A GENIUS AND A SAINT

Sri Narayana Guru was an extraordinary phenomenon who strode over the spiritual firmament of Kerala like a colossus during the late 19th century and early 20th century. He left an indelible impression on those who met him including luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. He was a yogi, visionary, poet and a social reformer. While trying to uplift the downtrodden by fighting against the entrenched caste system, he was simultaneously pursuing truth by delving into the depth of Vedic lore. While he had his feet firmly planted on earth to ensure social equality, he had his head in the high altitudes of Vedanta. He proclaimed that his ideal and goal was Advaita propounded by Adi Sankara. He was acclaimed as a Siddha Purusha and Maharishi from the beginning of the 20th century.

Sri Narayana Guru was an extraordinary phenomenon who strode over the spiritual firmament of Kerala like a colossus during the late 19th century and early 20th century. He left an indelible impression on those who met him including luminaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. He was a yogi, visionary, poet and a social reformer. While trying to uplift the downtrodden by fighting against the entrenched caste system, he was simultaneously pursuing truth by delving into the depth of Vedic lore. While he had his feet firmly planted on earth to ensure social equality, he had his head in the high altitudes of Vedanta. He proclaimed that his ideal and goal was Advaita propounded by Adi Sankara. He was acclaimed as a Siddha Purusha and Maharishi from the beginning of the 20th century.

Like the Buddha, the death of a relation triggered certain sentiments in the extremely sensitive psyche of the young boy and he begun to reflect on the evanescence of life and the riddles regarding the nature of existence, death and the impermanence of material objects. Essentially a contemplative lad, Nanu would visit temples, wear scared ash on his forehead, and was known as "Nanu devotee" by his friends. The first few steps on his journey towards God had already been taken in his boyhood. An attack of smallpox during his teens further strengthened his devotional attitude. The verses of "Vairagyotipadakam" written by Melpathoor Narayana Bhattathri of Narayaneeyam fame were constantly on his lips and this paved the way for his renunciation or sanyasa. Nanu continued his non-formal education at the "Varanappalli house" under the gurukula system and mastered the epics. Soon after he began training pupils at elementary levels and earned the affectionate titles of "Nanu Asan." He was married to "Kaliamma" but the marriage ended abruptly since Nanu Asan became a wanderer.His wanderings led him to the southern parts of the erstwhile Travancore state and the Maruthuvamala hills were his favourite haunts. This region is celebrated for its abundant plants and very soon the wandering Avadhoota became an adept in siddha medicines and began to minister to the sick and forlorn. He often crossed into Tamil Nadu and thus learnt Tamil and in his later years compiled a few works in that language.

A contemporary of Nanu was Chattambi Swamigal a renowned yogi. The inherent spirituality dormant in Nanu began to unfold in course of time and soon he acquired the epithet Swami. Nanu Swami underwent severe penance in Maruthwamala hills confining himself in an isolated cave. He spent days in deep meditation and obtained spiritual enlightenment. People approached him for solace and advice. Nevertheless the so-called "higher class" did not recognise his stature and instead ridiculed him. But he had already reached the pinnacle of knowledge where all dualities dissolved into oneness. Man made differences made very little impact on his yogic even mindedness. Finally the Guru had arrived. Sri Narayana Guru choose a beautiful location known as Aruvippuram, a little south of Thiruvananthapuram, for his sojourn and soon it became a pilgrim centre. In the year 1888, on the holy Shivaratri day, Narayana Guru made the famous Sivalinga Pratishta, which signaled the death knell of the obscurantist and demagogic caste system and there no stopping him. Another place, a little north of Thiruvananthapuram also attracted the attention of the guru. This was Varkala, where he established the famous Sivagiri ashram. Starting as a humble hermitage in 1903, this centre witnessed the building of a Siva temple in 1908 and the installation of the deity of Sharada in 1912. Some of the famous temples consecrated by Sri Narayana Guru include the Jagnnatha temple at Thellicherry, Sreekanteswara temple at Calicut and the one at Kalavancode near Sherthallai, where a mirror was installed at the altar to teach humanity that every being is a reflection of God. He also established an Advaita Ashram at Alwaye. Thus he emphasised both the aspects of dual and non-dual or saguna and nirguna aspect of the ultimate Brahman.

To describe the guru as a multifaceted genius, or a splendor personality will be a gross understatement. At the mundane level, he was struggling to uplift the downtrodden and give them some respectability in society. He had to face severe personal and institutional resistance from the ruling hierarchy and the upper castes. But he held no grudge against his oppressors and his disarming love and catholicity slowly won the admiration of even his worst enemies and during his later days he was acclaimed as a Universal Guru by the entire state. One landmark in the life of the guru was the establishment of the S.N.D.P. (Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana) Yogam on the May 15, 1903 . But the genius of the guru was not confined to the four walls of the organisation and was so vast and transcendental to encompass the entire humanity. He did not want the Yogam to restrict its organisation as an instrument for social uplift but also laid emphasis on Dharma Paripalana (protection of dharma) in the literal sense of the central theme of the organisation. Two important incidents in the life of the guru are his meetings with Gandhiji and Rabindranath Tagore. The former met him during the famous Vaikom Satyagraha. Tagore met him in 1922. Deeply impressed and he remarked "I have been traveling all over the world and had occasion to meet several sages and enlightened beings. Yet I could not meet anybody to compare with the great Sri Narayana Guru of India . This statement deserves special mention since Sri Narayana was living contemporaneously with spiritual giants like Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Arobindo and Ramana Maharishi.

Since all good things have to finally end, the guru's life also came to a close on September 20, 1928 , when he attained Mahasamadhi. However the trail blazed by this incomparable master continues to inspire millions of people, not only in India but all over the world.