Historians have disagreement on the date and year of birth. There are three opinions. They are August 20, 1854; August 28, 1855 and August 20, 1856. Qcc«. OYi« cÈ±Y«, O¢¹« h¡o«, (QcäcÈ±Yl¤« h¡ol¤« o«mi¡Y£Yh¡i¢ As¢l¤Ù¤®) ¨J¡¿ltn« 1030, 1031 A¨¿Æ¢v 1932. Y¢j¤lcÉd-¤j·¢cT¤·¤¾ ¨OØrÉ¢ F¼ ±L¡h·¢v Qc¢µ¤. AÔu– h¡Tu Bm¡u, A½- J¤¶¢ A½. Father: Madan Ashan, Mother: Kutty Amma. Place– Chempazanthi village near Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala State, India.
First part of education concluded. Mother passed away. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1048).
Higher Education in Sanskrit at Karunagappally. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1053).
Started a school at Chempazanthi. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1057) With the establishment of the school he came to be known as Nanu Ashan.
Married his uncle’s daughter. His journey in search of the Absolute begins. Wandered around and found the quite and Devin places Maruthvamala and Aruvippuram. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1053).
Father passed away. Befriended Chattampi Swamikal. Met with Thykkat Ayyavu. Settles down at Aruvippuram. and continues His quest for the Ultimate Truth. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1060).
Shiva temple established at Aruvippuram. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1063).
Devi Temple dedicated at Mannanthala. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1064).
Meets Kumaru who later becomes Kumaran Ashan, the Malayalam poet of renaissance. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1066).
Temple established at Aayiramtengu. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1067).
Shiva Temple Established at Kolathukaraésd (©J¡k·¤Jj) Formulated rules for the administration of Aruvippuram. Temple. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1068).
Subrhamaniya Temple dedicated at Kayikkara, Earth (J¡i¢´j, Gs·®) (¨J¡¿ltn« 1069).
Bhagavathi temple dedicated at Karunagappalli (Kozikkode – Kunnazathu) (¨J¡¿ltn« 1070).
1895. Takes Kumaru to Bangalore for higher education. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1070).
Subrhamaniya temple dedicated at Kunnumpara. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1074).
Organized Aruvippuram. Kshtra Yogam. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1074).
1903. January 7, Founding of SNDP Yogam. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1078 bc¤ 23).
Narayana Guru exempted from appearing in courts. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1079);
Settles down at Shivagiri, Varkala, Kerala State, India (¨J¡¿ltn« 1080 O¢¹«);
February. Founding of School at Vakkam on the first anniversary of SNDP Yogam; Subrhamaniya temple dedicated at Kumaramangalam (¨J¡¿ltn« 1080).
Established a night school for aged people at Vettoor near Varkala, Kerala, India (¨J¡¿ltn« 1080 O¢¹«).
1906. Founded a temple at Trichur.
Departed for a tour of Malabar as requested by Mr Kallingal Rarichan Mooppan and Mr. C.Krishnan. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1083 Y¤k¡« 24).
1907. Departed for Bangalore as requested by Dr Palppu. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1083 l¬Ö¢J«16).
1907 December/1908 January .
Guru laid foundation for Shreekandeswaram temple at Kozikkode. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1080 O¢¹«).
1908 February. Jaganatha Temple at Thalasherry dedicated. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1080 J¤g« 1).
1909. Foundation stone laid for temple at Mangalapuram. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1085 hJj« 3).
Started community organizations at Kalathoor and Mannanthala. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1086 J¼¢ Y¤k¡«).
Temple dedicated at Kozikode. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1086 ©hT« 29).
October, South Indian tour. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1087 Y¤k¡«).
Dedicated the temple operated by Vijnanavardhini Sabha at Pallippuram, Kochi. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1087 hJj« 9).
Sharada Temple at Shivagiri dedicated. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1087 ©hT« 18).
Attended Nair conference at Kottayam. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1087 ©hT« 28, 29).
August, Advaitha Ashramam at Aluva started. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1090 O¢¹« 7).
Dedicated Jnanaswara temple at Anchutengu. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1090 h£c« 16).
Started Sanskrit School at Aluva Advaitha Ashramam (¨J¡¿ltn« 1090).
February, Visit to Ashram of Ramana Maharshi. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1091 J¤g«).
In 1916, Narayana Guru’s 60th birth Anniversary was celebrated .(¨J¡¿ltn« 1092 O¢¹« 27), on this day. However Guru made remarks to the effect that HIS actual Birth day was two years before that.
Temple at Koorkkancheri, Trichur dedicated. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1092 O¢¹« 28).
Departed for Kanchipuram and Madras on the invitation of Justice Sadashiva Iyer and Justice Krishnan. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1092 1086 J¼¢ 25).
August, First visit to Shree Lanka. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1094 O¢¹«).
May 15, Dedicated the temple at Karamukku.(¨J¡¿ltn« 1095 CTl« 2).
Dedicated the temple at Murukumpuza. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1097 O¢¹«).
May 15, All Kerala Sahodara Sammalanam at Aluva. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1095 CTl« 2).
Ravindranath Tagore visits Narayana Guru at Varkala. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1098 Y¤k¡«).
January 16, Kumaran Ashan passed away. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1099 hJj« 3).
February, All religious conference at Aluva.
March, Vaikom Sathygraham started, Narayana Guru gave permission to use Vettoor Mutt for their use. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1099 h£c« 17).
August, Foundation laid for a model school at Shivagiri. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1100 O¢¹« 28) September, Visited Vaikom Satyagrham and stayed for two days. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1100 J¼¢ 12, 13).
March 12 and 13, Meeting between Narayana Guru and Mahatma Gandhi. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1100 J¤g« 29, 30).
September 27, Narayana Guru Appointed Swamy Bodhananda as his successor. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1101 Y¤k¡« 1).
October 17, Foundation laid for Brhmahavidyalayam at Shivagiri. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1102 O¢¹« 12) October, Mr. Watts representative ruler of the British government visits Narayana Guru at Varkala. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1101 Y¤k¡« 11)
May 3, Narayana Guru wrote his “will“. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1102 ©hT« 21)
September 1, Samadhi of Sathyvrutha Swamy. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1102 O¢¹« 16)
October, Second visit to Sree Lanka (¨J¡¿ltn« 1102 J¼¢)
June 14, Temple dedicated at Kalavamkodam with a mirror inscribed with AUM. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1102 CTl« 31)
January 9, Registered SN Dharma Sangham. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1103 bc¤ 23)
January 19, Guru gives permission for Pilgrimage to Shivagiri in response to a request by T.K.Kitten Writer. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1103 hJj« 6).
September 20, (¨J¡¿ltn« 11043 J¼¢ 5). Sree Narayana Gurudava Samadhi.
January 1933. (¨J¡¿ltn« 1108 bc¤ 14).
First Group of Pilgrims arrived Shivagiri from Ayathil, Elavumthitta. The members Were P.K.Divakaran, P.K.Keshavan, K.S.Shankunni, P.V.Raghavan and M.K.Raghavan. (Mr P.V.Raghavan is the only surviving member of this group).
Harmonious village life
From the accounts of elderly people, it is presumed that the village of Narayana Guru had very good communal harmony. Ezhavas and Nairs jointly managed the Manakkal Temple of Chempazhanthy, and Nanu went to a village school of a Nair teacher. We do not hear that the sun-burnt peasants like the Pulayas shared this equality.
A ‘good’ slave accepts the norms of slavery and shows his worth by making himself loyal to the creed of servitude. This was very true of the feudal system of 19th century India. Communities insulated with untouchability lived in relative peace. Narayana Guru’s uncles, Raman Vaidyar and Krishnan Vaidyar were no exception, and indeed they cared very much for the preservation of their own insulated tribal clan.
It seems the child Nanu had a natural ingenuity in discerning right from wrong and the essential from the non-essential. When Nanu’s parents or uncles kept fruits and sweetmeats for divine offerings (pooja), he did not hesitate to partake of it before the puja was performed. When he was called to account for his action, his plea was that God would be happy if he made himself happy.
When Nanu’s uncles were meticulous in enforcing the customary convention of untouchability, the child wanted to show the silliness of it by running around and embracing all who were tabooed as untouchables. There is a touching story of Nanu’s childhood-reaction to injustice which also reveals his consistency in opposing injustice with passive spiritual force.
One day when Nanu was going to school with other village children, a sannyasin with matted hair and clad in rags was also on the road. The usual look of the mendicant intrigued the mischievous imps. They started jeering and throwing stones at him. The sannyasin walked on as if he was not aware of what was happening. When Nanu saw this, he burst into tears. The sannyasin turned back and spotted Nanu walking behind him in tears. The kind mendicant asked Nanu why he was crying. Nanu said that he was crying because of his inability to stop the village urchins from pelting such a good man with stones. Hearing this, the sannyasin lifted the boy to his shoulders and brought him back to his parents. He blessed Nanu and told that he would one day become a great man (mahatma).
Strange are the ways of picking up the threads of one’s future affiliation and loyalty. The incident narrated above symbolizes hundreds of other acts of injustice against which, Narayana Guru protested in his life. He always employed a passive dynamism whereby he brought the powers of the heavens to the earth to correct the ills of the world. There is another episode of Nanu’s childhood, which indicates how he was turned on to what can be described as the via negativa (nivrtti marga).
course, A death occurred in his family, when Nanu was of the age of six. He was shocked by the grief of the relatives. A couple of days after the cremation, the young Nanu was found missing. People searched for him everywhere. Finally they found him sitting in a wood, lost in thought. When he was questioned about this strange behavior, he said: “The other day when a dear one died everybody was crying. I thought, ‘Now you will be sorrowful forever.’ Hardly a day passed, and all of you started laughing as if nothing had happened. It looked strange to me.” Of nobody kept any record of what he said, but he might have said something to this effect. What is important to note is his disgust for relativism and how he preferred to turn away from it as a remedy to correct the iniquities of social behavior.
Nanu’s first teacher was his own father, Madan Asan. He had formal schooling in the village school of Chempazhanthy Pillai. Apart from Malayalam and Tamil he learned by heart, as was the practice in those days, Sidharupa, Balaprabodhana and Amrakosa. He was blessed with a penetrating understanding and a sharp memory from very early childhood. Although there were a few schools in Travancore and Cochin in those days, Nanu’s circumstances were such that he had to satisfy himself with what he received from his father, his uncle Krishnan Vaidyar and the village schoolmaster.
A child of nature
Nanu in his adolescence experienced restlessness and engaged in boyhood pranks which were characteristic of his inner untold merit and growth. Home and relatives did not attract him. Being very sensitive to moral and aesthetic values of a profound and universal order, he came into conflict with the crude and unhygienic life-patterns of people. He preferred to be alone or with his cows. Like the reputed cowherd of Brindavan, Nanu was also fond of sitting on the spread out branches of trees as his cows grazed in the green pastures below. Unlike Krishna, who played his flute, Nanu composed hymns and sang them melodiously.
Once Nanu’s uncle, Krishnan Vaidyar, heard Nanu’s voice coming from the foliage of a tree. He stood spellbound until the song was over, and, then went near by and asked the shy boy, from whom he learnt that hymn. When he realized Nanu himself composed it, he thought that it was a serious mistake not to allow the young boy to go to a proper teacher.
During these years Nanu also took to gardening. It agreed with his sensitive nature to see seeds germinating and plants bringing forth delicate flowers and edible fruits.
Proper formation in Sanskrit and Vedanda
In 1877 Nanu was sent to the family of Varanapally to be further educated under the guidance of a well-known scholar named Kummampilli Raman PillaiAsan. It was a custom those days for rich families to arrange for the higher studies of their sons, by honoring guest-teachers who volunteered to teach deserving students and providing them with free boarding and lodging. These teachers had no pecuniary motives. Seeing his amazing ability to grasp and digest the hidden meanings of Sanskrit classics, Raman Pillai Asan gave special permission to Nanu to be present with him when he was teaching other students also.
Nanu was both studying and teaching himself. It was not difficult for his teacher to know what was happening within him, Raman Pillai Aasan gave special instructions to the chief of the Varanapally household to give Nanu facilities to live alone and spend time as he liked in deep meditation and self-discipline.
Even though Narayana Guru was blessed with a very critical and analytical mind, he was also evenly balanced with a sense of deep devotion. Mere logic chopping did not amuse him. He was capable of silencing any argument with a thoughtful query or a witty remark. However, he avoided arguments and spent long hours in meditation and self-study He underwent a great mystical change in his vision of this world. It was no more “out there” mechanically operating as a brute fact. The inner world opened up many new avenues to him. He was sometimes drunk with such inner ecstasy that he found it hard to articulate it in words. One such state of ecstasy is echoed in a verse he composed and sang in spontaneous exultation:
Released from the mundane worries of life,
The World re-absorbed in the real,
The sweet melody of the eternal world
dissolved away in silence,
The effulgence of the non-dual lamp is filled all around.
The curtain of Maya is raised,
Revealing the celestial stage
Where Krishna of radiant blue hue,
Glorious in his resplendent halo
And adorned with the Koustabha Jeweldances in divine festivity.
Even simple incidents in his life are highly suggestive of the Guru-in-the-making in Nanu’s youthful personality. There was a little dog in the house where Nanu lived. When taking his noon-meal he always used to give it a share. On most of the days when the little dog was about to eat, a big dog came snarling and driving away the small pup, and ate its morsel. Narayana Guru had great sympathy for the little dog bullied and deprived by the big one, but he never stoned the bigger dog or pushed it away from the food. Instead he looked at the little one and said half to himself, “We are sorry. What can we do when its heart is evil?”
According to some biographers, Narayana Guru was very devoted to Krishna in his childhood image. S, However, in his later life he did not seem to have any special preference for Krishna. In his several hymns to the different deities of the Indian pantheon, most of his praises are showered on Shiva, Subrahmanya, Devi and Ganesha, and only two on Vishnu.
There is no one living now who can speak with any accuracy on how the Guru conducted himself in his mystical frenzies. It is likely that the early biographers have erred on the side of exaggeration, as they are somewhat biased by the biographical studies of Sri Ramakrishna’s mystical absorption’s. It is possible that Narayana Guru had profound mystical feelings, but from all the reliable accounts we know he never expressed any excessive emotion of affection, hatred, anger or frustration. However, there are occasional references to the Guru being moved to a deep and profound sense of sympathy and compassion whenever he saw someone ill-treating a less-favored member of the society. His compassion was also extended to animals. In this connection it is appropriate to quote here one distinction between Narayana Guru and Sri Ramakrishna recorded by Romain Rolland, who wrote the biography of Sri. Ramakrishna in French:.
Glasenapp does not say anything regarding the new religious manifestations in South India, which are not negligible. Such for example is the great Guru Sri Narayana, whose beneficent spiritual activity has been exercising its influence during the past forty years in the State of Travancore on nearly two millions of his followers (he passed away in 1928). His teaching, permeated With the philosophy of Sankara, shows evidence of a striking difference of temperament compared with the mysticism of Bengal, of which the effusions of love (bhakti) inspire in him a certain mistrust. He was, one might say, a Jnanin of action, a great religious intellectual, who had a keen living sense of the people and of social necessities. He has contributed greatly to the elevation of the oppressed classes in South India, and his work has been associated at certain times with that of Gandhi. (Cf. the articles of his disciple P. Natarajan in the Sufi Quarterly, Geneva, December 1928 and in the following months.)
The termination of Narayana Guru’s formal studies under Kummanpilli Raman Pillai Asan was probably in 1881. It seems he suffered from a severe attack of dysentery presumably caused by hemorrhoids. According to one report Nanu gave an indication to some of his close associates that he was going to make a still deeper plunge in his search for truth. He did not want to escape from the realities or phenomenalities of the world but he was keen to know the mysterious forces that governed the life of man. It was his intention to make full use of that knowledge, if in some measure he could make himself an instrument to correct the ills of the world. Most people of his time experienced life as an ill-functioning and disorderly arrangement, especially in the socio-economic and politico-cultural set-up of the human species.
The great search
One of the later vedantic compositions of Narayana Guru is known as Advaita Deepika. The metaphoric ideogram of ‘the flame of non-dual knowledge’ implies the knower’s identity with the knowledge that is illuminated. The same message was exemplified in the Guru’s own life when he began his more serious search. He took upon himself the role of a teacher. In this role he was a seeker, a seer, and also an illuminator. His ‘one-teacher school’ was not to teach the ‘three R’s’, but to bring into people’s lives the insight of the spiritual masters of the past such as Vyasa, Valmiki, Sankara, and Tiruvalluvar.
The lonely flight of a seeker is not only not appreciated by the world, but in most cases he is neither recognized as a seeker nor does the world seem to know that there is anything to seek at all. The only business of life is to wake up and sleep, to eat and mate and carry on the ten thousand and one transactions of life. So it is no wonder that the relatives of Narayana Guru thought that the best that they could do for him was to arrange for a marriage. The conflict that ensued and the way in which Narayana Guru circumvented the arrangement can be an excellent study of the attitude of Indian people to spirituality when sex-life and interpersonal relations are to be interpreted, especially in the Victorian era. Although in actual practice there was a great eroding of sexual restrictions, the professed adherence of the Indian people to the old world norms were far removed from the medieval one.
There are different versions of Narayana Guru’s marriage. All narrators agree that he did not present himself at the wedding ceremony. It was conducted in proxy by his sister”8 All agree that he probably had no physical relation with the woman whom his relatives brought to his home and looked upon as his wife. Also there is general agreement that he did not show any displeasure to this person who had the misfortune of being treated as a wife though not having a meaningful identity. The strange relation of the Yogi to his wife is presented in The Word of the Guru by Nataraja Guru without any exaggeration or spiritual embellishment.
Once he called another neighbor and asked him to take his wife to a festival in a nearby Bhagavati or Kali temple to which she dearly wished to go. With the Guru’s better ways, it was too crowded and noisy for him, but the villagers praised its importance very highly. On another occasion the Guru cured his wife who had fainted for some reason, and he took some familiar green herb and squeezed the juice into her nostrils. The irritation set aright the circulation in her head and brought her back to normality. These are all scanty remarks that the present writer is able to make regarding the marital life of the Guru. His wife continued to live in her parents’ house in accordance with the matriarchal customs prevailing then in that locality. With the ever-widening path of Guruhood that our hero began to tread as more and more years went by, the question of his married life and the family relations receded more and more into the background. It was thus naturally and normally transcended. She died, and no children of the marriage are known to have seen the light of day. Subjects such a celibacy, Immaculate Conception, or virginity, etc., were points, which were never raised in connection with either of them. The relation was as neutral and mysterious as the Zero that we have spoken of
According to the biographer Mr. Moorkoth Kumaran, the Guru said more or less in the following manner before breaking away completely from his parental home: “We are all born in this world to serve some purpose. I have my work to do and you have yours. Let me go my way; you go your own way.” This has resemblance to what Ramaria Maharshi, an uncompromising advaitin of this century once said, about himself. There is also the famous existential prayer: “1 do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.
There comes a time in the life of every seeker that he cannot any longer carry on the transactions of the relativistic pattern of home life without becoming hypocritical. In such a state, the true person in the seeker undergoes a great stress. The crisis of such a person is described differently in different books. The Mumukshu Prakarana of Yoga Vasishtha, the breaking away of Prince Siddhartha from the palace of Kapilavastu, the hidden life of Jesus Christ terminated by forty days of fast and mental torture, the restless days of Prophet Mohammed in the caves of Mecca before the visitation of Gabriel, and the graphic, descriptions of the restlessness of the seeker in the Vivekachudamani of Sankara, give sufficient descriptions of the spiritual seekers’ common plight. Narayana Guru’s predicament was not different. He left his home and wandered aimlessly in whichever direction he felt like going. Most of his wanderings were either on the coastlines of Kerala or in the interior villages of the present Tamilnadu. In Tamilnadu most cities and villages are built around a temple of Shiva, Subrahmanya, Devi, Vishnu or Vinayaka. Every temple has its own legend and the stories of the saints who were devoted to these temples. As a result there are many pockets of traditional psychology, magic, mysticism and alchemy in a number of places, and Narayana Guru had the great advantage of relating himself to those people who kept these traditions alive. As he had a very high sense of personal discipline, which included a superior personal hygiene, he must have been very selective in choosing his spiritual practices. He had a very high critical acumen and did not accept anything at its face value without experiencing and experimenting with instructions in his own life to prove their verity to himself. Sometimes it amounted to the torturing of his body or of his mind. His love for truth was always uncompromising and he never liked to load his mind with half-baked theories or unverified information.
Finding a soul mate
After wandering for some time he came to live with an old comrade of his called Perunelli Krishnan Vaidyar. This gentleman was a very erudite scholar in Sanskrit. Apart from being a poet of great merit, he was a pioneer in the theatrical art of Kerala and spent most of his time in presenting his own plays on the stage. He attracted a large crowd of literary enthusiasts and art critics around him. Among them there was a great genius that had an insight into the secrets of art and sciences. He was an expert in the rhythmic art of drumming. In addition to this he was conversant with all the rules implied in the rhetorics of the Vedas. He could easily sketch people in their varied moods. He amused himself by giving demonstrations of all the possible variations in drumming. This unusual man is known by different names, but his original name was Ayyappan. Officially he was Shanmughadasan. Afterwards he was known as Kunjan Pillai. He was entrusted with the duty of a monitor by his master and so was called Chattampi. As this gentleman wandered like a recluse and lived a life of piety, he became popularly known as Chattampi Swami.
In many respects Nanu and Chattampi Swami were very different. Nanu Asan was a man of restraint. He spoke only scantily. He was both gentle and dignified when he himself related to others. Being supersensitive to the suffering of his fellow men Nanu Asan was seen most of the time somewhat in a sad mood like that of Jesus Christ. This is not to suggest that he did not know the uncontaminated bliss of the real self. Chattampi Swami was outgoing and was even provocative in his humor and argumentation. His critical acumen was very sharp and he did not allow pretenders to escape his Scathing criticism.’ If Nanu Asan abhorred erotics and the erotic company’ of women, Chattampi Swami approached erotics with the ‘masterly mind of a poetic genius and he made little difference of man and women in sharing his erudition and the wisdom born of his keen observation.
In spite of these differences Nanu Asan and Chattampi Swami loved and respected each other as fellow-seekers.
In those days the frontiers of spiritual search were not very clearly defined. Astrology, medicine, alchemy and Yoga were considered as subjects of allied interest. Most Vedantins were also yogins. Nanu Asan and Chattampi Swami also wanted to become proficient in Yoga. Chattampi Swami who then was an adept in Yoga gave his friend certain instructions on Yoga and Tantra.
Seeing Nanu Asan’s interest in Yoga, Chattampi Swami took him to his Yoga teacher who was in the service of the British Resident in Trivandrum. This Yogi was known as Thycattu Ayyavu his exact name is not known. The fact that he is remembered today both as a Brahmin as a Pariah shows that he might have lived a life that was beyond the frontiers of caste prejudices. The relation of Chattampi Swami and Narayana Guru with Thycattu Ayyavu is known to posterity only from the accounts of their devotees. It seems both of them loved and respected their teacher very much. Some people believed that Chattampi Swami initiated Nanu Asan into an esoteric mantra. On that account they insist that Chattampi Swami should be recognized as the spiritual preceptor of Narayana Guru. Narayana Guru did not consider himself to be a disciple of any particular person. He once said that his Guru was God and Man. When the controversy on Narayana Guru’s relationship with Chattampi Swami became heated up his own disciple Tampi (afterwards Nataraja Guru) asked him of the rumored Guruhood of Chattampi Swami. He said’ he had no objection to any one thinking of Chattampi Swami as his Guru. Chattampi Swami always looked upon Nanu Asan as an equal and made no claim for himself as his Guru. Unfortunately devotees of both masters made an ugly issue of this. Nanu Asan always referred to Chattampi Swami intimately as ‘Chattampi’ and described him to others as a “veritable Vyasa of our time.” The Guru even qualified Chattampi Swami as a sat guru.
Even though Nanu Asan became proficient in Yogic discipline his thirst for illumination was not quenched by what he derived from his experience of Hatha yoga.
The final plunge
Narayana Guru was only concerned with two things in his life; one was the in-dwelling Absolute that shines within all; and the other was the woes of life to which man is exposed everywhere. It was not his intention to make a hero of himself in the minds of others. He, therefore, did not bother to tell anyone what difficulties he overcame to achieve the fulfillment of his search. Nataraja Guru in his well known book The Word of the Gurugives a beautiful description of Narayana Guru’s search.
Leaving his home behind him, for years he had wandered from one man to another, from one center to another, before he came to settle down, for the time being at least, at this spot. During this period of restless travelling he had sometimes walked three to four hundred miles with no better provision than that of a mere mendicant. Sometimes he had to swim across rivers or stretches of backwater on the coastline, but these barriers could not hinder the spirit of search that had awakened in him. Unknown to the millions, who only later began to adore him, he passed from one village to another, sleeping at night on a cloth spread on the stone slabs of some wayside rest house, with his stick as his only companion beside him. Other vesper hours found him perchance in a wayside verandah or some forsaken temple-yard where, with the leaves rustling in a gentle evening breeze and sometimes with the moon shining, he spent his night, famished perhaps, fatigued and forlorn, but at least apparently in slumber: in reality inwardly awake with the ‘light of the silent tabernacle’ of the mind.
It is generally believed that the Guru did the last phase of his penance in a cave in Marutvamalai, which is not far from Kanyakumari. How long he remained in this cave and how he managed to sustain himself physically are all, at best, only guesses today. It is presumed that he had his awakening during his solitary penance in the cave of Marutvamalai. His reference of mystical experiences given in the Atmopadesa Satakammust have direct bearing on what he had experienced in Marutvamalai. We quote here two verses from the Atmopadesa Satakam translated by Nataraja Guru, which allude to such an experience.
If an arid desert most expansive should become overflooded
By river water all at once, such would be the rising symphony
Falling into the ears, to open then the eye, do therefore
Daily become the best of sages, endowed with self-control
Like the dawn all together of ten thousand solar orbs
Wisdom’s function comes: such verily is that which
Tears asunder this wisdom-hiding, transient Maya-darkness here
And as the primal Sun prevails.
The great awakening bestowed upon the Guru an all-inclusive vision of unity. A man who is seeing the one Absolute that transcends the phenomenal may feel tempted to withdraw himself from the maddening crowd of humanity into the silence of a cloister. But Narayana Guru experienced the vision of unity in a very different manner. The immanent and all pervading Absolute in its purest aspect is the Blissful Awareness of Eternal Existence. But it very often occurs to us as an ill-fed child, a crying mother, and a downtrodden man of the street or a neglected member of an outcaste society. Paying homage to the Absolute, in such a case, is by relating to such people with tears in the eye and reverence in the heart. For this reason Narayana Guru decided to return to the world from which he had withdrawn to seek the mystery of life. It was not an easy task for him to get adjusted to the conflicting worlds of the numinous beauty inside and the phenomenal ugliness outside. It was not possible for Narayana Guru to return to the society all at once. He therefore chose to live in a thick jungle on the banks of the river Neyyar, a couple of miles away from the township of Neyyattinkara. Like a molten gold in a smith’s furnace the Guru’s inner psyche was in an ecstatic state of white heat. In his jungle abode he was slowly melting into shape to become a Guru. It was necessary for him to remain undisturbed in the solitude of the forest. The mystical turbulence he had undergone in those wonderful days can be seen reflected in the various hymns he sung in praise of Shiva, Subrahmanyaa and Devi. We are tempted to quote here some of the very beautiful passages from The Word of the Guru of Nataraja Guru, which throw light on Narayana Guru’s mystical experience in those days.
This state of self-absorption increased soon after. Human company of any sort became unbearable to him. When a curious passer-by stood and watched him as he would a curious animal in the zoo (so he himself described it) he would sometimes spring to his feet in resentment and walk off to the neighboring hill-top on the summit of which, on a pile of stones for a seat, he would sit cross-legged, erect and silent, gazing at the vast panorama of hills that was visible from that point of vantage. He sank deeper and deeper into oblivion of the affairs of the world. The mind seemed to feed on itself and reap a strange happiness.
The emotional counterpart of this incessant search was so heavy as to make even a sturdy supporter grown under its trials. The torrential stream on the banks of which he sat was but an objective representation of the state of emotion in his heart. Nothing can describe adequately the trials he underwent. It would be vain to undertake the task.
It was as if he was drunk. The red fire of knowledge was beginning to glow within him. It was as if his feelings were beginning to melt. It was as if the ambrosial essence of his being was beginning to pervade his mental horizon. This emotion made him call upon as his only refuge–God, ‘whose tender feet dripped with the honey of compassion.’ God was to him the pearl of perfection, the dancing center of his life, the lotus that sprouted in the silence of his heart caught in the center of which, buried among the petals, like a bumble bee having its fill of honey, his soul in the form of a radiant child planting his foot in the center of a glowing radiance, had devoured within his being the light of the sun and the moon. It was as if this radiant form was dancing and swaying at the center of his being, mounted on the back of a peacock with outspread feathers of green and gold. It was as if a lamp shed its steady light in the silent house of the mind .
It was an experience beyond words; and the volume and force with which images such as these surged up within his mind, richly breaking through barriers of rhyme and metre in some of his prayers written at this period, throw ample light on its nature.
This new experience was not in the nature of an event. It was an experience that changed for him the meaning and import of all events, so called. He waited no more for events that would bring him pleasure or pain. He inwardly smiled at the events that others round him attached so much importance to. The events that disturbed or frightened others round him, making them put on grave faces and speak to one another with hidden hatred seemed to him child’s play. Death had lost its bitter meaning to him and the unknown had lost its mystery.
It was as if he had come into possession of a rich heritage. A veritable ball of radiance had come into his possession. Its light seemed to heave, with every breath reaching beyond the bounds of the three worlds. Sounds seemed to fill the sky. The eye was filled with beauty. Music and rhyme burst forth unpremeditated in his voice. Tears of compassion and pity stood ready, at the least little demand, to overflow into action. He became a changed man with a strange silence in his ways, both the subject and the object of utmost compassion.
Undivided and uncramped with trivial events, time to him became richer and richer in inner meaning, while the ponderable aspect of time became of less import. Past,present and future merged into a continuous whole and he forgot weeks and months as they glided freely by without affecting him. The joy of the state into which he had fallen was alluring him deeper and deeper into his own conscious-ness. Controlling with an iron will the domination of one set of emotions over another, upright as a bolt, established firmly in that kind of reasoning which concerned itself with the most immediate realities of a simplified world, he soon entered into a distinct phase in his life. The hunger of a simple villager who carne to visit him became a matter of greater concern to him than theological disputation or the establishment of a new religion. He began to live in a present which was the result of an endless and pure experience of the past and the most far-reaching expectation of the future. The result was that his duties became clear as daylight to him at every step. Philanthropy became a natural hobby to him. Philosophy gave his actions a detached motive, and poetry gave him the means of natural expression.His life and ambitions were simplified and the foundations of a career of benevolence and prosperity were laid in his personality.
At this time Narayana Guru must have been in his middle thirties. Most probably he might have been 36, When Narayana Guru was undergoing the emotional upheavals of his mystical frenzies a young sannyasin was wandering from Kanyakumari to the north of India. He was none other than Narendranatha Dutt who became famous afterwards as Swami Vivekananda. The rigid caste prejudices and cruel oppression to which the sun-burnt working majority were subjected made Swami Vivekananda write a wrathful letter to a devotee in Calcutta. In that letter he described the princely state of Travancore (now part of kerala) as a lunatic asylum of caste bigotry. When the Swami visited Mysore the Maharaja of Mysore received him with great love and he was introduced to all the important people working under him. Among them was Dr. Palpu from Travancore. Dr. Palpu was the head of the Public Health Department. He was also the durbar Physician. Even though he was the first in his community to go abroad and take a medical degree from England, he was not given a position in the service of the Travancore Government on the plea that such an appointment was against the caste tradition in India, He did not consider it as a personal insult. To him this insult was symbolic of the injustice shown to the several millions of downtrodden people in India. He disclosed his grief to Swami Vivekananda. The prophetic vision of Swamiji could easily see what was going to happen in the southern regions. He advised the doctor to seek the blessings and guidance of a spiritual Guru hailing from Kerala itself. In the meanwhile something was happening also to the young yogi who was meditating in the jungles of Aruvipuram. A lad of sixteen saw a man sitting on the solitary bank of the river Neyyar. Something in that man had drawn him to the yogi. The yogi requested the lad not to publicize his presence there. However, the boy became a constant visitor to the yogi, and he even brought fruits and boiled tapioca to his Guru. This young man was destined to be the first disciple of Narayana Guru. He became later known as Sivalinga Swami. In spite of the promise of secrecy, news had leaked out to the public and soon there was a flow of people to the hermitage. The Conservator of Forests in that area was very unhappy that he had no children. As was usual they looked upon the newly found yogi as a benevolent siddha who would grant them the boons they wanted. The Conservator of Forests asked his people to clear the jungle and make a footpath to the hermitage of the yogi. As was normal the Guru blessed the man and his wife, and a daughter was born to them. She became afterwards a good legislator and a social worker. Her name was Narayani Amma. More and more devotees gathered for worship and it became necessary to have a temple for the visitors.
A stroke of revolution
From Rameswaram to Kailas there are thousands of temples dedicated to Shiva. In most of them the deity installed is sivalinga. But when Narayana Guru picked up a stone from the river Neyyar and installed it on a pedestal with a silent prayer, it made a land-mark in the social and spiritual history of India.” This sivalinga is more ‘talked about than the sivalinga of Rameswaram installed by Sri Rama himself. It is probable that the caste tradition was not so rigid in the days of Rama so that no Brahmin questioned the right of a Kshatriya to install a sivalinga. Narayana Guru’s transgression of the convention which had persisted for over 3000 years was not at all acceptable to the caste-people of India. Not only was the Guru not a Brahmin, he was not even a, shudra. He came from a community which was totally outside the four-fold varnas of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras. Like Sankara, he was also a dravilasisu In the words of Nataraja Guru the great event of the installation of the temple took place in this manner:
A group of women and children, more sun-burnt than the rest of the crowd, sat segregated from the others. They were poor peasants, who, after a day’s hard work, had come in search of consolation to the festive scene. For ages these poor laborers and their ancestors had tilled the soil for the richer people who took advantage of their goodness. On the basis of their caste, these people had been condemned to age-long suffering, and were segregated and spurned. The Guru’s watchful eyes lighted on the group He asked the orators to wait a moment. He asked the crowd if these people should be segregated. Why should they not come and feel equality with the others The Guru arranged that two of the boys from the crowd be brought on the platform, and seated them, after kind questions, One on either side of him. “They are God’s children as much as the others”, he murmured, and tears of compassion more eloquent than speeches carried home his silent message to, the crowd. Even they who would have growled at such a “departure from tradition, could not resist the winning power of the Guru’s eyes. They crouched, innocent of the axe, which the Guru aimed at the dead root of tradition. Statesmanship or subtle diplomacy was employed. It was the simplest manifestation of humanity, welling up in the heart of the Guru that won the case forever. Thus the first victory of the Guru was won. The boys were later admitted, as members of the hermitage; and they and many such, remained near the Guru, wherever he went, until the day of his passing away. While others Spoke and became excited over the past or the future, striving for hours to direct the popular mind, the Guru sat silent, and acted. His silence, when judged by its effect, marked the high-water mark of oratory. In winding up the proceedings of this memorable day, the Guru had merely a few simple words to say. These he put in the form of a motto, which one of those present proclaimed to the crowd. It read:
Devoid of dividing walls
Of caste or race
Or hatred of rival faith,
We all live here
Such, know this place to be!
This Model Foundation!
Such, then, was the manner and such the character he gave to his work. It soon overflowed the limits of the province and spread its seeds far and wide.
The local enthusiasts formed a committee to manage the temple and there was an arrangement for the gathering of devotees on all nights of the new moon and full moon. When Dr. Palpu visited his parental home in Trivandrum, he came to know of a young yogi called Nanu Guru who was attracting thousands of people to his hermitage. On hearing this he remembered the prediction of Swami Vivekananda that the redemption of the toiling millions of Kerala will come only through a Guru. So he went at once to Sree Narayana Guru. When they saw each other it was like the Ganges coming to the ocean. Dr. Palpu dedicated himself entirely to the cause of the Guru without any reservation. The Guru took up the challenge of redeeming India of the scourge of casteism and untouchability. This led to the formation of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (S. N. D. P.) Yogam.
Publicly accepted as a Guru
From 1884 to 1904 Narayana Guru’s headquarters was mostly at Aruvipuram. The S. N. D. P. Yogam, founded with the blessings of the Guru, became a powerful mouthpiece of all the socially and economically oppressed people of Travancore. The call for justice and equality made by the Yogam also began to be echoed in other parts of Kerala and Madras State (now Tamilnadu).
Narayana Guru was a parivrajaka and he never stayed in one place for more than a fortnight. Even in those days when there were no roads, he walked on foot to almost every village in Kerala and the then Madras State. This enabled thousands of people to relate to him personally. His ideals and mode of life influenced them. From all the accounts, he roamed about in South India, healing people of their physical and mental maladies and inspiring everyone to live a clean life of love and co-operation. Since those days these accounts have become legendary and therefore it is hard to separate fact from fiction. However, his life had a close resemblance to that of Jesus Christ who wandered in Judea, Jordan, Galilee and Syria healing people and giving sermons. In 1901 the State Census Manual of Travancore recorded Sree Narayana as a Guru and an erudite Sanskrit Scholar. A sharp drop in the statistics of the commission of crime was also alluded to as a result of the correcting and moralizing influence of Narayana Guru on the society.
Affinity with the Tamil culture
Narayana Guru knew Tamil even in his boyhood days. Before going to Marutvamalai and even after settling down in Aruvipuram, he was in close contact with several Tamil scholars and the well known ashrams and adheenams in Tamilnadu In the ashrams of the Saivites in Karaikudy, Madurai, Kumbhakonam and Tiruchendur the Guru was always received with great honor. The Sannyasins of the Kovilur mutt in Karaikudy even now remember him as a Guru of their spiritual hierarchy. Narayana Guru was very thorough with , Sivapuranam and all the works of Pattanathu Pillayar, Manicka Vachakar, Appar, Sundaramurti, and Tirujnana Sambantar. He even translated part of Tiruvalluvar’s TiruKural, Ramalinga Swamikal, who became very famous in Tamilnadu as an advocate of integral vision (samarasam) and social equality (‘samerase suddha sammirga nilai), was like an elder brother to Narayana Guru. Taimanavar’s hymns such as Sukhavari must have influenced Narayana Guru’s composition of hymns and psams. The Guru was, however, critical of Taimanavar’s sentimentalism. Narayana Guru was not in the habit of writing compositions in his own hand. He always sung them for his devotees and only very few of such compositions were recorded by people. Among these are three Tamil works, which have been recovered from the fast disappearing records of those days. One Such work entitled Tevaram has been recently published by Dr. T. Bhaskaran of the Malayalam Department of the Kerala University. To understand · the Malayalam compositions of Narayana Guru, one should have a fairly good familiarity with the myths and legends popularly sung in Tamilnadu and also should know some of the basic terms used by the followers of Saiva Siddhanta and Sivadvaita.
The sanskrit background of the Guru
We have already mentioned that the Guru had a very systematic and very good training in Sanskrit grammar, rhetoric, poetry and Vedanta philosophy. His understanding of other Darsanas was also precise and profound, Unlike the traditional uncritical acceptance by students of the commentaries and notes given by previous Acharyas like Sankara, he was critical. Even though, by and far, he was an Advaitin and a good defender of Sankara, he was very sympathetic in giving his attention to the arguments of Ramanuja and Madhva directed against Sankara. We will have occasion to discuss this in a later chapter where we have to compare Narayana Guru’s stand with Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva.
The Guru mostly relied on his own experiences, which were in perfect res3nance with the original teachings of the Upanishads. Outside thePrasthanatraya the only other books he had accepted were Yoga.Vasistha Ramayana of Valmiki and the Yogasutras of Patanjali. He had, however, his own reservation in accepting all that is given in these works, as the last word on yoga.
The Guru at Aruvipuram
Nobody knows when exactly Narayana Guru left his hermitage in the Marutvamalai and came to a forest on the banks of the river Neyyar at Aruvipuram. In those days it was a thick forest full of wild animals and nobody dared to go there. It is possible that he spent a considerable time in a cave on the river bank until he was located by a young lad who was combing the forest in search of his cow that was missing. Although the boy promised the Guru not to tell anyone of his presence there, the news leaked out that a saint was living in the forest, Curiosity was aroused, and soon he became a center of attraction.
Guru and the S.N.D.P. Yogam
The fate of Narayana Guru did not seem to be very fortunate at this time. The historical events of his time to which he gave his sanction and benign blessings are today looked upon as his own historical acts. As a result of such an interpretation the passions and prejudices of his followers have come to cast their shadows on the historical personality of Narayana Guru.
The S.N.D.P. Yogam was founded and registered by a group of enthusiasts headed by Dr. Palpu and Kumaran Asan’ According to the biography of Narayana Guru written by Moorkoth Kumaran, the founding of the Yogam was in M. E. 1078 Dhanu 23. Its first General Secretary, Kumaran Asan, read out the constitution and byelaws of the S. N. D. P. Yogam to the Guru. The Guru objected to the definition of the word ‘community’ (sarnudayarn) that was given in the constitution. It was limited to those communities known as Ezhava, Thiya, Billava and Nadar. He wanted it to be changed into the community of the human family His follower’s thought it was not pragmatically feasible to have such a global basis for their organization. When he saw that they were not prepared to have such a wide vision, after cautioning them of how it would adversely affect their purpose he agreed to give his blessings, probably with the hope that some day they would realize the narrowness of their tribalistic affinity.
The Yogam engaged itself in the laudable efforts of eradicating untouchability and voicing the fundamental human rights of the working class. These efforts actually paved the way for many of Guru’s followers to accept later the Marxist interpretation of socialism as their most acceptable ideal. Under the aegis of Dr. Palpu, Kumaran Asan, T. K. Madhavan, C.V. Kunjuraman, Moolur Padmanabha Panickar and others, several drastic changes were brought about in the social structure and texture of the Kerala community The role that Narayana Guru played was only of a catalyst and not as a fighter in the front lines. To others he set an example by his own personal life. His high dignity and sense of oneness with mankind did not allow him to give vent to anger or protestation against any particular person or community. He believed that there was only one caste for man and that was humanity. In this attitude he was uncompromising.
When a place became filled with activities and the concerted action of several people, the Guru always left such a place to the people concerned and went out to look for new avenues and pastures.
Shifting his headquarters to Varkala
In the year 1907 Narayana Guru left Aruvipuram and came to live on a hillock which was not far from the temple of Janardana. Eighteen years after the founding of the S.N.D.P. Yogam in Aruvipuram, Narayana Guru consecrated a temple at Sivagiri and dedicated it to Sarada, the goddess of wisdom within this period the Guru traveled extensively and founded a number of temples such as in Anjengo and Perungottukara (1904), Trichur (1910), Cannanore (1907), Tellichery (1908), Calicut and Mangalore (1910).
The new headquarters and Sarada Temple founded in 1912 implied in it a secret gesture of the Guru that he wanted a more open place and a fertile field for the incubation of global ideals that are worthy of human wisdom and dignity. He personally administered the center and initiated several spiritual aspirants into the sacred order of sanyasa. A cross section of the Kerala community could be seen among his sanyasin disciples. His first sanyasin-disciple was Sivalinga Swami. He was a Nair. His other well known disciples were Swami Sathyavrata (Nair), Bodhananda (Ezhava), Sree Narayana Chaitanya (Nair), Swami Amritananda (Namboodiri), Swami Govindananda (Ezhava), Swami Dhalma Tearthe (Nair), Swami Ananda Teertha (Shenoy), Swami Sankarananda (Ezhava), Swami Guru Prasad (Thiya), Swami Vidyananda (Ezhava) and Swami Atmananda (Ganeke).
Sanyasins are never considered to belong to any caste or tribe. We have deliberately mentioned here their caste background only to show that the Guru was very eager to have a spiritual fraternity that could transcend the frontiers of caste. The Guru even gave sanyasa to an Englishman by name Earnest Kirk . The Guru advised Kirk to continue in his western mode of clothing and to retain his own Christian name. In the ashram the Guru took young boys from among the so called ‘untouchables’ particularly from the Pariah and Pulaya communities, and made them chant the Upanishads, offer worship in the temple and cook and serve food to the residents and visitors to the Sivagiri Mutt .
We think, it will be appropriate if we close this section on the Guru’s biography with a touching account of the last days of the Guru given in The Word of the Guru.
As the image of Jesus carrying his cross has served as a symbol of his love and service to humanity; so also great masters make even their sickness and suffering serviceable to their fellow-beings. The life of the Guru was in every detail of it an example of the principle, which he enunciated as follows:
Act that one performs
For one’s own sake,
Should also aim the good
Of other men.
In fact this maxim may be said to form the keystone of his whole life. By apparently trying to be selfish he on many an occasion impressed a useful principle or habit on the many who came in contact with him. He would insist that the barber who shaved him had the sharpest razor, and would see that the best methods were used in the art. He would complain of his chauffeur who did not gently put on his brakes when he came to an uneven part of the road. He would teach him to be proud of his car, and find fault with him if he had omitted to observe a new kind of car in which a visitor had come to see the Guru. He would say that he preferred a garland of gold to one of roses if, while on a tour, people greeted him with empty applause and theoretical loyalty and devotion. He would insist on good cooking more with a view to reforming the food habits than for his own sake. He would insist on small details in building, and order an alteration in spite of expense, in order to set a better example in architecture. He would like to hear music in order that he could patronize musicians. Himself an adept in the art of healing, he missed no opportunities, whenever he was ill, to call together a little group of medical men of different schools of medicine in order to discuss with them the various bearings of the case and make them discuss the details. In the system of medicine called the Ayurveda, which is the ancient Sanskrit system, there lay, buried and forgotten, gems of ancient experience which he found valuable to unearth and apply, suffering himself to be the subject of the experiment.
His last illness was rich in such opportunities. He would find some point in which one system failed and in which someone else knew better. Suffering and bedridden as he was, he would argue the minutest details with his doctors and those who attended on him. He went to Palghat and traveled about four hundred miles north-east to Madras, carried in stretchers and transported from Place to place, from one doctor to another, from the care of one devotee, who loved to keep him under his care, to another. Then he came back to Travancore from where a strong deputation had arrived to take him to Varkala. One of the stations on the way was AIwaye where on the platform were gathered all the students, young and old, of the Sanskrit school and the Ashram for which he had given long labors. The coming event was still unknown to them but a deep emotion at the illness of the Guru sat on the features of each one.
He arrived at Varkala. Others of a different school demonstrated some of the symptoms of the illness, which the experts of one school of medicine had declared incurable, to be curable. For some time the Guru seemed quite well. The radiant glow on his features had never disappeared. He still retained his good humor and although he was weak in body, he never yielded or compromised except where it was necessary. He guided the deliberations regarding his property and legal affairs with a perfect sense of justice and awareness of all shades of opinion. He regained a stage in which he took little walks on his own and, though highly emaciated, was still the same alert, radiant and kind Guru. It was in this condition that the present writer left him on his voyage to Europe.
A select group of friends, representatives of different nations and religions celebrated the 73rd birthday on September, 1928, in the beautiful city of Geneva. For the first time the Guru’s message was proclaimed in the West. Strangers, united in worship, feasted together and discussed informally the significance of the ideals of universal appeal which the Guru’s life had symbolized.
On the 20th September, 1928, about a weak after this event, the Guru entered Maha-Samadhi or the Great Silence, peacefully and silently at Varkala. In one of his last writings he wrote:
That dispenser of mercy could
he not be that reality.
That proclaiming words of supreme
import the chariot drives.
Or compassion’s ocean ever impatient
for all creation,
Or who in terms clear non-dual wisdom
expounds, the Guru.