NARAYANA GURU (A Biography) By M K Sanoo

Translated by:  Madhavan Ayyappath



A Prolegomenon



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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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



Seldom do we find a spiritual leader who is also a successful social reformer. Sree Narayana Guru was such a rare saint, who used his spiritual attainments for the creation of a new man and a new social order. He made an indelible impression on Rabindranath Tagore, who has recorded his feelings thus : “ I have been touring different parts of the world. During these travels, I have had the good fortune to come into contact with several saints and Maharshis. But I have frankly to admit that I have never seen one who is spiritually greater than Swami Narayana Guru of Malayalam- nay, a person who is on par with him  in spiritual attainment. I am sure, I shall never forget that radiant face illuminated by the self effulgent light of divine glory and those mystic eyes fixing their gaze on a far remote point in the distant horizon”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K. K. Viswanathan,
Sree Narayana Cultural Mission,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have been touring different parts of the world. During these travels, I have had the good fortune to come into contact with several saints and maharshis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swami :  No.

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

Swami : No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V R Krishna Iyer

Part 1


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am all eagerness to study Vedanta”.

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

Nanu was all smiles.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are they not from your garden?”


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

“We are ready to follow your advice”.

“Don’t you have a school here?”

“No, the nearest one is quite away”

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

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

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

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

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

“No. Do you know when fear arises?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Swami heaved a deep sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the people stood watching with unblinking eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon Swami announced two important slogans for his followers:

Strength through organization.

Freedom through education.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Part II


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(2) Morality:

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

(3) Education :

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

(4) Industry :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To the S.N.D.P.Yogam Secretary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Yogam flourish for ever.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the message:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is another message issued by Swami in 1917:-

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here the code published by Swami Satyavrata:

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

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


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

Rites connected with death:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Brahmins of Kanchipuram were waiting for him at Alwaye.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This conversation revealed what the common people of his time thought of Swami. Asan has gone on to add that what distinguished Swami from the ordinary folk and placed him on a pedestal were his noble qualities such as his unparalled religious faith, deep scholarship in the philosophy of Advaita, spirituality, compassion and unassuming concern for the welfare of the world. As a religious leader he was respected throughout India. As a social reformer he was looked up to by the Tiyyas and the benefits they derived were beyond estimate.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diciple: I shall try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gentleman replied that he knew these names.

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

The man felt happy.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Swami asked for details regarding the dinners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swami: Why? Even now it is quite late.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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