13th Feb 1908, Thursday night the consecration was performed by Sree Narayana Guru Swami, and he named it Jagannadha Temple.
There was a famous Savarna temple at Kottiyur and a ceremony of ablution with water of tender coconuts was observed there every year in the month of May. The Ezhavas also used to go there, carrying hundreds of coconuts. They had to observe certain vows, like abstinence from alcohol and non - vegetarian food etc. for about a week before participating in this ceremony. But on their way to the temple, they used to sing obscene songs and insult people of other religions. The Swami wanted to put an end to this. So he proposed to perform the same ablution ceremony at Jagannadha temple, on the same day as at Kottiyur. He suggested to the people that instead of giving their coconuts to the Savarnas temple, they could give it to their own temple. People welcomed the idea. But they had to stop the bawdy songs, and insulting others. Instead they could sing hymns and come to the temple. Naturally People obeyed. The first ablution with coconut water at Jagannadha Temple was performed during May 1908. On that day 350 coconuts were brought. Gradually the number increased every year, and it became a substantial revenue for the temple. Every one knows that, following the Swami’s instructions, the money collected thus would be used for the betterment of the people, through children’s education and industrial training.
In Malabar, the Swami consecrated temples at Kozhikode, Kannur and Palakkad, as the people of these areas desired. As the Bilvas of South Karnataka wanted, he consecrated a temple at Mangalapuram. As such, for the purpose of the religious reformation of his people, he consecrated temples from Kanyakumari to Gokarnam and implemented sober and serene forms of worship. And he cautioned his people to be careful not to allow the evils of Savarna Temples to enter their temples.
The Swami had already mentioned that people went to temples, not to worship a mere stone. As if to illustrate this, in the year 1921, he consecrated a temple at Murukumpuzha near Trivandrum with a plaque on which the words Truth, Righteousness, Compassion and Love (satyam, dharma, daya, sneham) were engraved, in place of the idol of a deity.
Dr. Palpu once narrated the benefits to be derived from these new type of temples. “The temples and Mutts have rendered great help for the improvement of this community. These institutions are useful not only to promote religiosity and spirituality, but also to inspire many other virtues in the people. These temples have served to unify the people, and promote mutual love and co-operation among them. The common man has evolved to become virtuous and good natured. Though the temples are meant to propagate religion and teach ethics to the people, they are planned to become center’s of informal education and handicrafts also. The wealth of the society is collected here and used for the progress and improvement of the society. Moreover, these institutions have become the tools to restore the self- respect of the people, which had been lost for generations due to decadent social customs. These temples are meant for people of all castes”.
The Swami’s ideal - One caste, one religion and one God for man - is well-known. With this high ideal as basis, he had composed a poem most probably around his birth day period in 1920.
One caste, one religion and one God for man
One womb, one body, difference there is none
The offspring is bred only within the species
Thus assured all men belong to the same species
The Brahmin is born from a human being
A Paraya also, so what is the difference between the two?
The great sage Parasara was born to Paraya woman
The sage who codified the Vedas was born to a fisher woman
There is no difference between castes (Jaathi)
Difference lies only in human thinking
The discussion between Sri. C.V. Kunjuraman and the Swami on this topic was published in Kerala Koumudi. Some relevant parts of the dialogue are quoted here.
“The goal of all religions is the same. (once the river has joined the sea, it becomes one with the deep-sea and the waves on the fringes). The role of religion is to create in the human soul the trend to ascend. Once the trend is set, they themselves will seek and find the Ultimate Truth. Religions are only the guides to help one seek rightly. To those who have attained the supreme, religion is not at all an authority, they themselves are authority to religions. Did Lord Buddha preach the path to Nirvana after studying Buddhism? He sought and found the way to salvation and then preached it. Subsequently it became Buddhism. Did lord Buddha benefit from Buddhism? Even Christ did not gain from Christianity. The same could be said about other religions also. But Buddhists gained through Buddhism, and Christians through Christianity. In that way, all religions are of use to those who follow them.
When it is said that Vedas are superhuman creations(apourusheyam) it is to be understood that we do not know who composed all those Vedic hymns. It can also be explained that the concepts contained in those hymns are beyond common human understanding. This interpretation is valid only for those with an enquiring mind, and a thirst for knowledge. To the common people, the text which is basic to the religion they believe in, should remain the authority. The teachers of religion should take care to see that such texts do not contain any advice which goes contrary to righteousness. Dayananda Saraswathi accepts the Vedas as basic texts for Hinduism, but does he not reject or ignore irrelevant parts of it as artificial? All religious preceptors should do like that.
Quarrels between peoples end, when one defeats the other. Fighting between nations end, when one defeats the other. Fighting between religions cannot end, because one cannot defeat another. If this war of religions should end, all will have to learn about all religions without bias or affinity. Then it will become clear that there are no substantial differences between the basic tenets. The religion thus evolved is the one religion that we advocate.
Now religious conversion has become a burning issue. Religion has two faces, one internal and the other external. Which of these is to be changed? If enthusiasm is for the external, it is not a change of religion, it is only a change in the external manifestations or rituals. This will mean only a conversion from one religious community to another. Change in the internal sense slowly manifests itself among those who think. It takes place naturally with the increase in understanding, and knowledge. No one can direct it. If one who follows a particular religion, for example a Hindu or a Christian realizes that he has lost faith in that religion, then he should give it up. To remain in a religion in which one has lost faith, is cowardice and hypocrisy. His conversion will bring good for himself and the religion. The religion gets rid of a non-believer. It is not good for any religion to have increased number of non-believers.
If the Hindus say that the modern Hinduism is not good, it means that not only the followers of the religion, but also the principles of the religion must change.
There is no such religion as Hinduism. Foreigners referred to the inhabitants of this land as Hindus. In that case those who live in this land now, including the Christians and Muslims must be called Hindus. But no one does it, no one accepts it. Now the word Hinduism is a common term for those religions, except Christianity and Islam of foreign origin, which took shape in Hindustan itself. That is why some people claim that Buddhism and Jainism are also part of Hinduism. There are distinctly different religions like Vedic, Meemamsaka, Dvaitha, Advaitha, Visishtadvaitha, Shaiva, Vaishnava etc. If all these together are called Hinduism is there anything illogical in it? In that way blend all the religions with minor differences, sponsored by different teachers and thinkers, and call it as the single religion, because all of them show the path to salvation. Is there anything illogical in this?. why not call it by a common name as “Unique Religion?”.
The teachings of different seers are grouped together and named as a religion in one person’s name. If that is irrational and nonsensical, most of the religions are the products of such irrationality. Those who wax eloquent about unity in diversity and diversity in unity of their own religion are incapable of taking humanity’s religions as a single unit and appreciate its unity in diversity and diversity in unity.
When Mahatma Gandhi came to Sivagiri, he pointed to a tree and said that as the leaves of the tree are different in shape and size, similarly human beings also will be different, and as long as this difference exists, different religions are inevitable. What Mahatmaji said is true. If the statement is analyzed logically, it has to be admitted that each individual will have a separate religion, as individuals are different. In that case , Rama who is a Hindu, and Krishna who is another Hindu do not believe in the same religion. The twenty crores of Hindus will have twenty crores of religions. Though it is a fact because there are some common factors for al these, they are all considered belonging to one religion. Similarly, because all religions followed by human beings have some common features, why can’t all of them be grouped as one religion?.
No religion can survive unless it has a hard core of eternal Truths or Dharma. Islam gives primacy to brotherhood and Christianity to love. Brotherhood is rooted in love and love is built on brotherhood. Ignorant of this truth, claims are made that brotherhood is superior or love is superior. Is it not a ridiculous dispute?.
Eternal values are of equal significance. Depending on the needs based on the period and place, priority is given to one or another. When violence is rampant, world teachers give primacy to non-violence over other values. During Lord Buddha’s time, killing was widespread, so he gave priority to the principle of non-killing. May be in Arabia during Mohammad Nabi’s time, it was necessary to give utmost importance to brotherhood. Hence in his religion, the pre-eminence to brotherhood.
What is India’s need today? Deliverance from the conflicts between religions and castes. Let us all study and understand all religions with open minds and equal attention and try lovingly to share the wisdom thus gained. Then we will understand that conflicts are not because of religions, but because of pride and misunderstandings. Ideas of religious conversion also will disappear.
In a Critique of Religion (Matameemsa: stanzas 44-47 of Atmopadesa Sathakam) the Swami explains all these through a beautiful analogy of the elephant and the blind men.
During February 1924 he convened an All Religions’ Meet at Aluva. The motto of the conference was displayed at the entrance. “We meet here not to argue and win, but to know and be known”. His intention was to get the scholars of all important religions on one platform to explain the principles of their respective religions to the common people, so that the people will understand the basic similarity in all. Once people understand that, they will not object to the teaching of all religions in his proposed School of Religions (Brahma Vidyalayam). So he gave the following message at the conclusion of the All Religions’ Meet.
“As the speeches in this conclave of religions have shown that the ultimate goal of all religions is the same, there is no scope for conflicts between the followers of different religions. We have decided to provide facilities to study the messages of all religions at the proposed Academy at Sivagiri. We expect everyone to co-operate in raising a fund of Rs.5 lakhs for the starting and effective working of the institution”.
The details given above will explain the ideas of Sree Narayana Guru about religious reformations. We believe that all the social leaders should know this, and think about it seriously.
What the Swami tried for is a fundamental change. He tried to liberate the people from misconception about religions. People had believed in an uncivilized religion in which animal sacrifice, and drunken orgies were unbreakable traditions, and wild dancing of oracles possessed by mystic spirits is the proper way of worship. To uproot such ignorant customs, he gave them new temples where the rituals of worship were civilized and sober. When he saw that people are influenced by it, and have started to change, he had to see that they should not go to the other extreme of blind idol worship and rituals. For that he took the second step of installing Shardda Mutt where offerings and festivities are not observed. Even the idols came to be replaced with plaques, lamp and mirror, and finally the Advaithashram where only meditation is the ritual. His ideas about temple constructions and maintainance, are indeed revolutionary. He established that what we need now is not the dark and congested old type of temples, but clean, beautiful temples with large halls for people to assemble, and listen to lectures and participate in discussions, and also libraries that are conducive to educational activities. The temple premises should be attractive with beautiful gardens, and pleasant for people to spend time. The atmosphere itself should induce good thoughts. He taught people about the unity of religions through All religions Meet, started Brahma Vidyalayam for comparative religious studies.
The people of India should appreciate these religious reformations, which are in tune with the changing times.
To get authentic information about the Swami’s decisions about Social Reformations, and the nature of reformations he proposed and advised, and how sincerely he implemented them, one has to pursue the messages he had published through S N D P Yogam on various occasions. One message published in 1904, March – April reads as follows.
Some proposals useful for the reformation of religious and social customs of our people are presented here. You are expected to bring these points to the notice of the members at the General Body meeting and try to implement these through the working of the Yogam.
Religion: Now-a days people exhibit a keen interest in religion and construction of temples. But it has to be critically examined whether temples fulfill all their expected objectives. But the habit of prayer should be cultivated in all hearts and homes. For that, make sure to do the needful for people to learn the principles of religion.
1. People should be taught the greatness of God, and certain principles of religion. For this purpose arrange for good lectures in temple premises, wherever possible, to explain these through legends and other details.
2. If this is not possible in temples, send good and efficient speakers to the locality quite often and make sure that people listen to their lectures.
Customs: Customs such as celebrating a girl’s puberty, seemantham (the first pregnancy) are now reduced in scale, and are being performed with less expense and less wastage. The suggestion to stop the custom of ‘Thalikettu Kalyanam’, (This was a type of mock marriage performed before a girl attained puberty. A boy of the same age or slightly older one will tie a ‘Thali’ around the girls’ neck. Some times one boy ties the thali for a number of girls. This function has no binding on the future. It is referred to as Minnukettu, and Kettu Kalyanam also) is gradually being accepted, but not by all the people.
1) Therefore, try to stop this function totally. This is an unnecessary and illogical custom.
2) It is noticed that the newly proposed pattern of marriage is accepted and implemented only in some places, that too only by some progressive- minded families. The extent of pomp and ostentation of the celebration may vary according to the status and social level of the families concerned. But uniformity in the essential rituals has to be maintained. Necessary steps may be taken to effect this.
3) At the time of marriage, in addition to the ritual of the bride and groom garlanding each other, to tie a ‘Thali’ around the bride’s neck is acceptable to indicate her wedded status. But, if the woman is re-married after a divorce or demise of the husband, there should not be any token of the first marriage on her body. Before a re-marriage, the earlier ‘Thali’ has to be removed once for all. Detailed instructions about divorce and re-marriage will be given at a later date.
4) It is noticed that at some places, a man has more than one wife, or a woman has more than one husband at the same time. Steps may be taken to end such shameful relationships.
5) Among those who follow the matrilineal system of inheritance, there should be legal provision for setting apart a portion of a man’s earned assets for the legally wedded wife and children. Otherwise marriage becomes meaningless. This also has to be pondered over carefully, and necessary actions may be taken about this.
The Swami had a doubt whether the religious headquarters of the Thiyyas(Ezhavas) of Kerala should be Aluva or Sivagiri. But when he observed the menace of floods every year in the river Periyar around Aluva, and the losses suffered by Advaithashram in one year, he decided on Sivagiri.
During his birthday celebrations in the year 1909, he published another message to his devotees.
1. Enlighten the people about the fundamentals of religion and spread every- where devotion and love of God.
2. Help the people to attain the three-fold purities of body, mind and word.
3. Teach the people through speeches the virtues of non-violence, love and unity and see that they are observed in action.
4. Improve the educational status of the common people.
5. Educate talented young men, and identify the right type among them to be trained as ascetics (Brahmachari) and send them out as messengers of love to the people to work for their improvement and progress”
In the year 1911, the Swami performed the consecration of a temple at Pallippuram in Kochi. That temple was constructed by the initiative taken by Vijnana Vardhini Sabha, a socio-cultural organisation. They submitted a citation to him. His response to that, published in Vivekodayam, is given below.
“Very few are those with high educational qualifications in our community. Since a few years, many have begun showing interest in higher education. This is most welcome. Education alone helps society to progress. We have to see that education is spread among us. But higher education is not within the reach of every one. Therefore, those with financial means should help poor and brilliant students to go abroad for higher studies. This will be in many ways advantageous to our community. The importance of Sanskrit is reducing, and its study is waning. The language which is in great demand is English. Hence we must devote attention to the study of English. Not only men, but women also must be educated. They should not be neglected in this respect.
For the uplift of the community, the next important factor after education, is industry. Our economic power is insufficient. Affluence can come only through industry and commerce. In this also, the rich men should take interest. Only moneyed people can import the required machinery and start industries as well as invest to make handicrafts. Individuals, or a few jointly should start a company, and totally undertake such activities. Though the path of progress is clear and inviting, the members of our community is not bold enough to venture in new paths. Coconut is available in plenty. Its kernel and fibers are exported from here. These raw materials are processed and returned. We pay a fancy prize, buy them and consume them. This happens because we do not have the technical knowledge to convert the raw material into useful products. To overcome this difficulty, we have to send our youngsters abroad to learn the process. In this also, the rich are to volunteer assistance. I presume that the people of Kartikappally Taluq are the richest among our people.
Each locality should have its own literary society, library and reading room. By making use of them, the community will advance considerably in education. Each and every member of the community should strive hard to strengthen the literary associations as well as libraries. It is quite unbecoming of rich men to be indifferent in such matters….”
Among the advices given by Narayana Guru for the progress of the Community, the most important are the following.
1. All should be educated, and special care must be taken to educate women.
2. Rich men of the community should spend money to educate brilliant but poor children, and invest in industries.
3. Economic progress can be achieved only though industries.
4. The money to be given in the form of offerings to Savarna Temples, should be directed to our own temples so that this money can be utilized for the benefit of the community.
These points are quite clear from the details given above. But one point is to be specially noticed. All these suggestions and actions are applicable to all communities. The Swami never cared to argue with those who were unwilling to follow his advices. Even with the members of his own community, he followed the same policy.
* * * *
His next attempt was to eradicate certain meaningless customs like the celebration of puberty, Seemantham (first pregnancy) marriage performed and Thalikettu (Kettukalyanan) from social practice. It is observed that in a mammoth Ezhava meeting held at Paravoor near Kollam, in the year 1904, the Swami had first proposed to stop these undesirable practices and also to introduce innovative wedding rites.
In the next year, 1905, the Swami had written a letter to Sri. Parayil Kochuraman Vaidyan of Cherthala. The letter is quoted here.
“It is felt that to unify the customs and rituals followed by Ezhavas, and effect suitable changes in them to fit in with the changing times is extremely necessary for their progress and prosperity. Hence, all the details of the proposed changes are being published in Vivekodayam regularly with my consent. Accordingly, I feel that the ceremony of mock marriage (Thalikettu) is redundant because any way there will be regular marriages for girls and boys. Hence this ceremony can be safely deleted from our customs. Moreover, weddings are to be performed as per the guidelines given, following my instructions.
I am pleased and gratified to note that people who nurture love and respect for me have accepted these and started implementing them in different areas.
Karappuram Ezhava Samajam had informed me through a letter that you required these changes to be corroborated directly by me and hence this letter. I hope, in future considering the progress and prosperity of our community, you too will observe about the new methods and follow them.”
It is quite evident that the Swami had to write such a letter because Sri Kochuraman Vaidyan did not believe that the changes published in Vivekodayam were approved by the Swami. As soon as he got this letter, all his hesitation disappeared and he turned into an ardent follower overnight.
As he was a rich and influential person of the locality, the others followed him. As a result the Ceremony of Thalikettu was totally abolished in North Travancore.
Vivekodayam reports another incident that happened at Karimkulam in Neyyattinkara Taluq. An Ezhava chieftain, a sincere devotee of the Guru arranged to conduct the Thalikettu ceremony of his daughter in his own house. At the last minutes, the Swami reached there and stopped the function. Here is the report.
“On the 5th of Makaram, his Holiness the Swami, the well-wisher of the community, reached the place exactly at the auspicious time. All arrangements were made there to conduct this function on a large scale. A very large thatched shed was put up, and beautifully decorated spending lots of money. All symbols of pomp and splendor were strikingly visible. Musicians with variety of instruments were playing to denote the auspicious occasion. All the prospective brides were ostensibly dressed and decorated and were made to sit in a line waiting for the bridegrooms. All the eminent persons of the locality were present, waiting to witness the ceremony. Nair Chieftains, and important Christian and Muslim leaders were specially invited. In short, there was a big crowd of neighbours and outsiders assembled there to enjoy the entertainments, and the sumptuous feast getting ready.
The Swami reached there like Lord Krishna who came to the Kaurava assembly to ask for a compromise. People were excited, emotions shot up. But no one could remain without expressing respect and adoration for this superhuman personality. They all stood up. The Swami called the main girl’s father to a side and told. “This Kettukalyanam is an unwanted custom. I have explained to the people the meaninglessness of this custom a number of times. But you are not following it . I insist on this for your own benefit. If you have any faith in my words, you must do away with this.”
The householder: I will obey as Your Holiness says. In our family there will be no more “Thalikettu” ceremonies.
The Swami: That won’t do. You have to understand why this function is unnecessary. If you understand, you will stop it by yourself. It is a meaningless custom. There is no loss if it is given up.
The householder: I don’t know whether the elders of these children and the people around will agree to stop it abruptly.
The Swami: Do you agree? Let me know that. Leave it to me to find out whether they agree.
The householder: I am perfectly willing to obey whatever Your Holiness orders.
The Swami: Perfectly willing? That is enough.
Then the Swami called the elders of all those children and talked to them. He explained to them about the meaninglessness and wastage involved in this ceremony. They understood, and agreed with him totally.
Here one point is to be mentioned. The householder’s wife was quite enthusiastic about this function because the girl was their only child. Naturally, the lady of the house wanted to make it a big show. But the wonder is that this lady did not feel disappointed or dejected about the function being cancelled abruptly. She was a very sensible lady. She understood the Swami’s concern for the well-being of the community, and congratulated him for taking such bold decisions. She obeyed him implicitly.
The Swami went inside the shed and called the prospective brides waiting in a line dressed up for the occasion, to come near him. With his own hands he distributed fruits and flowers to each of them, and asked them to go into the house. Then he ordered a gentleman beside him to inform the crowd openly that the Swami himself had cancelled this function, and it was his desire that such unnecessary functions should not be celebrated by anyone of his people. The announcement was made and people accepted it heartily with surprise, respect and admiration. It was the death knell for Thalikettu (Kettukalyanam) among the Thiyyas (Ezhavas) of South Travancore”.
We will understand what a great achievement this was, if we analyze it properly. It was a ceremony observed for generations as a tradition. It was believed that this had some religious importance also, and hence lot of money was spent to make arrangements. All the invited gentry were physically present, and within a minute the actual ritual would have been performed. At the critical moment, is it a light affair to cancel such a programme? If that was done by the mere words of a man, can anyone remain without acknowledging and respecting that person’s superhuman strength?
Justice M. Govindan who had retired as a district Judge says that his daughter’s Kettukalyanam was arranged to be performed by the girl’s maternal uncle, though the father was against it. At that time, Guru had written a similar letter to that family and stopped the function.
Like this, meaningless functions like Kettukalyanam, puberty and seemantham were totally abolished among the Ezhavas of Kerala with the endeavours of the Swami.
In North Malabar long after these were stopped among the Thiyyas, the Nairs thought of doing so.
We revere with awe, the achievement of Lord Buddha, when he got a sacrificial goat set free with his mere speech and stopped the ritual of animal sacrifice once for all. If we think a little we will know that what the Swami had done was in no way less than that.
If such things happen in front of our eyes when we are alive, we will not understand the full significance of it at that instant. When the future generations think in retrospective, the full significance unravels as a turning point in social history. When viewed in the background of the tradition that insisted on such functions with their meaninglessness, the amount of money wasted for it, the superstitious beliefs that it was a religious ritual, and above all the ignorance and blind faith of the people, one will understand the foresight the Swami had for the future welfare of the community, his firm determination to liberate them from ignorance and superstitions, and the daring and courage with which he acted in the situation. One is simply awestruck by his command over his people.
The Swami issued directives to conduct weddings according to the Vedic tradition. Sri Chaitanya Swamy has already got this printed and published in the form of a booklet, hence those details are not given here. The Swami had prescribed some funeral rites also.
After working for the reformation of the society in such matters, the Swami concentrated on uplifting the communities, which were considered lower than Ezhavas in caste hierarchy. Disgust for caste system was inherent in him. His childhood habit of refusing to take bath if he touched a so-called untouchable, developed into the mature habit of accepting and partaking food with anyone during his mendicant days. When he became the social leader and religious preceptor, his endeavour was to eradicate caste system. But he was determined not to create any social turbulence, and what he did must be exemplary for others. There are a number of incidents to quote in this context to express his compassion and consideration for castes like Pulayas. One such incident published in Vivekodayam is quoted here.
“During Sept 1914. His Holiness the Swami went to visit Perungala Sreedhara Swamiji’s Ashram. He liked the purity of fresh water available there and the solitude around the area. So he decided to stay there for two days. One day, in the evening, a public meeting was arranged at the local primary school. There were seven Pulaya children studying in that school. He called those kids to come forward and made them sit before the platform. He called each one of them to his side and gave them pinches of sugar with his own hands and advised them to study well and to keep themselves clean. Among them one boy appeared to be not very smart. The class teacher also said that the boy was not good at studies. Then the Swami called him to his side, and asked very kindly whether he could make a small speech on the occasion. The boy took it as an order and spoke. He said “I am very happy to meet Brahmasri Narayana Guru Swami. Let him live long”. and concluded. He took the boy along with him when he left. At Arikkara Purushothaman’s house, the Swami made him sit beside him in the portico, and took food in his company in front of all the people. This was a practical lesson to all those assembled there that the Ezhavas should accept the so-called casts lower than them as equals, so that those who are higher than them may learn from the example.
Before sending the boy away the Swami named him Kumaran, replacing his old name Kunjan.
The Swami adopted a number of Pulaya children and educated them. They lived with all the others in Advaithashram. Not only that, they were trained to cook and serve food when visitors came. There were still some orthodox people among Ezhavas who maintained caste discriminations. Even they had accepted the Swami as the leader of the community. When they came to Advaithashram, these Pulaya boys would serve food and the Swami would introduce them pointing out to which caste they belonged. What could the orthodox people do, except take food silently in the presence of the Swami?.
Some Pulaya girls were brought to join the girls’ school at Ooruttambalam in Neyyattinkara Taluq. On this account a riot broke out between the Nairs and Pulayas there. Some Ezhavas joined the Nairs against Pulayas. When the Swami knew about this, he was extremely unhappy. But later on he came to know that some noble Ezhava Chieftains had sympathized with the Pulayas and had supported them. This news certainly gave him a sense of gratification. He invited all the Ezhava chieftains, expressed his pleasure and exhorted to them that they must work for the progress of Pulayas.
He had ordered that in all the temples installed and consecrated by him, people of all castes must be admitted freely. There were still some people who did not want to oblige. What can we say about their attitude? When Talassery Jagannatha Temple was installed, there were discussions about admitting Pulayas. Some people had disagreed at that time. The Swami knew that, as there was difference of opinion among the people, there was the chance of a turbulence if he gave a drastic suggestion. So he adapted a compromising attitude and suggested a particular spot, where the Pulayas could stay and worship. During the annual festivals every year, these poor ones would come with their ceremonial music and make offerings to the temple. After a few years, some Ezhava leaders pushed them farther away. And the Pulayas protested that in such a case they would stop coming to the temple with offerings. When this became an issue some young men called for a meeting to discuss the matter. And some orthodox people decided not to allow Sahodaran Ayyappan to speak in the meeting. After Narayana Guru came to know about all these, he called for a mammoth meeting of the people in the temple. In the meeting some of the Directors of the Temple Administration themselves opposed the Pulaya’s temple entry. After much deliberations it was finally decided that Pulayas may be allowed inside the temple once in a month.
On the next occasion, the Pulayas came to the temple reciting hymns and circum- ambulated in the presence of the Swami and offered him fruits, grapes and sugar candy. The Swami distributed all that to those present there and they accepted. On that day, the Pulayas prostrated before the Swami in earnestness and tears of compassion and joy flowed from his eyes. For those who had witnessed the scene, it will remain an indelible picture in memory throughout their lives. Those tears were enough to melt the hardened minds of those who wanted to restrict the entry of Pulayas. They mellowed and it was declared that people of any caste can enter Jagannatha Temple.
* * * *
Another endeavour of the Swami was to reconvert those who had embraced Christianity. To some extent he could succeed and get good results in this. A few years ago, such an action would have been unthinkable for Thiyyas. At Kannur, one Thiyya fellow became a Christian because of some domestic problems. With the consent of his family members, the Swami took him back into the Thiyya community.
In South Travancore there were some ‘Ezhava Christians’. They were Christians by religion and Ezhavas by caste. A doubt arose that if all the Ezhavas became Christians such a new sect would be created. After some reformations were implemented in the Ezhava society, the Ezhavas of this area avoided all contacts with the Ezhava Christians and tried to maintain themselves as ‘pure Hindus’. There were some financial problems also between the two groups. The Swami solved the problem by reconverting the Ezhava Christians into Ezhava Hindus.
In the year 1914, The Swami had installed a temple for the Kammala Society, while on his way to Mezhuveli (Kammala is a common caste name for carpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths and masons). In that area, one goldsmith planted a banyan tree and built a platform around it. He built a shed also by the side of it and invited the Swami to sit there for a while. When the Swami sat there, he performed pooja with all rituals, and distributed sugar as ‘prasadam’ to all those who had assembled there. He maintained this as a holy place. Later the Swami named it as ‘Siddheswaram’.
“Pichanaattu Kurup” is a caste name given to a particular sect of people. The Swami converted them into Ezhavas. ‘Sarasakavi’ Moolur Padmanabha Pnickkar narrates this.
“This was a special caste. There were only about one hundred families belonging to this caste, confined to two or three districts. I have heard from others that their caste profession was to perform the funeral rites of another caste ‘Kaniyan’ but Pichanaattu Kurups did not agree with this. Their social hierarchy was also precarious. The Ezhavas considered them inferior and used to take bath if they were touched. But these Kurups did not use the inferior idioms in their conversations with Ezhavas. The Nairs in some areas considered them superior to Ezhavas, especially in front of Vaikkom Temple. Because of this precarious social position, and lack of numerical strength, they had to face harassment from different sources. They were teased with the nick name Kani Kurup. For any of their functions, they had to get their relatives from far away places, because the other castes would not join them for functions.
Because of all these problems, Sri. Krishnan Vaidyan decided to become a Christian. He told me that it was not because he lost faith in Hinduism, but because of the social problems of isolation. I asked him whether he would like to become an Ezhava. ‘I would love it, but is it possible?’ he asked.
Then I told him, “Of course you can, and Sree Narayana Guru can do this for you. So, please do not convert yourself to Christianity in a hurry”. I informed the Swami about this, and he readily agreed to come to Thiruvalla.
The Swami reached Thiruvalla on a specified date. When we crossed the famous Chirapuzha bridge and reached Vadakkekara it was about 5.30 in the evening. We settled down in the house of a friend, Mr. Neelakantan, to spend the night. In the morning we found that we were caught in a flood. The house we stayed in was on a hilltop, but all the lower areas were filled with water. We had to camp there for one more day for the floods to recede.
On the third day we started. But the roads were damaged with overflowing water. The local Christian Religious Head sent his palanquin for the Swami to travel. The Swami cut jokes whether a Chovan (another name for Ezhava) is permitted to use the Religious Head’s palanquin. He did not use it. He preferred to walk. The same day evening we reached Kaviyur, and settled in the home of Kochikka Channar.
On the next day Sri Krishnan Vaidyan and some of his relatives were invited to come over there. All Ezhava chiefs of that area were present there. Responding to the Swami’s orders, some Christian and Nair Chiettains were also invited. A big meeting was organized with the Swami in the chair. One local Nair chief and some of us spoke about the present issue. After the meeting, the Swami called Krishnan Vaidyan to come near him, and said “From today onwards, the individual by name “Kurup” is not there in you. You and the people around here belong to the same sect. You be one among them. May God bless you”. After that, a grand feast followed in which all those who were present there participated. Sri. Krishnan Vaidyan and his people were made to sit in the middle of a row along with all the others. The Swami sat on an easy chair kept in the center and observed the rituals of the feast and our participation. When the feast was over the Swami observed, “To day is a good day. In the history of our community, this day marks an important stage. Make a poem about this and keep it at Aluva Advaithashram”.
But the story did not end there. The newly converted Ezhava, Krishnan Vaidyan, left his home in Poovathur, and started a pharmacy in Changanasseri town, and started living in Vazhappally. At that time, there was a proposal to nominate an Ezhava member to Changanasseri Municipality. The public opinion was that, among the Ezhavas, Krishnan Vaidyan of Changanasseri was the most suitable person for that. Based on this the local Tahasildar recommended his name to the higher authorities. On hearing this, some Ezhavas went to the “Huzur office” and started arguing that Krishnan Vaidyan was a Kanikurup and not an Ezhava. The Secretary of Huzur office was Sri Ulloor Parameswara Ayyar. He asked my opinion. I told him the entire story. He asked Krishnan Vaidyan to produce a community certificate from Sree Narayana Guru. I gave him a letter to the Guru, and sent him to Aluva where the Swami was staying at that time. My son Gangadharan, who was a Sanskrit student there, informed the Swami about this. The Swami happily wrote out a certificate “This Krishnan Vaidyan is a pure Ezhava” and joked that ‘Pure Ezhava’ means an Ezhava who is not a toddy- tapper. Krishnan Vaidyan submitted this certificate in the Huzur office, and became the member of Changanassery municipality, and continued for two terms. Later on, the Ezhavas have started to treat him as one of their own, as a result of the endeavours of Sri Narayana Theertha Swamy, an earnest disciple of the Swami”.
This is the interesting account given by Sri Padmanabha Panickar. Some special points emerge from this.
Krishnan Vaidyan thought that it was impossible to become an Ezhava. But the Swami’s devotee Padmanabha Panickar knew that, if at all it could be made possible, it could be done only by Sree Narayana Guru. But Panickar himself did not envisage how great an event it would be, and its after effects, and what a great tool it would be to crush the citadel of casteism. But the Guru knew this, and that is why he asked a long poem to be composed about this event, and preserved at Advaithashram. But Panickar, though a good poet, did not do that nor did anyone else who were present there. That was because they did not conceive its true importance in the long run. This event should have been notified throughout India. But even the people of Kerala do not know about this. Even the author of this book came to know about it only through Panickar’s autobiography, “Smaranakal”.
We know that some religious leaders have converted the so-called lower caste people into Brahmins. (Aryasamaj?). After the Swami had effected this conversion, how good it would have been, if community leaders of other castes had approached the Swami and requested him for conversion! But they did not do this. Mahakavi Kalidasa describes in an analogy through the words of Dushyanta, how people are confused in their opinion about persons.
“King Dushyanta remarks, “when I see an animal at close quarters it appears not to be an elephant, but when I move away, I get the doubt whether it was an elephant. I come back to look at it, and this madness is repeated.” This is how people felt about the Swami in those days. Sometimes they felt he was great, and sometimes not. Hope time will destroy this fickleness, and people will recognize his greatness.
During his birthday celebrations in the year 1920, the Swami gave the following message to his followers, “Liquor is poison, do not make it, do not give it, do not drink it. The toddy tapper’s body stinks, his clothes stink, and his house stinks, whatever he touches will stink.”
He published this message, and at the same time advised the community leaders to discourage Ezhavas from toddy-tapping and stop the preparing of liquor. To bring this into action, in Travancore, T.K. Madhavan and others had started an anti-liquor movement and achieved their objective to some extent. But no one has done anything about this in Malabar. Sri Ananta Rao, a Saraswatha Brahmin post- graduate from Talassery, who became an ascetic disciple of the Swami later, writes the following.
“Haven’t you noticed? Our Guru suggested abstinence from liquor. It became a political issue only long after that. Even the Govt. have started this. Whatever great things our Guru starts will never go waste”
All Kerala Brotherhood Meeting was held at Aluva in the year 1920. The message published by the Guru on that occasion is given here.
“Whatever be the difference in the form of worship, dress, habits, or language of people, they are of the same caste (Jati). Hence there is no harm in intermarriages or in dining together”.
The Swami believed that caste does not exist. This is clear from the dialogue narrated here. His Holiness the Swami was staying in Rao Bahadur Dr. Krishnan’s house at Palakkad. Many people Came there to meet him. He enquired about the welfare of the people of Palakkad.
The Swami: This is a good place to start an institution. People here have money and education.
A devotee: But caste is a problem.
Swami: Why do you worry about caste?. It’s time is over. If all join together and work, it will disappear.
Mr. Pallathu Raman has written a long poem called ‘Misrakaanthi’ (The mixed Splendour). The Swami listened to the entire poem. Then he looked at Mr. Raman and asked: The heroine of your poem is a fisherwoman, isn’t it? And the hero is an Ezhava. It is a good combination. Toddy and fish match well, isn’t so? People laughed at the joke.
On another occasion, the Swami was relaxing in the shade of a mango tree. A journalist who was a devotee, was standing beside the Swami. They had been discussing about the caste system for a long time. Finally the Swami said.
The Swami: There is nothing called caste. I have no objection if you write down that I said so. The very thought about caste must disappear, Don’t use names that indicate caste. There are so many beautiful names without caste marks. Do not indicate caste in official records. For that, permission must be taken from the Govt. This matter has to be pursued. Moreover one should have the freedom either to express his religion or to say that he has no religion. If we try earnestly, any resistance from the Govt. can be overcome, and the idea of caste will disappear.
Devotee: Mahatma Gandhi feels that “Varnashrama” is a good theory.
The Swami: “Varna” and “Ashrama” are two different entities. Usually when the question of caste comes, people mention “Varnashrama”. What does Gandhiji say “Varna” is?
Devotee: “Varna” is Class, not caste. Gandhiji says that caste and Varna are related.
The Swami: Caste must be based on character and actions (Guna and Karma). But there is nothing permanent about these two. They go on changing. A person’s mental quality and character will change depending on the circumstances. Then, how can the Varna (Caste) be decided based on this changing phenomena?.
Devotee: Because of Gandhiji’s views, the arguments of orthodoxy have become stronger.
The Swami: Why does Gandhiji say so? He must not have analyzed properly. In my opinion there is nothing called caste. The idea of caste will bring only harm and no benefit. It is a pity that this idea of caste is not gone from the people! Some people say that the system has some beneficent effects. The supporters of caste system put forward two ideas that a hereditary profession improves the skill and quality of the worker and also it prevents unhealthy competition. One gentleman recently said that all would have work to do if hereditary professions are followed. His opinion is that even states are to be formed on caste basis, and caste based profession allotted to each state. He believes that in such case, there will be no competition between states.
The Swami: Caste is in no way beneficial. It prevents human freedom. It stifles the trades and stunts the intellectual growth of individuals. Those who concentrate on only one work and know nothing about other professions cannot do their work perfectly. People cannot choose their profession based on their talents. It is as if he has to do a work because he is born in that caste. Even if he has no skill or liking, he should do it. Can work thrive and improve in the absence of freedom of choice and intelligent selections?
Devotee: Scientists say that the son will have inherent talent of his father’s profession.
The Swami: In that case there is no need for caste. Even if there is no caste, the son will learn the father’s profession. There is no need to compete. Complete freedom can be given. So the scientists are supporting us. By restricting the individual’s freedom and intelligence, nothing can be achieved. Everyone should have the freedom to choose his profession and there should be no objection for anyone to choose any subject to learn or any work to do.
Devotee: If such freedom is given, competitions will increase. It will bring more harm than benefit, that is what they say.
The Swami: That is the argument put forward by the supporters of caste system. Those who are enjoying the privileges of caste will talk like that. They need others to work for them, and they enjoy the fruits of others’ hard work. Do people have to live to maintain caste and make others comfortable? Are all these meant for the common good of human beings? What is the use of comfort and luxury, if all human beings cannot enjoy it? Caste degenerates the human being. It is unreal. It is foolishness to believe that it is real.
On another occasion. His Holiness was relaxing on a bench in a public park at Coimbatore. Among those who had assembled there to enjoy the evening breeze, there was a member representing the Backward Classes in Madras Legislative Assembly. While discussing social affairs with him the Swami said. “There is only one caste, not many”.
Member: The Brahmins and others will not agree.
After saying this, that gentleman continued to give a vehement speech, insulting those who pride themselves as upper castes. The Swami burst out laughing on hearing it.
The Swami: Very good, there is such a lot of zeal. I wish there would be some more like you. To say that human beings belong to the same caste, no special proof is required. A dog will recognize another dog as belonging to its own caste. All animals have such instinctive ability, and they live following that instinct. Only human beings have doubts. They do not have the ability to recognize their own species. In that sense they are worse than animals”
The Swami believed that British Govt. could to some extent reduce the intensity of caste discriminations and support those who tried to eradicate caste system. The British Govt. had proclaimed that it would not interfere in matters of religion. Because of that, may be they could do nothing directly on the issue of caste. When the First World War was going on, the Swami had asked every one to pray for the British to win. In continuation he had remarked that it was the British who sanctioned the great favour of permitting him to become an ascetic. For that statement one of his disciples responded. “To take one into the Order of Ascetics is to teach him mystic invocations and investiture with ochre robes. Have the English done anything like this to you? How can you say that they have made you an ascetic?. I am unable to understand your meaning”.
The Swami: Is it not accepted that even during Lord Sri Rama’s regime, Sudras were not allowed to do penance? Weren’t the Hindus ruling the country as the Smrithi has ordered? Now the English have permitted me to become an ascetic. So they are my Guru aren’t they?
Another example to illustrate that the Swami had believed in the beneficent effects of the British rule is given below (the Swami had a special ability to give quick repartees, which no one could counter). The following anecdote is from the book ”Thiruvanchanangal” (The Divine Words) Published by Swamy Dharma Theerthar.
“While the Vaikkom Satyagraha was going on, one Thiyya (Ezhava) passed through one of the forbidden roads, in the company of Mr. Cotton, an English man, One devotee.informed the Swami that the upper castes had no objection to this. The Swami commented,
“When leather is on one’s feet as footwear, it cannot be taken inside a temple. (Any footwear is forbidden). When the same leather is attached to a drum, there is no objection”.
The meaning of these words is quite clear. The footwear, and the musical drum, both are made up of animal hide. But the footwear is not permitted to be taken inside the temple but the drum is, because the drum serves some useful purpose in the temple. Drum beat is an essential part of ceremonial processions of the deity. Similarly the Savarnas need the good offices of English men like Mr. Cotton. He cannot be displeased. If the Thiyya walking with Mr. Cotton is forbidden, Mr. Cotton might be displeased, and the Savarnas cannot afford this.
Another dialogue quoted here will explain in detail what the Swami meant by one caste and one religion. How deep-rooted was this opinion in his mind, and how much he was worried because there were not enough committed people to translate this ideal into action, is also evident from the following dialogue.
The Swami was relaxing on an easy chair, on the eastern facade of Advaithashram. The time was midday. A man with a prominent mustache, wearing a long coat, came and stood before the Swami, reverently.
The Swami: Where are you from?
Man: I am a leader of Sambava Mahajana Sanghom. I had been doing social service for the last fifteen years.
The Swami: Who are these Sambavas? What is the meaning of the word?
Man: We belong to the community of Sambhuie Lord Siva. He was a Sambavan. We do not observe caste system. We take people of all castes to our group.
The Swami: That is good. Is there anyone who is not a Sambava in your community?
Man: That is not possible. Any one who joins becomes a Sambava.
The Swami: That is a good trick. SNDP Yogam is also like that. Who ever joins becomes an Ezhava. That is not good. More number of people will not join. Do you follow any religion? It doesn’t matter whatever be the religion, if men are good, that is enough.
Man: I am a Christian. We have two Organizations, Sambava Mahajana Sangham, and Sambava Christian Church. We don’t allow non- Sambava Priests in the Church. Even the English men are not allowed to enter.
The Swami: Good, I appreciate your spirit. Was Lord Siva a Christian? He could be. If Lord Siva is present now he would definitely convert himself to Christianity. The times are such! (Looking at an inmate of the Ashram) Look at him. How spirited is he? We need people like him. Unfortunately we don’t have anyone to work like him. I wanted to start a ‘casteless’ organisation. I have told many people about it. But no one comes forward to try. Can you?
Inmate: I shall try.
The Swami: I want to do something for human beings. So far I could do nothing. At least now, I must found a casteless organisation. People like this man will join.
This conversation clarifies what the Swami’s main objective was, and the hurdles in his path for achieving it.
“Whatever be the religion, it is enough if man is virtuous”. He wanted to start an association of such people, and those who wished to become like that. In that case, people of all religions could join. Such an organisation could laugh at caste differences, and reduce the intensity of caste discriminations, and in course of time eradicate the caste system altogether. But such a goal can be achieved only by workers with firm determination, and unwavering sense of commitment. The Swami felt unhappy and miserable because such people were not available. He started SNDP with the hope that it would become such an organisation to spread his ideals among the people, inspire and unify them.
SNDP Yogam was founded in the name of Sree Narayana Guru with his blessings. The beginning was in 1902. It was formed by enlarging the scope and power of Aruvippuram Temple Association. In the early days, the Swami used to preside over the annual meetings of the Yogam, and sometimes send message to the people through the Yogam. Because of his blessings, and the hard work put in by Kumaran Aasaan as Secretary, the Yogam became a formidable social force. Born in Travancore, it entered Malabar through Kochi, and tried hard to unite and unify the peoples called Thiyyas and Ezhavas. The annual meetings of the Yogam were held at Mayyazhi, Kannur, and Kozhikodu in Malabar. The Govt of Travancore had recognized and accepted the opinions and decisions of the Yogam. Not only that, it was approved by the Govt. as a representative organization of the Ezhava Community. As a result, this organisation could solve several problems faced by the community, by the efforts of the Secretary in the beginning.
But, at a later date, the Swami felt that SNDP was not following his ideas, or his ideals, It is said that Swami felt that the SNDP Yogam was not following his ideals and ideas. The ideals of Swami were much wider and beyond the scope of the SNDP Yogam. Therefore Swami found that the Yogam cannot rise upto his aspirations. Hence he concluded that SNDP could no longer spread his ideals among the people, as he wanted. We do not comment more about this, or the litigation between SNDP as plaintiff and Dharma Sangham as defendants, soon after the Swami’s Samadhi.
The Swami felt the need to start an order of Ascetics to eradicate the caste system, and to spread his messages among the people in its true sense. He founded Sree Narayana Dharma Sanghom with this objective. A report by the Sanghom about this is given here.
“There were several attempts to start a ‘Sanghom’ like this. Decisions were taken soon after Advaithashram was founded. Sathyavratha Swami had formulated some guidelines to form Dharma Sanghom. When the Swami wrote his will, while nominating Bodhananda Swami as his legal heir, he gave clear indications about an Order of Ascetics. After some time, decisions were taken by the ascetics together to form an organisation called “Sree Narayana Dharma Sanghom”. This did not work. Some attempts were made to start a “Sree Narayana Mission”, a sort of working committee. Again, in 1926, some skeleton bye-laws for starting an organisation of ascetics was prepared with the consent of the Swami, and sent to Sri. Justice M. Govindan, Justice Raman Thambi, Changanasseri Parameswaran Pillai, Moorkothu Kumaran, C. Krishnan Vakil, Justice K. Ayyakkutty etc, for expert opinion. While these preparations were going on, the Swami, started on his tour in 1926. On orders of the Swami, letters were sent inviting all ascetics to assemble at Advaithashram during Christmas holidays of the same year. Nothing could be done because many of them did not turn up. Still, Sri Ramavarma Thampan BA. LT, was invited and the Swami had discussed the matter with him in detail. Soon the Swami left for Trichur. Many senior ascetics reached there. And the ideas of starting a ‘Sanghom’ came up again. After three days of discussions, bye-laws as they exist now, were formulated, and passed in the meeting. It was written down and read out to the Swami. After getting his approval, all those who were present there signed on the memorandum. The Sanghom was registered on 1103 Dhanu 17th (Jan.1928).
The Swami’s will mentioned above is given here.
‘The will written by Sree Narayana Guru, resident of Sivagiri Mutt, in Varkala Village of Varkala Pakuti (a subdivision of Taluq) on 1101 Medam 20th (April-May 1925 AD).
This will is written to pass over all my Temples, Mutts, Educational Institutions, Industrial units, and all other charitable institutions and all movable and immovable properties belonging to these and which I have been enjoying with full freedom, to Sri Bodhananda Swamy, who was legally declared as my heir, on 11-2-1101 (1925 AD) at Sivagiri Mutt, the headquarters of all these, after my demise. Till the end of my life, all these properties, and the power and freedom to manage them will be vested in me, and this will cannot be executed until my end. If at all I feel the need to change this will partially or wholly, I retain the authority to do that. After my end, all the institutions mentioned above and all movable or immovable properties attached to them, and any that may be acquired by me during the rest of my life, shall be owned by the said Bodhanandan, to be administered by him. After his time, this inheritance shall pass on to an ascetic, elected by majority vote from among the members of the Ascetic Order. Thus the ownership of this inheritance will pass on to my disciples in serial succession. During each one’s regime, no harm should come to any one of the institutions in their permanent existence or maintenance. If any change is inevitable, the disciples are bestowed with the right to implement the changes”. This will is registered under no. 18 in the year 1101(1925 AD).
The objective behind the formation of the Order of Ascetics is quite evident. Ascetics who are free from domestic responsibilities will find it more convenient to deal with religious matters and social problems than organizations run by busy householders with additional official burdens. How good it will be to get selfless dedicated ascetics to serve the society! The Swami wanted to start such an organisation.
In the previous chapter, we have described the nature and processes of religious reformations brought about among people of Kerala through his actions. We have seen the amount of social progress achieved by Thiyya (Ezhava) community. He could uproot unwanted customs, which were based only on superstitions. Kettukalyanam, Puberty Celebrations, Seemantham etc., were some of those meaningless customs involving wastage of money. Such customs were totally eliminated. Drunken orgies and animal sacrifices in temples were stopped. The people were taught that the worship of God through those rituals was a sin and a blunder. He convinced the people that making, drinking and selling liquor is a social and moral evil. Above all, the greatest of his contributions is the restoration of self-respect to the so-called low caste people. Whatever a person could have achieved in a human lifespan he had achieved.
He founded the Order of Ascetics as he felt the need for an organisation, which has the strength, and scope to carry on the work he had initiated. There are so many, even now, who tread the wrong path without fully understanding his messages and the worked-out examples. Let us hope this Dharma Sanghom (Order of Ascetics) will be capable of leading the next generation in the correct path, as shown by the Swami.
On January 31st of 1926, Sunday, a meeting of the labour Union was held at the house of Mundangadan Govindan in Thalassery. In that meeting, there was a suggestion from Shri.Moorkothu Kumaran (author of this book) that a statue of Sree Narayana Guru may be installed in the premises of of Jagannadha Temple. There was a Temple association called Jnanodaya Yogam to handle the Temple Affairs. One of the members pointed out that the Directors of this yogam could not take up the responsibility of the statue installation, hence it had to be taken up by Shri Moorkothu Kumaran himself who suggested it. This was approved in the meeting. Accordingly, a committee was formed to take up this matter, with Shri Moorkothu Kumaran as secretary, Bodhananda Swamy as President, Chaithanya Swami as Vice President, Shri Mundangadan Govindan as Treasurer, Guruprasad Swami, Shri A.V. Vasudevan, Dr.P.Sekharan, Shri.M.K.Madhavan and Shri.A.V.Kunjikannan as members and started fund collection. People from all over Kerala, irrespective of caste and religion made liberal contributions to this fund happily. The secretary personally went to the Colombo and collected money. Dr.P.Kannai collected funds from Burma and sent it. At Colombo, the Secretary met an Italian Sculptor Mr.Thavarali and entrusted him with the work of making the state. After fourteen months of hard work, on the 13th March 1927 that statue could be installed. It was a grand function. The details are given below:
On 13th march 1927, Sunday, unusually joy and cheerfulness was felt in the town of Thalassery. That was the day when the metal statue of Sree Narayan Guru wa to be unveiled.
Bodhananda Swami had reached Thalassery from Coimbatore by train on the previous day. Soon after Saturday midnight, he placed statue on the pedestal. On the Northern side of Jagannadha temple a small octagonal shed was built with a tiled roof and an ornamental top dome on it. The pedestal was a square platform in this shed.(Experts say that this pedestal is too small and it does not show off the magnificence of the statue to its full extent. This shortcominh is to be rectified by future generations).
The important members of the Brahma Vidya Sangham, Shri N.S. Rama Rao M.A., Shri. Mancheri Rama Iyyer, shri.V.Karunakaran Nair etc., reached Thalassery on Sunday by train. They were received with honour by the members of the Statue Fund Committee. Gentleman like Dr.Ram Kammath and Adv. Sankara Iyyer were also present at the station to receive the dignitaries. Shri N.S. Rama Rao was garlanded by the secretary.
Shri.N.S. Rama Rao a post graduate from Cambridge University, who had joined Brahma Vidya Sanghom, remained a celibate to serve mankind. He had travelled trhough out the world i.e, America, Europe and Australia and gined experience and worldly wisdom. His speech in a meeting of the Brhma Vidya Sanghom at Holland had become world famous. The people of Thalassery had the good fortune to enjoy his ability to speech in good, fluent and powerful English. This naturally handsome man won the love and respect of the people of Thalassey with his humility, devotion, courtesy and willingness to serve the people.
The President reached the spot exactly by 3 O’ clock. More than five thousand men and women were assembled there, including Brahmins and non-Brahmins without any caste feeling, officials and non-officals. After the President was seated on the dias, three children rendered a prayer song. This was followed by Shri.Moorkothu Kumaran’s speech:
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
All the outside, in the name of the statue committee I welcome all the people who have assembled here on this auspicious occasion, responding to our invitation.
This is the first time a statue is being unveiled in Kerala. The statue being unveiled here today is not that of a war here who had conquered nations by getting thousands of people killed on bothe the sides, not that of King who had received power through inheritance, not that of a sciebtist who happened to discover a great rule of nature accidently, not that of an artist who had become popular through his artist talent. We have assembled here to witness the inveiling of the statue of a real yogi who effulgent with spiritual powers and inner purity and had become the object of respect and affection of not only millions of downtrodden people but also others.
Though Sree Narayana Guru is the recipient of universal respect, at the same time he is a devoted servant of mankind also. In other words, he is a Janna Yogi and Karma Yogi at the same time. His action dedicated to the well-being of humanity.
Sun shines and vaporizes water from the earth and stores as clouds. During rainy season, water is given back to the earth and the people as rains. Similarly the wisdom, spiritual and mystic powers which Sree Narayana Guru gained through severe penance and rigorous yogi exercises, are bestowed on humanity for their benefit. After he set out on this path, what he had done is well-known.
The Swami, who had gained perfect self-control and renunciated any desire for rewards of his actions, understood very well through observations what he need of the people was at that time. He set out on his task without enraging neither the orthodox nor promoting boasting among the progressive.
He expressed through actions that social quality is to be attained, not by down-grading the higher levels, but by elevating the lower graded to the higher level. The Swami did not try to elevate to anyone to Brahminical statue by conferring external symbols like the sacred thread around the neck or caste marks on the forehead. For the true elevation of the human being he recommended only purity of the mind and cleanliness of the body, clothes, and food as compulsory daily rituals. Sidestepping these he did not encourage to secure the right of entry to those temples. If at all he fought against any evil traditions it was only against animal slaughter and alcoholism. He stressed in his advices that rituals of worship which include these two are uncivilized and diabolic and he took bold steps to annihiliate these. The installation of the new temple was the first daring and most successful step in this directions. He believed that the installation of temples od serene deities was the best way to attract people to adopt sober rituals of worship, discarding their implicit faith in animal sacrifice and drunken orgies as compulsory rituals practiced for generations. The result of this experiment is crystal clear to everyone. When he found that the sense of spirituality in the people had gone beyond the need for an idol to worship, he gave to the people the Sarada Mutt, where they could meditate without worshiping the idol. Rituals of offering to the deity and celebrations of festivals were also banned to effect an change in the ambience of the temple. For those who did not need even the presence of a deity to mediate, the Adwaithasramam was founded. In all these, primary condition for entry was stipulated as cleanliness of the body, food and purity of the mind. By laying down this fundamental condition, he had exposed the artificially of caste. The Swami’s disciples, ranging from the high caste Brahmin to the lowest Chandala, who cannot be identified by their clothes, appearance or spoken words, now live together as members of a single family at Sivagiri Mutt and adwaithasramam. In these institutions difference in caste and religion are ignored. Each one has the freedom to pray and worship in his own special way, according to the religion he follows. Those who understood this fact can realize the true meaning of the Gospel of Unnity, “One Caste One Religion One God for Man” visualized by the Swami. After understanding the true meaning of this principle and the fact that the Swami had actually practices this in his life, great men like Mahatma Gandhi and Ravindranath Tagore came down to meet him.
If anyone thinks that Sree Narayan guru is the special property of a particular caste or community, that will be an unpardonable offence against him. Adi Sankaracharya had chirned the ocean of Vedanta and given its surf to the people. He was so great that he found the spark of divinity in all living beings and to illustrate that he composed ‘Maneesha Panchakam’ .But the people of Kerala had restricted such a great Acharya to the confines of a particular caste. Not only that, they have made use of his words as the fortress walls of casteism( compare Viveka Chudaamani stanza-2) and heaped the evils of caste discrimination as his original sin. IF such people push Sree Narayana Guru into the prison of a particular caste, it will not be a surprise.
The main reason for the disdain to which India, our dear motherland, is subjected to, is the ill-will between castes and the rivalry between religions. Narayan Guru, from this tiny corner of this great land, namely Kerala, has shown to the great leaders of this land that the best method to liberate the society is by annihilating these evils and working for the progress and prosperity of the society. So far there was no reason to repent that the Swami had gone wrong at any point. But unfortunately, the leaders who are disciples and devotees of ther Swami are unable to recognize the path traversed by him to remedy this infirmity and bother about religious conversions and right to temple sentries. It is a pity that they are unable to understand the ways and means employed by the Swami find solutions. My humble opinion is that if we understand the ideals of the Swami clearly and follow the methods peacefully, which he had proved effective. Kerala which was branded as a lunatic asylum will be able to claim the title of a model state for the whole of India.
The Statue that is being unveiled here on this day remains a symbol to commemorate the great achievements of the Swami and a reminder of his ideals to the future generations of Kerala. The feelings of each one of us is the perfect proof to the complacence and sense of gratification felt by those people who have involved themselves to make the installation of this statue a reality by their generous contributions in cash and kind and those who enjoy the good fortune to be present here and participate in this function.
No explanation is required to install the statue of a great Jnana Yogi, who became a Karma Yogi also by working out a most useful and peaceful way for the salvation of mankind. This statue is not a memorial installed by a few people to express their love for someone or their gratitude to someone for financial help. This not a monument by a rich man to keep the memory of a beloved alive. This is a token of the gratitude of the people to superhuman personality who had sacrificed all his spiritual powers and yoigic achievements to redress the grievances of those who had bwwn crushed under the yoke of tradition, and dislodge the obstacles in their path of progress and emancipation. This statue is a life size representation of the physical appearance of that personality to enable future generation to see how he looked like and pay their respects, This statue is the product of devotion and respect felt by millions of people which has flowed down as contributions in cash and kind, to make this a reality. Brahmins, Pulayas, and Christians Muslims and Christians also have contributed.
Sree Narayana Guru had been popular among the people of all religions, castes and universally acceptable because he had given freedom to his disciples to continue in their religion and purse any type of worship that they liked and because he lived a selfless life without deviating an iota from the principles he preached. Therefore, it is no wonder that people of all religions and castes contributed unhappily and lavishly for making this statue a reality.
It is not just an accident that an eminent person deserving in all respects to unveil the first statue of the Swami is present here. Shri. N.S. Rama rao is a gentleman in whom, all the qualities and excellence that people think are necessary to perform this, are combined. Some people think that it should be done by a Brahmin. Mr.Rama Rao is Brahmin notmerely because he is born to a Brahmin woman and was invested with the sacred thread. He is a true Brahmin by virtue of his knowledge and practice. Some others are of the opinion that the Swami’s statue had to be unveiled only by one who respects and follows his ideals. In that case, Mr. Rama Rao, as an active member of Brahma Vidya Sanghom, not only preaches that people of the world should live like a fraternity without caste and religious difference, but also honestly and sincerely persuades the people to follow these principles. As such, he is the most deserving person and how can we conclude that this coming is accidental?
Let us now proceed with the ritual of unveiling the statue, which will ne a reminder, to the world at large and Kerala especially, to remember with gratitude the bountry he has bestowed on us, not only for this generation, but for future generations also. Let this be a land mark to commemorate the virtuous life and ideals of the Swami forever.”
After this speech by Mr.Kumaran, Shri Mancheri, Rama Iyyer introduced the chief guest of the function to the people through a very interesting and witty speech. Next, the chief guest spoke in English. Shri.V.Krunakaran Nair made an on the spot translation of the beautiful speech. In his speech Mr.Rama Rao elaborated the importance of religion in India. If there is any set of people who are sincerely interested and not ridiculed about religion, it is only the Indians. He had been to a mammoth meeting of the Catholics in Chicago. The piety exhibited by those who were assembled there was in no way more than the piety of the people here. But religion in our land has become a fortress of pernicious customs and traditions. In olden days, the foundation of our religion was renunciation. The Brahmin was equal to an ascetic, renouncing all worldly interests. He was respected for that. Kshatriya, vysya and Shudra has practiced some way of renunciation which suited them. They received respect also proportionate to that. There was no social hierarchy in those days. Such a class difference without hierarchy exists in western countries also. That works well there but it is not being restricted and narrowed down. The people there enjoy the benefits of their social setup. But in our land, inequality is the rule. This should not be allowed. He concluded his speech by mentioning caste rules during Sree Rama’s time and enumerating the wonderful achievements of the Swami. Then he unveiled the statue.
People appreciated the beauty and workmankind of the statue. But some of them felt that the pedestal is not high enough to hold the statue.
After the unveiling was over some Pulayas came there with a picture of the Swami and sang songs praising him.
Shri Karunakaran Nair gave a wonderful speech on Adoration of the great. Function concluded with vote of thanks by Secretary followed by the recitation of hymns by Brahmins., Nair, Thiyyas and all other castes together. It was very happy ending.
n the month of Februvary 1928, news like wild fire all over the state that Sree Narayana Guru Swami was sick and laid up. The Swami had fallen sick earlier also. Once he was affected by cholera, but he recovered. At that time people were not as apprehensive as they are now. A news item appeared in the ‘Dharma´ paper of 23rd February “The readers are aware that His Holiness the Swami is under treatment for a problem known as hernia. Dr. Krishnan of Palakkad is treated him. There is no much improvement in his condition. On the other hand, his weakness is getting worse day by day. He has fever also. Dr. Pandala had come from Madras to examine the Swami. As per his suggestion, His Holiness the Swami is moved to Madras for treatment.” Along with news, information reached that the Swami’s important disciples, several prominent citizens and social activists had also moved to Madras to be with the Swami and serve him. On hearing this, fear and anxiety increase among the people. His devotees were afraid that a surgical operation, if required, would be risky considering the Swami’s age.
In this context, we have something to say. We have already given details about hatayoga in the initial chapters of this book. The objective of hatayoga is to strengthen the body by subjugating it to the power of the mind through exercises like praanaayaama and resist diseases. But those who train themselves in jnanayoga and improve their spiritual powers do not care much for the body. Therefore, even if they are well versed in hatayoga they do not use powers for the benefit of the transient body. Such people fall sick as any average human being and respond to treatment. Narayana Guru Swami was not a mere hatayogi. He was a jnaanayogi and karmayogi too. He did not care for the transient body; he care much for the eternal soul. We had to give this explanation because some sophisticated people mocked, “How could the Seami fall sick? Isn’t he a yogi?Can’t he cure himself through yoga?”
The Swami reached Madras on 10th February. He stayed in late Mr.M.C. Koman’s bungalow. Mr.Koman’s widow and children served the Swami with respect and affection. Nurses were also appointed to attend to the Swami. The treatment started and continued for a few days. Though there was a slight improvement, the Swami wished to go back to Kerala and take Ayuervedic treatment. So he returned to Palakkad by the end of February.
At Palakkad, all arrangements were made to start Ayurvedic treatment by efficient physicians under the supervison of Dr.Krishnan. All eminent physicians from Travancore and Malabar reached there to serve the Swami. From these he started to Varkala and camped at Kollam on the way. While at Kollam, Dr.M.N.Panicker and Dr.A.K.Thampi examined the Swami and issued the following statement.
“The physical condition of His Holiness the Swami is as follows. There is no fever now. He had good sleep during last night and early this morning. He seems to be better today than he was yesterday. He himself says so. Though he is weak, we feel that there is no reason for anxiety?”.
There was reasons to believe that the Swami himself felt that his end was drawing near. He had wished the end to come while he was at Sivagiri. Once he had shown a spot at Sivagiri and remarked to some disciples that it would suit well to have his tomb there.
On the 11th of March 1928, The Swami reached Varkala from Kollam and stayed in an inn belonging to Sivagiri Mutt. The treatment continued under eminent physicians like Cholayil MamiVaidyar and Panavalli Krishnan Vaidyar. There was some improvement for a short period. After that, one from the most important group of eight physicians, (ashtavaidya) Thykattu Divakaran Mooss treated him for sometime. In addition to all these people, Dr.Krishnan Thampi stayed at Varkala to attend to the Swami. Dr.Panicker and Dr.Palpu used to examine the Swami everyday.
The condition of the patient was fluctuating. One day he would be better and another day worse.
On May 28th, another statement was issued. “All other complications are under control, but the problem of the kidneys is getting worse. Varkala seems to be not well-suited for his physical condition. Hence the Swami was shifted to Trivandrum last Thursday. There he is put up at Shri Mathu Muthalali’s bungalow Pettah. After reaching there, he had high fever and severe hiccups for two days. These symptoms have subsided but his weakness is increasing. The whole body is aching. He is unable to get up and sit due to pain in the kidney. He could not sleep well. Dr. Noble, the famous Englidh doctor of Travancore examined the Swami Yesterday and started treatment. He has sent another doctor to live with the Swami and observe his condition. In addition to that, Dr. Thampi and Dr.Panicker are always with the Swami. Mami Vaidyar and Krishnan Vaidyar are also there. The devotees of Trivandrum offer all help and co-operation both physically and financially. Al last it is decided to invite Dr. Somerwell also to examine the Swami.”
The Swami did not stay at Trivandrum for long. In the first week of June he returned to Varkala. Vaikkara Mooss, the number one Ayurvedic physician of Travancore, was brought to examine the Swami. Mooss did not express anything positive or negative. In the meanwhile contributions from devotees for the Swami’s treatment were pouring in.
While the Swami was seriously sick on 22th Augest 1928, there was an incident. It was published in the newspaper ‘Dharmam’.
“In Travancore at Varkala, there was a gentleman by name Nambarvilakathu Marthandam. His daughter Bhageerathi, a fifteen year old gorl, had been suffering from some evil spells for nearly two months. She was unable to get up and walk or talk, but was continuously sobbing making a weired noise. Many systems of treatments, including exorcism was tried in vain. Dr.Pappu of Chirayinkal tried injections also. There was no use. At last the Astroleger Kunju Shankaran of Chirayinkil suggested a remedy: “take the girl to Sree Narayana Guru at Sivagiri”. Accordingly the girl was brought before the Swami. The Swami simply ordered her to get up and walk, and she did it. The evil spell was broken. She had not talked after the trouble started. But now she began tp speak, and walkedaway like any other normal girl.”
The Swami’s illness was going from bad to worse. He continued to be bed-ridden in spite of the expert treatments from western doctors and eastern physicians, the care and attention bestowed on him by sincere devotees and ascetic disciples, and intense and profound prayers offered by thousands of people from all over Kerala. Why do we extend the story? Al last on 20th September 1928, Thursday at 3.30 p.m the great soul who was crusader against casteism, had led thousands of poor people to liberation through words and actions, and was a beacon light for our nation’s future progress, left the emaciated body, and merged with Universal soul.
Guruprasad Swami who had witnessed the end of that great journey had written down the following:
“The news of his demise spread like wild fire all over the land. People, unable to withstand their agony, crowded at Sivagiri. Meetings were held at many places and condolence messages poured in through telegrams and newspaper reports. Schools, small industrial units and market places were closed down and declared holidays and people rushed to the temples to offer special prayers for the salvation of that great soul. All these were proof to show how much the people had loved and adored him. Though the precious body of His Holiness was laid up in sickbed for more than six months, only the body was emaciated, the hallow emanating from that divine face remained the same. Those eyes shone with the glow of Yogic power and a gaze from those eyes was capable of subjugating any strong-willed person. When the end was nearing, for the last few days there was no symptoms of the disease. He could not talk for nearly two days before the final end, but he was perfectly conscious. All of us sat beside him, offering prayers and reciting from from Holy Scriptures, and waiting to accept the inevitable and undeniable command of nature. Finally, in front of our eyes, the great divine light was exingushed.
‘At that moment Shri Vidyananda Swami was reading the chapter of ‘Jeevan Mukthi” from Yogavasishtam. His Holiness passed away listening to the part about the salvation of the soul. He used to tell us quite frequently that it was necessary to feel sad and unhappy about death. While at Trivandrum, when the disease was at its worst he had said, “I have no ill-health or uneasiness. I feel relief and peace as no one else can feel.” While sick-bed also, he used to cut jokes with disciples and at the same time give valuable advise through that. We have no reason to feel at a loss for his departure he had blessed us by bestowing all his ideals and clearly shown the path to pursue them in life. He liberated himself from the bondage of his body after leaving this valuable legacy to us.
‘On that day all ascetic disciples and brahmacharis, gave up food and sleep and continued to pray or recite from scriptures. Next day, morning while the body was in the Vaidika Mutt, a photo was taken. At about mid-day ablution were performed. The body was kept in the sitting posture on a canopied bedstead, beautifully decorated with flowers. The canopy was taken to vanajakshi Mandapam in a procession with funeral music and thousands of people praying and singing hymns. It was kept there for the public to have a last look and pay obeisance. About 5 O’clock in the evening it was taken to the highest point on Sivagiri hill, to the spot which the Swami himself had suggested as the best location for his tomb. The body was shifted to the grave observing all rituals of funeral and kept in the sitting posture. The grave was filled with flowers, incence and camphor in such a way that only the head and face were visible from outside. For two days community prayers and other rituals of worship were performed. On Saturday, early morning (Brahma muhurtam) at about 3.30, the grave was finally (192 to start)
GLIMPSES OF WISDOM
(Translated by Mrs.MArykutty Joseph)
Sree Narayana Guru had an extra-ordinary gift of the jibe. Humour came so natural to him that many who were not able to grasp the wisdom of his words merely gaped in wonder. Sami Dharmathirtha has collected some of these instances in his book “The Holy Sayings of Sree Narayana Guru”. Some of them are included in the biography written by K.Damodaran. Many have quoted from his words and they are so special because they bear the stamp of Sree Narayana Guru.
One Day, the Guru was relaxing after installing the deity of Shiva in a temple. So far, the installation of deities in temples was the sole right of the Brahmins. One of them sarcastically commented “So, the Exhavas also have started installing Shiva”. Swami retorted “Don’t worry, I have installed a Ezhavas Shiva”.
When somebody pointed out that the Ezhavas are agitated against some social issues, he replied “Yes, the Ezhavas are agitated, but it is like the movement of the sand on the sea-shore. All are together, but each keep up his own individuality”.
One Muslim devote, while talking to the Guru, said, half-seriously and half-mockingly: “Swami, it is said in the Holy Books that people attain salvation, but whenever the census is taken, the population is increasing and nerver decreasing”.
Swami : May be the animals are promoted as human beings.
Devote: But the number of animals also never comes down.
Swami :Tell me first, who created the animals?
Swami :Then, have you forgotten that Allah is the Creator?
While Swami was relaxing under a jack fruit tree and finding no fruits on the tree, he asked the owner “What happened to this tree ? No sign of any fruits?”
Owner: Last year, there was a bumper crop; every tiny branch was also hanging with fruits. Most of them were given away in charity.
Swami: Oh! That’s the reason for the absence of fruits this year. There is no more space in heaven since heaven is filled with your charity.
While in Madras, the Swami was enchanted by the goose the host was rearing. He exclaimed “Oh! What a beautiful bird! So beautiful and so neat!”
The host was very much pleased. He brought a goose to the Sami and said “This is called the swan of the earth.”
Swami said:add half of the other ingredients and this will become Ara + Annam = Arayannam (Arayannam in Malayalam means ‘swan’ and Ara + Annam means ‘half + rice’).
Another instance shows his deep patriotism and moral courage to dare the mighty British rulers in India, In Sivagiri, a meeting was held in connection with the start of a Model School. During the meeting, one of the inmates remarked Let us all stand together, many great things can be achieved by unity.
Swami: It’s well and good!
Inmate: It is said that if all Indians spit together, the Britishers will be drowned in sea of spit, the inmate persisted.
Swami Said: True, but when they see the Britishman, their mouths will become dry and there will be no spit.
Such was the humour and quick wit of the Swami.
There are many legends in Hindu mythology. One of the legends says that Viswamithra was a Kshatriya and he quarreled with Brahmarshi Vasishta and when he found that it is not easy to win over Vasishta, he decided to please the gods by severe penance. Thus he gained the power to create a new heaven. Even then, Vasishita was not ready to acknowledge him as ‘Brahmarshi’.
Citing this story, Swami was telling: “The distance between Brahmana and Kshatriya is only an inch and Viswamithra failed to reach the status of a Brahmin. Then, you can imagine the fate of other castes that are miles and miles away from the Brahmins!?
During the famous Vaikkom Satyagraha, Swami visited the Ashram. He was welcomed with a garland made of cotton yarn. The devotee specially pointed out that it was made of cotton. The Swami said “Oh! It seems what you eat here is also cotton.” Then he smelled the garland and said “No smell, may be the smell is absorbed inside”.
He went round the Ashram, his eyes fell on a Harijan boy aged 2 or 3 years, moving round the kitchen, completely in the nude. He said “It seems you are all going back in civilization. You want to live like the men of the Stone Ages”.
One Day, somebody raised a doubt to him “Swami, please tell me what is the best way of disposing of a dead body – cremte it or bury it?
Swami Said: “In my opinion, dead bodies should be ground in a mill and used as manure for plants”.
Oh! What a pity! Responded the man, why? Does it pain? Swami was quick in his response.
T.C.Parameswaran Moosath was a famous Sanskrit scholor. He was known for his interpretation of “Amarakosam’ – the famious Sanskrit dictionary. He was one of the great disciples of Swami Sree Narayana Guru. During one of the debates, somebody asked him : Do you know the Sanskrit Master in Sivagiri? He also studied in Pattambi(the place where Moosath Studied).
To which Moosath replied: Yes, we are like brothers. The only difference is we don’t have any ‘Dhana sambamdhanam’ is not there, ‘Ardha sambamdhanam’ is there”. In Malayalam ‘Dhanam’ and ‘Aratham’- both means ‘wealth’. ‘Artham’ also means ‘meaning’.
He was making a pun on the words.
Let us take the examples of our great religious leaders. A devotee once told him : Guru, Jesus Christ upheld love, Mohammed Nabi preached universal brotherhood and Sri Buddha insisted on compassion. What can be the reason for their stressing on different aspects of life?
Swami said : During the Christian era, the Christians were persecuted, so they needed love. In the case of Prophet Mohammed, the feeling of brotherhood was lacking. So, he advocated universal brotherhood. And Buddha saw so much of violence in the name of religion. Hence, he preached Ahimsa or nonviolence and compassion towards all living beings.
One of his disciples was a paraya (the lowest caste and considered as untouchable during the time of the Swami). Parayas were looked down upon for their beef-eating habit and people of higher castes never touched beef.
Whenever the Swami came upon this disciple, he used to say: Your community has strated the culture of eating beef from time immemorial. But the higher castes are now introducing themselves to this culture.
Once Mahatma Gandhi visited the Sivagiri Ashram in Varkala. When people saw both the Mahatmas together, they started falling at the feeting of Gandhiji. Seeing this, Swami remarked “Today I am saved of this trouble!” Hearing this, Mahatma laughed.
One day thw Swami was telling his disciples of the origin of ‘Chathurvarnyam’ – the four main classes in Hinduism.
Swami:It is said in the Holy scriptures that the Brahmins came from Brahma’s mounth, The Kshatriyas from his arms, the Vysyas from his thighs and the Shudras from his feet. How can it be? Does caste originate in piece-meal.
One of the devotees responded: The Viswabrahmanas say that their five sects have originated from the five faces of Brahma.
Swami: Yes. Brahma was five-faced. Shiva smashed one of his faces and he became four – faced. Now Brahma is four faced and there is no more stories of his losing any more of his faces. Any way, all these are the imagination of the poets. As the saying goes “Poets are equal to Brahma in Creation”.
One day, a devotee who was a farmer visited his Ashram. So, Swami started telling him about farming. The ascetic disciples around him felt bored and started leaving. Seeing this, the Swami switched over to philosophy which brought the disciples back , Swami remarked “So, philosophy has the power to attract and distract people”.
Swami was a staunch advocate of “One Caste pne Religion One God for Man”. Many instances can be quoted from his life to prove this. One such instance goes like this. One day, he was travelling in a train. There was a King and a Brahmin along with him. They were attracted by the eloquence of the swami and the king asked “What is your name?”
King : Of what caste?
Swami: Can’t you see?
King : No
Swami: If you can’t recognize by seeing, how can you recognize by hearing? A dog recognizes another dog. All animals have this common sense and they live sensibly. Only man gets the doubt. They can’t recognize the caste. In this regard we are far behind the animals. We must feel ashamed of ourselves.
While in Colombo, Swami asked a temple priestL You are a vegetarian, I believe?
Priest :Almost always.
Swami:That means now and then you eat non-veg.
Priest : True, but only when somebody offers.
Swami:Say, youcannot resist the temptation.
Preist : Habits die hard
Swami: Will you eat stones if somebody offers them?
Hearing this, both laughed.
The poet Pallathu Raman had written a poem called ‘Misrakanthi’ . He read it to the Swami and asked for his remarks.
Swmai said : The hero is an Ezhava (Toddy tapper) and the heroine is a fisher-woman. Toddy and fish is a good combination.
Once the offertory box is Sivagiri was stolen. A meuch humoured Swami said, The thief is wise. If all the money had been with the people who offered it, it would have been difficult for him to steal it from all of them. Now, all of them pooled the money in one place for his benefit.
Once Swami was travelling through Chengannoor (a place in Pathanamthitts Dist). The path led through the forest filled with hills and shrubs and all types of hurdles. Seeing a building in the middle of the forest, Swmai was surprised, when he heard that it was a Govt school, he said “So, the Govt knows that the place exists”
During the time of Swami, it was a taboo among Hindus to shave their faces by themselves. The barbers were entrusted with the work, according to the caste system and distribution work to different castes.
But the modern youth were inspired by the example of the British and some of them started shaving themselves. Manu elders were pained to see this defiance of the Smritis (Hindu Religion laws).
One of them complained to the Guru: Swami is it not a taboo for a Hindu to shave himself? Swami replied: Who clean your bottoms after you have used the toilet? Is it not a worse taboo than shaving oneself?
One day they were having a debate on the customs and traditions followed on the cleaning of one’s bottom.
One of the celebrates asked: Swamim in the smritis, it is said that rahmana should clean with one type of mud, Kshatriya, with another type and shudra, with yet another type.
Swami: You may break the taboos in Smiritis but don’t relieve yourself on srutis words.
Swami advocated vegetarianism. So, one of his devotees raised a doubt “Swami, when we drink the milk of the goats and cows, what is wrong in eating their meat?”.
Swami : Well, Do you have a mother?
Devotee: No, she died recently.
Swami : Died? What did you do with the dead body? Buried or ate it?
It is a custom in Kerala temples that the Oracle goes round making prophecies, dancing wildly as in a trance. One day, one such Oracle, who was fat and has lost all his teeth, approached the Swami in his trance.
Dancing wildly he asked: can you tell me who I am? (means who is god speaking trhough him).
Swami: I think, you are a fatty.
Oracle : What!You dare to laugh at me!Do you want the proof?
Swami: No. I want to see at least one tooth in your mouth(if you can).
This made everybody laugh.
In Travancore province, the Ezhavas have one more sect among them called Thandans. They are one step ahead of the toddy-tapers (Ezhavas) because they climb the coconut trees to pluck coconuts whereas the toddy-tappers climb the palm trees to tap toddy.
Once a student from the Thandan sect approached the Swami for financial help.
Swami said: There are many rich Ezhavas in your place. Did you approach any of them for help?
Student: Yes, Swami. But they are all jealous of me.
Swami: Why should they feel jealous? They are one step ahead of you in climbing trees. While you climb the trees once in two or three months, they will be doing it twice a day.
One day Swami was telling his disciples “I prefer to travel only by rickshaws”.
One of the disciples: What about bullock carts and horse-drawn carriages?.
Swami: The Rickshaw fellow wants me to travel in his rickshaw, whereas the bullocks and horses do not have such desires.
When the preparations for a meeting of the universal Brotherhood was going on, Swami asked a passers-by “Is there any use of all these meetings?” Getting no response, he continued “Many people come for the meeting and pass many resolutions. Bur when serious discussions are going on, if they hear the whistling of the train, they pack their bags and run to the station to catch the train”.
The Swami told his disciples: I am happy that Caste-discrimination is gone. Now, there is no caste. All people should co-operate and try to create a casteless society. Then everything will be all right.
One of his devotees intercepted: Swami, the Mahatma Gandhi has supported Varnashramam i.e. Caste system.
Swami: If you split the word Varnashram , it becomes ‘Varna + Ashram’ and both are different words. So ‘Varnashram’ is not correct. What does Gandhi say about ‘Varnam’?
Devotee: Gandhi says ‘Varnam’ is no caste and there is no relation between ‘varnam’ and caste.
Swami: May be Gandhi’s opinion is bases on qualities. But the qualities keep on changing. We cannot take it as the yard-stick of caste.
Devotee: Anyway, the conservatives have become mor powerful by the words of Gandhi.
Swami:Why does Gandhi say so? In my opinion, there is no caste. Vaste system does harm to humanity. It is a pity that this belief still exists.
Devotee: Some are of the opinion that caste has done more good than bad. Caste System has divided people according to their occupation. So, people in the respective caste will become experts in their occupation. This will reduce the competition in the work-field and there will be work for all. This is the opinion of one of our leaders. He also said that each country should specialize in a particular work and thus we can avoid the competition among the countries.
Swami: There is no good coming out of caste system. Caste hinders the freedom of human beings. It destroys the intelligence. Now-a-day, our blacksmiths and carpenters have become good for nothing fellows. Their intelligence also has come down. Caste only ruins work. ‘One work, one caste’ will make them ignorant of the world. That will prevent people from choosing their own profession according to their talent. In that way, there is no chance of improving any profession.
Devotee: The Scientists say that the talent is there in the genes.
Swami : Then there is no need of caste. Genes will take care and the son will automatically take up the father’s profession. There is no need of compulsion. Full freedom can be given to them. So, the scientist are also supporting us. There is no use of curtailing the intelligence and freedom of the man. Everybody should have the freedom to take up any course in studies and follow any profession they choose. We should not insist that they should study only one particular course. All people should be given complete freedom.
Devotee: Freedom leads to heavy competition. Thus the world will become highly competitive and this will do more harm than good.
Swami: This may be the argument of the people who support caste system because they are immensely benefitted by the system. The aim of our life is the welfare of mankind and not the protection of caste. If mankind is ruined, what is the use of happiness? Caste ruins mankind and hence it is not needed. It is foolish to think of caste and nurture it.
During the second world war, many Indians fought for the British.
Swami told his disciples: We mist pray for the victory of the British. They are our spiritual Gurus. We are all ascetics because of them only.
One of the Inmates expressed his doubt: Swami, how can it be? Receiving asceticism is aceremony. Amidst the chanting of mantras, the Guru offers clothes to his disciple as a sign ofrenunciation of the world. I don’t understand what you mean?.
Swami : See, Even during the time of Sree Rama also the Shudra were not allowed to become an ascetic. Hindus follow strictly the rules and regulations laid down in the ‘Smritis’. Now that the Britishers are ruling, they have given everybody the freedom to become an ascetic. Thus they have become our Gurus.
During the time of Sree Narayan guru, Caste system was prevailing with all its intensity in Kerala. Btahmins ruled the roost and the lower castes were not allowed to use the main roads and they were never permitted to come face to face with Brahmins.
But the Britishers were above all these because they were mighty rulers.
During the Vaikkom Satyagraha, a Thiyya who was accompanying Mr.Cotton (an English man) was al;lowed to use the main road in the company of the white man.
This incident created a lot of discussion and Swami commented: A foot-wear made of leather is not allowed inside a temple. But the same leather on a drum has no such ban. (Similarly a Shudra in the company of a white man is acceptable). These are some of the advantages of the British rule.
One the chief of Guru’s disciples Shivalinga Swami was harassed by upperclasses. But the Swami asked him to keep his cool. His advice ran like this – It is ignorance that make them accuse and harras others. We should forget and forgive them. Let us not hate them: let us treat them with compassion. If we do our duties conscientiously, we need fear for nothing.
In one of the interviews, the editor of Newspaper told him: Swami, people have come to the conclusion that temples are not needed at all.
Swami: How can we say that? The temples should be keep neatly. The devotees should take bath and keep themselves neat. They can breathe fresh air in the temple compound. When they pray to God, their minds will be filled with good thoughts. People come to the temple for fasting – thus cleaning the body and mind. Faith cures diseases. Most of them receives favors from God. Of course, all these depend on their faith. Are we not getting benefited by all these? So temples are also necessary.
Editor: Peoples are against idol-worship. That leads to superstitions, they say.
Swami: People visit temples to visit pray to God. They think of God and not of idols. They remember idols only when others remind them. They should be mis-directed in that way. All worship God and not idols because their minds are filled with the thought of God’s presence. (Then he invited the attention of the Editor to the Thresivaperoor Temple and said) Look at this temple. A garden should be developed on all the four sides. Trees should be planted and platforms should be raised around them. People can sit there and enjoy the pollution free atmosphere.
Every temple should have a library and the library should be filled with religious books. People should be taught moral values through sermons and preaching. Let the temple be there. .Keep the surrounding clean and green. Then the people will come to visit this place. Their health will improve. As the saying goes, it will lead to healthy mind in healthy body. In Sivagiri itself many people come and stay. They keep their body clean and meditate on God. The pure air ans clean habits cure them of diseases and they go back home happily. All have temples, who does not have?
One day, two or three devotees came to him with a request to install a diety in a temple.
Swami asked them: Which deity he should install
One of the devotees replied: It is left to you. You can select Shiva, Subramanya or any goddess.
Swami: What is the use of temples where the bats have made permanent settlement?
Then one of the inmate said: If temples are there, people will take bath and come neat.
Swami: True. But temples also should be kept neat. You can have a light instead of deity. Light is the symbol of Goddess Lakshmi. Devotees can pay respects to the light. Do you agree with me?
Devotee: People will not be satisfied with that. They want an idol to worship.
Swami: Then, let us have the pictures of Mahatmas around the light. Personally, I believe that Shive and Rama were leaders of different period. Shiva became a leader among the tribals by muscle power and good behavior. And he was always at their beck and call to protect them from all atrocities around. So, they adored him and gradually, in their outlook, he became a God.
In Sivagiri, they had the idol of MotherSarada. There was a gold spear in fromt of the deity which they used to worship. One of the devotee throw threw the spear into the forest. He installed Swami’s foot-wear in its place. He was brought before the Swami.
Swami asked: Why did you threw away the spear?
Devotee: Swami, we have taken a vow that we will wordhip only your foot-wear.
Swami: Foot-wear? Why?
Devotee: For us, it is a symbol of our Swami. We feel your presence in your foot-wear.
Swami: If you can feel my presence in my foot-wear, why can’t you feel the same in the spear?
Once a religious preacher asked the Swami. Swami, people of other relegions are against idol worship. They are asking what your Gods were doing when the Mohammadans desecrated your temples.
Swami: Do they agree that God is everywhere and he stays in the hearts of his devotees?
Swami: What do you think of Nemesis? Do they think divine retribution is unavoidable and inescapable?
Religious preacher: Yes. They believe that such sinners will be punished on the last judgment.
Swami: Then, you tell them that those who desecrate the temples will also meet the same fate.
One of the disciples had visited Burma (the present Myanmar). On his return, the Swami asked him: Are there any idols in the Buddhist temples?
Devotee: More than what we have in our Hindu temples.
Swami : It is like hair-cut. The more we cut, the more it grows. Because people want to discourage idol worship, it is growing in full force.
One day, the Swami was resting in a Hindu temple in ‘Mkhadwaram’, a small village. A Buddhist Chief sent a car to invite Swami to his house.
When devotee informed him of the matter, swami said: Why should I go there?
Devotee: The car has come.
Swami : Am I going for the sake of the car?
Then, Swami turned to the Chief and asked:what is the mystery of birth?
Buddhist Chief: Fate.
Swami: Then, what is origin of birth?
Buddhist Chief: (Humbly) It is a difficult question.
One day, a heated discussion was going on in the Ashram. The topic was “Philosophy and its Relevance to Religion”.
One of the devotees argued: The Guru says that philosophy is the science of life. It teaches a devotee how to make his life fruitful. It tells you how to live for others, sacrificing our self. It enables us to understand what is right and what is wrong. All these can be attained by philosophy.
Swami: There are so manu arguments in philosophy. Most of them are difficult to prove. For example, take a piece of cloth. It is made from yarn. If the yarn is taken away, the cloth is gone. Means, if the parts are taken off, the organ disappears. If we split a substance, it turns into parts. He parts can be divided again. If we go on dividing, nothing will remain and the substance becomes non-existant. All substances can be split. So, in reality what we see around, is only knowledge. Knowledge exists but all other substances are non-existant.
Swami: There is no much to study in philosophy. A wave is an integral part of the sea; so is the universe an integral part of Eternal Truth.
One of the Inmates interfered: Though we know all these, we always tend to forget.
Swami: You should not forget. Regular drilling makes you perfect in knowledge.
Inmate: Why should we struggle so much to attain this knowledge? It is better to laze around and be happy.
Swami: People create everything out of nothing. They are not bothered about the truth. They only want to argue and not to reach the Truth. That’s the problem with you also.
One day, Swami was going for a walk early in the morning. On the way, he heard the wailing and weeping of a woman. He went there to see what the mater was. The woman told him that her brother died. He was working in a foreign country and died there.
Swami asked: Do the dead come back?
Swami: Then,Why do you crry?
Woman: I will not cry again?
Swami: Do you have children?
Swami: Look after the children well. There is no use crying over everything. Keep your faith in God and worship Him regularly.
Coming out of that house, he asked the devotee, who was with him : What is the reason for fear?
Devotee: I don’t know.
Swami: Don’t know? Think of it and then you will understand. It is because of dualism.
Devotee: I don’t understand what you say?
Swami: See, fear is created from the thought of a thing that is different from ‘One’. That thing is called the ‘Second’. So, the existence of the ‘Second’ thing creates fear. If we are the only ‘Ones’, we don’t feel afraid, I hope you have understood what I said.
Devotee: We should consider everything as ‘One’ and that ‘Oness’ gives us satisfaction in life.
Swami: Yes. That’s called non-dualism. (There are no two things all are ‘One’.)
One day a speaker was going to attend a meeting.
The Swami enquired: What is the topic of discussion in the meeting?
Speaker: Not yet decided; I have come to consult you.
Swami: Everybody needs renunciation. It should be taught in schools also. The world will be immensely benefited by dedication and sacrifice. One must be avoid of ‘self’. Don’t you agree with me?
Speaker: Yes. The world needs renunciation.
Swami: People should be aware of the value of renunciation. Then only they will execute their duties sincerely. They will become courageous and will never be afraid of death. You need great courage to strive for the welfare of mankind. Let us take the example of war. How many people are dying in war? Those who have renounced the world are ready to sacrifice their lives. They are not afraid of death. They are the real human beings.
The present generation is a group of cowards. They make a big hue and cry at the death of people. Whenever somebody goes to see a dead body, they start beating their breasts and wailing and weeping miserably. What a pity!People have become so innocent! We must make them to understand the meaning of the death. They must not cry over death. They must be made aware of the futility of crying. Is it of any use to the dead? If at all they (dead bodies) can react, they may feel bad about it. What a scene people create when somebody dies! All these must be stopped. Children should also be taught of selflessness. Let this be the main topic of the meeting.
One day Swami visited one of his Mutts(Ashram) in a tiny village. Majority of villagers were coir workers. He was deeply depressed to see the unhygienic surroundings where the poor people lived. He decided to bring a change and talk about it to the inmates of the Mutt.
Swami: Cleanliness is most important. All should wash their cloths and take bath every morning. The whole family should bath. This is going to be the topic of speech today.
Devotee: It is difficult for these poor people to find time for all these. They have to go for work in the morning.
Swami: The must find time. They do not postpone washing their bottoms after using the toilet. Like that the washing and taking bath should done along with that. Physical hygiene is very important. If that is achieved, cleanliness of food and home follows. If man can achieve total hygiene, he can achieve anything. Then nobody will dare to ask him “Who are you?” All those who take bath belong to one caste.(Mockingly)Let us treat all others as untouchables.
Animals sacrifice was a practice in many of the temples. Swami tried his best to put an end to this evil practice.
He had a discussion with the authorities of one such temple. One of his devotees came forward and said: We don’t have any objection to stop animal sacrifice.
Swami: Then, who has objections?
Devotee: The temple committee is not agreeing. Our requests have fallen on deaf ears.
Swami: You don’t bring any animals for sacrifice. Those can have no objections. They are only pillars of the temple.
Devotee: We do not know what could be offered as a substitute.
One inmate: Swami, Ash-gourd is considered the best for worship. It can be a better substitute.
Swami: Let us give the butcher’s son?
While in Coimbatore, he was wandering in a garden enjoying the beauty of the flowers and trees. Suddenly his eyes fell on the bullocks that were used to draw water from a well to irrigate the garden. He told his followers “What a pity! My heart cries for justice. How many times these poor creatures move to and fro! Is there no way to stop this injustice? Even the air is polluted by the cruelty to these animals”.
One of the followers replied: Swami, the municipal authorities can do something about this.
Swami: Then, you must approach the municipality. Let them use two pairs of bullocks-one pair for moving forward and other pair for moving backward.
Once the pipe line water comes here, this will automatically stop and these animals will be saved of the trouble of walking to and fro.
In Trivandrum, Swami was coming out of a temple after the installation of a deity. Generally, installation deities are done in auspicious moments. There was no auspicious moment at the time of installation.
So, a Brahmin scholar asked him: “What is the ‘Muhurtham’ (auspicious moment) selected for the installation?”
Swami said: Measure the shadow and see.
The scholar did not understand. He looked confused.
Swami clarified: The horoscope of a child is written after its birth. The installation is over. So, let us search for the ‘Muhurtham’. The scholar was very much impressed by his wisdom. He praised him as the Brahaspathi on earth (Brahaspathi is the teacher of Gods)
‘Kavvupattu’ (snake–dance) is a traditional Hindu ceremony in Kerala.
Every year ‘Kavvupattu’ is conducted to appease the snake god. This is a very expensive ritual which will go on for 12 to 21 days at a stretch. The expense will come to almost Rs.500/- a day (In those days, Rs.50/- was a very big amount.) Thousands of tender coconuts and thousands of bunches of arecanut flowers will be used in this ritual. Swami felt that all these were a mere waste of money. So, he used to discourage this practice.
One day, ‘Kavvupattu’ was going on in one of his devotees’ house. The bunches of arecanut flowers were in everybody’s hands. Whenever a bunch falls down, another bunch will be given immediately. The fallen bunch should not be used agin.
Seeing this, the Swami told his host: You give them the fallen bunches.
Host: The fallen bunches are impure(not suitable for worship). They will not accept them again.
Swami insisted: You give them and see whether they will take it or not.
So, the host gave them the fallen bunches and they received them and continued the wild dance.
Swami said: Ah! They are dancing!
Host: That’s because I gave the bunches.
Swami: So, whatever you give, they will accept. Give them the useless bunches and save the fruitful ones. Instead of pouring tender coconut water on their heads, pour some herbal water. Allow the tender coconuts to become ripe fruits. Let us not waste the valuable coconuts.
After this incident, ‘Kavvupattu’ almost disappeared from that region.
While the Swami was staying in Varkala, a muslim employee was with him.
One night, he asked the Muslim: Do you know the meaning of Allah?
Muslim: It is the name of our creator.
Swami : Allah means nothing-means something that is alien to the external world. Am I
Muslim: In Arabic grammar, there is a meaning similar to that. The word Allah has two syllables – Al + La: ‘Al’ shows the sound ‘A’ and ‘La’ means no. So, Allah means-that which is not there in this world, that is ‘Allah’.
This reminded the Muslim of reading an article in ‘Islamic Review’ published from London. The meaning of ‘Allah’ given in that article was the same. He was much impressed by the Swami’s knowledge and always held him in high esteem.
The Swami was against Toddy-tapping, which was the occupation of the Ezhavas.
Swami said: Toddy – tapping is like a deadly disease. If an organ is infected by leprosy, it will affect the whole body. Like that, a group of Toddy-tappers are maligning the whole community. The malignant parts of the body can be removed through operations. Similarly, we should segregate the Toddy-tappers. Don’t mingle with them. When they give up Toddy-tapping, they can be taken bach after the purification ceremony.
One of the devotees: They go for Toddy tapping, because they don’t have any other means-of-living.
Swami: Let them make four knives out of theone used for tapping: each knife can be used for shaving. They can take up the Barber’s profession and it will be more fetching also.
The devotee remained silent.
The Swami continued: Toddy-tapping is a social evil, worse than fishing. They can go for coconut harvesting. They need not climb so high also, but the problem is that, by force of habit, they may climb higher and higher. We must be very careful with these people.
This made everybody laugh.
Once, the disciples were having a heated discussion about the qualities of a true ascetic.
When the Swami’s attention was invited to the topic, he said: An ascetic is one who sacrifices his self and dedicates his life for serve. The word ‘ascetic’ means philanthropist or donor.
Inmate : Is it compulsory that the ascetics should have a dresscode?
Swami: Asceticism does not depend on dress-code, but it doesn’t matter much, if an ascetic uses a particular dress. The dress-code helps us to distinguish them from others. A king is known by his crown, but anybody who wears a crown does not become a king. A dress-code is to an ascetic, what a crown is to a king.
One day, a house-holder disciple who was once an ascetic disciple, told the swami: Swami, in Hindustani Mutts, the Gurus take their meals along with the disciples. I wish that, we too follow the practice.
That day, the swami had meals along with his disciples.
The next day, at meal-time, he was not to be found anywhere. He was meditating on a top of a hill. He came back only after everybody finished their meals.
He told his disciples : Came on, let us have our meals.
They said: Swami, we all finished: we searched for you, bur you were not to be found.
Swami: The Test is not only for Gurus, but also for the disciples.
Once, a British missionary approached him, with an intention to convert him to Christianity.
He told the Swami: You must embrace Christianity.
Swami Asked: What is your age?.
Missionary: Thirty Years.
Swami: I am a Christian, before you were born. What do you want me to believe in?
Missionary: You must believe that Christ was born to redeem mankind.
Swami: So, by the birth of Christ, all sins are washed off. Thus, all people are redeemed then itself.
Swami: So, whether you believe in Christ or not, you wil attain salvation.
Missionary: No, no. Those who are not baptized will not be redeemed.
Swami: That means, by the birth of Christ, only a section of mankind is saved.
Missionary: Not so. Because of the birth of Christ, the whole mankind saved. That is the basic principle.
Swami: So, no more people are left to be saved.
Swami: That means, all are saved long before only. Now, there is no need to faith.
Missionary: Not so, if you believe, then only you will be saved.
Swami: That means, by the birth of Christ, those who believed earlier only were saved. The rest are not saved.
Missionary: No, no. all are saved.
The Swami tried to make him ubderstand that he was contradicting his own statement. But he stuck to his point.
Seeing his onstinacy, the Swami remarked to an onlooker: See, his faith. All believers should be like this. It is a pity that we don’t have staunch believers like him!
HIS HOLINESS NARAYANA GURU AND HIS TEACHING
As the saying goes “Another lakhs of people, only one or two will be noticed at the very first glance.” They are the chosen ones of God. And the Swami was one such personality. People wanted to approach him, but, at the same time, they did not dare to go near him.
I cannot describe the characteristic which attracted the people to the Swami. He was neither tall nor very short. He was not very fat nor very thin. He had a broad forehead and an aquiline nose (like many).
His eyes made him different from others. They were like two beams of light, penetrating in to the innermost hearts of people. They gave an aura to his tranquil face.
The Swami was a regular practitioner of yoga. This made him physically and mentally fit. His personality was so striking that people used to bow down to him total respect and devotion. Such was the charisma of Sree Narayana Guru.
It is easy to preach morals, but very difficult to practice. Many speak of ’equality to all’ but many do practice it in real life? In my opinion, Sree Narayana Guru practiced this principle with ease and dexterity. Each one of his disciples thought that the Swami loved them more than the others, and they were only two willing to serve him. Each disciple whether house-holder or ascetic, used to speak to him with a lot of love and affection. They believed that the Swami had a special place in his heart for each one of them.
All his devotees tried their best to be in his good books. The rich, by spending lavishly for his cause and others by their total devotion, tried to please him and get his blessings.
It was very interesting to see how people used to vie with each other to show that they are the greatest devotees of Swami.
All these show that Sree Narayana Guru was an adorable person. But he used to treat everybody with love and compassion – whether one is a disciple who was always with him or a devotee who visited him only once. He had a special concern for the poor and the helpless.
It is an irony to think of a yogi as fearless, but the fact was that he was quite fearless. He had the courage to tame wild animals and to resist the temptation of carnal desires.
He preached non-dualism. He said that it is dualism that causes fear. The thought that all elements are ‘One’ is God and that the ‘God’ is in every one of us creates fearlessness.
The fearlessness made him travel through dense forests where the wild animal live. But not one of them attacked the Swami at an ytime. He used to stay “If we don’t harm them, they won’t harm us. In that respect, they are better than human beings”.
He was a staunch believer in Non-violence. It seems he got it by birth. There are many people who ask of Ahimsa and try their best to stop the practice of animal sacrifice in temples. But the pity is that many of them continue their habit of meat-eating. What is the use of preaching something without practicing it? The sincerity of such preaching should be doubted.
Sree Narayan Guru stands out among those who advocated vegetarianism. He practiced conscientiously what he preached.
He tried to tame even wild through compassion and love. How many have succeeded in achieving this feat? The barking of a dog frightens us. There is no need to tell of the wild animals? Seeing them only, everybody takes to their heels. A snake is killed, before it thinks of attacking me. All these are the reactions of fear in us.
But the Swami was a yogi-one who find the presence of God in every being. Hence, he was not afraid and his ‘Love’ was reciprocated by all beings.
All human beings have good and bad elements in them. Like that all communities are a combination of good and evil. They were the slaves of traditions and customs which were followed for generations. So, the Swami never criticized any individual or any community.
He preached University of religion. He wanted to remove the inequalities among mankind. So, he preached ‘One Caste One Religion One God for Man’. He wanted to do justice to the communities who were suffering under suppression and denial of opportunities.
He advocated education as means-of-living. He told the lower castes to get educated and become financially independent. An educated person will have self-confidence and self respect. Then nobody will despise him in the name of his caste. He always asked his people not to look down on others, because of the status of their caste. If all people followed this principle, caste will disappear from this world. His greatest maxim was “Whatever be the religion, the equality of the man counts”.
He never preached hatred. He never shed a drop of blood in the name of religion. He taught his disciple to bring out a ‘Casteless Society’ through tolerance and compassion.
He was not a revolutionary to bring forward reforms through agitation and violence. He wanted to change society slowly and peacefully.
He brought forward unforeseen changes during the thirty or forty years of his struggle. What the lower castes were not able to achieve in thousands of years, they achieve in thirty or forty years under the guidance of Sree Narayana Guru.
Especially, the Thiyyas were immensely benefited by the temples started by the Swami for their sake. But they are not following the teaching of the Swami. These temples are not spending a lot of money in the name of offering and festivals and are carried away by the external pomp and show, they are least bothered about preaching moral principles to the devotees. Importance is given to rituals and ceremonies.
This is against the principles of Sree Narayana Guru. He had established Model Temples in Aruvippuram, Varkala and Alwaye.
Sree Narayana Guru was a visionary. By establishing temples for the lower castes, he has done something, which nobody else dared to do in India. We have heard of low caste Rishis who were able to enter the Hindu temples by the power of their penance. But, it was the first time in the history of India, that a man who belongs to the low caste, dared to establish temples, exclusively for the lower castes. This is very good example of his will power and the power of foresee things.
In those days, Hindu temples were shrouded in a lot of mystery. It was a formidable fortress for the lower castes. They were curious to know the mystery round the temples. The Swami told them “if you are not allowed to go near the temples, let the temples come to you”. And he made it possible by making temples for them. He taught them the history of temples and the changes through ages and how to solve the problems of each generation.
There was an incident in which the Swami distributed to the poor, the money hoarded by a notorious miser.
The clever ones among the lower castes, long before understood the mystery of the Hindu temples and the social evils existing in Hinduism. They hated temples and the very existence of being a Hindu because the religious Gurus misled and were not in favor of changes in religions. They wanted tp protect their supremacy and keep the lower castes for the menial work in society.
Sree Narayana Guru directed the people in the right way. By preaching equality, he has raised the lower castes to the level of the high castes. But it is a pity, that people have forgotten him and are going astray in the name of their community.
The Swami established a group of ascetics. These people dedicated their lives for the community. They had the time and willingness to serve community. The Swami found that this was essential for the welfare of the community. He insisted that these ascetics should adopt timely reforms. The community should make is of their services by helping them and directing them in the right path; but his wish was not fulfilled.
By bringing a social reform, Sree Narayana Guru has planted a seed. But nobody has realized this. People will understand the value when the tree bears fruits. This is the experience of all the prophets. People are already enjoying a casteless society where every human being is known by his qualities and not by his caste.
The people of Sree Narayana Guru’s time considered him a God and worshipped him. They had full faith in him and believed that he will protect them from all evils. Their duty was only to offer something to their God and worship him.
Anyway, Narayana Guru has done yeoman service to the country. He pulled out caste-system, which was a hindrance to progress, by the roots.
He was born in Kerala, at a time when caste system was at its height. When lower castes were not even treated as human beings, and the higher caste exploited their labour and enjoyed all comfort at the expense of these poor people, the Swami, who was one among them, came as a savior and lifted them from the grassroots and raised to the level of the higher caste Brahmins. He staunchly advocated “One Caste, One Religion, One God for Man”, and paved the foundation for a casteless-society.
The coming generation will enjoy the fruits of his labour and the day is not far when his principle “One Caste, One Religion, One God for Man” will be resounding in every nook and corner of this world.
A letter written by Shri. Moorkkothu Kumaran ( a famous Malayalam writer) to his daughter Mrs.Kunjulakshmiyamma and son-in-low Dr.P.Kannayi on (27-9-1928).
Received your telegram. So, you know that our Swami has left us. You might have received another telegram about the sad demise of Shri.Bodhananda Swami. What should I say about the incidents?
You may be curious to know the details. I can give you short account of what happened from the letters received by me.
Sree Narayana Guru Swami reached the heavenly abode at 3.30pm on 20th September. Two days before the incident the Swami was in deep meditation. The disciples say that he fainted and left the body. All his disciple and one or two local chief were with him at the time of demise. When the news spread far and wide, many people reached Sivagiri.
The next day, after the ablutions, the body was seated in a chair decorated with flowers. Then, it was taken in procession to the highest place in Sivagiri, along with musical accompaniment.
There, the burial ground was prepared well in advance. This place was on the top most level of the Sivagiri hill. A pit about 6-7 feet deep and 30 feet square was made there. In the middle of this pit, another pit admeasuring 5 square feet and of 5 feet depth, was made with concrete. The foundation of the pit was very strong.
The body was made to stand in the pit, keeping the head above, and the pit was filled with salt, sandalwood and incense. The head was seen outside. His disciple were chanting mantras and performing the funeral rites all the while. This continued till 12’O clock in the night.
The next day, early morning at 5’O clock, they resumed the funeral rites. The head was also covered with salt, sandalwood and incense. Finally, it was over by 9.30.a.m.
After the whole ceremony, the big pit was sealed with a single stone. More than 16000 people attended the funeral. It was a ceremony attended by people of all religion and all regions-thus fulfilling the dream of our Swami.