Religious reformers have always influenced the society by their forceful advocacy of their own interpretations of sacred texts resulting in the transformation of society, weeding out undesirable practices and replacing them with more appropriate ones such that there is harmony and peace in the society, prerequisites for progress.  Social reformers too follow this same goal but not based on adherence to the religious discourses or practices, but their operational plane is more mundane.  Either group makes effective use of Language, the vehicle of their thoughts and missions. When these two roles combine in some rare prophetic personalities, their impact gets not limited only to the society around them; but on the whole mankind.   Sree Narayana Gurudev (1855-1928) from Kerala was one such seer-saint.  With his versifications, exhortations, writings and advices assiduously recorded for posterity by his ardent disciples, it was the Malayalam language which had the fortune to get eminently enriched in a very unique way.  The Guru’s impact and imprint was, again, not limited to his own contributions; he had encouraged, supported and guided a number of his close followers; some of whom became leading lights of the literary era in which they lived.  The purpose of this paper is, thus, to examine “The Influence of Sree Narayana Gurudev on Malayalam Literature”.

Before we proceed further, it would be desirable to have a peep into the brief outline of the Guru’s biography given at Annexure I

The Guru - Unmatched Poet…

Sree Narayana Guru was a scholar of the highest order, well-versed in all three languages viz. Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil. He was proficient in all the ancient sacred books in all these languages. No wonder therefore that his literary outputs reflected this aspect in abundant measure.  He wrote many hymns and prayers in honour of different deities. Sometimes he composed small poems for the benefit of children in very simple language. The typical example is the ‘Daiva Dasakam’.  There were smaller works which were in the nature of advices to general public. But despite the apparent simplicity, his works invariably contained the gems of Indian philosophical thoughts. His most significant work ‘Aatmopadesa sathakam’ is a classic example of the quintessence of Upanishadic wisdom in astonishingly simple language. The guru exhorts people to live in peace and harmony recognizing each other’s rights. There is a perfect balance between the temporal and the spiritual strands in his works. To cite a few examples:

‘Oruvanu nallatum anyan allalum cher- poru thozhil aatma virodhi yorthitenam….’ [25]

'ഒരുവനു നല്ലതു മന്യനല്ലലും ചേര്‍-പൊരു തൊഴിലാത്മവിരോധിയോര്‍ത്തിടേണം.'

‘Pala mata saaravum ekam ennu paara – tulakil oraanayil andharenna pole
Palavidha yukti paranju paamaranmaar- alavatu kant alayaat amarnitenam.’         [44]

'പലമതസാരവുമേകമെന്നുപാരാ- തുലകിലൊരാനയിലന്ധരെന്ന പോലെ
പലവിധ വിധയുക്തി പറഞ്ഞു പാമരന്‍മാര്‍- രലവടു കണ്ടലയാതമാര്‍ന്നിടേണം.'

Akhilarum aalmasukhathinay prayatnam  Sakalavum ingu sadaapi cheytitunnu
Jagam itil immatam ekam ennu chinti –chchagham anayaa takataar amartitenam’    [49]

അഖിലരുമാത്മസുഖത്തിനായ് പ്രയത്നം-സകലവുമിങ്ങു സദാപി ചെയ്തിടുന്നൂ
ജഗമിതിലിമ്മത മേകമെന്നുചിന്തി-ച്ചഘമണയാതകതാരമര്‍ന്നിടേണം.'

The exhaustive commentaries that this work generated from the elite scholars speak volumes of its richness.  He wrote in all three languages and wrote poems as well as essays, commentaries and advices on moral and ethical issues. He ranks amongst the very best poets in Malayalam language.

For most of his poetic works, he employed the verse pattern of simpler Sanskrit metres – almost like the ‘Manipravaala saili’ employed by Kunchan Nambiar in his ‘Sreekrishna Charitam’ a very popular ‘Kavya’ of the times.

As for his dexterity in the use of simple but effective style, the following stanza sings volumes aloud!-

‘Malarati rantilumittu poonchilanka   kkulakal koruthu kalichitunna neram
Kala kala yennu kilungium chilampi – nnoli chevi rantilu menu kelkkum ee njan ?’

'മലരടിരണ്ടുമിട്ടു പൂഞ്ചിലങ്ക-ക്കുലകള്‍ കൊരുത്തു കളിച്ചിടുന്നനേരം
കലകലയെന്നുകിലുങ്ങും ചിലമ്പി- ന്നൊലി ക്ഹെവിരണ്ടിലുമെന്നു കേള്‍ക്കു മീ ഞാന്‍?'

The repetitive usage of ‘l’ and ‘r’ sings in one’s ears just like a ‘ghunghuru’

The extent of non-violence to be practiced in life as advocated by the Guru is evident from the very first stanza of [Anukampaa dasakam ] 'അനുകമ്പാദശകം'.

He prays to the lord, who is the ‘dispenser of mercy’ – ‘Karunaakara’ ( notice the choice of  adjective;  not ‘the omniscient’ , ‘omnipotent’ ‘ omnipresent’ etc.) to fill him with mercy such that he does not cause any harm to any fellow-creatures, even to a tiny ant!  

“ Oru peeda erumpinum varu – ththaruth ennulla nukampayum sadaa
Karunaakara!  Nalku kullil nin    thirumey vitt akalaatha chintayum”

":ഒരു പീഡ യെറുമ്പിനും വരു-ത്തരുതെന്നുള്ള നുകമ്പയും സദാ
കരുണാകര! നല്‍കുകുളളില്‍ നിന്‍ തിരുമെയ് വിട്ടകലാതാചിന്തയും"

[Anukampaa dasakam -1 ]

When he extols the quality of mercy in general, he does not hesitate to embrace the similar concept in other religions. (For him, there is only one religion.)   He touches upon this special quality of divine mercy personified in Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha, Sri Shankara  Jesus and Mohammad Nabi, and states:

“ Paramarthamurachu ther vitum Porulo ? Bhootadaya kshamabdhiyo ?
Saralaadwaya bhashyakaaranaam guruvo?...

"പരമാര്‍ത്ഥമുരരച്ചു തേര്‍വിടും പൊരൂളൊ? ഭൂതദയാ ക്ഷമാബ്ധിയോ?
സരളാദ്വയ ഭാഷ്യകാരനാം ഗുരുവോ?......

Purusha akruti poonta Daivamo ?     nara divya akruti poonta dharmamo ?
Paramesa pavitra putrano ?   Karunaavaan ‘Nabi’ muthu ratnamo? ”
പുരുഷാകൃതിപൂണ്ടദൈവമോ? നരദിവ്യാകൃതിപൂണ്ട ധര്‍മ്മമോ?
പരമേശപവിത്രപുത്രനോ? കരുണാവാന്‍ നബി മുത്തുരത്നമോ?"

[Anukampaa dasakam 7 ]

In the religious and philosophical spheres, not to speak of the social and practical areas, he left lasting imprints.  A great many scholars wrote about him and his works; biographies abound; and there still is an outpouring of commentaries of his major works coming from distinguished pens.  It is estimated that there were over 1600 books of this genre. This shows the everlasting influence of the Guru’s works on the Malayalam language.

A list of the major works of Gurudev is given in ANNEX- II
‘Valsala Sishya’ – Favourite Disciple.  

The Guru had a very keen eye to spot and encourage talent amongst his many followers. One such occasion turned out to be of extreme significance to the Malayalam language.  It was in 1891.  He had arrived at Vakkom to install Deveswara idol in that temple. A prominent local citizen, ‘Narayanan’, invited the Guru to his home. Narayanan’s second son, ‘Kumaru’ was unwell and was at home. When the child approached the Guru to pay his obeisance, the latter asked him whether he was willing to accompany him.  The child expressed his willingness and the guru sought and obtained the consent of his parents.  This was the child, who, eventually, turned out to be a life-long associate, close confident and companion to the Guru and became one of the most acclaimed poets of the Malayalam Language –‘ Kumaaran Aasaan.’  'കുമാരനാശാന്‍.'

As noted above, Gurudev was himself  a scholar-par-excellence in all three languages: Malayalam, Sanskrit as well as Tamil. He had composed numerous verses of outstanding quality. All his close disciples were too, outstanding scholars. They wrote extensive commentaries on Guru’s works.  Collectively, their contributions enriched Malayalam language immeasurably.  However, among all his disciples and associates, one person outshone all others by virtue of his commitment, sense of devotion and service to the causes of guru besides his own superb qualities of head and heart.  It was this ‘Kumaru’, known to the world today as Mahakavi  ‘ Kumaaran Aasaan.’  'മഹാകവി കുമാരനാശാന്‍.'

Aasaan himself and his invaluable contributions to the Malalayam literature are perhaps the most important and direct results of the influence of Sree Narayana Guru on Malayalam Literature.

This paper proposes to examine the major literary poetical works of  Kumaaran Aasaan  and the extent to which Aasaan was able to spread the message of Sree Narayana Guru to humanity as a whole.  [ A list of Kumaaran Aasaan’s major poetic works appear as Annex - IV)

A brief outline of his life history appears at the end as Annex III.  However, the intimate association of the Guru and his ‘valsala sishya’- ‘favourite disciple’, deserve to be dealt in detail as it is of extreme relevance to our theme.

About ‘Kumaru’

The year 1891, we have seen, was the turning point in the life of Kumaru, for he had his first ‘darsan’ of the Guru in that year.  His was a rather large family; he had five brothers and two sisters and he was the second child of his parents.   Kumaru had, as was the practice of the times, learnt rudiments of Sanskrit and later mastered its vast, rich and complex treasure-house of literature. He passed his tests with flying colours at too young an age and hence could not get the post of a ‘teacher’. So, Kumaru functioned as a clerk and also as a small temple priest [‘pujari’] for some time. Eventually, he became a Sanskrit teacher and was thus known later as ‘Kumaran Aasaaan’. [‘Aasaan’ lierally means a teacher of lower primary or today’s KG level.]  

Malayalam Literary Scene -  Then:

Malayalam language was undergoing tremendous transformation in those times. Learning, especially Sanskrit, was confined to the upper caste and education was denied to the lower caste people. Kerala Varma Valia Koyithampuraan and his nephew A.R. Rajarajavarma thampuraan were the leading lights of the day. Both represented the pinnacles of two different schools; the former, mostly in favour of traditional style and the latter, for innovation and progressive approach. The former, who made yeomen service to Malayalam, translated the ‘Saakuntalam’ of Kalidasa from Sanskrit into Malayalam. For the first time, he also translated an English novel, ‘Akbar’ into Malayalam. ‘A.R’., as the nephew  is popularly known, firmly established the foundations of Malayalam grammar and its Aesthetics.  Those orthodox intellectuals who adorned the courts of the king, involved themselves in practicing versification mostly for entertainment and some indeed enriched the language by translating famous sanskrit plays into Malyalam. A number of them depicted and extolled amorous, erotic and lustful love in their verses. To cite, the ‘Venmani’ Group of poets. An exceptional and outstanding poet of this era was ‘Kodungalloor Kunjikuttan Thampuraan’ who single-handedly translated the entire Mahabharata of Sage Vyasa, comprising one lakh and twenty four thousand stanzas, into Malayalam verse of the same original metre! There were, of course, some exceptional poets like ‘Kundoor Narayana Menon’, who insisted on versification in ‘Suddha Malayalam- pure Malayalam.  This was the heritage Aasaan found when he began his literary pursuits.  

‘Guru & Sishya’

He wrote a number of devotional verses and also, as was the wont of the times, wrote stanzas or slokas  extolling ‘sringaar’ or aspects of amorous love. When he met the Guru, the first important advice that the guru gave to Kumaru was to abstain from writing verses extolling carnal love – Sringaar Rasa.  Kumaru took that advice to heart and adhered to it ever since. That was the point of transformation from material to the spiritual in so far as the youth was concerned.

The following stanzas of Guru and Aasaan echo the very same sentiments in their fervent prayers:

 ‘Mizhi muna kontu mayakki naabhiyaakum  kuzhiyilurutti marippathinnorungi
Kizhiyumetuthu varunna mankamaar than  Vazhikalilittu valaykkolaa Mahesaa!’

'മിഴി മുന കൊണ്ടുമയക്കി നാഭിയാകൂം കുഴിയിരുലുരുട്ടി മറിപ്പതിന്നൊരുങ്ങി
കിഴിയുമെടുത്തു വരുന്ന മങ്കമാര്‍തന്‍ വഴികളിലിട്ടു വലയ്ക്പ്ലാ മഹേശാ!'

Thalamuti koti matanju thakkayitta  kkola mada yaana kulungi vannu kompum
Thalayu muyarti viyathil nokki nilkkum  Mulakalum enne valaykkolaa Mahesaa!’

'തലമുടികോതി മടഞ്ഞു തല്ലയിട്ടക്കൊലമദയാന കുലുങ്ങികൊമ്പും
തലയുമുയര്‍ത്തി വിയത്തില്‍ നോക്കിനില്‍ക്കും മുലകളുമെന്നെവലയ്കൊലാ മഹേശാ!'

[Guru-  Sivasatakam]

‘Kutti kkuranganayanaantham izhachu kanne- rittonnu nokki hrudayatheyitichu Sambho!
Vattamchuzhatti vishaya bhramanathilittu nattam thirippaveale nokki natatholaa Nee!’

'കുട്ടിക്കുരംഗനയനാന്തമിഴിച്ചു കണ്ണേ റിട്ടൊന്നു നോക്കി ഹൃദയത്തെയിടിച്ചുശംഭോ!
വട്ടംചുഴറ്റി വിഷയഭ്രമണത്തിലിട്ട നട്ടംതിരിപ്പവളെ നോക്കി നടത്തൊലാ നീ!'
[ vairaagya panchakam]
‘Kutila kuntalavum kucha kumbhavum  chatula vaanikal chanchala meniyum
Kati tatam kalimaan mizhiyaattavum chutu kanal katalil chuzhalikkolaa!’

'കുടിലസ് കുന്തളവും കുചകുംഭവും ചടുലവാണികള്‍ ച്ഞ്ചലമേനിയും
കടിതടം കുളിമാന്‍ മിഴിയാട്ടവും ചുട്ടുകനല്‍ ചുഴലിക്കൊലാ!'
                                    [Saanakara satakam]

‘Mahakavi’ Kumaran Aasaan

Asaan’s major poetic works like ‘Nalini’, ‘Veena Poovu’, ‘Leela’, Chandalabhikshuki’, ‘Chinthavishtayaya Seetha’, ‘Karuna’  etc. indeed dealt with the theme of ‘Love’; but not in its carnal or sensuous level but in its spiritual aspect.  This was a major deviation from the tradition of the times and the paths followed by his other significant contemporaries. This was feasible because of Asaan’s insistent adherence to the advice of the Guru. Most significantly, this can be considered as the sterling effect of Sree Narayana Guru’s lasting impact on Malayalam literature.  It must be mentioned here that Kumaran Aaasaan was the only poet who was given the honorific title of ‘Mahaakavi’ without writing a single ‘Mahaakaavya’! [‘Mahakavyas’ are supposed to strictly conform to the specifications stipulated by the ancient Sanskrit masters of the past in form and content.] The essential difference between Aasaan and many others was that while most others wrote to display their erudition, Aasaan wrote with a specific purpose – to educate, to enlighten and to guide.

The two towering personalities, Kerala varma, the ‘Kerala Kalidasa’ and  his nephew, ‘A.R.’,  the ‘Kerala Panini’ differed in their styles and approach. The versatile former religiously adhered to and was insistent on the usage of a special brand of rhyme, peculiar only to our language, known as ‘Dwiteeyakshara Prasam’ in his versification i.e. to have same consonants in the second letter of every four-line stanza or sloka.  While this was feasible for the highly talented scholars, rigorous insistence on this sometimes led to inferior quality of versification and hence, ‘A.R.’ advocated non-adherence to this rhyme scheme.  All prominent poets of the time divided themselves into these two camps. Ulloor Parmeswara Iyer was the spokes-person for the pro-rhyme group while K.C. Kesava Pillai was for the anti-rhyme group. They produced two beautiful ‘Mahakavyas’ – ‘Umakeralam’  and ‘Kesaveeyam’ respectively, substantiating their respective stands.  The argument lasted pretty long and neither side won; but it had the salutary effect that there was less rigidity on the exterior decorations on literary works and more focus, instead,  was given to the content and its innovativeness.

Aasaan was a faithful follower of  Kerala Varma as far as rhyme schme was concerned, as is evident from his major works like  ‘Veena Poovu’ ‘Nalini’, ‘Leela’, ‘Chinthavishtayaya Seetha’ etc., but towards the latter phase of his life, he moved over to free verse form as in ‘Balaramayana’, ‘Sree Budhdha Charitam’, ‘Chandalabhikshuki’, ‘Duravastha’ and ‘Karuna’. But, his former works like ‘Nalini’ drew acclaim by none less that the redoubtable ‘A.R.’, who appreciated his innovative style and the manner in which he became a path-breaker in form and content of Malayalam poetry!   Malayalam versification was never the same after Aasaan’s arrival on the scene thanks to Sree Narayana Guru!

This would become evident when we study Aaasaan’s works a little bit closer.


(A)    ‘Veena Poovu’-    [1907]

The publication of this short poem of 41 verses in 1907 was an epoch making event in Malayalam literature.  Watching the fall of a flower – no particular name given - from its height of glory and observing its present pathetic plight, devoid of all grace, on the ground, the poet philosophizes on the transitory nature of all types of beauty, glamour, prosperity and grace in the world. The verses are addressed to the flower and the poet traces its trajectory from a tiny bud into a full grown flower. The poem operates on many layers of meaning. The flower can be interpreted as a beautiful, gracious lady whose beauty and all physical grace vanished with the passage of time. From this apparent fall from the high to the lowest depth, the poet laments at the transitory nature of every material and sensuous objects and finally arrives as the consolation that the lasting peace is found with the union of the soul with the ultimate sublime.  He consoles by saying that decline and degeneration is the way of the world and hence it is pointless to worry about the fluctuations or vicissitudes of life; eternal peace and tranquility will be provided as prescribed in the Upanishads:

“ Haa! Saanti oupanishadoktikal thanne nalkum
Klesippatalma pari peedanam ajna yogyam
Aasaa bharam srutiyil vaykkuka, pinneyellam
Eesaajna pole varum okkeyum orkka poovae!”

"ഹാ! ശാന്തിയൗപനിഷദോക്തികള്‍ തന്നെ നല്‍കും
ക്ലേശിപ്പതാത്മപരിപീഡന മജ്ഞയോഗ്യം
ആശാഭാരമ് സ്രുതിയില്‍ വയ്ക്കുക, പിന്നെയെല്ലാ
മീശാജ്ഞപോലെ വരുമൊക്കെയുമോര്‍ക്ക പൂവേ!"

However, it may not be quite correct to conclude that Asaan is advocating spirituality to the exclusion of materialism. On the contrary, he seems to be advocating a fine balance between both the spiritual; and the temporal world. You have to face the reality and live in the present and in this world. This is obvious from the verses 38 and 39 wherein two distinct paths are indicated to reach the ultimate. May be that is what the Guru has shown in practice. He lived amidst the miseries and vicissitudes of the world and yet could hold himself aloft as a beacon of spiritual excellence.   
There are ever so many lines from this poem which are so often quoted by scholars to adorn their works.  It can be proudly stated that there is no Malayali (Keralaite) who does not know by heart at least a couple of stanzas from this work. It is assuredly Aaasaan’s brief but most popular poetic work.

The message that all bodily or sensuous pleasures are transient and hence not worth of relentless pursuit and that eternal peace and happiness is in this realisation which leads to tranquility of one’s soul is a direct result of the Guru’s initial advice to Kumaran Aasaan.

(B)   ‘Nalini’   -   [1911]

Written in 1911, this poem, as noted earlier, is a path-breaker in our Language. Totally deviating from style and content of his contemporaries, who often looked for themes from mythologies and epics and couched them in ornamental, stylish and traditionally approved verse forms, Aasaan, for the first time, created a work of art which became unique in many ways.   

The story is imaginary. The poem opens with the description of a saintly but bright and youthful figure who, for all appearances, had renounced the world.  He is ‘Divakaran’, a childhood friend of ‘Nalini’ who had fond hopes to share her life with him.  He had disappeared after the childhood years but shementally pursued him. When it seemed utterly futile, she attempts suicide but was rescued by a saintly woman under whose protection, she too dons the apparel of one renounced.  Years later, as the poem opens, they chance to meet.  She fondly recalls their childhood pranks and associated reminiscences in a typical Kerala village background and expresses her belief that this reunion was the result of her penance and hopes and pleads to allow her to continue in his company even if as his disciple. But Divakaran, who nearly renounced all attachment to the world, is unmoved. He philosophises on the eternal and true aspect of Love; but expresses his resolve to part ways then and there. In a moment of supreme bliss, she holds herself onto him and in that pose, gives up her ghost.  Although moved by this tragic sacrifice in love’s altar, undistracted from his ultimate goal, Divakaran moves on and spends the rest of his life  involved in activities aimed at the welfare of humanity -‘Lokakshemotsukan.’ 'ലോക ക്ഷേമോത്സുകന്‍'

There is no sensuous description of beauty of every part of a woman’s body or of conjugal bliss; no titillating scenic descriptions as we see in most other works. They usually end with the union of the separated lovers after much travails and tribulations. But, in this beautiful work, the ultimate message is the power of sacrifice and renunciation. Self-less work for the welfare of the society is the key note with which the poems ends. “ Anya jeevanutaki swa jeevitam  Dhanyamaakkum amale vivekikal “ "അന്യജീവനുതകി സ്വ ജീവിതം ധന്യമാകു മമലേ വിവേകികള്‍." is not only Aasaan’s message, but sums up the life  and message of Sree Narayana guru.

 (C) ‘Leela’   -    [ 1913 ]

Two years after ‘Nalini’, in 1913, ‘Leela’ was published. There was wholehearted welcome to this successor of ‘Nalini’’ from the discerning public. Once more, Aasaan relied on his own imagination for the story and its execution. He did maintain the traditional ‘dwiteeyakshara prasa’ (rhyme scheme ) in this work too.  Otherwise, it was another novel and successful experiment. Unlike in ‘Nalini’, ‘ Leela’ is set in a non-Keralite background thus giving it a more universal dimension.

The story line is simple. ‘Leela’, a flowering maiden had set her heart in a handsome youth ‘Madanan’ who too reciprocated her sentiments. But due to the difference in social status.  She was unable to disclose her love to her parents.  Her father, a rich merchant, arranged her marriage with another youth and she could not express her inner turmoil because of :

‘Gurujana Vachanam, kulakramam, tarunikal tannute aswatantrata…’    

'ഗുരുജനവചനം,  കുലക്രമം, തരുണികള്‍ തന്നടെയ സ്വതന്ത്രത.........'

The marriage was solemnized. She departed to her husband’s home albeit reluctantly.  Leela did suppress her feelings and ‘mechanically’, played the role of a wife superficially.  [ ‘Ghatana pati vilaasi cheykilum, pita mruga netra krupardrayaakilum ….  Sphutam akam aliyaate mevinaal taasila pole tharanga leelayil’  'ഘടന പതിവിലാസിചെയ്കിലും പിടമൃഗനേത്ര കൃപാര്‍ദ്രയാകിലും സ്ഫുടമകുമലിയാതെമേവിനാള്‍ തടശിലപോലെ തരംഗലീലയില്‍.' ( I-35) ] But, Alas!  Before long, her husband inexplicably passed away one night!  A desperate Leela had to return to her parents who too, had, by then, passed way.  Her mind roved back to her flame of youth ‘Madanan’ and she sent her close friend ‘Madhavi’ to find out his whereabouts.  The poem begins with Madhavi’s call of assurance to Leela that she could finally locate Madanan. (The story then gradually unfolds.) Together, they set forth to locate him in the forests near the Rewa river. They found him, a mere skeleton, in utter disregard to his clothes or looks, loitering along with the wild creatures and shunning all human society. [The poet says here… “ Dhruvam iha mamsa nibaddhamalla raagam’ 'ധുവമിഹ മാംസനിബദ്ധമല്ല രാഗം'  – meaning true love is based on the flesh; but is spiritual!] Momentarily, Lela felt she regained her lover; but Madanan even after recognizing her, did not heed to her pleas. He took to his heels and she pursued hotly with all her strength. Madanan jumped into the swirling, tumultuous waters of Rewa river and Leela followed.  They had the communion of their souls.

The celebrated stanza:

‘Aarum thozhee ulakil marayunneela…..’'ആരും തോഴി! ഉലകില്‍ മറയുന്നില്ല മാംസംവെടിഞ്ഞാല്‍.....'etc. propounds Aasaan’s belief that the cycle of life and death is endless; the soul does not become extinct even if the body does; the soul is eternal. The poet describes how, after this tragedy, Madhavi lived (as did Divakaran in ‘Nalini’) for the benefit of humanity.

The message once again is from the Guru… Live your normal life and endure all encounters, do not get lost in adversities; have a detached view and live life for the welfare of other people; that is the way to eternal bliss.

(D) ‘Sree Budhdha Charitam’

This is the Malayalam verse translation of Sir Edwin Arnold’s ‘Light of Asia’.  Gautama Budhdha’s  renunciation, enlightenment and preaching  have had global impact for more than two millennium. The universal brotherhood of man and the path of renunciation advocated by Buddha were exceptionally relevant to the times of Guru and Aasaan.  The greatest curse of the society in Kerala was the prevalent caste system and its associated innumerable ills.  Sree Buddha’s principle of non-violence “ Ahimsa” and his advocacy of the ‘Eight fold path of Dharma’ had universal appeal  There is, therefore, no surprise that the story of the Buddha had great interest to Aasaan which resulted in this beautiful poem. Aasaan started writing it in cantos in 1915, published  I and II in 1915 and III and IV in 1917.  Canto V was posthumously published.

(E)   ‘Prarodanam’ -  [1919]

‘Prarodanam’ is an elegy written to mourn the sad demise of the great littérateur ‘A.R.’, who was the leading light of all progressive Malayalam writers of that time.  This is more of a sentimental and personal work; yet the philosophical content of this work makes it one amongst the best elegies in our language. All glories pass; nothing is permanent; it is absurd to gloat over temporal gains and death is the leveler – in sum, these are exhaustively illustrated in this work. An oft quoted stanza:

‘Kashtam! Staana valuppamo, prabhrutayo, sajjatiyo vamsamo…’
'കഷ്ടം! സ്ഥാന വലുപ്പമോ, പ്രഭുതയോ, സജ്ജാതിയോ, വംശാമോ............' etc.

sums up Aasaan’s sentiments in full and warns us all, that ego continues to give us company only up to the grave.   Truly, it is the graveyard which is the spiritual university for all – ‘Adhyatma Vidyalayam!’  'അദ്ധ്യാത്മവിദ്യാലയം'

(F)  ‘Chintaavishtayaaya Sita’ [1919]

The Ramayana of Valmiki was the foundation of a large number of works in every language of India.  Rama and Sita  were ideal husband and wife. Rama was considered as ‘Maryadaa Purushothaman’ – ‘the Noblest amongst Men’; and Sita, the ultimate example of ideal and chaste wife  - pativrata-  who, without any murmur of protest, accepted all that her husband decreed or did.  

The poem opens when Sita’s twin sons, Lava and Kusa, had gone to Ayodhya, along with the sage Valmiki to meet with the King Rama, their father, to sing unto him the poem ‘Ramayana’ created by sage. Highly disturbed by the various unpalatable turn of events like the gossip casting doubt on her chastity and her consequent banishment to the forest by Rama when she was at advanced stage of pregnancy, Sita, now alone and siting in the hermitage (Ashram) of Valmiki,  reminisces that past.  She questions the wisdom of the king in having arrived at that decision; declares that whatever happened was certainly not due to her fault and that the king erred in casting her away to the forest under a deceitful pretext.  She is convinced of her purity.  When she reaches the court and observes Rama with a ‘golden sita’ – Kaanchana Sita – on the throne, she simply gives up her ghost.

It can be said that when Aasaan wrote this poem in 1919,  he dared to break this  concept of ideal Sita enthroned for ages. Aasaan’s Sita had her own will, her own interpretations of events and her own reasoning.  She was not just a doll. However, it goes to Aasaan’s credit that while her fierce spirit is portrayed unabated in this work, nowhere does his Sita utter any unpalatable references to Rama. There are doubtless, some ironical and satirical references [‘Karayennil urayppath uthaman Mara polangane kettu mannavan’;കറയെന്നിലുരപ്പതുത്തമന്‍ മറപോലങ്ങനെ കേട്ടു മന്നവന്‍!' ‘Rujayaarnum akam kaninju tan prajaye pottum urumpu polume..’ രുജയാര്‍ന്നു മകം കനിഞ്ഞു തന്‍ പ്രജയെ പ്പോറ്റും ഉറുമ്പു പോലുമേ..!'etc. ]  But then, even Ezhuthachchan, the revered father of Malayalam poetry, does make Sita speak some very bold lines like “ Raatriyil polum pirinjaal poratholam  Aasthayuntallo bhavane pitavinum’…'രാത്രിയില്‍കൂടെപ്പിരിഞ്ഞാല്‍ പൊറാതോളസ്ഥയുണ്ടല്ലോ ഭവാനെ പിതാവിനും......'etc.

Emancipation of women from the accumulated bondages was one of the Guru’s missions.  The powerful reasoning of Sita questioning the wisdom of King Rama in mercilessly discarding his pregnant wife upon some mere unsubstantiated gossip is, in turn, an indictment on the cruel society which kept on ill-treating the womenfolk. In portraying the inner currents of such a well known mythological figure, Aasaan was able to focus the attention of the general public on the sad state of women everywhere, adding another dimension to the Guru’s advocacy.

(G ) ‘Duravastha’ [1922]

While in most other literary works, Assaan – the author, preferred to remain in the background and let situations convey desired messages, in this poem, he directly steps in to explain the irrational caste-madness of the society. The poem describes how a Brahmin maiden, ‘Savitri’, manages to escape during an invasion from her home and takes refuge in the home of a low-caste youth by name ‘Chaathan’. She had lost everything and every relation during that carnage. The poem ends with the communion of the young couple disregarding the dictates of society.  One should note with special attention that in this poem, the heroine, Savitri recognizes the significance of education and undertakes and succeeds in converting an almost illiterate Chathan into a literate person. ‘Educate in order to liberate’ was one of Guru’s advices to his followers. That message is indicated in a not-so-subtle manner in this work.   The significant exhortation of the poet in this poem is: “Mattuvin  chattangale swayam – allenkil = Mattum athukal ee ningale than!’  "മാറ്റുവിന്‍ ചട്ടങ്ങളെ സ്വയ-മല്ലെങ്കില്‍ = മാറ്റുമതു കളീ നിങ്ങളെത്താന്‍."

Yes, ‘If you do not voluntarily change irrational traditions and practices, you will simply be wiped out by them” was the timely warning – a clarion call for the social revolution- from Assaan’s pen.  This eradication of caste system, paving the way for ‘one caste for the whole humanity’ was in accordance with the advice the Guru gave to the society.  

(H)  ‘Chandaala Bhikshuki’  [1922]

This work is a more focused one relevant to the ‘untouchability’ expensively prevalent in Kerala at that time. The lower caste people had no rights; only humiliating burdens.  They could not walk on the roads;  they should not even come near to the higher caste people lest they get ‘polluted’;  they should not touch any item meant for the higher caste people, public wells were not to be used by lower-caste humans and so on. By making a Buddhist disciple ‘Ananda’ accept drinking water from a low caste girl ‘Matangi’, Aasaan sent a not-so-subtle message to the detested practice. The poem concludes with the exhortation of Lord Buddha that all humanity has only one caste and ‘Love’ is universal. He chose non-Sanskrit metres in composing this poem.

Here again, this is what the Guru has shown in actual practice.  In a very categorical declaration made in 1916, it was proclaimed that the Guru does not represent any particular segment of society but is representing universal brotherhood of man. Aasaan’s this poem further buttresses this statement.    

(I)‘Karuna’  [1923]

Once again Aasaan’s genius turned to the Buddhist lore to convey the cardinal theme that the beauty of the flesh is transient but that of the soul is eternal. Once again, it is also an attack on all man-made barriers like caste and religion which separates humanity not sanctioned by nature.  For reasons of simplicity and lucidity, perhaps, Aasaan did not choose Sanskrit metres for this work too.  Did the poet have the story of the ‘sinful’ Mary of Magdalene and Jesus Christ, the ‘Redeemer’ at the back of his mind, in composing this work? One cannot be very sure.

‘Vasavadatta’ was a celebrated, very attractive prostitute of the city of Madhura.  It was after the time of the ‘Enlightened’- the Buddha and one of his committed missionaries, a very handsome youth by name ‘Upagupta’ was in the city spreading his Guru’s message. The lady heard about him and was smitten by his reported physical charms and sent invitation to him to come to her.  The youth politely declined same and conveyed the message to her ‘it is not yet time for them to meet.’  Surprised and somewhat annoyed a this unheard of refusal – usually, it was the other way round, men sought after her company feverishly- she repeated the invitation and received the same polite but firm refusal.
Time moved on. The lovely but greedy prostitute was caught murdering one of her suitors in order to gain more temporal benefits. She was sentenced to have her limbs, nose and ears cut off and cast outside the city.  The decree was executed. One of her faithful former servants, who continued to nurse her even at this tragic moment, managed to inform her pathetic plight to Upagupta who hastened to the scene. Vasavadata, on seeing him, ashamed, ordered the servant to cover her severed limbs.  She almost scolded him for not coming to her when she was at her prime and could have given him all her charms. But Upagupta told her that he came to her now in order to give her tormented soul message of tranquility from the Blessed One to receive which, she was till then, unprepared. Upagupta elaborated on the transient nature of physical beauty and dwelt on the eternal beauty of the soul by adhering to the path advocated by the Lord. Vasavadatta, thus, gained peace and tranquility at her very last moment.

Once again, it is the Guru’s role as ‘Redeemer of the fallen’ which appears to have propelled Aasaan to focus on this beautiful story which tells human beings not to be too greedy or be proud of transient, temporal assets but prepare themselves for longer bliss by purifying their souls.  


It would not be feasible to delve deep into all other works of Aasaan; but suffice to say, he was the most voluminous and effective spokesperson to spread the Guru’s message to humanity and his works, in reality, came to be regarded as the single-most influence of Sree Narayana guru in Malayalam literature, besides the Guru’s own invaluable contributions and their worthy, voluminous and innumerable commentaries by his disciples and literary masters who followed the Guru’s footsteps.