“Life and Times of Sree Narayana Gurudev”
Sree Narayana Guru, one of the greatest philosopher-poet-saints and social reformers of Kerala, was born on 28th August 1855, in Chempazhanti, near Trivandrum, Kerala. His father was ‘Madanaasaan’ and mother, ‘Kuttyamma’.  He had his primary and higher education during 1860 to 1880. His initial teacher was ‘Karthikapalli Kummanpalli Raman Pillai Asaan’. He became proficient in Grammar, Logic, Vedanta and all relevant Sanskrit texts. Thereafter, he spent sometime teaching children nearby. He was initiated to the ordinary life in 1882 with a formal marriage, but he dissociated from it and took to Sanyas – renunciation – immediately. He studied Raja Yoga techniques under Thaikkad Ayya Swami (1884) and developed a personal bondage with another great reformer of the times, Chattampi Swamikal around this period.   He spent long periods in mediation in Marutwamala hills undergoing severe penances. Finally he emerged as one who attained enlightenment - Brahma Sakshalkaram - and chose the path to walk amongst the underprivileged fellow-beings and to redeem the degenerated society he saw around him, rather than seeking eternal liberation – Moksha -  only for himself.
Sree Narayana Guru was convinced that all human beings belong to one single community.  There are no different religions or castes or creeds.  These artificial differences were created by man to satisfy some of his vested interests.  There is no divine sanction in separating man from man under one pretext or other. Only this realization among all human beings will ensure peace and harmony which are pre-requisites for all progress: material as well as spiritual.  People have to break away from the shackles binding them to superstition and traditional absurdities.  This is possible only by means of proper education.
Sree Narayana Guru was a tireless crusader for socials equality and fought against all sorts of discrimination prevalent against the down-trodden and the oppressed, in his times. One of the greatest social evils of the period was discrimination based on caste/creed – the untouchability.   The feudal system was in vogue; the land belonged to the feudal-lords or ‘Janmis’ who were invariably from the upper-caste; mostly Brahmins. People born in low caste were treated worse than animals.  They had no right to wear proper and decent clothes, they could not walk on the public roads; could not worship in temples controlled by the upper caste people and had no right to education. The study of ‘Sanskrit Language’ – ‘the Sacred Language of the Gods’ – was denied to their children. They could not demand even proper wages for their labour. They had to content with what ever was given as ‘grace’ by the lords.  Under this heavy yoke of caste system, there was no way for the underprivileged to progress in life.  Needless to say, the plight of their women under this abhorrent system was extremely pathetic.
As one who had keenly observed the ills that affected society around, he noticed that the habit of drinking was the root cause of instability in many poor families.  In those days, members of the backward ‘Ezhava’ community were mostly involved in ‘toddy-tapping’ as means for their livelihood.  Poverty, lack of education and undesirable effects of excessive drinks together made lives of the average people insufferable. 
His mission therefore comprised of enabling all down-trodden, irrespective of caste or creed, to attain fulfillment in life. Towards this liberation, he strongly advocated ‘Education for All’  and exhorted them to get ‘United  and thus become strong in seeking their Goal’. [ “Vidya kontu prabudhdharaavuka; Sanghatichu saktharaakuka” "വിദ്യ കൊണ്ട്  പ്രബുധ്ധരാവുക; ശക്തരാകുക" ]
The Guru traveled far and wide with his missionary message to awaken the masses and guide them in the proper direction.
To propagate his mission, an organization was registered in 1903, which grew as ‘Sree Narayana Dharma ParilpalanaYogam’; [S.N.D.P] – registered in 1928.
Let us now see how he implemented his ideals.
‘Aruvippuram’ is a small village near the river ‘Neyyar’ in Trivandrum. He was worshipping Siva during the days of his meditation. In 1888, he himself installed a Siva’s idol – ‘Siva Linga’ in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. This was a path-breaking event because, so far, only select Brahmin priests had the authority by convention to install idols of divinities. There were criticisms about this unconventional step; but he answered them by saying that ‘I have installed only an Ezhava Siva’. He opted for the path of conciliation rather than confrontation. He got the following lines inscribed at this temple gate:
        “Jaathibhedam Matha Dwesham Aethumillathe Sarvarum
        Sodaratwena Vazhunna Mathrukaa Sthanamaanithu.”
        "ജാതിഭേദം മത ദ്വേഷം ഏതുമില്ലാതെ സര്‍വരും
         സോദരത്വേന  വാഴുന്ന മതൃകാ സ്ഥാനമാണിത് "
[This is an ideal place of worship, wherein people live together in brotherly affection without any distinction of caste creed or hatred thereto.]
The Guru then went on installing deities in different places in Kerala. In some places, he installed a ‘mirror’ instead of the image or idol of any deity to convey the message:
“You are Yourself God!’
The Mirror  idols were installed at :
(1)Kalavankod, Cherthalai and (2) Ullala near Vaikom – Omkareswara Temple.
In the Kalavankottu temple idol, he got the words: “Truth”, “Dharma”, “Mercy” and “Love” inscribed.
His most important messages are:
[Oru Jaati, Oru Matam, Oru Daivam Manushyanu.]
ഒരു ജാതി, ഒരു മതം, ഒരു ദൈവം മനുഷ്യന്.
‘One Caste, One Religion, One God for All Humanity’-
and [Matam Aetaayaalum Manushyan Nnannayal Mati.]
മതം ഏതായാലും മനുഷ്യന്‍ നന്നായാല്‍ മതി
‘Whichever be one’s Religion, it is enough if the Man himself improves’.
In 1920, he sent out a clear message against the social evil ‘drinking liquor’ and exhorted people to desist from drinking.
“Liquor is Poison. Do not Drink it. Do not Produce it. Do not Distribute it.”
"മദ്യം വിഷമാണ്. അത് കുടിക്കരുത്.  അത്  ഉണ്ടാക്കരുത് . അത്  വിതരണം ചെയ്യരുത്."
In 1924, he organized a Conference of all Religions – the first of its kind in India, in Alwaye, Kerala. Its avowed purpose, he outlined, was ‘Not to argue and win: but to know and disseminate’. He traveled widely in Kerala and visited Sri Lanka twice (in 1918 and 1928) to propagate his message.
He firmly believed that there is only one God and the soul within us ( Jeevatma) and the Supreme godhead (Paramatma) were one and the same .[ The Philosophy of Adwaita – Non Duality ] But, he wrote many hymns and prayers addressed to different deities worshipped in Kerala  like Siva,Vishnu, Ganapati, Devi and so on in Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam, to enable the less enlightened to progress towards the supreme goal in life viz. self-realisation.
By devoting an entire life to educate people and bring them all under the principle of ‘One Caste for all Humanity’, the Guru re-established a healthy social system in Kerala.. He laid great stress on education and declared it as the basis of social progress. He traveled far and wide to propagate this mission. He was a scholar of great understanding of the ancient Indian text like Vedas and Upanishads. He was proficient in Sanskrit and Tamil besides Malayalam. He wrote in all three languages. Sree Narayana Guru himself was a profile writer in propose and verse. Several prayers and hymns were written by him in praise of various gods and goddesses besides other philosophical works. [ A list of his works is seen under Annex-1 ]
The guru’s closest disciples were from across the spectrum of the society. There were Brahmins and others from the upper caste. There was also one European Christian disciple.
The Guru met a great visionaries of his times including Sree Ramana Maharshi (1916), Poet Rabindranath Tagore (1922), Gandhiji (1925) and many other dignitaries and drew appreciation of and admiration from all these great men about his vision, philosophy and mission in life.
On 20 September, 1928, at 3.30 pm, Sree Narayana Guru attained ‘Samadhi’ and his soul merged with the Absolute – Brahman.
Sree Narayana Gurudev was a Jnana Yogi  as well as Karma Yogi of the last century.