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Sree Narayana Gurudevan

Sree Narayana Guru was born on the 20th of August 1856 under the star ‘Chathayam’ (Malayalam month Chingam 1032) in the village of Chempazhanthi in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala as the son of Madan Asan, a farmer and Kutti Amma.

Family and early life

There are many legends surrounding the life of Narayana Guru but few certain facts until his rise to prominence in 1887. He was born probably 1856, the son of an Ezhava peasant, Madan Asan and his wife Kuttiyamma, in the village of  Chempazhanthy  near  Thiruvananthapuram. Most likely, he was educated at least in part by a Nair teacher from a nearby village. He was deeply influenced by Vedanta and by ideas of social equality and social and religious reform. He taught religion and Sanskrit to local children and studied yoga with notable ascetics such as Chattampi Swami. He was an itinerant yogi for some time and Cyriac Pullapilly says that he was probably married for a few years but “his worshipful biographers ignored this part of his life out of reverence for his later ascetism”.

In the course of his wanderings in search of enlightenment, Narayana visited Aruvippuram, where he and his followers erected a temple to Shiva in 1887, defying the tradition that this was done by Brahmins alone. . As a youth, Narayana Guru turned away from the temple rituals of his local village and travelled widely, living an ascetic lifestyle and seeking religious understanding. He eventually became a schoolteacher and then a religious reformer.

Around 1897, he composed Atmopadesa Satakam (one hundred verses of self-instruction) in Malayalam, widely regarded as a literary and philosophical masterpiece. In 1904,  he settled at Sivagiri to pursue his Sadhana (spiritual practice), choosing Amba as his deity. He also opened a Sanskrit school in Varkala, where poor boys and orphans were taken under his care and education regardless of caste distinctions. Temples were built at various  places–Thrissur,  Kannur,  Anchuthengu,  Tellicherry,  Calicut, Mangalore-under his supervision. A temple was built for Sharada Devi in 1912 at Sivagiri. In 1913, Narayana Guru founded the Advaita Ashram at Aluva, dedicating it to the principle of  (universal brotherhood). Aluva also became the venue for a Conference of Universal Brotherhood in 1921, and a Conference of All Religions in 1924, both conducted under his guidance. He also stressed the need for a Brahma Vidyalaya for a comparative study of different religious faiths.