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Narayana Guru - A brief life history

Childhood, Education

Narayana Guru was born during India's darkest days. The British ruled the country and Indian culture was at its most deciduous . Local chiefs called Rajas and Maharajas were exploiting the people who lived in fear and toiled under the hegemony of feudalism. Caste prejudice forced the majority to live in shame as deprived destitute. It was at this time of misery that the Guru was born as a bringer of hope and succor, a harbinger of freedom and self respect.

Narayana Guru was born in Kerala the southern most state of India. His parents Madan Asan and Kuttiamma lived in a village called Chempazhanthy not far from Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala State. The family home of Narayana Guru was called "Vayalvaram". He was born on 26th of August 1856 and his parents endearingly called him "Nanu". His father Madan Asan was a much respected scholar of moderate means. He knows Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam and also an adept in Ayurveda the Indian School of Medicine.

Narayana Guru was born on Chatayam, the 3rd day of Onam, Kerala's sacred harvest festival. Onam is celebrated to commemorate the reign of Mahabali in whose days people lived in full freedom and plenty in a crimeless society. The king dispensed equitable justice to all. Narayana Guru was (Nanu) a smart, handsome and witty child who was very perceptive of all that was happening around him. Even as a child he showed the tendency to teach and correct others.

Nanu was initiated into reading and writing by Chempazhanthi Pillai. He studied till the age of 10 in a one Teacher School. Afterwards he was asked to tend the family's cattle. While the cows were grazing he sat under some shady tree and composed hymns in praise of God. One such hymn caught the attention of his maternal uncle. The lyrical beauty and the depth of its meaning convinced everyone that he was a prodigy. So his parents send him to Varanappally a rich household in central Travancore, where free education in Sanskrit and Indian philosophy was disseminated to deserving pupils.

In four years he completed his Sanskrit literature and Vedanta studies under Kummampilly Raman Pillai Asan. During his stay in Varanappally, he used his spare time to meditate and practice the discipline of yoga. On one such occasion he had his first spiritual experience. When his teacher asked about it, Nanu's reply was in the form of a single verse known as Sri Krishna Darsanam (vision of Sri Krishna), the earliest of his literary works now available.

Once Nanu fell ill and contracted a dangerous virus infection of his digestive system. This brought him back home. When he was cured he started a one teacher school of his own to teach Sanskrit in a coastal village called Anjuthengu. From that time on he was called "Nanu Asan". Asan means Teacher.

Marriage & Reclusion

Nanu Asan becomes more and more drawn away from home and social gatherings and developed a liking for loneliness. This frightened his parents and they decided to marry him to one of his cousins. A day was fixed for his wedding. When he was not seen at the time to go to the bride's home, his sister offered to go as Nanu's proxy to marry the girl and brought her home. As this was a familiar practice in those days, nobody thought it strange.

After a few days Nanu Asan returned home and the relatives presented the bride to him. He said to her, "All are born with some purpose in their lives, I have mine and you have yours. Let me go to fulfill my role". With these words he went out in the open.

Meets Chattambi Swami

He spent time in a Tamil book shop reading books and also helping the shop-keeper vending books. This gave him a good opportunity to become proficient in the Tamil spiritual lore. He studied books like Thirukkural, Thirumandiram, Vedanta Jnanavathil Kattilai, Ozhuvil odukkam, Sivapuranam etc. He was also a frequent visitor to the scholarly home of his classmate Perunelly Krishnan Vaidyar, a poet and playwright.

At Perunelly he met another classmate Velutheri Kesavan Vaidyar and Kunjan Pillai Chattampi. Chattampi was a man of deep insight and penetrating critical acumen. When Nanu Asan met him, he was studying yoga under Thaikkattu Ayyavu, a great adept in Hatha Yoga. Kunjan pillai Chattampi later become famous as Chattampi Swami. The yoga lessons which Nanu Asan received from Thaikkattu Ayyavu increased his thirst for realization. So he traveled one place to another seeking guidance and disciplining himself most intensely.

The Penance in Maruthva Malai

He found a cave (Pillathadom) in Maruthva malai in Kanyakumari District and did intense penance for a long time. He sustained himself mostly with berries and tubers and drank from mountain brooks. During those days he prayed to God conceiving the supreme to be "Siva". God-heads like Devi, Subramanya and Vinayaka were only different appellations for the same unitive God-head. While he sat in the same posture hours in solitude of the cave, he was guarded by a cobra and a tiger. Even a cursory reading of his Sivasatakam, Subramanya Stotram and Guhastakom will give an overwhelming account of the influx of ecstasy with which he plunged into the depth of the divine love.

Last days of Nanu Asan in Maruthva Malai were very similar to the days of enlightenment of Siddhartha. Siddhartha became awakened under the Bodhi Tree of Gaya, and became Gautama Buddha. Even so Nanu Asan became enlightened in the cave of Maruthva Malai and became Sri Narayana Guru.

After his realization he bade farewell to Maruthva Malai and lived in a cave in the thick forest of Aruvippuram, on the banks of Neyyar. Narayana Guru was detected by a boy who went deep into the woods looking for a cow which had gone astray. The boy's name was kunju Pillai, and became Guru's first disciple known as Sivalinga Swami. Through him the world outside came to know of the presence of a yogi at Aruvippuram.

The Installation of Aruvippuram Temple

Very soon fame of the Siddha purusha spread all over the valley and people started coming regularly for his blessings. Guru thought to give them a new direction. He decided to give them a Temple. Until then temples were for the exclusive use of people of certain privileged communities. He wanted to have a common place of worship where all could come and offer their prayers with no restriction of caste sex or religion. Guru installed a Sivalinga on a flat rock in the eastern bank of the river where he usually meditated, on the day of Sivarathri, Saturday 12th March, 1888. When the temple was built there later on Narayana Guru got the message of his life written on the wall.

"Here is a model abode Where man live like brothers Bereft of the prejudice of caste Or the rancor of religious differences".

The installation and consecration of the temple at Aruvippuram became a milestone in the history of India's spiritual emancipation. The cast ridden tradition of India suffered at the idea of a common man who had no claim to priestly tradition, to install a temple of God, which was the monopoly of Brahmins. When a Nambudiri (Kerala Brahmin) expressed his anger and concern about such an act of sacrilege, the Guru simply remarked that he did not install any "Nambudiri Siva". God is in all. He is all.

Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam

Dr. Palpu, serving as a medical officer in Mysore was a great organizer. He changed the Aruvipuram Temple worshipers association, formed by Narayana Guru himself, into a corporate body to propagate the ideals of Sree Narayana Guru. Formed in 1903 Sri. Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, became the biggest single corporation of Kerala to defend the natural and constitutional rights of all socially and economically depressed people of the state.

Sivagiri and the Installation of Sarada Temple

Soon after the formation of the SNDP Yogam, Sree Narayana Guru moved to Varkala and chose for his residence a neglected hill at the side of a canal. This place developed into the site of the Sarada Temple and the Guru named it "Sivagiri". Here he established an entirely new model of temple for worship. Its architecture was simple and different. For the first time in India a Temple with windows and ventilation was devised. The Guru installed a deity which was traditionally symbolic and aesthetically perfect. The worship of Sarada, the Goddess of wisdom was restricted to offerings of flowers. Guru wrote Janani Nava Ratna Manjari in praise of the mother Sarada (Nine gems in praise of the mother)

The Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala, where he lived was like a centre of the new age to which social reformers, Freedom fighters, Educationalists, Thinkers, Writers and socially persecuted people turned for guidance, light and inspiration. He made a new generation who could live without asking for, thinking of, or telling of caste. His ardent disciples Moolor S Padmanabha Panicker, C.V. Kunjiraman, Kumaran Asan, Mitavadi C. Krishnan, Moorkoth Kumaran and Sahodaran Ayyappan, became irresistible luminaries in the Malayalam literary world, each with hundreds of satellite writers. They brought out a new literature which was soul stirring and eye opening. People who had been denounced and humbled by theocrats changed into erudite revolutionaries with an unquenchable humanist zeal through the mere touch of the Guru.

Sree Narayana Guru ever thought that his religion was essentially different from the religions of his fellow men. Guru had no rivalry with any religion. His teaching was to be a Good man whatever one's religion is. Guru made a casteless society in his own Asrams. His disciples were drawn from all sections of the people. Among his camp followers there were Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists. There were Brahmins and Pariahs.

Sree Narayana Dharma Sangam

As Guru observed that the Yogam was loosing its credibility as a secular organization and moving away from his cherished ideal of human brotherhood he wanted to form another organization consisting of his Sanyasi disciples which could see the humanity at large as a single unit. The Sree Narayana Dharma Sangam registered in 9th January 1928, became the monastic order of Sree Narayana Guru. He defined "Sanyasi" as a thyagi one who is expected to acquire the power of wisdom, renunciation and tapas, so that he can use his power to ennoble the lives of his brother citizens.

Advaita Asramam Alwaye

After this Guru wanted a resting place and purchased a piece of land on the banks of river periyar near Alwaye Railway Station. He built an Asram there and named it "Advaita Asramam". He admitted students from all religions and all communities to the Sanskrit and Vedanta course that was taught at the Advaita Asramam Sanskrit School. He gave them a common place to board and lodge.

He used to retire at Thottumugham near Alwaye on a hill top. This place has now become the venue of the Sree Narayana Sevika Samajam, an institution for orphans and destitute women, managed entirely by women.

Ravindranath Tagor's visit of Guru

Tagore came to see the Guru in 1922 at Sivagiri Mutt in Varkala. The poet was given a warm reception at the Asram. The meeting between the Guru and the poet was long remembered by hundreds of people. . He complimented the Guru on the great work he was rendering to the people. The Guru however declined the praise and turned the poets mind to a deeper level of his spiritual communion. The poet spoke of this memorable reality to Romanian Rolland, the French biographer of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. When Tagore visited Alwaye Advaita Asram the welcome address was written in Sanskrit by Kumaran Asan.

The Guru exhorted people to unite and be strong, educated and free of prejudices. He encouraged people to assert their right fearlessly with courage. When his devotees decided to get all main thoroughfares open to all people, irrespective of their caste, they sought the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi, and he offered to lead a Satyagraha (Passive resistance) at Vaikom in Northern Travancore. The Guru conversed with Mahatma Gandhi and placed at the Mahatma's disposal his people money and every available resource for the fight to make common mans' freedom an accomplished fact. The Guru's meeting with Mahatma Gandhi lead a considerable impact on Mahatmaji's future programmes.

Mahatmaji's visit of Narayana Guru

Mahatmaji came to Sivagiri Mutt and had personal talks with Guru on 13th March, 1925. The Guru impressed upon Mahatma Gandhi the need to liberate the toiling millions from the rigorous shackles of caste as a necessary pre-requisite of India gaining her political emancipation from the British over lordship. When Mahatmaji attended the first round table conference in London, he became convinced of the Guru's advice and changed the name of his news paper "Navajeevan" to "Harijan" and called the neglected masses the "Harijans" (The progeny of Hari"). There after Mahatmaji dedicated himself to the cause of the Harijans.

The major Temples installed by Narayana Guru

After the installation of the temple of Aruvippuram, the Guru installed temples all over Kerala and in Mangalore Karnataka state. When the Guru was requested to install a temple at Mezhuveli he said that "Future temples should be schools". He brought about many reforms in the temples he consecrated with the intuition of educating people. In one temple (Murikkumpuzha) he installed the words "Satyam (Truth), Daya (Kindness), Dharmam (Righteousness) around Aum, instead of placing any image of any Hindu God. In another temple {Karamukku} he preferred to have only a burning lamp at the sanctum sanctorum. At Kalavamkodam, Cherthala, he installed a mirror in the place of deity with AUM inscribed in it.

His Works

Sree Narayana Guru was extempore in his writing. His works can be mainly divided into mystical hymns of inspired exultation, simple teaching for the common folks, Philosophical renditions for the aspirants and Translations. Vinayaka Astakom, Vasudevashtakom, Shanmughastotram, Navamanjari, Subramanyakeerthanam, Bhadrakalyashtokam, Mannanthala Devistavam, Kalinatakam, Chidambarashtakom, Vishnuashtakom, Daiva Dasakom, Swanubhava Geethi, Kundalinippattu etc. are some of his mystical hymns. Jeevakarunyapanchakam, Anukambadasakom, Jatinirnayam, Mimamsa, Dattapaharam, Asramam are written for popular instruction.

Atmopadesa Satakam, Advaitadeepika, Bhramavidyapanchakam, Municharya panchakam, Arivu, Vedanta Sutram and Darsanamala are written for serious students in philosophy. Only two of his translations are available. One is Isavasya Upanishad, from Sanskrit to Malayalam, and the other, Thirukkural from Tamil to Malayalam. The Guru wrote in Tamil, Sanskrit and Malayalam. Most of his works are now available in English. Some are also translated into Hindi, German, Dutch and French.

The Schools instituted by Guru

In Varkala, Guru started a model English school and in Alwaye a Sanskrit school. With the blessings of Sree Narayana Guru, his intimate disciple “Thampi” (later Nataraja Guru)   founded the Narayana Gurukula in 1923 for spreading Sree Narayana Guru’s philosophy and Advaitha Vedantha for the dedicated seekers in ashram environment. To take care of the educational future of the people and to make comparative studies on Western Philosophy, he even sent “Thampi” to study Educational Psychology at Sorbonne in Paris. From the Sorbonne University, Nataraja Guru obtained his D. Litt in Psychology, made the Narayana Gurukula movement world-wide.

Maha Samadhi

Narayana Guru attained Maha Samadhi on 20th September 1928 at Varkala due to prolonged illness.

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