Guru and Brahmanisation Dr.J.Bhaskaran

Articles about Sree Narayana Guru

Ever since M.N. Srinivas formulated his theory of Sanskritisation also called Brahmanisation and Aryanisation. Sociologists and Historians have been enamoured of this theory. They apply this theory to the benign activities of Sree Narayana Guru and content that what he did in Kerala for the upliftment of the downtrodden conforms to this theory. They argue that he established temples on the model of those of the higher castes and that he employed his own people to perform pujas in those temples. Some even go to the extent of saying that he initiated such persons into Brahminhood, gave them the sacred thread and added to their names the title ‘Sharma’ to indicate their Brahminhood. In the recent issue of Malayalam weekly Mathrubhumi (3-9 Dec 1995) there appeared an article to this effect. Not content with this, the writer has averred that Sree Narayana Guru questioned the supremacy of the Brahmins not by rejecting it but by himself becoming a Brahmin. This is quite unfounded.

Before examining it we have to note what Srinivas means by Sanskritisation. He says, “Sanskritisation is the process by which a low Hindu caste or tribal or other group, changes its customs, ritual, ideology and way of life in the direction of a high and frequent ‘twice-born’ caste. Generally such changes are followed by a claim to a higher position in the caste hierarchy than that traditionally conceded to the claimant caste by the local community,” (M.N. Srinivas, Social Change in Modern India. Page.6) of course there is a phenomenon like this in Indian society, which is even now caste-ridden. But the activities of the Guru cannot be equated with this. Some of the reasons may be explained here.

1. According to the Guru there is no “high” or “low” castes among human beings. All of them alike belong to one caste, the homo sapiens, as the Scientists call them.

2. When he installed a Sivalinga at Aruvippuram in the Neyyattinkara Taluk in 1888 he got inscribed on the temple wall his motto to this effect: “This is bound to become a model place where people live in brotherhood without any distinction of caste or hatred arising from religious differences”.

3. When he was questioned about his authority to install a Sivalinga that was the monopoly of the Brahmins, he coolly remarked that he installed an Ezhava Siva. If he were aiming at equalization with the Brahmins he would not have said like this.

4. The very concept of temples of the Guru differs from that of the higher castes. For him the temples should be the seat of learning and agents for the insemination of culture. The main temple should be he school, he said and to symbolize this he established a temple for Sharada, the Goddess of learning, at Sivagiri. He asked people to rear gardens around temples so that they may come and breathe pure air intermingling themselves in the meanwhile. The temple building itself should be neat and airy and allowing easy access to sunlight. They should not emulate the old temples that were the abode of darkness and superstition. In the conduct of festivals also he established new norms deviating from those of the higher castes emphasizing on avoidance of wastage. He insisted that there should be a library adjacent to every temple. The only way to make man better was to enlighten him be regarding and making him listen to learned discourses.

5. Just before Guru’s mahasamadhi in 1928, he granted permission to conduct a pilgrimage to Sivagiri every year by his devotees. The aims to be achieved by such a holy deed have been enumerated by him thus:

§ Spread of education.

§ Need for observing cleanliness.

§ Devotion to God.

§ Necessity of organizing the people.

§ Progress in agriculture.

§ Boosting business.

§ Handicrafts.

§ Training in Science and Technology.

This proves that he was not aping anybody in this case also. In fact it is doubtful whether anybody before him has thought on similar lines. He was specifically drawn a contrast from the famous Sabarimala pilgrimage saying that the pilgrims to Sivagiri need not take any baggage, in well-known irumudikettu, which is a must for the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

6. Fortunately for us he has warned against the perils of Brahmanisation. Once during a conversation pointing out the struggle for supremacy by Vasishta and Viswamitra has to surmount so many difficulties for surviving to become Brahmin. If that is the case with them, the Guru asks, what a perilous thing it would be if a man belonging to the so-called low caste that is far away from the caste ladder tries to become a Brahmin. This speaks volumes about the Guru’s attitude to Brahmanisation. Again when one of his followers who has been trained to perform puja (religious rite to the deity) in temples began to wear the sacred thread under the mistaken impression that it is the real mark of Brahminhood, the Guru jokingly asked whether he used to tie his keys on the thread as is done by a set of Brahmins.

7. During another conversation the Guru has dismissed the notion that the sacred thread is something really sacred. Once he met a group of young students belonging to the so-called low caste studying under a Brahmin Guru. The Guru enquired about the sincerity of the teacher in imparting them instruction. They said that he was ready to part with everything for their sake except his sacred thread. The Guru said, “that can be bought in the market.

8. There is yet another episode to prove that he was not for Brahmanisation. Once the authorities of a temple established by the Guru were discussing the question of appointing a ‘Shanti’ (priest) for the temple. Somebody suggested that a ‘Potti’ (Tulu Brahmin) resided nearby and that he was well-versed in the art of performing pujas in temples and that his services may be hired for the purpose. On hearing this, the Guru remarked: “in that case what have gone will come back in the near future”.

It s true that his activities have been instrumental for the upliftment of the downtrodden. But his aim was the well being of entire society and all castes and communities have been benefited by his activities. His outlook was humanitarian, he being compassion incarnate. A Guru filled through and through with compassion for the whole creation cannot engage in sectarian work.

Sree Narayana Guru was a Jinvanmukta, liberated while living by all means and his love for humanity made him come down from his high pedestal and work for it. He sacrificed, in the words of the poet Kumaran Asan, who was one of his close followers, his life, the body and even penance for doing good for others