Sri Narayana Guru Swamy
Narayana Guru, was born on August 28 1855 to an Ezhava peasant in the village of Chempazhanthy near Thiruvananthapuram of Travancore state. He is considered among the greatest social reformers and philosophers of Kerala and India. He led a reform movement in Kerala by rejecting the caste system and promoting new values of spiritual freedom, social equality and upliftment of the downtrodden.
At the age of 5 he went to the traditional gurukula model school and he was drawn to the worship at the local temples and composed several hymns. His mother died when he was 15. At the age of 21, he went to central Travancore to study under a known Sanskrit scholar Raman Pillai Asan from the Puthuppally Varanappally family. He taught him Vedas, Upanishads, as well as the literature and logical rhetoric of Sanskrit. Narayana Guru returned to his village in 1881 when his father was seriously ill and started a village school where he taught local children which earned him the name Nanu Asan. A year later he married Kaliamma but soon disassociated himself from the marriage to commence his public life as a social reformer.
Leaving home, Guru travelled through Kerala and Tamil Nadu and it was during these journeys he met Chattampi Swamikal a social and religious reformer, who introduced Guru to Ayyavu Swamikal from whom he learned meditation and Hatha yoga. Later, he continued his wanderings until he reached the Pillathadam cave at Maruthamala where he set up an hermitage, lived a secluded life immersed in deep meditation and yoga for the eight years. In 1888, he visited Aruvippuram where he meditated for a while and during his stay there, he consecrated a piece of rock taken from the river, as the idol of Shiva, which has since become the Aruvippuram Shiva Temple. The act, which later came to be known as Aruvipuram Pratishta, created a social commotion among the upper caste Brahmins who questioned Guru’s right to consecrate the idol. His reply to them that This is not a Brahmin Shiva but an Ezhava Shiva later became a famous quote, used against casteism. It was here, the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP Yogam) was founded on May 15, 1903 by the efforts of Padmanabhan Palpu, better known as Dr. Palpu, with Narayana Guru as its founder president.
Guru shifted his base to Sivagiri, near Varkala in 1904 where he opened a school for children from the lower strata of the society and provided free education to them without considering their caste. However, it took him seven years to build a temple there, the Sarada Mutt was built in 1912.
In 1913, he founded the Advaita Ashram at Aluva. This was an important event in his spiritual quest. This Ashram was dedicated to a great principle – Om Sahodaryam Sarvatra (all men are equal in the eyes of God).
He also built temples in other places such as Thrissur, Kannur, Anchuthengu, Thalassery, Kozhikode, and Mangalore and it took him to many places including Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) where he made his final visit in 1926. On his return to India, he was involved in a number of activities including the planning of the Sivagiri pilgrimage which was planned after his visit to Pallathuruthy in 1927 to attend the anniversary of the S.N.D.P. Yogam.
In 1928 soon after the meeting at Pallathuruthy, which was the last public function he attended, Guru’s health conditions declined drastically and he remained bedridden for few months. The Guru’s birthday was celebrated in many places in that year. On 20 September, 1928 the Guru finally left Earth, but his legacy and beliefs are still alive with us to this very day.
Sri Narayana Guru published 45 works in Malayalam, Sanskrit and Tamil languages which include Atmopadesa Śatakam, a hundred-verse spiritual poem and Daiva Dasakam, a universal prayer in ten verses. He also translated three major texts, Thirukural of Valluvar, Ishavasya Upanishad and Ozhivil Odukkam of Kannudaiya Vallalaar. It was he who propagated the motto, One Caste, One Religion, One God for All (Oru Jathi, Oru Matham, Oru Daivam, Manushyanu) which has become popular as a saying in Kerala. He furthered the non-dualistic philosophy of Adi Sankara by bringing it into practice by adding the concepts of social equality and universal brotherhood.