Sivagiri is a pilgrimage centre in Varkala, India where one of its social reformer and sage Sree Narayana Guru’s tomb is located and place where guru was enlightened and got the salvation. The Samadhi (the final resting place) of the Guru here attracts thousands of devotees every year during the Sivagiri Pilgrimage days 30 December to 1 January.
The Sivagiri Mutt, built in 1904, is situated at the top of the Sivagiri hill near Varkala. Even decades after the guru died here in 1928; his samadhi continues to be thronged by thousands of devotees, donned in yellow attire, from different parts of Kerala and outside every year during the Sivagiri Pilgrimage days – 30 December to 1 January.
The Sivagiri Mutt is also the headquarters of the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham, an organization of his disciples and saints, established by the Guru to propagate his concept of ‘One Caste, One Religion, One God’. The Guru Deva Jayanti, the birthday of the Guru, and the samadhi day are celebrated in August and September respectively every year. Colourful processions, debates and seminars, public meetings, cultural shows, community feasts, group wedding and rituals mark the celebrations.
Guru’s Initial days at Sivagiri
Gurudevan’s association with Sivagiri in Varkala in south Kerala dates to 1904. Varkala used to be known as the southern Benares. A lover of nature and places radiant with natural beauty Narayana Guru built a hermitage on made a hermitage on top of the Sivagiri hill and stayed there. He grew some plants around the place. That solitary hill began to attract public attention ever since Gurudevan appeared there.
In course of time the Travancore state government granted the Sivagiri hill to Gurudevan and the people gave some of the surrounding places to him as gifts. Later Sivagiri grew into the nerve centre of Sree Narayana movements.
At first an elementary school was established there. A night school was also founded for the illiterate people of an untouchable caste. Lots of people came to Sivagiri to have a darshan of Gurudevan.
Prathishta (Consecration) of goddess Sarada
After travelling many places in South India and Sri Lanka and establishing temples, he did the prathishta of the goddess Sree Sarada at Sivagiri in April 1912. It ranks as the most remarkable among his consecration of temple deities, and occupies a distinguished place in history. Foundation for it had been laid in 1909. The same year he composed the poem “jananee navarathna manjari”.
According to the Indian concept, the goddess Saraswathy is the prime goddess of knowledge. But there are very few temples in Kerala with Saraswathy prathishta. Sivagiri SaradaMutt was planned and designed by Gurudevan who took a particular interest in it. Ordinary temples do not have windows. Gurudevan called this temple, which is octagonal in shape, ‘Sarada Mutt. Here unlike in other temples, there is no nivedyam (offering of food to the deity) or abhishekam (pouring oil, ghee and such on the idol). Devotees can worship the goddess by reciting hymns. The idol of Saraswathy seated on white lotus is the symbol of knowledge blossoming on whiteness or purity.
The Sarada Consecration Committee had Dr.P.Palpu as its president and Kumaran Asan was secretary.
Gurudevan’s concept of the Temple
In connection with Prathishta of goddess Sarada, grand conferences and festivals were conducted for four consecutive days. Sree Narayana Guru introduced original and novel perceptions about temples, departing from traditional ideas on the subject. He shunned tantric rituals. There is no similar temple in India. Here, he established an architecture that 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 highest standards of hygiene were introduced to maintain the place as a modal to other temples and temple worshipers. The opening of this temple was uniquely marked by the inspirational ceremony of guest of hymns in praise of the mother Sarada. The Guru himself wrote janani-navaratna Manjari, nine Gems in praise of the mother. It is not necessary to build temples in the old styleby spending a lot of money he ordained. Further, he also advised not to spend money on festivals and fireworks.
In temples there should be spacious rooms where people can sit comfortably and take part in discourses. There must be schools attached to all temples. There should also be amenities attached to the temples to train children in various trades. The money that comes to the temples as donation must be spent in such a way that the poor people benefit from it. It is not desirable to make ponds near temples for the worshipers to take bath. It is not possible to keep the ponds always pure. Therefore bathrooms are to be constructed with an arrangement of small pipes sothat the water will fall from above the head. From these words we can clearly understand the progressive nature of Gurudevan’s concept of the temple.
Sivagiri pilgrimage, now known as Sivagiri Theerthadanam, was conceived by Vallabhasseri Govindan Vaidyar and T K Kittan Writer. It was duly approved by Gurudevan on January, 1928. The setting was SNDP’s Nagambadam Shiva temple. It was 3 pm and Gurudevan was resting under a mango tree when the two presented the concept of Sivagiri pilgrimage. Before giving its his blessings he set out the goals of such a pilgrimage. He said: “Let the pilgrims congregate at the beginning of the European New Year. It should be Dhanu 16-17 in Malayalam calendar. Let the pilgrims observe 10 days’ self-purification according to Sri Buddha’s principles of five purities (Pancha Dharma) – body, food, mind, word, deed.
He ruled that pilgrims could wear yellow clothes – the colour of the garments Sri Buddha wore. Let no one purchase yellow silk because we have recommended yellow garments. Not even new clothes are required on the pilgrimage. A pilgrim can dip a white garment in turmeric water and wear after drying. The pilgrimage should be conducted with simplicity and preferably be accompanied by the chanting of hymns. There should be no shouting and pilgrims should scrupulously avoid trappings of ostentation.
To Govindan Vaidyar and Kitten Writer, Gurudevan counted on his fingers the goals of the pilgrimage, explaining how to achieve them. The goals were the promotion of
- 1. Education
- 2. Cleanliness
- 3. Devotion to God
- 4. Organisation
- 5. Agriculture
- 6. Trade
- 7. Handicrafts
- 8. Technical training
Finally, it was decided to start the first pilgrimage from the village of Elavumthitta. The S N D P unit No.76 of Elavumthitta selected 5 youngsters for the pilgrimage, namely, P.K.Divakara Panicker, P.K.Kesavan, P.V.Raghavan, M.K.Raghavan, S.Sankunni. All the 5 pilgrims wore bright yellow dress, as suggested by Sree narayana Guru. All the way to Sivagiri, they were reciting ‘Swaathanthrya gadha’ – written by the great poet Kumaranaasan. They were teased with the words ‘Manjakkilikal’ –meaning yellow birds. They never got provoked, with a smile they moved on. The dominant thought in their mind was the mission to fulfill, will have to reach Sivagiri, a great responsibility bestowed on their shoulders by the Sreenarayana devotees. Their mission was a great success.
He advised them to organise a series of lectures on the themes with experts conducting them. The lectures should be listened to attentively. More important, the principles should be put into practice. Success must accompany efforts. Only then will the country and the people benefit. this must be the core purpose of Sivagiri pilgrimage.
The Sarada temple and mutt has now become a unique place of pilgrimage. The Sri Narayana Jayanthi, birthday of the Guru, and the Samadhi day are befittingly celebrated in August and September respectively every year. On these days colourful processions, seminars, public meetings, cultural shows, community feasts and special rituals are held. In the last week of December, devotees of Sree Narayana Guru, donned in yellow attire stream to Sivagiri from different parts of Kerala and outside, in what may be called a pilgrimage of enlightenment. Seminars and discussions on various themes of modern life ranging from industrialisation to women’s emancipation are held during the days of pilgrimage. The Mahasamadhi of Sree Narayana Guru also attracts a large number of devotees and tourists.