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Gurudevan’s Disciples

Sree Bodhananda Swamikal
Bodhananda Swami was already a Sanyasin before he became SreeNarayana Guru’s disciple. He was born in a middle class family in Chirakkal village in Trichur district. His parents named him Velayudhan. He had an extraordinary physique and piercing eyes. Besides Malayalam, he also had some knowledge of Sanskrit. He was well versed in Ayurvedic treatment. From an early age he argued against inequality in the society. Due to the compulsion from his family he got married, but that relationship lasted only two years. He traveled to many places in North India and he accepted the Sanyasin life at Jyothir Mutt in Kasi. Jyothir Mutt, which followed the tradition of SreeSankaracharya.

Later he went to Bombay and stayed in an Ashram for a short time. He came back to Kerala and started agitations against untouchability and caste-lunacy. He opposed idol worship. When he heard of Guru’s program about the idol installation at JagannathaTemple , he went there. He talked to many youngsters there about the meaninglessness of idol worship and asked them stay away from the function. They requested Bodhananda Swami to meet and talk to Narayana Guru. He went to the hermitage where Guru was staying, but did not get a chance to talk with the Guru. He went there again to meet with the Guru; he prostrated in front of the Guru. Bodhananda Swami expressed his opinion to Guru, but Guru’s explanation about the necessity of Temples and Idols made Bodhananda Swami stay there until the function was over. Guru introduced him to Sivalinga Swami and Chaitanya Swami who were staying there. Sivalinga Swami invited him to Peringottukara Mutt. After this he became a frequent visitor to Aruvippuram and Peringottukara. He became a member and Treasurer of Sharada idol installation committee. In 1912, on the third day of Sharada idol installation, Guru accepted Bodhanda as his Sanyasi disciple. Guru sent him as his representative in many meetings and committees.

Bodhananda Swami who opposed idol worship served as a member of the SreeNarayana Guru statue committee at JagannathaTemple ,Tellicherry. This will show the depth of his devotion towards SreeNarayana Guru. He helped Nataraja Guru to set up the NarayanaGurukulam in Neelagiri. He spent a major portion of his life up-lifting the status of down-trodden people in his native state. He established the Cochin National Bank that helped the economic progress of the backward people in general. He codified Guru’s precept on “Caste, Religion, Morality, Celibacy, Household duties etc, and published a book by name, “SreeNarayanaDharmam”. The Guru registered his will in Bodhananda Swami’s name and made him his successor. But unfortunately Bodhananda Swami attained Samadhi two days after Guru’s Samadhi, in 1928.

Sadguru Shivalingadasa Swamikal
Sivalinga Swami was one of the first and prominent disciples of Narayana Guru. He was born in 1859 in an orthodox Nair family in Aruvippuram. Before he became a Sanyasin he was known as AyappanPillai. Swami met Guru for the first time when Guru was staying in a cave near NeyyarRiver . He listened to Guru’s words very carefully and sometimes he accompanied Guru in his journeys. Guru taught him some Sanskrit and later send him to Perunelli Krishnan Vaidyar for further study.

He learned Sanskrit grammar under famous Sanskrit scholar Shri. VenkateswaraSasthri. He became acquainted with Kumaram, who later became the poet mahakaviKumaranAsan, at Aruvippuram and they became close friends. In 1905 AyappanPillai accepted the ascetic way of life from Guru and became SivalingadasaSwami. When Guru moved to Varkala he took Sivalingadasa Swami with him. Sivalingadasa Swami helped to build a hermitage for Guru at Sivagiri. He served in many Ashrams and temples according to Guru’s suggestions.

Later he stayed at TrichurPeringottukara Ashram; he started a Sanskrit school there. Later in his life he left the Ashram and started to live in Viswanatha Temple in Chavakkad. In 1919 Sivalinga Swami attained Samadhi. Kumaranasan wrote the poem ‘Parannupoyahamsam’ (The flown away Swan) in remembrance of the Swami. The Swamikal wrote many spiritual compositions, ‘Vedanthasaravali’, ‘Sharadhashtakam’, and ‘SreeNarayanaGuruvaryaPanchakam’ are a few his famous works.

Satyavrata Swamikal
Satyavrida Swami, known as AyappanPillai in his early life, came from a middle class Nair family near Changanacherry. He was a teacher. AyappanPillai did not have much respect for SreeNarayana Guru before he met the Guru. He only knew about Guru through the exaggerated stories by Ezhavas in his neighborhood. When he went to participate in the Sivarathri festival at Alwaye Guru was staying at Adwaita Ashram. His curiosity made him to go to the Ashram and see the ‘Ezhava Guru’. He could see Guru only from a distance because of the huge crowd. “I saw compassion, love and confidence on his face”, later Satyavrida Swami said. The next day he went to Guru and discussed many matters with him.

After coming back home he became restless and he wanted to go and stay with Guru. His income was a great help to his family, so he was faced with a dilemma. But with his mother’s blessings he left his house in 1916 and joined as an inmate at the Adwaita Ashram. SreeNarayana Guru appointed him as the Malayalam teacher at the Sanskrit school there and made arrangements for him to learn Sanskrit. Guru accepted AyappanPillai as his Sanyasin disciple. Because of his straight forwardness and honesty, Guru named him ‘Satyavridan’. He was a scholar and a forceful orator. He had the talent of speaking to the common people in simple language. He became a regular speaker at many public meetings and his speeches attracted more people to the meetings. He accompanied Guru to Ceylon 1918. Guru asked Satyavrida Swami to stay in Ceylon for a while; he spent three years there. Guru wanted him to start evening schools there. Within those 3 years he started 30 evening schools and many SreeNarayana organizations there. When he came back he started to work as the editor of ‘Navajeevan’ magazine. In 1921 he went back to Ceylon for 3 months. He became the Secretary of Adwaita Ashram in 1922 and Guru asked him to mange all the properties belonged to the Ashram. He was one of the few true proponents of Guru’s principles. Not many people in Kerala worked like Satyavrida Swami against the caste system. Guru once said, “Satyavridan has no caste feelings at all; even I have such feelings sometimes. He even excels Buddha in forgetting caste”.

He was one of the three people Guru appointed to coordinate the ‘All Religious Conference at Alwaye’. The others were SahodharanAyappan and C.V. Kunhuraman. His hard work was one of the reasons for the huge success of the conference. Satyavrida Swami was one of the few disciples who lived a life of Guru’s ideology. Unfortunately his life was cut short in 1926 at the age of 32. Upon hearing of his death the Guru was overwhelmed with sorrow.

Chaitanya Swamikal
Chaithanya Swami was born in Varkala in 1877 as NarayanaPillai. He did not have any formal education, but learned to read and write Malayalam. He had some knowledge about the art of building, constructing and sculpture. It was ChattambiSwamikal who sent him to SreeNarayanaGuru.When Guru saw NarayanaPillai for the first time, Guru said: “Caste and religion are not an obstacle for human relationship, moreover we have the same name. It is good! Others will get confused, so a name change is necessary; from now onwards you are ‘NarayanaChaitanyan’.Later he became a Sanyasin and accepted ‘Chaitanya’ as his ascetic name. He faced a lot of opposition from his family members for associating with SreeNarayana Guru. He was the second person to ordain as a Sanyasin by the Guru. He had a superb administrative capacity and a high talent to adapt with others. He was instructed by Guru to look after Guru’s institutions.

Chaitanya Swami supervised the construction of ThalaserryJagannathaTemple ,KozhikkodeSreeKhanadeswara Temple , Kannur Sundreswara Temple and many other monasteries. He was one of the three witnesses who signed in the application to form SreeNarayana Dharma Sangham. N. Kumaru and P. NarayanaPillai were the other witnesses. He served as the secretary of AlwayeAdwaita Ashram and as the administrator of the Sanskrit school there. Guru’s famous composition ‘AtmaBodham’ was copied down by him and kept safely. ‘AtmaBodham’ was later renamed as ‘AtmopadesaSatakam’. Chaithanya Swami established SreeNarayana Ashram at West Hill in Kozhikkode. He continued his humanitarian activities and spread the gospel of SreeNarayana Guru till his Samadhi in 1953. He has written a book dealing with Guru’s views on reformation of marriage, post – death rites etc.

Swamy Ananda Theerthan
Swami AananthaTheerthar was the last disciple of SreeNarayana Guru. He was a fabulous personality in the fight against social injustices in Kerala. AnanthaShenoy was born in a rich Gowdasaraswath Brahmin family of Thalassery. He took Bsc (Hon) degree in Physics from Madras University . At that time it was very easy for him to get a high paying job anywhere in India , but he was interested in public service. AnanthaShenoy heard about SreeNarayana Guru. When he was studying at TellicherryBrannen College Guru visited Jagannatha Temple there, but AnanthaShenoy did not show any interest in meeting the Guru. He thought Guru was just a religious leader of Ezhavas.

But he started to admire SreeNarayana Guru when he read Guru’s conversation with Mahatma Gandhi and learning more about his work against social injustices. He got attracted to National movement and wanted to live at Mahatma’s Sabarmathi Ashram. He sought Rajaji’s help for this, but Rajaji advised him to go and stay at Sabari Ashram in Palghat. Sabari Ashram was started for the upliftment of the downtrodden. In 1926 AnanthaShenoy became a member of that Ashram. He met Guru for the first time at a house in Coimbatore ; Guru talked to him in great interest when he heard Shenoy was working for Sabari Ashram. In August 1928 he accepted the ascetic way of life and became the disciple of SreeNarayana Guru.

Guru gave him the name AnanthaTheerthar. He spent all his life for the uplift the life of Harijans. He faced a lot of opposition from the upper caste people and sometimes even suffered physical harassment. He selected Payannur as his work area and started SreeNarayana School and hostel there for Harijan children. This institution is widely known as Ashram. He changed the venue of this school three times due to the strong hostility of the people there. He was one of the few disciples who continued Guru’s deed of the fight against social evils.

Swamy Dharma Theerthan
He was PrameswaraMenon before he became the disciple of SreeNarayana Guru. He received his B.A. degree from Madras Presidency College . He worked in the Cochin government service for a brief period before he joined Bombay University for LLB. After receiving his law degree he started his law practice in the Trichur area. Soon he became a famous lawyer in that area. His activities against untouchability and other unorthodox practices made him popular. He worked as the editor of ‘Snehithan’ magazine that was published from Trichur. At this time he became acquainted with Bodhananda and got attracted to his activities. He was a very good orator, so he became a regular speaker at the meetings arranged by Bodhananda Swami.

He visited Aruvippuram and Sivagiri many times with Bodhananda Swami. These visits gave him the chance to learn about SreeNarayana Guru and his works. ParameswaraMenon stopped his practice and moved to Sivagiri. After 2 years Guru accepted him as his disciple and re-named him as Dharma Theerthar. He was Guru’s first Sanyasin disciple with a college degree. He traveled many places with Guru and served as an interpreter. Guru sought his legal advice before registering the SreeNarayana Dharma Sangham. He served as the Secretary of the Dharma Sangam for a long time. He started the systematic way of keeping accounts and records at Sivagiri Mutt. Swami Dharma Theerthar was the first person who took the initiative to collect Guru’s literary works and publish them. He wrote, ‘the Prophet of Peace’, first English book about Guru. He wrote and published many books in Malayalam and English.

In 1941 he wrote and published a book, ‘Menance to Hindu Imperialism’, about secularism in India . This book was later republished with a new title – ‘History of Hindu Imperialism’. In this book Dharma Theerthar says these words about his Guru: “The greatest saint, reformer, teacher and nation builder Travancore has produced, since the days of the first SreeSankaracharya, was undoubtedly the late SreeNarayana Guru Swami. In any other country he would have been universally acclaimed as a savior and Prophet. But in the Hindu state, caste envelops in dark clouds even such great souls and prevents their light from penetrating in the open world when Rishi like him could not overcome the caste prejudices of a Hindu state”.

Even though he was associated with Sivagiri for than 30 years, the politics that occurred after Guru’s samadhi made him leave that place. He traveled in North India . Later he embraced Christianity and became John Dharma Theerthar, but till the end of his life, he spread Guru’s philosophy.

Swamy Ernest Kerk
Earnest Clark was the only foreigner who was a direct Sanyasin disciple of the Guru. He admired many spiritual leaders in India . He came to India and joined Annie Basant’s Theosophical Society. While working there he traveled to many sacred places in India and happened to visit Sivagiri. Earnest Clark met Guru there and told Guru about his intention to stay there and Guru arranged the facilities for him. Swami Dharma Theerthar and Shri. K.M. John were Guru’s interpreters. Shri. K.M. john, who was a teacher by profession, was staying at Sivagiri and teaching Bible. At that time Guru was thinking about how to use the assets of Sivagiri for the benefit of the people in a useful way.

He consulted many people about it and appointed a committee to prepare a project. Earnest Clark was the convener of that committee and he played a major role in preparing and presenting the, ‘Sivagiri Free Industrial and Agricultural Gurukulam’, project to Guru. It was a project to connect Agriculture and Industry to Education. Even Mahatama Gandhi never thought about vocational education at that period. Shri. P. Natarajan (later become Nataraja Guru) was responsible for the educational matters. Later Earnest Clark became a Sanyasin, but Guru never asked him to change his name. In 1927 the ‘Sivagiri Free Industrial and Agricultural Gurukulam’ project started to function, but Guru’s Samadhi affected it and the project was abandoned.

After Guru’s Samadhi Swami Earnest Clark left Sivagiri due to the court case and politics. He moved to Coimbatore and founded SreeNarayana Ashram there. From there he started a publication, ‘Life’, which gave importance to Guru’s philosophy. Swami Dharma Theerthar wrote the ‘Prophet of Peace’ owing to Swami Earnest Clark’s request. In 1942 he was removed from the Dharma Sangham by the authorities of the SreeNarayana Dharma Sangham. It did not stop Swami Earnest Clark propagating Guru’s words

Govindhananda Swami
He served as a police officer before he became SreeNarayana Guru’s sanayasin disciple. He was born in Mulankadu near Ernakulam and many of his relatives still live in Palluruthy area. He came to know about Guru and his activities through Bodhananda Swami, whom he was a follower of. He resigned his job and joined the Sivagiri Ashram. There, he studied Vedanta and philosophy. After Bodhananda Swami’s samadhi, Govindananda Swami became the head of Sivagiri Mutt.

He had a piece of property in Kancheepuram that was donated by one of Guru’s followers; he founded a SreeNarayanaSeva Ashram there. Later a sanatorium was started adjoined to this Ashram. He traveled to Japan , Malaya and Burma to propagate Guru’s words. Govindananda activities helped a lot to propagate the gospel of the Guru in Tamil Nadu. Govindananda Swami felt ill while he was visiting this Ashram and attained Samadhi at the age of 105.

Atmananda swami
His name was Rama Panicker before he became the disciple of SreeNarayana Guru. Born in a Kanisa community on July27, 1870, in Villyapally village in BhadagaraTaluk. Astrology was his family’s traditional job. Rama Panicker was a scholar in many subjects like Sanskrit, astrology, philosophy, ayurveda etc. He worked as a Sanskrit teacher in ‘VidhyarthiChinthamani’ Sanskrit school in Tellicherry. He met SreeNarayanaGuru when Guru was visiting Tellicherry. Guru was very much impressed in Rama Panicker’s knowledge in Sanskrit.

Guru invited him to be a teacher at Adwaitha Ashram Sanskrit school. Later he joined as the Head Master of Adwaitha Ashram Sanskrit School. His staying at the Ashram gave him to know more about the Guru. Later he was initiated as a Snyasin by Guru and gave him a new name – ‘Atmananda’ and stayed at Sivagiri. Govitananda Swami invited him to Kancheepuram Ashram. He visited the Ashram many times and helped Govindananda to improve the SreeNarayanaSeva Ashram. His hard work brought lots of financial assets to the Ashram. Later he stayed there permanently.

He was famous in that area as an Ayurvedic medical practitioner and people called him ‘ValiyaGurukkal’ or ‘Great Teacher’. He wrote many poems about Guru. One of his published work ‘SreeNarayana Dharma’, is one of the best books to understand Guru’s thoughts. On November 12, 1969 Atmananda Swami attained Samadhi at the age of 100.

Sankarananda Swami
He fourth and the last head of Sivagiri Mutt. His name was Sankaran. He was born into a financially well to do family in Puthullad, Trichur district. . He did not show much interest in formal education. From his early life he showed interest in Spirituality. Due to the pressure from his family members he started a family life, but that did not last long. He left the house and traveled to different holy places in South India . After staying at RamanaMaharshi’sThiruvannamalai for a brief period he came to Palghat and stayed at Brahmananda Shiva Yogi’s ashram. After some time he went back to his native place and started to live there. He was heard about Guru and his social activities.

When Guru was staying at Peringottukara ashram, he went to see Guru and told him about his mental dilemma. Guru told Sankaran that, “if his path is right he will reach his aim”. He went back home and told his relatives about his wish to join Guru as a Sanyasin. Next day, accompanied by his uncle, he went to Adwaitha ashram and met Guru. With Guru’s blessings he became an inmate at the ashram. Later Guru gave him a new name, ‘Sankarananda’, and accepted him as Guru’s sanysin disciple. . He served as the administrator of the Await Ashram for a long time. After Achuthananda Swami’s samadhi, Sankarananda became the head of Sivagiri Mutt. Guru’s hundredth birth anniversary was celebrated while he was the head of the Mutt.

He was not an orator or writer, but he showed much interest in collecting and publishing Guru’s works. Two periodicals, ‘Navajeevan’ and ‘Sivagiri’ were published during his time. The commencement of Sivagiri pilgrimage, the celebration of Guru’s hundredth birth anniversary and the construction of Maha Samadhi Mandir were occurred while he was the head of the Mutt.

Mambalam Vidyananda Swami
hisSanyasin disciple of SreeNarayana Guru was born into a joint family in Kavalam, Kuttanadu. Many of his family members were Ayurvedic medical practitioners. His name was Ramankutty. He studied at Sanadhana Dharma High School ,Alleppey and he passed High School with high marks. He could not continue his education because of the sudden death of his three uncles. These tragedies exhausted him mentally; he left his home and visited many religious places. He came to the Adwaita Ashram while Guru was staying there. After hearing Ramankutty’s story Guru asked him to stay there. He arranged Ramankutty a job at the Sanskrit School.

His staying at the Ashram helped him to improve his skills in the Sanskrit language. He also spoke English, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Later he was initiated as a monk by Guru and received the name, ‘Vidyananda’. After Guru’s Samadhi Vidyananda Swami moved to KancheepuramSreeNarayanaSeva Ashram, later to Mambalam. A rich person donated some land near Mambalam and the Swami founded SreeNarayana Mission there. Later he started an infirmary adjunct to the Mission . This free sanatorium was a big help for the poor people in that area. Vidyananda Swami wrote an interpretation for SreeNarayana Guru’s ‘Darsanamala’. Guru titled this book as ‘Dheedhidi’, which means ray.This book became an important means of reference to many scholars. He wrote many articles, mostly related to Guru’s philosophy, and published in periodicals.

In 1959 Swami became ill and partially paralyzed. He spent the end of his life in Changanacherry and attained Samadhi in 1964. Sadly his body was buried in a public cemetery. The SreeNarayana Mission was not affiliated to SreeNarayana Dharma Sangham, so the Sangham showed no interest in preparing a ‘Samadhi Peedham’ (proper way of burying a Sanyasin’s body) for him at Sivagiri.