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,